Saturday, January 12, 2008

Hitting the Road Again

Today, we bid farewell to Austin once again as we drive on, to Houston.

There, we apparently will be meeting Ira Glass, due to a strange confluence of events and to the unbounded coolness of our friend S.



What is this, some really bad reality TV show?
A U.S. appeals court ruled on Friday that four former Guantanamo prisoners, all British citizens, have no right to sue top Pentagon officials and military officers for torture, abuse and violations of their religious rights.

The decision by a three-judge panel to dismiss the lawsuit came exactly six years after the first detainees arrived at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.

The prison, which has been widely criticized by human rights advocates, now holds about 275 prisoners. President George W. Bush has acknowledged the prison's damage to the U.S. image and has said he would like to see it closed eventually.

The four who brought the lawsuit -- Shafiq Rasul, Asif Iqbal, Rhuhel Ahmed and Jamal al-Harith -- were released from Guantanamo in 2004 after being held for more than two years.

The suit sought $10 million in damages and named then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and 10 military commanders.

The men claimed they were subjected to various forms of torture, harassed as they practiced their religion and forced to shave their religious beards. In one instance, a guard threw a Koran in a toilet bucket, according to the lawsuit.

The appeals court cited a lack of jurisdiction over the lawsuit, ruled the defendants enjoyed qualified immunity for acts taken within the scope of their government jobs and held the religious right law did not apply to the detainees.


Friday, January 11, 2008

I like my box and I cannot lie (you other kitties can't deny)

(Why yes, I did go to a "One-Hit Wonders of the 1990s" sing-along yesterday, why do you ask?)

Posted by miriam. (As if you hadn't guessed - c'mon, would ror go to that sing-along?)


More Horrible Katrina Reporting

Scout prime has the story.


Thursday, January 10, 2008

War on Terror, on the Cheap

This really is just rather pathetic:
Telephone companies have cut off FBI wiretaps used to eavesdrop on suspected criminals because of the bureau's repeated failures to pay phone bills on time.

A Justice Department audit released Thursday blamed the lost connections on the FBI's lax oversight of money used in undercover investigations. In one office alone, unpaid costs for wiretaps from one phone company totaled $66,000.

In at least one case, a wiretap used in a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act investigation "was halted due to untimely payment," the audit found. FISA wiretaps are used in the government's most sensitive and secretive criminal and intelligence investigations, and allow eavesdropping on suspected terrorists or spies.

"We also found that late payments have resulted in telecommunications carriers actually disconnecting phone lines established to deliver surveillance results to the FBI, resulting in lost evidence," according to the audit by Inspector General Glenn A. Fine.

I mean, they're ready to scrap our right to privacy, but not willing to pay the bills?



Layoffs Coming

The writers' strike is about to get even uglier:

The Hollywood writers' strike, now in its third month, appears likely to lead to the imminent lay-offs of hundreds of workers in the television and movie business, US media reported Wednesday.

Industry journal Variety reported that Warner Brothers is planning on announcing lay-offs of an unspecified number of the 1,000 workers in its studios sometime this month.

"It now appears that the WGA's (Writers Guild of America) strike will continue for the foreseeable future, and we must begin to scale back our operations due to the decline in production activity," Variety wrote, quoting a notice attributed to Warner Brothers.


Treatment for Alzheimer's?

Wow. This seems too good to be true. I hope it isn't:
An extraordinary new scientific study, which for the first time documents marked improvement in Alzheimer’s disease within minutes of administration of a therapeutic molecule, has just been published in the Journal of Neuroinflammation.



Richardson is out:

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson ended his long-shot bid for the Democratic presidential nomination Thursday after poor finishes in the first two contests in Iowa and New Hampshire.

He praised all of his Democratic rivals but endorsed no one. He encouraged voters to "take a long and thoughtful look" and elect one of them president.

Richardson said that although his support at the polls lagged the front-runners, many of his leading rivals had moved closer to his positions on such issues as the war in Iraq and educating young Americans at home.

"Despite overwhelming financial and political odds, I am proud of the campaign we waged ... and most importantly the influence we had on the issues that matter the most to the future of this country," he said.


Cashing In

Ashcroft isn't hurting for money:
When the top federal prosecutor in New Jersey needed to find an outside lawyer to monitor a large corporation willing to settle criminal charges out of court last fall, he turned to former Attorney General John Ashcroft, his onetime boss. With no public notice and no bidding, the company awarded Mr. Ashcroft an 18-month contract worth $28 million to $52 million.

