Wednesday, June 30, 2010

FCC Source: 'We F*cked Up' Secret Internet Meetings

Published on Wednesday, June 23, 2010 by Daily Finance
FCC Source: 'We F*cked Up' Secret Internet Meetings
by Sam Gustin

The Federal Communications Commission "f*cked up" by holding closed-door meetings with industry giants aimed at striking a deal over Internet regulation, a government source told DailyFinance on Tuesday, even as the agency's chief of staff defended a process that has effectively shut out the public.

Since becoming chairman of the FCC, Julius Genachowski, the former Internet executive and Harvard Law School chum of President Barack Obama, has repeatedly insisted that under his watch, the FCC will be more open and transparent than any previous Commission, with greater public involvement.

Two examples:

How we will work will be central to what we can achieve. We will be fair. We will be open and transparent. Our policy decisions will be fact-based and data-driven. -- Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski, Remarks to FCC Staff, June 30, 2009

It is a roadmap for a process that will be open, transparent and will allow public participation in ways that are unparalleled for this agency. The FCC will reach out to nontraditional stakeholders, because all Americans have a stake in this proceeding. -- Remarks at FCC Open Meeting, July 2, 2009

Effectively Shutting Out the Public

Yet, writing on the agency's website Tuesday, FCC Chief of Staff Edward Lazarus -- who has been running the meetings -- said that the agency's ex parte disclosure rules, which require the agency to provide documentation of all meetings or discussions related to FCC rule-making, don't apply in this case.

Why is that? Lazarus asserted that because the meetings concern "approaches outside of the open proceedings at the Commission, the agency's ex parte disclosure requirements are not applicable."

After last Friday's Lazarus-hosted meeting with Google (GOOG) and Skype, Markham Erickson, executive director of the Open Internet Coalition, sent a "Notice of Ex Parte Presentation in GN 09-191" to the FCC that stated plainly: "We endorsed the six principles proposed in the docket; we reiterated our support for applying those principles to wireless platforms; and we expressed our support for flexible network management standards."

Proceeding 09-191 is the docket number for a public comment process entitled: "In the Matter of Preserving the Open Internet Broadband Industry Practices. Public interest groups were not invited to the meetings.

"We fu*ked up," a government source familiar with the meetings told DailyFinance. "We deserve the bad press. It was a process foul at a minimum." The source was granted anonymity because the meetings are private.

Finding a Way for FCC to Regulate the Internet

So if the discussions with AT&T (T), Verizon (VZ), the National Cable and Telecommunications Association, Google and Skype don't concern an ongoing rule-making process, what are they about?

What, indeed. According to multiple press reports, as well as persons with knowledge of the meetings, the talks are designed to find a legislative path forward that would give the FCC the authority to regulate the Web -- and thus impose network neutrality rules -- without the limited Title II reclassification that the FCC has been seeking after a federal court ruled in April that the agency lacks such authority.

"They don't want to see this played out in the press," the government source said.

Stricter Rules For the FCC

Unlike Congress, where lawmakers routinely meet behind closed doors with industry lobbyists, the FCC -- a federal regulatory authority -- operates under stricter disclosure rules, hence the ex parte disclosure requirements.

Despite the secret meetings, Lazarus insisted that, "As always, our door is open to all ideas and all stakeholders." He added: "To promote transparency and keep the public informed, we will post notices of these meetings here at"

In the first of such notices -- a letter published by the FCC Tuesday -- Erickson said the FCC met with: "Thomas J. Tauke, Executive Vice President Public Affairs, Policy and Communications, Verizon; James W. Cicconi, Senior Executive Vice President External & Legislative Affairs, AT&T Inc.; Kyle E. McSlarrow, President & CEO, National Cable & Telecommunications Association; Alan Davidson, Director of Government Relations and Public Policy, Google; Christopher Libertelli, Senior Director ofGovernment and Regulatory Affairs, Skype."

According to Lazarus, Monday's meeting does not require ex parte documentation, because it was "outside of the open proceedings at the Commission." The topic? Erickson: "We discussed details relating to prospective legislation relating to open Internet principles."

That's it. Unlike Erickson's previous, actual ex parte filing, this document provides no hint as to the motive or argument of the meeting participants.

"Simply Not Acceptable"

Public interest groups went utterly ballistic.

"We are appalled at the idea put forward by the FCC Chief of Staff that there will be no disclosure (ex parte) requirements for meetings the Commission staff will hold on topics directly related to ongoing FCC proceedings," Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group Public Knowledge said in a statement Tuesday.

"To say, as Mr. Lazarus did, that 'other approaches outside of the open proceedings' would not be subject to disclosure requirements is simply not acceptable in any circumstance, must less in an Administration and an FCC which have promised new levels of transparency."

"Deeply Disturbing"

Josh Silver, head of D.C.-based public interest group Free Press, echoed those sentiments.

"The FCC's blog post is a fig leaf attempting to cover for what appears to be secret negotiations to sell out the future of the Internet," Silver said in a statement Tuesday.

"It is deeply disturbing that the FCC's Chief of Staff is not only meeting exclusively with industry representatives on the future of the Internet, but when faced with criticism, he is also making weak excuses for the agency's behavior alongside vague promises to include others somewhere down the road," Silver said. "Paying lip service to transparency and being transparent are two different things."

"Lazarus's claim that these meetings were not subject to ex parte rules is a red herring. Either the FCC is hosting these meetings to discuss FCC action on the future of the Internet, in which case they are subject to ex parte rules, or the FCC is secretly conspiring on a legislative strategy with only the largest telecom industry representatives and lobbyists at the table. That's even more outrageous."

So, do you think Genachowski is living up to his pledge to create "the most open and transparent FCC in history"?

Individuals see health insurance costs jump-report

Individuals see health insurance costs jump-report
Mon Jun 21, 2010
Susan Heavey

* Kaiser Family survey looks at those who buy own coverage
* Future impact of health care reforms unclear
* Industry defends rate hikes, points to cost of care (Adds reaction, quotes, share movement)

WASHINGTON - U.S. health insurers are raising prices by an average of 20 percent for working age adults who buy their own policies, according to a survey released by a nonprofit healthcare group on Monday.

Such premium cost increases affected more than three-quarters of the 14 million U.S. adults who buy their own health plans and caused some to either seek a cheaper option with fewer benefits or switch insurers altogether, the Kaiser Family Foundation study showed.

The findings come as the Obama administration works with insurers to implement some of the new rules under the recently passed healthcare law, which aims to expand consumers' coverage while cracking down on discriminatory industry practices.

U.S. Health Secretary Kathleen Sebelius has blasted health insurance companies such as WellPoint Inc for their premium hikes in individual policies sold in California and other U.S. states.

"With people in the individual market being hit with average increases of 20 percent, the survey shows that the steep increases we have been reading about over the last several months are not just extreme cases," Kaiser Family Foundation Chief Executive Officer Drew Altman said in a statement.

Although individual, or "nongroup," policies are a small slice of the health insurance industry, they have attracted sharp scrutiny in recent months amid reports of price increases as high as 39 percent.

The survey of nearly 1,040 working-age adults from 18 to 64 years of age was conducted in late March and early April. Most responses came on or before March 23, when President Obama signed the healthcare bill into law.

Although individual, or "nongroup," policies are a small slice of the health insurance industry, they have attracted sharp scrutiny in recent months amid reports of price increases as high as 39 percent.

Robert Zirkelbach, spokesman for the industry's lobby group, America's Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), defended the industry's premium hikes, citing "soaring medical costs" and the number of younger, healthier consumers who are opting out of coverage. AHIP fought the healthcare reform bill.

While most working-age adults who have insurance get it through their employers, roughly 14 million people in the United States -- usually small business owners or those whose companies don't offer insurance -- buy their own policies.

In comparison, 157 million adults under 65 have employer or "large group" policies, while roughly 45 million people 65 and older have coverage through the federal government's Medicare program for the elderly and disabled.

Besides WellPoint, other health insurers include Aetna Inc, Cigna Corp, Humana Inc, UnitedHealth Group Inc, Health Net Inc, Amerigroup Corp and the Blue Cross Blue Shield network.

Kaiser's findings also found those who have to buy their own policies still worry about their access to care and whether their insurance will adequately cover them.

"People in this market are not expressing much confidence in their level of protection that's provided by the plan," Mollyann Brodie, vice president and director of Kaiser's Public Opinion and Survey Research, told reporters. They also have higher deductibles and large out-of-pocket costs, she added.


Many insurers have already begun adopting some of the new health law's reforms ahead of schedule, such as ending lifetime caps on coverage and stopping cancellations when a policyholder gets sick.

