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Psycho-Hose-Beast, Michelle Malkin, and the Wingnut Mafia Are All Concerned About Civil Liberties

Saturday, May 23, 2009

By David Neiwert
Crooks and Liars

The hallmark of the paranoid, according to Richard Hofstadter, is their propensity for projection: Seeing in others, deservedly or not, their own very worst behaviors and predilections.

Well, we already know that Michelle Malkin is a paranoid, but it's always worth noting when she gives voice to something we're hearing from a whole bunch of right-wing quarters: Barack Obama and the liberals intend to destroy America by taking away our freedoms under the Constitution.

She was on Glenn Beck's show earlier this week (when the LSDM himself was out with The View flu), and told the fill-in host, Judge Napolitano, that "We've lost plenty of our liberties" already under Obama -- indeed, that "every inalienable right -- life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" had been diminished under his presidency.

How so? Apparently, the best example she can come up with is "the freedom to innovate" and limiting health-care choices.

Jaysus. These people sat and nodded through eight years of wiretapping, torture, reduced reproductive choices, and constant assaults on our civil liberties.

And now they're shrieking -- which is Malkin's style -- about "drawing the line" at limited doctor selection?

Are they insane?

Wait, don't answer that....(Click for original.)


Idiot of the Week: Bill Donahue

By VJack
Atheist Revolution

Idiocy this astounding deserves attention, and attention it shall receive! Right here in the weekly Idiot of the Week series. A new winner will be announced right here each Saturday.

I must admit that this is the first time since I started the Idiot of the Week series that there really hasn't been much competition. Well, that didn't come out exactly right. Of course there's competition - there's always way too much competition. What I mean is that this is the first time that I had such an obvious winner in mind before Saturday rolled around.

Following the release of a damning report by Ireland's Commission to Inquire Into Child Abuse in which pervasive child abuse by Irish Catholics and a conspiracy by the Catholic Church going back to the 1930s to conceal the pedophiles among them were revealed, Bill Donahue had the following to say:
Reuters is reporting that “Irish Priests Beat, Raped Children,” yet the report does not justify this wild and irresponsible claim. . . . The Irish report suffers from conflating minor instances of abuse with serious ones, thus demeaning the latter. When most people hear of the term abuse, they do not think about being slapped, being chilly, being ignored or, for that matter, having someone stare at you in the shower. They think about rape.

By cheapening rape, the report demeans the big victims. But, of course, there is a huge market for such distortions, especially when the accused is the Catholic Church.

(Click for remainder.)


Roger Simon Again Declares Cheney "68, White, and Bitter, He Is the Republican Party"


Karl Rove, Super Genius

By Jamison Foser
Media Matters

Karl Rove has a regular Wall Street Journal column. He's a Fox News contributor. Newsweek hired him as a contributor. As Gloria Borger said in 2007: "[W]hen Rove speaks, the political class pays attention -- usually with good reason."

But it is increasingly clear that there isn't really any "good reason" to pay attention to what Rove says.

I don't say that because Rove's immoral and possibly criminal behavior was notable even in an administration defined by immoral and possibly criminal behavior, or because he advocates policies that have failed again and again. You could make a pretty good argument for either of those attributes disqualifying him from a place of honor in the media, but they are beside the point. The media don't pay attention to Karl Rove because of his policy gravitas or his moral rectitude. They pay attention to him because of his political judgment; because he is Karl Rove, Super Genius.

Or so they think.

The reality is that Rove's political judgment is wildly overrated.

The basis of the media's belief that Rove is a political savant would seem to be fairly unimpeachable. After all, he did manage to guide George W. Bush, of all people, into the White House.

But look closer. Bush (and Rove) had the benefit of running against a candidate the media absolutely loathed -- and lied about. The media loved Bush. (And why not? He gave them nicknames! Stretch! Ha!) The country was at peace, the economy was strong, and so the public was not as concerned as they might otherwise have been about handing the country over to someone who confused the prime minister of Canada with an order of cheese fries....(Click for remainder.)


Judge Takes Gov't to Task in Al-Haramain Spying Case

By Kurt Opsahl
Electronic Frontier Foundation

Today, United States District Court Chief Judge Vaughn Walker took the government to task for failing to obey his prior orders in Al-Haramain v. Obama (formerly known as Al-Haramain v. Bush), asking the government to explain why he should not sanction the government by holding that the plaintiffs win the warrantless wiretapping lawsuit.

