Welcome to UNKNOWN NEWS "News that's not known, or not known enough."
Helen & Harry Highwater's cranky weblog of news and opinion.
Soon, another front in the war without end

      ♦  General David Petraeus, Commander of the U.S. Central Command, is out of his mind and thus perfect for his current position. Here he tells the media that Iran's nuclear installations "certainly can be bombed".
      I wonder, what's the strategy in saying this on CNN? Does Petraeus think Iran is unaware that its facilities could be bombed? Is there someone somewhere watching CNN who'd been previously unaware that the US possesses an endless supply of bombs and an
President Obama, where's that 'change' you promised? Start standing up to the radical right-wing.

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endless willingness to drop them on Arabs and Muslims? It's a little like having Hannibal Lecter tell you he'd like to eat your liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti — Lecter's reputation is well known already, so he really doesn't need to issue a warning unless people taste better when they're eaten scared.

      ♦  Ever since the dratted underwear bomber successfully terrorized America (and it sure was successful terror, with the help of Republicans, Democrats, and the media) there's been a steady supply of bad news about Yemen. Why, it's almost as if we're being prepared for another possible front in the war without end. We've always been at war with Yemen, haven't we?

      ♦  A study finds 12% of children imprisoned in America's juvenile justice system report being sexually abused in custody, either by staff or by fellow inmates. Let's all pretend to be surprised, OK?

      ♦  The ACLU has obtained a two-page CIA cable ordering the destruction of videotaped torture sessions, a memo which seems like obstruction of justice and destruction of evidence to me. Expect no response whatsoever from the Justice Department — if justice was at all what they're after, a parade of Bush-Cheney officials would be marching to trial.

      ♦  The American Civil Liberties Union (donate) has gotten public school officials in Tennessee to agree to end Gideons International's annual distribution of New Testaments to students. In public schools. In America. In 2010.

      ♦  The Electronic Frontier Foundation (donate) is looking for complainants for what smells like a possible class-action lawsuit over the federal policy of seizing and snooping through laptop computers at the border.

      ♦  I don't much care about the privacy issues of those invasive airport whole-body scanners for passengers — if privacy mattered at all, the harassment of travelers at airports would've stopped long ago. But it's worth noting that we're talking about trusting our privacy to the Transportation Safety Administration (TSA), an agency that's lying to us about our privacy. TSA's claim that passengers' privacy couldn't be breached is hogwash — the machines can store, record and transfer images of your scanned privates for any perv who wants to see 'em.

      ♦  Federal Judge Richard Leon (appointed by Bush43 in 2001) has ruled that electronic cigarettes, devices which deliver nicotine as a liquidized vapor instead of an annoying stinky smoke, are cigarettes. This will slow down but probably not stop the Federal Drug Administration's ongoing efforts to regulate the device as a drug delivery system. It is a drug delivery system, of course, but it delivers the same deadly drug in pretty much the same way as cigarettes, so the judge says there's no real logic in regulating e-cigarettes but notMarlboros.
from recent readers' comments

From recent readers' comments

      My opinion: The judge is right. Freedom is farcical if it doesn't include the freedom to make stupid choices like smoking cigarettes or e-cigarettes. The government is informing people that products like cigarettes are deadly, and that's a proper function for government, but banning cigarettes or e-cigarettes is not.

      ♦  Judge Raymond Randolph (appointed by Bush41 in 1990) wants to see the statute that gives the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) the power to enforce any rule on net neutrality. The long silence waiting for the FCC to cite the statute suggests that the agency indeed may not have that legal authority, which might be painful 'cuz if so, the Democrats don't have the courage to give the FCC that authority so net neutrality is seriously endangered.

      ♦  A Massachusetts court has ruled against cops' rather ludicrous claim that a warrant-less search of Wilbert Cruz-Rivera’s car can be justified as necessary for the officers' safety. The cops said they searched the car only because they saw Cruz-Rivera suspiciously bend over inside his car at a traffic stop. Claiming they were fearful for their own safety, they searched the car and found a tiny weapon and a bundle of cocaine. So Mr Cruz-Rivera walks, and this is what people who oppose freedom call "getting off on a technicality", but to me it's a rare, refreshing ruling that says this ain't yet a police state and cops still have to follow the rules of the law.

      ♦  Cass Sunstein, who's in charge of the Obama administration's "policies relating to privacy, information quality, and statistical programs", wrote in 2008 that conspiracy theorists should be infiltrated with government agents in "chat rooms, online social networks, or even real-space groups" who would "attempt to undermine" those groups. Sounds like exactly the kind of sinister skullduggery that inspires conspiracy theorists. Sunstein should resign at once.

      ♦  The US Army is prosecuting a female soldier for refusing overseas deployment because she has a 10-month-old kid and nobody to take care of him. Do we need intelligence tests for military officers? Good Christ, I want to live in a country where the jackasses who decided to prosecute Spc. Alexis Hutchinson are themselves drummed out of the military and possibly prosecuted.

      ♦  In Illinois, the Cook County State's Attorney's Office has ratcheted up its war against the Medill Innocence Project, the college program that investigates possible cases of misfired justice. The Medill Project has freed numerous innocent people who'd been falsely sentenced to prison or death, but instead of considering the group's evidence that one Anthony McKinney has been imprisoned for decades in error, Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez has demanded all manner of internal documents from the Medill investigation, and questioning the credit students receive for participating. Her office has now given the media a 15-year-old memo that has nothing to do with the case at hand, but seems intended to smear the project's student volunteers.
      The logical conclusion here is that Alvarez has no interest in justice, only in making sure that cases closed remain closed, whether the verdict was right or wrong. It's a sick and twited society that would pay this woman's salary in a job that's supposed to have something to do with justice. Snap out of it, Illinois, and demand Alvarez's resignation.