But other reforms, such as protections for those with pre-existing health conditions, do not go into effect until 2014.

By then, all Americans will be required to have health insurance or risk paying a fine. States can also set up health insurance exchanges aimed at providing consumers one-stop shopping to compare plans.

Oversight of insurers' rates is still left largely up to individual U.S. states, although companies will have to publicly justify any increases.

Other rules governing how insurers spend premium dollars on actual medical care versus administrative expenses also aim to help bring down insurers' costs and, ideally, premiums.

It remains to be seen just how the various changes will affect health insurers, which saw their shares buffeted amid the health reform debate. Companies are now awaiting clearer rules from the Department of Health and Human Services.

Kaiser said 52 percent of survey respondents who buy their own coverage said they would keep their current plan next year, while 32 percent said they were not sure they would do so. Another 14 percent said they would switch companies.

"In the vast majority of states, the nongroup market is subject to substantially less regulation than group insurance," the Kaiser report said. "Much will change under the new health reform law."

Various studies have shown the nation's healthcare costs outpace inflation, rising more than 6 percent a year.

"Insurance is still going to be expensive because healthcare is expensive," said Gary Claxton, vice president and director of the Kaiser Family Foundation's Marketplace Project, but he said many of the reforms should help increase competition for those shopping for their own coverage.

The Morgan Stanley Healthcare Payor Index ended down 0.8 percent and the S&P Managed Healthcare Index fell 0.5 percent, while the overall S&P 500 Index lost 0.4 percent. (Reporting by Susan Heavey; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn and Tim Dobbyn)

Coalition urges FCC to block proposed merger of Comcast-NBC

Coalition urges FCC to block proposed merger of Comcast-NBC
Gautham Nagesh
A coalition of media companies, unions and nonprofits is urging the Federal Communications Commission to block the merger of Comcast and NBC Universal.

The coalition, made up of organizations including media giant Bloomberg, the Writers Guild of America, West and advocacy groups like Free Press and Media Access Project, wrote to FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski on Monday voicing their opposition to the proposed merger of Comcast and NBC-Universal.

Monday is the last day for organizations to submit public comment to the FCC on the proposed merger, which would create a new $30 billion joint venture merging the Philadelphia cable giant's content division with NBC Universal's (NBCU) stable of television networks, film studios and theme parks. Govs. Arnold Schwarzenegger, (R-Calif.), David Paterson, (D-N.Y.) and Ed Rendell (D-Pa.) have expressed support for the merger.

The groups argue the new entity would have unprecedented control over the country's media landscape, raising antitrust concerns.

"The proposed merger of Comcast and NBC-Universal is poised to fundamentally alter the landscape of the U.S. media market," the letter states. "We are a group of varied organizations with many specific concerns with this merger, but we have joined together because the threat of this merger to consumers is so great."

"As filed," it goes on, "we oppose this merger."

According to the letter, the new entity created by the merger would include the largest cable company, the largest residential broadband Internet service provider, the owner of one of the four national broadcast networks, several prominent local stations, cable networks and some of the most popular websites.

This would give the company "a degree of market power unrivaled in our nation's media history," the letter claims.

Comcast executive vice president for public policy David Cohen responded to criticism of the deal Monday afternoon in a lengthy blog post citing the numerous elected officials, advocacy groups and labor organizations that have endorsed the merger. He also indicated that many critics are motivated by business interests, not concern for consumers.

"It is important to keep in mind as you read the comments from opponents of this transaction that the businesses in which Comcast operates in today – distribution, programming, online, high-speed Internet, and voice — are all fiercely competitive," Cohen writes.

"Comcast and NBCU don’t compete against each other in most segments of the market, so there is no new concentration. There are no cable systems involved in this deal, so Comcast’s distribution platform will not grow."

“If the Comcast-NBC deal goes through, it would be one of the largest media mergers in a generation, leaving Americans with even higher cable bills and fewer diverse, independent choices on the dial," said Free Press President Josh Silver. "Approval of the deal would be business as usual in Washington, letting the largest companies have their way at the public’s expense."

Silver said the deal is particularly bad for consumers in the 12 markets where Comcast is the leading cable and broadband Internet provider and NBC has a local TV station, including Washington, D.C. He also warned the deal could threaten the viability of online video sites like, claiming Comcast could prioritize its own online content in violation of the principle of net neutrality.

Sen. Herb Kohl, (D-Wis.), chairman of the Senate Judiciary subcommittee on antitrust, competition policy and consumer rights, wrote to the FCC last month asking the commission to impose a host of conditions on the deal, including a promise from Comcast not to discriminate against content from other networks.

The full list of organizations that co-signed the letter follows:

Bloomberg LP

Common Cause

Communications Workers of America

Free Press

Media Access Project

The National Association of Independent Networks

The National Coalition of African-American Owned Media

National Consumers League

The Organization for the Promotion and Advancement of Small Telecommunications Companies

National Telecommunications Cooperative Association

Public Knowledge


Writers Guild of America, West

Google 'Newspass' to save the newspaper industry?

Google 'Newspass' to save the newspaper industry?
Seth Weintraub
June 19, 2010

According to a report from Italy, Google plans to release a micro-payment system that will link to paid newspaper content directly from search results.

Italian newspaper La Repubblica is reporting that Google has been contacting Italian newspapers (wonder how they found out?!) about a new service called 'Newspass' which will be released later this year. Newspass will provide news organizations with micro-payments for direct links to their properties from Google News. The move is likely in response to an Italian publishers organization/antitrust authority who is reviewing Google's relationship with the newspaper industry. However, the move could have implications on the global newspaper industry.

Here's how the system would work: When users do a Google News search, they will receive both paid and unpaid results. If users choose to click on the paid results (which will denote the cost), they will be charged a fee through Google Checkout. If they refuse payment (or don't have/want to have Google checkout) they won't be able to see the content.

Google will share the analytics information with the site owners so that they know how successful (or unsuccessful) the program is.

According to the paper, the service is set to roll out later this year and may find its way into other markets. In future iterations, Newspass will adapt to any payment method chosen by the owners of the sites including micro-payments or various subscription models.

Henrique de Castro, a Google vice president, said in a translated statement, "Google wants to be partners, not competitors, with the Newspaper industry."

The Future of Green Architecture: A Floating Museum

The Future of Green Architecture: A Floating Museum
Suzanne LeBarre

Physalia is half-boat, half-building, and all green. This mammoth aluminum concept by Belgian architect Vincent Callebaut is meant to travel Europe’s rivers, making filthy water drinkable. At the same time, the ship generates more energy than it uses.

A coat of titanium dioxide paint brushed onto the silvery shell will neutralize pollution by absorbing ultraviolet rays, enabling a chemical reaction that decomposes organic and inorganic toxins. (It’s the same technology used in certain high-tech concrete that breaks down airborne particulates.) As the vessel whips along, purifying waterways, it can draw on both solar and hydro power. Turbines under the hull transform water movement into electricity, and rooftop photovoltaic cells harness energy from the sun. The roof doubles as a nursery, whose carefully selected plants help filter river gunk, whether from the Thames, Rhine or Euphrates.

But Physalia isn’t just designed to be a working ship. The vessel will also be a floating museum of sorts. Scientists who study aquatic ecosystems can hole up in the dedicated “Earth garden” lab, and tourists can visit temporary exhibits in a “water garden” or settle into a submerged lounge that could easily pass for a London nightclub. Callebaut, 33, dreamed up the idea after last year’s United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen shone a long-overdue spotlight on global water issues. He has some lofty terms for his project: It’s a “nomadic hydrodynamic laboratory,” a “fragment of living earth,” and a “floating agora” on a “geopolitical scale.” Others might just call it a cool idea.

Mercury Dental Fillings: What the FDA and the ADA are not Telling You

Mercury Dental Fillings: What the FDA and the ADA are not Telling You
Wednesday, June 16, 2010
Aaron Turpen, citizen journalist

(NaturalNews) Many in the natural health and wellness community were elated when, in 2008, the FDA reluctantly declared mercury-based fillings (usually called "amalgams" or "silver") to have neurotoxic effects on children. Then the Food and Drug Administration reversed itself a year later, when it declared that mercury fillings were A-OK. The FDA`s opinion doesn't change the science behind mercury fillings and their link to debilitating diseases like autism and Alzheimer`s.

In 2009, several petitioners asked the FDA to reconsider their stance on mercury fillings, reversing their stance back to their original assessment of toxicity. Signing petitioners included Moms Against Mercury and several individuals holding various positions in the medical and health care industry as well as private citizens, all through the International Academy of Oral Medicine and Toxicology (IAOMT).

