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Thursday, October 13th, 2005
12:31 pm - From Iraq, soldier seeks war's end

From Iraq, soldier seeks war's end

By Evan Lehmann / Lowell Sun

WASHINGTON -- The flatbed gun truck failed in the desert night, leaving Sgt. Nicholas Pulliam and his freight of cut vehicle armor easing to the Iraq roadside.

The Chelmsford resident was near the end of a 25-truck convoy, following a “slacker” full of fuel, whose tail lights didn't work. The green chemical glow sticks taped to the rig as replacements slowly faded before the whole convoy rumbled to a stop.

“I was not in a safe place and I knew it,” Pulliam wrote in an e-mail received by his parents on Saturday.

The convoy, now towing Pulliam's truck, finally reached the restive city of Ramadi, a 35-mile trip that lasted more than three hours. It was received by insurgent gunshots; all seemed to miss, trailing bright tracers.

But Pulliam, a 43-year-old engineer with a law degree, had a bigger breakdown on his mind than an engine mishap: the United States' policy in Iraq.

Yesterday, he called for a complete withdrawal of U.S. troops before September 2006, titling his proposal “Rational Disengagement.” He posted it on an Internet blog, an online journal operated by Bedford activist Brian Hart, whose 20-year-old son, Army Pvt. First Class John Hart, was killed nearly two years ago in Iraq during an ambush near Kirkuk.

“I am just an American citizen-soldier who wants to see an end to this hemorrhaging and get back to my life away from Iraq,” writes Pulliam, who resides on Main Street with his wife, Awilda, and their two children, ages 8 and 10.

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“We're going to start a parade, and then let the politicians jump in front of it,” Hart said in an interview yesterday.

Pulliam, too, hopes his words cause a stir, saying too many soldiers have died.

“We need to start somewhere,” he writes in the blog posting. “We need to save our soldier's futures.”

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Wednesday, August 17th, 2005
11:12 am - Crocodile Blood Kills HIV?

SYDNEY, Australia (Reuters) -- Scientists in Australia's tropical north are collecting blood from crocodiles in the hope of developing a powerful antibiotic for humans, after tests showed that the reptile's immune system kills the HIV virus.

The crocodile's immune system is much more powerful than that of humans, preventing life-threatening infections after savage territorial fights which often leave the animals with gaping wounds and missing limbs.

"They tear limbs off each other and despite the fact that they live in this environment with all these microbes, they heal up very rapidly and normally almost always without infection," said U.S. scientist Mark Merchant, who has been taking crocodile blood samples in the Northern Territory.

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Friday, July 29th, 2005
1:24 pm - Frist FOR Stem Cell Research

Frist Comes Out In Favor Of Stem Cell Research
posted July 29, 2005

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist said Friday he has decided to support a bill to expand federal financing for embryonic stem cell research.

The House earlier passed the bill that is opposed by the Bush administration. It has been stalled in the Senate.

Sen. Frist today gave the following speech on the Senate floor:

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Tuesday, July 19th, 2005
3:48 pm - Its good to workin' at Costco

Costco CEO profits as he offers top pay, benefits
New York Times

ISSAQUAH, WASH. - Costco's average pay, for example, is $17 an hour, 42 percent higher than its fiercest rival, Wal-Mart's Sam's Club. And Costco's health plan makes those at many other retailers look Scroogish. One analyst, Bill Dreher of Deutsche Bank, complained last year that at Costco "it's better to be an employee or a customer than a shareholder."

Sinegal begs to differ. He rejects Wall Street's assumption that to succeed in discount retailing, companies must pay poorly and skimp on benefits, or must ratchet up prices to meet Wall Street's profit demands.

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Monday, July 18th, 2005
11:26 am - Studies: Most foreign fighters didn't wage terror before Iraq war

BOSTON GLOBE: July 17, 2005

WASHINGTON - New investigations by the Saudi Arabian government and an Israeli think tank — both of which painstakingly analyzed the backgrounds and motivations of hundreds of foreigners entering Iraq to fight the United States — have found that the vast majority of them are not former terrorists and became radicalized by the war.

