Thursday, December 29, 2005

Top Bushisms of 2005

Paul JJ Payack, president of Global Language Monitor, a nonprofit group that monitors language use, chooses his top Bushisms of the year:

-- “See, in my line of work you got to keep repeating things over and over and over again for the truth to sink in, to kind of catapult the propaganda,” Bush said in explaining his communications strategy last May.

-- “I think I may need a bathroom break. Is this possible?” Bush asked in a note to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice during a U.N. Security Council meeting in September.

-- “This notion that the United States is getting ready to attack Iran is simply ridiculous. And having said that, all options are on the table,” Bush said in Brussels last February.

-- “In terms of timetables, as quickly as possible - whatever that means,” the president said of his timeframe for passing Social Security legislation in March.

-- “Those who enter the country illegally violate the law,” Bush said in describing illegal immigrants in Tucson, Arizona, last month.
And number one:
-- “Brownie, you're doing a heckuva job.”
Indeed.

If Only We Could All Get Along Like Road Raging Cabbies

Ok, so here's a rare warm and fuzzy story - not that we don't like posting them but they are increasingly hard to find these days! This NY Times article covers how NYC cab drivers are using a Queens gym to work off some of the accumulated stress they build up after 12 hour shifts. If you aren't familiar with the NYC area, many cab drivers are of South Asian religious and ethnic backgrounds - often ones that don't have the best of relations back home. At the gym, they manage to push all that aside just to get their cardio on:
Guillermo Messier, the club's night manager, said BQE Fitness has benefited from the 2,000 or so members who drive yellow taxis, livery cabs or limousines. "We couldn't stay open all night if it weren't for these guys," said Mr. Messier, a Colombian who has mastered a handful of brief exchanges in Punjabi, Bengali, Hindi and Urdu, the lingua francas of most overnight members.

Ethnic and religious differences largely melt away in the weight room, where drivers horse around or spot one another while lifting. Zulfeqar Ahmad, a 47-year-old Pakistani who was a college power lifter and a police officer, said he and his South Asian brethren enforced a ban on discussing politics. "Here, we are all brothers," he said, his arm draped across the shoulder of a beefy Punjabi driver from the other side of the Pakistani-Indian border. "If someone tries to talk politics, I tell them to stop. I am very strict."

Illegal Wiretapping Useless in "War on Terror"

The Bush administration's surveillance policy has failed to make a dent in the war against al Qaeda.

U.S. law enforcement sources said that more than four years of surveillance by the National Security Agency has failed to capture any high-level al Qaeda operative in the United States. They said al Qaeda insurgents have long stopped using the phones and even computers to relay messages. Instead, they employ couriers.

"They have been way ahead of us in communications security," a law enforcement source said. "At most, we have caught some riff-raff. But the heavies remain free and we believe some of them are in the United States."...

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter, Pennsylvania Republican, who was briefed by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales on the matter, said he plans to hold hearings on the program by February 2006.

"There may be legislation which will come out of it [hearings] to restrict the president's power," Mr. Specter said.

Read our NSA wiretapping story here.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Canada, why you tryin' to get shot?

Ok, I KNOW you aint talkin' smack about us Canada. Uh UH yo, uh uh...

Canadian officials, seeking to make sense of another fatal shooting in what has been a record year for gun-related deaths, said Tuesday that along with a host of social ills, part of the problem stemmed from what they said was the United States exporting its violence.

Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin and Toronto Mayor David Miller warned that Canada could become like the United States after gunfire erupted Monday on a busy street filled with holiday shoppers, killing a 15-year-old girl and wounding six bystanders -- the latest victims in a record surge in gun violence in Toronto...

While many Canadians take pride in Canadian cities being less violent than their American counterparts, Toronto has seen 78 murders this year, including a record 52 gun-related deaths -- almost twice as many as last year.

"What happened yesterday was appalling. You just don't expect it in a Canadian city," the mayor said.

"It's a sign that the lack of gun laws in the U.S. is allowing guns to flood across the border that are literally being used to kill people in the streets of Toronto," Miller said.

Miller said Toronto, a city of nearly three million, is still very safe compared to most American cities, but the illegal flow of weapons from the United States is causing the noticeable rise in gun violence.

"The U.S. is exporting its problem of violence to the streets of Toronto," he said.

Miller said the availability of stolen Canadian guns is another problem, and that poverty in certain Toronto neighborhoods is a root cause.

