New CIA director Hayden plans massive expansion of spying on Americans
May 31, 2006

Now that he is officially sworn in as the new head of the Central Intelligence Agency, Gen. Michael Hayden plans to build a vast domestic spying network that will pry into the lives of most Americans around the clock.

President George W. Bush told Hayden to “take whatever steps necessary” to monitor Americans 24/7 by listening in on their phone calls, bugging their homes and offices, probing their private lives, snooping into their financial records and watching their travel habits.

Can I prove this in a court of law? No. Do I know it is happening? Yes, without a doubt. Enough sources within the CIA, FBI, NSA and Pentagon have come forward in recent days to warn about Hayden’s plans for an expanded, consolidated spy network aimed at Americans, not terrorists, and violating numerous laws that prohibit such activities against citizens of this country.

“What Hayden plans to do is not only illegal, it is immoral,” says a longtime CIA operative who may retire early rather than participate in what he sees as an illegal extension of the spy agency’s activities.

Hayden, who oversaw the National Security Agency’s questionable monitoring of phone calls and emails of Americas, plans to consolidate much of the country’s domestic spying into a new desk at the CIA, calling it a “domestic terrorism prevention” operation.

The desk will oversee not only NSA’s increased monitoring of electronic communications by Americans but also the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s “terrorist information awareness” program that monitors travel and financial activities by Americans by gathering real-time data from banks, airlines, travel agencies and credit card companies.

The CIA operation will also coordinate with the Pentagon’s domestic spying program that monitors activities of anti-war groups, organizations critical of the Bush administrations and others tagged as enemies of the state.

FBI agents will step up monitoring of journalists to identify leaks of stories embarrassing to the government. The bureau is already monitoring phone calls and emails by reporters on a routine basis and has increased surveillance of writers for major news organizations and monitoring of travel and financial records using the DARPA computers.

“This is not ‘total information awareness’ but ‘total information control’ aimed at watching Americans fulltime and ignoring the protections that are supposed to be guaranteed by the Constitution,” says an FBI agent familiar with the programs. “I didn’t sign on for this and I’m getting the hell out.”

In fact, resignations at major U.S. spy agencies are at an all-time high. Exact numbers are classified but sources say field agents, data analysts and others are leaving in droves rather than join the frenzy to spy on Americans.

Hayden sailed through the Senate confirmation process defending his domestic spying program at NSA, claiming it was legal. Privacy experts and Constitutional law professors say otherwise but the Senate rubber-stamped Bush’s choice anyway, choosing to ignore the threats to freedom.

Hayden will have little problem concealing the operation from the public and Congress. Many of the CIA’s programs are classified and the agency has, in the past, concealed programs even from the intelligence committees in both the House and Senate. The DARPA project and the Pentagon domestic spying programs are “black bag” operations that do not require Congressional approval or oversight.

Likewise, many of the details of the NSA domestic spying program were withheld from Congress and escaped public notice until media reports unearthed them and the Bush administration now threatens to jail the reporters who broke the story.

I wish I could prove this. I wish one, just one, source on the inside was willing to come forward and allow his or her name to be used but those who might be tempted see what happened to Mary McCarthy, the CIA employee fired and under threat of prosecution for leaking information about CIA torture camps in Europe.

But I know it is happening. People I’ve known for years and trust tell me it is happening and the past record of spying, lies and deceit by the Bush administration point to just such an operation.

This nation is under attack. We, the people, are under attack. And the enemy in this case is not an Islamic radical hiding in a cave in Afghanistan but a cabal of truly evil men and women at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and on Capitol Hill aided by carefully-picked, law-ignoring appointees at the Hoover Building on Pennsylvania Avenue, a black glass-walled building at Fort Meade, MD, and a complex in Langley, Virginia.

Canadians Healthier Than Americans, Survey Says

Canadians are healthier than Americans, have better access to health care and have fewer unmet health needs, a new study of both countries reveals.

The findings come in spite of the fact that the United States spends almost twice as much per capita on health care as Canada, the researchers noted.

“This shows that you can spend much less than we [Americans] do, and deliver much more and better care then we do,” said study co-author Dr. David U. Himmelstein, an associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School in Cambridge, Mass.

