Hard to fool a detainee with a fake letter from mom – when he knows she can’t write


Mohamedou Ould Slahi

Guantánamo prison camp authorities tried to trick inmate Mohamedou Ould Slahi by forging a letter purportedly from his mother whom he had been unable to see for years, his brother Yahdih has said.

The ploy, which was intended to persuade him to cooperate with his interrogators, failed not only because they misspelt Slahi’s name but also because his mother could not write.

This week Slahi became the first inmate to publish a memoir while still incarcerated when Guantánamo Diary was published in 20 countries and serialised in the Guardian.

Speaking on Tuesday at an event organised by the Guardian in partnership with Canongate, the publisher of Guantánamo Diary, and PEN, the writers’ association, Yahdih Ould Slahi said his brother had not been able to see his mother before she died at their home in Mauritania in 2013…

The 44-year-old engineer was first detained in 2001 in Mauritania at the request of the US government, then rendered to Jordan and Afghanistan and tortured, and then flown to Guantánamo.

He is one of two inmates whose “additional interrogation techniques” were personally approved by Donald Rumsfeld, then US defence secretary, according to a US Senate inquiry. Slahi was dressed in a burqa, deprived of sleep, subjected to strobe lights, doused in water, threatened with dogs, sexually assaulted by female interrogators and forced to bark and perform dog tricks.

He wrote his memoir by hand after learning English, his fourth language, from his Guantánamo guards and interrogators, and it was published this week after his lawyer, Nancy Hollander, battled for six years to have the document declassified.

Hollander told the event that Slahi’s descriptions of the abuse that he had suffered at Guantánamo had already been confirmed by both the Senate inquiry and a separate investigation by the FBI…

Hollander said her client had been in a form of legal limbo since the US government lodged an appeal after a US district court judge ordered his release…

The American Civil Liberties Union has launched an online petition demanding Slahi’s release.

One more case where Obama’s Administration matches the incompetence of his neo-con predecessor. Incompetence, that is, at differentiating liberal foreign policy from the conservative flavor. There may be some small difference in the total number of civilians killed. But, the destruction of civil liberties, civil rights, human rights guaranteed by international treaty seem to be consistent between both flavors of imperial arrogance.

The largest vessel the world has ever seen – is a factory

The Prelude
Click to enlarge

Climbing onto the largest vessel the world has ever seen brings you into a realm where everything is on a bewilderingly vast scale and ambition knows no bounds.

Prelude is a staggering 488 meters long and the best way to grasp what this means is by comparison with something more familiar.

Four football pitches placed end-to-end would not quite match this vessel’s length – and if you could lay the 301 meters of the Eiffel Tower alongside it, or the 443 meters of the Empire State Building, they wouldn’t do so either.

In terms of sheer volume, Prelude is mind-boggling too: if you took six of the world’s largest aircraft carriers, and measured the total amount of water they displaced, that would just about be the same as with this one gigantic vessel.

Under construction for the energy giant Shell, the dimensions of the platform are striking in their own right – but also as evidence of the sheer determination of the oil and gas industry to open up new sources of fuel…

Prelude…pioneers a new way of getting gas from beneath the ocean floor to the consumers willing to pay for it.

Until now, gas collected from offshore wells has had to be piped to land to be processed and then liquefied ready for export…Usually, this means building a huge facility onshore which can purify the gas and then chill it so that it becomes a liquid – what’s known as liquefied natural gas or LNG – making it 600 times smaller in volume and therefore far easier to transport by ship.

And LNG is in hot demand – especially in Asia, with China and Japan among the energy-hungry markets.

To exploit the Prelude gas field more than 100 miles off the northwest coast of Australia, Shell has opted to bypass the step of bringing the gas ashore, instead developing a system which will do the job of liquefaction at sea.

Hence Prelude will become the world’s first floating LNG plant – or FLNG in the terminology of the industry.

RTFA for the economics behind the decision – because, push comes to shove, there is no other primary reason for the construction of this behemoth. Optimizing profit is the name of the only game Shell plays.

Surprising complexity, insights into global effects of wood fuel burning

The harvesting of wood to meet the heating and cooking demands for billions of people worldwide has less of an impact on global forest loss and carbon dioxide emissions than previously believed, according to a new Yale-led study.