On January 5, Chief Judge Walker had denied the government's third motion to dismiss the Al-Haramain litigation and set up a process to allow the Al Haramain plaintiffs to prosecute the case while protecting classified information. On February 28, 2009, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals denied the government's appeal of that order. The government did not seek an appeal to the Supreme Court.

Today, the Court noted the government was "continuing to assert legal positions already specifically rejected by the court in previous orders" and "government officials in one or
more defendant agencies, including the NSA Director ... are refusing to cooperate with the court’s orders." Judge Walker ordered the government to show cause as to "why, as a sanction for failing to obey the court’s orders" the government "should not be prohibited ... from opposing the liability" for spying without warrants and that the "court should not deem liability ... established and proceed to determine the amount of damages to be awarded to plaintiffs." A hearing is set for June 3, 2009 in the San Francisco federal court....(Click for remainder.)


Why Gene Patents are Unlawful

By Selene Kaye
American Constitution Society

Last week the ACLU and the Public Patent Foundation filed a lawsuit challenging the U.S. government's practice of granting patents on human genes - specifically, the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, which are associated with breast and ovarian cancer. In the last 20 or so years the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) has issued patents on thousands of human genes - the segments of DNA that we all have in our cells - giving private corporations, individuals, and universities the exclusive rights to those genetic sequences and their usage.

The patents on the BRCA genes are particularly broad and offensive. The PTO has granted Myriad Genetics, a private biotechnology company based in Utah, patents on both the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genetic sequences, on any mutations along those genes, on any methods for locating mutations on the genes, without further specification on the type of methods, and on correlations between genetic mutations and susceptibility to breast and ovarian cancer.

The lawsuit charges, as critics of gene patents have argued for years, that gene patents stifle biomedical research and interfere with patients' access to genetic testing. The lawsuit argues that the patents on the BRCA genes are unconstitutional and invalid given the long-standing legal precedent that "products of nature" and "laws of nature" are not patentable. The suit also makes the novel argument that the practice of patenting genes, their correlations with disease, and the thought of comparing two genes violates the First Amendment and interferes with scientific freedom.

To be clear, the patent claims being challenged do in fact include claims on the genes themselves. For example, the text of Patent 5,747,282, Claim 1 reads:

What is claimed is:

1.    An isolated DNA coding for a BRCA1 polypeptide, said polypeptide having the amino acid sequence set forth in SEQ ID NO:2.

Translation: Claim 1 covers the BRCA1 genetic sequence, specifically the wild-type, or what is considered typical, sequence. Because the PTO grants patents on the genes themselves, it essentially gives patent holders a monopoly over the patented genes and all of the information contained within them. Anyone who uses a patented gene without permission of the patent holder is committing patent infringement and can be sued by the patent holder. Thus patent holders have the right to prevent other researchers from testing, studying or even looking at the genes. If the PTO simply granted patents on particular methods of examining and testing genes, then other scientists and laboratories could develop alternative methods, and research and testing could advance at a much faster pace. This lawsuit is not challenging any patent claims over specific genetic tests....(Click for remainder.)


Tom Ridge: Cheney Wrong, Country Not Less Safe Under Obama


Glenn Beck Tries to Sandbag Barney Frank, but He's the One Who Got Played

By John Amato
Crooks and Liars

The Glenn Beck show tried to sandbag Barney Frank with one of their roving reporters or producers or whatever they are, but they messed with the wrong guy. ACORN is Beck's villain of the hour and Biff Jenkins asked Frank if he'd hold hearings on ACORN because the right hates them. He got an answer he didn't expect.
Frank: As you know, the Bush administration, every year of the eight years of the Bush administration gave them well over a million dollars for housing counseling, and nobody has shown me any sign that any of that federal money was misspent. You know, I think people are being somewhat unfair to President Bush and his secretaries of HUD who consistently funded ACORN for, as I said, for a total of about 14 million dollars during the Bush years. If someone has evidence that the money that President Bush made available was misspent -- that's what I have jurisdiction over, I don't have jurisdiction over election activities by another ACORN organization -- but if anyone has any evidence, and no one has sent it to me yet, that the Bush administration ignored the misspending of that $14 million, I'll look into it.

Biff: Yes, sir, but would you hold hearings or an investigation ...?

Frank: I think you're being very unfair to President Bush.