The new study appears to reinforce the findings of a Rand Corporation report issued earlier this month that showed a similar health care gap between the U.S. system and that of Great Britain, which, like Canada, has a universal health care system — subsidized by tax dollars.

In the current study, Himmelstein and his colleagues reviewed responses from more than 3,500 Canadians and almost 5,200 Americans over the age of 18 who participated in the Joint Canada/U.S. Survey of Health — a one-time phone survey conducted between 2002 and 2003.

In addition to documenting race, class and immigrant status, the survey sought to assess each individual’s current health status, access to health care, use of health care, history of illness, and ongoing behaviors — such as smoking — considered to be health risks.

Reporting in the July issue of the American Journal of Public Health, the researchers found that although Canadians smoke more than Americans, Americans are more likely to be inactive and obese, and have higher rates of diabetes, high blood pressure, arthritis and lung disease.

Specifically, Americans are one-third less likely to have a regular doctor, two times less likely to take needed medications, and one-fourth more likely to have unmet health care needs than Canadians.

While Americans were more likely to identify cost as the impediment to care, Canadians were more likely to cite waiting times as their main obstacle to good care. However, just 3.5 percent of Canadians were impacted by treatment delays, the survey found.

Despite generally better health and access to care, however, Canadians do not appear to be any happier with their health care system than Americans.

In fact, Americans said they were more satisfied than Canadians with the quality of care they received at either a hospital or a community-based facility. Canadians were happier with their physicians, however.

As well, American health care did excel in some areas compared to the Canadian system. For example, American women were more likely to have had a Pap smear and a mammogram than their Canadian counterparts.

Nevertheless, the American health system appears weakest in relation to the Canadian approach when it comes to caring for the uninsured.

Americans lacking insurance were found to have a much worse health care experience than both insured Americans, and (universally insured) Canadians. The survey found that nearly one in every three (30.4 percent) uninsured Americans had gone without some kind of needed care because of cost.

Overall, 7 percent of all U.S. residents cited cost as a barrier preventing them from getting needed care. That number was just 0.8 percent for Canadians.

The influence of wealth on access was also less acute in Canada, where poorer patients have better access to health care than low-income Americans.

In terms of race and health, non-whites in both countries were less satisfied with their health care than whites. However, racial differences in accessing care appear to be less drastic in Canada.

Based on the results, the researchers conclude that universal health care coverage should be implemented in the United States. But they also called for the health care community to improve services to the poor, and particularly the immigrant populations. They also urged reforms to prevent waiting-period issues that have impeded Canada’s system.

Although this research indicts the American health care system, Himmelstein said he wanted to accent the positive.

“Actually it’s a very hopeful message,” he said. “We (Americans) have the best doctors, best hospitals, and best nurses in the world. But the way we finance healthcare just doesn’t let us do the job. Given what we are now spending on our healthcare system, we can do better — if we just had national health insurance and were allowed to do it right.”

Jon Gabel, vice president of the Washington, D.C.-based non-partisan research organization Center for Studying Health System Change, agreed. He said the absence of a national health insurance system in the U.S. means patients don’t get full access to care or a better bang for their health-care buck.

However, Gabel noted that any between-country comparison depends in large part on whether the focus is on each system’s “haves” or “have-nots”.

“For example, once you’re in the U.S. health care system, patient satisfaction is higher than in Canada,” he noted.

Greg Scandlen, the founder of the non-profit Consumers for Health Care Choices based in Hagerstown, Md., disputed the findings.

“In terms of overall satisfaction with the health care system, Americans score better,” noted Scandlen. “So, the headline coming out of this ought to be that ‘Americans are more satisfied with their healthcare system than Canadians are.'”

Scandlen also criticized the way the study was conducted, noting that there was too much focus on routine health issues, to the relative exclusion of crisis situations that can demand more costly and dramatic interventions.

“Canada clearly emphasizes primary care pretty strongly, and I give them credit for that,” he said. But he added, “This survey doesn’t look at the more serious stuff, like surgery and cardiac care — serious, expensive things that apply to a minority of the population.”