The studies cast serious doubt on President Bush's claim that those responsible for some of the worst violence are terrorists who seized on the opportunity to make Iraq the "central front" in a battle against the United States.

"The terrorists know that the outcome in Iraq will leave them emboldened or defeated," Bush said in a nationally televised address last month. "So they are waging a campaign of murder and destruction."

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Wednesday, July 6th, 2005
4:36 am - The Holy War Begins

By Howard Fineman and Debra Rosenberg

July 11 issue - As soon as president George W. Bush officially got the news—Justice Sandra Day O'Connor was retiring—he huddled with his innermost circle. He wanted to give them the word and review the game plan now that he would be choosing a nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court. As staffers filed into the Oval Office for the regular 9 a.m. meeting last Friday, Bush ushered Vice President Dick Cheney and counselors Karl Rove and Dan Bartlett into the adjacent dining area. A smoothly run vetting process mattered, the president said, but not as much as the identity and history of the person he ultimately selects. "A lot of people are going to be focused on the process," he said, "but when I make the candidate selection, the focus will be on the candidate."

Bush was half right: the focus, in fact, is squarely on him, too. Presidencies are defined by key moments. So far, his are the Bullhorn of 9/11 and the decision to go to war in Iraq. Now comes the next Big Call. Having risen to power as a committed conservative, and having largely governed as one, he must choose: big tent or revival tent? On Capitol Hill, and around Washington, the assumption is that, on a personal level, Bush favors Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. He is a longtime Texas compadre who would, if confirmed, be the court's first Latino at a time when wooing Hispanics is a Republican Party priority. But Gonzales is considered suspect by pro-life forces and has a thin, hard-to-pin-down track record as a Texas judge. In fact, he is the only A-list contender whom religious conservatives pledge, upfront, to fight. "We'd oppose him," said Tom Minnery of Dr. James Dobson's Focus on the Family.

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4:21 am - Report: State Employees' Lack of Writing Skills Cost Nearly $250M

The Associated Press

States spend nearly a quarter of a billion dollars a year on remedial writing instruction for their employees, according to a new report that says the indirect costs of sloppy writing probably hurt taxpayers even more.

The National Commission on Writing, in a report to be released Tuesday, says that good writing skills are at least as important in the public sector as in private industry. Poor writing not only befuddles citizens but also slows down the government as bureaucrats struggle with unclear instructions or have to redo poorly written work.

"It's impossible to calculate the ultimate cost of lost productivity because people have to read things two and three times," said Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, vice chairman of the National Governors Association, which conducted the survey for the commission.

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Friday, July 1st, 2005
1:46 pm - The Saudi Oil Bombshell: Twilight In The Desert

by Michael T Klare

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But now, from an unexpected source, comes a devastating challenge to this powerful dogma: in a newly released book, investment banker Matthew R Simmons convincingly demonstrates that, far from being capable of increasing its output, Saudi Arabia is about to face the exhaustion of its giant fields and, in the relatively near future, will probably experience a sharp decline in output. "There is only a small probability that Saudi Arabia will ever deliver the quantities of petroleum that are assigned to it in all the major forecasts of world oil production and consumption," Simmons writes in Twilight in the Desert: The Coming Saudi Oil Shock and the World Economy. "Saudi Arabian production," he adds, italicizing his claims to drive home his point, "is at or very near its peak sustainable volume ... and it is likely to go into decline in the very foreseeable future."

In addition, there is little chance that Saudi Arabia will ever discover new fields that can take up the slack from those now in decline. "Saudi Arabia's exploration efforts over the last three decades were more intense than most observers have assumed," Simmons asserts. "The results of these efforts were modest at best."