They cite the FDA`s use of an "ill-defined and unsubstantiated estimate of absorbed mercury exposure from dental amalgam of 1 to 5 [micrograms]/day that supposedly relates to the presence of between 7 and 10 amalgam fillings." The petition shows that the FDA's conclusions from that report were wrong and that further conclusions taken from another World Health Organization (WHO) report were also mis-represented in the FDA`s findings.

It is well-documented that amalgam fillings give off mercury vapors, even after decades of service as a cavity filling. A video of mercury vapor being given off of an extracted tooth when it is submitted to water at about the same heat level of a cup of coffee or tea shows that mercury fillings are toxic for a very long time.

In fact, many dentists, while they understand the dangers of an amalgam spill in their office, are unaware that they and their staff are exposed to mercury vapors and potential poisoning every time they handle both the fillings they're putting into teeth and the mouths of patients who already have them. The extraction and disposal of existing mercury fillings has been linked to at least one patient who developed Parkinson's Disease and became wheelchair bound.

Another study involving 9 velvet monkeys was conducted in Denmark. In that study, three of the monkeys were given amalgam fillings, three were given amalgam bone implants, and three were left untouched as controls. A year later, tissues in the monkeys showed that the fillings deposited mercury in several organs, including the spinal ganglia, adrenal, liver, pituitary, kidneys, and more. The monkeys in the control group had only trace amounts of mercury in their bodies.

Mercury has been linked to several neurological disorders including Alzheimer`s, autism, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson`s Disease, and others. Other studies have been done into the links between mercury and other heavy metals and their reactive properties with one another.

In future articles here on NaturalNews, this citizen journalist will be exploring those other mercury-metal links and sources such as Thimerosal, fish, dentistry, and more.

New York Times Planted Story on Afghan Mineral Wealth

New York Times Planted Story on Afghan Mineral Wealth Designed to Prolong US Occupation, Spur Neocon-Backed Petraeus Presidential Candidacy
Webster G. Tarpley
June 17, 2010

To provide a new and spurious economic looting argument for making the US occupation of Afghanistan virtually endless, and to advance the candidacy of General David Petraeus as the principal neocon warmonger candidate for president on the Republican ticket in 2012 – these are the purposes of the story planted in the June 13, 2010 New York Times under the byline of James Risen, who is acting as stenographer for the neocons in the great tradition of his predecessor Judith Miller. In retrospect, this article may well be seen as the opening gun of an overt push to place General Petraeus in the White House in 2012 as the new Field Marshal von Hindenburg.

According to this story, a Pentagon survey has determined that Afghanistan possesses at least $1 trillion worth of valuable minerals, including iron, copper, cobalt, gold, and lithium – with lithium being especially valuable because it is used in batteries for computers and for the new designs of electric automobiles. Of course, none of this is news, as the article itself concedes. The surveys done by the US occupation authorities over the last several years are explicitly based on careful studies done by the Soviets during their own occupation of Afghanistan during the 1980s. The basic outlines of what is being presented by Risen as front-page news were already published in a May 2004 World Bank report, which was used to dictate minerals legislation to the Afghan government. More recently, Afghan mineral wealth has been hyped by the Afghan embassy in Washington on various occasions, and was a featured theme of the visit here last month by Afghan President Karzai.

Candidate Petraeus Touts “Stunning Potential”

This planted puff piece is based on anonymous “senior US government officials.” The only exception is General David Petraeus, the warlord of the US Central Command, the theater of operations in which Afghanistan is located. Petraeus is directly cited as saying that the Afghan mineral riches whose presence the US has confirmed represent a “stunning potential” for the future development of the country. The implied message from Petraeus to the Washington elite is, to paraphrase, support me and cash in on the riches of Afghanistan, or else wimpy Obama’s self-serving pullout timetable will allow the Chinese to move in.

The repackaging and rehashing of the Afghan mineral story at this time represents a bid to mobilize political support by Wall Street, major minerals corporations, and other predatory interests to keep the US occupation of Afghanistan going far beyond the July 2011 date set by Obama for the beginning of a gradual pullout of US forces. The article makes clear that, if the US should depart from Afghanistan, the immense mineral wealth will fall easy prey to China. China, it is noted, has already taken over a copper mine in Afghanistan. In March of this year, it was a sudden alarm in Washington that Karzai’s Afghanistan was slipping into the Chinese orbit that motivated Obama’s hasty visit to Kabul. The implication is that, whether or not these minerals can actually be developed by the United States, it is imperative to stay in Afghanistan to make sure that they are denied to the Chinese.

The planted story is also designed to counter the growing war fatigue and defeatism among the US-led coalition, which is building up in advance of the NATO summit scheduled for Lisbon, Portugal this coming November. This coalition currently includes 46 nations, representing one third of the military forces deployed, and an even larger portion of the logistics necessary for the occupation. The new British regime has been signaling that its commitment to Afghanistan will not be eternal. Prime Minister David Cameron told British Tommies in Afghanistan that they will be brought home just as soon as their task is finished. Air Chief Marshal Jock Stirrup, the highest ranking uniformed military figure in the UK, is being ousted in a signal of deep cuts to come for the British military establishment. Poland has demanded that NATO come up with a detailed exit plan for ending the Afghan engagement. In Germany, the most recent poll shows about 70% opposition to the endless war, and budget cuts are looming in that country as well. The Netherlands and Canada both intend to withdraw their contingents from Afghanistan next year. Turkey is another country with a presence in Afghanistan that may soon become fed up with this adventure, especially because of the contemptuous and shoddy treatment meted out to the Turks by the State Department over the Iran uranium enrichment and Gaza aid flotilla issues. All signs suggest that, when the Afghan engagement comes up for discussion at the November NATO summit in Lisbon, disaffection and defection will be the dominant notes.

NATO defeatism comes on top of growing disaffection with Obama’s endless war inside the United States: the newest poll has a majority of 53% convinced that prolonging the Afghanistan war is not worth the sacrifices involved. Even more acute is the growing backlash from inside the Democratic Party. Congressman Charlie Rangel of Harlem recently assailed Obama as being “consistent with” Bush and Cheney when it comes to lying about the wars he is conducting.

Petraeus the Neocon, The Thinking Man’s Warmonger

The neocon cabal in Washington has been largely booted out of government by the Brzezinski-Trilateral-Bilderberg financier faction who run Obama. But the neocons are determined not to stay in the wilderness forever, and their chosen vehicle for a comeback is the Petraeus presidential candidacy. Petraeus is now the main unifying figure of the neocon war party. The allegedly thoughtful general was recently lionized at neocon central, the American Enterprise Institute, which gave him its Irving Kristol Award in early May. As Antiwar noted:

… many have speculated of late he is selling himself – as a potential Republican candidate for commander in chief. …. And he probably won’t become the Republican nominee without some heavy lifting from the star-maker machinery at AEI, which would enjoy nothing more than to get its own pocket general into the White House. …. This mutually beneficial relationship is already off to a great start. Thanks to ‘Team Kagan,’ AEI’s Bill Kristol and Charles Krauthammer, and a battery of sycophantic pundits and mainstream journalists, Petraeus’ lack of authentic exceptionalism has been transformed into an unshakable ‘warrior-scholar’ persona with his own ‘legacy’…. But his recent pandering to AEI and the lip-smacking response from Kristol & Co. should make anyone who still maintains a thread of common sense and an institutional memory very concerned.[1]

Petraeus is getting kudos from Max Boot, the Kagans, Frank Gaffney, and other ambitious neocon careerists.