The Power Of Stupidity


Chicken and egg debate unscrambled
Egg came first, ‘eggsperts’ agree
May 26, 2006

LONDON, England — It’s a question that has baffled scientists, academics and pub bores through the ages: What came first, the chicken or the egg?

Now a team made up of a geneticist, philosopher and chicken farmer claim to have found an answer. It was the egg.

Put simply, the reason is down to the fact that genetic material does not change during an animal’s life.

Therefore the first bird that evolved into what we would call a chicken, probably in prehistoric times, must have first existed as an embryo inside an egg.

Professor John Brookfield, a specialist in evolutionary genetics at the University of Nottingham, told the UK Press Association the pecking order was clear.

The living organism inside the eggshell would have had the same DNA as the chicken it would develop into, he said.

“Therefore, the first living thing which we could say unequivocally was a member of the species would be this first egg,” he added. “So, I would conclude that the egg came first.”

The same conclusion was reached by his fellow “eggsperts” Professor David Papineau, of King’s College London, and poultry farmer Charles Bourns.

Mr Papineau, an expert in the philosophy of science, agreed that the first chicken came from an egg and that proves there were chicken eggs before chickens.

He told PA people were mistaken if they argued that the mutant egg belonged to the “non-chicken” bird parents.

“I would argue it is a chicken egg if it has a chicken in it,” he said.

“If a kangaroo laid an egg from which an ostrich hatched, that would surely be an ostrich egg, not a kangaroo egg.”

Bourns, chairman of trade body Great British Chicken, said he was also firmly in the pro-egg camp.

He said: “Eggs were around long before the first chicken arrived. Of course, they may not have been chicken eggs as we see them today, but they were eggs.”

The debate, which may come as a relief to those with argumentative relatives, was organized by Disney to promote the release of the film “Chicken Little” on DVD.

Magic Bean Wishes – “Within each hot stamped velour pouch is a collection of agricultural and heirloom beans that have been marked with thoughtful words using a patent pending process.”
Patently Silly – home of Alcoholic beverages derived from animal extract, and methods for the production thereof and the Gas combustion type hair drier


Baby Born With Third Arm
May 30, 2006

three armed baby

SHANGHAI, China — Doctors in Shanghai on Tuesday were considering surgery options for a 2-month-old boy born with an unusually well-formed third arm.

Neither of the boy’s two left arms is fully functional and tests have so far been unable to determine which was more developed, said Dr. Chen Bochang, head of the orthopedics department at Shanghai Children’s Medical Center.

“His case is quite peculiar. We have no record of any child with such a complete third arm,” Chen said in a telephone interview.

The boy, identified only as “Jie-jie,” also was born with just one kidney and may have problems that could lead to curvature of the spine, local media reports said. Jie-jie cried when either of his left arms was touched, but smiled and responded normally to other stimuli, the reports said.

Chen said doctors hoped to work out a plan for surgery, but the boy’s small size made it impossible to perform certain tests that would help them prepare.

Media reports said other children have been reported born with additional arms and legs, but in those cases it was clear what limb was more developed.

Chen’s hospital is one of China’s most experienced in dealing with unusual birth defects, including separating conjoined twins.


Bush ‘planted fake news stories on American TV’
By Andrew Buncombe
29 May 2006

Federal authorities are actively investigating dozens of American television stations for broadcasting items produced by the Bush administration and major corporations, and passing them off as normal news. Some of the fake news segments talked up success in the war in Iraq, or promoted the companies’ products.

Investigators from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) are seeking information about stations across the country after a report produced by a campaign group detailed the extraordinary extent of the use of such items.

The report, by the non-profit group Centre for Media and Democracy, found that over a 10-month period at least 77 television stations were making use of the faux news broadcasts, known as Video News Releases (VNRs). Not one told viewers who had produced the items.

“We know we only had partial access to these VNRs and yet we found 77 stations using them,” said Diana Farsetta, one of the group’s researchers. “I would say it’s pretty extraordinary. The picture we found was much worse than we expected going into the investigation in terms of just how widely these get played and how frequently these pre-packaged segments are put on the air.”

