woensdag 27 augustus 2008

CHICAGO - When it comes to saving lives, God trumps doctors for many Americans.


An eye-opening survey reveals widespread belief that divine intervention can revive dying patients. And, researchers said, doctors "need to be prepared to deal with families who are waiting for a miracle."

More than half of randomly surveyed adults - 57 percent - said God's intervention could save a family member even if physicians declared treatment would be futile. And nearly three-quarters said patients have a right to demand such treatment.

When asked to imagine their own relatives being gravely ill or injured, nearly 20 percent of doctors and other medical workers said God could reverse a hopeless outcome.

"Sensitivity to this belief will promote development of a trusting relationship" with patients and their families, according to researchers. That trust, they said, is needed to help doctors explain objective, overwhelming scientific evidence showing that continued treatment would be worthless.

Pat Loder, a Milford, Mich., woman whose two young children were killed in a 1991 car crash, said she clung to a belief that God would intervene when things looked hopeless.

"When you're a parent and you're standing over the body of your child who you think is dying ... you have to have that" belief, Loder said.

While doctors should be prepared to deal with those beliefs, they also shouldn't "sugarcoat" the truth about a patient's condition, Loder said.

Being honest in a sensitive way helps family members make excruciating decisions about whether to let dying patients linger, or allow doctors to turn off life-prolonging equipment so that organs can be donated, Loder said.

Loder was driving when a speeding motorcycle slammed into the family's car. Both children were rushed unconscious to hospitals, and Loder says she believes doctors did everything they could. They were not able to revive her 5-year-old son; soon after her 8-year-old daughter was declared brain dead.

She said her beliefs about divine intervention have changed.

"I have become more of a realist," she said. "I know that none of us are immune from anything."

Loder was not involved in the survey, which appears in Monday's Archives of Surgery.

It involved 1,000 U.S. adults randomly selected to answer questions by telephone about their views on end-of-life medical care. They were surveyed in 2005, along with 774 doctors, nurses and other medical workers who responded to mailed questions.

Survey questions mostly dealt with untimely deaths from trauma such as accidents and violence. These deaths are often particularly tough on relatives because they are more unexpected than deaths from lingering illnesses such as cancer, and the patients tend to be younger.

Dr. Lenworth Jacobs, a University of Connecticut surgery professor and trauma chief at Hartford Hospital, was the lead author.

He said trauma treatment advances have allowed patients who previously would have died at the scene to survive longer. That shift means hospital trauma specialists "are much more heavily engaged in the death process," he said.

Jacobs said he frequently meets people who think God will save their dying loved one and who want medical procedures to continue.

"You can't say, 'That's nonsense.' You have to respect that" and try to show them X-rays, CAT scans and other medical evidence indicating death is imminent, he said.

Relatives need to know that "it's not that you don't want a miracle to happen, it's just that is not going to happen today with this patient," he said.

Families occasionally persist and hospitals have gone to court seeking to stop medical treatment doctors believe is futile, but such cases are quite rare.

Dr. Michael Sise, trauma medical director at Scripps Mercy Hospital in San Diego, called the study "a great contribution" to one of the most intense issues doctors face.

Sise, a Catholic doctor working in a Catholic hospital, said miracles don't happen when medical evidence shows death is near.

"That's just not a realistic situation," he said.

Sise recalled a teenager severely injured in a gang beating who died soon afterward at his hospital.

The mother "absolutely did not want to withdraw" medical equipment despite the severity of her child's brain injuries, which ensured the child would never wake up, Sise said. "The mom was playing religious tapes in the room, and obviously was very focused on looking for a miracle."

Claudia McCormick, a nurse and trauma program director at Duke University Hospital, said she also has never seen that kind of miracle. But her niece's recovery after being hit by a boat while inner-tubing earlier this year came close.

The boat backed into her and its propeller "caught her in the side of the head. She had no pulse when they pulled her out of the water," McCormick said.

Doctors at the hospital where she was airlifted said "it really doesn't look good." And while it never reached the point where withdrawing lifesaving equipment was discussed, McCormick recalled one of her doctors saying later: '"God has plans for this child. I never thought she'd be here.'"

Like many hospitals, Duke uses a team approach to help relatives deal with dying trauma victims, enlisting social workers, grief counselors and chaplains to work with doctors and nurses.

If the family still says, "We just can't shut that machine off, then, you know what, we can't shut that machine off," McCormick said.

"Sometimes," she said, "you might have a family that's having a hard time and it might take another day, and that's OK."



dinsdag 26 augustus 2008

zondag 24 augustus 2008

Als het ijs smelt

Ik was vandaag in het museum volkenkunde in Leiden. Ik heb daar de tentoonstelling 'Als het ijs smelt' bezocht. Deze tentoonstelling gaat over de gevolgen van de klimaatverandering, en dan met name voor het arctische poolgebied.De traditionele cultuur van Inuit, Sami, de siberische nomadenvolken etc. staat onder grote druk. Ze stonden al onder druk door de invloed van de westerse cultuur, maar nu komt de klimaatverandering er ook nog eens bij. Sommige mensen in het noordelijk poolgebied blijven er laconiek onder en gaan er van uit dat er altijd veranderingen hebben plaatsgevonden waaraan ze zich moesten aanpassen. Dat zal dit keer ook wel weer lukken. Misschien komt er straks wel weet meer kabeljauw als het poolijs smelt en de ijsbeer verdwijnt. Het optimisme en de veerkracht van deze mensen is bewonderingswaardig. Toch denk ik dat er geen reden voor optimisme is. De verandering die we nu zien plaatsvinden is ingrijpender dan we ooit hebben gezien sinds de laatste ijstijd en is zeker geen business as usual. In gebieden waar het klimaat het meest extreem is zien we de gevolgen eerder en sterker dan in onze gematigde klimaatzone. Toch zou het leuk zijn als we weer eens een Elfstedentocht zouden krijgen.

zaterdag 23 augustus 2008

Films zorgen voor roken

Het Amerikaanse National Cancer Institue heeft onderzoek gedaan naar het verband tussen het kijken naar films en het besluit van kinderen om te gaan roken. Ze kwamen tot de conclusie dat niet enkel het kijken naar films, maar in grote mate ook de marketing ervan ertoe kan leiden dat kinderen beginnen met roken.

De onderzoekers willen nu dat er, voordat een speelfilm waarin gerookt wordt begint, een waarschuwing in beeld komt die meldt dat er in de film wordt gerookt. Vorige maand besloot men al om anti-rookteksten te zetten op DVD's met films erop waarin gerookt wordt. In Amerika is het ook verboden om, zonder begeleiding van een volwassene, te kijken naar een film waarin gerookt wordt als de kijker jonger dan 17 jaar is.

Ik ben een tegenstander van roken, maar dit vind ik een beetje mal. Moeten er nu echt waarschuwingen bij films als Casablanca? Dat lijkt me overdreven en bovendien is het de vraag of een dergelijke waarschuwing effectief is. Misschien gaan jongeren roken dan nog meer zien als 'stoer'. Ik vraag me ook af hoe sterk het verband tussen roken in films en het beginnen met roken is. In het bericht heeft men het zowel over roken in films als over marketing. Het lijkt er op dat ze de factor 'marketing' niet hebben geisoleerd van de factor 'roken in films'. Marketing lijkt me een belangrijker factor. Van nog groter belang lijkt mij het rookgedrag van de leeftijdsgenoten waaronder jongeren verkeren. Ik ben nu ruim twee jaar geleden gestopt met roken. Toen ik op zestien jarige leeftijd begon met roken was het mee willen doen met de stoere klasgenoten de belangrijkste reden om te gaan roken. Ik denk dat ik niet de enige ben die zo is begonnnen.

vrijdag 22 augustus 2008

Bush makes last-minute grab for civil liberties

'I'm still in the White House you know'
By Bill Ray → More by this author
Published Thursday 21st August 2008 16:15 GMT
Nail down your security priorities. Ask the experts and your peers at The Register Security Debate, September 24 2008.

US citizens could be investigated without just cause under a new plan from the Justice Department, while those who choose to leave the country will have their records kept for 15 years and available to any litigious attorney.

The Justice Department plan won't be unveiled in detail until next month, but the New York Times is reporting that the plan will to allow the FBI to open an investigation into anyone without clear suspicion, and that's got civil liberty groups understandably concerned.

Meanwhile the Department of Homeland Security has been quietly building a database of every border crossing by a US citizen, claims the Washington Post, and intends to hang onto the data for 15 years - foreigners will have their data stored for 75 years. All this information sits in a database which will be exempted from the 1974 Privacy Act, which would require individuals to be informed if lawmen request the data.

Both these moves are about solidifying temporary powers that were put into place following the terrorist attack in New York in September 2001, and doing so before Bush leaves office and is replaced by someone who may be less hard-line.

Details of the Justice Department plan were revealed in closed briefings to Congressional staff, and four Democratic senators have written to the Attorney General expressing their concern. The letter, signed by Russ Feingold, Richard J. Durbin, Edward M. Kennedy and Sheldon Whitehouse, claims the new plan "might permit an innocent American to be subjected to such intrusive surveillance based in part on race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, or on protected First Amendment activities".

