children tortured under bush administration

In a positive step the Obama administration has released four Bush administration memos sanctioning torture. Attorney General Eric Holder has stated that low-level CIA personnel will not be charged for the crimes. There was no mention of pressing charges on those that sanctioned the torture. "This is a time for reflection, not retribution," President Obama said in a statement released by the White House. "I respect the strong views and emotions that these issues evoke. We have been through a dark and painful chapter in our history. But at a time of great challenges and disturbing disunity, nothing will be gained by spending our time and energy laying blame for the past."

In a "Special Comment" on his show Countdown, Keith Olbermann says the president is wrong. "Mr. Obama deserves our praise and our thanks for that," Olbermann stated. "And yet he has gone but half-way. And, in this case, in far too many respects, half the distance is worse than standing still." Olbermann responds to Obama's comments, "Mr. President, you are wrong. What you describe would be not "spent energy" but catharsis."

The memos released included the tactic of placing insects in a closed box as a form of torture. A following CIA memo released claimed the method was never used, but it supports claims that insect torture was used on the children of the alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. It is not known if insect torture was used on the children, but according to Human Rights Watch, the children, then aged seven and nine, were captured and held in Pakistan while being questioned about their father's whereabouts for four months. Let me reiterate that; a seven and nine year old child were held by U.S. authorities for four months while being questions. Reports indicate they were placed in cramped cells where they did not have room to stand up or stretch their feet. I hope this is investigated and those responsible for this are heavily prosecuted because this goes beyond anything that has come out of the war on terror so far.

Here are a few more bits from the past days' news. The New York Times' James Risen stated independent oversight of the NSA's wiretapping program "doesn't really exist." Additionally there were efforts to monitor a U.S. congressman without a court approval while on an overseas trip. Congress has said they will launch an investigation under claims by the Department of Justice that the NSA broke the law.

A post-mortem examination on Ian Tomlinson, who was thought to have died of a heart attack after being shoved by London Police during the G20 protests has found that he really died from abdominal bleeding. This shows that the man, who was not a protester, but simply walking home was killed by police.

Pirate Bay operators were sentenced a year in prison by Swedish courts. They will appeal and as of last night Pirate Bay was still operational. With the ruling the Swedish Pirate Party is exploding with new membership.

A study has linked child obesity to chemicals found in plastics.

On a lighter note, snakes on a plane!


not the Obama we elected

I found a very well written article by Salon's Glenn Greenwald that addresses the things I've been covering the past few weeks with the Obama administration. It gives an all encompassing explanation of what has happened with the administration trying to invoke the "state secrets" argument regarding the NSA wiretapping cases and taking it a step further, and the prison in Bagram, Afghanistan that is becoming a worse version of Guantanamo. Please read it and pass it along. Obama was elected on the basis that he would fight these issues not embrace them. From the beginning of the article:

In the last week alone, the Obama DOJ (a) attempted to shield Bush's illegal spying programs from judicial review by (yet again) invoking the very "state secrets" argument that Democrats spent years condemning and by inventing a brand new "sovereign immunity" claim that not even the Bush administration espoused, and (b) argued that individuals abducted outside of Afghanistan by the U.S. and then "rendered" to and imprisoned in Bagram have no rights of any kind -- not even to have a hearing to contest the accusations against them -- even if they are not Afghans and were captured far away from any "battlefield." These were merely the latest -- and among the most disturbing -- in a string of episodes in which the Obama administration has explicitly claimed to possess the very presidential powers that Bush critics spent years condemning as radical, lawless and authoritarian.

The Obama administration has declined to comment on the "state secrets" legislation introduced by democrats in the Senate that would roll back the use of this argument. The administration is still embracing this argument to protect the Bush's administration illegal wiretapping program.

The administration is also considering whether to fully release details on torture methods used under the Bush administration and the ACLU fears the administration maydestroy evidence of torture under the Bush administration.

I am not aware of any campaigns that are pressing Obama to reverse the trend he's going in on these topics. If you know of one please let me know. Obama should be held accountable for holding the opposite of positions he held during the campaign.

