Friday, May 12, 2006

Eagle Nebula M16 from Hubble Posted by Picasa

Bush's National Security Agency collected data from three major telephone companies on millions of calls by Americans, according to a new story by USA Today. Reaction was swift, both by the White House and by a growing number of concerned and outraged officials.

"First, our intelligence activities strictly target Al Qaeda and their known affiliates. Al-Qaeda is our enemy, and we want to know their plans," President Bush said in defense.

"Are you telling me tens of millions of Americans are involved with al-Qaeda?" asked Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy, the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee. "These are tens of millions of Americans who are not suspected of anything."

But it wasn't just Democrats. Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA) will hold Judiciary Committee hearings. Many other Republicans, including conservatives, expressed disapproval and alarm.

General Michael Hayden, who oversaw this program, is the Bush nominee to head the CIA. His hearings will also likely focus on this story. As of Thursday, the White House insists it is going ahead "full steam" with the nomination. Hayden claims that appropriate members Congress has been informed of the program, but several key members--including Republicans--made statements suggesting they were surprised by the report. House Majority Leader John Boehner of Ohio said, "I am concerned about what I read...I'm going to find out about this because I'm not sure why it would be necessary for us to have and keep that kind of information."

Editorial comment has been swift and savage. USA Today: The fact that the government is trying to track (but not wiretap) every call you make and every call you receive — at home or on your cellphone is, to say the least, disturbing.It means that your phone company (if you are a customer of AT&T, BellSouth or Verizon) tossed your privacy to the wind and collaborated with this extraordinary intrusion, and that it did so secretly and without following any court order."

"Ever since its secret domestic wiretapping program was exposed, the Bush administration has depicted it as a narrow examination of calls made by and to suspected terrorists. But its refusal to provide any details about the extent of the spying has raised doubts. Now there is more reason than ever to be worried — and angry — about how wide the government's web has been reaching, begins the New York Times. Later:

President Bush has insisted in the past that the government is monitoring only calls that begin or end overseas. But according to USA Today, it has actually been collecting information on purely domestic calls. One source told the paper that the program had produced "the largest database ever assembled in the world."

The government has stressed that it is not listening in on phone calls, only analyzing the data to look for calling patterns. But if all the details of the program are confirmed, the invasion of privacy is substantial. By cross-referencing phone numbers with databases that link numbers to names and addresses, the government could compile dossiers of what people and organizations each American is in contact with.

At this point no one knows how many calls were actually wiretapped. This news broke a day after Justice Department lawyers gave up their probe of the NSA warrantless wiretaps because they could not obtain the security clearance necessary to continue the investigation. Could even Joseph Heller have made this stuff up?

"I happen to believe we are on our way to a major constitutional confrontation on Fourth Amendment guarantees on unreasonable search and seizure,'' Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said.

UPDATE: Jack Cafferty on CNN:"We all hope nothing happens to Arlen Specter, the Republican head of the Senate Judiciary Committee, cause he might be all that stands between us and a full blown dictatorship in this country."

They send them to war but they do not take care of them. There is no greater disgrace to America, save an unnecessary war, than callous, demeaning treatment of young Americans sent to fight who are not taken care of in the most basic ways.

We've all heard the stories about missing body armor, and even of official attempts to forbid families from supplying it to their soldiers. We've read stories about Halliburton providing tainted food and tainted water to troops in Iraq. There are many other horror stories from Iraq, some so awful that it's hard to believe them, or at least to verify them.

But soldiers do return, and here we can look at the evidence. Two stories about treatment here, one large in scope, and one smaller and more specific, but just as disgraceful.

A government study shows that less than a quarter of soldiers who show evidence of traumatic stress disorder "are referred for additional evaluation and treatment." Considering that the government's figures show only 5% of the veterans show such signs, while independent groups maintain the figure is much, much higher, this really means that almost none of the returning soldiers who need psychological attention are receiving it.

This is not the only instance of the government cheating veterans of needed medical care--physical as well as psychological. The GI Rights Hotline deals with cases of veterans all the time denied medical care and medical benefits unjustly. But sometimes it's a smaller story that reveals the true degradation we are experiencing. Not one about missing limbs or destroyed minds. But one about something as simple as sweatpants.