As a result the Attorney has agreed not to sign the plan before Congress gets a proper look at it on September 17th.

The border-crossing database being created in the name of Homeland Security came to light last month in a Federal Register notice, and is intended to form a record which can "quite literally, help frontline officers to connect the dots", according to a Homeland Security spokesman.

But it won't just be terrorists who are tracked on the database. The information will be available to any court or attorney in civil litigation, or even the media: "When there exists a legitimate public interest in the disclosure of the information."

As a fully paid up member of the fourth estate The Register is looking forward to having access to US border crossing records, but we promise to only use the information in legitimate cases, so if you've done nothing wrong you have nothing to fear from us. ®

Swiftboat 2008

Supernatural science: Why we want to believe

Monsters are everywhere these days, and belief in them is as strong as

By Robert Roy Britt

Monsters are everywhere these days, and belief in them is as strong as
ever. What's harder to believe is why so many people buy into hazy
evidence, shady schemes and downright false reports that perpetuate
myths that often have just one ultimate truth: They put money in the
pockets of their purveyors.

The bottom line, according to several interviews with people who study
these things: People want to believe, and most simply can't help it.

"Many people quite simply just want to believe," said Brian Cronk, a
professor of psychology at Missouri Western State University. "The
human brain is always trying to determine why things happen, and when
the reason is not clear, we tend to make up some pretty bizarre

A related question: Does belief in the paranormal have anything to do
with religious belief?

The answer to that question is decidedly nuanced, but studies point to
an interesting conclusion: People who practice religion are typically
encouraged not to believe in the paranormal, but rather to put their
faith in one deity, whereas those who aren't particularly active in
religion are more free to believe in Bigfoot or consult a psychic.

"Christians and New Agers, paranormalists, etc. all have one thing in
common: a spiritual orientation to the world," said sociology
Professor Carson Mencken of Baylor University.

A tale last week by three men who said they have remains of Bigfoot in
a freezer was reported by many Web sites as anywhere from final proof
of the creature to at least a very compelling case to keep the fantasy
ball rolling and cash registers ringing for Bigfoot trinkets and
tourism (all three men involved make money off the belief in this
creature). Even mainstream media treated a Friday press conference
about the "finding" as news.

Reactions by the public ranged from skeptical curiosity to blind faith.

"I believe they do exist but I'm not sure about this," said one reader
reacting to a story on LiveScience that cast doubt the claim. "I guess
we will find out ... if this is on the up and up," wrote another.
"However, that said, I know they exist."

A subsequent test on the supposed Bigfoot found nothing but the DNA of
humans and an opossum, a small, cat-like creature.

Also last week, in Texas there was yet another sensational yet
debunkable sighting of chupacabra, a beast of Latin-American folklore.
The name means "goat sucker." In this case, law enforcement bought
into the hooey with an apparent wink and nod.

Ellie Carter, a patrol trainee with the DeWitt County sheriff's
office, saw the beast and was, of course, widely quoted. "It was this
— thing, looking right at us," she said. "I think that's a
chupacabra!" After watching a video of the beast taken by a sheriff's
deputy, biologist Scott Henke of Texas A&M University said, "It's a
dog for sure," according to a story on Scientific American's Web site.

Meanwhile, the sheriff did nothing to tamp down rampant speculation,
expressing delight that he might have a monster on his hands. "I love
this for DeWitt County," said Sheriff Jode Zavesky, who would
presumably be just as thrilled to let Dracula or a werewolf run free.

With that kind of endorsement and the human propensity to believe in
just about anything, it's clear that Bigfoot and chupacabra are just
two members in a cast of mythical characters and dubious legends and
ideas will likely never go away.

In a 2006 study, researchers found a surprising number of college
students believe in psychics, witches, telepathy, channeling and a
host of other questionable ideas. A full 40 percent said they believe
houses can be haunted.

Why are people so eager to accept flimsy and fabricated evidence in
support of unlikely and even outlandish creatures and ideas? Why is
the paranormal realm, from psychic predictions to UFO sightings, so
alluring to so many?

woensdag 20 augustus 2008

You Can’t Be Serious: How a Comedian Became the most Influential Voice in American Politics

by Leonard Doyle

When Jon Stewart inaugurated his fake news anchor on The Daily Show eight years ago, his goal was to send up the hyperbolic and manufactured controversy of US Cable News and, if possible, be even more outrageous. Now, in a wonderful through-the-looking-glass moment, he has supplanted the subjects of his mockery in the country’s current affairs consciousness, and finds himself crowned the bemused voice of reason in an insane world.The underground comic has become such a cultural touchstone that The New York Times asked this week whether he has become “the most trusted man in America”.0819 04 1 2 3

For anyone who has missed the influential anchor, then his take on the way mainstream media peddles false rumours about Barack Obama is instructive. He calls it “Baracknophobia” and shows clips of blow-dried anchors and experts repeating widely-believed but baseless rumours - that the Democrat is actually a secret Muslim, a plagiarist, a misogynist etc. The purveyor of fake news lacerates the networks’ talking heads as they blame the internet for rumour mongering about Obama.

The highlight is a straight-faced Mr Stewart saying: “Oh, this is interesting. SomeguyI’veneverheardof.com is reporting presumptive Democratic nominee Barack Obama has lady parts. Obviously scurrilous and unfounded, we’ll examine it tonight in our special, ‘Barack Obama’s Vagina: The October Surprise In His Pants’.”

The latest sign of how far the show and its host have come from their edgy early days will come at the Democratic Convention in Denver, where he and his reporters are fully accredited.

When asked last year by the Pew Research Centre to name the journalist they most admired, Americans placed the fake news anchor Mr Stewart at number four on the list. He was tied with such luminaries as Tom Brokaw of NBC, Dan Rather, then of CBS, and Anderson Cooper of CNN.

The Daily Show and the equally funny and successful Colbert Report shows are broadcast more than 23 times a week, “from Comedy Central’s World News Headquarters in New York”. The side-street studio on Manhattan’s West Side is not only the undisputed locus of fake news, but it is increasingly the epicentre of real news - administered with a wrapping of college humour.

The whispered advice of a State Department spokesman to a foreign correspondent trying to make sense of American politics was very simple: tune into The Daily Show. “I watch the reruns every morning at 10.30,” she said, “it’s the only way to find out what’s really going on.”

The Daily Show is also a top priority for ambitious politicians and was described by Newsweek as “the coolest pit stop on television” for presidential candidates, world leaders and ex-presidents. While mainstream news gave an even-handed report on the legacy of the Blair-Bush years after Tony Blair’s farewell visit to Washington last year, The Daily Show tore Mr Blair to ribbons.

One of the programme’s signature techniques - of using video montages showing politicians contradicting themselves - is now a staple technique of mainstream news shows.

Nor is The Daily Show afraid of tackling what it calls “super depressing” stories, such as President George Bush’s decision to approve the use of torture after the September 11 attacks and the unprecedented concentration of executive power by the White House. Interviews with serious authors such as Seymour Hersh have helped focus attention on potentially illegal acts by the Bush administration and win a wider audience for their work.

Mr Stewart’s frequent outbursts of “Are you insane?!” seems to capture the post-M*A*S*H, post-Catch-22 sensibilities of a country that waged a war in Iraq to find weapons of mass destruction that did not exist. Now, with the most promising candidate in generations running for president, Mr Stewart asks whether the country may be about to reject him at the ballot box because of rumours that he is Muslim.

The purpose of The Daily Show is to entertain, not inform, Mr Stewart insists, and he likens his job to “throwing spitballs” from the back of the room. But he and the high-powered writers who work with him like nothing better than tackling the big issues of the day - in ways that straight news programs cannot.

“Hopefully, the process is to spot things that would be grist for the funny mill,” Mr Stewart, 45, told The New York Times. “In some respects, the heavier subjects are the ones that are most loaded with opportunity because they have the most … potential energy, so to delve into that gives you the largest combustion, the most interest. I don’t mean for the audience. I mean for us.”

The Daily Show’s success comes from blending the informality and attitude of bloggers with the hard-nosed research and expertise of the best investigative reporters to reveal a new news medium. Like bloggers, a key to his show’s success is the authenticity that comes from in-depth reporting, combined with stating the blindingly obvious.

Every day begins with a morning meeting where material culled from 15 video recorders, as well as newspapers, magazines and websites, is pored over. The meeting, Mr Stewart says, “would be very unpleasant for most people to watch: it’s really a gathering of curmudgeons expressing frustration and upset, and the rest of the day is spent trying to … repress that through whatever creative devices we can find”. Josh Lieb, one of the executive producers of the show, describes the process as looking for stories that “make us angry in a whole new way”.

By 3pm a script has been prepared and Mr Stewart’s rehearsals begin. After an hour of rewrites, taping the show starts at 6pm.

