Sunday, February 10, 2008

Rule by fear or rule by law?

"The power of the Executive to cast a man into prison without formulating any charge known to the law, and particularly to deny him the judgment of his peers, is in the highest degree odious and is the foundation of all totalitarian government whether Nazi or Communist."

- Winston Churchill, Nov. 21, 1943

Since 9/11, and seemingly without the notice of most Americans, the federal government has assumed the authority to institute martial law, arrest a wide swath of dissidents (citizen and noncitizen alike), and detain people without legal or constitutional recourse in the event of "an emergency influx of immigrants in the U.S., or to support the rapid development of new programs."

Beginning in 1999, the government has entered into a series of single-bid contracts with Halliburton subsidiary Kellogg, Brown and Root (KBR) to build detention camps at undisclosed locations within the United States. The government has also contracted with several companies to build thousands of railcars, some reportedly equipped with shackles, ostensibly to transport detainees.

According to diplomat and author Peter Dale Scott, the KBR contract is part of a Homeland Security plan titled ENDGAME, which sets as its goal the removal of "all removable aliens" and "potential terrorists."

Fraud-busters such as Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Los Angeles, have complained about these contracts, saying that more taxpayer dollars should not go to taxpayer-gouging Halliburton. But the real question is: What kind of "new programs" require the construction and refurbishment of detention facilities in nearly every state of the union with the capacity to house perhaps millions of people?

Sect. 1042 of the 2007 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), "Use of the Armed Forces in Major Public Emergencies," gives the executive the power to invoke martial law. For the first time in more than a century, the president is now authorized to use the military in response to "a natural disaster, a disease outbreak, a terrorist attack or any other condition in which the President determines that domestic violence has occurred to the extent that state officials cannot maintain public order."

The Military Commissions Act of 2006, rammed through Congress just before the 2006 midterm elections, allows for the indefinite imprisonment of anyone who donates money to a charity that turns up on a list of "terrorist" organizations, or who speaks out against the government's policies. The law calls for secret trials for citizens and noncitizens alike.

Also in 2007, the White House quietly issued National Security Presidential Directive 51 (NSPD-51), to ensure "continuity of government" in the event of what the document vaguely calls a "catastrophic emergency." Should the president determine that such an emergency has occurred, he and he alone is empowered to do whatever he deems necessary to ensure "continuity of government." This could include everything from canceling elections to suspending the Constitution to launching a nuclear attack. Congress has yet to hold a single hearing on NSPD-51.

U.S. Rep. Jane Harman, D-Venice (Los Angeles County) has come up with a new way to expand the domestic "war on terror." Her Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act of 2007 (HR1955), which passed the House by the lopsided vote of 404-6, would set up a commission to "examine and report upon the facts and causes" of so-called violent radicalism and extremist ideology, then make legislative recommendations on combatting it.

According to commentary in the Baltimore Sun, Rep. Harman and her colleagues from both sides of the aisle believe the country faces a native brand of terrorism, and needs a commission with sweeping investigative power to combat it.

A clue as to where Harman's commission might be aiming is the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, a law that labels those who "engage in sit-ins, civil disobedience, trespass, or any other crime in the name of animal rights" as terrorists. Other groups in the crosshairs could be anti-abortion protesters, anti-tax agitators, immigration activists, environmentalists, peace demonstrators, Second Amendment rights supporters ... the list goes on and on. According to author Naomi Wolf, the National Counterterrorism Center holds the names of roughly 775,000 "terror suspects" with the number increasing by 20,000 per month.

What could the government be contemplating that leads it to make contingency plans to detain without recourse millions of its own citizens?

The Constitution does not allow the executive to have unchecked power under any circumstances. The people must not allow the president to use the war on terrorism to rule by fear instead of by law.

Lewis Seiler is the president of Voice of the Environment, Inc. Dan Hamburg, a former congressman, is executive director.

