Friday, January 21, 2011

Inconvenient Offerings From A Democracy: Wikileaks, British Bastard Blair Two-Step, Republican Healthcare Political Theater, The “Koch-Ya-GOP” And An , American Political Prisoner.

Inconvenient Offerings From A Democracy: Wikileaks, British Bastard Blair Two-Step, Republican Healthcare Political Theater, The “Koch-Ya-GOP” And An , American Political Prisoner.


 { …“While those with intentions of hiding information are striving to silence WikiLeaks and consider it a threat to democracy, it is the responsibility of the voices in favor of it to fight for transparency in the practices of governments and businesses.

We cannot talk about democracy in societies where people do not know what their governments do with the power that these people decided to give them. And if we do not like the information in the hands of the public, then, what democracy are we talking about?”…}

The Lonely Battle Against Solitary Confinement

The punitive incarceration of alleged WikiLeaks source Bradley Manning is cruel, certainly, but far from unusual in the US

THE WIKILEAKS NEWS & VIEWS BLOG for Friday, Day 55 | The Nation -
Ellsberg: With Wikileaks, Google, Facebook Must Take A Stand

IDG News Service - The Silicon Valley companies that store our personal data have a growing responsibility to protect it from government snooping, according to Daniel Ellsberg, the man who leaked the Pentagon Papers.
Discussing the growing role of Internet companies in the public sphere, Ellsberg said companies such as Google, Facebook and Twitter need to take a stand and push back on excessive requests for personal data.
"You're on the spot," he told a roomful of Silicon Valley executives at a Churchill Club event in Santa Clara, California, Wednesday night. "You are facing a challenge at this moment of profound implications for our democracy."
Ellsberg was on a panel talking about Wikileaks and the relationship between the U.S. government -- eager to shut it down -- and corporations such as Amazon, eBay, Visa and Mastercard -- who all recently severed ties with Wikileaks in response to government pressure.
Ellsberg's take: If companies don't push back, the government will get too much power as more and more of our private lives -- logged in photo uploads, status updates or online check-ins -- is recorded online.
As the government fights to keep its own secrets, it wants to know as much as possible about our lives, said Ellsberg, who was himself targeted by government investigators after he began leaking classified military documents that described what the U.S. government knew as it escalated its war in Vietnam.
"Facebook, Google, Twitter: Put them all together. If they're all working together, their ability to manipulate us, to know [about us], this is absolutely antithetical to democracy," he said. "People in this audience have the ability to decide that they are ready to take a risk in their lives to fight to preserve democracy in this country and to preserve us from total transparency to our executive branch."
On Thursday, the Electronic Frontier Foundation published 13 electronic guidebooks, from companies such as Facebook and MySpace, used to explain to law enforcement how it should go about requesting sensitive information from those websites. The guidebooks "show that social-networking sites have struggled to develop consistent, straightforward policies to govern how and when they will provide private user information to law enforcement agencies," the EFF said.

The issue came up recently when Twitter fought a gag order that prohibited the company from telling users associated with Wikileaks that their Twitter messages had been subpoenaed by the U.S. Department of Justice. The gag orders are typically used to keep criminals from knowing that they are under investigation, but in the case of Wikileaks, Twitter's lawyers fought the order and won -- allowing the existence of the subpoenas to be made public.

Music and movie pirates may not be the only ones trolling peer-to-peer networks for booty. The secret-spilling site WikiLeaks may also have used file sharing networks to obtain some of the documents it has published, according to a computer-security firm.
Tiversa asserts that on Feb. 7, 2009 it monitored four computers based in Sweden, where WikiLeaks’ primary servers were based, as they conducted 413 searches on peer-to-peer networks seeking Microsoft Excel files and other data-heavy documents, some of which were subsequently published online by WikiLeaks.
If the allegations are true, it would not be the first time that WikiLeaks published documents that were obtained through hacking or online surveillance rather than from a whistleblower or other insiders.
The site published data in 2008 that a hacker obtained from the private e-mail account of then vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin. And, according to a New Yorker story published last year, the site also possesses a cache of more than a million documents that were grabbed by a WikiLeaks activist in 2006 after they traveled through the Tor anonymizing network. At least one of these documents was published on the WikiLeaks site, according to the magazine.

