Monday, April 30, 2007

April 28:

1945 : Benito Mussolini is captured and executed by Italian partisans

On this day in 1945, "Il Duce," Benito Mussolini, and his mistress,
Clara Petacci, are shot by Italian partisans who had captured the
couple as they attempted to flee to Switzerland.

The 61-year-old deposed former dictator of Italy was established by
his German allies as the figurehead of a puppet government in northern
Italy during the German occupation toward the close of the war. As the
Allies fought their way up the Italian peninsula, defeat of the Axis
powers all but certain, Mussolini considered his options. Not wanting
to fall into the hands of either the British or the Americans, and
knowing that the communist partisans, who had been fighting the
remnants of roving Italian fascist soldiers and thugs in the north,
would try him as a war criminal, he settled on escape to a neutral

He and his mistress made it to the Swiss border, only to discover that
the guards had crossed over to the partisan side. Knowing they would
not let him pass, he disguised himself in a Luftwaffe coat and helmet,
hoping to slip into Austria with some German soldiers. His subterfuge
proved incompetent, and he and Petacci were discovered by partisans
and shot, their bodies then transported by truck to Milan, where they
were hung upside down and displayed publicly for revilement by the


1969 : De Gaulle resigns as leader of France

1977 : Red Army Faction trial ends


The End of Internet Radio?

By Aram Sinnreich, Truthdig. Posted April 28, 2007.

A recent ruling by the Copyright Royalty Board raised royalty rates for online radio broadcasting, which could put the exploing online commercial radio industry right out of business.

On April 16, three men -- a retired bankruptcy judge from Alabama, a former litigator with expertise in transportation industry economics and a career attorney for the Copyright Office -- made a decision that has profound implications for the future of webcasting, and for the music and Internet industries in general.

These three judges on the recently empaneled Copyright Royalty Board decided to raise webcasting royalty rates drastically, to levels proposed by SoundExchange, a digital music collecting society presided over by record labels and musicians unions. Specifically, the board’s ruling denied webcasters’ requests for a stay and a rehearing, effectively closing the door on further deliberation over the royalty rates and requiring that webcasters begin paying the new rates by May 15 of this year, due retroactively from the beginning of 2006.

Supporters of this decision argue that these new, higher royalty rates will ensure that musicians are paid fairly for their work as the music industry shifts its focus from traditional media to the Internet. Currently, record labels and recording artists don’t receive any royalties at all from terrestrial radio, which is required to pay only composers and publishers. However, detractors argue that the new rates are ruinously high and will lead to bankruptcy for the vast majority of webcasters, eliminating a resource that entertains more than 70 million Americans and financially supports tens of thousands of recording artists.

In order to learn more about the webcasting business, and the potential effects of this ruling, we spoke with Tim Westergren, the founder of popular Internet radio provider Pandora and one of the most vocal proponents for lower webcasting royalty rates.

AramSinnreich: What, exactly, is Pandora, and how does it work?

Tim Westergren: Pandora offers personalized radio over the Internet. The secret to our product is the music genome project, which is this enormous collection of songs that have been musicologically analyzed, each along close to 400 musical attributes, by a team of 50 trained musicians. We use this musical DNA to connect songs and create playlists.

We launched the radio service in November 2005, and in the past year and a half we’ve accumulated close to 6.5 million registered listeners.

Sinnreich: What’s Pandora’s business model? How do you make money?

Westergren: It’s advertising-supported. Our primary costs are licensing and streaming, and the core personnel. But a business like ours scales, so the whole thing is, build a large listener base, and then you start to get the advantages of scale. We sell visual advertising right now, and we recently experimented with audio ads. But we haven’t made any decision about whether that’s something we would pursue long-term.

I can’t tell you too much about our financials, but we’re not profitable right now, and [until the CRB ruling] we were looking at a year or two from now being able to turn a profit. It’s a relatively small-margin business, and it’s all about getting a big audience.

Sinnreich: What are the new webcasting rates, and how do they affect your bottom line?

Westergren: As a webcaster, we pay a performance royalty for every song that we stream. It’s a royalty that’s not paid by terrestrial broadcasters, and is paid at a much lower rate by satellite broadcasters. Until this ruling, the rate that we paid was 1.17 cents per listener-hour, which equates to about 0.076 cents per song streamed to each listener.

The new rates, which are retroactive to the beginning of 2006, are immediately higher than that. They go from 0.076 to 0.08 cents per song, and then they go up incrementally over the subsequent five years. And by the end, they’re at 0.19 cents per song. That’s close to a tripling.