Peter Beinart has compared Petraeus to Dwight Eisenhower, the 1952 GOP candidate, and thinks that Petraeus may be highly effective as a candidate in the current anti-politician atmosphere. Beinart, currently at the New America Foundation, comments:

Today’s GOP has a right-wing base that can damage Obama, but none of its favorites have a prayer of winning the White House. The reason is that just like the Republican right of the early 1950s, which kept insisting that the New Deal constituted socialism (or fascism), today’s conservative activists have not accommodated themselves to some basic shifts in public mood…. powerful forces within the GOP will begin looking for a candidate who doesn’t have to kowtow to the party’s activist base. They’ll need someone with enough personal appeal to avoid the culture war food-fights that obsess the Republican base, someone who exudes moral traditionalism and fiscal prudence without appearing fanatical or intolerant. Such obfuscation won’t satisfy the GOP’s hard-right core, of course, but John McCain—another soldier-turned-pol—has already shown that the right’s stranglehold on the nominating process can be broken. Like McCain in 2008, Petraeus could largely skip the Iowa caucuses, which evangelicals dominate, and instead focus on New Hampshire, where independents can vote. In both 2000 and 2008, it was New Hampshire that boosted McCain, and New Hampshire, as it turns out, is the closest thing Petraeus has to a home state. From there it would be on to South Carolina, where military pedigrees go a long way…. Parties that have grown narrow and extreme tend to spiral downward until they nominate someone who is not beholden to their narrow, extreme base. That person has to be so popular that he or she can defy the normal rules about how candidates get nominated. Right now, David Petraeus is the only Republican who fits the bill. In the weeks ahead, McChrystal may become a conservative folk hero for opposing Obama on Afghanistan. But for Democrats looking toward 2012 and 2016, it’s Petraeus who represents the real threat.[2]
The warmonger regroupment around Petraeus has been noticed across the Atlantic by the June 12 London Economist, which measures a Petraeus-Daniels ticket against a Palin-Huckabee one. In another article, the city of London house organ notes that, in addition to Huckabee, Romney, Palin, Pawlenty, and Barbour, “a few even hope that General David Petraeus could be lured in.” In reality, Petraeus is more than eager. If current US reactionary politics resembles the mad Hatter’s tea party with Alice and the white rabbit, as the Economist cover suggests, perhaps Petraeus can bring power out of chaos.

Once we know that the neocons are running the Petraeus for President campaign, much else becomes clear, especially if we recall the neocon methods used in connection with the Iraq invasion of 2003. The planted puff piece about Afghan minerals has neocon fingerprints all over it; it may have been concocted at the AEI. It implies that NATO states that stick with the US might receive a piece of the action when it comes to looting these natural resources. This is exactly the way that reconstruction contracts in Iraq were employed under neocon auspices. Back in those days, the Germans and the French were excluded because they had opposed the neocon-induced war hysteria of 2003.

One big objection to making the Afghan occupation infinite has to do with the tremendous monetary costs involved, which the sovereign debt crisis has made it harder for the participating governments to bear. Here we should remember the pie-in-the-sky promised by Wolfowitz and other neocons in 2002-2003, when they proclaimed that an invasion of Iraq would be self-financing, thanks to the promised looting of Iraqi oil, which in reality has never materialized in the promised form. Back in those years, there were even more extravagant neocon fantasies about what could be done by bringing Iraqi oil production under US control. Some neocons recommended a massive increase in Iraqi oil output with the goal of radically lowering the world price of oil and busting the OPEC cartel. All of this, we note in retrospect, was never accomplished.

Exercitus facit imperatorem: The Army Creates the Emperor

The presidency has been won by Washington, Jackson, Harrison, Zachary Taylor, Grant, Garfield, Theodore Roosevelt, and Eisenhower, so there is no doubt that military leaders have often represented formidable contenders. By contrast, the current Republican field represents a collection of largely discredited hacks and ideological crackpots who would have a very difficult time winning a presidential contest. Palin is an imbecile. Huckabee is a clown. Jindall is a bungler. Pawlenty is a nonentity. Barbour could be a deep south favorite son at the very most. DeMint is in the same regional minor league.

Romney, the asset stripper from Bain Capital, is wired into Wall Street and does well with country club plutocrats, but lacks appeal to the social issue and warmonger reactionary currents inside the GOP. Earlier this year, Romney’s future appeared to be that of vice president and de facto prime minister/austerity enforcer in a Petraeus-Romney administration. But now, many have figured out that the Obama health care bill, with its capitulation to the insurance and big pharma cartels, is directly based on the individual mandate to buy overpriced insurance under government coercion instituted by Romney when he was governor of Massachusetts. Given the current agitation of the Tea Party Romney’s identification with the Obama health bill is now an obstacle to his future aspirations. In response to this problem, various media have begun to tout Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels, a former Reagan appointee who does not share Romney’s Massachusetts problems, although he is less effective in other ways. For the moment, we must conclude that the choice between a Petraeus-Romney ticket and a Petraeus-Daniels GOP ticket is still up in the air.

Petraeus: the New von Hindenburg

If the Petraeus candidacy materializes in the way that now seems likely, it will mark a new phase in the ungovernability, economic immiseration, and erosion of democracy in the United States. Unfortunately, the historical parallels for a Petraeus candidacy do not point in the direction of Eisenhower. They point rather towards Field Marshal Paul von Hindenburg, the German commander of World War I who became president of the Weimar Republic in 1925 and during whose reactionary and authoritarian presidency the Hitler movement rapidly grew in power. It was Hindenburg who allowed Hitler to take state power in 1933 by appointing him as Chancellor, leading to the swift consolidation of a totalitarian dictatorship. Hindenburg’s appeal was that he was a general and not a politician, not a creature of corrupt parliamentary haggling and backroom deals, but only accustomed simply to obey or to command. This meant that the Hindenburg presidency had a definite anti-parliamentary and anti-democratic thrust from the very beginning, and that is what we can expect to see if Petraeus ever gets to the White House. With the German parliament paralyzed by about March 1930, Hindenburg’s presidency soon became a continuous state of emergency rule, in which the Field Marshal approved or disapproved emergency decrees submitted by a series of chancellors – Brüning, von Papen, von Schleicher, and finally Hitler.

Petraeus has the advantage of being able to play on the sense of military discipline and loyalty which is ingrained in many Tea Party activists. Even a cursory survey of the Tea Party folk shows that a very large number of them are retired military, and their movement is full of militaristic overtones favorable to foreign aggression. There is reason to believe that many of these activists would immediately place Petraeus, whom they naïvely might view as the victor of Mesopotamia, in a special privileged category above other candidates, and rapidly fall into line. This probable ability to deliver the recalcitrant Tea Party gives Petraeus a great advantage over other Republican hopefuls like Romney, who might be competitive in the general election, but who would have a very hard time fighting their way through Republican primaries dominated by ideological fanaticism.

Obama has been doing yeoman service as a union buster, forcing the United Auto Workers to give up games they had acquired through decades of bitter struggle and sacrifice. Obama and his Secretary of Education Arnie Duncan are leading the charge to bust the teachers’ unions as the centerpiece of a general assault against public employees of all types conducted under the banner of ferocious austerity. Right now, Obama still remains the best strike breaker the Wall Street financier elite can deploy. But Obama is collapsing rapidly, and the ruling elite must prepare an alternative option for 2012. But G. W. Bush left the Republican Party in a shambles, racked by internal dissent and lead by the group of reactionary clowns, mountebanks, and misfits we have already mentioned. Would the Republican Party as it currently exists be sufficient, if put into power, to break the kind of strike wave that that might emerge (as in Greece) from the current policies of retrenchment, drastic austerity, savage cuts in social services, union busting, and tax gouging? There is some doubt that it could.

Petraeus could certainly mobilize the Tea Party to break strikes and protests by workers, students, immigrants, and supporters of social services, but his big advantage would be his ability to lean on the uniformed military establishment and the secret intelligence agencies in a more overt way than other presidents could. Again, the example of von Hindenburg is instructive. A Petraeus presidency would most likely be an exercise in emergency rule, a de facto dictatorship by Executive Order under the color of the existing 9/11 national emergency, or of some other emergency which Petraeus could declare. Petraeus could maintain a certain public detachment in order to preserve his credibility longer, while leaving the dirty details to a vice presidential Prime Minister like Romney or Mitch Daniels, both of whom have experience as state governors. The content of the emergency decrees would inevitably be economic austerity of the most brutal type, combined with unprecedented attacks on civil liberties, against a background of new and catastrophic foreign military adventures.

During this week’s hearings on the wretched state of the Afghan military adventure conducted by the Senate Armed Services Committee, committee chair Senator Carl Levin asked if, in the professional military judgment of General Petraeus, Obama’s announced goal of starting the US departure from Afghanistan were advisable. Petraeus pointedly refused to endorse Obamas July 2011 target, first remaining silent for a prolonged interval, then hemming and hawing, and finally offering a highly qualified and grudging assent, while warning that it is necessary to be very careful with timetables. In other words, Petraeus has decided to leave open the option of clashing with Obama over the conduct of the Afghan war. One can imagine a scenario in which Petraeus sometime around July 2011 resigns his command in protest over Obama’s desire to cut and run, and vows to take the issue to the voters. He might even take a leaf from von Hindenburg’s book and accuse Obama of wanting to stab his gallant forces in the back, just when final victory is within their grasp. The precedents for this kind of politics are not good.