The smaller story comes from the Santa Cruz (CA) Sentinel: a group of citizens there are collecting sweatpants for trauma and spinal cord injury patients at the Palo Alto Veterans Hospital. A woman visiting there saw veterans wearing ill-fitting castoff sweatpants-- for instance a man in a woman's pair of yellow sweatpants that was entirely too small. Sweatpants are preferred for patients because they are easy to take off and put on. But the hospital, described as the nation's premiere facility for treating serious wounds such as those incurred in roadside bomb explosions in Iraq, cannot provide sweatpants for patents.

The story is played as a call for donations, so apparently we are so used to spending a trillion dollars on warfare but can't afford sweatpants for soldiers whose lives have been shattered, any more than our government cares to provide adequate mental health care to soldiers whose minds they mindlessly traumatized. All for what? Oil barons? Halliburton? The party of Smirk and pals? They have no shame, their morality is sheer hypocrisy. They dishonor not only America but the human race.

Barry Bonds is still one homer shy of Ruth's record. George W. Bush is at 29%.

When Richard Nixon hit below 30%, he resigned. Instead, as the Harris poll news breaks, so does a story claiming that Bush is preparing to start a war, within weeks.

Raw Story is reporting that: Concern is building among the military and the intelligence community that the US may be preparing for a military strike on Iran, as military assets in key positions are approaching readiness... According to military and intelligence sources, an air strike on Iran could be doable in June of this year, with military assets in key positions ready to go and a possible plan already on the table. While this may be speculation at this point, Raw Story reports that two aircraft carriers are on their way to the Gulf, which would be a necessary prelude to air strikes. Other news organizations can be expected to confirm or deny this story in the coming days.

However, the worry is coming (according to Raw Story) from military and intelligence sources. Retired Air Force Colonel and former faculty member at the National War College Sam Gardiner has heard some military suggestions of a possible air campaign in the near future, and although he has no intimate knowledge of such plans, he says recent aircraft carrier activity and current operations on the ground in Iran have raised red flags.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Operation Crossroads atomic bomb test "Able" on June 30/July 1, 1946. Posted by Picasa

New at 60's Now

Secrets and lies have driven the history of the Bomb. We see this pattern repeated today, in an effort to make nuclear weapons seem no different from other explosives. But with continuing signs that the Bush administration may be heading for war on Iran, with reports of U.S. officials considering using nuclear weapons in Iran, these lies become even more dangerous.

Nuking Iran: Radiation is here at 60's Now.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Blue arctic butterfly, photo taken in Fresno, CA in 2001. Posted by Picasa
Butterflies Are Free No Longer

When I was a boy growing up in western Pennsylvania in the 1950s, just outside a small town, we had a neighboring field (known to adults as the "vacant lots") and several lots worth of trees across the street (which my mother called "the weeds.") So my childhood was filled with dandelions and violets, robins and cardinals, goldfinches, blue jays and bluebirds, and with butterflies. An enormous variety of butterflies--oranges, yellows, whites, blues, black and whites, all sizes and patterns.

I've never seen that profusion of butterflies again. The past few years here in far northern California, we've been blessed with some. Clusters of small white butterflies for awhile, and the occasional monarch-mimic orange and black patterned ones.

But this year, according to the San Francisco Chronicle, we may not see them. And possibly we may not see them ever again.

Wild fluctuations in California's winter and spring weather have hurt fragile butterfly populations, causing numbers to fall to the lowest in more than three decades and increasing the concerns of scientists about long-term declines linked to climate change and habitat loss.

UC Davis Professor Arthur Shapiro, considered one of the most prominent butterfly trackers in North America, said Monday he has found fewer butterflies this year than at anytime since he came to California 35 years ago.

"We have a severe depression of butterfly numbers at the lower elevations in Northern California, particularly in the Central Valley. We don't know if local populations are extinct or have dropped to low levels that we're unlikely to detect,'' he said.

The very possibility of extinction is chilling. This is a dramatic illustration of one of the many complex effects of the Climate Crisis. Call it a cascade effect, call it a tear in the web of life, but global heating together with other phenomena, mostly due to human abuse of nature but some of it the ordinary cycles and variations, can have drastic consequences.