"There are neighborhoods in Toronto where young people face barriers of poverty, discrimination and don't have real hope and opportunity. The kind of programs that we once took for granted in Canada that would reach out to young people have systematically disappeared over the past decade and I think that gun violence is a symptom of a much bigger problem," Miller said.

The escalating violence prompted the prime minister to announce earlier this month that if re-elected on January 23, his government would ban handguns. With severe restrictions already in place against handgun ownership, many criticized the announcement as politics.

Martin, who says up to half of the gun crimes in Canada involve weapons brought in illegally from the United States, raised the smuggling problem when he met with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in October.

John Thompson, a security analyst with the Toronto-based Mackenzie Institute, says the number of guns smuggled from the United States is a problem, but that Canada has a gang problem -- not a gun problem -- and that Canada should stop pointing the finger at the United States.

"It's a cop out. It's an easy way of looking at one symptom rather than addressing a whole disease," Thompson said.

Canada, I really used to like you. Your wide eyed innocence, your good natured humor, but people, you can't blame us for everything!

No One Likes Bacon Anymore

Here's an article from the NY Times on how police departments across the country are having a hard time recruiting new cadets as officers. Perhaps this is evidence of a backlash of this latest generation against the perception of cops as thugs and bullies?

And this is despite departments offering bonuses and seemingly reasonable salaries for jobs that don't require a college degree (the LAPD pays rookies $51K/year).
Among the depleted ranks of police departments throughout the country, it has come to this: desperate want ads offering signing bonuses to new recruits, and cops paying other cops to find new cops.

It seems nobody wants to be a police officer anymore, officials say. As a result, departments are taking a page from recruiters in sports and the corporate world. Here in King County, the most populous in the Pacific Northwest, the Sheriff's Office is trying a kind of bounty hunting: any deputy who can bring in someone who eventually becomes an officer will get a bonus of 40 hours of extra vacation time, worth up to $1,300.

"This job used to be more enticing, and we didn't have to do a lot of marketing," said Sheriff's Deputy Jessica Cline, the chief recruiter for the King County force. "Over time, it's become less attractive. We needed to do something."

But it is a competitive world out there among police recruiters. San Diego County, for instance, has already gone King County one better. "Put a star in your future - now offering a signing bonus of up to $5,000," goes the Web advertisement for the San Diego County Sheriff's Department.
...
"The people we are now trying to recruit look at life and jobs in a very different way than baby boomers do," said Ms. Deck, of the police chiefs association. "People used to live to work. This younger generation works to live. Working late, working weekends, that's not attractive. They want to make money and retire early."

Then there is the competition from the armed services. At some military bases, commanders will not even allow police recruiters on the grounds, for fear that they will steal troops who might otherwise re-enlist, said Lt. Mike Barletta of the San Diego County Sheriff's Department.

The NYPD Is Watching Yo' Ass

LITERALLY!!

While watching some of the critical mass bike riders, the NYPD taped a pair doin' it like they do on the Discovery Channel from a $10 million helicopter. The hilarity in this article is that while the woman in the video wouldn't give her name out of simple modesty, the guy is a little too proud to be talking to the friggin' NY Times:
Mr. Rosner, a music business executive who owns the penthouse, said he remembered a police helicopter hovering overhead, which he assumed was only monitoring the throng of bicycle riders below.

"I'm very happy about cameras in public spaces," Mr. [Jeffrey] Rosner said. "If you're in a public space doing something inappropriate, I'm all for that. But if I'm in my house and you're using multimillion-dollar equipment to film me, not at all."
So that was the funny part of this post. The other aspects of this are more scary as the NYPD and their comrades in law enforcement over at the FBI are watching your ass during typically peaceful protests.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Sexy bin Laden

Ms. Dufour passes by Anna Wintour, the editor-in-chief of Vogue, who is lunching with designer Isaac Mizrahi, then stops at the next table to meet former Sony Music chairman Tommy Mottola and NBC head Jeff Zucker.

“You know Wafah bin Ladin?” Valvo asks the men loudly.

“Wafah Dufour,” she snaps, shooting him a look that’s more pleading than hostile.

The niece of the man who orchestrated the destruction of the World Trade Center seventy-eight blocks to the south has a point. After September 11, the name bin Laden (which is how it’s spelled when referring to Osama) turned radioactive, borderline satanic-by-association. It made her feel cursed, presumed guilty—made her wonder if it might keep her from ever getting a record deal. So she took her mother’s maiden name, Dufour, which makes for a better first impression, even though the bin Laden taint is always there.