Those siphoned documents, supposedly stolen by Chinese hackers or spies who were using the Tor network to transmit data taken from victim computers, were the basis for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange’s assertion in 2006 that his organization had already “received over one million documents from 13 countries” before his site was launched that year, according to The New Yorker. WikiLeaks disputedThe New Yorker’s article after it was published, but the magazine, known for rigorous fact-checking, has never issued a correction to its story.
Regarding Tiversa’s claims that WikiLeaks obtained documents from file sharing networks, the company says that one of the files was a PDF siphoned from a computer in Hawaii, which revealed sensitive security information about the Pentagon’s Pacific Missile Range Facility. Tiversa says the document was renamed before it was published on WikiLeaks two months later.
Although the original WikiLeaks site is not currently online, a mirror of the site indicates that the document “was first publicly revealed by WikiLeaks working with our source.”
Mark Stephens, the attorney defending WikiLeaks’ Assange in an extradition case involving sex-crime allegations, did not immediately respond to an inquiry from Threat Level. But he told Bloomberg that Tiversa’s assertion was “completely false in every regard.”
Tiversa CEO Robert Boback told Bloomberg that his company discovered an ongoing pattern of documents being siphoned from file sharing networks to the WikiLeaks site. In some cases the documents had been on the file sharing network two months before they were published. In other cases they were exposed on the networks for many months before finding their way to the WikiLeaks site.
Boback estimated that “as much as half” of the documents posted by WikiLeaks might have come from file sharing networks instead of from whistleblowers. “There are not that many whistleblowers in the world to get you millions of documents,” Boback told Bloomberg. “However, if you are getting them yourselves, that information is out there and available.”
WikiLeaks, however, had released about 20,000 documents prior to the large-scale U.S. government leaks that began last year — not millions. And the U.S. leaks — including logs containing about 500,000 U.S. military files on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and 250,000 U.S. State Department cables that WikiLeaks provided to media partners — originated with the government’s Secret-level SIPRnet network, not a peer-to-peer service. The peer-to-peer scenario would therefore account for a minority of WikiLeaks releases, and likely include none of its high-profile publications.
Boback did not indicate how he determined that WikiLeaks was responsible for grabbing the documents, as opposed to simply publishing documents that an anonymous source grabbed from the file sharing networks and then passed to WikiLeaks without indicating their origin. He did not respond to an inquiry from Threat Level.
U.S. prosecutors are currently conducting an investigation into criminal charges against Assange for possibly conspiring with Pfc. Bradley Manning, who is accused of siphoning thousands of classified documents from Army networks that were then published by WikiLeaks. If prosecutors could show that Assange or other WikiLeaks staffers also trolled file sharing networks to obtain documents, they could attempt to bring separate criminal charges against the group under the federal anti-hacking statute.
Peer-to-peer networks require users to install client software on their system that lets the users share music files and other documents with fellow users on the network. Users, however, can unintentionally expose their private files to others on the network if they configure the software insecurely or inadvertently place sensitive files in their shared folder. Hackers have also been known to surreptitiously load peer-to-peer software on a victim’s computer in order to move sensitive files to the shared folder for others to grab.
For security reasons, many companies and government agencies configure computers so employees can’t install peer-to-peer software on them. But sensitive files can still find their way to a peer-to-peer network if employees transfer them from a work computer to a personal computer that has file sharing software installed.
Tiversa made headlines in 2009 after it found a file containing blueprints and avionics for the presidential helicopter Marine One being traded on the Gnutella file sharing network. The documents landed on the network from a defense contractor’s computer that had Gnutella software installed on it, and were then downloaded from Gnutella to a computer in Iran.
In 2007, a Tiversa advisor testified to the House Oversight Committee about inadvertent leaks over peer-to-peer networks and claimed the company found more than 200 classified documents in just a few hours of searching the networks. These allegedly included a document from a contractor working in Iraq that detailed the radio frequency the military was using to defeat improvised explosive devices.
Another search uncovered sensitive but not classified information, such as a detailed diagram of the Pentagon’s secret backbone network with server and IP addresses, “password transcripts for Pentagon’s secret network servers,” contact information for Department of Defense employees, and certificates that allow someone to gain access to a contractor’s network.
According to testimony, the Defense Department traced the latter leak to someone with a top-secret security clearance who worked for a Pentagon contractor. The worker had P2P software on her home computer, on which she had apparently also loaded the sensitive work files. 

A REPORTER AT LARGE : No Secrets : Julian Assange’s Mission For Total Transparency.

by Raffi Khatchadourian

(updated below) 
Whenever the U.S. Government wants to demonize a person or group in order to justify attacks on them, it follows the same playbook:  it manufactures falsehoods about them, baselessly warns that they pose Grave Dangers and are severely harming our National Security, peppers all that with personality smears to render the targeted individuals repellent on a personal level, and feeds it all to the establishment American media, which then dutifully amplifies and mindlessly disseminates it all.  That, of course, was the precise scheme that so easily led the U.S. into attacking Iraq; it's what continues to ensure support for the whole litany of War on Terror abuses and the bonanza of power and profit which accompanies them; and it's long been obvious that this is the primary means for generating contempt for WikiLeaks to enable its prosecution and ultimate destruction (an outcome the Pentagon has been plotting since at least 2008).

When WikiLeaks in mid-2010 published documents detailing the brutality and corruption at the heart of the war in Afghanistan, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Michael Mullen, held a Press Conference and said of WikiLeaks (and then re-affirmed it on his Twitter account) that they "might already have on their hands the blood of some young soldier or that of an Afghan family."  This denunciation predictably caused the phrase "blood on their hands" to be attached to WikiLeaks and its founder, Julian Assange, in thousands of media accounts around the world.  But two weeks later, the Pentagon's spokesman, when pressed, was forced to admit that there was no evidence whatsoever for that accusation:  "we have yet to see any harm come to anyone in Afghanistan that we can directly tie to exposure in the WikiLeaks documents," he admitted.  Several months later, after more flamboyant government condemnations of WikiLeaks' release of thousands of Iraq War documents, McClatchy's Nancy Youssef -- in an article headlined:  "Officials may be overstating the danger from WikiLeaks" -- reported that "U.S. officials concede that they have no evidence to date" that the disclosures resulted in the deaths of anyone, and she detailed the great care WikiLeaks took in that Iraq War release to protect innocent people.

The disclosure of American diplomatic cables triggered still more melodramatic claims from government officials (ones faithfully recited by its servants and followers across the spectrum in Washington), accusing WikiLeaks of everything from "attacking" the U.S. (Hillary Clinton) and "plac[ing] at risk the lives of countless innocent individuals" and "ongoing military operations" (Harold Koh) to being comparable to Terrorists (Joe Biden).  But even Robert Gates was unwilling to lend his name to such absurdities, and when asked, mocked these accusations as "significantly overwrought" and said the WikiLeaks disclosures would be "embarrassing" and "awkward" but would have only "modest consequences."  