The fake news anchor may be the antidote to fake news, which has a habit of showing up in American newspapers. After all, the US government had an initiative in 2005 to plant “positive news” in Iraqi newspapers to sway public opinion about the war. The Bush administration has worked closely with big business to keep it flowing.

According to Professor Robert Love, of Columbia Journalism School: “They have used fringe scientists and fake experts to muddy scientific debates on global warming, stem-cell research, evolution, and other matters.”

For all his fakery, Mr Stewart may be pointing the way to the future of news: bluntness and informality fused with ruthless editing and a funny bone which helps to ensure that stories he wants to cover are watched.



dinsdag 19 augustus 2008

Why McCain May Well Win

by Robert Parry

It might seem unlikely that the United States would elect John McCain to succeed George W. Bush when that would ensure continuation of many unpopular Bush policies: an ill-defined war with the Muslim world, right-wing consolidation of the U.S. Supreme Court, a drill-oriented energy strategy, tax cuts creating massive federal deficits, etc., etc.

But there are reasons - beyond understandable concerns about Barack Obama’s limited experience - that make a McCain victory possible, indeed maybe probable.

Here is one of the big ones: The U.S. news media is as bad as ever, arguably worse.

On Monday, Obama gave a detail-rich speech on how he would address the energy crisis, which is a major point of concern among Americans. From ideas for energy innovation to retrofitting the U.S. auto industry to conservation steps to limited new offshore drilling, Obama did what he is often accused of not doing, fleshing out his soaring rhetoric.

McCain responded with a harsh critique of Obama’s calls for more conservation, claiming that Obama wants to solve the energy crisis by having people inflate their tires. McCain’s campaign even passed out a tire gauge marked as Obama’s energy plan.

For his part, McCain made clear he wanted to drill for more oil wherever it could be found and to build many more nuclear power plants.

These competing plans offered a chance for the evening news to address an issue of substance that is high on the voters’ agenda. Instead, NBC News anchor Brian Williams devoted 30 seconds to the dueling energy speeches, without any details and with the witty opening line that Obama was “refining” his energy plan.

So, instead of dealing with a serious issue in a serious way, NBC News ignored the substance and went for a clever slight against Obama, hitting his political maneuvering in his softened opposition to more offshore drilling.

Williams’s quip fit with one of the press corps’ favorite campaign narratives, Obama’s flip-flopping. But the coverage ignored far more important elements of the story, such as the feasibility of Obama’s vow that “we must end the age of oil in our time” or the wisdom of McCain’s emphasis on drilling - and nuking - the nation out of its energy mess.

And, as for flip-flops, McCain’s dramatic repositioning of himself as an anti-environmentalist - after years of being one of the green movement’s favorite Republicans - represents a far more significant change than Obama’s modest waffling on offshore oil.

The Sierra Club, one of the nation’s premier environmental organizations, has repudiated McCain and now is running ads attacking his energy plan. But McCain’s flip-flops - even complete reversals - remain an underplayed part of the campaign story. They just don’t fit the narrative of maverick John McCain on the “Straight Talk Express.”

Loving the ‘Surge’

The major U.S. news media has been equally superficial in dealing with the Iraq War and the “war on terror.” It is now a fully enshrined conventional wisdom that George W. Bush’s troop “surge” was a huge success and vindicates McCain’s early support for it.

On Obama’s overseas trip, it became de rigueur for each interviewer to pound him for the first 10 or 15 minutes with demands that he accept the accepted wisdom about the “surge” and admit that he was wrong and McCain was right.

Obama’s attempts to offer a more subtle explanation of what had occurred in Iraq - that key reasons for the declining violence actually predated the “surge” - were treated with bafflement by the interviewers, who simply reframed their questions and came back at him in a show of toughness against Obama’s supposed evasions.

CBS News anchor Katie Couric started this pattern, but others fell smartly in line, including NBC’s Tom Brokaw on “Meet the Press.” Indeed, many of the same media stars who had cheered the nation to war in 2003 (such as Brokaw) were now hectoring Obama, who had spoken out against the invasion in real time.

Conversely, McCain is never challenged about his misjudgment in advocating a rapid pivot from Afghanistan to Iraq in late 2001 and early 2002, before Osama bin Laden and other top al-Qaeda were captured and before Afghanistan had stabilized.

That premature pivot now stands as one of the biggest military blunders in U.S. history, leaving American troops bogged down in two open-ended wars and allowing the perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks to regroup and to plot in safe havens inside Pakistan.

However, American voters who rely on the major news media for their information would have no idea about McCain’s central role in this fiasco. All they hear about is how McCain was right about the “surge” and how Obama won’t admit he was wrong.


When American news consumers aren’t hearing misinformation, they’re almost surely hearing trivia. The TV news shows couldn’t resist endlessly repeating McCain’s attack ad that compared Obama and his enthusiastic reception in Berlin to misbehaving celebrities Britney Spears and Paris Hilton.

Though the juxtaposition was clearly meant to demean - and reminded some political observers of the “call me” ads of a sexy white woman whispering to black Tennessee Senate candidate Harold Ford - McCain’s campaign insisted it was all in good fun.

While some pundits did take note of McCain’s detour onto the low road, others picked up McCain’s campaign theme that Obama is a “presumptuous” elitist who looks down on others.

That powerful attack line, which touches on the grievances of working-class whites who feel that some blacks have gotten unfair advantages from affirmative action, is at the heart of modern American racism. Since the Nixon era, Republicans have played this Southern Strategy with great success, telling whites that they’re the real victims.

This Obama-elitist theme reached its apex (or nadir, if you prefer) when the Washington Post’s Dana Milbank distorted a reported quote from Obama to a closed Democratic caucus and used it to prove Obama was a “presumptuous nominee.” [Washington Post, July 30, 2008]

Jonathan Capehart, Milbank’s colleague from the Washington Post’s neoconservative editorial page, then took the point a step further on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” show, citing Milbank’s misleading quote to establish that Obama is an “uppity” black man.

Yet, the true meaning of the Obama quote appears to have been almost the opposite of how Milbank used it.

Painting Obama as a megalomaniac, Milbank wrote: “Inside [the caucus], according to a witness, [Obama] told the House members, ‘This is the moment . . . that the world is waiting for,’ adding: ‘I have become a symbol of the possibility of America returning to our best traditions.’”

However, other people who attended the caucus complained that Milbank had yanked the words out of context to support his “presumptuous” thesis, not to reflect what Obama actually said.

Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-South Carolina, said Obama’s comment was “in response to what one of the [House] members prefaced the question by,” a reference to the crowd of 200,000 that turned out to hear Obama speak in Berlin.

According to Clyburn, Obama “said, ‘I wish I could take credit for that, but I can’t. Because it’s not about me. It’s about America. It’s about the people of Germany and the people of Europe looking for a new hope, new relationships, as we go forward in the world.’ So, he expressly said that it’s not about me.”

A House Democratic aide sent an e-mail to Fox News saying, “Lots of people are reading the quote about Obama being a symbol and getting it wrong. His entire point of that riff was that the campaign IS NOT about him.

“The Post left out the important first half of the sentence, which was something along the lines of: ‘It has become increasingly clear in my travel, the campaign, that the crowds, the enthusiasm, 200,000 people in Berlin, is not about me at all. It’s about America. I have just become a symbol …’”

So, it appears that Obama’s attempt to show humility was transformed into its opposite, establishing that, as Capehart put it, Obama is an “uppity” black man. [Capehart himself is black.]

A week after Milbank pulled the Obama quote inside out, the Washington Post had yet to run a correction or a clarification. The august Post apparently judges that Obama’s supporters don’t have the clout to punish a news organization for getting a quote wrong, even if it continues to reverberate through the media echo chamber to millions of Americans.

Putting Obama at Risk

Yet possibly even more offensive than the quote, Milbank’s column shoved everything, including the Secret Service security arrangements for Obama, through the lens of proving that the candidate is arrogant.

When Washington police and the Secret Service blocked off roads for Obama’s motorcade, that was not simply prudence in the face of extraordinary security concerns for Obama’s life; it was proof that Obama already sees himself as a head of state.

“He traveled in a bubble more insulating than the actual President’s. Traffic was shut down for him as he zoomed about town in a long, presidential-style motorcade, while the public and most of the press were kept in the dark about his activities.”

Milbank groused, too, about the tight security that the police put around Obama’s movements on Capitol Hill.

“Capitol Police cleared the halls — just as they do for the actual President. The Secret Service hustled him in through a side door — just as they do for the actual President,” Milbank wrote.

While Milbank portrayed these security steps as further evidence of Obama’s hubris, there is no reason to believe that Obama had any say in the decisions of his security detail to protect the candidate.

Milbank and the Post were behaving as if they were oblivious to the physical danger that surrounds the first African-American to have a serious chance to be elected President of the United States. It was almost as if they were baiting him to order the Secret Service to pull back or face the accusation that he is, as Capehart put it, “uppity.”

This pattern of how the major media treats Obama also is not new. Although the McCain campaign and the right-wing media insist that Obama gets easy treatment from the press corps, that amounts to more “working the refs” than a legitimate complaint.