That contract, which Justice Department officials in Washington learned about only several weeks ago, has prompted an internal inquiry into the department’s procedures for selecting outside monitors to police settlements with large companies.

The contract between Mr. Ashcroft’s consulting firm, the Ashcroft Group, and Zimmer Holdings, a medical supply company in Indiana, has also drawn the attention of Congressional investigators.

Nothing like a little cronyism.


Wednesday, January 09, 2008

More Detention

More than twice Gitmo:

The United States has quietly expanded the number of "enemy combatants" being held in judicial limbo at its Bagram military base in Afghanistan, a facility which has now grown to more than twice the size of the controversial and much more widely discussed military prison at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.

Bagram has received just a fraction of the world attention paid to Guantanamo, but the two facilities have prompted similar complaints - about prisoners held incommunicado for weeks or months, the lack of recourse to any system of legal redress and persistent reports of prisoner mistreatment that many human rights campaigners have characterised as torture.


Run! Get a Beer!

That's what the doctors say
Moderate drinkers are at 30% lower risk of heart disease than teetotallers, according to a study of nearly 12,000 people. And those who combine a mild tipple with regular exercise are even less likely to die of the disease. Their risk is between 44% and 50% lower than couch potatoes who abstain from alcohol.


Winning Hearts and Minds

Another hairy PR snafu for the US military:
There are new allegations about why an Iraqi soldier killed two U.S. soldiers in Iraq, including Sgt. Benjamin Portell of Bakersfield, Calif.

Several Internet reports have stated that the reason the Iraqi soldier turned on his American counterparts was because one of the soldiers was allegedly beating a pregnant woman near the northern city of Mosul.



Leave it to Kucinich:

With "change" as a watchword in 2008's opening presidential primary contests, Oval Office seekers from both parties are making political hay of sweeping talk about America's future. But hard-fighting Democratic hopeful Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) in recent weeks has been drumming up precious fundraising cash by selling off relics from elections past:

Genuine Palm Beach County voting machines used in Florida's contested 2000 elections.

For a shade over $200, hardcore politicos can claim the ultimate artifact from last century's definitive political debacle -- along with a handful of "actual chads," according to Kucinich's website.

The machines also ship with a replica ballot and a signed copy of "The Stolen Presidential Election of 2000," a Kucinich missive personally signed by the candidate.

Kucinich communications Sharon Manitta told RAW STORY that sales were "perking along," and that buyers had snapped up between 12 and 15 of the machines through the Christmas holiday.


The NRA Will Not Be Pleased

First they come for the guns of the mentally ill, then they come for yours:

President Bush signed legislation yesterday aimed at preventing the severely mentally ill from buying guns, a bill backed by both parties after the bloody Virginia Tech University shooting.

The law authorizes as much as $1.3 billion in grant money for states to improve their ability to track and report individuals who should not qualify to buy a gun legally, including those involuntarily confined by a mental institution. Much of the money, to be spent over five years, would be used to increase state feeds to a national system used to run background checks on gun purchases.


That Old Time Religion

God exists, is annoying:
A new survey of U.S. adults who don't go to church, even on holidays, finds 72% say "God, a higher or supreme being, actually exists." But just as many (72%) also say the church is "full of hypocrites."

Indeed, 44% agree with the statement "Christians get on my nerves."


Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Selling Off Alaska, Again

Another unsurprising bit of irresponsibility:
The federal government will open up nearly 46,000 square miles off Alaska's northwest coast to petroleum leases next month, a decision condemned by environmental groups that contend the industrial activity will harm northern marine mammals.

The Minerals Management Agency planned the sale in the Chukchi Sea without taking into account changes in the Arctic brought on by global warming and proposed insufficient protections for polar bears, walrus, whales and other species that could be harmed by drilling rigs or spills, according to the groups.

The lease sale in an area slightly smaller than the state of Pennsylvania was planned without information as basic as the polar bear and walrus populations, said Pamela Miller, Arctic coordinator with Northern Alaska Environmental Center. The lease sale is among the largest acreage offered in the Alaska region.


Clinton Is Flailing

I admit that I am both surprised and pleased to see her campaign foundering so soon:
Hillary Clinton has apparently decided on which lines of attack to use against Barack Obama in New Hampshire: all of them.

