Saturday, April 18, 2009

CIA Fears Torture Prosecutions

Only some of the secrets of US ‘ghost’ prisons have been revealed.

The CIA fears some of its operatives could face prosecution for torturing high-level terrorist suspects, despite President Barack Obama’s promise of legal immunity.

The confidential US Department of Justice guidelines on interrogating high-level detainees, which were made public last week, provide only a small window into the secret prisons or “black sites” run by the CIA.

“These are the first dominoes,” said Jameel Jaffer, a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union, which brought the lawsuit that forced the release of the memos. “It will be difficult for the new administration to argue now that other documents can be lawfully withheld.”

Read more ....

My Comment: After 9/11, many in the intelligence community went public with their concerns on what would be the blow back a few years later if ..... and I quote Sec. of Defense Rumsfeld at the time .... they get their hands dirty from what they have to do.

They now know their answer. Politicians will always act like politicians .... and for those who warned us 8 years ago that this would be the end result .... they were right.

EPA Issues Finding That Lays Foundation for Regulating Greenhouse Gas Emissions under the Federal Clean Air Act

In a long expected finding, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a regulatory decision that lays the foundation for EPA to regulate greenhouse gas emissions under the federal Clean Air Act (CAA). The decision announced on Friday, April 17, 2009 is entitled Proposed Endangerment Finding and Cause or Contribute Findings for Greenhouse Gases and was published in the Federal Register. This is a major step by the Obama Administration to attempt to force Congress to pass a climate change bill regulating greenhouse gases. Time magazine may have said it best in an article entitle EPA's CO2 Finding: Putting a Gun to Congress's Head. Whilee it was known that EPA was working on and would announce the finding, the actual announcement has gained enormous coverage in the media and serves as the Administration's opening salvo in its ultimate work to try to convince enough senators to vote for a bill to get beyond the 60 votes need to bypass a filibuster.

The EPA regulatory decision follows a U.S. Supreme Court decision two years ago that concluded the EPA under the Bush Administration had failed to articulate why greenhouse gases should not be regulated as emissions from automobiles. In so doing, the Court indicated that greenhouse gases were pollutants under the Clean Air Act. Now that EPA is going to issue a final regulatory decision after 60 days of public comment and several public hearings, it is clear that EPA can, and will, take action absent Congressional action.

Regulation under the Clean Air Act is messy and may not include a cap and trade program, but simple command and control in the form of emission reductions without the ability to trade for other facility allowances or domestic or international offsets. This would not be good for industry.

Certain industry groups have already begun to work to promote their version of a cap and trade program. The group USCAP, which stands for United States Climate Action Partnership, has issued a document entitled A Blueprint for Legislative Action, providing a general outline of a climate change program based on cap and trade.

The one question that will likely play out is how the world will look if Congress does not pass a bill or passes late next year or even later. Permits for coal=fired power plants and other greenhouse gas-emitting facilities are already being challenged, and environmental groups and other plaintiffs are challenging the permits in court as not meeting CAA requirements to address all pollutants including greenhouse gases. If EPA issues a final decision that greenhouse gases are an air pollutant, do these cases then have a much greater change of success? Will EPA and the states be required to address greenhouse gas emissions in federal Title V permits? These are the types of questions that will come to the fore relatively quickly.

What about cement kilns, lime plants, refineries, natural gas processing plants, manufacturing plants, will they be challenged as well? Coal-fired power plants may not be the only plants whose permits are challenged.

One need not look beyond the administrative case of In re Deseret Power Cooperative. This was a case in which the permit for a power plant in Utah that was challenged because the plant permit did not address CO2 emissions under the Prevention of Significant Deterioration program under the CAA. the challengers argued the plant should implement the Best Available Control Technology or "BACT" to achieve greenhouse gas, largely CO2 emissions.

The EPA Appeals Board remanded the issue back to the EPA, then under the Bush Administration, not to require such technology or reductions as the Appeals Board concluded that the decision was not supported by the administrative record. The Appeals Board called on EPA to address the issue of CO2 and other greenhouse gases being pollutants governed by the CAA.

Other cases have been brought against various sources and several petitions have been filed with the EPA to regulate mobile sources and stationary sources.