Writing in the journal Nature Climate Change, a team of researchers, including Prof. Robert Bailis of the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, concludes that only about 27 to 34 percent of wood fuel harvested worldwide would be considered “unsustainable.” According to the assessment, “sustainability” is based on whether or not annual harvesting exceeds incremental re-growth…

According to the authors, the findings point to the need for more nuanced, local-specific policies that address forest loss, climate change, and public health. They also suggest that existing carbon offset methodologies used to reduce carbon emissions likely overstate the CO2 emission reductions that can be achieved through the promotion of more efficient cookstove technologies.

The study identifies a set of “hotspots” where the majority of wood extraction exceeds sustainable yields. These hotspot regions — located mainly in South Asia and East Africa — support about 275 million people who are reliant on wood fuel.

However, in other regions, the authors say, much of the wood used for this traditional heating and cooking is actually the byproduct of deforestation driven by other factors, such as demand for agricultural land, which would have occurred anyway…

The results stand in contrast to a long-held assumption that the harvesting of wood fuels — which accounts for more than half of the wood harvested worldwide — is a major driver of deforestation and climate change…

Emissions from wood fuels account for about 1.9 to 2.3 percent of global emissions, the study says. The deployment of 100 million improved cookstoves could reduce this by 11 to 17 percent, said Bailis, who also studies the factors that influence the adoption of cleaner cookstoves in developing nations…

“We need to be able to understand where these different components of non-renewability are coming from in order to get a better sense of the positive impacts of putting stoves into peoples’ homes or promoting transitions to cooking with gas or electricity,” he said.

Economics rules. IMHO The first reason to choose wood-burning for fuel is cost. There is none. Yes, there is the cost of labor-time; but, the discussion covers a majority of rural families who are self-sustaining farmers…with little or no cash income.

Cost factors of electricity, natural gas, butagaz, etc. aren’t part of the equation. These folks generally can’t budget to buy fuel. Income-generation from local/regional small-scale manufacturing or more efficient, more productive methods of agriculture offering surplus to sell can remedy that core problem.

A really big poll about Progressive Proposals

After 1,000,000 votes were cast in the Big Ideas Project, the Progressive Change Institute ran a national poll to see whether these ideas are popular with voters.

The short answer? Yes, they are!


Click to enlarge [really big .pdf]

583 (38.9%) of those interviewed identified themselves as Democrats, 382 (25.5%) as Independents, and 507 (33.8%) as Republicans.

Voters were asked to rate proposals on a scale of zero to ten where zero means they strongly oppose the idea and ten means strong support for the idea and a desire to see it become law. Zero to four represents opposition for a proposal. Five is neutral. Six to ten is supportive.

I love that the reality of modern communications snuck in and 25% of interviews were conducted via cell phoned.

Military-Industrial welfare state: Pentagon says drone armada billion$ unjustified

Reaper

The Pentagon’s internal watchdog has questioned the air force’s need for 46 armed Reaper drones, and suggested the flying service is wasting $8.8 billion on superfluous aircraft.

As purchases of General Atomics’s MQ-9 Reaper ballooned from 60 aircraft in 2007 to the current 401, air force officials did not justify the need for an expanding drone fleet…

During that time, costs for purchasing one of the signature counter-terrorism weapons of Barack Obama’s presidency increased by 934%, from $1.1 billion to more than $11.4 billion, according to a declassified September report by the Pentagon inspector general. Purchasing costs are a fraction of what the drones cost to operate and maintain over their time in service: in 2012, the Pentagon estimated the total costs for them at $76.8 billion…

Responding to heavy demand for additional aerial intelligence from troops deployed in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere, the former defense secretary Leon Panetta in 2011 ordered the air force to buy sufficient drones to perform 65 combat air patrols, missions that require up to four aircraft to observe a target for nearly 24 hours.