Economically, these new rates will represent 70-80 percent of gross revenues for folks like us, as opposed to only about 25 percent today. So they make the business completely uneconomic. There’s nobody that can deliver an advertising-supported webcast at those levels, because advertisers won’t allow us to raise rates high enough to cover it.


See more stories tagged with: riaa, royalties, internet radio

Aram Sinnreich is a writer, speaker and analyst covering the media and entertainment industries, with a special focus on music.

US Media Have Lost the Will to Dig Deep

By Greg Palast
The Los Angeles Times

Friday 27 April 2007

A changed news culture has let several important investigative stories slip through the cracks.

In an e-mail uncovered and released by the House Judiciary Committee last month, Tim Griffin, once Karl Rove's right-hand man, gloated that "no [U.S.] national press picked up" a BBC Television story reporting that the Rove team had developed an elaborate scheme to challenge the votes of thousands of African Americans in the 2004 election.

Griffin wasn't exactly right. The Los Angeles Times did run a follow-up article a few days later in which it reported the findings. But he was essentially right. Most of the major U.S. newspapers and the vast majority of television news programs ignored the story even though it came at a critical moment just weeks before the election.

According to Griffin (who has since been dispatched to Arkansas to replace one of the U.S. attorneys fired by the Justice Department), the mainstream media rejected the story because it was wrong.

"That guy is a British reporter who accepted some false allegations and made a story up," he said.

Let's get one fact straight, Mr. Griffin. "That guy" is not a British reporter. I am an American living abroad, putting investigative reports on the air from London for the British Broadcasting Corp.

I'm not going to argue with Rove's minions about the validity of our reporting, which led the news in Britain. But I can tell you this: To the extent that it was ignored in the United States, it wasn't because the report was false. It was because it was complicated and murky and because it required a lot of time and reporting to get to the bottom of it. In fact, not one U.S. newsperson even bothered to ask me or the BBC for the data and research we had painstakingly done in our effort to demonstrate the existence of the scheme.

The truth is, I knew that a story like this one would never be reported in my own country. Because investigative reporting - the kind Jack Anderson used to do regularly and which was carried in hundreds of papers across the country, the kind of muckraking, data-intensive work that takes time and money and ruffles feathers - is dying.

I've been through this before, too many times. Take this investigative report, also buried in the U.S.: Back in December 2000, I received two computer disks from the office of Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris. Analysis of the data, plus documents that fell my way, indicated that Harris' office had purged thousands of African Americans from Florida's voter rolls as "felons." Florida now admits that many of these voters were not in fact felons. Nevertheless, the blacklisting helped cost Al Gore the White House.

I reported on the phony felon purge in Britain's Guardian and Observer and on the BBC while Gore was still in the race, while the count was still on.

Yet the story of the Florida purge never appeared in the U.S. daily papers or on television. Until months later, that is, after the Supreme Court had decided the election, when it was picked up by the Washington Post and others.

U.S. papers delayed the story until the U.S. Civil Rights Commission issued a report saying our Guardian/BBC story was correct: Innocents lost their vote. At that point, protected by the official imprimatur, American editors felt it safe enough to venture out with the story. But by then, George W. Bush could read it from his chair in the Oval Office.

Again and again, I see this pattern repeated. Until there is some official investigation or allegation made by a politician, there is no story.

Or sometimes the media like to cover the controversy, not the substance, preferring an ambiguous and unsatisfying "he said, she said" report. Safe reporting, but not investigative.

I know some of the reasons why investigative reporting is on the decline. To begin with, investigations take time and money. A producer from "60 Minutes," watching my team's work on another voter purge list, said: "My God! You'd have to make hundreds of calls to make this case." In America's cash-short, instant-deadline world, there's not much room for that.

Are there still aggressive, talented investigative reporters in the U.S.? There are hundreds. I'll mention two: Seymour Hersh, formerly of the New York Times, and Robert Parry, formerly of the Associated Press, who uncovered the Iran-Contra scandal. The operative word here is "formerly." Parry tells me that he can no longer do this kind of investigative work within the confines of a U.S. daily newsroom.

One of the biggest disincentives to doing investigative journalism is that it jeopardizes future access to politicians and corporate elite. During the I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby trial, the testimony of Judith Miller and other U.S. journalists about the confidences they were willing to keep in order to maintain access seemed to me sadly illuminating.

Expose the critters and the door is slammed. That's not a price many American journalists are willing to pay.

It's different in Britain. After the 2000 election, when Harris' lawyer refused to respond to our evidence, my BBC producer made sure I chased him down the hall waving the damning documents. That's one sure way to end "access."