With the finding by EPA, all such permits, petitions, and proceedings could be affected. Could this be a snowball effect with EPA and states finding themselves forced to regulate greenhouse gas emissions before Congress makes any final decisions whether to regulate greenhouse gas emissions? The next year promises to be a challenging time for industry as they face a great deal of uncertainty as to how greenhouse gases will be regulated and how individual facilities and companies will be affected. It appears more likely that some form of greenhouse gas regulation will be required. For those companies that may be affected, it is time to develop a corporate strategy to address the risks and any opportunities that greenhouse gas regulation may bring.

Shia and Sharia: Afghanistan and Pakistan Update

We've been following this story for weeks: Afghanistan passes a law that legalizes marital rape for members of its Shia population, as well as preventing women from going outside their houses without permission, inheriting property, and or taking custody of their children in the case of divorce. Various Western leaders, including President Obama, denounce the law. Fantastically brave Afghan women protest the law as crowds hurl stones and spit curses.

Yesterday, President Karzai announced that he will review the law that would allow marital rape and send it back to parliment and revise it if it infringes the rights laid out in Afghanistan's constitution. Still, he says that perhaps the law was mistranslated by the Western Press and said at a press conference, "I don't see any problems with it." The example of misunderstanding he cited, according to the Associated Press report I just linked to, is that women are allowed to leave their houses without their husband's permission in an emergency. Meanwhile, a cleric who supports the law insists that it doesn't allow rape, it just lets men refuse to feed their wives if the wives don't fulfill their sexual desires.

Still, the fact that the law will (probably, hopefully?) be changed is good news, and seems to indicate that international condemnation does have some effect on the president's decisions regarding human rights issues.

Meanwhile, just across the border in Pakistan's Taliban-infested Swat region, the federal government has officially ceded control of the area to Islamic militants, imposing Sharia law on the region and allowing the Taliban to reign in a desperate bid for relative peace and stability in the region. In early April, the consequences of the Taliban's rule in Swat was made graphically evident when a video surfaced of a teenage girl being publicly flogged after being accused by her family of having an affair.

The political, religious, and military situations in Pakistan and Afghanistan are deeply interconnected, and cannot be addressed separately. At the same time, I am struggling to formulate an idea of how they should be addressed. I'm encouraged that Karzai was pressured into acknowledging that a marital rape law is Not Okay, but international opinion won't be able to change the minds of the Afghan stone-throwers, and it certainly won't be able to bring human rights and peace into the Swat region. I see education as being a key element in long-term change in both Pakistan and Afghanistan, especially education for women. My very first Equal Writes post was about the fabulous Greg Mortenson and his Central Asia Institute , which builds schools for girls in northern Pakistan and Afghanistan, and I think Pakistan, Afghanistan, the U.S., and the international community should be strategically and deliberately investing in programs like these. However, that's not a complete solution, or one that will have any immediate effect. Military action, while in some ways appealing, also has many significant downsides, most of which are glaringly obvious after the debacle of the Iraq war. We can't count on aid reaching the populations that need it.

Yet we also can't turn a blind eye on blatant human rights violations. We can't assert, as do the abysmally ignorant commentators in many of the articles I read on the marital rape law, that the concept of "marital rape" is meaningless in Afghan culture because and therefore no one's getting hurt, and that if women don't like it they should just leave the country. We can't condemn Shia women to virtual house arrest and abandon teenage girls into the hands of the Taliban, but we can't overestimate our ability to clean up "messes" like these or underestimate the potential disaster of a truly failed state in Central or South Asia. So what do we do? Really. I'm really asking. Is there a was to protect and support women's rights (and human rights in general) in these explosive regions without making them, you know, explode? What in the world is it?

(If you'd like to donate to support the cause of the female protestors in Kabul, a Feministe commentator has offered to match the first $1,000 in donations made to the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan by Feministe readers. I don't know enough about them to personally vouch for the organization, but from the fifteen minutes of research I did it seems legit and effective, though controversial in some areas because it's secular.)

Israel Ready to Bomb Iran’s Nuclear Sites

In March, newly elected Israeli prime minister and Likud radical, Benjamin Netanyahu, gave U.S. President Barack Obama an ultimatum: stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons immediately or, Israel will do it.

Apparently, Mr. Obama didn’t receive the memo informing him Netanyahu is in-charge of American foreign policy.

Now comes word that the Israeli military is preparing to launch a massive aerial assault on Iran’s nuclear facilities within days of being given the go-ahead by its Likud government.

Among the steps taken to ready Israeli forces for what would be a risky raid requiring pinpoint aerial strikes are the acquisition of three Airborne Warning and Control (AWAC) aircraft and regional missions to simulate the attack.