But the air force’s air combat command “did not conduct and maintain consistent, complete and verifiable analyses for determining the necessary MQ-9 procurement quantity”, the inspector general found. Combing through insufficient or incorrect air force analyses, Pentagon investigators found that the officials “could not provide the underlying support for aircraft quantity determinations” and sidestepped a bureaucratic process for determining needed capabilities…

Pentagon inspectors found that the air force’s inability to justify its continuing Reaper purchases risks wasting $2.5 billion for 13 mission-ready drones; $2.1 billion for 11 training drones; $958 million for five test drones; $766 million for four air national guard drones; and $1.7 billion for nine attrition-reserve drones.

The per-cost waste of the questionable drone purchases works out to roughly $192 million for each of the 46 Reapers the inspector general was unable to justify buying.

We all know what Congress’ response will be to this critical finding by the Inspector General. They – Republicans and Democrats alike – will double the purchase.

Keeping the military-industrial complex fat and happy is one of the primary requirements of holding federal elected office.

Republican “patriots” block US steel for Keystone XL pipeline


Stacks of steel pipe for Keystone XL Pipeline

Senate Republicans blocked two attempts to amend legislation forcing approval of the Keystone XL pipeline that would have required the project be built with domestically produced steel and that the oil be used in the U.S

Republicans made circumventing President Barack Obama’s review of the Keystone project their first major legislative effort since taking control of both the House and Senate this month. The Republican-backed bill the Senate is considering would let TransCanada Corp. (TRP) build the $8 billion pipeline.

The Republican-led Senate voted to table the no-export amendment offered by Senator Edward Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat, in a 57-42 vote, effectively killing the measure.

Republicans also blocked consideration of an amendment to require the steel used to build the pipeline be produced in the U.S. Senator Al Franken, a Minnesota Democrat, said half of the materials would come from outside the U.S.

Meanwhile, the Republican half of the usual 2-party TweedleDee and TweedleDumb competition has already started – with GOP mouthpieces lying about their concern over mediocre wages for American workers, underemployment. All issues exacerbated by Republican policies for decades. Absurd.

Congressional supporters of the project don’t have enough votes to override a threatened Obama veto of the legislation to short-circuit the review.

Supporters say the project will create jobs and improve U.S. energy security. Critics say it’s a risk to the climate and a threat to farmland and water resources in the states the pipeline would cross.

The kindest provable estimate of permanent jobs running the pipeline comes from the State Department. 50 jobs.

The hygiene hypothesis and allergies revisited

We all love carrots

Food allergies and other allergic and atopic disorders are largely diseases of the modern age. They were rarely diagnosed before the 20th century and are far less prevalent in underdeveloped parts of the world where bacterial and parasitic contamination of water and food supplies is common and access to vaccination and health care is poor.

The epidemic rise in allergic disease and asthma in the United States and throughout the Western world has coincided with a decline in infectious disease, due to improved public health, vaccination programs and better hygiene.

Is there a link between the risk in allergic disease and asthma and decline in infectious disease? According to the hygiene hypothesis, the decrease in exposure to microorganisms in the US and other prosperous nations is directly responsible for the dramatic increase in disorders that involve exaggerated immune responses to foreign antigens.

The theory that exposure to certain infections and allergens early in life or in utero protects against allergies and asthma has been bolstered by numerous epidemiologic and animal studies and even some clinical trials since it was first proposed by epidemiologist David P. Strachan of St. George’s University London.

Strachan showed that having more siblings was associated with a lower incidence of hay fever, and he postulated that exposure to infections from contact with older siblings protected against allergic disease.

But 25 years later, the hygiene hypothesis remains just that, experts say.

While there is strong evidence supporting the idea that increasingly clean environments have led to the rise in allergic and atopic disorders, other evidence suggests the hygiene hypothesis may only be part of the story, said Jonathan I. Silverberg, who is an assistant professor of dermatology at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago…

Silverberg’s own recent research showed a lower prevalence of asthma, eczema, hay fever and food allergies in US-dwelling children born in other countries compared to children born in the United States. Foreign-born American children were significantly less likely to have developed one or more of these diseases than US-born children…

However, the protection associated with foreign birth was not evident in children who had lived in the United States for 10 years or more…

Silverberg and colleagues noted that the findings were consistent with the hygiene hypothesis, but they also suggested that protection may not be life-long and that subsequent exposure to allergens and other environmental factors may trigger atopic disease later in life…

He added that dietary changes, increased obesity, and environmental pollutants could all play a part in the increased risk associated with living in the US…

One consistent finding in the hygiene hypothesis research is that growing up on a farm is protective against allergic disease and asthma.