'The Thinker' statueIt made me stop and thinkStop and think

      "And you thought
Star Wars was just science fiction, right? Ha! Remember how the heroic insurgents were first ferreted out by a drone? Remember how the rulers of the universe were called “The Empire?” Remember their vast force of identical armor-clad soldiers? Remember Darth Vader, the Empire’s evil genius, sounding for all the world like Dick Cheney? But perhaps most of all, remember how the whole Battle Star community, pro-war and pro-peace alike, went up in flames?"

      "Let's pick the official US state religion with a game show. Sure, it would be shallow, loud, flashy, and would pander to the lowest common denominator of the population … but can you imagine anything more American? And it would make money! Even more American!"

      "The only reason why anyone is talking about a Great Depression is because of the incredible economicmismanagement of [Alan Greenspan, Ben Bernanke, and Timothy Geithner ]. Remarkably, they either could not see or did not care about the growth of an $8 trillion housing bubble. It was totally predictable that the collapse of this bubble would throw the economy into a severe downturn.
      "... It also is worth noting that almost every major financial institution would have been bankrupt in the fall of 2008 without government support. This means that all the multi-million dollar bonus babies at Goldman Sachs and the rest would now be walking the streets looking for jobs without handouts from the government. The government could have put any conditions it chose on this money. TheGeithner, Bernanke, [Henry] Paulson crew opted to put no real conditions on the money given to the banks. As a result, they are richer than ever and the rest of the country has every right to be outraged."

      "In the past decade we seem to have created two new social classes,unaccountable global moguls with no regulations, and global unlawful combatants with no civil rights. It's either the penthouse or Guantanamo, and they're both invisiblenetherworlds out of reach of the rule of law. Both very dangerous to the rest of us."

      ♦  A 2002 Supreme Court ruling allowed states to set their own definitions of mental retardation to decide who meets the criteria for execution. Instead of adopting the Supreme Court’s accepted clinical standards for mental retardation, Texas has granted heavy leeway to psychologist evaluations. Now one psychologist, George Denkowski, is facing scrutiny over methods that critics say unfairly send mentally retarded prisoners to death row.

      ♦  A Kansas judge has ruled that Scott Roeder, the accused and admitted killer of abortion doctor George Tiller, can defend himself in court by claiming that the killing was justified for the protection of unborn babies.
      And sure, that pleading makes me uncomfortable and has scary implications, but I don't share what seems to be the general lefty response that the judge must be a dipstick. Don't you want people to be able to argue moral justification for political protests, like the nuns who drenched a missile silo in blood? I sure do. Of course, killing somebody seems a little extreme as a political protest, so I sure wouldn't buy it if I was on the jury, but it's not like Roeder has been acquitted or this defense strategy has been successful. It's his defense, that's all, and I think it's his honest defense because that's the reason he did it, so that's the defense he should use. But ruling that he can defend himself in court with the strategy he chooses, that isn't at all the same as having his strategy succeed. And I certainly hope it fails and he spends the rest of his life in prison. Anything less will be an outrage.

Legalize it, damn it.

      ♦  Mental health care activist Philip Dawdy has filed paperwork to put an initiative on the ballot in Washington, to repeal the state's criminal penalties on the adult use, possession and cultivation of marijuana. Kudos to Philip, best of luck, and we'll include a link for donating to the campaign as soon as they've got a web page. Meanwhile, they've made an immediate enemy of the state of the Drug Policy Director at ACLU of Washington, Alison Holcomb.

      ♦  In California, legislation to legalize and tax pot made it past the Assembly Public Safety Committee, but still faces long odds in the Assembly itself.

      ♦  The New Jersey legislature has passed a bill legalizing marijuana for medicinal purposes, and the Governor says he'll sign it.

      ♦  A Kentucky professor who's billed as "the author of the state’s penal code" has conducted a thorough study of the state's flamboyantly (but ordinary, by American standards) stupid, cruel, counterproductive, and wasteful drug laws and drug punishment. His proposal for a sane alternative will, of course, be ignored.

      ♦  The trial over Proposition 8, the initiative which axed gay marriage rights in California, is underway, but you might have noticed that you're not seeing the promised coverage on YouTube. That's because Anthony Kennedy sided with the conservative faction on the Supreme Court in an "emergency hearing" to block public access.
      The "emergency" was that right-wing arguments against civil rights for gays would be perceived by viewers as bluntly stupid and cruel, since right-wing arguments against civil rights for gays are bluntly stupid and cruel, but now the right-wingers need not worry that broadcasting the trial might cause them "irreparable harm". And no, there's really no defensible logic behind the ruling, beyond sending the message that if the judge in California makes a ruling or reaches a verdict that the hatemongers wouldn't like, they have the Supreme Court in their back pocket.
      Meanwhile, if you'd like well-written, timely coverage of the trial, it's being presented at prop8trialtracker.com.