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If Simmons is right, it is only a matter of time before this scenario comes to pass. If we act now to limit our consumption of oil and develop non-petroleum energy alternatives, we can face the "twilight" of the Petroleum Age with some degree of hope; if we fail to do so, we are in for a very grim time indeed. And the longer we cling to the belief that Saudi Arabia will save us, the more painful will be our inevitable fall.

Given the high stakes involved, there is no doubt that intense efforts will be made to refute Simmons' findings. With the publication of his book, however, it will no longer be possible for oil aficionados simply to chant "Saudi Arabia, Saudi Arabia, Saudi Arabia" and convince us that everything is all right in the oil world. Through his scrupulous research, Simmons has convincingly demonstrated that - because all is not well with Saudi Arabia's giant oilfields - the global energy situation can only go downhill from here. From now on, those who believe that oil will remain abundant indefinitely are the ones who must produce irrefutable evidence that Saudi Arabia's fields are, in fact, capable of achieving higher levels of output.

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12:33 pm - Sandy calls it quits!


Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, the first woman to serve on the high court and the key swing vote in some of the nation's highest-profile cases, announced her resignation Friday.

In a letter to the White House, the moderate conservative, said she will step down when her successor is confirmed. O'Connor, 75, was appointed by President Reagan in 1981 and is considered a moderate conservative on the high court and often cast the pivotal swing vote in important cases.

She dismissed the label, telling CNN recently, "That's something the media has devised as a means of writing about the court, and I don't think that has a lot of validity."

The list of cases in which her vote made the difference is long and notable: limiting affirmative action (Adarand 1995 case requiring "compelling" government interest), permitting public aid and vouchers to religious and parochial schools (Agostini and 2002 Zelman/Cleveland cases), and in several abortion-related cases, where a woman's reproductive rights were narrowly re-affirmed (Casey, Cathcart cases).

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Thursday, June 30th, 2005
6:50 pm - Halliburton Hearing Unearths New Abuse

Halliburton Hearing Unearths New Abuse

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Billion Dollar Overcharges

The LOI testimony was not the only new evidence offered against Halliburton workmanship in Iraq. Henry Waxman, a California member of the House of Representatives, kicked off the proceedings by presenting a new study gleaned mostly from confidential reports done by the Defence Contract Audit Agency (DCAA).

The study estimates that Halliburton has received roughly 52 percent of the $25.4 billion that the Pentagon has paid out to so far to 77 private contractors in Iraq.

This is divided into two major kinds of contracts. Under the first, known as LOGCAP, logistical support like cooking and cleaning are outsourced to civilian workers, Halliburton has so far received $8.6 billion. The company is reimbursed for its actual costs and then paid a premium of 1 percent to 3 percent, depending on performance.

The second contract, known as RIO, was for the repair of Iraqi oil fields in the immediate aftermath of the 2003 invasion and for imports of consumer fuels. This project is now complete and cost the Pentagon $2.5 billion. A second RIO contract is now underway.

The new evidence, released Monday afternoon, shows that Hallliburton:

* overcharged or presented questionable bills for close on $1.5 billion, almost four times the previous amount disclosed.
* lost 12 giant pre-fabricated bases worth over $75 million destined for the troops. The bases could have housed as many as 6,600 soldiers.
* billed $152,000 to provide a movie library for 2,500 soldiers
* billed inconsistently across the board. Video cassette players, for example, were said to cost $300.00 in some instances, and $1000 in others. Likewise, the company charged $2.31 for towels on one occasion and $5 for the same units on another.

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5:19 pm - A Laptop For Every Child?

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil (AP) -- Brazil is seriously considering a plan to build 2 million low-cost laptops, with half to be distributed for free in local schools while the other half would be exported, officials said Thursday.

The laptops, which would cost $100 each, are part of a project championed by Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Nicholas Negroponte that aims to provide "one laptop per child," to children around the world.