Ms. Dufour, who’s vague about her age but almost certainly younger than 30, sits down at a good corner table and thanks me for helping her tell her story. “It’s really important for me,” she says with a French accent. “I was born in the States, and I ant people to know I’m American, and I want people here to understand that I’m like anyone in New York. For me, it’s home.

“It’s really tough that I have to always explain myself,” she continues in a soft, husky voice. “It’s like every time I meet someone, I have to move a huge mountain that’s in front of me, and sometimes I get tired.”

The face is alluring (big dark eyes, long lashes, plump lips, caramel skin), but she looks wounded. And there’s something else. At first I can’t quite figure it out, but then it hits me: She looks a little like her uncle, albeit a waify ninety-eight-pound tiny-footed version. Sexy Osama!... [From the December issue of GQ]

I know, ewww... yet hot! Wonder what the burqa endorsing uncle thinks about his neice showing her goodies in an American magazine.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Constitution? What Constitution?

On the heels of our previous story that the U.S. Military is compiling a watch-list of private citizens who have dissented against the war, comes news that Bush is allowing the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on Americans without the court-approved warrants ordinarily required for domestic spying. The following selectively chosen excerpts come from a very long New York Times, but if you have the time, read the entire thing. It's well worth it.

The Times have been working for several years on this story but were asked by the White House not to publish the article, arguing that it could jeopardize continuing investigations and alert would-be terrorists that they might be under scrutiny. They delayed publishing this for a year and some information that administration officials argued could be useful to terrorists was omitted from this report.

Under a presidential order signed in 2002, the intelligence agency has monitored the international telephone calls and international e-mail messages of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people inside the United States without warrants over the past three years in an effort to track possible "dirty numbers" linked to Al Qaeda, the officials said. The agency, they said, still seeks warrants to monitor entirely domestic communications.

The previously undisclosed decision to permit some eavesdropping inside the country without court approval was a major shift in American intelligence-gathering practices, particularly for the National Security Agency, whose mission is to spy on communications abroad. As a result, some officials familiar with the continuing operation have questioned whether the surveillance has stretched, if not crossed, constitutional limits on legal searches...

Under the agency's longstanding rules, the N.S.A. can target for interception phone calls or e-mail messages on foreign soil, even if the recipients of those communications are in the United States. Usually, though, the government can only target phones and e-mail messages in the United States by first obtaining a court order from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which holds its closed sessions at the Justice Department.

Traditionally, the F.B.I., not the N.S.A., seeks such warrants and conducts most domestic eavesdropping. Until the new program began, the N.S.A. typically limited its domestic surveillance to foreign embassies and missions in Washington, New York and other cities, and obtained court orders to do so...

Some officials familiar with it say they consider warrantless eavesdropping inside the United States to be unlawful and possibly unconstitutional, amounting to an improper search. One government official involved in the operation said he privately complained to a Congressional official about his doubts about the program's legality...

Widespread abuses - including eavesdropping on Vietnam War protesters and civil rights activists - by American intelligence agencies became public in the 1970's and led to passage of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which imposed strict limits on intelligence gathering on American soil. Among other things, the law required search warrants, approved by the secret F.I.S.A. court, for wiretaps in national security cases. The agency, deeply scarred by the scandals, adopted additional rules that all but ended domestic spying on its part...

Some agency officials wanted nothing to do with the program, apparently fearful of participating in an illegal operation, a former senior Bush administration official said. Before the 2004 election, the official said, some N.S.A. personnel worried that the program might come under scrutiny by Congressional or criminal investigators if Senator John Kerry, the Democratic nominee, was elected president.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Peace activists and others on U.S. military's secret list

The Pentagon says it views with the greatest concern possible misuse of a classified database of information about suspicious people and activity in the United States. An NBC News report on Tuesday said the database listed activities of anti-war groups and referred to at least 20 U.S. citizens or others inside the U.S.
Pentagon spokesmen declined to discuss the matter on the record but issued a written statement Wednesday evening that implied — but did not explicitly acknowledge — that some information had been handled improperly...

The Pentagon was responding to the report by NBC News, which said it obtained a 400-page document generated by an obscure Pentagon agency that analyzes intelligence reports on suspicious domestic activity that includes at least 20 references to U.S. citizens, plus information on anti-war meetings and protests...