Just because Obama gets more coverage than McCain - the centerpiece of the Republican complaint - doesn’t mean that the press favors Obama, anymore than the fact that Bill Clinton got lots of coverage in 1998 over the Monica Lewinsky scandal meant that the press was favoring him.

Indeed, there have been repeated examples of media double standards working against Obama.

For instance, during the primaries, the major media obsessed for weeks over controversies that would have blown over for other candidates in days. The stupid remarks by Obama’s pastor, Jeremiah Wright, were endless fodder for news programs, while offensive comments from pro-McCain pastors were just tiny blips and soon disappeared.

Similarly, Obama’s lack of a flag-lapel pin became a theme that was used to challenge his patriotism, although neither John McCain nor Hillary Clinton wore a pin. Neither, by the way, did ABC’s George Stephanopoulos and Charles Gibson as they moderated the April 16 debate in Philadelphia where Obama was grilled over his lack of a flag-lapel pin.

(The flag-lapel “issue” was first given national prominence by New York Times columnist William Kristol and was given more impetus by Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer. To put the issue to rest, Obama finally began wearing a flag pin, though McCain still doesn’t wear one regularly.)

Economic Determinism

Every presidential election year, it seems, some economist publishes an article that declares that economic data - good or bad - will decide whether the White House will be won by the in-power party or the out-of-power party. For instance, the booming economy of 2000 supposedly assured Al Gore a resounding victory.

In Campaign 2008, this thinking holds that Americans - faced with severe economic troubles - will throw the Republicans out of the White House and elect a Democrat.

However, this economic determinism may no longer hold sway in a nation that is as inundated with media as the United States is. The ability to float false “themes” against one candidate or another and have the major media constantly repeat the propaganda is an extraordinarily powerful force in deciding American elections.

As we describe in our book Neck Deep, millions of Americans went to the polls in November 2000 believing a number of false claims that had been circulated about Vice President Gore (including the bogus notion that he had been part of a plan to sell nuclear secrets to China, when those secrets actually had been compromised during the Reagan years.)

Given the persistent superficiality - and cowardice - of the major U.S. news media, there’s even the larger question of whether a meaningful democracy can survive when the public is so thoroughly misinformed.

Although there are some Internet sites that challenge the major media’s errors, the imbalance remains tilted heavily toward the ideological Right. Especially when prestige newspapers like the Washington Post contribute to the distribution of false or misleading information - as with Milbank’s quote about Obama - the pro-Republican media eagerly amplifies it and most Americans never hear the other side.

Right-wing Internet sites also have proven to be very adept at inserting completely false claims about Obama that stick with many Americans, such as the oft-repeated lie that Obama is a Muslim or that he trained at a radical Islamic madrassah.

To assume that people will somehow see through such distortions has proven to be naïve in the past. More likely, many millions of Americans will head to the polls in November having internalized a hodgepodge of negative themes about Obama. Indeed, a significant number who have absorbed the uglier accusations will have come to hate him.

So, even if a McCain victory guarantees that the United States would solidify the policies of a deeply disliked President, many Americans may set aside what may be good for the country - or even good for their own pocketbooks - and vote against Obama, more based on perceptions than reality.

Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush, was written with two of his sons, Sam and Nat, and can be ordered at neckdeepbook.com. His two previous books, Secrecy & Privilege: The Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq and Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & ‘Project Truth’ are also available there. Or go to Amazon.com.

Distributed by Consortiumnews.com

Behind Politics, A Philosophy of Fear

by Eliot J. Chandler

George Orwell, in his novel “1984,” described Oceania, a society in which the prime motivating force for controlling the populace was fear, both fear of its own government and its enemies. He wrote of continual war, of enemies so horrendous that the public was constrained to rigid compliance with its rulers in order to demonstrate its patriotism. Much of Orwell’s description is found again in the teachings of University of Chicago Professor Leo Strauss, who died in 1973.

Strauss’s political philosophy contains many subtle and not-so-subtle effects evident in the Bush administration’s activities since Sept. 11. And remarkably, taken as a whole, they resemble the fictional world of Oceania. For instance, there’s the perpetual political deception between rulers and ruled, a necessity according to Strauss. There’s the obsession with secrecy and the Machiavellian conviction that stability among the populace requires an external threat, that if no such threat exists one must be manufactured. John Foster Dulles fully understood this when he recommended that, “In order to bring a nation to support the burdens of great military establishments, it is necessary to create an emotional state akin to psychology. There must be the portrayal of external menace. This involves the development of a nation-hero, nation-villain ideology and the arousing of the population to a sense of sacrifice.”

Strauss and today’s neocons believe that our nation must maintain the appearance of continuous war. As Vice President Dick Cheney said, “This war may last for the rest of our lives.” The government can thus sustain a continued state of war hysteria to keep the population motivated. Through this creation and control of mass paranoia they can maintain an intense nationalism with complete loyalty and total subservience to the “national interest.”

Orwell described a “labyrinthine world of doublethink …” for instance, “to believe that democracy was impossible, and that the party was the guardian of democracy.”

Americans believe very deeply in the ideals that America stands for, will sacrifice their lives and those of their children when necessary to defend them. Yet at the same time, the neocons have convinced the public to believe that these ideals are impractical in dealing with the complexities of today’s world. To burden the federal government with our revered Constitution and its checks and balances would cripple it in its difficult fight against terrorism. We must, they say, sacrifice our ideals in order to preserve them.

The neocons, who have controlled the White House for the past seven years, have utilized Strauss and Orwell’s observations to provide a society much like that described in Orwell’s novel.

Oceania had an archenemy which the population was encouraged to fear and hate. In the novel this demonic figure was of Jewish heritage, but today’s “hated” figure is an Iranian leader named Ahmadinejad.

Our government and news media must keep painting him as a terrible threat, not only to Israel, but also to world peace. Our administration has distorted many of Ahmadinejad’s talks into violent threats, and the media has repeated them endlessly, making them seem truthful, just as Orwell described in his novel.

For instance, in a talk by our president in March 2006, “the threat from Iran is, of course, their stated objective to destroy our strong ally Israel. That’s a threat, a serious threat. It’s a threat to world peace.”

Yet Ahmadinejad was actually calling for a regime change in Israel and the U.S. He was not threatening to physically “wipe Israel off the map.” His goal was to end the terrible oppression of the Palestinians. Common sense must reveal that, should Iran acquire nuclear weapons, bombing Israel would also destroy the Palestinians in both Gaza and the West Bank. And it would mean certain suicide for Iran.

This fostering of fear and hate among Americans is necessary in order to prepare our nation to go to war. It was carefully crafted prior to the invasion of Iraq and is now being used to stir up the blood of Americans for invading another country. This is the “continuous war” predicted by Orwell. When will we ever learn?

Eliot J. Chandler of Bangor is the author of “Ancient Sagadahoc,” a book on Maine history.
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The Plot Against Liberal America

by Thomas Frank

The most cherished dream of conservative Washington is that liberalism can somehow be defeated, finally and irreversibly, in the way that armies are beaten and pests are exterminated. Electoral victories by Republicans are just part of the story. The larger vision is of a future in which liberalism is physically barred from the control room - of an “end of history” in which taxes and onerous regulation will never be allowed to threaten the fortunes private individuals make for themselves. This is the longing behind the former White House aide Karl Rove’s talk of “permanent majority” and, 20 years previously, disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff’s declaration to the Republican convention that it’s “the job of all revolutions to make permanent their gains”.

When I first moved to contemplate this peculiar utopian vision, I was struck by its apparent futility. What I did not understand was that beating liberal ideas was not the goal. The Washington conservatives aim to make liberalism irrelevant not by debating, but by erasing it. Building a majority coalition has always been a part of the programme, and conservatives have enjoyed remarkable success at it for more than 30 years. But winning elections was not a bid for permanence by itself. It was only a means.

The end was capturing the state, and using it to destroy liberalism as a practical alternative. The pattern was set by Margaret Thatcher, who used state power of the heaviest-handed sort to implant permanently the anti-state ideology.

“Economics are the method; the object is to change the soul,” she said, echoing Stalin. In the 34 years before she became prime minister, Britain rode a see-saw of nationalisation, privatisation and renationalisation; Thatcher set out to end the game for good. Her plan for privatising council housing was designed not only to enthrone the market, but to encourage an ownership mentality and “change the soul” of an entire class of voters. When she sold off nationally owned industries, she took steps to ensure that workers received shares at below-market rates, leading hopefully to the same soul transformation. Her brutal suppression of the miners’ strike in 1984 showed what now awaited those who resisted the new order. As a Business Week reporter summarised it in 1987: “She sees her mission as nothing less than eradicating Labour Party socialism as a political alternative.”

In their own pursuit of the free-market utopia, America’s right-wingers did not have as far to travel as their British cousins, and they have never needed to use their state power so ruthlessly. But the pattern is the same: scatter the left’s constituencies, hack open the liberal state and reward friendly businesses with the loot.