      ♦  If you've ever been to an American Indian reservation for any purpose other than gambling, you've seen some of the country's poorest and most forgotten people. I'm not doubting that the Palestinians have it crappy, but the main difference between their crapstorm and the crapstorm faced by natives in American is that America has so much more space than Palestine, our natives can be shunted aside and treated as second- or third-class citizens without literally building walls or constructing checkpoints.
      "The Oglala Sioux's per capita income is around $7,000 (£4,400) a year, less than one-sixth of the national average and on a par with Bulgaria. The residents of Wounded Knee, scene of the notorious 1890 massacre of Sioux women and children and of the 1973 standoff with the FBI, are typically living on less than half of that. Young people have almost no hope of work unless they sign up to fight in Afghanistan. The few with jobs are almost all employed by the tribal authorities or the federal government. It is not uncommon to hear people quietly speak of the guilt they feel for having a job. Those who don't survive on pitifully small welfare cheques. It all adds up to a life expectancy on Pine Ridge of about only 50 years."

      ♦  It doesn't matter whether Republicans control Congress, or Democrats do, at least insofar as ethics. The House and Senate Ethics committees remain laughable masquerades, and again as we've said before and as anyone with any common sense understands, discipline for corrupt members of Congress must be conducted by people who aren't members of Congress. Duh. An independent, hopefully non-partisan board should be established, with subpoena power and a few jail cells for holding the alleged perps until trial.

Who would Jesus bomb?

      ♦  Well, yeah, the filibuster rule in the Senate is unconstitutional. Seems obvious when Kevin Drum stops and explains it.

      ♦  A large and growing number of "Tea Party" operatives are running for Congress, challenging Republicans in numerous races. It might turn out to have been unwise for the right-wing's big-money puppeteers to light a fuse under the stupidest segment of the right-wing base.

      ♦  Jane Norton, a radical right-wing candidate who's leading in polls for this fall's Senate race in Colorado, has tried to ban a Democratic-funded cameraman who's been attending her rallies to film her outrageous statements, and her outrageous unwillingness to say anything disagreeable when rally attendees describe the President as a baby-killer, a Muslim, etc. Are Coloradoans really going to be dumb enough to send this woman to the Senate?

      ♦  With big-bucks backing from out of state, the polls and pundits and dang near every hyperventilating left-wing blogger seems to agree that the right-wing's beloved Massachusetts state Rep and former "America’s Sexiest Man" Scott Brown is neck-and-neck against the Democratic candidate for US Senate, Martha Coakley. Brown's positions, as ghostwritten in this Boston Globe op-ed, are just ordinary Republican claptrap — he's pro-torture, anti-health care reform, anti-regulation, anti-stimulus, thinks another round of tax cuts will fix the economy, and bolsters his points with casually inserted lies all along the way. He's a charming and handsome but generic, factory-made, hollow-head Republican.

Want to support our troops? Stop sending them on stupid wars.

      And yes, I'm aware that Coakley is a generic, factory-made, hollow-head Democrat, Obama without the brains or charisma. She's a career prosecutor with a scary record of disregard for constitutional protections and no cognizance of Yankee-Red Sox dynamics. The lack of enthusiasm for her candidacy is incredibly easy to understand.
      But that said, this is frickin' Massachusetts, the bluest of blue states. If a Democrat handpicked by the Dems' leaders can't win Ted Kennedy's Senate seat in famously liberal Massachusetts, and can't win by a comfortable margin against some schmuck who sounds exactly like George W Bush, then it's over and we might as well kick back and watch American Idol, 'cuz Democrats will be toppling everywhere come November and Obama better have a moving van reserved for January 2012 — but seriously, I don't think so. The Democratic Party's putrid ineptitude is inarguable and Coakley is going to be part of the problem, because Massachusetts won't fall for a flim-flammer like Brown.
      That said, still, please disregard me, Massachusetts, and get out and vote.

      ♦  It looks like a TV ad for Brown, funded by a New Hampshire millionaire who's running for the Senate there, violates the election finance laws that are about to be struck down by the US Supreme Court.

      ♦  Remember Arlen Specter (D-Pennsylvania), who switched from Republican to Democrat in late April 2009 when he realized he couldn't win re-election to the Senate as a Republican? Specter started mellowing his long-time right-wing positions not with the switch, but a few months later, when it became clear that Congressman Joe Sestak (D-Pennsylvania) would challenge him in this year's primary.

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      And now, only nine months after his big but shallow switcheroo, and not long at all after it became clear that Specter was blocking Dawn Johnsen's appointment to the Office of Legal Counsel, Specter says he'll stop blocking Johnson's nomination. Johnsen, of course, is by far President Obama's best nomination for anything, and all it takes to get Specter's OK for Obama's best nomination is ... a party switch, a primary challenge, and a public outting of Specter's position.
      Well, thanks, Senator Specter, and ka-boom, Joe Sestak gets another twenty bucks from me.

      ♦  After a mentally-disturbed soldier at Fort Hood went out of his mind and killed 13 people at the base, a "high-level Pentagon inquiry" was organized, and its findings are as obvious as you might expect. Brace yourself for a yawn: The military should focus more resources on identifying service members who might pose a threat to their colleagues.
      Sweet jeebers, isn't that just common sense? You need an investigation to figute that out? When bureaucracies of millions are set up to train people to kill without hesitation and without conscience — that is the military's mission, you know — a steady mental health watch should be part of the planning. That should've been obvious even centuries ago.