NBC News said the database lists a meeting in 2004 of The Truth Project in Lake Worth, Fla., where activists planned a protest of military recruiting at local high schools. It listed the meeting as a “threat” and one of more than 1,500 “suspicious incidents” across the country over a recent 10-month period...

Some have portrayed its activities as reminiscent of the 1960s when the Pentagon collected information on anti-Vietnam war groups and peace activists.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Final Fantasy XV: Quest for Outsourced Jobs

This is why we love tip submissions. This story is truly bizarre.

One of China's newest factories operates here in the basement of an old warehouse. Posters of World of Warcraft and Magic Land hang above a corps of young people glued to their computer screens, pounding away at their keyboards in the latest hustle for money.

The people working at this clandestine locale are "gold farmers." Every day, in 12-hour shifts, they "play" computer games by killing onscreen monsters and winning battles, harvesting artificial gold coins and other virtual goods as rewards that, as it turns out, can be transformed into real cash.

That is because, from Seoul to San Francisco, affluent online gamers who lack the time and patience to work their way up to the higher levels of gamedom are willing to pay the young Chinese here to play the early rounds for them...

You read correctly, rich folks are outsourcing their gaming time to rural Chinese workers!!

"For 12 hours a day, 7 days a week, my colleagues and I are killing monsters," said a 23-year-old gamer who works here in this makeshift factory and goes by the online code name Wandering. "I make about $250 a month, which is pretty good compared with the other jobs I've had. And I can play games all day..."

For the Chinese in game-playing factories like these, though, it is not all fun and games. These workers have strict quotas and are supervised by bosses who equip them with computers, software and Internet connections to thrash online trolls, gnomes and ogres.

As they grind through the games, they accumulate virtual currency that is valuable to game players around the world. The games allow players to trade currency to other players, who can then use it to buy better armor, amulets, magic spells and other accoutrements to climb to higher levels or create more powerful characters...

What is more, the big gaming companies say the factories are violating the terms of use of the games, which forbid players to sell their virtual goods for real money... On eBay, for example, 100 grams of World of Warcraft gold is available for $9.99 or two über characters from EverQuest for $35.50. It costs $269 to be transported to Level 60 in Warcraft, and it typically takes 15 days to get the account back at the higher level.

Thank you anonymous for the tip!

Monday, December 12, 2005

Looting Antiquities and Funding Terrorism

This is a story that I've wanted to post for some time and is near and dear to me. I don't know if it's something only people in the "art world" care about, but it's something that everyone should maybe be aware of. This deals with the theft of culture. Recently some major museums have been hit hard by countries seeking their precious works back. Most notably is the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York who is being sued by the Italian government over some very important works they say were stolen and the J. Paul Getty Museum in California who's main antiquities curator is now on trial in Rome on charges of knowingly purchasing stolen objects from Italy and Greece.

When a artifact is taken from the ground without proper archaeological surveillance, the object becomes void of almost any meaning. Sure, one can still appreciate it's inherent beauty or intrinsic value but its context is gone. Where was it found? What was it used for? What time period is it from? Is it authentic? These are questions that can be answered when the work's location is documented. So, when a major museum or rich collector purchases stolen works of art (let's face it, almost all undocumented works are stolen and they know it), they are knowingly feeding into this illicit trade.

This op-ed piece in the NY Times, by Manhattan assistant district attorney, does a great job of breaking down the situation:

...Although most countries recognize the importance of preserving the world's cultural heritage, none have devoted sufficient resources to tracking down stolen artifacts... As for the art community, some feel that, while technically illegal, the market in purloined antiquities is benign- victimless - as long as it brings the art to those who can properly appreciate it (namely, themselves)...

But recently, things have become even more troubling - when tracking down terrorists, we now find antiquities. In a series of raids in June in northwest Iraq, for instance, marines arrested five terrorists in underground bunkers filled with automatic weapons, ammunition stockpiles, black uniforms, ski masks, night-vision goggles ... and 30 vases, cylinder seals and statuettes that had been stolen from the Iraq Museum...

Looting has always been a cottage industry in Iraq, whose rich ancient history includes the invention of pottery and the wheel. Yet Iraq's State Board of Antiquities has only 2,600 guards, half of them newly trained, for more than 10,000 archaeological sites. Iraq, then, has approximately one guard for every four sites, some of which - like the ruins of Babylon - need at least two dozen guards to be protected. And these guards lack necessary radios, vehicles and body armor... As a result, the desert night is filled with the roar of bulldozers ripping into mounds that were once thriving cities. This wholesale ransacking destroys not just the antiquities themselves, but context as well.