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Sunday, June 12th, 2005
1:50 pm - The Long Emergency

From the Rolling Stone article on The Long Emergency: Surviving the End of the Oil Age, Climate Change, and Other Converging Catastrophes of the Twenty-first Century by Howard James Kunstler

A few weeks ago, the price of oil ratcheted above fifty-five dollars a barrel, which is about twenty dollars a barrel more than a year ago. The next day, the oil story was buried on page six of the New York Times business section. Apparently, the price of oil is not considered significant news, even when it goes up five bucks a barrel in the span of ten days. That same day, the stock market shot up more than a hundred points because, CNN said, government data showed no signs of inflation. Note to clueless nation: Call planet Earth.

Carl Jung, one of the fathers of psychology, famously remarked that "people cannot stand too much reality." What you're about to read may challenge your assumptions about the kind of world we live in, and especially the kind of world into which events are propelling us. We are in for a rough ride through uncharted territory.

It has been very hard for Americans -- lost in dark raptures of nonstop infotainment, recreational shopping and compulsive motoring -- to make sense of the gathering forces that will fundamentally alter the terms of everyday life in our technological society. Even after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, America is still sleepwalking into the future. I call this coming time the Long Emergency.

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Monday, June 6th, 2005
11:08 am - The Smoke has Hit the Fan!

The U.S. Supreme Court dealt a setback to the medical marijuana movement, ruling that federal narcotics laws make it a crime to grow and use the drug even when it never crosses state lines and is used only to relieve pain or nausea.

The justices today said Congress's power over interstate commerce is broad enough to let it ban locally grown and used medical marijuana. The 6-3 ruling, issued in Washington, overturns a lower court decision that had let two California women use cannabis to treat pain, nausea and other symptoms.

California and nine other states exempt seriously ill people from laws banning cultivation and use of marijuana. Today's ruling means people in those states nonetheless will face the risk of federal prosecution if they use or distribute marijuana.

The case is Ashcroft v. Raich, 03-1454.

current mood: sad

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9:31 am - New SEC Head Signals Big Change

From BBC.com:

The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is expected to adopt a more "laissez-faire" approach if Christopher Cox is confirmed as its new chairman.

President Bush named the Republican congressman as SEC chairman, but the job must be confirmed by the US Senate.

Current chief William Donaldson quit on Wednesday, raising doubts over whether the finance watchdog will stick to its tough stance on corporate misconduct.

Mr Cox, a former corporate lawyer, is seen as close to the finance industry.

Experts say he could move the SEC towards a lighter touch on regulation.

Some commentators have claimed that his SEC predecessor Mr Donaldson quit the post having come under pressure from Republicans who objected to his hard-line reforms.

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Thursday, June 2nd, 2005
3:33 pm - Amnesty Challenges US To Open Up Guantanamo Bay To Observers

From the Khaleej Times:

TOKYO - The head of Amnesty International on Thursday hit back at US outrage over the group labelling Guantanamo Bay a “gulag” and challenged Washington to open the military-run detention center to outside inspections.

US leaders, including President George W. Bush, have said they were shocked that the human rights group accused the United States of running “a new gulag of prisons around the world beyond the reach of the law and decency”.

The secretary general of London-based Amnesty International, Irene Khan, said the US response has lacked substance.

“Their response has been defensive and dismissive,” she said during a visit to Japan. “We have not seen from them a more detailed response to the concerns we have expressed in our report.

“Our answer is simple. If that is so (that the allegations are unfounded), open up these detention centers. Allow us and others to visit them,” she told a news conference on a visit to Tokyo.

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3:15 pm - The Social Security Non-Crisis

by Noam Chomsky (From Khaleej Times Online)

June 1st - IN THE debate over Social Security, US President Bush’s handlers have already won, at least in the short term. Bush and Karl Rove, his deputy chief of staff, have succeeded in convincing most of the US population that there is a serious problem with Social Security, which opens the way for considering the administration’s programme of private accounts instead of relying on the public pension system.

The public has been frightened, much as it was by the imminent threat of Saddam Hussein and his weapons of mass destruction.