Reporters in Britain must adhere to extraordinarily strict standards of accuracy because there is no Bill of Rights, no "freedom of the press" to provide cover against lawsuits. Further, the British government fines reporters who make false accusations and jails others who reveal "official secrets."

I've long argued that Britain needs a 1st Amendment right to press freedom. It could, of course, borrow ours. We don't use it.


Greg Palast is the author of "Armed Madhouse: From New Orleans to Baghdad - Sordid Secrets and Strange Tales of a White House Gone Wild."


More Like an Air Ball

By Maureen Dowd
The New York Times

Saturday 28 April 2007

Poor Slam-Dunk.

Not since Madame Butterfly has anyone been so cruelly misunderstood and misused. Slam-Dunk says that when he pantingly told the president that fetching information on Saddam's W.M.D. would be a cinch, he did not mean let's go to war.

No matter how eager Slam-Dunk was to tell W. what he wanted to hear while polishing W.'s shoes, that intelligence they craved did not exist. "Let me say it again: C.I.A. found absolutely no linkage between Saddam and 9/11," the ex-Head Spook writes in his new book, self-effacingly titled "At the Center of the Storm." Besides, Junior and Darth had already decided to go to war to show the Arabs their moxie.

The president and vice president wanted Slam-Dunk to help them dramatize the phony case. Everyone had to pitch in! That Saturday session in December 2002 in the Oval Office was "essentially a marketing meeting," Slam-Dunk writes, just for "sharpening the arguments."

Hey, I feel better.

Slam-Dunk always presented himself as the ultimate guy's guy, a cigar-chomping spymaster who swapped jokes with the president. But now he shows us his tender side, a sniveling C.I.A. chief bullied by "remote" Condi.

He says Condi panicked in October 2002 and made him call a Times reporter, Alison Mitchell, who covered the Congressional debate about invading Iraq. He told Alison to ignore the conclusions of his own agency, which had said the links between Saddam and terrorist groups were tenuous, and that Saddam would only take the extreme step of joining with Islamic fanatics if he thought the U.S. was about to attack him. His nose growing as long as his cigar, he said nothing in the C.I.A. report contradicted the president's case for war.

"In retrospect," Slam writes, "I shouldn't have talked to the New York Times reporter at Condi's request. By making public comments in the middle of a contentious political debate, I gave the impression that I was becoming a partisan player."

Can't a guy be a lickspittle without being an ideologue?

There were so many nasties trying to push Slam around: Vice, of course, and Wolfie, and Wolfie's neoconcubine Doug Feith. Once, Slam writes, Wolfie "hounded" a C.I.A. briefer to translate the diary of Abu Zubaydah, a captured Al Qaeda official, even though the C.I.A. had decided it was just misogynistic ramblings "about what he wanted to do with women." Oh, that sexy beast Wolfie. Look out, Shaha!

But even though he was paid a $4 million advance to settle scores, Slam can't turn on W. Maybe it's the Medal of Freedom. "In a way, President Bush and I are much alike," he writes. "We sometimes say things from our gut, whether it's his 'bring 'em on' or my 'slam-dunk.' I think he gets that about me, just as I get that about him." (He had me at "slam-dunk.")

The worst meanie was horrid Bob Woodward. Slam socialized with Bob and gave him lots of intel for his best sellers, but then Bob "painted a caricature of me leaping into the air and simulating a slam-dunk, not once but twice, with my arms flailing. Credit Woodward's source with ... a fine sense of how to make me look ridiculous, but don't credit him or her with a deep sense of obligation to the truth."

A deep sense of obligation to the truth is something Slam keenly understands, even though he scurried around like the butler in "Remains of the Day," trying to toadie up to the president while, as he belatedly admits, W. was going to invade Iraq without debate or casus belli.

He says he warned Paul Bremer about de-Baathifying the Iraqi Army, but hey, he was just a staff guy. That's probably how the two worst intelligence disasters in our history happened on his watch. He was merely providing intelligence for the guys who wanted to ignore or warp that intelligence and make bad policy. What could he do?

Slam says he was Cassandra. A C.I.A. paper was given to the president's national security team in September 2002 to sum up the possible negatives of invading Iraq, including anarchy and a breakup in Iraq, instability in the neighborhood, a surge of terrorism against U.S. interests, oil disruptions, and seething allies.

But it was discreetly tucked away in the back of the briefing book, after the stuff at the beginning about how great it would be to liberate Iraq and end threats to Iraq's neighbors, and the stuff in the middle about reforming Iraq's bureaucracy.