For it is expert recording of the placement of objects in levels and clusters that provides the most meaningful historical information. All this is lost, even if we later recover the object...

This is typical of the low priority given to investigative efforts worldwide. Interpol can afford to assign only two officers to its Antiquities Tracking Task Force - and both are responsible for other countries as well. Scotland Yard's art and antiquities squad has four officers. The F.B.I.'s Rapid Deployment National Art Crime Team has just eight people...

Progress in stopping the illegal trade also depends on increasing public awareness of the importance of cultural property and the magnitude of the current crisis. We must create a climate of universal condemnation, rather than sophisticated indulgence, for trafficking in undocumented antiquities...

Antiquities trafficking will never merit the same attention or resources as terrorism, drugs, human trafficking or violent crime, but it deserves to be on the same list...

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Clinton Bashes Bush's Environmental Policy (Sort of)


Remember the U.S. diss of the Kyoto protocol? Here are some updates on the latest happenings on the environmental policy front as this year's UN Climate conference is wrapping up.

Here's an article from the AP on how Bill Clinton criticized the Bush administration's policy.
Former President Clinton told a global audience of diplomats, environmentalists and others Friday that the Bush administration is "flat wrong" in claiming that reducing greenhouse-gas emissions to fight global warming would damage the U.S. economy.

With a "serious disciplined effort" to develop energy-saving technology, he said, "we could meet and surpass the Kyoto targets in a way that would strengthen and not weaken our economies."
And a somewhat different spin of the same speech from the NY Times - they point out that Clinton also denounces the setting of specific pollution ceilings:
Early in the afternoon, former President Bill Clinton gave a hastily arranged speech to the thousands of delegates in which he sketched a route around the impasse that included gentle rebukes of those seeking concrete targets and also of the Bush administration.

Mr. Clinton said countries should pay less attention to establishing global targets for emissions and more to discrete initiatives to advance and disseminate technologies that could greatly reduce emissions in both rich and poor countries.

In a comment clearly directed at the Bush administration, he noted that the United States had adopted a precautionary approach to fighting terrorism. "There is no more important place in the world to apply the principle of precaution than the area of climate change," he said, generating waves of applause.

"I think it's crazy for us to play games with our children's future," Mr. Clinton said. "We know what's happening to the climate, we have a highly predictable set of consequences if we continue to pour greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, and we know we have an alternative that will lead us to greater prosperity."
And finally, the U.S. delegation backs down a bit from their dickish behavior. Cause after all, the children are our future right?

Trade Your Bible for Porn

Oh college kids. What wacky idealist ideas they have. Check out this article in MSNBC on kids from the University of Texas San Antonio who are giving porn to those who trade in their bibles (or other religious texts). The bulk of the article actually contains a partial transcript of an interview between Tucker Carlson and the group's president, Thomas Jackson. If only this could be as successful as "guns for cash" programs!
TUCKER CARLSON: Tell me why you're promising to give porn to people who bring in sacred texts, the Bible, the Bhagavad Gita, the Koran What's the idea?

THOMAS JACKSON: All right. Well, we have Bronze Aged tribal nonsense, these things written by people in tents ages ago, and we're using this to renounce science standards in our classrooms in America. We're using it to kind of influence our political agenda.

And we've read it. Atheists actually tend to be rather knowledgeable about scripture, and we are using this as a medium to get people to know what's actually within the religious text that they hold so dear.

CARLSON: Why porn, though? Why not just argue, you know, about what parts of the sacred text you find specious?

JACKSON: Well, first of all, you know, pornography gets a lot of negative press, and it's smut. A lot of it really is. And we wanted to make the comparison between that and the smut that is religious scripture or a lot of it, you know. The stuff that says a woman is worth half a man, the things that say, you know, you should beat children.

These things aren't acceptable in our society, and if pornography is not acceptable, then these things surely aren't. At the very least, what we're doing is trading something that's very, very bad for something that's only moderately bad.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

ACLU? No, ACL F-U!

You know how much we loves our ACLU but here's an article from the NY Times on some recent infighting at the ACLU between it's board of directors and Anthony D. Romero, executive director since September of 2001. In addition to the ongoing disputes, there are some interesting situations mentioned in the article where the organization is seemingly violating it's core principles - things that make you go "hmmmmm...."
Citing a need for efficiency, the organization now often insists that board members who want to question Mr. Romero or other senior staff members first get approval from the executive committee.