OK, his name is not Biff, it's Griff. Frank used this against Michelle Bachmann and when you hit them with facts like this, they really have no response other than to ignore what Barney Frank said and continue with their smears.

I wonder why Beck never asked Republicans to investigate the missing $9 billion in Iraq? I guess Beck still feels like a fool after being exposed as a liar by the ladies of The View....(Click for original.)


Internet Threatened by Censorship, Secret Surveillance, and Cybersecurity Laws

By Stephen Lendman
After Downing Street

At a time of corporate dominated media, a free and open Internet is democracy's last chance to preserve our First Amendment rights without which all others are threatened. Activists call it Net Neutrality. Media scholar Robert McChesney says without it "the Internet would start to look like cable TV (with a) handful of massive companies (controlling) content" enough to have veto power over what's allowed and what it costs. Progressive web sites and writers would be marginalized or suppressed, and content systematically filtered or banned.

Media reform activists have drawn a line in the sand. Net Neutrality must be defended at all costs. Preserving a viable, independent, free and open Internet (and the media overall) is essential to a functioning democracy, but the forces aligned against it are formidable, daunting, relentless, and reprehensible. Some past challenges suggest future ones ahead.

Censorship Attempts to Curtail Free Expression

The First Amendment states: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

Nonetheless, Congress and state legislatures have repeatedly tried to censor free speech, allegedly regarded as indecent, obscene, hateful, terrorist-related, or harmful to minors. However, the Supreme Court, in a number of decisions, ruled that the government may not regulate free expression, only its manner such as when it violates the right to privacy "in an essentially intolerable manner" - a huge hurtle to overcome, including online, because viewers are protected by simply "averting (one's) eyes (Cohen v. California - 1971)."

In 1998, the Child Online Protection Act (COPA) passed, but was blocked by federal courts as an infringement of free speech and therefore unconstitutional and unenforceable. In 1999, the law was struck down at the Appellate Court level, but it stayed on the books. In 2002, the Supreme Court reviewed the ruling and returned the case for reconsideration. It remained blocked. Then in March 2003, the Appellate Court again ruled it unconstitutional on the grounds that it would hinder protected adult speech that's likely what it was about in the first place....(Click for remainder.)


Freshman Democrat Alan Grayson Attacks Obama's War Policy

By Christopher Batemen
Vanity Fair

In 2007, Vanity Fair’s David Rose wrote about an ambitious lawyer and entrepreneur named Alan Grayson, who at the time was suing KBR and other defense contractors in Iraq for alleged fraud on behalf of whistleblowers and American taxpayers. Grayson, who ran for Congress unsuccessfully in 2006, ran again in 2008, and this time was elected to represent Florida’s 8th district, which encompasses part of Orlando. An outspoken opponent of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan who sounds more like Noam Chomsky than a politician, he was quoted in a New York Times article last week about the increasing impatience of liberal Democrats in Congress with the process of winding down these occupations. “There is no need in the 21st century to do this, to make us safe,” Grayson told the Times. “This is a 19th-century strategy being played out at great expense in both money and blood in the 21st century, in the wrong time at the wrong place.” Following the article, VF Daily spoke with him to give him a chance to explain his views in greater detail.

VF Daily: Can you elaborate on what you meant by the statement in the Times?

Alan Grayson: The reason why I said what I said is because the fundamental goal of our endeavors in Iraq and Afghanistan is supposed to be to protect us. That’s why we call the Defense Department the Defense Department, because it’s supposed to defend America. And whatever the perceived threat may be, whether it’s al-Qaeda or the Taliban or otherwise, only by the most incredibly convoluted Bushian logic could you possibly get to the point where you conclude that as a result of that threat we should spend $100 billion a year and send over 100,000 of our young men and women abroad, 8,000 miles away, and that that is an effective way to accomplish that goal. It doesn’t make any sense.

Life does not consist of a Risk board game, where you try to occupy every space on the planet. There’s no other country that does this, there’s no other country that seeks to occupy foreign countries 8,000 miles from their own border, and believe that that somehow accomplishes anything useful. It doesn’t. If in fact it’s important to our national security to keep al-Qaeda or the Taliban under control, there are far more effective ways of accomplishing that goal, if that is in fact the goal, than to expend this kind of money and this kind of blood....(Click for remainder.)