Since then, it has become clear how scrupulously careful WikiLeaks has been in releasing these cables in order to avoid unnecessary harm to innocent people, as the Associated Press reported how closely WikiLeaks was collaborating with its newspaper partners in deciding which cables to release and what redactions were necessary.  Indeed, one of the very few documents which anyone has been able to claim has produced any harm -- one revealing that the leader of Zimbabwe's opposition privately urged U.S. officials to continue imposing sanctions on his country -- wasactually released by The Guardiannot by WikiLeaks.

To say that the Obama administration's campaign against WikiLeaks has been based on wildly exaggerated and even false claims is to understate the case.  But now, there is evidence that Obama officials have been knowingly lying in public about these matters.  The long-time Newsweek reporter Mark Hosenball -- now at Reuters -- reports that what Obama officials are saying in private about WikiLeaks directly contradicts their public claims:

Internal U.S. government reviews have determined that a mass leak of diplomatic cables caused only limited damage to U.S. interests abroad, despite the Obama administration's public statements to the contrary.

A congressional official briefed on the reviews said the administration felt compelled to say publicly that the revelations had seriously damaged American interests in order to bolster legal efforts to shut down the WikiLeaks website and bring charges against the leakers. . .

"We were told (the impact of WikiLeaks revelations) was embarrassing but not damaging," said the official, who attended a briefing given in late 2010 by State Department officials. . .

But current and former intelligence officials note that while WikiLeaks has released a handful of inconsequential CIA analytical reports, the website has made public few if any real intelligence secrets, including reports from undercover agents or ultra-sensitive technical intelligence reports, such as spy satellite pictures or communications intercepts. . . .

National security officials familiar with the damage assessments being conducted by defense and intelligence agencies told Reuters the reviews so far have shown "pockets" of short-term damage, some of it potentially harmful. Long-term damage to U.S. intelligence and defense operations, however, is unlikely to be serious, they said. . . .

Shortly before WikiLeaks began its gradual release of State Department cables last year, department officials sent emails to contacts on Capitol Hill predicting dire consequences, said one of the two congressional aides briefed on the internal government reviews.

However, shortly after stories about the cables first began to appear in the media, State Department officials were already privately playing down the damage, the two congressional officials said.

In response to Hosenball's story, Obama officials naturally tried to salvage the integrity of their statements, insisting that "there has been substantial damage" and that there were unspecified "specific cases where damage caused by WikiLeaks' revelations have been assessed as serious to grave."  But the only specific cases anyone could identify were ones where the U.S. was caught by these documents lying to its own citizens or, at best, concealing vital truths -- such as the far greater military role the U.S. is playing in Yemen and Pakistan than Obama officials have publicly acknowledged.  

And this, of course, has been the point all along:  the WikiLeaks disclosures are significant precisely because they expose government deceit, wrongdoing and brutality, but the damage to innocent people has been deliberately and wildly exaggerated -- fabricated -- by the very people whose misconduct has been revealed.  There is harm from the WikiLeaks documents, but it's to wrongdoers in power, which is why they are so desperate to malign and then destroy the group.

Just as was true in 2003 -- when the joint, falsehood-based government/media demonization campaign led 69% of Americans to believe that Saddam Hussein participated in the planning of the 9/11 attacks (the Bush era's most revealing fact about American politics) -- this orgy of anti-WikiLeaks propaganda has succeeded, with polls reliably showing the American public largely against the group and even favoring its prosecution (citizens in countries not subjected to this propaganda barrage view the group far more favorably).  

As has been demonstrated over and over, when the U.S. Government and its media collaborate to propagandize, its efficacy is not in doubt.  And as Marcy Wheeler notes, these lies were told not only to distort public opinion and justify prosecuting WikiLeaks for doing nothing more than engaging in journalism, but also to coerce private corporations (MasterCard, Amazon, Visa, Paypal) to cut all services to the group.

The case against WikiLeaks is absolutely this decade's version of the Saddam/WMD campaign.  It's complete with frivolous invocations of Terrorism, grave public warnings about National Security negated by concealed information, endlessly repeated falsehoods, a competition among political and media elites to advocate the harshest measures possible, a cowardly Congress that (with a few nobleexceptions) acquiesces to it all on a bipartisan basis and is eager to enable it, and a media that not only fails to subject these fictions to critical scrutiny, but does the opposite:  it takes the lead in propagating them. 

One might express bewilderment that most American journalists never learn their lesson about placing their blind faith in government claims, but that assumes -- falsely -- that their objective is to report truthfully.

UPDATE:  Kevin DrumDan Drezner and Daniel Larison all cite this report as evidence that the WikiLeaks disclosures have been insignificant.  They seem to equate a finding of "no harm to national security" with "nothing of significance," but not only are those two concepts not the same, they're hardly related.  Many revelations are very significant even though they do not harm national security.

When The New York Times revealed that the Bush administration was eavesdropping on Americans' communications without the warrants required by law, that revelation was extremely important even though it entailed no national security harm.  The same is true of The Washington Post's exposure of the CIA "black site" program, or David Barstow's exposé on the Pentagon's propaganda program, and countless other investigative reports.  The WikiLeaks disclosures -- like most good investigative journalism -- harm those in power who do bad things (by exposing their previously secret conduct), but do not harm the national security of the United States.  I'd be interested in hearing anyone who wants to argue that the WikiLeaks disclosures contain "nothing new" dismiss the actual revelations (here and here).