~ Link ~

 

'Skull & Bones - Those Who Dismantled Our Constitution'

...As previously stated, Alfonso Taft, co-founder of S&B and ancestor of George Bush, was sufficiently influential to manipulate his son, William Howard Taft, into both the presidency (1909-1913) and then the Chief Justiceship of the Supreme Court. Quite significantly it was during the Taft presidency that our constitution was dismantled. As Chief Justice, Taft fashioned the state constitutions of Arizona and New Mexico--also highly significant.

During the Taft presidency, the bills which forever altered the balance of power of The Constitution were incubated. The 17th Amendment, calling for the direct election of senators, guaranteeing that senatorial elections could be purchased by big money interests was passed April 1913. Previously, while senators were elected by the state legislatures, the U.S. Senate was a bastion of conservative resistance to the elitists. If our state legislators had the power to elect our U.S. senators, many of us would take the trouble to get to know who they are. Now the only people who "invest" in state legislators are those whose economic interests are directly impacted.

The Federal Reserve Act and the Income Tax Amendment (16th Amendment) of 1913 also issued directly from the Taft presidency. William Taft served as Commissioner of Internal Revenue just before being elected president...

~ Read more... ~

 

Valentine's Day - a history

" ... One legend contends that Valentine was a priest who served during the third century in Rome. When Emperor Claudius II decided that single men made better soldiers than those with wives and families, he outlawed marriage for young men -- his crop of potential soldiers. Valentine, realizing the injustice of the decree, defied Claudius and continued to perform marriages for young lovers in secret. When Valentine's actions were discovered, Claudius ordered that he be put to death.

Other stories suggest that Valentine may have been killed for attempting to help Christians escape harsh Roman prisons where they were often beaten and tortured.

According to one legend, Valentine actually sent the first 'valentine' greeting himself. While in prison, it is believed that Valentine fell in love with a young girl -- who may have been his jailor's daughter -- who visited him during his confinement. Before his death, it is alleged that he wrote her a letter, which he signed 'From your Valentine,' an expression that is still in use today. Although the truth behind the Valentine legends is murky, the stories certainly emphasize his appeal as a sympathetic, heroic, and, most importantly, romantic figure. It's no surprise that by the Middle Ages, Valentine was one of the most popular saints in England and France.

 While some believe that Valentine's Day is celebrated in the middle of February to commemorate the anniversary of Valentine's death or burial -- which probably occurred around 270 A.D -- others claim that the Christian church may have decided to celebrate Valentine's feast day in the middle of February in an effort to 'christianize' celebrations of the pagan Lupercalia festival. In ancient Rome, February was the official beginning of spring and was considered a time for purification. Houses were ritually cleansed by sweeping them out and then sprinkling salt and a type of wheat called spelt throughout their interiors. Lupercalia, which began at the ides of February, February 15, was a fertility festival dedicated to Faunus, the Roman god of agriculture, as well as to the Roman founders Romulus and Remus.

To begin the festival, members of the Luperci, an order of Roman priests, would gather at the sacred cave where the infants Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome, were believed to have been cared for by a she-wolf or lupa. The priests would then sacrifice a goat, for fertility, and a dog, for purification.

The boys then sliced the goat's hide into strips, dipped them in the sacrificial blood and took to the streets, gently slapping both women and fields of crops with the goathide strips. Far from being fearful, Roman women welcomed being touched with the hides because it was believed the strips would make them more fertile in the coming year. Later in the day, according to legend, all the young women in the city would place their names in a big urn. The city's bachelors would then each choose a name out of the urn and become paired for the year with his chosen woman. These matches often ended in marriage. Pope Gelasius declared February 14 St. Valentine's Day around 498 A.D. The Roman 'lottery' system for romantic pairing was deemed un-Christian and outlawed. Later, during the Middle Ages, it was commonly believed in France and England that February 14 was the beginning of birds' mating season, which added to the idea that the middle of February -- Valentine's Day -- should be a day for romance. The oldest known valentine still in existence today was a poem written by Charles, Duke of Orleans to his wife while he was imprisoned in the Tower of London following his capture at the Battle of Agincourt. The greeting, which was written in 1415, is part of the manuscript collection of the British Library in London, England. Several years later, it is believed that King Henry V hired a writer named John Lydgate to compose a valentine note to Catherine of Valois. ... "