Fighting Coal in the Rockies

By Auden Schendler

Fighting for the Waxman-Markey climate bill may be sexy and hip (and worthwhile), but here in the Roaring Fork and Vail Valleys of Colorado, without much fanfare, we are engaged in some trench fighting to solve climate change.

The battle: trying to elect progressive board members to the rural coop (Holy Cross Energy) that supplies power to  the heart of ski country and and two of the largest, and most high profile, ski resorts in the United Sstates—Aspen and Vail. It’s a tough fight because nobody knows about it. Yet the stakes are huge: climate change threatens this major part of colorado’s economy, and the utility has bought into a big chunk of yesterday in the Comache 3 coal plant. 

Meanwhile, Holy Cross’ board president recently said that “civilizations have historically thrived in warmer periods as opposed to ice ages.” (Perhaps, but it’s not clear that Holy Cross’s two largest customers, both ski areas, or the thousands of employees that work there, would concur…). Never mind climate change, that coal fired power is going to get pretty pricey very soon.

The fight goes on mostly behind the scences because utility politics has never really grabbed the public’s fancy. (It doesn’t help that Holy Cross failed to mention the board election or the opportunity to run for a seat in its newsletter to customers. And then there’s the fact that the coop sends out rebate checks DURING the election period, an act that almost certainly favors the incumbents.

Nonetheless, the fight—for democracy and climate stability—goes on, and if you want more details, check out this recent article from the Colorado Independent: Ski-country electric co-op prez hit for anti-Ice Age, pro-coal rhetoric....(Click for original.)


Super Catamaran Speed Through Pirate Waters

By Nathan Hodge
Danger Room @

What’s the best way to avoid Somali pirates? Well, if you’re traveling in a high-speed catamaran, it helps to hit the gas.

The wave-piercing catamaran Norman Arrow, built by Australian ship manufacturer Incat, recently traveled through the pirate-infested waters off the coast of Somalia en route to a new homeport in the United Kingdom. And while the ship did not encounter any pirates, the crew piloting the vessel was not taking any chances.

According to a company news release, the Norman Arrow boosted its speed from cruising speed to 30 knots — high speed, but not maximum speed — for the most dangerous sections off the Somali coast; the crew also secured the crew cabin, posted extra lookouts and gave small boats a wide berth. If the crew encountered pirate attack, said Captain Guy South, the plan was this: “All the crew would go to the electronics room, the fourth engine would be run up and we’d run away.”

While the crew of the Norman Arrow didn’t see any pirates, a ship sailing about four hours ahead on the same route was attacked with rocket propelled grenades. The crew also observed about half a dozen warships in the area, most likely belonging to the multinational Combined Task Force 151 operating in the Gulf of Aden and off the coast of Somalia.

Incat, which manufactures high-speed car ferries, has also seen a significant amount of interest in its ships for military missions. In recent years, the U.S. military has experimented with a number of high-speed ships; the HSV-X1 Joint Venture and the HSV-2 Swift, both manufactured by Incat, have already been used to support logistics operations in the Horn of Africa, the Persian Gulf and Southeast Asia. The Swift also took part in relief operations in Indonesia and in the Gulf Coast region following hurricane Katrina. The Navy’s new budget request includes funds for two more high-speed vessels....(Click for remainder.)


Report: Faulty Communications Imperil President

By Kim Zetter
Threat Level @

The U.S. Secret Service is asking for $34 million to help upgrade its communication system, and says that without the money the president’s life could be in danger, according to a news report.

The agency says that its communication system is incompatible with the White House communication system, resulting in a “dangerous gap” that could “prevent the attainment of the performance target of 100 percent protection.”

The statements appeared in a 2010 budget request, submitted to Congress this month, according to ABC News. According to the request, the agency’s “degraded” networks and software are “adversely impacting critical operational missions” and could thwart agents communicating in an emergency.

“USSS’ protective and investigative missions will be functionally unable to respond to the increasing volume of threats without additional investment,” the budget request says.

The agency also indicated that without the multi-million-dollar upgrade, its system was vulnerable to hacker attacks.

A spokesman for the agency told ABC News that the agency isn’t currently at risk “at this time.”...(Click for remainder.)