Grover Norquist, one of the most influential conservatives in Washington and the “field marshal of the Bush plan”, according to the Nation magazine, has been most blunt about using the power of the state “to crush the structures of the left”. He has outlined the plan countless times in countless venues: the liberal movement is supported by a number of “pillars”, each of which can be toppled by conservatives when in power. Among Norquist’s suggestions has been the undermining of defence lawyers - who in the US give millions of dollars to liberal causes - with measures “potentially costing [them] billions of dollars of lost income”. Conservatives could also “crush labour unions as a political entity” by forcing unions to get annual written approval from every member before spending union funds on political activities. His coup de grâce is that the Democratic Party in its entirety would become “a dead man walking” with the privatisation of social security.

Much of this programme has already been accomplished, if not on the precise terms Norquist suggested. The shimmering dream of privatising social security, though, remains the great unreachable right-wing prize, and the right persists in the campaign, regardless of the measure’s unpopularity or the number of political careers it costs. President Bush announced privatisation to be his top priority on the day after his re-election in 2004, although he had not emphasised this issue during the campaign. He proceeded to chase it deep into the land of political unpopularity, a region from which he never really returned.

He did this because the potential rewards of privatising social security justify any political cost. At one stroke, it would both de-fund the operations of government and utterly reconfigure the way Americans interact with the state. It would be irreversible, too; the “transition costs” in any scheme to convert social security are so vast that no country can consider incurring them twice. Once the deal has been done and the trillions of dollars that pass through social security have been diverted from the US Treasury to stocks in private companies, the effects would be locked in for good. First, there would be an immediate flood of money into Wall Street; second, there would be an equivalent flow of money out of government accounts, immediately propelling the federal deficit up into the stratosphere and de-funding a huge part of the federal activity.
Business elites

The overall effect for the nation’s politics would be to elevate for ever the rationale of the financial markets over such vague liberalisms as “the common good” and “the public interest”. The practical results of such a titanic redirection of the state are easy to predict, given the persistent political demands of Wall Street: low wage growth, even weaker labour organisations, a free hand for management in downsizing, in polluting, and so on.

The longing for permanent victory over liberalism is not unique to the west. In country after country, business elites have come up with ingenious ways to limit the public’s political choices. One of the most effective of these has been massive public debt. Naomi Klein has pointed out, in case after case, that the burden of debt has forced democratic countries to accept a laissez-faire system that they find deeply distasteful. Regardless of who borrowed the money, these debts must be repaid - and repaying them, in turn, means that a nation must agree to restructure its economy the way bankers bid: by deregulating, privatising and cutting spending.

Republicans have ridden to power again and again promising balanced budgets - government debt was “mortgaging our future”, Ronald Reagan admonished in his inaugural address - but once in office they proceed, with a combination of tax cuts and spending increases, to inflate the federal deficit to levels far beyond those reached by their supposedly open-handed liberal rivals. The formal justification is one of the all-time great hoaxes. By cutting taxes, it is said, you will unleash such economic growth that federal revenues will actually increase, so all the additional government spending will be paid for.

Even the theory’s proponents don’t really believe it. David Stockman, the libertarian budget director of the first Reagan administration, did the maths in 1980 and realised it would not rescue the government; it would wreck the government. This is the point where most people would walk away. Instead, Stockman decided it had medicinal value. He realised that with their government brought to the brink of fiscal collapse, the liberals would either have to acquiesce in the reconfiguration of the state or else see the country destroyed. Stockman was candid about this: the left would “have to dismantle [the government’s] bloated, wasteful, and unjust spending enterprises - or risk national ruin”.

This is government-by-sabotage: deficits were a way to smash a liberal state. The Reagan deficits did precisely this. When Reagan took over in 1981, he inherited an annual deficit of $59bn and a national debt of $914bn; by the time he and his successor George Bush had finished their work, they had quintupled the deficit and pumped the debt up to more than $3trn. Bill Clinton called the deficit “Stockman’s Revenge” - and it domin ated all other topics within his administration’s economic teams. With the chairman of the Federal Reserve Alan Greenspan himself speaking of “financial catastrophe” unless steps were taken to control Reagan’s deficit, Clinton was soon a convert. He got tough with the federal workforce.
So-called virtues

George W Bush proceeded to plunge the budget into deficit again. Indeed, after seeing how the Reagan deficit had forced Clinton’s hand, it would have been foolish for a conservative not to spend his way back into the hole as rapidly as possible. “It’s perfectly fine for them to waste money,” says Robert Reich, a former labour secretary to Bill Clinton, summarising the conservative viewpoint. “If the public thinks government is wasteful, that’s fine. That reduces public faith in government, which is precisely what the Republicans want.”

In 1964, the political theorist James Burnham diagnosed liberalism as “the ideology of western suicide”. What Burnham meant by this was that liberalism’s so-called virtues - its openness and its insistence on equal rights for everyone - made it vulnerable to any party that refuses to play by the rules. The “suicide” that all of this was meant to describe was liberalism’s inevitable destruction at the hands of communism, a movement in whose ranks Burnham had once marched himself. But his theory seems more accurately to describe the stratagems of its fans on the American right. And the correct term for the disasters that have disabled the liberal state is not suicide, but vandalism. Loot the Treasury, dynamite the dam, take a crowbar to the monument and throw a wrench into the gears. Slam the locomotive into reverse, toss something heavy on the throttle, and jump for it.

Mainstream American political commentary customarily assumes that the two political parties do whatever they do as mirror images of each other; that if one is guilty of some misstep, the other is equally culpable. But there is no symmetry. Liberalism, as we know it, arose out of a compromise between left-wing social movements and business interests. It depends on the efficient functioning of certain organs of the state; it does not call for all-out war on private industry.

Conservatism, on the other hand, speaks not of compromise, but of removing its adversaries from the field altogether. While no one dreams of sawing off those branches of the state that protect conservatism’s constituents - the military, the police, legal privileges granted to corporations - conservatives openly fantasise about doing away with the bits of “big government” that serve liberal ends. While de-funding the left is the north star of the conservative project, there is no comparable campaign to “de-fund the right”; indeed, it would be difficult to imagine one.

“Over the past 30 years, American politics has become more money-centred at exactly the same time that American society has grown more unequal,” the political scientists Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson have written. The resources and organisational heft of the well-off and hyper-conservative have exploded. But the org anisational resources of middle-income Amer icans . . . have atrophied. The resulting inequality has greatly benefited the Republican Party while drawing it closer to its most affluent and extreme supporters.”

In this sense, conservative Washington is a botch that keeps on working, constructing an imbalance that will tilt our politics rightward for years, a plutocracy that will stand, regardless of who wins the next few elections. And as American inequality widens, the clout of money will only grow more powerful.

As I write this, the lobbyist-fuelled conservative boom of the past ten years is being supplanted by a distinct conservative bust: like the real-estate speculators who are dumping properties all over the country, conservative senators and representatives are heading for the revolving door in record numbers.

The Democrats who have taken their place are an improvement, certainly, but for the party’s more entrepreneurial leaders electoral success in 2006 was merely an opportunity to accelerate their own courtship of Washington’s lobbyists, think-tanks and pressure groups staked out on K Street. Democratic leaders have proved themselves the Republicans’ equals in circumvention of campaign finance laws.

Throwing the rascals out is no longer enough. The problem is structural; it is inscribed on the map; it glows from the illuminated logos on the contractors’ office buildings; it is built into the systems of governance themselves. A friend of mine summarised this concisely as we were lunching in one of those restaurants where the suits and the soldiers get together. Sweeping his hand so as to take in our fellow diners and all the contractors’ offices beyond, he said, “So you think all of this is just going to go away if Obama gets in?” This whole economy, all these profits?

He’s right, of course; maybe even righter than he realised. It would be nice if electing Democrats was all that was required to resuscitate the America that the right flattened, but it will take far more than that. A century ago, an epidemic of public theft persisted, despite a long string of reformers in the White House, Republicans and Democrats, each promising to clean the place up. Nothing worked, and for this simple reason: democracy cannot work when wealth is distributed as lopsidedly as theirs was-and as ours is. The inevitable consequence of plutocracy, then and now, is bought government.

This is an edited extract from Thomas Frank’s “The Wrecking Crew“, published this month by Harvill Secker (£14.99)

© Thomas Frank, 2008

Tour of Tskhinvali Undercuts Russian Claim of Genocide

by Tom Lasseter

TSKHINVALI, Georgia — As Russian troops pounded through Georgia last week, the Kremlin and its allies repeatedly pointed to one justification above all others: The Georgian military had destroyed the city of Tskhinvali.

Russian politicians and their partners in Tskhinvali, the capital of the breakaway region South Ossetia, said that when Georgian forces tried to seize control of the city and the surrounding area, the physical damage was comparable to Stalingrad and the killings similar to the Holocaust.

But a trip to the city on Sunday, without official escorts, revealed a very different picture. While it was clear there had been heavy fighting - missiles knocked holes in walls, and bombs tore away rooftops - almost all of the buildings seen in an afternoon driving around Tskhinvali were still standing.