Ms Farsetta said the public relations companies commissioned to produce these segments by corporations had become increasingly sophisticated in their techniques in order to get the VNRs broadcast. “They have got very good at mimicking what a real, independently produced television report would look like,” she said.

The FCC has declined to comment on the investigation but investigators from the commission’s enforcement unit recently approached Ms Farsetta for a copy of her group’s report.

The range of VNR is wide. Among items provided by the Bush administration to news stations was one in which an Iraqi-American in Kansas City was seen saying “Thank you Bush. Thank you USA” in response to the 2003 fall of Baghdad. The footage was actually produced by the State Department, one of 20 federal agencies that have produced and distributed such items.

Many of the corporate reports, produced by drugs manufacturers such as Pfizer, focus on health issues and promote the manufacturer’s product. One example cited by the report was a Hallowe’en segment produced by the confectionery giant Mars, which featured Snickers, M&Ms and other company brands. While the original VNR disclosed that it was produced by Mars, such information was removed when it was broadcast by the television channel – in this case a Fox-owned station in St Louis, Missouri.

Bloomberg news service said that other companies that sponsored the promotions included General Motors, the world’s largest car maker, and Intel, the biggest maker of semi-conductors. All of the companies said they included full disclosure of their involvement in the VNRs. “We in no way attempt to hide that we are providing the video,” said Chuck Mulloy, a spokesman for Intel. “In fact, we bend over backward to make this disclosure.”

The FCC was urged to act by a lobbying campaign organised by Free Press, another non-profit group that focuses on media policy. Spokesman Craig Aaron said more than 25,000 people had written to the FCC about the VNRs. “Essentially it’s corporate advertising or propaganda masquerading as news,” he said. “The public obviously expects their news reports are going to be based on real reporting and real information. If they are watching an advertisement for a company or a government policy, they need to be told.”

The controversy over the use of VNRs by television stations first erupted last spring. At the time the FCC issued a public notice warning broadcasters that they were obliged to inform viewers if items were sponsored. The maximum fine for each violation is $32,500 (£17,500).

okay, here we go again… 8/

if this gets much worse, i’ll probably do something like Pliny the Weird (a very good friend of mine) came up with the last time this was an issue, and make “FLAG BURNING KITS” with an american flag on a cocktail toothpick and a strike-anywhere match…

Flag-burning amendment does too much harm
May 28, 2006

Some time this summer, the Congress will likely set in motion the steps needed to amend the U.S. Constitution to make it unlawful to desecrate the flag.

The amendment, which has bipartisan support, will make it against the law to burn the American flag. Unfortunately, in the process, it will trample all over the very thing the flag stands for: your personal freedom.

The Constitution, and specifically the first ten amendments known as the Bill of Rights, set out the freedoms that protect every citizen and set us apart from virtually every other country in the world.

Burning, mutilating or destroying the flag is a juvenile and despicable form of protest best suited for unruly mobs in faraway dictatorships, not the streets of America.

But as wrong-headed as it is, flag desecrating shouldn’t be against the law.

The flag is a proud symbol of America. We show our respect (or should) by removing our hats when it passes in a parade. We pledge our allegiance to the United States of America while facing the flag. It has been carried into battle around the world and our troops have died beneath it.

However, we should not confuse the symbol for the substance. The flag is a symbol of the freedoms that make America great. One of our most important freedoms is the freedom to disagree with the government and our neighbors. When we make it against the law to disagree, even in a way that is offensive, we are desecrating the Constitution.

Dissent is not a sign of weakness – it is a sign of strength. Only in a country that is strong is dissenting a freedom that enjoys equal protection under the law.

Demanding everyone support a particular cause or face consequences, real or social, is contrary to the personal liberties that have made our country strong.

You are free to express your thoughts, no matter how contrary to prevailing sentiment, because the First Amendment guarantees you that right. Thanks to that same amendment, the government can’t open your mail or listen to your phone calls without a search warrant. The First Amendment also permits us to publish this newspaper without prior approval of any government authority.

The only way supporters can make burning a flag illegal is to amend the Constitution and specifically exclude that activity from First Amendment protection.