When it started, Clinton's poll-tested candidacy came down to telling voters, "Whatever you like, that's what I am."

But it turns out that, so far, what voters like is Obama. So now her sputtering campaign strategy has shifted to telling voters, "Whatever you don't like, that's what Obama is."

Clinton and her surrogates are attacking from every direction, hoping something will stick.

The attacks are as varied as they are contemptible.


One More Reason to Hate the French

Those jerks are making us look bad again
France, Japan and Australia rated best and the United States worst in new rankings focusing on preventable deaths due to treatable conditions in 19 leading industrialized nations, researchers said on Tuesday.

If the U.S. health care system performed as well as those of those top three countries, there would be 101,000 fewer deaths in the United States per year, according to researchers writing in the journal Health Affairs.

Researchers Ellen Nolte and Martin McKee of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine tracked deaths that they deemed could have been prevented by access to timely and effective health care, and ranked nations on how they did.


This Time

I'm sure it will work:
U.S. and Iraqi forces launched a major operation to strike against al-Qaida in Iraq and other extremists, the U.S. military said Tuesday, hoping to build on a recent reduction of violence and push militants from their strongholds.

The division and brigade-level operation, dubbed Phantom Phoenix, will cover the entire country, the military said.

U.S. and Iraqi forces will "continue to pursue al-Qaida and other extremists wherever they attempt to take sanctuary," Lt. Gen. Ray Odierno, the No. 2 commander in Iraq, said in a statement announcing the start of the joint operation. "We are determined not to allow these brutal elements to have respite anywhere in Iraq."



From the Things We Already Knew a Long Time Ago file:
In the middle of a discussion of the Democratic primaries on MSNBC's Morning Joe, correspondent David Shuster burst out, "I don't know if this is the time to talk about Bill O'Reilly, but I've got a lot of things I want to say."

When encouraged to "get it out," Shuster stated emphatically, "Bill O'Reilly is a jerk."

"There's Bill O'Reilly at a Barack Obama event," Shuster explained. "Bill O'Reilly shoved a guy -- shoved a guy who was working for Barack Obama, because the guy happened to be standing in a certain spot. And there's Bill O'Reilly saying, 'Nobody gets in the way of the Factor's cameras.' ... Obama comes up, and what does Bill O'Reilly do? Does he ask some tough penetrating question? ... No. 'Will you come on my show?'"

"Give me a break," said Shuster. "What a jerk. What a jerk. Fox News ought to be so embarrassed with this guy."

"He's a cartoon character," agreed Mika Brzezinski.

"He's a buffoon," amplified Shuster. "He's such a buffoon, and everybody knows it."


Monday, January 07, 2008

Pakistan Hasn't Been Paying Attention

Rather odd, given that they have had a front row seat to watch exactly how much the US respects the sovereignty of nations that aren't us:
Pakistan reacted angrily Sunday to reports that US President George W. Bush is considering covert military operations in the country's volatile tribal areas bordering Afghanistan.


Scalia et al. Pro-Agonizing Pain

I'm no Supreme Court Justice, but an "avoidable risk of excruciating pain" sounds like the very definition of "cruel and unusual":
Supreme Court justices indicated Monday they are deeply divided over a challenge to the way most states execute prisoners by lethal injection, which critics say creates an avoidable risk of excruciating pain.

With executions in the United States halted since late September, the court heard arguments in a case from Kentucky that calls into question the mix of three drugs used in most executions.

Justice Antonin Scalia was among several conservatives on the court who suggested he would uphold Kentucky's method of execution and allow capital punishment to resume.


Justice David Souter urged his colleagues to take the time necessary to issue a definitive decision about the three-drug method in this case, even if it means sending the case back to Kentucky for more study by courts there.

Scalia, however, said such a move would mean "a national cessation of executions. We're looking at years. We wouldn't want that to happen."

Who is "we," Scalia?


Austin Winter

The drive from Little Rock to Austin yesterday was pleasant enough, except, of course, for Dallas and Waco. And we hit El Caribe for fajitas and margaritas before even settling in.

It's good to be back.

But I am reminded of one thing I don't miss about Texas: there is no winter.

High yesterday: 80.

Ah well. Going to spend the afternoon at the Alamo Drafthouse anyway.