"resting butterfly" from Posted by Picasa
Is There Life After Birth?

Tragically, there is not for far too many babies born in the developed country with close to the worst infant mortality rate, compounded by an anti-life health care system and anti-life policies that allow poverty in the midst of embarrassing riches. All this in the national home of the Right to Life movement: the United States of America.

Quoted in a CBS/AP report: While the gaps for infants and mothers contrast sharply with the nation's image as a world leader, health policy expert Kenneth Thorpe said the numbers are not surprising. "Our health care system focuses on providing high-tech services for complicated cases. We do this very well," Thorpe said. "What we do not do is provide basic primary and preventive health care services. We do not pay for these services, and do not have a delivery system that is designed to provide either primary prevention, or adequately treat patients with chronic diseases."

Nor do we apparently place much emphasis on the immorality of not providing for the health and well-being, let alone the education and development of the born.

from Posted by Picasa
Deciding on the Decider

So which do you think will happen first: Barry Bonds breaks Babe Ruth's home run record, or Bush drops below 30%? Even though Bonds is one homer away from tying Ruth and the Giants are at home, I wouldn't bet on him.

Both the new Gallup Poll and the New York Times/CBS Poll place Bush's approval rating at 31%, in both cases the lowest they've recorded in his time in office. The Gallup Poll records a drop of 3 percentage points in one week.

Said the Times: Americans have a bleaker view of the country's direction than at any time in more than two decades, and sharp disapproval of President Bush's handling of gasoline prices has combined with intensified unhappiness about Iraq to create a grim political environment for the White House and Congressional Republicans, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News Poll.

Just 13 percent approved of Mr. Bush's handling of rising gas prices. Only one-quarter said they approved of his handling of immigration, as Congressional Republicans struggle to come up with a compromise to deal with the influx of illegal immigrants into the country.

The poll showed a continued decline in support for the war, the issue that has most eaten into Mr. Bush's public support. The percentage of respondents who said going to war in Iraq was the correct decision slipped to a new low of 39 percent, down from 47 percent in January. Two-thirds said they have little or no confidence that Mr. Bush will be able to successfully end the war there.

These are historic numbers. Only four presidents have scored as low or lower, and three of them (Nixon, Carter, elder Bush) never got above 40% again. (Only Harry Truman did, but faded again later.) The Smirk's disapproval rating shot up to 65%, only one percentage point short of Richard Nixon's, just before he resigned.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

A bottlenose dolphin, name not known--at least to us. Posted by Picasa
Dolphins Call Each Other By Name

From National Geographic:

Dolphins give themselves "names"—distinctive whistles that they use to identify each other, new research shows. Scientists say it's the first time wild animals have been shown to call out their own names. What's more, the marine mammals can recognize individual names even when the sound is produced by an unfamiliar voice.

Bottlenose dolphins appear to develop so-called signature whistles as infants.

The idea that they use these whistles to identify each other was first proposed in 1991 after individuals were heard to make their own unique sounds. "The challenge was to show experimentally that the animals can use these independent voice features as signature whistles," said Vincent Janik of the Sea Mammal Research Unit at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. Janik is the lead author of a study on the dolphin whistles to be published [today] in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

He says the idea that dolphins use names "was fairly hypothetical, and some researchers regarded it as not possible." The research focused on wild bottlenose dolphins living in Sarasota Bay, Florida. Acoustic recordings have been made of most of these dolphins, which have been studied for more than 30 years. For the new study each dolphin's signature whistle was isolated from the recordings and then played back to the animals through underwater loudspeakers.
Janik says the recordings were synthesized electronically to rule out the possibility that the dolphins recognized each other simply by the sound of their voices.

"Group changes are incredibly dynamic, and you need a way of knowing exactly who's around you," Janik said. "Dolphins often prefer to spend time with particular individuals." But living in the murky ocean makes it hard to hook up with your dolphin buddies. "Finding each other isn't so easy in marine environments, because visibility is very poor—maybe just a couple of meters," Janik said. "Instead of looking around, they really need some other obvious and reliable system to find another animal."

"You really have to have something more than a voice. You need something that's as different as a name," Janik said.