Russian-backed leaders in South Ossetia have said that 2,100 people died in fighting in Tskhinvali and nearby villages. But a doctor at the city’s main hospital, the only one open during the battles that began late on Aug. 7, said the facility recorded just 40 deaths.

The discrepancy between the numbers at Tskhinvali’s main hospital and the rhetoric of Russian and South Ossetian leaders raises serious questions about the veracity of the Kremlin’s version of events. Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and other senior officials in Moscow have said the Georgians were guilty of “genocide,” prompting their forces to push Georgia’s military out of South Ossetia - in a barrage of bombing runs and tanks blasts - and march southeast toward the Georgian capital, Tbilisi, stopping only 25 miles away.

That explanation, that Russians were saving South Ossetians from total annihilation, undergirded Moscow’s rationale for the invasion.

Georgia’s leadership maintains the war was launched by the Kremlin because of longstanding resentment about the former Soviet republic’s close ties with the West.

Since Russian troops occupied much of Georgia last week, Kremlin officials have suggested strongly that both South Ossetia and its fellow rebel region, Abkhazia, should gain independence from Tbilisi.

A senior member of Russia’s parliament, Konstantin Zatulin, was in Tskhinvali on Sunday. “We need to recognize reality,” he said, meaning that South Ossetia should secede from Georgia.

Zatulin also said that the Russian government intended to spend some $100 million on building a “Moscow district” in the city; he did not explain what that would entail.

Russian troops have kept tight control on access to Tskhinvali, often bringing reporters in on coordinated trips. A McClatchy journalist was stopped at a checkpoint on the way out of Tskhinvali and directed back to a Russian outpost, where officers demanded to know where the journalist had been and whom he’d interviewed. In addition to Russian soldiers, South Ossetian militia fighters roamed the streets. One of them, drunk, walked up and showed off a shiny watch. “I got it from the body of a Georgian soldier,” he said with a smile.

The difference between Russian officials’ description of Tskhinvali and the facts on the ground are profound.

Col. Gen Anatoly Nogovitsyn, the deputy head of the Russian military’s general staff, said last Tuesday that “Tskhinvali doesn’t exist, it’s like Stalingrad was after the war.”

But in fact, the city still does exist. While there was extensive damage to some structures, most buildings had front doors on their hinges and standing walls. For every building charred by explosions - the Georgians are accused of using multiple rocket launcher systems - there were others on tree-lined streets that looked untouched.

One government center was hollowed out by blasts, but the one next to it teemed with workers.

While the city was still teetering from the violence, families sat on benches in front of their homes and ate fruit. Many talked about the Georgian incursion on Aug. 7, and the Russian units that then streamed across Georgia’s border to beat them back.

“There were Georgian tanks on each street,” said Givi Tsekhov, who was walking in front of his apartment building. “But then the Russians came.”

Down the road from Tskhinvali, in Georgian areas now occupied by Russian troops, entire towns were almost completely empty and a few bodies were splayed on the side of the road, bloated and cooked by the sun.

Not only was the destruction in Tskhinvali a far cry from Stalingrad after World War II, it was well short of what happened in the southern Beirut suburbs during Israel’s war with Hezbollah in the summer of 2006, or the Iraqi city of Fallujah during U.S. fighting against insurgents in November 2004.

In short, the city was scarred but still standing.

The doctor at the Tskhinvali hospital, Tina Zakharova, said she wanted to clarify that she wasn’t disagreeing with the South Ossetian officials’ numbers, adding that many bodies had been buried in gardens and cemeteries in outlying villages. She could not, however, explain how more than 2,000 dead - the difference between her hospital’s count and the Kremlin-backed officials’ tally - were buried in a relatively small area without any evidence such as stacks of coffins or mass funerals.

Researchers for Human Rights Watch, an international advocacy group, had similar findings as McClatchy about casualty numbers in Tskhinvali. A doctor at the city’s hospital told the group’s researchers that 44 bodies were brought by and was “adamant” that they represented the majority of deaths there because the city’s morgue was not functioning at the time.

“Obviously there’s a discrepancy there, a big discrepancy,” Rachel Denber, deputy director for Europe and Central Asia at Human Rights Watch, said about the apparently inflated casualty figures. “It’s not clear to us at all where those numbers are coming from.”

McClatchy Newspapers 2008
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vrijdag 15 augustus 2008

US Groups File Election Complaint Against Wal-Mart

CHICAGO - Labor groups on Thursday asked federal regulators to look into whether Wal-Mart Stores Inc broke the law during company meetings with store managers where it warned about the consequences of a proposed labor law backed by Democrats.0814 09

At issue is whether Wal-Mart’s discussion of the law, which would make it easier for workers to unionize, amounted to an effort to dissuade employees from voting for Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama. Wal-Mart denies that it tried to influence voting.

WakeUpWalmart.com said it filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission in conjunction with the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) and other groups.

A spokeswoman for WakeUpWalmart.com said the group has heard from about two dozen Wal-Mart workers in recent weeks regarding comments made by managers about the legislation. A Wall Street Journal story earlier this month disclosed some of the meetings’ details.

At some meetings, “they outright said if you vote for Barack Obama this law is going to pass, your wages would go down, you could lose your job,” said Meghan Scott. She added that the comments varied in their directness.

Wal-Mart has acknowledged holding meetings with U.S. store managers, where it warned them of the possible consequences of the labor-friendly Employee Free Choice Act that is backed by Obama.

But the retailer, which has kept its U.S. stores free of unions, denies telling workers how to vote.

Wal-Mart opposes proposed legislation that would make it easier for workers to unionize by signing a card rather than holding a vote.

Obama, a co-sponsor of the original bill, has called for passage of the act. Presumptive Republican presidential nominee John McCain has voted against it.

In the United States, Wal-Mart operates more than 4,200 stores, including Sam’s Club warehouse locations, and it employs more than 1.4 million workers.

Wal-Mart spokesman David Tovar said that if the FEC decides to investigate, it will find the company did nothing wrong.

“Our policies are clear and we have communicated to our associates that if anyone representing our company gave the impression they were telling associates how to vote, they were wrong and were acting without approval,” Tovar said.

He declined to say whether any managers had been disciplined for making unapproved comments.

Reporting by Brad Dorfman; Editing by Brian Moss

© 2008 Reuters

dinsdag 12 augustus 2008

Bidden helpt niet

McCain the Antichrist?

By Robert Dreyfuss

08/08/08 "The Nation" -- - -Biblical scholars in Colorado Springs have
uncovered startling evidence that Senator John McCain may be the Antichrist.
Their conclusions, while highly controversial, may have a dramatic impact on
the 2008 elections, since many Bible-believing Christians have already
expressed doubts about McCain's fealty to Christianity.

The analysis was conducted by the respected True Bible Society, and it
will be published next month in the End Times Journal.

The analysis was especially ironic, given that it came out just one
day after McCain was accused of subtly hinting that Barack Obama could be
the Antichrist. McCain ran a commercial depicting Obama as "The One," giving
rise to charges that he was sending a subliminal messages to anti-Obama

"What started us looking at this issue is the fact that Senator McCain
has declared his intention to maintain US forces in Iraq for a hundred
years," said David Jenkins, a leading Biblical scholar. "That means that
McCain wants to control Babylon for at least a century." According to many
scholars of the Book of Revelation, the Antichrist will try to rebuild the
ancient city of Babylon in order to use it as a springboard for an
international effort at world domination. Ultimately, the Antichrist will
marshal forces from Babylon to spark a showdown with Christian and
Jewish-led forces in the battle of Armageddon.

"We believe that the End Times is near, based on the pattern of wars,
earthquakes. and other strange phenomena we've been witnessing since the
start of the New Millennium," said Jenkins. "Given that it may be imminent,
the person who controls Babylon must be the Antichrist." Until 2003, many
Christians believed that Saddam Hussein might be the Antichrist, since he
started excavations to restore Babylon in the mid 1970s. But Hussein's death
meant that the Antichrist is someone else. Since Obama wants to get out of
Iraq, he can't be the Antichrist either, concluded Jenkins.

Jenkins said his teams suspicions were further heightened when
genealogical research showed that McCain's great-grandfather was actually
not John McCain, but John Mihai. Mihai is an ancient Romanian name, and
according to Bible-believing Christians, the Antichrist is likely to be a
Romanian. "What clinched it for us was that the name Mihai means 'who is
like the Lord,'" said Jenkins. "As far as we're concerned, that was enough.
It means that McCain might easily pretend to be the Redeemer."

McCain's geniality and folksiness are consistent with his being the
Antichrist, Jenkins said. "Many people think that the Antichrist will be a
evil-seeming leader, but in fact the Bible tells us that he will be

So far the McCain campaign has refused to comment on Jenkins' study.

Robert Dreyfuss, a Nation contributing editor, is an investigative
journalist in Alexandria, Virginia, specializing in politics and national
security. He is the author of Devil's Game: How the United States Helped
Unleash Fundamentalist Islam and is a frequent contributor to Rolling Stone,
The American Prospect, and Mother Jones.

