Monthly Archives: June 2005

False Alarm

Remember that rise to “orange alert” back in in the 2003 holiday season? The one that disrupted international flights? The one based on well-hyped “credible” threats and “credible sources” (Official: Credible threats pushed terror alert higher)? The one where Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge said the information suggested “an attack on the United States and the United States' interests — both within the United States and outside — is imminent”?

Well, it turns out that the whole thing was just a big mistake.

All that “chatter” that caused the Bush Keystone Kops to panic was actually just … a fantasy:

senior U.S. officials now tell NBC News that the key piece of information that triggered the holiday alert was a bizarre CIA analysis, which turned out to be all wrong.

CIA analysts mistakenly thought they'd discovered a mother lode of secret al-Qaida messages. They thought they had found secret messages on Al-Jazeera, the Arabic-language television news channel, hidden in the moving text at the bottom of the screen, known as the “crawl,” where news headlines are summarized.

But of course, in fact it was no such thing. And even Ridge himself now admits that it was pretty nutty. (His exact words are “Bizarre, unique, unorthodox, unprecedented.”)

You can't make this stuff up. Not sober, anyway.

PS. Why are we still on “yellow alert”? Not to mention that the whole concept is moronic.

Terror Alert Level

Meanwhile get your parody terror alert systems here

Posted in 9/11 & Aftermath | 1 Comment

Halliburton Accused of Stealing $1 Billion from USA

Halliburton's Iraq deals described as contract abuse:

A top U.S. Army procurement official said on Monday Halliburton's deals in Iraq were the worst example of contract abuse she had seen as Pentagon auditors flagged over $1 billion of potential overcharges by the Texas-based firm.

Bunny Greenhouse, the Army Corps of Engineers' top contracting official-turned whistle-blower, said in testimony at a hearing by Democrats on Capitol Hill that “every aspect” of Halliburton's oil contract in Iraq had been under the control of the Office of the Secretary of Defense.

“I can unequivocally state that the abuse related to contracts awarded to KBR (Kellogg Brown and Root) represents the most blatant and improper contract abuse I have witnessed during the course of my professional career,” said Greenhouse, a procurement veteran of more than 20 years.

$1 billion in (alleged) fraud? How could that possibly happen?

Pressed by lawmakers whether she thought the defense secretary's office was involved in the handout and running of contracts to KBR, Greenhouse replied: “That is true.”

“I observed, first hand, that essentially every aspect of the RIO (Restore Iraqi Oil) contract remained under the control of the Office of the Secretary of Defense. This troubled me and was wrong,” said Greenhouse.

Oh. Motive, opportunity, method…. For the record, all is denied and pooh-poohed by Kellog, Brown & Root (now part of the Halliburton group, and itself one of the great influence-peddling companies of all time).

If, however, this is true, it means Halliburton is in the same league as Saddam Hussein's family, also thought to have ripped off about $1 billion, although it would leave Halliburton still well behind the multiple billions siphoned off by the US's own CPA and its Iraqi henchmen:

A report by Democratic Rep. Henry Waxman of California, said in the week before the hand-over on June 28, 2004, the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority ordered the urgent delivery of more than $4 billion in Iraqi funds from the U.S. Federal Reserve in New York.

One single shipment amounted to $2.4 billion — the largest movement of cash in the bank's history, said Waxman.

Most of these funds came from frozen and seized assets and from the Development Fund for Iraq, which succeeded the U.N.'s oil-for-food program. After the U.S. invasion, the U.N. directed this money should be used by the CPA for the benefit of the Iraqi people.

Cash was loaded onto giant pallets for shipment by plane to Iraq, and paid out to contractors who carried it away in duffel bags.

The report, released at a House of Representatives committee hearing, said despite the huge amount of money, there was little U.S. scrutiny in how these assets were managed.

“The disbursement of these funds was characterized by significant waste, fraud and abuse,” said Waxman.

An audit by the U.S. Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction said U.S. auditors could not account for nearly $8.8 billion in Iraqi funds and the United States had not provided adequate controls for this money..

As a famous Senator once said, “A billion here, a billion there, pretty soon you are talking about real money.”

[Headline corrected]

Posted in Politics: The Party of Sleaze | 7 Comments

OPIC and the Mafia???

At best, really lousy managmeent of federal assets by the GOP. At best. The Globe and Mail: Agency funding raises 'red flag'

A government agency that helps U.S. businesses investing in developing countries has approved millions of dollars of loans to companies whose owners did business with Mafia figures and rebels in a bloody African conflict, records show.

I like CNN's headline: OPIC: Offers it should've refused?

Posted in Politics: US: GW Bush Scandals | Leave a comment

Grokster Loses (But Sony Rule Lives On)

The Supreme Court handed down the Grokster decision this morning. Full background at EFF's MGM v. Grokster page.

The Court remanded for trial on Grokster's infringing intent. The key passages of the unanimous opinion seem to be these. First, the court says that it holds

that one who distributes a device with the object of promoting its use to infringe copyright, as shown by clear expression or other affirmative steps taken to foster infringement, is liable for the resulting acts of infringement by third parties. We are, of course, mindful of the need to keep from trenching on regular commerce or discouraging the development of technologies with lawful and unlawful potential. Accordingly, just as Sony did not find intentional inducement despite the knowledge of the VCR manufacturer that its device could be used to infringe, 464 U. S., at 439, n. 19, mere knowledge of infringing potential or of actual infringing uses would not be enough here to subject a distributor to liability. Nor would ordinary acts incident to product distribution, such as offering customers technical support or product updates, support liability in themselves. The inducement rule, instead, premises liability on purposeful, culpable expression and conduct,

Yes, footnote 12 does say that,

Of course, in the absence of other evidence of intent, a court would be unable to find contributory infringement liability merely based on a failure to take affirmative steps to prevent infringement, if the device otherwise was capable of substantial noninfringing uses. Such a holding would tread too close to the Sony safe harbor.