Slam gives tips to others who want to engage in public service, including: Don't forget that there are no private conversations, even in the Oval Office. Another might be: If you worry about your own survival more than your country's, you might end up as the whiny fall guy


Lawmakers Seek Probe of Private Contractors in Iraq

By Barbara Barrett
McClatchy Newspapers

Friday 27 April 2007

Washington - Four years after the invasion of Iraq, Congress still has been unable to grasp the scope of armed security contractors working in that country.

This week, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Ike Skelton of Missouri and Rep. David Price of North Carolina, both Democrats, asked the Government Accountability Office to provide details on the use of private security contractors in Iraq.

Skelton and Price want to know how many such contractors are working there, for what purpose and under what legal authority. There has been little oversight over cost and operations so far, but many questions.

According to earlier GAO reports, contractors often move into battle zones without the military's knowledge, and the military in turn has done little training for troops on how to deal with private contractors. There are estimated to be as many as 100,000 security contractors working in the country.

"We've said all along that even a good description in this area has been very hard to come by," said Price.

The request is part of a push by Price into the workings of security contractors. He has introduced a bill that would include private contractors in military law overseas, provide more transparency to Congress and improve coordination between contractors and the military.

A GAO spokesman said the agency likely will decide next week how to move ahead on the request. But with Skelton's name on it, the letter likely will gain a high priority.

Private security contractors perform a host of duties in Iraq. They guard dignitaries, including visiting members of Congress. They patrol the gates and perimeters of military bases. And they guard other private contractors working on everything from food convoys to reconstruction crews. Many security contractors are former Special Forces troops now working for hundreds of dollars a day.

Private contractors' work became known most vividly after an ambush in Fallujah against security contractors working for Blackwater USA of Moyock, N.C., in 2004. Two contractors' charred bodies were hung from a bridge in images broadcast worldwide.

Blackwater is among the most well-known and largest companies feeding armed security workers into Iraq, but there are many others.

"The real problem is the U.S. military is not large enough to perform all the tasks the military wants performed," said Steven Schooner, co-director of the Government Procurement Law Program at George Washington University. "It's a huge, huge issue."

But, Schooner said, Congress should worry more about the command-and-control problem than focus solely on issues of cost.

"Members of Congress have no idea whatsoever what's going on over there," Schooner said. "I think oversight is a huge issue. Who's in charge over there? What's the quality-control standard? Those are the big issues they haven't gotten addressed."

Doug Brooks, director of the International Peace Operations Association, the trade group for security contractors, said coordination has improved in recent years. A command center in Baghdad has a map of private convoys moving through the country, for example.

He testified to Congress this week that the companies' main problem was a revolving door of government contracting officers who make contract changes difficult.

Still, Brooks welcomed a new GAO report and said that, for the most part, his group supports Price's bill.

"Good oversight is good for good companies," Brooks said.

Skelton was unavailable Friday for comment, but he said in a prepared statement that a GAO review would "boost Congress' ability to provide thorough oversight to the billions being spent there."


US Proposal Would Allow Oil Drilling Off Virginia

By Steven Mufson and David A. Fahrenthold
The Washington Post

Saturday 28 April 28 2007

President Bush used his executive power to lift the ban in January. Congress has 60 days to reimpose it, or else drilling preparations could start in Bristol Bay as soon as July 1.
Five-year plan would also open Alaskan, Gulf waters.

The Interior Department will announce a proposal Monday to allow oil and gas drilling in federal waters near Virginia that are currently off-limits and permit new exploration in Alaska's Bristol Bay and the Gulf of Mexico, according to people who have seen or been told about drafts of the plan.

The department issued a news release yesterday that was lacking details but said that it had finished a five-year plan that will include a "major proposal for expanded oil and natural gas development on the U.S. Outer Continental Shelf." Department officials declined to describe the plan.

Congress would still have to agree to open areas currently off-limits before any drilling could take place off Virginia's coast. Every year since 1982, after an oil spill off Santa Barbara, Calif., Congress has reaffirmed a moratorium on drilling off the nation's Atlantic and Pacific coasts. Last year, after a vigorous push by drilling advocates, Congress opened new waters in the Gulf of Mexico.

The Interior Department might still go ahead with environmental and geological seismic studies off Virginia, but the plan does not envision drilling there before 2011, according to a congressional source who saw an earlier version of the proposal. The sources who described the plan spoke on the condition of anonymity because they didn't want to compromise relationships with people who showed them drafts.