As for the comparison of this deceit to Saddam/WMD:  obviously, the magnitude of the consequences are not similar, but the misleading tactics themselves -- for the reasons I enumerated -- are.  Moreover, prosecution of WikiLeaks would hardly be inconsequential; it would likely be the first time in history that a non-government employee is convicted of "espionage" for publishing government secrets and, as such, would constitute one of the greatest threats to press freedom in the United States in a long time.

Listen to the Story

…It's been several years since WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange left his native home in Australia. But he remains at the center of an intense national debate about his release of classified U.S. government documents. Assange, however, apparently enjoys more support in his home country than in the U.S.
"Hands off WikiLeaks," protesters shouted at a rally last month in Brisbane, the capital of Assange's home state of Queensland. Over the past couple of months, WikiLeaks supporters have protested in cities across Australia.
Local media have editorialized that Prime Minister Julia Gillard misjudged the degree of public support for Assange last month when she accused him of breaking U.S. and possibly Australian laws…

Idaho Set to Nullify Obama's Health Care Law
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House Republicans Plan Their Own Health Bills
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By ROBERT PEAR WASHINGTON — Less than 24 hours after voting to repeal the new health carelaw, House Republicans said Thursday that they would pass ..See all stories on this topic »

Republicans Plot Course for ObamaCare Replacement
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Reid has promised he will not let GOP's health care repeal effort come up for debate on Senate floor, while McConnell says the Senate will vote on a bill to ...See all stories on this topic »-Fox News

It's Winter for Poland and ObamaCare
Wall Street Journal
By a vote of 245-189, the House yesterday approved the Repealing the Job-Killing Health Care Law Act. A day earlier, as the Associated Press reports, ...See all stories on this topic »

Budget proposal: No furloughs, but cuts to health care, locals
Baltimore Sun
... that would otherwise freeze education funding while calling for deep cuts to healthcare, according to officials who have been briefed on the plan. ...See all stories on this topic »

Noem, Republicans say replacement health care proposals on the way
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But Noem said Republicans want to keep some provisions in the Democratic-backed health carereform law. Among the clauses Noem likes are the Indian Health ...See all stories on this topic »

Mysterious "Spy" Computer In Parliament Works Differently Than Being Reported, Tech Expert Says 

"An unauthorised computer, apparently running encrypted software, was found hidden inside an unoccupied office in the Icelandic Parliament, Althingi, connected to the internal network. According to the Reykjavik Grapevine article, serial numbers had been removed and no fingerprints were found. The office had been used by substitute MPs from the Independence Party and The Movement, the Parliamentary group of Birgitta Jonsdottir, whose Twiiter account was recently subpoenaed by US authorities. The Icelandic daily Morgunbladid, under the editorship of Mr David Oddsson, former Prime Minister and Central Bank chief, has suggested that this might be an operation run by Wikileaks. The reporter for the Reykjavik Grapevine, Mr Paul Nikolov is a former substitute MP, having taken seat in Parliament in 2007 and 2008."

An unmarked computer found in a spare room of parliament, and connected directly to parliament's internet system, was most certainly planted there, a computer expert told the Grapevine. However, he says, the media has a few misconceptions about the matter.

The computer in question was found in a spare room shared by the Independence Party and The Movement last February. It was apparently connected directly to parliament's internet system. 

The computer was disconnected and taken to the police. Any identifying serial numbers had been erased from the machine, nor were any fingerprints found, and its origins have not yet been traced. The police believed that the matter was the work of professionals.

Morgunblaðið and other media outlets have reported that the computer was set up in such a way that disconnecting it would erase any files on the hard drive. But a computer expert The Grapevine spoke to said that this is highly unlikely.

Stephen Christian, a computer expert at Oxymap ehf, told the Grapevine that while it is possible police bungled the operation and did not clone the hard drive before disconnecting it, the idea of a "self-destruct" feature was out of the question. "Information written to disk can be recovered by experts even after being overwritten several times unless you let the computer run for a few hours constantly 'covering up' its information. Computer hackers know this. A professional would have written any acquired data to a public-key-encrypted disk that would only have been accessible to one who possessed the private key - like with Wikileaks 'insurance' file. Having a hacker program 'self-destruct' is something someone who has watched too many spy movies would claim. Not even an incompetent hacker would program something that way. This is much more likely a plant followed up by fairy-tale."

Members of parliament have expressed outrage that the matter was not brought to light sooner, even though the parliamentary offices knew about it.

Morgunblaðið implicated, through speculation, that Wikileaks may have been the culprit. To this, Wikileaks spokesman Kristinn Hrafnsson denied any involvement, telling Eyjan, "It isn't surprising that Morgunblaðið reproached Wikileaks in this matter, as they haven't really been known for great journalism lately."

Even though a former Republican leader says the party should accept the 10-month-old law and work to make it better, the misinformation campaign continues. -January 21, 2011

Get over your bad selves.

That's basically what former Senate Republican leader
 Bill Frist told his GOP compadres this week as they set about trying to dismantle the national healthcare reform law.

"It is not the bill that I would have drafted," he said during an appearance at the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington. "But it is the law of the land and it is the platform, the fundamental platform, upon which all future efforts to make that system better, for that patient, for that family, will be based."

Frist's high-minded approach to healthcare reform stood in stark contrast to Republican members of the
 House of Representatives, who voted unanimously Wednesday to repeal the reform law and replace it with … what?