But the text finds the evidence against Grokster developed so far to be quite strong. So while this isn't a disaster for copyright law, it's not good news for Grokster.

Note that the Ginsburg concurrence, for herself and two other Justices, would set a much tougher standard that would mean you get in trouble for making a popular product regardless of your own conduct:

Even if the absolute number of noninfringing files copied using the Grokster and StreamCast software is large, it does not follow that the products are therefore put to substantial noninfringing uses and are thus immune from liability. The number of noninfringing copies may be reflective of, and dwarfed by, the huge total volume of files shared.

The Breyer concurrence, also for two others, leans the other way, emphasizing the endurance of the Sony standard.

My bottom line: Grokster loses, but the grounds are narrow enough that — in my best guess — Bittorrent survives.

You can compare this to what the real experts will be saying at the SCOTUSBlog Grokster discussion page.

Posted in Law: Copyright and DMCA | 2 Comments

Back to Normal at the VA

I missed the news that Anthony Principi, the only member of the Bush cabinet I respected, had resigned as VA Secretary. It seems he went on to chair the base closure commission.

Meanwhile, it's back to the bad old days at the VA. Last week they revealed they are facing a $1 billion health funding shorfall, which you would think is something of crisis — two months after the new Secretary, Jim Nicholson, told Congress “I can assure you that VA does not need [additional funds] to continue to provide timely, quality service….” Now, the Washington Post reports that the VA Deputy Undersecretary told VA hospitals and clinics that their “highest priority” should be…wait for it…to make sure that Principi's picture is replaced with Nicholson's. (spotted via The Carpetbagger Report)

The Post's Al Kamen serves up the irony:

… we hear some officials disagreed that the photos should be their “highest priority.”

“And here we're trying to figure out where our next patient meal is coming from and what furniture to sell to buy drugs next year,” one VA official said.

Posted in Politics: US | 2 Comments

Fool Me Once…

Reading this item, JURIST - Paper Chase: UPDATE ~ US House members report improved conditions at Gitmo

After visiting the Guantanamo Bay detention center Saturday [JURIST report], House Republicans and Democrats reported that conditions at the facility are improving. The lawmakers traveled to the detention facility to witness interrogations and observe living conditions of the suspected terrorists. Representative Ellen Tauscher (D-CA) [official website] said that “[t]he Guantanamo we saw today is not the Guantanamo we heard about a few years ago”. The visits come amid mounting pressure from human rights groups and some lawmakers to pierce the veil of secrecy surrounding conditions at the camp [JURIST news archive], and end the use of torture techniques. A Senate visit is scheduled for Sunday. AP has more

… reminds me of this item from the Washington Post last April, Detainee Questioning Was Faked, Book Says; U.S. Military Denies Staging Interviews:

The U.S. military staged the interrogations of terrorism suspects for members of Congress and other officials visiting the military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to make it appear the government was obtaining valuable intelligence, a former Army translator who worked there claims in a new book scheduled for release Monday.

Former Army Sgt. Erik Saar said the military chose detainees for the mock interrogations who previously had been cooperative and instructed them to repeat what they had told interrogators in earlier sessions, according to an interview with the CBS television program “60 Minutes,” which is slated to air Sunday night.

Kinda makes it hard to know how seriously to take these Congressional visits, doesn't it.

Irrelevant news article: Rumsfeld Nixes Independent Panel on Gitmo.

Posted in Guantanamo | 3 Comments

Flag Desecration In Every Day Life

We got new credit cards in the mail. Unlike the old ones, which were very neutral, a sort of bluish with some lines on it — and noted a tie-in to a frequent flier program — the new ones instead sport a loud rendition of a portion of a rippling American flag. It is not a nice picture. It looks like a cheap political mailing (and the absence of the tie-in raises the specter that the bank is contemplating ending its role as generator of volume frequent flier miles).

I want to call to complain. My spouse, who is not a US citizen and thus more in fear of Big Brother, argues that it is not wise to call anyone to complain about an American flag.

Thus, today's consumer — financial services provider interaction

Recorded voice: Welcome to {mega card}. To utilize our automated sevices press or say one….please touchtone or say your sixteen digit account number NOW.

[Lots of beeps] Thank you. Press one for…

[Frantic repeated pressing of the “0” key]

Female voice: Welcome to {mega card}. May I have the name on the card please? Thank you. What is your middle initial? What is your code word? No, that's not it. Yes, that's it, thank you. How can I help you?

Me: We received our new credit cards today. They have a picture of the American flag on them. I don't think this is an appropriate use of the American flag. The card will get dirty, it will have stuff run over it, this will amount to flag desecration. It's not right.

Female voice (afer slight delay) : would you like to speak to a supervisor and see what he can do for you?

[minute wait, listening to hold muzak]

Female voice: I have an account executive ready to speak to you.

Male voice: Hello, this is John, what is the problem?

Me: We received our new credit cards today. They have a picture of the American flag on them. I don't think this is an appropriate use of the American flag. The card will get dirty, it will have stuff run over it, it's a form of flag desecration. Can I have one that wouldn't be so offensive?

John: Let me put you on hold.

[Delay of under a minute]

John: We'll address that for you.

Me: What does that mean?

John: We'll get you a new card without the flag picture on it.

Me: Thank you. [Sudden inspiration.] One other thing. How do I dispose of this card? Normally I'd cut it up, but I don't want to do that.

John: (after minuscule pause) You could put it in a safe or other secure location.

Me: If I had a safe. Right. Thank you.

John: Goodbye.

Unfortunately, I forgot to ask about the frequent-flier miles. Do I call back?

Posted in Shopping | 9 Comments