Environmental groups said yesterday that they were troubled by the idea of oil exploration and drilling so near the wildlife refuge on Assateague Island and in an area closely linked to the Chesapeake Bay. Some of the bay's best-known species, such as blue crabs and rockfish, migrate to the ocean.

Activists said that simply looking for oil and gas could cause environmental harm if waste products used to lubricate or cool drill bits are cast overboard. Such materials are often toxic, and could threaten marine life in the area, said Richard Charter of Defenders of Wildlife.

Richard Ayers of the environmental group Virginia Eastern Shorekeeper said he was concerned about development along the state's lightly populated Atlantic shoreline. He said he was worried that oil drilling would create boomtowns, a new influx of people and pollution.

The Virginia shore is dotted with barrier islands and lagoons, most of them largely unspoiled. The Virginia coast has been designated a World Biosphere Reserve by the United Nations, and a National Natural Landmark by the Interior Department.

"This is one of the few places on the East Coast that just never got developed," Ayers said. "A disturbance of any magnitude would be something the place hasn't seen since the '30s," when a hurricane hit the area.

Many drilling advocates say that the oil industry has had a good environmental record in the Gulf of Mexico and that the nation needs to develop domestic oil and gas reserves to bring down prices and reduce reliance on foreign oil.

Advocates of increased drilling have campaigned in several states, many of which are attracted to the prospect of negotiating shares of federal royalties. Bills endorsing more drilling have twice passed the Virginia legislature.

Kevin Hall, a spokesman for Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D), said Kaine was "supportive of exploration to see what, if anything, is out there." But Hall said Kaine had received "assurances" from federal officials that the proposed exploration would not violate state law. Last year, the General Assembly and Kaine agreed on a bill to prohibit drilling within 50 miles of Virginia's shoreline.

One place that doesn't need approval from Congress is the area north of the Alaska Peninsula near the Aleutian Islands, known as Bristol Bay. Home to one of the world's largest salmon runs, according to the Sierra Club, Bristol Bay was not covered by the same ban on drilling.

President Bush used his executive power to lift the ban in January. Congress has 60 days to reimpose it, or else drilling preparations could start in Bristol Bay as soon as July 1.

Athan Manuel, offshore drilling expert at the Sierra Club, said, "We need to do more to drill in Detroit by finding more oil efficiency in our cars and trucks rather than drilling off of some of our most sensitive coasts that are important environmentally, but also economically in driving billion-dollar fishing and tourist industries."


Staff writer Tim Craig contributed to this report.


Pentagon Backtracks as Advocacy Groups Blast Ethnic Profiling

By William Fisher
t r u t h o u t | Report

Saturday 28 April 2007

As a new report charged that the US Department of Homeland Security is illegally delaying the citizenship applications of thousands of immigrants by profiling Muslims and subjecting them to indefinite security checks, a major American-Arab advocacy group launched a campaign to end a controversial post-9/11 program it says discriminates against Muslim visitors to the US.

In a surprise move, the Pentagon itself announced it wants to close the domestic terrorism spying venture known as Threat and Local Observation Notice (TALON). The program has been attacked by civil and human rights organizations for collecting information on peaceful activists inside the United States.

According to a Pentagon spokesman, the new undersecretary of defense for intelligence, James Clapper, found "disappointing results" during a review of the TALON database.

Clapper "has assessed the results of the TALON program and does not believe they merit continuing the program as currently constituted, particularly in light of its image in Congress and the media," Ryder said.

The Pentagon acknowledged last year that part of the information collected in the database "either should have been purged, or was data that was not appropriate for reporting in that system."

The TALON program began in 2003 to track suspects with possible links to terrorists as part of the post-9/11 "war on terror."

But information leaked to news reporters revealed that the Pentagon was collecting information on peace activists and monitoring antiwar protests across the country.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) last year filed several Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests seeking to uncover the identities of peace groups being spied on by the Pentagon.

The filing was on behalf of several national groups and seven Florida-based peace activist groups, including Florida members of the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), a Quaker religious-based peace group.

"We found there were any number of things with respect to that program where ... data that was maintained in a database probably should not have been maintained there," said Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates reportedly has not yet made a formal decision to shut down the program.

TALON has also attracted the wrath of influential members of Congress. For example, Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, says, "There are ways to protect defense facilities and military personnel without this kind of overreaching." He lauded the Pentagon's will to put an end to the program.

"TALON was another costly, controversial and poorly focused venture that did not make us any safer," Leahy said.

"Without clear rules and close oversight, databases like this can easily be abused to violate the public's constitutional and privacy rights," he added.