President Obama Gives Naval Academy Commencement Address

(President Barack Obama fistbumps a graduating Midshipman at  the U.S. Naval Academy graduation ceremony
in Annapolis, Md., Friday, May 22, 2009.  Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)

(President Barack Obama shakes hands with a graduating Midshipman as another graduate reacts to
receiving her diploma at the U.S. Naval Academy graduation in Annapolis, Maryland, May 22, 2009. 
Official White House photo by Pete Souza)

(Graduates toss their hats into the air at the end of the graduation ceremony at the U.S. Naval Academy in
Annapolis, Md.,  Friday, May 22, 2009.  Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)


A New Era for Credit Cards


President Obama Weekly Address: Sacrifice


Olbermann Donates $10k to Charity after Con-Talkers is Waterboarded

By Josh Marshall
Talking Points

This out from MSNBC ...
MSNBC's Keith Olbermann on tonight's "Countdown" pledged to donate $10,000 to charity after disc jockey Erich "Mancow" Muller was waterboarded today on live radio, in an attempt to prove the technique was "not torture." After six seconds Muller said it was "absolutely torture" and that were he to be interrogated by the use of waterboarding he would "confess to anything." Olbermann promised to donate $10,000 to the charity Veterans of Valor, founded by Sgt. Klay South, who administered the waterboarding to Muller today, and withdrew his offer to Sean Hannity to make a donation to the charity of his choice if he followed through on his offer to undergo waterboarding.
If you haven't seen the Mancow waterboarding, you can see the full video below. It's powerful on a number of different levels.

The upshot is that the guy goes into it in cocky Hannity mode and then after maybe 5 or 6 seconds he struggles up and he's converted, claiming it's "absolutely torture", that he never realized it was that bad, etc.

Now, here's the thing. I'm genuinely surprised that he was was surprised that it was that bad. I'm not saying that for effect. Muller really seemed to think it was like getting dunked by your friend in a pool or something. Just factually, everyone who knows anything about this says that it's horrific and you pretty much instantly feel like you're drowning and at the edge of death. And it's a physiological response. So even if you've gone through it ten times and know rationally that you don't die, it doesn't matter. You're instantly put back into the mental space of drowning and being at the edge of death.

I must confess that when I see Hannity or the rest of these guys saying it's no big deal and it's not torture, I kind of figured they're playing semantic games and essentially saying 'I don't care what we do to evil Muslim terrorist bad guys.' Hang them from them toes, waterboard them, whatever, who cares? I don't agree with that. It's hideous. But I understand it. But here it turns out they're just completely ignorant, just haven't been paying attention. Just in the purest factual sense have no idea what they're talking about.

I know, I know ... why am I surprised?...(Click for original.)

(ed.note: When does Hannity get waterboarded? That may be waterboarding I can believe in.)


Jon Stewart: The Obama/Cheney Throwdown

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Two Bush Officials Fire Back at Cheney 'Fearmongering'

By Agence France-Presse
Via The Raw Story

Two top Bush-era officials on Friday rejected ex-vice president Dick Cheney’s scathing criticism of US President Barack Obama, saying the country’s national security was not in jeopardy.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who served in the same post under former president George W. Bush, and Tom Ridge, the former head of homeland security, both voiced disagreement with Cheney a day after he attacked Obama’s performance as the new commander-in-chief.

Gates said in an interview that opponents of Obama’s decision to close the “war on terror” prison at Guantanamo were engaging in “fear-mongering,” a reference to Cheney’s stance on the issue.

Defending the president’s decision to shut the detention center at the US naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, Gates said the prison was damaging America’s image and served as a propaganda tool for Al-Qaeda.

“The truth is, it’s probably one of the finest prisons in the world today. But it has a taint,” Gates told NBC television’s “Today” program during a visit to New York.

“The name itself is a condemnation. What the president was saying is, this will be an advertisement for Al-Qaeda as long as it’s open,” he said.

In an interview with CNN’s “State of the Union,” Ridge said he could not support the former vice president’s charge that Obama had undermined US national security.

Asked if he believed the country was now less safe as a result of Obama’s policies, Ridge said: “I do not.”

The Republican said the discussion had become too politically charged with Cheney making a televised speech on Thursday immediately after an address by the sitting president....(Click for remainder.)


The CIA's History of Bamboozling The Congress

By Melvin A. Goodman
The Public Record

“Let me be clear about this,” CIA director Leon Panetta told his troops last week, “it was not CIA policy or practice to mislead Congress. That is against our laws and our values.”  