That's still unclear, even though it's been 10 months since President Obama signed the legislation into law, and even though Republican candidates campaigned for much of last year on ending "Obamacare."

The repeal bill will now likely perish in the Democratic-controlled Senate, and in any case would almost certainly face a presidential veto if it miraculously made it that far. But House Republicans say they'll still obstruct the healthcare law by blocking funds to implement its provisions.

It's hard not to think of a bunch of spoiled children throwing a tantrum because they didn't get their way.

The healthcare reform law, while imperfect, is a done deal. The prudent thing to do at this point is to build on it rather than waste time with fruitless — and needlessly divisive — political grandstanding.

And the Republicans have outdone themselves for misinforming the American people about what the reform law will and will not do.

Aside from scurrilous talk of "death panels" and "socialized medicine," House Republicans have reimagined healthcare reform as a jobs bill, rather than as a long-overdue revamping of how medical treatment is accessed and delivered in a country with about 50 million people lacking insurance coverage.

They titled their legislation the "Repealing the Job-Killing Health Care Law Act." They claimed that 650,000 jobs will be lost if the law is allowed to stand.

And don't take their word for it, House Republicans insisted. That alarming job-loss figure is attributable to the nonpartisan
 Congressional Budget Office.

Except it isn't.

What the budget office actually estimated in a report last year was that the reform law "will reduce the amount of labor used in the economy by a small amount — roughly half a percent — primarily by reducing the amount of labor that workers choose to supply."

In other words, there will be a small reduction in the amount of work that gets done because some people will voluntarily choose to work less. For example, a worker might retire early because healthcare will be more readily available.

That's not an estimate of job loss or production. It's an estimate of labor performed by workers.

But House Republicans donned their fuzzy-math hats and seized upon that half-percent number as representing a portion of the roughly 131 million jobs in the U.S. economy. Half a percent of 131 million is 650,000. Therefore, 650,000 jobs will be lost.

That's not what the budget office said or even implied. If not a deliberate invention by healthcare reform foes, it was a gross misreading of what the budget office had actually concluded.

And even though reform critics warn of a pricey new entitlement program, the budget office estimated that the cost of the law would actually be more than offset by revenue from taxes and projected cuts in Medicare spending.

Moreover, the budget office took a close look at the Republicans' repeal bill and determined that it would increase the federal budget deficit by about $230 billion over the next decade.

House Republicans chose to ignore that last finding. And in any case, they specifically excluded the repeal bill from their own self-imposed rule that no legislation increase the deficit.

As with all major bills, neither side was entirely satisfied with the healthcare reform law. Conservatives had to swallow insurance mandates intended to spread the risk of expanded coverage as widely as possible. Progressives had to forgo a public option that might have made private insurers more accountable.

But here are some of the important things the law does do:

•It makes coverage available to more than 30 million of the 50 million people who now lack insurance. That should have a profound effect on the healthcare system and on taxpayers who would otherwise be called upon to fund visits by the uninsured to emergency rooms.

•It expands coverage for young people by allowing dependent children up to age 26 to stay on their parents' health plan. With the unemployment rate so high, this is a boon to families nationwide.

•It offers a vast array of free or low-cost tests to diagnose problems before they become serious. Preventive tests include screening for
 high blood pressure, diabetes and cancer, as well as counseling for smoking cessation and weight loss.

•As of 2014, no insurer will be allowed to deny coverage to anyone with a preexisting medical condition. The Department of Health and Human Services estimated this week that as many as 129 million Americans under age 65 have such a condition.

Conservatives might have ideological differences with some aspects of the reform law. Those differences should be respected.

But House Republicans have no business attempting to undermine a law just because they disagree with parts of it. It's as if Southern lawmakers had tried to block or repeal the Civil Rights Act after it became law in 1964.

They didn't because they had the maturity to accept the new status quo and move on. Today's Republicans should take a lesson from them.

As Frist said, healthcare reform is the law of the land. Deal with it. Work with it.

Grow up already.

David Lazarus' column runs Tuesdays and Fridays. He also can be seen daily on
 KTLA-TV Channel 5. Send your tips or feedback to

Branding Transparency

By ROB WALKER - Published: January 14, 2011

What image comes to mind when you think of Wiki­Leaks? Some see it as heroic, others as destructive. Either way, the release of formerly classified documents and diplomatic cables over the last six months have helped transform the site and its founder, Julian Assange, into known entities. But while thinking of Apple orFacebook or even the 2008 Obama campaign calls up certain aesthetic associations or shorthand imagery,  WikiLeaks mostly brings to mind the image of Assange’s wan face and silver hair. Perhaps, as Daniel van der Velden of the design studio Metahaven argues, WikiLeaks ought to re-evaluate its “visual identity.” “Does it matter what it looks like?” he asked in a talk sponsored by the Graphic Design Museum in the Netherlands. “Maybe it does.”