The pressure on politicians is rising as leaders in the US House of Representatives hope to draft Social Security legislation by next month.

For perspective, perhaps it should be noted that Social Security is one of the least generous public pension systems among advanced countries, according to a new report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

The Bush administration wants to "reform" Social Security — meaning dismantle it. A huge government-media propaganda campaign has concocted a "fiscal crisis" that doesn’t exist. If some problem does arise in the distant future, it could be overcome by trivial measures, such as raising the cap on the regressive payroll tax.

The official story is that the Baby Boomers are going to impose a greater burden on the system because the number of working people relative to the elderly will decline, which is true.

But what happened to the Baby Boomers when they were zero to 20? Weren’t working people taking care of them? And it was a much poorer society then.

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2:46 pm - The "I" Word

by Ralph Nader and Kevin Zeese, from the Boston Globe

THE IMPEACHMENT of President Bush and Vice President Cheney, under Article II, Section 4 of the Constitution, should be part of mainstream political discourse.

Minutes from a summer 2002 meeting involving British Prime Minister Tony Blair reveal that the Bush administration was ''fixing" the intelligence to justify invading Iraq. US intelligence used to justify the war demonstrates repeatedly the truth of the meeting minutes -- evidence was thin and needed fixing.

President Clinton was impeached for perjury about his sexual relationships. Comparing Clinton's misbehavior to a destructive and costly war occupation launched in March 2003 under false pretenses in violation of domestic and international law certainly merits introduction of an impeachment resolution.

Eighty-nine members of Congress have asked the president whether intelligence was manipulated to lead the United States to war. The letter points to British meeting minutes that raise ''troubling new questions regarding the legal justifications for the war." Those minutes describe the case for war as ''thin" and Saddam as ''nonthreatening to his neighbors," and ''Britain and America had to create conditions to justify a war." Finally, military action was ''seen as inevitable . . . But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy."

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The president and vice president have artfully dodged the central question: "Did the administration mislead us into war by manipulating and misstating intelligence concerning weapons of mass destruction and alleged ties to Al Qaeda, suppressing contrary intelligence, and deliberately exaggerating the danger a contained, weakened Iraq posed to the United States and its neighbors?"

If this is answered affirmatively Bush and Cheney have committed "high crimes and misdemeanors." It is time for Congress to investigate the illegal Iraq war as we move toward the third year of the endless quagmire that many security experts believe jeopardizes US safety by recruiting and training more terrorists. A Resolution of Impeachment would be a first step. Based on the mountains of fabrications, deceptions, and lies, it is time to debate the "I" word.

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2:45 pm - Arthur Anderson Conviction Overturned: Document Shredding Is No Big Deal

From the Detroit Free Press:

WASHINGTON -- The Supreme Court threw out the conviction of the Arthur Andersen accounting firm for destroying Enron Corp.-related documents, ruling unanimously Tuesday that the jury instructions were too broad.

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In his opinion, Rehnquist said it is not necessarily wrong for companies to instruct employees to destroy documents. At trial, Andersen argued that employees who shredded tons of documents followed the policy and there was no intent to thwart the SEC investigation.

Like a mother who advises a son to invoke his right against compelled self-incrimination out of fear he might be convicted, persuading an employee to withhold information is not "inherently malign," Rehnquist wrote.

Legal experts said the ruling, which was widely expected, will shield former partners at Andersen from possible future litigation. Corporations that have document-retention policies also will have more freedom to destroy documents without fear of potential prosecution.

"This decision provides some much-needed clarity: Yes, it's still OK to use a document retention policy, and no, you won't be charged unless you destroy documents consciously knowing you're committing a fraud," said Brad Lewis, a former prosecutor who is now a criminal defense attorney at Fenwick & West.

Robin Conrad, senior vice president of the National Chamber Litigation Center, added: "This case is an example of why we need to be concerned about overly aggressive enforcement of the criminal statute. There was severe collateral damage to the tune of 28,000 people put out of work."

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