Two nationwide civil defense drills will help to prepare the public for the retaliation that Israel could face from Iran.

An Israeli attack on Iran would entail flying over Jordanian and Iraqi airspace, where US forces have a strong presence.Ephraim Kam, the deputy director of the Institute for National Security Studies, said it is unlikely the Americans would approve an attack.

A visit by President Obama to Israel in June is expected to coincide with the national elections in Iran. The timing that would allow the US administration to reevaluate diplomatic resolutions with Iran before hearing the Israeli position.

Roxana Saberi Sentenced To Prison In Iran

First, Iranian officials charged American-born journalist Roxana Saberi with buying wine, an act which is illegal in Iran. Then, they decided to charge her with ‘illegally reporting’ in Iran. Now, she’s been tried and convicted of ‘espionage’ by a judge in Tehran. She will be forced to serve eight years in the infamous Evin Prison and there’s some chatter suggesting that, though in a weak state, she may begin a hunger strike as her sentence begins.

All of this after President Obama apologized to Iran and made several gestures to the Islamic Republic suggesting a change in foreign policy there. Meanwhile, North Korea continues to hold two American journalists from Al Gore’s Current TV network.

Maybe there was a reason the previous President tossed North Korea and Iran in the ‘Axis of Evil’? Though the Obama administration is stepping away from that tact and language, you’ve got to guess they’re not happy with the results so far.

CNN, Ashton Kutcher, Oprah Winfrey and Twitter

Yesterday while I was busy putting on SMBNH, attending meetings, making calls and generally having a typical Friday, the Twitterverse was all atwitter over the Ashton Kutcher vs CNN following challenge for charity and Oprah Winfrey’s first tweet.

Overall, my reaction is nothing but positive to this sudden awakening of awareness for Twitter and other social media applications. I saw so many early adopters saying it was a “black day for Twitter”, or “Black Friday” or saying Twitter was selling out and wouldn’t be the same. It made me angry. How dare we, as early adopters, not welcome new people into our fold?

To explain a bit further, let me remind you that everything changes. Nothing in life stays the same. That’s both the beauty and power of this connectivity we are afforded by social media and online tools - we can ride the changes like a wave. Here I sit, excited for this chance to finally join my off line and on line worlds more fully, to have more people who are not as immersed in technology as I am accept that the internet is more and more an essential part of life. Here I sit, ready to help prepare the unprepared for the future.

That’s right. I want to help show people the best ways to use our tools. I am so disappointed in the people who see this as an invasion rather than a joining, an opportunity. We, as the early adopters, have this unprecedented chance to make people feel welcome, to offer real help, to direct how this wave turns. Instead, so many turn up their noses at the regular people who want to come into our sphere and see what all the fuss is about.

Instead of pushing the new people away, making them feel unwelcome and leaving them at the mercy of the Twitter scammers, twinfomercial snake oil salesmen and follow-count gamers, why are you not stepping up and reaching out a hand? I know I am. This new technology is all about forging connections, joining forces, and seeing what can happen when people work together. I’m excited to see what will happen when Twitter starts acting as a real bridge between the technology buffs, the off liners, the companies, the artists, governments and more.

It’s not just about Twitter, either. Sure that’s the media darling right now, but there over 600 other tools out there that we can be helping people find, use, and enjoy to their benefit. Why push these people away? CONNECT. REACH OUT.

Ashton Kutcher may not be your cup of tea as an early adopter, but I think he is starting to get part of what Twitter can do, and he is using it for charity, as are other celebs on Twitter. From the CNN article on their contest:

“At the end of the day, we all have ego, we all have some level of ego,” he said. “But if we can use our ego to actually create good charitable things in the world in some way, and use our ego — originally, I defined Twitter as an ego stream when I first saw it. But then what I realized is if we can transform that into something that’s positive that can actually effectively change the world, that can be a really valuable tool.”

Being on Twitter is about more than follower count. Follower count only matters to a point. It’s what you DO with those followers, and how you listen as well as talk, that matters. Are you making a difference, forging relationships, or are you putting up road blocks and building walls?

US family of five killed in apparent murder-suicide: police

A US man apparently murdered his wife and three small children before fatally shooting himself, police in the eastern state of Maryland said Saturday.

Christopher Alan Wood, 34, was believed to have slain his wife Francis Billotti-Wood, 33, their boys aged five and four, and their two-year-old girl at the couple's home in Middletown, Frederick County sheriff's department corporal Jennifer Bailey told AFP.