To pursue this reasoning, I recently spoke with van der Velden and his Metahaven partner and co-founder, Vinca Kruk. They argue that WikiLeaks’s evolving public role means that it now operates in a different “image economy.” That phrase, van der Velden explained, refers to “the set of images and faces, visual impressions, that surround the organization and the values that these stand for.” A Google image search for WikiLeaks, for instance, now calls up not just its logo and pictures of Assange but also images of war, famous politicians, prominent supporters and opponents. “WikiLeaks is becoming this sort of geopolitical player,” he continued, and the visual style it puts forth should reflect as much.
If it sounds as if he’s talking about positioning a brand before a new or an expanding audience, he is. From its founding in 2006, WikiLeaks has been engaged not simply in the distribution of information but also in competition within a marketplace of ideas, reputation, perception. Part of what matters in this competition is WikiLeaks’s image: reckless, arrogant outlaws? Or bold, righteous revolutionaries?
Van der Velden, who tends toward the latter view, explained that Metahaven’s research approach was to break down WikiLeaks into elements that its visual identity should reflect: its unusual transnational structure; its links to technology; the role of outsiders in contemporary information culture; the tension between its pro-transparency mission and essentially opaque operational style. In conversation, van der Velden and Kruk seem at pains to clarify that they’re not criticizing WikiLeaks’s current logo (a surrealist-tinged hourglass shape, showing a darkened globe dripping into a clearer one) and to underscore that a mere logo is not all they’re talking about. A useful comparison might be the so-called orange revolution in Ukraine, an antigovernment movement whose success had as much to do with skillful deployment of imagery (some of it modeled on corporate branding) as it did with any political ideas, or even the embrace of the color green by Twitter users and others supporting pro-democracy activists in Iran. “That’s what the WikiLeaks brand should have — clear formats for people to show their opinion,” van der Velden says.
The designers have put forth a range of possible visuals. These include a drip shape, representing a leaked bit of information. They’ve explored WikiLeaks as a Petri dish, where reactions are created. They’ve created a visual map of its information-distribution “architecture” and also considered the ways that the current globe logo might be extended. More tangibly, the designers have begun releasing (or “leaking”) a series of 193 pro-WikiLeaks posters on its site, in a plain and stark style, one for every country, pushing the idea that you can support WikiLeaks from anywhere in the world.
As the publication Design Observer noted, this thinking-out-loud approach can be frustrating. But it makes a certain amount of sense that this particular visual identity should be explored in an unusually transparent way. Perhaps it will result in constructive, far-flung feedback. Besides, Metahaven’s relationship to WikiLeaks is, to put it mildly, unusual. The designers approached WikiLeaks in June with an offer to update its graphic identity, via e-mail. “Absolutely. Go for it!” came the reply, according to Metahaven. “We have a shortage of such things. . . . J. A.” As WikiLeaks controversies have ratcheted up since then, simply keeping the site operational has become a serious challenge, as have further e-mail discussions. So as van der Velden points out, WikiLeaks isn’t really a “client,” but rather something like the subject of a public, and wholly voluntary, research project.
Given this unusual situation, van der Velden may or may not be representing the views of WikiLeaks itself when he suggests that WikiLeaks will need “diplomatic attire” at some point. “Something that is presentable in a negotiation, rather than only in the context of a confrontation,” he says. But it certainly seems to be the case that, perhaps for legal reasons, WikiLeaks today would prefer to be perceived as more of a legitimate journalistic entity than as an elusive renegade. Maybe WikiLeaks is all about revealing the unpleasant realities behind the official image its various targets put forth. But maybe its ability to keep doing so depends, in part, on sprucing up its own image.
And Now The British Bastard Is Playing The Iran Demonization Card!
Chilcot inquiry: murmurs of 'too late' from public seats after former prime minister expresses sorrow over loss of allied and civilian lives

Questioned for a second time at the Chilcot inquiry into the Iraq war, Tony Blair says ministers discussed regime change in Iraq as early as March 2002 Link to this video . Tony Blair insisted today that Britain had to give up the "wretched policy of apology" for the allies' action in Iraq.

But he offered the Chilcot inquiry his regrets for the loss of life in Iraq. At his appearance before the inquiry last year he was heavily criticised for not answering a question about whether he regretted the invasion.

At the end of his evidence this afternoon he said it had never been his meaning. "Of course I regret deeply and profoundly the loss of life," he said. As he extended his regrets to British and allied troops and Iraqis, there were murmurs of "too late" from the public seating behind him.

In his second appearance before the Chilcot inquiry the former prime minister repeated the warning he gave in evidence a year ago that Iran was a "looming, coming challenge" to the peace and stability of the whole region and must be tackled.

He accused the Tehran regime of fomenting terrorism and destabilising the Middle East, deliberately impeding chances of peace.

"The Iranians are doing this because they fundamentally disagree with our way of life," he said. "At some point we have got to get our head out of the sand and understand Iraq is one part of a far bigger picture right across the region. People are going to have to face that struggle."

Blair told the inquiry today that he regarded the advice of his government's attorney general that the invasion of Iraq would be illegal as only "provisional" during the run-up to the war in early 2003.

In a written statement to the inquiry and in oral evidence, he said he was entitled to ignore the advice of Lord Goldsmith and was not obliged to inform the US president, George Bush, of internal discussions taking place among legal officials in London.

But he admitted it would have been better if Goldsmith had been involved in discussions with the Bush administration's legal advisers at an earlier stage.

The former prime minister "held to the position" that another UN security council resolution explicitly supporting military action before an invasion took place was unnecessary, despite being told the opposite by Goldsmith.

Blair said he believed the attorney general would come round to his interpretation of the legal position once he knew the full history of the negotiations behind UN security council resolution 1441, which declared Iraq in "material breach" of its obligations to disarm.

In a statement to the inquiry, he said: "I had not yet got to the stage of a formal request for advice, and neither had he got to the point of formally giving it.

"So I was continuing to hold to the position that another resolution was not necessary."