~ More... ~

 

Breast cancer detection from your dentist

" ... Dubinsky said saliva holds the codes to many medical secrets. "Saliva is a complex mixture of proteins. We go through a process that compares different samples by chemically labeling them in such a way that we can not only identify the protein, but determine how much of it is in each sample," said Dubinsky. "This allows us to compare the levels of 150-200 different proteins in cancerous versus non-cancerous specimens to identify possible markers for disease."

In the study, researchers analyzed saliva samples from 30 patients. They found 49 proteins that differentiated healthy patients from those with benign breast tumors and those with malignant breast tumors.

These findings suggest that patients can be tested for breast cancer by examining certain protein markers in their saliva during a visit to a dentist's office or other health care facilities.

According to the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation, an estimated 25 million women globally will be diagnosed with breast cancer, and an estimated 10 million will die from the disease in the next 25 years if no cure is found, making early detection critical. Current tools for detecting breast cancer include ultrasounds, regular blood test screenings, mammograms and biopsies -- all of which the researchers hope will eventually be supplemented by salivary diagnostics.

Streckfus said that being able to chemically distinguish between benign and malignant tumors through a saliva test eliminates possible false positive results. The supplemental chemical confirmation could allow experts to immediately determine the patient's next treatment option, whether it be surgery, a biopsy or further testing.

"Dentistry has entered an exciting new era," said Catherine M. Flaitz, D.D.S., dean of the UT Dental Branch at Houston. ... "

~ More... ~

 

Obama will be assassinated if he wins: Nobel winner Lessing

If Barack Obama becomes the next US president he will surely be assassinated, British Nobel literature laureate Doris Lessing predicted in a newspaper interview published here Saturday.

Obama, who is vying to become the first black president in US history, "would certainly not last long, a black man in the position of president. They would murder him," Lessing, 88, told the Dagens Nyheter daily.

Lessing, who won the 2007 Nobel Literature Prize, said it might be better if Obama's Democratic rival Hillary Clinton were to succeed in her bid to become the first woman president of the United States.

"The best thing would be if they (Clinton and Obama) were to run together. Hillary is a very sharp lady. It might be calmer if she were to win, and not Obama," she said.

 
~ Link ~
 

OPEC could ditch dollars for euros: chief

OPEC could switch the pricing of oil from dollars into euros within a decade, secretary general Abdullah al-Badri told a weekly magazine.

The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries could adopt the euro to combat the decline of the dollar, Badri told the Middle East Economic Digest (MEED), published in London.

"Maybe we can price the oil in the euro. It can be done, but it will take time," he said.

Badri told MEED the change could happen within a decade, the magazine said.

MEED recalled that OPEC is under pressure from its members, who have seen their earnings decline sharply since 2000 due to its use of the dollar. The US currency has fallen 44 percent in value against the euro in that time.

The publication of Badri's remarks coincided with the euro rising against the dollar on the foreign exchanges Friday. The euro peaked of 1.4547 dollars at around 1800 GMT, though it has since weakened.

"In oil exchanges in New York, Singapore or Dubai, you can see the currency is the euro or the yen," Badri said.

"But as long as we see the final sign in dollar, that means the pricing is in dollars.

"It took two world wars and more than 50 years for the dollar to become the dominant currency. Now we are seeing another strong currency coming into the (frame), which is the euro."

Some OPEC members, notably Iran and Venezuela, have been calling for the group to study the declining dollar's effect on their economies. Iran has already begun pricing most of its oil in euros.

MEED recalled that the pricing of oil in dollars is a sensitive topic. Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal warned OPEC late last year that the dollar could plunge if OPEC publicly discussed abandoning it.