“This has been shown all over the world,” epidemiologist Neil Pearce said.

The more you hang out with animals the healthier you are likely to be.

I have no idea if that’s provable or not. Just seems to be another possibility. RTFA for all the details, considerations in the whole article.

Robert Shiller asks — What good are economists?

robert-shiller

Since the global financial crisis and recession of 2007-2009, criticism of the economics profession has intensified. The failure of all but a few professional economists to forecast the episode – the aftereffects of which still linger – has led many to question whether the economics profession contributes anything significant to society. If they were unable to foresee something so important to people’s wellbeing, what good are they?

Indeed, economists failed to forecast most of the major crises in the last century, including the severe 1920-21 slump, the 1980-82 back-to-back recessions, and the worst of them all, the Great Depression after the 1929 stock-market crash. In searching news archives for the year before the start of these recessions, I found virtually no warning from economists of a severe crisis ahead. Instead, newspapers emphasized the views of business executives or politicians, who tended to be very optimistic.

The closest thing to a real warning came before the 1980-82 downturn. In 1979, Federal Reserve Chair Paul A. Volcker told the Joint Economic Committee of the US Congress that the United States faced “unpleasant economic circumstances,” and had a “need for hard decisions, for restraint, and even for sacrifice.” The likelihood that the Fed would have to take drastic steps to curb galloping inflation, together with the effects of the 1979 oil crisis, made a serious recession quite likely.

Nonetheless, whenever a crisis loomed in the last century, the broad consensus among economists was that it did not. As far as I can find, almost no one in the profession – not even luminaries like John Maynard Keynes, Friedrich Hayek, or Irving Fisher – made public statements anticipating the Great Depression…

We do not blame physicians for failing to predict all of our illnesses. Our maladies are largely random, and even if our doctors cannot tell us which ones we will have in the next year, or eliminate all of our suffering when we have them, we are happy for the help that they can provide. Likewise, most economists devote their efforts to issues far removed from establishing a consensus outlook for the stock market or the unemployment rate. And we should be grateful that they do…

…The economics profession has produced an enormous amount of extremely valuable work, characterized by a serious effort to provide genuine evidence. Yes, most economists fail to predict financial crises – just as doctors fail to predict disease. But, like doctors, they have made life manifestly better for everyone.

I wonder if Robert Shiller will turn this wee essay into a work of research and exposition. He is damned good at both. But, then, that’s part of the how and why he was awarded the Nobel Prize. The whole article is available if you click the link up above.

Poisonally, I agree with him. He is, after all, a fine modern economist. He’s not supposed to be a civil engineer.

FBI sent MLK this letter to try to convince him to kill himself.

When the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech before huge crowds on the National Mall in August 1963, the FBI took notice.

“We must mark him now, if we have not done so before, as the most dangerous Negro of the future in this Nation from the standpoint of communism, the Negro and national security,” FBI domestic intelligence chief William Sullivan wrote in a memo two days later. A massive surveillance operation on King was quickly approved, and FBI director J. Edgar Hoover became increasingly fixated on proving that King had Communist ties, and discrediting him generally.

The surveillance failed to show that King was a Communist, but it did result in many tapes of extramarital sexual liaisons by King. So, the next year, Sullivan sent the following unsigned letter to King’s home. An unredacted version of it was only recently unearthed by Yale historian Beverly Gage, and published in the New York Times in November:


Click to enlarge

RTFA for all the racist and reactionary crap involved in this FBI project. Understand one thing – one thing the nicely-nicely journalists who published this in the NY Times and at Vox.com online will not say.

The miserable lowlife pricks who think like this have infected our government since before we won our independence. They have occasionally been shut down. They never left. Preserving creeps like this, saving them to get their taxpayer-funded pension, is part of what Good Old Boys Clubs are for. They’ve learned not to be as public about their racism, they don’t even use code words like the smarmy bigots in the Tea Party.

But, they’re still here. They still get their chances at character assassination every time someone decides security is a higher priority than democracy and transparency.