Copyright C 2008 The Nation

maandag 11 augustus 2008

Rokerskerk krijgt 300 euro boete

11-08-2008 | Door: DAG
Café Lindeboom beroept zich bij het rookverbod op de vrijheid van godsdienst.
Café Lindeboom in Alkmaar moet driehonderd euro boete betalen voor het overtreden van het rookverbod. Inspecteurs van de Voedsel en Waren Autoriteit (VWA) kwamen zaterdagmiddag voor de tweede maal langs in het café dat is aangesloten bij de Rokerskerk. Volgens de Rokerskerk is het recht om te roken via een beroep op de vrijheid van godsdienst afdwingbaar.

We gaan in protest, laat café-eigenaar Co Buoch zondag in een reactie weten. "Want er bestaat immers zoiets als 'overtuiging' en 'de grondwet', verklaart hij. "Zodra de bekeuring binnen is, gaan we de boete bij de rechter aankaarten." De komende dagen gaat hij met juristen bespreken hoe het protest er precies uit komt te zien.

De VWA controleert sinds het ingaan van het rookverbod op 1 juli gericht op overtredingen. Overtreders krijgen eerst een waarschuwing. Als een ondernemer blijft weigeren het rookverbod na te leven volgen boetes.

Laten ze vooral naar de rechter stappen. Ze komen er vanzelf wel achter dat dit een hopeloze zaak is. Je kunt wel een vergelijking maken tussen een verslaving en religie (opium van het volk), maar dat wil nog niet zeggen dat een verslaving een religie is. Roken heeft op zich niets te maken met opvattingen over een transcendente werkelijkheid. Ze zullen toch een verhaaltje moeten verzinnen waaruit blijkt dat ze moeten roken om de een of andere transcendente werkelijkheid eerbied te betonen of zoiets. Ik vrees dat het ze daarvoor aan verbeeldingskracht ontbreekt.

zaterdag 9 augustus 2008

Darwin's bulldogs Natural selection is a philosophy of beauty and imagination

From The Times
August 8, 2008

Next year marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin
and the 150th anniversary of the publication of his On The Origin of
Species. The Natural History Museum and the BBC plan extensive
education programmes. Anticipating the anniversaries, Professor
Richard Dawkins is presenting a series on Channel 4. These are welcome
ventures. On the evidence of its first episode, Professor Dawkins's
exposition of Darwinism will be an important public resource.

Darwin founded a branch of learning that has remarkable explanatory
power and also grandeur. That the mechanism of evolution is natural
selection is one of the great discoveries of science, with
implications far beyond evolutionary biology. As Ernst Mayr, the
biologist, wrote: "No educated person any longer questions the
validity of the so-called theory of evolution, which we now know to be
a simple fact."

It is an unfortunate wonder of the modern age that people who are
highly educated in some areas may still be resistant to scientific
inquiry. We customarily think of objectors to Darwinism as Protestant
fundamentalists. There is in fact a worrying trend for Muslim children
to be taught the myths of creation, and the pseudoscience of
"intelligent design", as an explanation of the origins of life.

Myths have beauty and narrative power. But their place is in art and
literature, not science. The ideas of Darwin are also a venture of
beauty and the imagination. And they have the merit of being confirmed
by mountains of empirical data. Darwin's modern expositors have a
difficult task but a noble calling. They merit an enthusiastic hearing
and gratitude.

vrijdag 8 augustus 2008

German hackers poke hole in great firewall of China

A new Olympic sport
By John Leyden → More by this author
Published Thursday 7th August 2008 14:30 GMT
Nail down your security priorities. Ask the experts and your peers at The Register Security Debate, September 24 2008.

German hackers have constructed a route around the great firewall of China. The Chaos Computer Club said its technology will help athletes and journalists travelling to Beijing for the Olympic Games to circumvent censorship.

Visitors to China are being offered USB sticks containing a browser that connects via the TOR proxy network. These "Freedom Sticks", regular USB drives with pre-installed copies of the TorBrowser and Torprojects software, will only be available during the two-week period of the games. The Chaos Computer Club has also set up a dedicated micro-site that offers separate downloads of the software here.

In a parallel move, German digital rights activist group FoeBuD is offering similar "privacy dongles" through its web store for sale at €20.
TOR point

TOR is a worldwide network of servers, run by volunteers, that provides a means to anonymise data sent over the internet. Information sent over the network is encrypted and routed through different servers on the TOR network.

China uses a network of filtering and blocking technologies, mostly supplied by Western technology firms, to block access to sites about Falun Gong, reports of the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989 and the Tibet independence movement. Until recently news reports on the BBC were also blocked.

Using proxies to get around these controls and browser sites isn't hard (at least for the tech-savvy) but maintaining anonymity is a problem, which is where the TorBrowser software and freedom sticks come in. Using the technology to send data out of China anonymously is another potentially useful application. The disadvantage of slower download speeds that come from using an anonymiser network is a minor drawback in comparison.

Chaos Computer Club is offering the technology partly to offer an easy way around Chinese censorship restriction but also to make a political point much closer to home.

Controversial new German laws on data retention may make it a criminal offence to operate TOR network nodes. The regulations are the subject of an appeal to the German Federal Constitutional Court.

"We are calling upon the German authorities to stop criminalizing the operators of servers of the TOR network. The behavior of the authorities is detrimental to the people in oppressive states, whose lives are at risk. China is only one of many examples", said Björn Pahls of the Chaos Computer Club. ®

donderdag 7 augustus 2008

NASA: Mars is good habitat for Terry Pratchett dragons

That's the gist, anyway
By Lewis Page → More by this author
Published Wednesday 6th August 2008 09:33 GMT
Nail down your security priorities. Ask the experts and your peers at The Register Security Debate, September 24 2008.

In a development which may untwist a few knickers around the internet, NASA scientists have now explained just what their Phoenix robot lander has found in the soil of Mars - and what the implications are for possible discovery of life on the Red Planet.

Following news that the White House had received secret briefings in advance of any public announcement, internet speculation was rife. Some believed that life - or anyway hospitable conditions for it - had been found. Others said that no, in fact proof positive had been found that Mars could not harbour life, perhaps casting doubt on the value of President Bush's ambitious plans to send a manned mission there.

The truth is somewhat more mundane, according to NASA. Some unusual chemicals, normally seen as poisonous, have been found in the Martian soil at the lander's location. However, according to the NASA boffins, the presence of these perchlorates doesn't mean that life can't exist on Mars.

"Finding perchlorates is neither good nor bad for life, but it does make us reassess how we think about life on Mars," said Michael Hecht from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory - in charge of one of the Phoenix's main dirt-sniffing instruments.

NASA says:

Perchlorates are found naturally on Earth at such places as Chile's hyper-arid Atacama Desert. The compounds are quite stable and do not destroy organic material under normal circumstances. Some microorganisms on Earth are fueled by processes that involve perchlorates, and some plants concentrate the substance. Perchlorates are also used in rocket fuel and fireworks.

So, if we're following this correctly*, there could possibly be Martian animals with perchlorate-fuelled metabolisms, living off perchlorate-concentrating plants. Though there would be a significant risk of these creatures catching fire or exploding if upset - not unlike Terry Pratchett's Discworld dragons, in fact.

On the other hand, you do get the vibe that NASA would really rather not have found perchlorates - indeed would have infinitely preferred it if a little green man had walked up and peered into Phoenix's cameras by now.

woensdag 6 augustus 2008

Sumerians cracked world's oldest joke

'I'm not saying my mother in law's...'
By Lester Haines → More by this author
Published Friday 1st August 2008 07:02 GMT
Nail down your security priorities. Ask the experts and your peers at The Register Security Debate, September 24 2008.

UKTV has published what it claims to be the world's oldest joke - a Sumerian rib-tickler dating back to 1,900 BC which goes: "Something which has never occurred since time immemorial; a young woman did not fart in her husband's lap."

Yup, they were a laugh a minute, those cheeky Sumerians, and no messing. In second spot we have the equally-hilarious Egyptians, who poked fun at pharoah King Snofru back in 1,600 BC with this cracker: "How do you entertain a bored pharaoh? You sail a boatload of young women dressed only in fishing nets down the Nile and urge the pharaoh to go catch a fish."

Things had improved somewhat by the time the Anglo-Saxons got their act together back in the 10th century and presaged the birth of Carry On by asking: "What hangs at a man's thigh and wants to poke the hole that it's often poked before? Answer: A key."

Paul McDonald, the senior lecturer at Wolverhampton University who dredged up these classics, said: "Jokes have varied over the years, with some taking the question and answer format while others are witty proverbs or riddles. "What they all share however, is a willingness to deal with taboos and a degree of rebellion. Modern puns, Essex girl jokes and toilet humour can all be traced back to the very earliest jokes identified in this research." ®

IBM gets hip with 'cool' Ubuntu PC deal

Canonical offers Office 'alternative'
By Gavin Clarke in San Francisco → More by this author
Published Tuesday 5th August 2008 19:02 GMT
Nail down your security priorities. Ask the experts and your peers at The Register Security Debate, September 24 2008.