Of course, Panetta is entitled to his opinions, but he cannot create his own facts. And, as a long-time member of the House of Representatives, he surely must know that there is a long and substantiated record of CIA deceit and dissembling to the congressional intelligence committees. Here are some highlights of that record.

In 1973, CIA director Richard Helms deceived the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, refusing to acknowledge the role of the CIA in overthrowing the elected government in Chile. Helms falsely testified that the CIA had not passed money to the opposition movement in Chile, and a grand jury was called to see if Helms should be indicted for perjury.

In 1977, the Justice Department brought a lesser charge against Helms, who pleaded nolo contendere; he was fined $2,000 and given a suspended two-year prison sentence. Helms went from the courthouse to the CIA where he was given a hero’s welcome and a gift of $2,000 to cover the fine. It was one of the saddest experiences in my 24 years at CIA.

In the new Ford administration, Secretary of State Kissinger, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, and White House chief of staff Cheney orchestrated phony intelligence for the Congress in order to get an endorsement for covert arms shipments to anti-government forces in Angola.  

The CIA lied to Senator Dick Clark, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who was a critic of the Agency’s illegal collaborations with the government of South Africa against Angola and Mozambique. Agency briefers exaggerated the classification of their materials so that Senate and House members could not publicize this information. Agency shields of secrecy and falsehood were extremely effective....(Click for remainder.)


Was Bob Graham Briefed About Torture?

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Transparently and Open Government

By The White House

Vivek Kundra, our Chief Information Officer, and Beth Noveck, Deputy Chief Technology Officer for Open Government, explain the Open Government Initiative

On January 21, 2009, his first full day in office, the President issued a Memorandum on Transparency and Open Government and called for recommendations for making the Federal government more transparent, participatory, and collaborative.

As Valerie Jarrett, Senior Advisor to the President says in the video below, we are proud "to announce an important next step in this historic call to action – one that will help us achieve a new foundation for our government – a foundation built on the values of transparency, accountability and responsibility."

The Administration is committed to developing those recommendations in an open fashion. Consistent with the President’s mandate, we want to be fully transparent in our work, participatory in soliciting your ideas and expertise, and collaborative in how we experiment together to use new tools and techniques for developing open government policy....(Click for remainder.)


Judge Reviewing Pirate Bay Trial Bias is Removed for Bias

By David Kravets
Threat Level @

The judge assigned to review whether the trial judge in the Pirate Bay trial was biased has now been removed — for bias, of course.

The convoluted web of potential scandal further complicates the April 17 copyright infrigment convictions of the four founders of The Pirate Bay, the world’s most notorious BitTorrent tracker.

Judge Ulrika Ihrfelt was assigned to investigate whether the four should be granted a retrial based on revelations that the original trial judge is a member of industry copyright-protection groups.  But Ihrfelt was removed from the case Wednesday amid allegations that she was a member of the same organizations, a Swedish newspaper reports.

The defendants charged that the Stockholm trial court secretly steered the case to Norstrom. The defendants claim Norstrom was hostile to the defense because of his affiliations with the Swedish Copyright Association and the Swedish Association for the Protection of Industrial Property.

Pirate Bay administrators Fredrik Neij, Gottfrid Svartholm Warg and Peter Sunde were found guilty in the case, along with Carl Lundström, who was convicted of funding the five-year-old operation....(Click for remainder.)


Brussels Warily Watches Voter Turnout Decline

Austrian Green Party candidates for EU elections Eva Lichtenberger (L) and Brigitte Lunacek at a news conference in Vienna Apr. 17, 2009. Despite important transnational issues, such as energy security, public health threats, there is no sign Europeans will reverse a downward trend and turn out in greater numbers June 4-7.(Herwig Prammer/Reuters)

Will social media help, or will it take structural reforms to engage voters?

By Teri Schultz
Global Post

BRUSSELS, Belgium — European politicians admire many things about Barack Obama, and one of them is the way he used “social media” to pull in record numbers of voters and make them feel that he was personally devoted to making their lives better.

Can the European Parliament follow that lead? Can it tweet and Flickr itself out of obscurity?

So far, it seems it can’t.

Every five years, Europeans are called to the polls to choose the lawmakers who will control a growing proportion of the rules and regulations that govern their daily lives. (See my introduction to this year's European Parliament elections.)

And every five years the proportion of European Union citizens casting a ballot has shrunk.