On Tuesday, Badri told reporters in London that several oil exporters were selling in dollars but buying other commodities in euros, calling the latter a strong currency.

The comments served to underline the difficulties currently facing oil exporting countries.

~ Link ~

 

Ignoring 'black swans' - The Platonic Fallacy

" ... Taleb calls himself a "skeptical empiricist", and believes that scientists, economists, historians, policymakers, businessmen, and financiers overestimate the value of rational explanations of past data, and underestimate the prevalence of unexplainable randomness in that data. He follows a long lineage of skeptical philosophers, including Socrates, Sextus Empiricus, Al-Ghazali, Pierre Bayle, Montaigne and David Hume in believing that we know much less than we think we do, and that the past should not be used naively to predict the future.

Taleb now focuses on being a researcher in the philosophy of randomness and the role of uncertainty in science and society, with particular emphasis on the philosophy of history and the role of fortunate or unfortunate high-impact random events, which he calls "black swans", in determining the course of history.
Taleb believes that most people ignore "black swans" because we are more comfortable seeing the world as something structured, ordinary, and comprehensible.
 
Taleb calls this blindness the Platonic fallacy, and argues that it leads to three distortions:
Narrative fallacy: creating a story post-hoc so that an event will seem to have a cause.
Ludic fallacy: believing that the structured randomness found in games resembles the unstructured randomness found in life. Taleb faults random walk models and other
inspirations of modern probability theory for this inadequacy.
Statistical regress fallacy: believing that the probability of future events is predictable by examining occurrences of past events.
He also believes that people are subject to the triplet of opacity, through which history is distilled even as current events are incomprehensible. The triplet of opacity consists of
an illusion of understanding of current events
a retrospective distortion of historical events
an overvalue of facts, combined with an overvalue of the intellectual elite
Taleb, an anti-Platonist, believes that universities are better at public relations and claiming credit than generating knowledge. Knowledge and technology are generated by what he calls "stochastic tinkering", rarely by top-down directed research.
He stands against grand theories in social science. Taleb supports experiments and facts collecting, but opposes the idea of enforcing things into general Platonic theories not being supported in hard data.
Consistenly with his anti-Platonism, Taleb doesn't like to see his ideas called "theories." As he stands against general theories and top-down concepts, he never mentions theory in conjunction with the Black Swan. The "Black Swan theory" is, to him, a contradiction in terms, and he urges us in his book (on Black Swans) not to Platonify the Black Swan! Rather, Taleb would call his Black-Swan idea an "anti-theory" or the "Black Swan conjecture."
He opposes the academic aura around economic theories, which in his view suffer acutely from the problem of Platonicity.

In an article titled The pseudo-science hurting markets, Taleb called for the cancellation of the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics, saying that the damage from economic theories can be devastating.
 
 
Ludic Fallacy

Here is Taleb's exposition of the Ludic fallacy:

We love tangible, the confirmation, the palpable, the real, the visible, the concrete, the known, the seen, the vivid, the visual, the social, the embedded, the emotional laden, the salient, the stereotypical, the moving, the theatrical, the romanced, the cosmetic, the official, the scholarly-sounding verbiage (b******t), the pompous Gaussian economist, the mathematicized crap, the pomp, the Academie Francaise, Harvard Business School, the Nobel Prize, dark business suits with white shirts and Ferragamo ties, the moving discourse, and the lurid. Most of all we favor the narrated.
Alas, we are not manufactured, in our current edition of the human race, to understand abstract matters – we need context. Randomness and uncertainty are abstractions. We respect what has happened, ignoring what could have happened. In other words, we are naturally shallow and superficial – and we do not know it. This is not a psychological problem; it comes from the main property of information. The dark side of the moon is harder to see; beaming light on it costs energy. In the same way, beaming light on the unseen is costly in both computational and mental effort. ... "
~ More ~
 

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