LinuxWorld IBM is today expected to announce expanded backing for Ubuntu in a desktop and collaboration software deal to challenge Microsoft's Windows and Office.

Canonical, Ubuntu's commercial sponsor, has agreed to re-distribute IBM's Lotus Symphony productivity suite with its public Linux repositories. More details are expected later today.

The news follows IBM's decision earlier this year to offer a version of its Open Collaboration Client Solution (OCCS) for Ubuntu.

Ubuntu is, according to the suits at IBM, "a Linux operating system that scores high marks on usability and 'the cool factor.'"

The deal is expected to be announced by IBM at the same time it announces agreements with Ubuntu, Red Hat and SuSE to work with local hardware partners to build and distribute "Microsoft-free" PCs. Systems will feature the Linux distros running IBM's OCCS and other open-source applications.

IBM said products would be tailored to vertical sectors and be branded by the local IT partners.

IBM added that shifting market forces, slow adoption of Windows Vista, and growing demand for alternatives to "costly" Windows and Office-based machines: "Offer a glimpse of the ripe market opportunity for Linux-based desktops to proliferate."

The company will also announce Novell's Linux Enterprise Server 10 as the first Linux distro to be shipped with a new line of self-managing server appliances targeting small businesses. The appliances, Linux Foundations, are designed to promote uptake of IBM's Domino email and collaboration software in SMBs.

Accompanying the news, IBM announced the Lotus Foundations ISV Developer Toolkit, which it said would simplify packaging of Domino applications for appliances.®

'Niet steeds de WMO aanpassen'

van onze redactie binnenland DEN HAAG - Gemeenten moeten de ruimte krijgen om de Wet Maatschappelijke Ondersteuning (WMO) op alle prestatievelden volledig in te voeren en niet steeds gestoord worden met aanpassingen die de invoering vertragen. Dat zegt de Vereniging van Nederlandse Gemeenten (VNG) in reactie op ingrepen in de AWBZ die het ministerie van Volksgezondheid wil doorvoeren.

De WMO is sinds januari 2007 van kracht en veel gemeenten zijn druk bezig om de nieuwe zorgtaken op de rails te krijgen. Uit onderzoek van deze krant in juli bleek dat meer dan de helft van alle gemeenten nog geen nieuw beleid op alle negen prestatievelden van de WMO heeft ingevoerd. Veel lokale overheden hebben hun handen vol aan de organisatie van de thuiszorg en het WMO-loket en zijn daarom nog niet klaar hun hele beleid op de WMO af te stemmen.

De VNG is bang dat veelvuldige veranderingen in en rond de wet de brede invoering van de WMO bij de gemeenten zal bemoeilijken en adviseert de verantwoordelijk staatssecretaris Jet Busssemaker (PvdA) om de veranderingen te bundelen en in een keer door te voeren.

,,In een ambtelijk gesprek met het ministerie hebben we onze zorgen over de op handen zijnde veranderingen geuit'', zegt Bob van der Meijden, WMO-coördinator bij de VNG. ,,Als je elk jaar met een verandering komt, legt dat een enorme belasting op de gemeenten, waardoor ze niet aan hun andere WMO-taken toekomen.''

Volgens Van der Meijden staan er vooral veel veranderingen in de Algemene Wet Bijzondere Ziektekosten (AWBZ) op het programma. Het kabinet heeft aangekondigd dat de AWBZ in de komende jaren op verschillende punten gewijzigd wordt. Een deel van de zorgtaken uit de AWBZ zou dan bij de gemeenten en dus de WMO terecht komen. ,,Maar de WMO is meer dan alleen het prestatieveld dat voorziet in het verlenen van voorzieningen aan mensen met een beperking of chronisch psychisch probleem. Andere zaken waarover iedereen het eens is dat het binnen de WMO valt, dreigen uitgesteld te worden.''

De vorige staatsecretaris Clemence Ross gaf bij de invoering van de WMO aan dat haar opvolger moest beslissen of er naast de huishoudelijke zorg meer zaken van de AWBZ naar de WMO moesten worden overgeheveld. De VNG is het daar altijd mee eens geweest. ,,Maar dan moet het wel in een keer samenhangend worden veranderd. Dat is ook nodig voor de burger die zorg nodig heeft. Anders wordt het ondoorzichtig. Dat de gemeenten meer ondersteuningstaken krijgen is goed, maar dat het ministerie dat steeds met een kaasschaaf van de AWBZ haalt en bij gemeenten over de schutting gooit, is volgens ons niet de oplossing.''

Het ministerie van VWS wilde gisteren niet reageren op het pleidooi van de VNG.

Antiwapenactiviste verdacht van spionage voor NRA

06-08-2008 | Door: NOVUM
(Novum/AP) - Een vrouw die meer dan tien jaar actie heeft gevoerd voor wapenbeperking en in het bestuur van twee actiegroepen tegen geweld heeft gezeten is door deze groepen ontmaskerd als een betaalde spion voor de National Rifle Association (NRA), het machtige orgaan van de Amerikaanse wapenlobby. De organisaties hebben haar de deur uit gezet en controleren hun kantoren op afluisterapparatuur.

De verdenking dat de vrouw, Mary Lou McFate, als dubbelagent heeft gefungeerd wordt geuit in documenten die werden opgesteld inzake een contractgeschil met een veiligheidsfirma. Het tijdschrift Mother Jones berichtte vorige week voor het eerst over de zaak. De NRA was niet bereid commentaar te leveren op het artikel.
De 62-jarige McFate blijkt al eerder in het informatiewezen werkzaam te zijn geweest. Aan het eind van de jaren tachtig infiltreerde zij in een dierenrechtengroep op verzoek van een geneesmiddelenbedrijf dat onder vuur lag wegens proeven met honden. Een activist waarmee zij daar aanpapte werd later veroordeeld voor een aanslag met een pijpbom.

Later dook zij op in Pennsylvania en vervulde zij jarenlang onbezoldigde functies in de besturen van de actiegroepen CeaseFirePA en States United to Prevent Gun Violence. Ze deed ook vergeefse pogingen in het bestuur te komen van de grootste organisatie voor wapenbeperking in de VS, de Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. Voorzitter Paul Helmke sprak zijn verbijstering uit over de tactieken van de RNA en zei dat die nog meer spionnen bij de actiegroepen kan hebben. De Brady Campaign en andere groepen zeiden uit te zoeken of het mogelijk is McFate aan te klagen. Als de vergaderingen waar zij aan deelnam openbaar waren is daar volgens rechtsdeskundigen weinig kans op.
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dinsdag 5 augustus 2008



Old ships' logs show temporary global warming in 1730s

Records interrupted only by looting of treasure galleons
By Lewis Page → More by this author
Published Monday 4th August 2008 13:06 GMT
Nail down your security priorities. Ask the experts and your peers at The Register Security Debate, September 24 2008.

A climate prof noted for data mining of archived ships' logs has produced further insights into global warming. Dr Dennis Wheeler of Sunderland Uni says his latest analysis shows sudden warming of the North Atlantic and Europe - much like that seen in recent times - during the 1730s.

This, Wheeler believes, shows that widespread rises in temperature of the kind recorded lately can be caused naturally. He thinks that human-caused carbon emissions are contributing to climate change now, but says it is unwise to link human emissions to specific events unless evidence is very strong.

“Global warming is a reality, but what our data shows is that climate science is complex and that it is wrong to take particular events and link them to CO2 emissions," Wheeler told the Times at the weekend.

Wheeler's new 1730s temperature spike info comes from trawling through mountains of archived ship's logs. Royal Navy logbooks have been particularly valuable, both for this project and previous ones.

“British archives contain more than 100,000 Royal Navy logbooks from around 1670 to 1850 alone," says Wheeler. "They are a stunning resource.”

The new research, compiled by Wheeler and colleagues from the Met Office and other institutions, is to be published in the journal Climatic Change. The paper has already gained a good deal of ink in the UK media, generally referencing Admiral Nelson and Captain Cook for their zeal in keeping accurate records.

As neither Cook nor Nelson were at sea during the 1730s, this seems a bit unreasonable. Perhaps the most famous British naval officer active at the time was Captain (later Admiral) George Anson. Anson subsequently became a naval legend after his epic voyage round the world from 1740-44, during which he and his crew captured a Spanish treasure galleon in the Pacific - making the survivors who eventually got home to England rich men. Later, as an admiral, Anson also handed the French a massive kicking at Cape Finisterre and then became First Sea Lord - the head of the Navy.

During the 1730s - the period where Wheeler's sudden warming occurs - Captain Anson was at sea in the Atlantic, so it's likely that his logs form part of Wheeler's data set. However, it wasn't normal for warships to carry thermometers at the time, so much of the analysis draws on winds and the "consistent language" used by sea officers of the time, as well as European shore-based records. ®