"We are investigating this as a murder-suicide," said Bailey.

"The investigation indicates that Mr. Wood killed the members of his family and then himself by an apparent gunshot wound," she said.

The family members may have been slashed or hacked to death, but Bailey only said the victims "sustained traumatic cut injuries"

The two boys were found in their beds, while the mother and the two year-old girl were found together in the master bed, Bailey said.

Police found Wood at the foot of the master bed with the shotgun nearby.

Authorities removed several notes from the crime scene -- apparently written by Wood -- but Bailey would not immediately comment on their content.

Police "have not determined a motive at this point," Bailey said, noting that agents removed the shotgun as well as items that could have been used as a weapon from the home.

The Wood residence is located in the center of a town of 3,000 known for horse and dairy farms in a bucolic valley 64 kilometers (40 miles) northwest of Washington. Middletown is just southwest of a larger colonial-era town, Frederick.

The family attended the Holy Family Catholic Community church in Middletown and had not been seen since Easter, the local newspaper, the Frederick-News Post, reported.

The church's priest, Kevin Farmer, told the paper that Francis Billotti-Wood taught religion classes at Holy Family.

A spate of high-profile mass killings in the United States in recent months -- including half a dozen rampages since March -- shows the impact the economic meltdown is having on rising violence, experts say.

In Binghamton, New York, a jobless immigrant early this month went on a murderous rampage in the center where he learned English, mowing down 13 people before killing himself.

The massacre was followed a day later by the murder of three police officers in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where they were shot dead as they responded to a domestic disturbance call.

On March 29, a heavily armed gunman shot dead eight people at a North Carolina nursing home, days after six people were killed in an apparent murder-suicide in an upscale neighborhood in northern California's Silicon Valley.

A day earlier, US media reported a brutal scene discovered at a Boston home -- a man had stabbed to death his 17-year-old sister, decapitated his five-year-old sister and began stabbing another sister before being shot by police.

Direct correlations may not always immediately surface, but criminologist Jack Levin, a professor at Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts, says the trends are clear.

"Catastrophic losses serve as inspiration, or precipitant," he said.

In a severe recession there are simply more people suffering such a loss, he says.

In an economic downturn, the United States often sees "many more large-body-count murders -- on the job, in the family -- as many more Americans feel desperate in a situation they feel got completely out of control."

US Will Shun UN Racism Conference

The United States announced Saturday it will not attend a United Nations conference on racism set to start Monday in Geneva.

State Department Spokesman Robert Wood (file)

State Department Spokesman Robert Wood says the U.S. will boycott the conference "with regret" because of objectionable language in the meeting's draft declaration.

Wood said Saturday that despite some improvements, it seemed clear the declaration will not address U.S. concerns about restrictions on freedom of expression.

Still, he said the United States "will work with all people and nations" to put an end to racism and discrimination.

European Union members have yet to decide whether they will attend.

The five-day meeting is a follow-up to a 2001 conference in Durban, South Africa. The United States and Israel walked out of those talks over an attempt by some participants to link Zionism with racism.

Human rights groups had been urging the U.S. to take part in the conference, and called the boycott a "missed opportunity." New York-based Human Rights Watch says the draft declaration has improved considerably since negotiations first began.

Many Muslim nations want curbs to prevent what they say are insults to Islam.

Riots erupted across the Muslim world in 2006 after a Danish newspaper published cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is expected to attend the conference.

The Iranian leader has raised concerns by questioning whether the Holocaust happened and has said that Israel should be wiped off the map.

U.S. officials warned in late February the Obama administration would not attend the conference unless significant changes were made.

Latin America leaders scramble for photo with Obama

PORT OF SPAIN (AFP) — US President Barack Obama's worldwide popularity was in evidence Saturday at a Summit of the Americas in Trinidad, when Latin American leaders jostled to have a photo taken with him.

Obama affably agreed to most of the requests, including those of Panama's tourism minister and actor Ruben Blades, and Caribbean leaders who used a joint photo session with him to also ask for individual snaps.

Some were pushier -- and better prepared -- than others. That was the case of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who had his official photographer on hand to catch a handshake he shared with Obama at the summit's start on Friday.

And some got even more personal attention: Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, a close US ally, proudly showed off a piece of paper on which Obama had written "For President Uribe, with admiration!" above a diagram of his government's goals.