At the same time, a new report from the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice (CHRGJ) at the New York University School of Law charges that the US government is illegally delaying the naturalization applications of thousands of immigrants by profiling individuals it perceives to be Muslim. The report documents the impact of expanded security checks on the lives of those experiencing citizenship delays, often for years.

The report - "Americans on Hold: Profiling, Citizenship, and the War on Terror" - analyzes these delays and their impact within an international human rights framework. It offers specific policy recommendations to help end discrimination in access to citizenship and other human rights violations.

"Citizenship delays are not just bureaucratic inconveniences; they are the result of discriminatory, ineffective, and undemocratic policies that violate fundamental human rights," said Professor Smita Narula, CHRGJ's Faculty Director.

"In the name of fighting a 'war on terror,' the government is breaking up families, engendering fear and insecurity, and disenfranchising entire communities," he says.

The report contends that since the terrorist attack of September 11, 2001 "US immigration policy has been heavily influenced by counterterrorism efforts. The government has folded immigration bodies into national security institutions and has institutionalized a policy of discrimination against immigrants perceived to be Muslim on the basis of their name, race, religion, ethnicity or national origin."

It says, "Increased security checks in the citizenship application process, manifested in a substantial expansion of FBI name check procedures, have illegally delayed the processing of applications from Muslim, Arab, Middle Eastern and South Asian men."

The result, the report says, is that "Thousands of immigrants have chosen the United States as their new home; they abide by US laws, pay US taxes, contribute to our nation's economy, and strengthen its multicultural foundations. They have passed every test and fulfilled every requirement related to the naturalization process, but continue to wait for security clearance on their application. In response to repeated inquiries to immigration authorities, applicants are simply told that their application is pending security clearance.

The organization quotes one applicant as saying, "They only have two words for us: 'security check.' That's it." Another is quoted as recounting, "I have been to Federal Plaza (ten times), and the supervisor there told me, 'It could be one day or it can be 99 years.'"

The report alleges that individuals experiencing citizenship delays are unable to file visa petitions for their immediate relatives; are greatly hindered in their ability to travel to see sick relatives, and often endure restrictions on their ability to work or receive lifesaving benefits.

Federal law requires the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), now part of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), to grant or deny citizenship within 120 days of an applicant's examination. USCIS has also set a policy goal of processing applications within six months from the time of filing.

But the CHRGJ report says that DHS data "reveals that more than two-thirds of the over 2.2 million applications filed since April 1, 2001 were not processed within 180 days; more than 776,000 applicants had been waiting for more than a year; approximately 158,000 applicants had been waiting for more than two years; while approximately 41,000 had been waiting for three years or more."

According to the Citizenship and Immigration Services Ombudsman, prolonged name checks "significantly delay adjudication of immigration benefits for many applicants, hinder backlog reduction efforts, and rarely, if ever, achieve their intended national security objectives," the report says.

Jaycee Huckerby, CHRGJ's research director, says, "Discriminatory profiling is illegal under international law and is a poor substitute for real intelligence work. Taking years to identify individuals who are security threats does not make us safer. Ensuring timely and good faith completions of background checks will help the US advance its national security goals."

Huckerby adds, "As a State party to the International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the US is obligated to ensure nondiscrimination in access to citizenship as well as other human rights. A number of expert human rights bodies have affirmed that the "war on terror" cannot be invoked to deny noncitizens' rights."

She points out that profiling affects a number of human rights, including the right to liberty of movement, the right to profess and practice religion, and the right to nondiscrimination in access to public health and social services.

"Profiled immigrants may be stopped, delayed, detained and subjected to extended and unnerving security checks while traveling. Prior to September 11, 2001 the list of individuals suspected of terrorism and banned from air travel contained only 16 names; as of October 2006 the "no-fly" list contained 44,000 names. Airport officials are reportedly required to stop anyone with a "Muslim name" and name-check that individual against the list. Airport computers throw up red flags even when names are merely similar to those found on the list," the CHRGJ report charges.

"Muslim immigrants or those perceived to be Muslims (such as members of the Sikh community) have also altered their physical appearance for fear of being profiled. Many immigrants have curtailed the extent to which they pray or worship publicly, and some have even changed their names - the very hallmark of their religious and cultural identity. Delays also affect the ability of naturalization applicants to receive lifesaving benefits, and in turn their access to healthcare and food."

Meanwhile, other advocacy groups are demanding an end to what they describe as DHS-sponsored anti-Muslim programs. One of them is known as NSEERS - the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System.