It's not only in the the States where this shit is happening. In the UK police pre-emptively raided climate change protesters. More...


the power to shut down the internet

A bill recently proposed by Senators Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) and Olympia Snowe (R-ME) would give the federal government power to shut down the Internet in case of an emergency. The Cybersecurity Act of 2009 would give the president the ability to "order a cybersecurity emergency and order the limitation or shutdown of Internet traffic" and give the government ongoing access to "all relevant data concerning (critical infrastructure) networks without regard to any provision of law, regulation, rule, or policy restricting such access." According to the Washington Post the White House has no endorsed the bill but has had a hand in its language. No amendments to the draft bill have yet been submitted. Other than the vague definition of an emergency, there are also privacy concerns with the bill. From the Electronic Frontier Foundation:

The Secretary of Commerce— shall have access to all relevant data concerning (critical infrastructure) networks without regard to any provision of law, regulation, rule, or policy restricting such access…

I feel like I've been on an Obama bashing spree, but here's more to add to the list, although not as major as the previous posts. Obama has appointed a 5th former RIAA lawyer for the justice department. The interesting thing with all these things recently is that they're all related. The DOJ has a hand with both the NSA wiretapping cases and Bagram prison. No surprise knowing who's filling the ranks over there.

Apparently Supreme Court Justice Clarance Thomas admits to having an uneasy relationship with the Bill of Rights. “Today there is much focus on our rights,” Justice Thomas said. “Indeed, I think there is a proliferation of rights.”

“I am often surprised by the virtual nobility that seems to be accorded those with grievances,” he continues. “Shouldn’t there at least be equal time for our Bill of Obligations and our Bill of Responsibilities?”

This is quite scary if this is his view on the Bill of Rights, since last time I checked the duty of the Supreme Court is to interpret the Constitution, not brush it aside.


more on obama and wiretapping

The other day I mentioned that Obama was blocking challenges to Bush's wiretapping program, even though these are things he campaigned against. I came across some more discussion on the subject. Keith Olbermann did a great segment covering the issue with law professor Jonathan Turley. More great commentary from Olbermann, who is one of the very few people in the 24-hour news media who addresses these issues. I'm glad he doesn't fold over for Obama like most people do. 'It was horrendous when Bush did it, but Obama's a good person, so it's ok.' An interesting argument is presented at Sensen No Sen, a great blog I've found and have started following, saying that Obama might be trying to push illegal wiretapping so far that Congress and the Supreme Court will be forced to shut it down. Obama needs the backing of the intelligence community and this way he can play them to gain there support and at the same time stop expansion on illegal wiretapping. The blog continues that we shouldn't count on this being the case. The bottom line is that Obama is continuing the unconstitutional tactics that the Bush administration used. From the Electronics Frontier Foundation:

Sad as that is, it's the Department Of Justice's second argument that is the most pernicious. The DOJ claims that the U.S. Government is completely immune from litigation for illegal spying — that the Government can never be sued for surveillance that violates federal privacy statutes."

This is a radical assertion that is utterly unprecedented. No one — not the White House, not the Justice Department, not any member of Congress, and not the Bush Administration — has ever interpreted the law this way.

Obama may have announced closure of Guantanamo Bay but that doesn't mean his policies differ radically with the Bush administration on overseas detainees. The Bush administration used a prison camp in Bagram, Afganistan where the Supreme Court has no rule. The Obama administration has embraced Bush policies on this topic as well. From the Salon article:

Remember: these are not prisoners captured in Afghanistan on a battlefield. Many of them have nothing to do with Afghanistan and were captured far, far away from that country -- abducted from their homes and workplaces -- and then flown to Bagram to be imprisoned.

I think these issues really need to be brought to light. Too many people still have Obama fever, and even given these facts will say he has his reasoning, or he's a better person than Bush, so he'll use this power for good. The truth is he should be held to the same standard as any president.