Voters prefer to pay attention to national elections, even though as much as 80 percent of the legislation their country’s leaders will be required to implement now originates at the European Union level.

This year, despite enormously important transnational issues — the global economic crisis, energy security, public health threats — there is no sign Europeans will reverse the downward trend and turn out in greater numbers June 4-7.

And, some experts say, no one should be surprised. “If you’re a voter, it’s totally rational for you to be completely turned off,” said Simon Hix, a political science professor at the London School of Economics and one of the foremost analysts on voting behavior in EP elections.

While EP voter turnout is low (45.5 percent in 2004), it is still not as small as turnout for the U.S. mid-term congressional elections (36.8 percent for the House, 29.7 percent for the Senate in 2006). But, Hix said, there’s a possibility EP turnout could dip to 35 percent this year or even lower. Anything below 30 percent overall would raise “serious legitimacy questions” for the parliament, he said. Experts worry that turnout could be in the teens in some of the newer member states....(Click for remainder.)


The Great Pacific Garbage Patch

By Jacob Magraw-Mickelson
Good Magazine


So Long, and Thanks for all the Fish

By Thomas Porostocky
Good Magazine


Is Maine's Diocese Violating Tax Laws

By The Associated Press
Via 365 Gay

(Augusta, Maine) A gay rights advocacy group claims that the Roman Catholic Diocese of Maine is violating tax rules by helping a referendum campaign that would repeal the state’s new same-sex marriage law.

The Empowering Spirits Foundation said its challenge was filed at an Internal Revenue Service office in Dallas. The San Diego-based group said the diocese is engaging in political activity by collecting signatures for the referendum, violating IRS rules applying to nonprofits.

The ballot question would overturn Maine’s gay marriage law. Gay marriage foes need the signatures of at least 55,087 registered voters to get the question on the ballot. The petitioners have until three months after the Legislature adjourns, which is expected to happen in mid-June, to collect the signatures.

IRS policy allows the diocese to participate in the campaign and help collect signatures, said Marc Mutty, public affairs director for the diocese. He rejected the IRS challenge as a “bogus attempt to sidetrack the campaign.”

Leonard Cole, a Portland attorney who specializes in tax and nonprofit issues, suggested that the church’s involvement could put it at odds with IRS rules that restrict lobbying by tax-exempt nonprofits.

“It’s hard for me to imagine how you seek someone’s signature on a petition without it arguably at least being an attempt to influence their vote once the measure was on the ballot,” Cole said....(Click for remainder.)


Pension Privateers

How the boss absconded with your benefits.

By David Cay Johnston
Mother Jones

John Snow won't have to worry about his retirement. When he left the CSX railroad to become George W. Bush's second treasury secretary, he took with him a $2.5 million annual pension. The figure was based on 44 years of employment at CSX, never mind that Snow had been there for only 25 (during which, incidentally, he brutally cut safety and maintenance, to the point where a jury awarded a widow $50 million in punitive damages after a derailment—money paid by the taxpayers because of a little-known law that insulated Snow and his company from the costs of his egregious judgment). That kind of boost is unheard of for the rank and file, but not at all uncommon for corporate executives and owners.

Snow's case is typical of the way corporate executives have, for the past 35 years, managed to gild their retirement benefits even as they hollowed out workers' pensions. It started with the 1974 Employee Retirement Income Security Act, the law ostensibly designed to ensure that workers could collect the retirement benefits they'd earned. ERISA brought some important reforms—including establishing the federal Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC) to help workers whose pensions went bust—but it also was riddled with favors to business. And in the decades since, legions of lobbyists have helped create numerous new loopholes, exemptions, and special deals. The result is two separate and unequal pension systems: Executives get the equivalent of antebellum mansions, while workers get leaky shacks liable to collapse at the first harsh economic wind. Here are 10 of the key ways in which it happened. (Be warned: This stuff gets a bit technical. Washington is full of people who are very well paid to figure out insanely complex ways to take money from you and me.)

The Top Hat Club: In ERISA, lawmakers put a cap on how much of an employee's pay companies could count in calculating his retirement benefits. The reasoning was solid: Congress let companies take a tax deduction for money they put in their pension plan, but didn't want to extend that taxpayer subsidy to the highest-paid workers. The cap rises with inflation; this year it amounts to $245,000. That is more than 99 percent of workers earn, but it is also far below what top executives are paid....(Click for remainder.)



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