This exercise is an unfortunate example of how politicians of both parties pander to voters on issues that sound profound and patriotic, but in reality will do great harm to the very institution they profess to protect.

Ironically, the number of reported flag burning incidents declined rapidly following 9/11 and hasn’t shown any signs of rebounding – further evidence that this constitutional amendment is a solution in search of a problem or, more accurately, in search of votes.

If the backers of this travesty are successful in amending the Constitution, America will join an elite club of nations that punish flag burners: China, Cuba and Iran.

Memorial Day is a time to remember those who gave their lives in service to our country. No doubt, many veterans past and present, along with many other citizens, join us in deploring flag burning.

The only thing worse than desecrating the flag is violating the Constitution to punish offenders.

Congress reveals its double standard
May 28, 2006

Members of Congress last week finally decided that invasion of privacy and the president’s overstepping his power are matters of grave importance.

And it took an FBI raid of the office of one of their own to get them all worked up.

As The Washington Post first reported, FBI agents obtained a warrant to search the offices of Rep. William Jefferson, a long-time New Orleans Democrat after they secretly taped him accepting $100,000, ostensibly to help a company win Internet contracts in Africa.

Never mind that this time the FBI obtained a search warrant unlike, say, the CIA or the NSA in their attempts to listen in on Americans’ private phone conversations.

Democrats and Republicans alike called on the FBI to return the documents seized from Jefferson’s office, saying along the way that it represented an extraordinary overreaching of power on the part of the executive branch.

“No person is above the law, neither the one being investigated nor those conducting the investigation,” said a letter signed by both House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. “The Justice Department must immediately return the papers it unconstitutionally seized. Once that is done, Congressman Jefferson can and should fully cooperate with the Justice Department’s efforts, consistent with his constitutional rights.”

It was apparently the first time in Congress’ history that a member’s office had been raided by the Justice Department. Of course, as The Washington Post explained in an editorial, “this was no fishing expedition.”

It’s great that there is bipartisan anger at law enforcement officials executing a lawfully obtained search warrant against someone suspected of wrongdoing. That should play well here in the rest of America.

Vermonters are no strangers to outrage over invasions of privacy on the part of our congressional delegation. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., has been one of the most vocal critics of the recently disclosed collection of millions of phone records by the country’s top spy agency. Rep. Bernard Sanders, I-Vt., has been one of the loudest opponents of the Patriot Act and provisions that allow government snooping into our library borrowing habits.

Heck, a former member of Congress who couldn’t disagree more with Sanders’ socialist leanings, came to the state a few weeks ago to decry the ever-encroaching nature of the current president’s administration.

“I can’t understand that while you have a president thumbing his nose at Congress and the country and expressing disdain for the Constitution that Congress just sits there and takes it,” former Rep. Bob Barr, a Republican from Georgia, said during his visit here. “How is it that one individual can take power from the people and not be held accountable?”

How is it, indeed? On the one hand, Congress seems to just sit by and do nothing more than express frustration when the executive branch is reaching its tentacles into the private lives of the people from whom it derives its powers.

But if one of their own – no matter what party or what wrongdoing is suspected – is the recipient of a little intrusion from the executive branch, well, then, something must be done.

Vermonters are proud of their government’s relative absence from our lives and about its strong protection of individual liberties. Recall that when the latest phone-records scandal broke, calls for an immediate investigation of the state’s largest telephone company were swift and bipartisan.

I suspect, however, that Vermonters and other Americans will look at Pelosi and Hastert and Jefferson with more than a little skepticism.

It’s one thing for the crew of insiders to act like they’ve somehow been wronged by what looks like, from all accounts, a perfectly lawful and reasonable search of a crime suspect’s office, a suspect whom authorities say didn’t cooperate with them for months.

It’s quite another for them to expect that we will share their outrage.

After all, they certainly don’t seem to share ours when it is our privacy that is being violated.


Every little man thinks that only Jesus Christ himself is good enough to be his teacher. But you can learn from the most ordinary circumstances once you have the key that opens all doors.
     — Georges I. Gurdjeiff