The restriction is similar to one the A.C.L.U.'s Michigan affiliate is challenging on behalf of a board member at a small university.

Several staff members are complaining about a new requirement that they sign an agreement by Jan. 6 never to disclose information broadly defined by the group as confidential. They contrast it with the A.C.L.U.'s record of defending whistle-blowers, most recently an F.B.I. analyst who complained about faulty translations.

Some critics wonder whether Mr. Romero would today defend the right of neo-Nazis to march through the heavily Jewish city of Skokie, Ill. - a 1997 action that strained the A.C.L.U.'s financial resources.

When asked, Mr. Romero said he would make the same decision.

"The reason why today we have credibility to argue for the rights of antiwar protesters or choice protesters is the fact that we have argued for those same rights on behalf of Nazis and antichoice protesters," he wrote in an e-mail message.

The Christians of Narnia

Here's a several-weeks-old article from the NY Times about not so subtle Christian undertones in the Chronicles of Narnia series. With the movie coming out this weekend, I thought this might be a good time to post this.

There are seven Narnia books in all, making them potentially the third great onslaught - after the movie adaptations of "Harry Potter" and Tolkien's famous "Lord of the Rings" trilogy - of British children's lit into the multiplex. Like the Rowling and Tolkien books, Lewis's evoke a richly imagined parallel universe, but they differ in including a frankly religious element: not just an undercurrent of all-purpose, feel-good religiosity but a rigorous substratum of no-nonsense, orthodox Christianity. If you read between the lines - and sometimes right there in them - these stories are all about death and resurrection, salvation and damnation. From a moviemaking point of view, this is excellent news if you are hoping to reach the crowd that packed the theaters to see Mel Gibson's "Passion of the Christ," probably not so great if you're also hoping to lure all those wizards-and-weapons fans who made the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy such a hit...

[12/9/05 update]
Move over Passion of the Christ thorn and nail necklaces, Christian retail stores have a new movie to promote:.

Large, elaborate in-store displays at many stores depict wardrobes, lions, lampposts, knights and other Narnia items and characters. Besides the original books, Christian retailers are stocking their shelves with a variety of movie tie-in products, from music CDs to figurines. Doug Lockhart, Zondervan's president and chief executive officer, said sales at Christian stores are going through the roof, though he declined to release figures.

Forgive me for I live in New York city. What are these Christian stores like? Are they like the anti-Hot Topic?

[12/12/05 Update]
Is it possible that there's room for Christian and secular appreciation of the Chronicles? Here's an Op-Ed piece from the NY Times making the case for getting along.

Why Should You Show Your ID to Get On a Plane?

This article from Wired discusses the lonely crusade of one eccentric millionaire to fight for freedom in travel. Specifically, the founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) is challenging the requirement to show ID before boarding a typical commercial flight. Most interestingly, the government was real shady about even admitting that a federal law exists that requires identification to be shown.
On Thursday, [John] Gilmore will argue that the government's secret identification rules -- no federal law compels travelers to show ID -- and no-fly list infringe on his First Amendment rights, but don't make the country safer.

In addition, government lawyers long denied the existence of the rule -- which predates the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks -- even though there are signs in airports cautioning passengers that they are required to show identification.

The government recently switched tactics, acknowledging the rule exists but arguing that the identification requirement is a law-enforcement technique.

So far, the government has refused to show Gilmore the order compelling airlines to ask for identification, saying that the rule is "sensitive security information," a security designation that was greatly expanded by Congress in 2002, allowing the Transportation Security Administration wide latitude to withhold information from the public.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Your college loans will never go away

And I should know, my loan debt is near 35K! When I was a student, a classics major, I thought I could always fall back on bankruptcy to erase my debts if I didn't find a fabulous job in the world of art historizising. Unfortunately I learned that bankruptcy doesn't apply to student loans, who knew?! Now comes word that the government can hold my Social Security checks when I'm an old lady. How's granny gonna pay for her cat food if I still have my student loan debt and no Social Security money to show for it?

The Supreme Court ruled unanimously Wednesday that the government can seize a person's Social Security benefits to pay old student loans.

Retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor wrote the decision that went against a disabled man, James Lockhart, who had sued claiming he needed all of his $874 monthly check to pay for food and medication.