      ♦  In last week's fake Republican outrage, we saw the right-wing take great phony umbrage over Senator Harry Reid (D-Nevada)'s clumsy assessment of Obama's 'Negroness' , and over Bill Clinton continuing his political career even after a hurricane in Haiti (donate). Can't wait to see what next week's fake Republican outrage be about.

♦  We give President Obama and the Democratic Party's leadership a lot of complaints because, let's face it, they deserve a lot of complaints. They're playing go-along-to-get-along and yielding on almost everything, when America despeately needs a complete about-face on any number of fronts — war and peace, civil rights, the environment, the economy, open government, on and on.
      But in the interest of fairness, we'll also give Obama and the Democrats a pat on the back when they get something right. This week...
      The President responded to the Haitian earthquake quickly and appropriately, and the Department of Homeland Security has properly announced that Haitians who overstay their visas won't be hassled or arrested for at least eighteen months. These are examples of America at her best.
      And way down in the small print of this article we learn that "the United States reached an agreement with Cuba to allow American planes on medical-evacuation missions to pass through restricted Cuban airspace ... reducing the flight time to Miami by 90 minutes." (Login as unknownnews with password unknown.) I don't think the Bush administration would've done that, and I'd wager they'd have said no if Cuba offered. You might recall, the Bush administration tried to topple Haiti's government and cut US aid to Haiti several times.
      Also, for the first time since Bill Clinton was President, the Justice Department has intervened in a gay person's civil rights lawsuit, on the side of the victim.

fascism  :  a political philosophy, movement, or regime (as that of the Fascisti) that exalts nation and often race above the individual and that stands for a centralized autocratic government headed by a dictatorial leader, severe economic and social regimentation, and forcible suppression of opposition
      ♦  The Obama administration is getting tough, and wants to have the rescued criminal banks (a) dissolved; (b) prosecuted; or (c) make some small thank-you payments for the TARP rescue funds that allowed them to continue to exist.
      It's (c) of course, but the usual gang of right-wing bastards and big-money politicians are predictably standing together to block even that tiny shred of doing the right thing.

      ♦  It's been established by precedent that super-colossal financial institutions deemed "too big to fail" will be rescued by hyper-ginormous infusions of cash from the federal treasury, so it seems logical to at least charge these "too big to fail" firms a substantial premium for this de facto insurance coverage.

      ♦  The Federal Reserve has sent lawyers into court to argue that it should never be forced to tell us the names of the financial firms that received their unfair share of the federal government's $2 trillion bailout.
      And the Fed has also instructed federal investigators to withhold from Congress certain documents related to the Fed’s payments to AIG counterparties, with the dubious pledge that the Fed will supply those documents itself. Riiight.
      And that's the same Federal Reserve that sweats bullets whenever anyone proposes that it be audited. There's probably no chance at all that any court would rule against the joint interests of ginormous criminal bankers and their governmental partners in crime, but if it happened, if removing the cloak of secrecy and honestly discussing the biggest bank heist of all time was allowed, dang me, wouldn't that be sweet?

      ♦  As a parting shot or perhaps just to make sure he won't be missed, the perpetually disappointing Senator Chris Dodd (D-Connecticut) is ready to scuttle the concept of a federal consumer financial protection agency. Thank Buddha Dodd's not running for re-election.

Isn't there something in the Bible about NOT screwing over the poor?

      ♦  It's so common, so tedious and ordinary that I rarely bother to comment on how infuriating and murderous it is when corporations commonly, tediously, and ordinarily brainwash women into thinking they're not worth much if they're not skinny, beautiful, and young.

      ♦  Congressman Edolphus Towns (D-New York), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, says he'll subpoena the Federal Reserve Bank of New York over the backdoor bailouts scandal. It's better than hearing the Congressman say he won't subpoena anyone, but I'm not impressed.
      First off, Congressional subpoenas used to be scary things, but in recent years they've led almost exclusively to fake hearings asking shallow questions with sidestepping answers and minimal follow-up.
      Second, Wikipedia says Congressman Edolphus "Ed" Towns has been in Congress since 1993 but unless you live in New York's Tenth District, chances are you've never heard of him. I've never heard of him. And anyone who's been in Congress for 18 frickin' years and a newsgeek like me has never heard of him, that Congresscritter part of the problem.
      And third, reading that Towns says he'll subpoena someone is a rather empty gesture — it accomplishes nothing that wouldn't be accomplished by, you know, actually issuing the subpoena. So I say, Congressman, quit jawing and get to work and do something to make up for your eighteen years of anonymousness.

      ♦  Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg says privacy is a thing of the past, and he's doing what he can to make it so. If the picture behind that link makes him look like a baby, by the way, that's because the face of Facebook, the face opposed to privacy, is 26 frickin' years old.

No special rights forheterosexuals

      ♦  Walgreens is shipping its support and back-office jobs to India, further ensuring that the American economy has no chance at real recovery. Isn't it surprising that they didn't do this years ago, like most other US corporations?