Blair said he was aware of Goldsmith's concerns about the legality of attacking Iraq, but added: "I believed that he would, once he was abreast of the British, but most of all the US negotiating history, conclude that 1441 meant what it said – Saddam had a final opportunity to comply, failure to do so was a material breach, and that revived the earlier resolutions authorizing force."

Blair told the inquiry team that Goldsmith was a lawyer "through and through" and his advice was taken seriously.

But he said his focus in the run-up to the invasion was in dealing with political pressures and keeping the maximum pressure on Saddam Hussein, adding: "I was having to carry on while an internal legal debate was continuing."

Asked if the legal doubts of the attorney general constrained him from making a commitment to the US, Blair said "No".

He told the inquiry: "I was going to take the view, and I did right throughout that period, that there might come a point when I had to say to the president of the United States and to other allies 'I cannot be with you'.

"I might have said that on legal grounds if Peter's [Goldsmith's] advice had not - having seen what the Americans had told him about the negotiations - come down on the other side.

"I might have had to do that politically - I was in a very, very difficult position politically."

He continued: "I was going to continue giving absolute and firm commitment [to the US] until the point at which definitively I couldn't."

Airing legal doubts to the US at that time would have damaged the coalition and encouraged Saddam, Blair suggested.

The former PM told the inquiry: "I believe if I started to articulate this, in a sense saying 'I cannot be sure', the effect of that on the Americans, the coalition and most importantly on Saddam would have been dramatic."

He added: "I was not going to be in a position where I was going to start putting that problem before the president of the United States before I was in a position where definitely I knew I had to."

In his second appearance before the Chilcot inquiry in London, Blair insisted he did not bypass his cabinet colleagues in deciding that Britain should help the US in the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

He repeated the evidence he gave to the inquiry when he appeared before it in open session exactly a year ago, when he said the international situation changed fundamentally after the al-Qaida attacks on the US on 11 September 2001.

He told the inquiry he had offered Bush Britain's support in tackling the terrorist threat. He supported the containment of the Iraq regime and then the presentation of an ultimatum to Saddam.

Blair said cabinet ministers had been kept fully informed and had taken part in full discussions about British plans.

"The cabinet discussions were immensely detailed," he said. "The notion that people were not discussing it [is wrong]. People were talking about this the whole time. This was a perpetual conversation going on in depth. All of this was being discussed pretty broadly and pretty deeply."

The content of briefing papers was "very, very adequately discussed", he said, adding: "I cannot believe a single cabinet minister did not know what the position was. It was being articulated by me weekly, occasionally daily

--Saracen International is a private security company based in South Africa. It appears to be run by Lafras Luitingh, a former officer in South Africa’s Civil Cooperation Bureau, an apartheid-era internal security force notorious for killings of opponents of the government.

21 Jan 2011 Erik Prince, the founder of the international security giant [terrorist group] Blackwater Worldwide, is secretly backing an effort by a controversial South African mercenary firm to insert itself into Somalia’s bloody civil war by protecting government leaders, training Somali militias, and battling pirates and Islamic militants there, according to Western and African officials. The disclosure comes as Mr. Prince sells his interest in the company he built into a behemoth with billions of dollars in U.S. government contracts in Iraq and Afghanistan, work that mired him in controversy and lawsuits amid reports of reckless behavior by his operatives, including the deaths of civilians in Iraq…

Could The Supreme Court's Citizens United Decision Soon Be Overturned?
Thomas didn't recuse himself from the
 Bush v. Gore decision in 2000 that handed ... And Scalia went on a hunting trip with former Vice President Dick Cheney ...

Citizens United, One Year Later: Hundreds of Millions in Corporate Money Already Pouring into Elections
A year ago this week, the Supreme Court issued a ruling so momentous that many are still grappling to take stock of its impact on our political system. Read More

Preibus' Republican National Committee: A Wholly Owned Subsidiary of David Koch's Americans for Prosperity?
The new RNC chair Reince Priebus, implicated in Americans for Prosperity's voter-caging scandal, carried a lot of water for the Koch-led group in Wisconsin. Now he's rewarded. Read More

How Can the Richest 1 Percent Be Winning This Brutal Class War Against 99% of Us?
How has a tiny fraction of the population arranged for their narrowest economic interests to dominate those of the vast majority? Read More

Another Inconvenient Side of Democracy: WikiLeaks

The defense of market economies and liberal democracies has been a fundamental part of the discourse of Western societies in recent decades. Not surprisingly, right at the the end of the Cold War Francis Fukuyama declared that the triumph of the West sealed "the end of history", with which the great conflicts of the past would begin to disappear while political and economic freedoms would be extended throughout the world. The benefits of democracy are told in countless ways, and the freedoms people enjoy in the West are often contrasted with the great limitations people face in other civilizations; it immediately comes to mind the image of a young Californian woman next to another woman from Afghanistan where the latter is covered by a burqa.

However, the often-touted democratic principles -that have also been used as an excuse for military incursions in places anywhere in the globe- in many occasions create uncomfortable situations even for those who claim to be their main supporters. In 2006 with the launch of the website one of these situations started to consolidate and we have seen these democratic principles subject to a number of exceptions. As in other occasions, we have also seen how they are arranged before the reality and the protagonists of the moment, tempered to ensure the preservation of the status quo or, in general, re-defined with a series of "buts."

WikiLeaks, a company created by the Australian computer programmer with studies in physics and mathematics, Julian Assange,  has taken the task of disclosing documents that governments and large companies around the world considered confidential and contain information that compromises the interests of various parties. In many cases the information that reaches the public eye thanks to the work of Assange and his colleagues has been a motive of scandal, and has led to significant political changes. A clear example of this occurred in Kenya with the disclosure of documents showing a case of extreme corruption by the government, which meant its defeat in its attempt for being re-elected. With this scandal WikiLeaks appeared to the world eyes as an organization that seeks to fight corruption and expose classified information.