[1] Kelley B. Vlahos, “President Petraeus,” May 17, 2010, at

[2] Peter Beinart, “Petraeus for President?” October 12, 2009, at

Meeting Trent Reznor on X at the Sharon Tate Horror House

Meeting Trent Reznor on X at the Sharon Tate Horror House

16 days to go to raise more funds for the MONDO 2000 History Project. Please buy a reward. And please spread the word.

I have located the esteemed Mark Frost aka Somerset Mau Mau, on Facebook. Had to fight my way past many other talented Mark Frosts. “Mau Mau” was really the person who co-created the first edition of anything to do with all this … the first issue of High Frontiers… with me. He says he’s ready to try to remember something/anything from that period… which will be a heroic effort indeed. I’ve also friended many other old friends on Facebook and on LinkedIn, so I’ve got ‘em right where I want ‘em. Or else I’ve located email addresses.

I’m in the hunter-gatherer stage of the project right now – gathering names and contacts for later deployment.

And I’ve been writing a few entries in conversational style… pretending I’m talking to someone… most of the entries start at the beginning. It seems like I’ll have to trudge through my part of the story in a linear fashion, beginning to end. Because if I try to describe something that happened, say, in 1992, I have to explain who everybody is and all kinds of circumstances – stuff that will probably already have been ‘splained in the final book.

This piece below is an exception to the rule… and is rather long. It’s the story of Mondo Vanilli and Timothy Leary going to a housewarming party thrown by Nine Inch Nail mainman Trent Reznor after he moved into Roman Polanski and Sharon Tate’s old place… yes, that place.

So, ok… it’s very name-droppy (Drop names, not acid!), but that’s the way it was. And yes, I’m throwing this up because I think it may gain some last minute attention before the end of our Kickstarter period on July 4.

btw, all entries are experimental at this point, and I welcome suggestions...

Hey! We do need more money. This is a two year project with bells and whistles and site management and video and writing and interviewing. Let’s just say we would love to get this at least up above 12k during this final push.

16 days to go to raise more funds for the MONDO 2000 History Project. Please buy a reward. And please spread the word.

I hope you enjoy this entry.

November 1992
R.U. Sirius

It was about three months after I’d quit MONDO 2000. We (Mondo Vanilli) headed down to L.A. with a demo tape and this very fun and very silly little Xeroxed package offering music industry behemoths the opportunity to get in on the cutting edge of cyber-absurdism.

Actually, the day before, I’d discovered that issue #8 of MONDO 2000 had come out in my absence. It was the first one without me. I was down at Tower Records off of Telegraph Ave (in Berkeley) and I saw it on the stands. And I actually bought it. I could have gone up to the MONDO house and grabbed a dozen for free, but pride etcetera… you know. And it looked great. The Negativland v. The Edge confrontation (as mentioned earlier, I had walked out of MONDO in an argument with Alison over whether to run it at all) was in it, but it was a much shorter version and it wasn’t mentioned on the cover. I read the issue all the way through that night and it was the best issue ever – it was the most flawless and sophisticated issue yet, which was a bit upsetting, actually. I kind of wanted it to totally fall apart in my absence. In retrospect, it’s not surprising that it was good since St. Jude and Andrew Hultkrans were still guiding the editorial content.

We were going to stay with Leary in Beverly Hills and we had a whole lot of really amazing music industry connections to look up. I had connections because of MONDO 2000. And we were going to meet this girl Yvonne, from Chicago, who had gone to art school with (Mondo Vanilli musical force) Scrappi. And she knew all kinds of people in the industry. She was sort of… well… let’s just say that Al Jourgenson called her a groupie. I certainly wouldn’t pin that tag on her… because she wouldn’t accept it and secondly, because she’s a great, multidimensional, real human being -- but she did hang out with a lot of musicians, let’s put it that way. She has been a babysitter for Anita Pallenberg, which to me, was the height of hipster cred. And she knew a lot of people. I also had heard from Billy Idol, who was just starting work on his infamous cyberpunk thing. So I had his phone number to plan a visit.

On our first full day in L.A., we saw a bunch of people. I think the first person we met was Cara Burns, an old friend of Yvonne’s. She was part of a very powerful law firm, Manatt, Phelps & Phillips. They represented lots of high-powered people in the entertainment industry. And she agreed to take us on, which I think was ultimately our undoing, actually. And we met with this guy who was like one of the top agents representing bands… as I recall, he mostly signed people to Warner Brothers. Our connections were actually too good.

At some point during that day, I called Casey Cannon, a MONDO friend from LA who knew everybody in Hollywood. At that time, she was making most of those short two minute previews you see in movie theaters… and her husband Van Ling was with Lightstorm and was Cameron’s go-to guy on the new technology. I must have called her from a phone booth since, like most people at that time, I didn’t have a cell phone. And she told me that we had to go to Trent Reznor’s party that night.

As she informed me, Reznor had just rented the ol’ Tate mansion. That is, he’d rented the house that had been occupied by Roman Polanski and Sharon Tate… the place where Sharon and all those other people were slaughtered by the Mansonoids. And this was to be his housewarming party.

I didn’t have a pen, so I promised to call her back when we got back to Tim’s house and get Reznor’s phone number. And almost as soon as I got there, she called me. “You’ve really got to go meet Trent Reznor!” Plus, she noted that Leary’s house was right around the corner from Reznor’s new place. So I got the phone number and called it right away.

I always have anxiety about calling famous people – a fear of rejection. Particularly then, sort of at the height of MONDO’s media hype… when some famous person said, “Who the fuck are you?” it bruised my ego. (Now, it feels like there’s less at stake.) But I called, and fortunately, I got an answering machine. And I was able to leave the message that I was staying at Timothy Leary’s house. Howdy, neighbor! The Leary name was a first-rate calling card.

The phone rang almost constantly at Tim’s house, but at some point a couple of hours later, he came out of his office with his phone in hand and announced that he was talking to Peter Christopherson (Coil, Throbbing Gristle) -- who identified himself to Tim as Pighead Christopherson -- and we were invited to Trent Reznor’s housewarming party. It was all a bit of a synchronicity too, because – at that time -- this underground theater group was putting on a play based on a conversation Leary had with Charlie Manson when he was in prison and there were posters and flyers for it around the house. Leary was pretty excited about the play.

Just before we were about to head to the party, Tim came out with a mint dish filled with pink ecstasy tabs, offering them around. Simone (Third Arm – the other member of Mondo Vanilli) took one and I think Yvonne may have taken one. Scrappi and I refused.

But something about the historical resonances nagged at me. What would the small town freak who I had been back in the ‘70s think about refusing a hit from Timothy Leary before heading up to the infamous Manson horror house to a rock star party. After a few minutes, as we worked on our beers before heading out, I snuck over and pocketed two hits. I went in the bathroom, broke one of them in half and took it. (I guess it seemed more shameful to be a lightweight and take half-a-hit than it was to just refuse it all together, thus the subterfuge.)

I must have had an empty stomach because it came on quick and rather strong for a low dose. Reznor’s new home was only a few blocks from Leary’s, but it was on some windy roads and getting there became interesting when a red Ferrari started tailgating and some guy began gesticulating wildly out the window. He cut in front of us and made us stop. Out popped Gibby Haynes, shouting. He wanted to know if we knew “the way.” He didn’t even have to say the way to what. Yes. He let us get in front again and we made our way to the Reznor party.

On arrival, an enthusiastic Gibby jumped out of the car to meet Tim and bragging that the red Ferrari was on loan from Johnny Depp. With the ecstasy coming on, the entire L.A. media world started to seem like a serene and glittery playground filled with happy children playing grownup and I settled into a comfort zone. The world was a friendly place. Relatively speaking, of course.

There were two buildings on the Reznor grounds. One relatively small looking house and another building that looked like a warehouse space. The lights were all out in the house and a sign said to go to the other building.

The scene inside was grunge boy meets Barbie doll. Very odd. The guys – who all looked to be in their thirties -- were all in jeans and t’s and leather jackets, with long hair and puffy beer faces. (OK… me too… except I had the lambskin, fur collar, floor length overcoat.) And the girls -- who looked like they were just about past high school -- were all perfect mostly blonde babes with inflated boobs and noses pointed to the sky wearing impossibly short skirts and generally dressed and made up for sex. And for the most part, the guys and girls weren’t together.

Gloomy Kraut techno blared too loudly for conversation, and the general mood seemed dour. Everyone carried plastic cups filled with beer. No one was talking to each other. The girls all looked disappointed. No rock stars in sight. This was nothing more than a college kegger with a bit of hipster edge. Where the hell was Trent?