For example, the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) has launched an advertising campaign called, "End the Shame of NSEERS." Its objective is "to shed light on the continuing problems faced by thousands of individuals as a result of the discriminatory and poorly constructed and implemented 'Special Registration Program.'"

ADC's ads are appearing this month in the Arab American News, the largest and oldest Arab American newspaper in the United States; in Washington Monthly Magazine, and in the program of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights 2007 Hubert H. Humphrey Civil Rights Awards Dinner.

In the ads, ADC calls on President George W. Bush, DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to terminate the NSEERS program and address its negative residual effects.

Launched by the Department of Justice in late 2002 and later transferred to the newly organized Department of Homeland Security, NSEERS requires male visitors to voluntarily comply with the program. But ADC says, "Failure to adequately publicize the program and to train immigration officers sufficiently led to poor implementation of NSEERS. Thousands of men who were required to register failed to do so - many, no doubt, due to lack of notice - and are now vulnerable to NSEERS penalties."

The organization charges that "Hundreds of individuals who had voluntarily appeared to register at Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) offices around the country were arrested and detained without reasonable justification."

The program was initially portrayed as an anti-terrorism measure that required male visitors to the US (from 25 Arab and Muslim countries and North Korea) to be fingerprinted, photographed and questioned by immigration officers. At the time, INS officials acknowledged they were ill-prepared to carry out this special call-in registration and acknowledged numerous shortcomings. However, despite DHS's suspension of a few requirements in 2004, there were, and still are, criminal and civil penalties associated with failure to comply with NSEERS, including arrest, detention, monetary fines and/or removal from the United States.

INS was renamed and became part of the Department of Homeland Security upon its founding after the passage of the Homeland Security Act of 2002.

Civil liberties organizations have said that NSEERS was so poorly conceived and badly managed that it created chaos and fear. Trust between the immigrant community and law enforcement was severely strained, and in the end, there was no evidence that any terrorists were apprehended as a result of the effort.

ADC has noted that "Approximately 84,000 Arabs and Muslims registered voluntarily, and subsequently about 14,000 were subjected to deportation hearings for voluntarily complying with the program. Yet, no registrants were charged with terrorism. In December 2004, the NSEERS program was modified by DHS, but many elements remain and are subject to abuse, including: departure registration; registration at ports of entry, as well as the potential for re-initiation of the call-in phase."

The organization says, "It seems clear that NSEERS has become just another tool used in immigration enforcement and law enforcement in general, which raises serious constitutional issues, as the program clearly discriminates on the basis of national origin."

ADC adds that several members of Congress, including key members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and numerous civil libertarians and immigrant rights advocates, have taken issue with the constitutional legality of NSEERS discrimination based on national origin.

William Fisher has managed economic development programs in the Middle East and in many other parts of the world for the US State Department and USAID for the past thirty years. He began his work life as a journalist for newspapers and for The Associated Press in Florida. Go to The World According to Bill Fisher for more.


George Bush Receives Purple Heart Award

Posted by Richard Blair at 10:01 AM on April 29, 2007.

Richard Blair: In one of the more ironic stories never to hit the mainstream media, George Bush was recently presented with a Purple Heart

Purple HeartDid you know that George W. Bush was a war hero? I know that this development comes as a shock and surprise to many progressives who are familiar with Bush's military career, but he received a Vietnam-era Purple Heart award a few weeks ago in the Oval Office. Seriously.

28%-er Bill Thomas of Copperas Cove, Texas, decided recently to give George Bush one of the three purple hearts that he had been awarded in Vietnam. Bush was so blown over by this gesture that he invited Thomas and his wife, Georgia, to the Oval Office for the presentation...

The medal was presented to Bush, and Thomas said:

...he and his wife came up with the unprecedented idea to present the president with the Purple Heart over breakfast one morning a few months ago as they discussed the verbal attacks, both foreign and domestic, the commander in chief has withstood during his time in office.
"We feel like emotional wounds and scars are as hard to carry as physical wounds."

Soak that all in for a moment.






If you factor in Laura Bush's lament last week that " one suffers more than the president and I do..." because of the conflict in Iraq ........ ..... ......... oh, fark it. I can't even snark this up anymore. Sometimes, true life irony is its own sarcasm. I guess Laura forgot that George isn't losing any sleep over it.

It's hard to believe that someone on Bush's staff didn't tell him that this might not be a good idea. It's hard not to be at a total loss for words. Don't forget - this is what Republicans think of Purple Heart recipients:

2004 GOP Convention


Tagged as: george w. bush, iraq

Richard Blair is a Philadelphia-based freelance writer, and the blogmaster of All Spin Zone.