      ♦  Omega makes watches, and for whatever convoluted marketing reasons, they sell their watches at a relatively low price in Europe and a substantially higher price in the United States. The discount retailer Costco has developed a workaround for this, buying Omega watches in Europe and importing them to America, which allows Costco to sell Omega watches in its American stores at a price Americans find pleasantly low and which Omega finds frustrating. Of course, it has long been legal to do what Costco is doing — Costco can buy Omega watches from Omega's European customers in the same way you can buy a watch off someone's arm, if the seller is willing, right?
      Well, not so much. Not any more. Omega has convinced a court to stop Costco by warping the intent of copyright law and claiming copyright infringement. This gets complicated, so pay attention. A mechanical device like a watch would typically be covered by patent law much more than copyright law, and under either patent or copyright law the lawful owner of something can sell it.
      But US copyright law has an itsy bitsy loophole that US patent law doesn't have. The US copyright statute defines what material it covers with the phrase “lawfully made under this title", and Omega is claiming that since these watches are neither made in the US nor intended for sale in the US, its watches are not “lawfully made" under US copyright law. Thus, when Costco buys Omega's watches from Omega's European customers it's illegal, almost as if Costco was buying counterfeit Omega watches, or so Omega's lawyers argue. And yes, it sounds absurd, but in a 2008 ruling, now being appealed, the 9th Circuit US Court of Appeals agreed with Omega’s imaginative interpretation of copyright law.

The blood is on the hands of those who lied, those who spread the lies, and those who voted for the liars.

      Omega's pricing policies are similar to how the big pharmaceutical companies sell medicines at a jacked-up price in America and at a lower price in other countries, a practice which has led many Americans to make road trips to Canada and buy their meds there. And a lot of companies have similar geographically-based pricing policies. And a lot of capitalism is based on the assumption that a legal owner can sell what he/she legally owns. So the implications here are large and worrisome, the lawyers think and I agree.

      ♦  For a Nobel laureate and certified egghead, this guy Joe Stiglitz is good at making things make sense to ordinary non-eggheads.
      "What happens when reward is decoupled from risk? One cannot always distinguish between incompetence and deception, but it seems unlikely that a business claiming to have a net worth of more than $100 billion could suddenly find itself in negative territory. More likely than not, it was engaged in deceptive accounting practices. Similarly, it is hard to believe that the mortgage originators and the investment bankers didn't know that the products they were creating, purchasing, and repackaging were toxic."

      ♦  John Thain, the former Merrill Lynch CEO, wants the rather unimpressive show hearings of the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission to refrain from saying or doing anything about wildly overpaid and staggeringly incompetent CEOs. And that's a touch ironic, considering who John Thain is.

      ♦  Is there anyone on earth who imagines that the interests of anyone beyond the rich and powerful are being considered as a new treaty on intellectual property rights (think copyrights, patents, and especially piracy) is negotiated in super-secrecy?

Iraq. Out. Now.

      ♦  US manufacturers have made more cars than any other country in the world since the days of Henry Ford's Model T. There's never been anyone else in first place, until now. The new leader is China (you ought to start getting used to the sound of that sentence).
      America was #1 when America was a capitalist nation, but the system has been so thoroughly rigged that evil and money, not brains or initiative or any entrepreneurial spirit, now drives the empty shell that remains of the American economy. We are all riding home from the ball in a coach that's going to turn into a pumpkin at the stroke of midnight, and that hour of reckoning is nigh.

      ♦  For headaches, muscle aches, other aches, and as pretty much my only health plan, I take aspirin as needed for relief. Occasionally and if the aspirin isn't effective, we keep a small stash of the more "modern" pain relievers, generic Aleve (naproxen), generic Motrin (ibuprofen), and generic Tylenol (acetaminophen). I distinctly remember almost taking some name-brand Tylenol at work several months ago, but instead taking aspirin from my purse because the Tylenol smelled ... peculiar.
      Turns out that was maybe more than merely my imagination. After a long period of hemming and hawing and pressure (but not public pressure) from the Federal Drug Administration (FDA), Johnson and Johnson has very reluctantly announced a recall of stinky Tylenol that's made countless people sick.

      ♦  DuPont, the enormous chemical and bioengineering firm, has asked American regulators to stop the monopolistic practices of Monsanto, another enormous chemical and bioengineering firm. If we had a government that gave a damn, both companies would've been broken up decades ago. Meanwhile, Monsanto won this week's lawsuit between the companies, so your soybeans and tofu will continue to be genetically modified by Monsanto, not by DuPont.

      ♦  Google has let word slip that it's going to unplug itself from censoring search results for the totalitarian government of China. (Login as unknownnews with password unknown.) It's definitely good news that Google is perhaps (finally) doing the right thing, but it seems to have little to do with conscience, or with Google actually deciding to live up to its overhyped and often untrue "Don't be evil" motto. They're apparently panicked by the China-sourced high-level hacking of Google's G-Mail, other areas of Google and other Silicon Valley companies.
      Oh, and the hackers used security gaps in Internet Explorer, of course. A later article points out that the more evil Microsoft is salivating at the opportunity to increase its Bing censorship to please the Chinese government. (Login as unknownnews with password unknown.)

      ♦  Speaking of Google and evil, they've hired the John McCain 2008 campaign's computer whiz as a new Googlecorp spokesperson.

      ♦  Google has found an imaginative but depressing new way to monetize its Google Street View application, by replacing the old ads photographed on billboards, marquees, walls, and who knows where else with new ads. Checks payable to Google, of course.

      ♦  Marvel Comics is looking to screw over the heirs of Jack Kirby, much the same way they screwed Kirby when he was alive.

♦  A new poll sponsored jointly by the BBC, America's ABC News, and a German network finds that nearly 70% of Afghans support the presence of US forces and think their country is headed in the right direction. And the US high commander there, General Stanley McChrystal, says "I believe that we are on the way to convincing the Afghan people that we are here to protect them".
      Well, are you convinced? Do you think Afghans are convinced, even to the alleged 70% cited? Not sure I believe it, and of course, no amount of polling makes the US occupation "right".