His government benefits had been cut by 15 percent to cover debts he incurred for college in the 1980s... Lockhart, 67, a former postal worker who now lives in public housing in Seattle, has heart disease, diabetes and other health problems. He has about $77,000 in student loan debt.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

You have no voice, you don't exist

"Republican wants to change Census count" -- When I saw this headline on Reuters I said, hmm, harmless enough I guess. But wait, a Republican wants to do this? There must be a sinister reason behind it, so I clicked on the article and of course I got pissed.

[Michigan Rep. Candice Miller] on Tuesday proposed changing the U.S. Constitution to exclude non-citizens from the Census for the purpose of drawing congressional districts, a move that effectively would deny them a voice in U.S. politics.

Under the present system, as determined by the 14th amendment to the Constitution, the Census Bureau counts all individuals living in the country once every 10 years. This data is used when drawing up the 435 congressional districts and when determining each state's vote in the Electorial College that decides presidential elections.

Rep. Miller wants to change that so that both legal and illegal aliens would be excluded.

"This is about fundamental fairness and the American ideal of one man or one woman, one vote," Miller told a hearing of the House of Representatives subcommittee on federalism and the census called to debate the matter.

Miller's proposal comes amid a growing tide of anti-immigrant sentiment, particularly among Republicans in the House of Representatives. Several proposals are under consideration to toughen border controls and make it more difficult for employers to give jobs to illegal aliens...

"Immigration takes away representation from states composed almost entirely of U.S. citizens so that new districts can be created in states with large numbers of non-citizens," said Steven Camarota of the Center for Immigration Studies, which favors a slowdown of legal immigration and tough enforcement...

According to Clark Bensen of Polidata, a Virginia firm which analyses demographic information, excluding non-citizens would have boosted President George W. Bush's margin of victory in the Electoral College from 4 to 12 votes in the disputed 2000 election and from 34 to 42 in 2004...

If you could see me typing this, it's with one finger and I'll give you one guess which finger it is.

Lawful members of our society who pay income, property and sales taxes as well as for your and my Social Security, will ask why they are being denied the earliest and most basic right of our democracy -- political representation," Kenneth Prewitt (head of the Census Bureau) said.

According to the 2000 census, there were 31 million foreign-born people in the United States, of whom an estimated 60 percent were non-citizens.

That's right you fuckers. Most legal aliens have been in this country for years but never become U.S. citizens, whether it's fear of loosing their national identity or a loyalty to their mother country. It does not mean that they don't put hard work and money into the system. This is an obvious attempt by the Republican party to strengthen their Electoral votes for the next election.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Conservatives and Christmas

It's often pointed out that Christian conservative groups sure do complain a lot given that the government reflects their will so readily. Here's more stupidity along the same lines from a NY Times Op Ed piece:
The American Family Association is leading a boycott of Target for not using the words "Merry Christmas" in its advertising. (Target denies it has an anti-Merry-Christmas policy.) The Catholic League boycotted Wal-Mart in part over the way its Web site treated searches for "Christmas." Bill O'Reilly, the Fox anchor who last year started a "Christmas Under Siege" campaign, has a chart on his Web site of stores that use the phrase "Happy Holidays," along with a poll that asks, "Will you shop at stores that do not say 'Merry Christmas'?"

This campaign - which is being hyped on Fox and conservative talk radio - is an odd one. Christmas remains ubiquitous, and with its celebrators in control of the White House, Congress, the Supreme Court and every state supreme court and legislature, it hardly lacks for powerful supporters. There is also something perverse, when Christians are being jailed for discussing the Bible in Saudi Arabia and slaughtered in Sudan, about spending so much energy on stores that sell "holiday trees."

What is less obvious, though, is that Christmas's self-proclaimed defenders are rewriting the holiday's history. They claim that the "traditional" American Christmas is under attack by what John Gibson, another Fox anchor, calls "professional atheists" and "Christian haters." But America has a complicated history with Christmas, going back to the Puritans, who despised it. What the boycotters are doing is not defending America's Christmas traditions, but creating a new version of the holiday that fits a political agenda.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Why'd you have to tell my moms!

I'm sure it's hard enough being a gay person in a small town, especially when you're in H.S. and everything is so awkward to begin with. But this poor girl had the principle of her school out her to her mom before she could do it herself. So she's filing suit, charging that her privacy rights were violated when the principal called her mother and disclosed that she is gay.

Ms. Nguon filed suit in September after a year of run-ins with Ben Wolf, the principal of Santiago High School in Garden Grove, Calif., over her hugging, kissing and holding hands with her girlfriend. Ms. Nguon was an all-A student ranked in the top 5 percent of her class, with no prior record of discipline.