Documents Reveal: Cops Planted Pot on 92-Year Old Woman They Killed in Botched Drug Raid

By Rhonda Cook, Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Posted April 30, 2007.

Atlanta resident Kathryn Johnston's death has finally been exposed to be a case of police coverup in clear example of the insanity of the war on drugs.

According to federal documents released this week, these are the events that led to Kathryn Johnston's death and the steps the officers took to cover their tracks.

Three narcotics agents were trolling the streets near the Bluffs in northwest Atlanta, a known market for drugs, midday on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving.

Eventually they set their sights on some apartments on Lanier Street, usually fertile when narcotics agents are looking for arrests and seizures.

Gregg Junnier and another narcotics officer went inside the apartments around 2 p.m. while Jason Smith checked the woods. Smith found dozens of bags of marijuana -- in baggies that were clear, blue or various other colors and packaged to sell. With no one connected to the pot, Smith stashed the bags in the trunk of the patrol car. A use was found for Smith's stash 90 minutes later: A phone tip led the three officers to a man in a "gold-colored jacket" who might be dealing. The man, identified as X in the documents but known as Fabian Sheats, spotted the cops and put something in his mouth. They found no drugs on Sheats, but came up with a use for the pot they found earlier.

They wanted information or they would arrest Sheats for dealing.

While Junnier called for a drug-sniffing dog, Smith planted some bags under a rock, which the K-9 unit found.

But if Sheats gave them something, he could walk.

Sheats pointed out 933 Neal St., the home of 92-year-old Kathryn Johnston. That, he claimed, is where he spotted a kilogram of cocaine when he was there to buy crack from a man named "Sam."

They needed someone to go inside, but Sheats would not do for their purposes because he was not a certified confidential informant.

So about 5:05 p.m. they reached out by telephone to Alex White to make an undercover buy for them. They had experience with White and he had proved to be a reliable snitch.

But White had no transportation and could not help.

Still, Smith, Junnier and the other officer, Arthur Tesler, according to the state's case, ran with the information. They fabricated all the right answers to persuade a magistrate to give them a no-knock search warrant.

By 6 p.m., they had the legal document they needed to break into Kathryn Johnston's house, and within 40 minutes they were prying off the burglar bars and using a ram to burst through the elderly woman's front door. It took about two minutes to get inside, which gave Johnston time to retrieve her rusty .38 revolver.

Tesler was at the back door when Junnier, Smith and the other narcotics officers crashed through the front.

Johnston got off one shot, the bullet missing her target and hitting a porch roof. The three narcotics officers answered with 39 bullets.

Five or six bullets hit the terrified woman. Authorities never figured out who fired the fatal bullet, the one that hit Johnston in the chest. Some pieces of the other bullets -- friendly fire -- hit Junnier and two other cops.

The officers handcuffed the mortally wounded woman and searched the house.

There was no Sam.

There were no drugs.

There were no cameras that the officers had claimed was the reason for the no-knock warrant.

Just Johnston, handcuffed and bleeding on her living room floor.

That is when the officers took it to another level. Three baggies of marijuana were retrieved from the trunk of the car and planted in Johnston's basement. The rest of the pot from the trunk was dropped down a sewage drain and disappeared.

The three began getting their stories straight.

The next day, one of them, allegedly Tesler, completed the required incident report in which he wrote that the officers went to the house because their informant had bought crack at the Neal Street address. And Smith turned in two bags of crack to support that claim.

They plotted how they would cover up the lie.

They tried to line up one of their regular informants, Alex White, the reliable snitch with the unreliable transportation.

The officers' story would be that they met with White at an abandoned carwash Nov. 21 and gave him $50 to make the buy from Neal Street.

To add credibility to their story, they actually paid White his usual $30 fee for information and explained to him how he was to say the scenario played out if asked. An unidentified store owner kicked in another $100 to entice White to go along with the play.

The three cops spoke several times, assuring each other of the story they would tell.

But Junnier was the first to break.

On Dec. 11, three weeks after the shooting, Junnier told the FBI it was all a lie.

Note: Junnier will face 10 years and one month and Smith 12 years and seven months. No sentencing date was immediately set, and the sentences are contingent on the men cooperating with the government. Arthur Tesler, also on administrative leave, was charged with violation of oath by a public officer, making false statements and false imprisonment under color of legal process. His attorney, William McKenney, said Tesler expects to go to trial.


See more stories tagged with: botched drug raid, war on drugs