      ♦  The American Civil Liberties Union (donate) has filed Freedom of Information Act paperwork to find out the legal basis for President Obama's killer-drone warfare policies that routinely rain death and destruction upon Afghanistan, Pakistan, and other seemingly-random selected locations.

      ♦  To the surprise of no-one — indeed, it was probably planned this way — hundreds of millions of US dollars have evaporated after being handed out with little or no oversight in Afghanistan.

      ♦  The American Civil Liberties Union (donate) has obtained and published a (redacted, of course) list of the prisoners at America's Bagram prison in Afghanistan.
      Seems to me that a basic and fundamental difference between a decent government and a totalitarian state is that when you're jailed by a decent government your friends and family at least know where you are, but when you're jailed by a totalitarian state you're just "disappeared" and nobody knows where you are. So why does it take a lawsuit to simply know who's being held in this prison? The http://www.aclu.org/national-security/redacted-list-detainees-held-bagram-air-base

♦  The political protests in Iran are happening in less populated areas as well as in big cities, and at great risk to the protesters. Americans could learn some vital life-and-death lessons from our brothers and sisters in Persia.

♦  Good news! The good guys (yay, America!) have killed the Number Three operative for al-Qaeda in Yemen, who joins the long list of killed #3s.

♦  In light of last week's disaster in Haiti (donate), many Americans could use a quick lesson in history to understand Haiti's history of vital assistance to America.
      I imagine that very few Haitians are watching American TV in the aftermath of the quake, but they can be proud of the defense of Haiti's history presented by Ambassador Raymond Joseph, in response to fake preacher Pat Robertson's outrageous comments.

♦  Where in the world is Nigerian President President Umaru Yar'Adua, and should Vice President Goodluck Jonathan be sworn in?

♦  A Dutch governmental investigation has concluded that the US-led attack on Iraq was illegal under international law. Duh. The commission's report said that the wording of UN resolution 1441 "cannot reasonably be interpreted (as the Dutch government did) as authorizing individual member states to use military force to compel Iraq to comply with the Security Council's resolutions."
      I don't think any fair, honest, or open-minded investigation could reach any other conclusion.

      ♦  The European Court of Human Rights has found that the law giving cops near-absolute power to search anyone without grounds for suspicion is the European equivalent of unconstitutional.

health care sucks in America
      ♦  As the health care debate went down the toilet last summer, Aetna, Cigna, Humana, Kaiser Foundation Health Plans, UnitedHealth Group and Wellpoint were funnelling millions of dollars under the radar into the ads everyone saw, challenging the very notion of health care reform and rallying the stupidest elements of American society to stand opposed.
      With a little luck this won't be "unknown news" by the time we do our once-weekly update, but it seems like silly optimism to even type that. America's corporate-controlled media is under much the same control as the ads bought by the America's Health Insurance Plans PAC, so the content on the news is often only distinguishable from the ads in terms of style.

      ♦  Taxing "Cadillac" health care plans, which President Obama enthusiastically supports, will indeed reduce health care costs. It'll reduce health care costs by reducing health and reducing health care. People with good health care will be encouraged to downgrade to lesser health care, and the rest of us will continue our health care calculations, mathematics that people in civilized countries don't have to do — holding off on filling prescriptions or visiting the doctor, ignoring leg pains, head pains, or innard pains, because of budgetary concerns. That's the problem, damn it, and brain-dead and soul-disconnected Democrats are pretending it's the solution?

      ♦  Jonathan Chait frames the Republicans' promise to repeal Obama's health care reform and presents it fairly well, at least if you overlook Chait's bizarre claim that it's "universal health care", which it isn't, or that it's "a sensible centrist compromise", which seems like a real stretch to me. It might be a "sensible centrist compromise" if all three words are defined in Washington DC doublespeak, but from my read of what's in the bill and what strikes ordinary Americans as sensible, centrist, and a compromise, the legislation is a half-assed big-business-friendly sell-out to the health insurance and pharmaceutical industries.
      The article is more about the bill's political shortcomings than its health-care shortcomings, which seems fitting, since the bill is more about politics than health care. The bill's biggest political problem is the mandate requiring every American to buy health insurance, a requirement which I believe either is or ought to be unconstitutional and which certainly seems unlikely to be popular among either the "young and healthy" or the "barely making ends meet" constituencies.
      The bill's second biggest political problem is that the bad news (tax increases, cuts to Medicare add-on programs) are designed to take effect several years before ordinary people will see any, you know, health care reform. That's going to give Republicans and lilly-livered Democrats a window of several years to gut reform even further than it's already been gutted without much public opposition.
      Chait's conclusion is that there's "not a chance in hell" that the bill might be fundamentally repealed, which sure seems like wishful thinking to me. But a key factor is a question un-addressed in Chait's piece — when do the mandates kick in? Early, to increase public resistance? Or later, along with the legislation's severely-muted good effects? I've been unable to find the answer to that question.
      Sorry about that. Yeah, I've been shirking. On almost any other issue that I give a dang about, I would have either read the bill by now, or at least read a thorough and impartial summary of the bill. But I haven't read the health care reform legislation. I can't keep up, it's been changing so fast, and you really don't need to look real closely at dog poop to know it's dog poop.
      So I've been putting off the close reading, same as you'd perhaps put off sorting through the possessions of a dead loved one. Instead my opinion has been formed largely by reading what bloggers and pundits have said, and that's not the best way to become well-informed. Even now, what's the point of taking a day to slog through either the House or the Senate bill? Either one's going to make me weep, and they're still not done compromising our lives away.