The ability to develop individually distinctive calls requires vocal learning, a relatively rare skill that's seen in humans, dolphins, elephants, and a few other animals including certain birds.

The BBC News quotes Janik: "I think it is a very exciting discovery because it means that these animals have evolved the same abilities as humans. "

Monday, May 08, 2006

Posted by Picasa
Creating Dictatorship

It's easier and quieter than you think. Bush has gone pretty far towards this goal, if it is his goal, by simply asserting he has total power: to imprison without charges or trial, to spy on Americans without showing cause, to make secrets, reveal secrets and prosecute others who reveal secrets according to how he wants to; to say which laws he will follow and which he will not. He's defending torture, trying to expand his power, and threatening the press with prosecutions for reporting his secret excesses. His popularity may have tanked, close to 3/4 of Independents now disapprove of his administration, but nobody is even trying to stop him, and the idea that he is paralyzed by bad poll numbers is disingenuous.

Now he wants to appoint an Air Force General to head the CIA. He's getting some opposition, but word is he's announcing the appointment anyway. For awhile it seemed to some that the military would be the countervailing force against Bush's imperial excesses abroad, like nuking Iran. But the military is also a potent tool which the Bushites may want to use. Bush has announced military takeover as his solution for emergencies like Katrina and a bird flu epidemic. Control of the military, and control by the military, is essential to a dictatorship.

Plus his apparent choice to head the previously civilian intelligence agency is a General specifically of the Air Force. The Air Force is the service that will get to drop their favorite bombs if he orders action against Iran. In Seymour Hersh's article revealing the Iran plans, several high ranking military leaders were said to be appalled, but he could quote some in support--from the Air Force. And those dissident retired Generals who made so much noise? How many were Air Force? I don't recall one. The Army and Marines are bearing the brunt of Iraq, the Navy will take the brunt of an Iran counterattack, but the Air Force gets to shock and awe.

But fascism doesn't depend entirely on dramatic action in Washington. It can be promoted with budgets and expectations. Why do you think FBI and other government agents spy on meetings of Quakers in Florida--because they really believe they are dangerous terrorists? Probably some do, but probably some local directors needs to generate reports and paperwork to justify salaries and operations.

Besides the NSA wiretapping and FBI spying revealed months ago, we are also seeing an increase in local police monitoring and strong-arm tactics against lawful groups and individuals, including bands of dangerous vegans. The atmosphere for this is created in Washington, but it is also financed and promoted there actively. If you know anything about how people operate when they are dependent on grants and allocations from government, you know that what they do is shaped by what they can get the money to do. If there's money for survelliance and riot equipment, they get and use survelliance and riot equipment; if money comes to support people doing those things, then those are the things that get done. And when there's a benign demonstration in your town, you still have to get out the helicopters and the riot gear, just so you can say you did. But you may need a few arrests as well. For the report that goes with the next funding request. Not that this doesn't please and excite many of them, but with different funding and a different set of priorities in Washington, they would not be emphasizing these activities and attitudes.

As DarkSyde at Dkos points out, we're spending a trillion dollars on an unnecessary and largely immoral war in Iraq, but if we had spent a trillion dollars on alternative clean energy research, do you think we'd be up against it because of gasoline prices, and faceing global disasters and the distinct possibility of future wars and devastation because of the Climate Crisis? We'd have enough left over to install a decent health care system, so many of us wouldn't face the distinct possibility of dying because we can't pay for medical care, and a public health system so we wouldn't be talking about turning over the country to martial law and a military dictatorship in event of a serious epidemic.

Fascism may be coming in on little cat's feet, but by the time soldiers are in charge of American streets, it will be too late to rescue freedom. It will just be a sign that the rest of the pieces are in place--electronic survelliance, economic control, a subjugated internet, the already corrupted press, a powerless Congress and compliant judiciary. And some emergency to clean house of the remaining dissidents. It can't happen here? I'm telling you my dear, that it can.
This Day in Boomer History

Sunday, May 07, 2006

forest photo at Posted by Picasa

The Dreaming Up Daily Quote

"It is important to realize that we remember in the present, that memory is a celebration of the present. It is the present that we remember and that we desire, which are two things that come together in writing—memory and yearning."

Carlos Fuentes