Leary looked lost and confused. Nevertheless he asserted his tribal leadership and brought us all to safety -- a place to sit –- some benches around an unlit fireplace. Once settled, Tim and Simone found comfort locked in each other’s eyes, while Scrappi, Yvonne and I continued to scan the room in search of a glimmer of glamour.

After awhile, I realized I had to move. If I sat there any longer, I was going to trance out for the entire evening into the rather boring pink spongecake that the inside of my head was turning into. Yvonne must have been feeling the same thing. By this point, too bored for paranoia, she suggested we “creepy crawly” around the grounds, which made me laugh.

As we were exiting the building, Reznor appeared and greeted us with a sly grin. He followed us out, and around the corner was Anthony Kiedas. Reznor introduced me. Kiedas asked: “Your name is Are You Serious?” Somehow my ecstasy displaced ego mustered a response. I looked up at the towering pop star whose face had been on my TV screen a thousand times over the previous decade and smiled and said, “Yes. And who are you?” Kiedas deflated. “I’m Anthony,” he muttered, humbly, and we shook hands.

And so, Yvonne and I soldiered on to check the perimeters of the ol’ Tate mansion, wondering what walls a creepy crawler would crawl over; what bushes would a Squeaky Fromme creep through (Fromme actually wasn’t involved in the Tate-LaBianca episodes). It was all just a funny game and Squeaky was just a famous name… like Reznor or Kiedas or Leary. Somehow the horrible reality of that day some 25 years earlier didn’t feel any closer at hand on the grounds of the ol’ Tate mansion than it had from any other spot on the planet. If there are ghosts, maybe ecstasy chases them away.

After a good half hour of wandering around, and Yvonne videotaping the arriving party guests (she kept her video camera with her at all times), we noticed a little bit of light now peaking out from behind the curtains of the smaller house. We slinked up to the door. There was a handwritten sign that read: “COME IN HERE TO BE KILLED.”

While Yvonne laughed it off, I actually thought it through. Let’s see. Reznor is a major rock star with money and ambition. He doesn’t want to die right now from a lethal injection, particularly one that doesn’t get you off first. Now, maybe if he had spent the last year of his life sucking up to Terry Melcher and Dennis Wilson only to have his song lyrics ripped… achhh! Don’t go there. Thankfully, my little reverie was interrupted before it turned into full blown empathy for the devil. Yvonne did the only sensible thing. She opened the door and walked in, camera first.

There they were. Seventeen Illuminati figures, including Marilyn Monroe, George H.W. Bush, David Bowie and The Penguin, all in black robes, huddled over Britney Spears, laying in the center of a Pentagram while Reznor raised his blade.

OK. I just made that up. Actually, it was terribly normal inside. Kiedas and Gibby and Trent were there, and some music industry types, and the hottest of the young girls, clearly selected with care from the warehouse space. Within minutes, Tim and Simone wandered in. Record industry guys came over wanting to ask me about virtual reality. Here I was, in this world historic cosmically weird Manson horror house with Timothy Leary and rock stars sorta situation and I was getting into the same conversations that I would have had back in San Francisco.

There was one moments of vintage verbal violence. Gibby started screaming at some way porno looking girl because she wouldn’t believe that this greasy looking longhaired dude with a southern accent was the driver of the red hot Ferrari and that he’d borrowed it from his good friend, Johnny Depp.

“CUNT!” he screamed. “Stupid fucking L.A. cunt!” But it wasn’t to be taken seriously. She laughed at him, extended her middle finger and walked out and he immediately turned his attention elsewhere.

And that’s basically the whole story. I did see a laughing Reznor waving around a baggie of mushrooms and heading into a room with one of the girls. Maybe that’s why he liked the Mondo Vanilli tape so much that he called the next day to offer us a recording contract.

Later that night, Gibby came up to Leary’s house and started asking if he’d ever seen any of that real acid… “like the stuff you guys used to take in the ‘60s.” Tim got annoyed. “LSD is LSD. It’s just that they make the doses smaller.” Then, Gibby started ranting about how nobody tries to change the world by hijacking planes anymore, and Tim got even more annoyed and denounced terrorism in a couple of brief sentences. Gibby paced the entire house in long rapid steps for a few minutes and then flew out the door. I believe they eventually became friends.

BP ‘burning sea turtles alive’
BP ‘burning sea turtles alive’
Daniel Tencer
Sunday, June 20th, 2010

A rare and endangered species of sea turtle is being burned alive in BP's controlled burns of the oil swirling around the Gulf of Mexico, and a boat captain tasked with saving them says the company has blocked rescue efforts.

Mike Ellis, a boat captain involved in a three-week effort to rescue as many sea turtles from unfolding disaster as possible, says BP effectively shut down the operation by preventing boats from coming out to rescue the turtles.

"They ran us out of there and then they shut us down, they would not let us get back in there," Ellis said in an interview with conservation biologist Catherine Craig.

Part of BP's efforts to contain the oil spill are controlled burns. Fire-resistant booms are used to corral an area of oil, then the area within the boom is lit on fire, burning off the oil and whatever marine life may have been inside.

"Once the turtles get in there they can't get out," Ellis said.

Dr. Brian Stacey of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration told NPR last week that, although there are five different species of sea turtle in the Gulf of Mexico, the majority of the ones found affected by the oil spill are Kemp's Ridleys, "the rarest of them all."

Ellis confirmed that he's mostly been seeing Kemp's Ridleys.

Mike Michael at reports that Kemp's Ridleys are listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act. Harming or killing one "carries stiff fines and civil penalties ($500-$25,000) assessed for each violation. Criminal penalties include possible prison time and fines from $25,000-$50,000."

Michael suggests that, given the size of the fines BP could face as a result of the turtle deaths, the company may be happy to let turtles burn, as it would make it impossible to calculate exactly how many turtles died. He notes that the bodies of dead animals are being kept as evidence to determine how much in fines BP will be liable for.

"Is BP destroying evidence to keep their liability down?" he asks. "Is anyone going to stop them?"

Asked if he had suffered health problems as a result of being exposed to the chemicals swirling around the Gulf, boat captain Ellis said he had been suffering from "pretty wicked headaches," but said he didn't know "if that was just from seeing everything you know just destroyed and just disgusting."

Judge Blocks Deep-Water Drilling Moratorium

Judge Blocks Deep-Water Drilling Moratorium
June 22, 2010

WASHINGTON — A federal judge in New Orleans on Tuesday blocked a six-month moratorium on deep-water drilling projects that the Obama administration had imposed in response to the vast oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

The White House swiftly said the administration would appeal the decision.

In a 22-page ruling, Judge Martin L. C. Feldman of Federal District Court issued a preliminary injunction against the enforcement of a May 28 order halting all floating offshore drilling projects in more than 500 feet of water and preventing the government from issuing new permits for such projects.

Citing the economic harm to businesses and workers in the gulf caused by the moratorium, Judge Feldman — a 1983 appointee of President Ronald Reagan — wrote that the Obama administration had failed to justify the need for the sweeping suspension, which he characterized as “generic, indeed punitive.”

He wrote that “the blanket moratorium, with no parameters, seems to assume that because one rig failed and although no one yet fully knows why, all companies and rigs drilling new wells over 500 feet also universally present an imminent danger.”

The bulletin of the judge’s decision came on reporters’ hand-held devices just as Robert Gibbs, the White House press secretary, had ended his daily briefing. Clearly prepared for it, Mr. Gibbs said the administration would “immediately appeal” to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Mr. Gibbs said the president “strongly believes that continuing to drill at those depths without knowing what’s happened” in the April 20 explosion on the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig, which killed 11 workers and left a well gushing out of control, “makes no sense” and puts people’s lives at risk.

The Obama administration had argued that a six-month suspension of deepwater drilling was necessary so that the government could complete its investigation of the Deepwater Horizon accident, and make sure that other drilling operations on the outer continental shelf were safe.

But the order was challenged by a coalition of businesses that provide services and equipment to offshore drilling platforms. The companies sued, asking the judge to declare the moratorium to be invalid and arguing that there was no evidence that existing operations were unsafe.

The State of Louisiana filed a brief supporting the lawsuit, arguing that the moratorium would damage its economy.

Jackie Calmes contributed reporting.