      ♦  A substantial plurality of Americans (43%) are disappointed with health care reform because they believe it didn't go far enough. I'm one of them, in case you couldn't tell. Considering the well-funded lies about health care reform, lies trumpeted with minimal questions even across mainstream media, 43% is pretty dang impressive, ain't it?

      ♦  The pharmaceutical industry feels slighted, as they didn't get absolutely everything they wanted out of "health care reform" — specifically, not enough protection from the competition of low-cost generic drugs. "Please activate immediately all of your contacts," says an e-mail from Billy Tauzin, the industry group's president, which sounds a lot like "bring out the long knives". I'm tempted to laugh, but it's gallows humor and it's ordinary people at the gallows. Hard to laugh at death, especially when it's death on purpose for profit.

global climate change
♦  Rather like the way well-funded fake "grass roots" ads and protests derailed any chance for meaningful health care reform, the "grass roots" opposition to clean energy reform is being funded by giant oil companies and the governments of foreign countries where the economy is driven by oil wells.

      ♦  Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) has proposed legislation to block the EPA's ability to regulate greenhouse gases, and apparently she needed the help of Big Oil lobbyists to write the legislation. It's like giving your wife a gift certificate — if you're not sure you'd choose exactly the right gift, let her choose her own gift.

      ♦  Since 1997, both the rate and number of US coal miners with black lung disease have been rising, reversing decades of decline. In addition, the severity of the disease and the rapidity of its progression are increasing, and it is occurring more frequently among younger miners.

      ♦  Senator James Inhofe (R-Oklahoma) is disappointed with his ranking as the planet's seventh worst enemy. He thinks he should've been #1.

      ♦  Glenn Greenwald is on a roll, even by Greenwald standards, as he recaps a litany of lies widely reported in mainstream, corporate-controlled media and explains how those lies came to be widely accepted as fact, and most importantly, why there's no accountability or even loss of reputation for the reporters (and their anonymous sources) who spread those lies.
       "Aside from falsity -- and the fact that they become irreversibly lodged in our political culture as fact -- what do all of these deceitful reports have in common? They're all the by-product of granting anonymity to people and then repeating what they claim as fact, with the falsehood-disseminators protected by "journalists" from any and all accountability for their falsehoods. It's exactly the same process that caused our leading media outlets to tell Americans about Iraq's massive WMD program and Al Qaeda connections; Jessica Lynch's heroic firefight with inhumane Iraqi devils and her "rescue" by our Marines; Pat Tillman's death at the hands of Al Qaeda monsters; and government tests that "confirmed" the presence of bentonite in the anthrax used to attack the U.S., which meant it was likely that Saddam was behind the attacks. 
       "Unjustified anonymity -- especially when mindlessly repeating what shielded government sources claim in secret -- is the single greatest enabler of false and deceitful "reporting." Despite (or, really, because of) its unparalelled record of producing lies, it will never stop, because agreeing to it is how "journalists" end up being selected as favored message-carrying servants for the powerful. This falsehood-producing method isn't ancillary to American journalism but central to it; the book which is occupying the attention of America's political and media class is based exclusively on unattributed, shielded sources, and that seems to bother none of them." 

      ♦  Brandon Neely is a former guard at the Guantanamo concentration camp, who's since suffered pangs of conscience and become an activist with Iraq Veterans Against the War. Shafiq Rasul was one of the many men held prisoner by Neely at Guantanamo, and was released some six or seven years ago. In what sounds like a bad movie on the Hallmark Channel, the two men friended each other on Facebook, and met face-to-face in front of BBC cameras last month. (Login as unknownnews with password unknown.) I haven't seen many worthwhile uses for Facebook but this one counts, and there aren't many things I want to see on TV but I want to see this.

      ♦  Editor & Publisher has been resurrected from its short-lived grave, but it's leaving about 2/3 of its heart behind, and two of its best people.

      ♦  In the softest of softball interviews, Fox's Glenn Beck asked Fox's Sarah Palin to name her favorite founding father, and after hemming and hawing and trying to bluff with the same answer she'd offered in 2008 when asked what newspapers she reads — "All of them", she said again — Beck pushed and pushed until she coughed up the name George Washington.
      What a curious answer. My own favorite is probably Thomas Jefferson, but I have enormous respect for Washington's order against torture ("Treat [British soldiers] with humanity, and let them have no reason to complain of our copying the brutal example of the British Army in their treatment of our unfortunate brethren who have fallen into their hands") and his strong warning about the danger of a standing army ("...avoid the necessity of those overgrown military establishments, which, under any form of government, are inauspicious to liberty, and which are to be regarded as particularly hostile to Republican Liberty").
      I don't think America's first President would have any time or admiration for Sarah Palin.

      ♦  Google has stopped hosting Associated Press news content, and stopped paying Associated Press for the rights to do so. There's been no accompanying press release, but a suspected factor might be that AP has always accused Google of "stealing" this content, even as Google paid for it.

      ♦  Alleged "media critic" Howard Kurtz continues his long-time kid-glove treatment of his employers, CNN and the Washington Post.