On another note, my old roommate posted an article discussing how soy isn't as good for you as you probably think it is on his facebook. Unfermented soy which is used in soy milk, tofu, and veggie burgers is actually bad for you in quantity. Worst, this includes soy baby foods, which effect children at a crucial age in development.


police shoved heard attack victim in g20 protests

If you were following the G20 protests in London earlier this week, you probably heard of the man who died of a heart attack during the protest. It turns out minutes before his heart attack Ian Tomlinson, 47, was walking home from work with his hands in his pockets when police struck him from behind with a baton. See the chilling video below.

I watched a very interesting documentary on the Seattle WTO protests from 1999. It showed more of the same, police initiating a lot of brutality against mainly peaceful protesters.

This Saturday April 11th there will be a series of protests throughout various cities against the banking system. Here are the details on the protests in San Francisco. Unfortunately I'll be out of town.

In happier news Vermont proves it self to be better than California.


spell check

auto correct options for mamczak in open office are mammary, mamma's, mammoth, mammal, mexican, and mexicali

news bits

Found a few interesting articles on The Raw Story today. The first two pertain to the drug issues. Portugal decriminalized drugs back in 2001 and since then drug use in Portugal has fallen below the rest of the EU. This is a perfect example of how decriminalization works. From my visit to the Netherlands I was told the same thing by locals. I wonder what the effect decriminalization has on violence and the money it saves, since those are most likely reduced as well.

Felipe Calderone, Mexico's president, blames U.S. authorities stating just as in Mexico, corruption is complicate to drug trafficking. The truth is that the billions of dollars in drug trade don't simply disappear. Authorities could easily interfere to stop all this laundering. This isn't to mention the CIA's involvement of cocaine trafficking under the Reagan administration. And I'm sure that's just one example. On this note, I'd like to recommend a good documentary on the War on Drugs called American Drug War: The Last White Hope.

Even though Obama is a change from the Obama administration I can't say I'm impressed with the way his administration has been handling things so far. Major case in point, Obama has moved to block challenges against Bush's illegal wiretapping program. Back when Obama voted for the current FISA act I thought it was a political move since he acted to change the legislation and when that failed it would have passed with or without his vote. Had he voted against it, he would have surely been criticized for being soft on terror. But he's currently following the same line as the Bush administration. A few years ago Frontline did a very good documentary on the NSA's wiretapping called Spying on the Home Front.

Going back to Europe, the EU issued a directive for ISPs to start storing details of e-mails and phone calls. Content of e-mails and calls are not recorded, but can be accessed with a warrant. Sweden has decided to ignore the directive (must be all those pirate) and German courts are contesting it.


some diy projects for my camera

When I was in San Diego a couple weeks back I made a few things for my camera since I had access to all my tools. I've been wanted to make an off-camera flash cable for a while. Browsing the internet I also got the idea to make an L-bracket tripod mount. After making those I decided to make a cable shutter release as well.

I've got quite a few boxes of old photo stuff laying around my house. I found two 10 foot PC cables, that plug into my camera's external flash trigger, a PC attachment for Metz flashes, and the bracket arm in the picture below.

I was initially going to use the hotshoe off the bracket and modify it for my off camera flash, but then I found some hotshoe to PC adapters. I just had to convert them to a PC to hotshoe adapter.

The flash is triggered by shorting the center pin on the hotshoe connector with on on the side so I had to drill a hole through the dummy hotshoe and somehow isolate the wire going to the center pin. I found some rubber hose and a rubber screw. I used JB Weld to hold it all together, which is one of the strongest epoxies out there. Just has a really long cure time of about a day.

I also found a nut that was the same thread as a tripod mount so I JB Welded that to the casing.

I cut off the Metz connector from the cable I found and soldered the hot wire to the bolt and the ground to the base of the hotshoe. Since these weren't the best surfaces to solder to and my good soldering iron is up in the bay I decided to use some JB Weld for this as well. It didn't help that I was using some old solder that didn't hold very well either. The connections on the off cable flash have held up, but I have to warn that the JB Weld must have expanded when it dried because I had some problems with my solder joints with my remote shutter release and had to cut off some of the JB and resolder the connections, which included replacing a switch.