But last year, after Mr. Wolf said he wanted to separate her from her girlfriend, she transferred to another school. Her grades slipped, and her commute grew from a four-block walk to a four-and-a-half mile bike ride.

Judge James V. Selna of the Central District Court of California ruled Monday that Ms. Nguon had "sufficiently alleged a legally protected privacy interest in information about her sexual orientation."

"This is the first court ruling we're aware of where a judge has recognized that a student has a right not to have her sexual orientation disclosed to her parents, even if she is out of the closet at school," said Christine Sun, a lawyer at the American Civil Liberties Union, who brought the case. "It's really important, because, while Charlene's parents have been very supportive, coming out is a very serious decision that should not be taken away from anyone, and disclosure can cause a lot of harm to students who live in an unsupportive home."

Alan Trudell, a spokesman for the school district, would not comment on the litigation. In its motion to dismiss the case, the district argued that Ms. Nguon had no legally protectable privacy right because she was "openly lesbian" and "constantly" hugging and kissing her girlfriend.

"A reasonable person could not expect that their actions on school grounds, in front of everyone else on the school grounds, would remain private," the motion said...

Conservatives criticized the judge's reasoning. "This court ruling is so unrealistic that it borders on ridiculous," said Carrie Gordon Earll, a spokeswoman for Focus on the Family, a socially conservative group based in Colorado. "In a disciplinary action by the school, you can't expect them to lie to the parents and not give details of what happened. It seems ironic to raise privacy as an issue in a public display of affection. She'd already outed herself." ...

The lawsuit seeks to clear Ms. Nguon's record and create a districtwide policy and guidelines for the treatment of gay students.

What business is it the principle's what a kid's sexual orientation might be? Does he call up the football players mom's to tell her that he spotted Johnny making out with a cheerleader? The problem is that the principle thought that this was "wrong" so he inflicted his own moral beliefs onto this girl's family. When you were in H.S., did you want your parents to know every stupid thing you were up to?

[12/30/05 Update]

In a related story, two 16-year-olds who were expelled from California Lutheran High School because they were suspected of being lesbians have sued the school for invasion of privacy and discrimination.

The lawsuit alleges that the school’s principal, Gregory Bork, called the girls into his office, grilled them on their sexual orientation and “coerced” one girl into saying she loved the other.

The next day, the lawsuit says, Bork told the girls’ parents they could not stay at the school with “those feelings.” In a Sept. 12 letter to the parents, Bork acknowledged that officials had seen no physical contact between the girls but said their friendship was “uncharacteristic of normal girl relationships and more characteristic of a lesbian one.”

“Such a relationship violates our Christian Code of Conduct,” Bork wrote in his letter, which was included as an exhibit in the lawsuit. He called the girls’ behavior scandalous” and “immoral.”

Hanson said the 142-student school in Wildomar, Calif., must comply with state civil rights laws because it functions as a business by collecting tuition.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Iraq to US, "Don't piss on my leg and tell me it's raining"

The web of lies and deceit continued with this story that has even, supposedly, disturbed the White House.

The White House expressed concern on Thursday at reports that the U.S. military has secretly paid Iraqi newspapers to run dozens of pro-American articles written by a special military task force.

The Los Angeles Times reported on Wednesday the program began this year and the articles were written in English, translated into Arabic and then given to Baghdad newspapers to print in return for money.

We're very concerned about the reports. We are seeking more information from the Pentagon," said White House spokesman Scott McClellan.

Sen. John Kerry, a Massachusetts Democrat who was defeated by Bush in the presidential election, said paying for stories undermined U.S. credibility. "What we need are Iraqis who really believe what they're saying and say it for themselves," he said to reporters at the White House.

The Los Angeles Times said it based its story on interviews with U.S. military officials who spoke on condition of anonymity and with Iraqi newspaper employees, as well as documents it obtained.

A defense contractor, a Washington-based public relations firm called Lincoln Group, helped translate the stories and used staff or subcontractors posing as freelance journalists or advertising executives to bring them to Iraqi media outlets, the Times
reported.

The Times depicted the stories as "basically factual," but said they omitted information that might not reflect well upon the United States or the U.S.-backed Iraqi government.The newspaper also reported that the "Information Operations Task Force" in Baghdad has bought an Iraqi newspaper and taken control of a radio station, and was using them to disseminate pro-American views as well...

Ok, seriously, can this administration do anything non-shady? It's one back-stabbing, illegal, embarrassing thing after another.