      ♦  Even deprived of the ability to talk, Roger Ebert shouts at Rush Limbaugh almost as loud as Limbaugh deserves.

      ♦  There's so much funding available for a right-wing newspaper in Washington DC (where a huge majority of the residents are Democrats) that as the Washington Times runs out of cash the Washington Examiner finds it can afford all sorts of right-wing talent.

      ♦  Because we don't have enough places to turn to in the media for right-wing perspectives, Tucker Carlson has spent the last year putting together a new right-wing website which finally launched last week, with a few homophobic and rape jokes. It's called "The Daily Caller", though I don't know or care why.

      ♦  Apparently, former anchorman Dan Rather's lawsuit against his former employer, CBS, has been finally quashed forever. After six years of hard work on this, Rather calls the ruling "a grave miscarriage of justice".
      I just wonder, did Dan Rather ever spend six days working on any news item he skim/covered in his long and shallow career?

      ♦  Another big-time anchorman, Brian Williams at NBC News, led his broadcast last Monday with a weakly outraged attack on baseball player Mark McGuire, for lying about his use of performance-enhancing steroids.
      Oh what a different world it would be, if Williams and other well-dressed well-paid newsreaders could work up a fraction of even such mild but righteous indignation over lies that matter, like, say, the lies that sent thousands of Americans and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis to their deaths, or the lies that will underlie the next American war.

      ♦  It's easy to critique Jon Stewart's interview with unindicted US war criminal John Yoo from The Daily Show last week. Stewart's been better, but you know what? Jon Stewart brought Yoo on, expressed some genuine offense over Yoo's crimes, asked him some tough questions, and didn't take every answer at absolute face value. And Jon Stewart is a frickin' comedian, not a real reporter, not a real journalist, not an big-shot anchorman like, say, Dan Rather or Brian Williams, and none of these so-called real reporters has been a third as tough on Yoo as Stewart was. Even just joking around, Jon Stewart is worth about ten Rathers, twenty Williamses, and some change.

Poopybrains on parade
      ♦  Scott Ritter, the former UN weapons inspector who became an outspoken opponent of then-President George W Bush's war on Iraq, has been arrested for icky on-line sex solicitation with a cop posing as a 15-year-old girl. Ritter has been arrested on similar charges at least twice before, and both times the charges were dropped. This time, though, he allegedly whacked off on a webcam, so dropping the charges a third time seems unlikely and unwise.

      ♦  Pastor Pat Robertson says the disaster in Haiti is payback for that nation's "true story" 1804 "pact to the devil", and isn't that pretty much what you'd expect Christ to say?

      ♦  Robertson's stupidity seems to have overshadowed the stupidity of Rush Limbaugh's response, but what Limbaugh said deserves to be remembered. The Haiti earthquake, he said, "will play right into Obama's hands. He's humanitarian, compassionate. They'll use this to burnish their, shall we say, "credibility" with the black community — in the both light-skinned and dark-skinned black community in this country. It's made-to-order for them. That's why he couldn't wait to get out there, could not wait to get out there."
      Nothing beyond money and politics matters to these people. It would be breathtaking if they hadn't taken your breath away so many times before. Says a lot about Limbaugh's mindset that in his color-coded imagination, light-skinned blacks and dark-skinned blacks don't just live in segregated communities, they live in communities segregated even from each others' communities.

      ♦  In New York City, home to much of the world's fashion industry, police routinely destroy counterfeit-label clothes after they're seized. This despite requests from service providers to the homeless, where such clothes used to be sent before, presumably, the name brand fashion companies objected.

      ♦  This sounds like a prank but it's real — the FBI snagged a photo of a Spanish lawmaker off the web, tweaked it with Photoshop, and declared it Osama bin Laden. It's unclear why they didn't stick a feather in their cap and call it macaroni. The victim, Gaspar Llamazares, says he might sue, and cripes I hope he does.

      ♦  John Michael Farren, who was deputy White House counsel in the Bush-Cheney administration, has been charged with the attempted murder of his wife.

      ♦  Is anyone else intrigued by the notion of Oliver Stone doing a series for the History Channel? I'll admit that several of his movies are on my Most Despised list, but he's made a few that are excellent — Wall Street, Born on the Fourth of July... and for all his annoying tics and bad moviemaking habits he's still among the few in Hollywood who bring a touch of the people's politics to the big-budget screen.

      ♦  Mehmet Ali Agca, who shot the Pope almost thirty years ago, is getting out of prison and wants to settle down and get married. Take a number and get in line. You too, ladies.

      ♦  Unknown News is updated once weekly, usually on Mondays. It's our attempt to spotlight news that was underplayed, ignored, or simply lost in the non-stop news cycle. Have a seat and some cheese puffs but please, no smoking.
      A tip o' the hat to Daniel D., the letter Z, AK for CSS help, Pharyngula, The Poor Man Institute, Naked Capitalism, Bob Cesca's Awesome Blog, Jonathan Turley, Working Life, JR Mooneyham, Jim B., Sherri B., Blulady, Cassandra, Joseph D., David E., Joe G., Lon Garm, J.S. (not the Watergate felon) Magruder at Eat the Blog, Alexander Shaumyan, SirJ, Bill T., wlgriffi, our first web-home at pitas.com (1999-2003, and still a great place for publishing your blog), and the love of my life (who prefers to remain anonymous).

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