Judge favored by BP has financial ties to oil industry
Judge favored by BP has financial ties to oil industry
Abbie Boudreau and David Fitzpatrick, CNN Special Investigations Unit
June 17, 2010
BP wants a judge who has major financial ties to the oil industry to supervise oil disaster lawsuits.
BP wants U.S. District Judge Lynn Hughes to supervise lawsuits in wake of oil disaster
Hughes has strong financial ties to oil industry, has received large sum of royalties
Hughes to CNN: "Let facts be submitted to a candid world," a Thomas Jefferson quote
Lawyers who have dealt with Hughes describe him as "tough but fair"

Houston, Texas (CNN) -- The judge that BP wants to hear an estimated 200 lawsuits over the Gulf of Mexico oil disaster gets tens of thousands of dollars a year in oil royalties and is paid travel expenses to industry conferences, financial disclosure forms show.

Lawyers who practice before U.S. District Judge Lynn Hughes say he's tough but fair, and a CNN review of his cases found he ruled in favor of oil companies only slightly more often than he ruled against them. But his connections to the industry have raised eyebrows at a time when BP is under fire for the worst oil spill in U.S. history.

Federal financial disclosure forms obtained by CNN show that since 2003, Hughes has consistently been paid annual fees from the oil and gas industry, mostly in the form of lease payments for wells and mineral rights on land he owns. None of the payments comes from BP, but his holdings include mutual funds that draw income from Anadarko Petroleum, a minority owner in the well now pouring up to 2.5 million gallons a day into the Gulf.

In some cases, the amounts are significant. In others, the payments are relatively small.

Oil giant ConocoPhillips paid him between $50,000 and $100,000 in 2008, the last year in which records are publicly available. In a note attached to the 2008 form, Hughes said he expected the amounts to be relatively similar for 2009. He gets smaller amounts from smaller producers such as Sun Oil, Everest Oil and Wagner Oil, which pay for the right to drill oil and gas from lands he owns.

The federal disclosure form does not require exact amounts, only estimates and approximate figures.

A legal expert on ethics, Indiana University professor Charles Geyh, told CNN that judges with financial ties to the oil industry should make their connections crystal clear.

"When you take it together, is there a concern that a reasonable person might say, 'Look-it, he's not a judge that happens to be dabbling -- he's in effect a participant in the industry he's trying to judge,' " Geyh said.

Hughes has been sitting on the federal bench in Houston since the mid-1980s, and BP has asked that he supervise all of the estimated 200 cases filed against it since the April sinking of the offshore drill rig Deepwater Horizon. The sinking left 11 workers dead and uncorked a gusher that has been fouling the Gulf for more than eight weeks.

In court filings in early May, BP requested Hughes be assigned to preside over the spill lawsuits because he already was assigned to one of the first cases, a lawsuit filed on behalf of Vietnamese-American fishermen from Louisiana. According to an e-mail sent to CNN, BP said the judge "is an appropriate choice to provide oversight of these cases."

The Department of Justice has asked that the suits be consolidated in New Orleans, Louisiana, the closest federal court to the spill. The sinking took place in the waters off southeastern Louisiana, about 40 miles off the mouth of the Mississippi River.

BP would not comment on Hughes' financial disclosures. But the judge has held two recent meetings in Houston to discuss possible ethics concerns, a lawyer who attended those meetings told CNN.

"In both of those hearings, the questions have been raised about whether or not he should preside over these cases or whether there will be a conflict," Mark Lanier, a prominent Houston plaintiff attorney, told CNN. "In the second one, the judge explained he had listed online all of his financial disclosure information, so people would be able to look at and probe."

One particular case over which Hughes presided in 2009 is raising questions.

In 2008, Hughes listed royalty payments from about 10 wells leased to Devon Energy, an Oklahoma City-based oil and gas company. The amounts were relatively small -- under $15,000, according to his disclosure form -- and a source told CNN the payments were for a collection of nine or 10 wells scattered in land across two or three states.

In May of 2009, Hughes issued a favorable decision for Devon Energy in a dispute with its insurance company. According to an attorney for the insurance firm, the total amount was $3.9 million. Court records show that Hughes did not disclose his royalty payments from Devon at any point during the proceedings.

No one claims the judge has violated the federal code of judicial ethics, but Geyh says appearances matter.

"I think the best practice that is out there, and I think what judges across the country are encouraged to do, is that if there is any doubt, put some sunshine on the problem," he said. "Turn your cards face up, to mix metaphors, and make it clear to the parties what your potential interests are."

Hughes also travels widely and speaks to meetings held by the American Association of Petroleum Geologists, including one held in early June in the Canadian city of Calgary and an earlier conference in Cape Town, South Africa.

He's the association's distinguished lecturer on ethics, having delivered 10 speeches to the trade group in the past three years.

The association doesn't pay him a fee but does supply his travel, accommodation and expenses, said Larry Nation, a spokesman for the trade group.

Federal judges rarely respond to requests for comment from journalists. But Hughes told CNN in an e-mail that while he couldn't speak to past or present cases, he did quote Thomas Jefferson: "Let facts be submitted to a candid world," he wrote.

Lawyers who know him call Hughes a tough but fair judge and say the reference is to a desire for transparency on his part. But attorneys for environmental advocacy groups say that for BP to request Hughes be assigned to the spill lawsuits is "outrageous and unseemly."

CNN examined three years of Hughes' rulings on oil and gas cases, finding he ruled in favor of oil companies only slightly more often than ruling against them. As for other federal judges, a recent survey showed more than 20 federal judges across the Gulf states have a financial interest in oil and gas companies.

Several of them have recused themselves from presiding over cases related to the Gulf spill.

BP CEO's yacht outing infuriates Gulf residents
BP CEO's yacht outing infuriates Gulf residents
June 20, 2010

EMPIRE, La. (AP) — BP chief executive Tony Hayward took a day off Saturday to see his 52-foot yacht "Bob" compete in a glitzy race off England's shore, a leisure trip that further infuriated residents of the oil-stained Gulf Coast.

While Hayward's pricey ship whipped around the Isle of Wight on a good day for sailing — breezy and about 68 degrees — anger simmered on the steamy Gulf Coast, where crude has been washing in from the still-gushing spill.

"Man, that ain't right. None of us can even go out fishing, and he's at the yacht races," said Bobby Pitre, 33, who runs a tattoo shop in the crossroads town of Larose, La. "I wish we could get a day off from the oil, too."

BP spokespeople rushed to defend Hayward, who has drawn withering criticism as the public face of BP PLC's halting efforts to stop the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history.

Company spokesman Robert Wine said the break is the first for Hayward since the Deepwater Horizon rig BP was leasing exploded April 20, killing 11 workers and setting off the undersea gusher.

"He's spending a few hours with his family at a weekend. I'm sure that everyone would understand that," Wine said.

He noted Hayward is a well known as a fan of the J.P. Morgan Asset Management Round the Island Race, one of the world's largest, which attracts more than 1,700 boats and 16,000 sailors as famous yachtsmen compete with wealthy amateurs in a 50-nautical mile course around the island at England's southern tip.

"Bob" finished fourth in its group. It was not clear whether Hayward actually took part in Saturday's race or attended as a spectator.

The boat, made 10 years ago by the Annapolis, Md.-based boatbuilder Farr Yacht Design, lists for nearly $700,000.

Hayward had already angered many in the U.S. when he was quoted in the Times of London as suggesting that Americans were particularly likely to file bogus claims for compensation from the spill. He later shocked Louisiana residents by telling them that no one wanted to resolve the crisis as badly as he did because "I'd like my life back."

Ronnie Kennier, a 49-year-old oysterman from Empire, La., said Hayward's day among the sailboats showed once again just how out of touch BP executives are with the financial and emotional suffering along the Gulf.

"He wanted to get his life back," Kennier said. "I guess he got it."

In Washington, President Barack Obama's chief of staff Rahm Emanuel made the same observation Saturday on ABC's "This Week."

Obama and Vice President Joe Biden enjoyed a round of golf Saturday near Washington, something they've done on other weekends since the spill and a fact that wasn't lost on users of social networking sites. Twitter feeds compared Obama and Biden's golfing to Hayward's yachting, lumping them together as diversions of privileged people who should be paying more attention to the oil gushing into the Gulf.

"Our government, the executives at BP, it looks like they decide to worry about it later," said Capt. Dwayne Price, a charter fisherman in Grand Isle, La., who now spends his days shuttling media out to the oiled waters. "Things need to happen now. The longer this is strung out, the worse it's going to be."

Messages seeking comment were left for officials at the White House, who have struggled to counter criticism at home of how the administration has handled the disaster. An Associated Press-GfK poll released Tuesday showed 52 percent now disapprove of Obama's handling of the oil spill, up significantly from last month.

BP, Britain's largest company before the oil rig exploded, has lost about 45 percent of its value since the explosion — a drop that has alarmed millions of British retirees whose pension funds hold BP stock. Just this week, the company announced that it was canceling its quarterly dividend.