Another important step for the organization occurred last April with the publication of the famous video "Collateral Murder" in which American soldiers carried out an attack against civilians, some of them minors, during the war in Iraq in 2004. As a result of the operation that appears in the video, at least eighteen people were killed, including two journalists from the Reuters news agency. After three years of trying to get the video jealously hidden by the U.S. government, Reuters fails and only has access to it when it is released by WikiLeaks.

Following this series of information leaked to the public, last July 26 WikiLeaks gives its most notable blow -some people even consider it the most important journalistic work in history- by posting to its website about 77000 confidential documents of the United States government on its military operations in Afghanistan. The documents include information about secret meetings between Pakistani and Taliban members and the concealing of the death of civilians, victims of the armed conflict. At the same time, WikiLeaks maintains its announcement of posting 15000 additional documents concerning this war.

The WikiLeaks working model is similar to that adopted by some modern organizations such as Mozilla, OpenOffice, Ubuntu or Wikipedia: contributors throughout the world share their knowledge and information for the development of a common project. While WikiLeaks is not technically a wiki in the strict definition of the term, as the publications are classified and verified by the organization before reaching the public, and are not directly under users' control, the virtual community contributes to the compilation of documents by sending the material, they believe, must be disclosed. WikiLeaks encrypts the material so it is not captured by the tracking systems of governments or companies involved, and distributes it on different servers in various locations around the world. The documents are presented in their original form, without processing or analysis, and for security reasons the sources are omitted.

In this regard, the issue of the informants safety has been one of the most important points of criticism against WikiLeaks; according to the official discourse, the physical integrity of the informants can be put at risk by the nature of the information that is published. The government of the United States has called WikiLeaks irresponsible, a threat to national security, and has even said that they might have blood on their hands. Aware of the risks involving its publications, the organization recently proposed the Pentagon's review of the 15000 documents yet to be released in order to eliminate the names and information of people who may be jeopardized after the publication. In response, the Pentagon has shown its refusal to release what it calls a "minimized" or "sanitized" version of WikiLeaks. At the same time, the personal attacks on Assange include a recent demand on charges of sexual abuse, which were removed a few hours later for lack of foundation: a clear amateur smear tactic and an attempt to deflect attention before the additional documents are released.

In the opposite direction, the organization receives press awards in new media with origins as diverse as The Economist in 2008 or Amnesty International in 2009. Also, the Icelandic government, who condemns the restriction on information on bank statements provided to the public, prepared a law package to be implemented next year and that would make the country a "Global Press Freedom Haven." In terms of the public opinion, the donations received by the organization grow exponentially while campaigns are initiated through the web so that those who declassify information are be considered as defenders of democracy and not as criminals, as it has been the case in recent months.

The discussion on the democratic nature of WikiLeaks is precisely one of the topics that generates most controversy. Whereas for governments and companies interested in hiding information, Assange's work represents a serious threat to democracy, activists and independent journalists, among many others, consider this work essential for the proper functioning of the institutions in which democracy is based. Press freedom and access to information are a fundamental pillar of any society that wants to be called democratic, and what the work of WikiLeaks does is precisely exposing a large volume of information, although much of it is rather inconvenient.

Not surprisingly, then, given the benefits that the control of information has meant to many governments and businesses over history, there have been several attempts to silence these voices and censor the material that can be released by WikiLeaks. Thus, when the information is in the hands of those who can manipulate it and twist it to further their objectives, and thus make the public receive the image that matches the one that favors them, we hear talks about defending freedom of the press and access to information. A quite different situation occurs when the information falls in the "wrong hands" and is used to reveal the darkest secrets of these governments and companies, their despicable practices and the concealment of truth in the eyes of the masses who elected them through democratic mechanisms. In this case speaking of censorship, State secrets and restrictions on information, is quite reasonable for those who pride themselves on being champions of democracy.

Before the scandals that have surfaced thanks to the work of WikiLeaks, the response has been to condemn the means by which these facts have been revealed and not the facts themselves. It's the typical practice of killing the messenger who brings bad news, and is a clear lack of attention to the real underlying problems. As stated by Assange in reference to "Collateral Murder": "[The video] sends a message that some people within the military don’t like what is going on." But the solution has been to silence dissenter voices instead of reviewing the practices that lead to the growing dissent.

The type of work done by WikiLeaks plays a key role in the Web 2.0 scenario in which we live today. Until recent years the public was far from having access to information as it was mainly produced and processed by large companies that own the media. Similarly, it was difficult for opposition voices to reach many places, which facilitated the manipulation of the masses based on false information or on convenient interpretations. With the emergence of social networks, blogs, wikis and video sharing sites, among others, ordinary citizens become mass producers of information and opinions, and find many spaces where debate them. However, only with the emergence of sites such as WikiLeaks the ability to access first hand information appears, and the accurate analysis of this information will be the work of academics, journalists, analysts and independent users.

While those with intentions of hiding information are striving to silence WikiLeaks and consider it a threat to democracy, it is the responsibility of the voices in favor of it to fight for transparency in the practices of governments and businesses. We cannot talk about democracy in societies where people do not know what their governments do with the power that these people decided to give them. And if we do not like the information in the hands of the public, then, what democracy are we talking about?

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