Here is the final product. After a bit of use one screw mount broke and the other stripped so I just JB Welded the whole thing together. It should last a while now although if my connections come loose I won't be able to take the thing apart. I used some JB on the cable, too, so that should prevent the connections from giving with a yank of the cable.

Next was making the L-bracket. The bracket arm I found earlier was easy to modify for this. The plan was to remove the handle and drill and tap a hole in the base to mount to the tripod. The thread size is 1/4"-20.

The nice thing about this is that I can always attach the handle again and it'll be as if I never modified anything. Here is the camera mounted on the L-bracket.

And the setup in action.

The next thing I wanted to built was a remote shutter release. I searched around online and found a few ideas. This one does a good job of explaining what I want to do. The only problem is that Canon Rebels use a 3/16" headphone jack which is easy to come by, while my 20D used an proprietary N3 connector. Fortunately I found this site which says that the N3 plug has the same spacing as a VGA adapter for a monitor and pins that are the same size as in a PS2 mouse or keyboard connector. The electronic store where I normally get this kinda stuff was closed (for good) so I went to a random computer store in Kearny Mesa asking for any similar stores. I told the guy what I needed and he gave me two, presumably fried, motherboards. I removed the VGA connector, which was a huge pain, and then got to sawing and filing it down to three pins. This was quite a bit of work, especially getting the pins to make good contact with the camera. The pinouts are on the website I mentioned before. In the end I built the connector and decided to add a 1/8" headphone jack plug. That way I can just use a regular 1/8" jack cable if I need to make it longer and so I can use the connector for future projects (like the intervalometer I'm making for time lapse photography). I ripped the female 1/8" connector off the motherboard I had.

I decided to make the switch housing out of a film canister. I looked for a two stage push button switch (half push for focus, full push for shutter) but couldn't find one so decided to use two switches. I also added a toggle wired to the shutter for bulb exposers. I had issues once I put everything together most likely because the JB Weld expanded and broke some of my solder joints. My advice is to just use a good soldering iron in the first place. I had to replace the toggle switch but eventually I got everything working.

My current project is building a shutter timer (intervalometer) for time lapse photography. It's almost done but the timing on the circuit is off so I have to work that out. Once I work it out I'll post how I made that one, too.

more diy photo


marginalizing the g20 protests

I've been following the protests surrounding the G20 Summit more than the summit itself (although conclusion of the summit is that the IMF gets a lot of money, some solution). Like anytime a group of people get together and demonstrate against the powers that be, the media does what it can to marginalize them. This includes greatly underestimating the number of protesters (I usually see in the thousands in the main stream media, while indy media and blogs from first hand accounts puts the numbers in the tens of thousands and more), focusing on the violence of the few (nothing like a photo-op of one guy smashing a window while surrounded by a brigade of reporters taking pictures), and even this NY Times blog focusing on the costumes of the protesters. The last article is particularly interesting at how the wording uses questions to assume the protesters a bunch of costumed freaks who "would not have seemed out of place at a rave." The article ends "What do readers think, is the media to blame for focusing so much on what is most visually arresting, or are the protesters at fault for spending too much energy attracting attention and not enough articulating practical steps that might actually change the system?" Even though these protests aren't as organize as they could be, many of these people are trying to articulate a point, it's just they have no outlet since the media obviously won't give them one. I wish I had saved the links I read earlier but there were reports of London Metro police blockading in the protesters and not letting them leave and using other aggressive tactics. Don't trust corporate media, informing you is not in their agenda.

sensible drug policy?

Obama's nominee for drug czar might actually bring reason to drug policy in this country. The former Seattle police chief wants to focus less on incarceration and more on "evidence-based" methods such as treatment. It's probably too early to signal the end of the war on drugs, especially with all fear mongering dealing with the drug war at the Mexican border, which might lead to unconstitutionally deploying US troops on national soil and militarizing the border. The DEA hasn't gotten the memo yet, though. Even though Obama said raids on medicinal facilities would stop, a dispensary in San Francisco was recently raided.

On a side note, I've decided to revive this blog and use it for a variety of topics. Pretty much whatever is on my mind at the moment.