The British press, much more sympathetic than the American media to BP's plight, has expressed disbelief at the company's strategy.

"It is hard to recall a more catastrophically mishandled public relations response to a crisis than the one we are witnessing," the Daily Telegraph's Jeremy Warner wrote Friday.

About 50 miles off the coast, a newly expanded containment system is capturing or incinerating more than 1 million gallons of oil daily, the first time it has approached its peak capacity, according to the Coast Guard. BP hopes that by late June it will be able to keep nearly 90 percent of the flow from the broken pipe from hitting the ocean.

More than 120 million gallons have leaked from the well, according to the most pessimistic federal daily flow rate estimates. Oil has been washing up from Louisiana to Florida, killing birds and fish, coating delicate marshes and wetlands and covering pristine beaches with tar balls.

A pair of relief wells considered the best chance at a permanent fix won't be done until August.

BP has put many idled commercial fishermen to work on the cleanup. But not everyone.

Sai Stiffler spent Saturday doing some repairs on his shrimp boat at Delta Marina in Empire, La., after a passing shower made things stiflingly hot and muggy. He signed up for BP's "vessel of opportunity" program but hasn't been hired, and he was not pleased that Obama was playing golf and BP's CEO was at a yacht race while his life is on hold.

"Right now is no time for that," Stiffler said. "I don't think they know how bad people are hurting. They make a lot of promises but that's it."

Raymond Canevari, 59, of Pensacola, said he was insulted by the fact that Hayward would take in a yacht race while the oil still flows.

"I think everyone has the right to do what they want in their free time, but he doesn't have the right to have free time at all," said Canevari, who scouts the bayous, bays and Gulf for driftwood and other found objects, and turns the debris into nature-themed art. "Not until this crisis is resolved."
Satter reported from London. Associated Press writers Ramit Plushnick-Masti in New Orleans, Mary Foster in Larose, La., Jay Reeves in Gulf Shores, Ala., and Tamara Lush in Pensacola, Fla., and AP videojournalist Bonny Ghosh in Grand Isle, La., contributed to this report.

Costner's 'dream' machines debut

Costner's 'dream' machines debut

Hollywood star Kevin Costner debuted Friday in his supporting role as a Gulf oil-spill fighter.

News agencies reported on the actor's premiere staged at the docks in the oil industry supply port of Port Fourchon in southern Louisiana as BP began deploying 32 of his "dream" machines to separate oil from water. Costner's backdrop was an oil-finding barge with his machines mounted on the deck.

"At its core, my dream, this machine, was designed ... to give us a fighting chance to fight back the oil that's got us by the throat," Costner told reporters.

"When you are in a fight, anybody knows you go to confront it right where it is. You don't wait for it to come to your door," the actor said.

Costner's company, Ocean Therapy Solutions, signed a contract with BP to provide 32 units expected to work in the next 60 days.

BP Chief Operating Officer Doug Suttles would not disclose financial details.

Costner said each machine, called a V20, can separate 210,000 gallons of oily water a day.

Costner, best-known for such films as "Dances with Wolves" and "Waterworld," stressed he was no overnight oil spill sensation. He has been trying to employ the technology designed by his company for the past 17 years, and has invested more than $20 million of his own money in its development.

The technology was developed two decades ago by a researcher at the Idaho National Laboratory by scientist David Meikrantz, who initially sought to use the machines to separate the components of nuclear substances.

In 1993, INL licensed the technology to Ocean Therapy Solutions, a company owned by Costner.

Scientist: BP Well Could Be Leaking 100,000 Barrels of Oil a Day

June 09, 2010
Scientist: BP Well Could Be Leaking 100,000 Barrels of Oil a Day

On Tuesday, BP and government officials claim that BP’s new cap system has collected over 51,000 barrels of oil since Friday. Tony Hayward has said he is hopeful the new measures would soon contain a major portion of the oil gushing out of the ruptured well, but scientist Ira Leifer says the oil may be gushing out at a rate of more than 100,000 barrels a day, a number that BP once called its worst-case scenario. Leifer is a researcher in the Marine Science Institute at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and a member of the government’s Flow Rate Technical Group.

Fair Food!

Fair Food!
By Eric
Jun 18, 2010

As the weather warms, it’s only a matter of time before the fair rolls into town, bringing communities together for a few days of gazing at livestock, spinning on rickety carnival rides, and most importantly, eating mountains of delicious food. As a longtime connoisseur of fair food, I had the opportunity to visit the San Diego County Fair this past week, and let’s just say that I didn’t leave hungry.

Each year, the food vendors roll out all sorts of new treats to consume, some yummy and most that your typical cardiologist would gasp in horror at the very thought of putting something like that in your body. Fried foods are especially popular, with seemingly every food that is possible to dip in batter present and accounted for. In years past, deep-fried Snickers bars were a crowd favorite. Last year, deep-fried Oreo cookies and pickles, as well as chocolate dipped bacon were all the rage. So, as I headed out to the fair this year, I wondered how they would top themselves. I wasn’t disappointed, although I must admit that I did not have the courage to sample all of these new delicacies for myself.

The most talked about item this year was deep-fried Klondike bars, with a close runner-up being deep-fried Pop Tarts. Other popular treats included the “Zucchini Weenie,” which featured a hot dog implanted into a zucchini, then battered and, you guessed it, fried, and the “Hash Dog” which consisted of a hot dog, wrapped in hash browns and fried up. Less enticing to me were the chocolate-dipped pickles, deep-fried frog legs and, hold on to your heart, deep-fried butter. Yes, it is hard to imagine a less-healthy snack, but from my observations, there was no shortage of eager customers. In fact, while I also saw a booth selling fresh fruits and vegetables (unfried), it was devoid of customers each time I passed by. Apparently, healthy foods may have their place on our dinner tables, but when it comes to visiting the fair, most prefer to throw caution to the wind. And hey, if you are going to risk your life on a roller coaster operated by a Charles Manson look-alike, what’s a little deep-fried butter in the grand scheme of things? If you would like to see more of this year’s fair food, just click here and prepare to either drool or be disgusted.

So, what are your favorite fair foods? Have you tried any of the above-mentioned treats, or do you stick to more familiar faire, such as cinnamon rolls, candy apples and Kettle Corn?

Awesome Quotes: Miley Cyrus

"I'm not trying to be slutty."
Miley Cyrus

But if you were, you'd be doing a great job of it...

Michelangelo hid anatomical sketches in Sistine Chapel in Church attack

Michelangelo hid anatomical sketches in Sistine Chapel in Church attack
Michelangelo concealed anatomical sketches in the robes and faces of the figures he painted on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in a coded attack on the Church's disdain for science, researchers believe.
Nick Squires in Rome
17 Jun 2010

The cleverly disguised drawing of a human brain, which has remained unnoticed for 500 years, may have been a coded reference to the clash between science and religion.

The Renaissance master, who painted the frescoes in the Sistine Chapel between 1508 and 1512, would have been familiar with what a brain looked like – he was an accomplished anatomist who is known to have dissected many corpses.

According to two American neuroscientists, the image of the brain is ingeniously hidden in the depiction of God's neck and chin in "Separation of Light From Darkness", which depicts the first act performed by God in the creation of the universe.

It is one of nine panels on the Sistine Chapel's ceiling based on scenes from the Book of Genesis.

Art historians have long speculated that the strange, lumpy appearance of the figure's neck may represent a goiter.

But Ian Suk and Rafael Tamargo, of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland, believe instead that it bears a striking resemblance to the crevices and creases of a human brain.

"Stunningly, following Michelangelo's outline, one can draw into God's neck and beard an anatomically correct ventral depiction of the brain," they write in the scientific journal "Neurosurgery".

"We propose that Michelangelo, a deeply religious man and an accomplished anatomist, intended to enhance the meaning of this ... panel and possibly document his anatomic accomplishments by concealing this sophisticated neuro-anatomic rendering within the image of God."

They also believe that an odd-looking, vertical fold in the crimson robe worn by the figure of God represents the spinal cord, and that a mysterious Y-shaped fold at his waist may be an optic nerve.

Leonardo da Vinci had produced a detailed study of optic nerves 20 years previously in 1487, a study which Michelangelo may well have seen when the two worked in Florence at the same time.

The new thesis may explain something that has puzzled art critics for centuries – the peculiar lighting of God's neck.

Most of the fresco is illuminated from the lower left of the panel, but the neck is lit head-on and slightly from the right, casting different shadows.

Profs Suk and Tamargo argue that, far from being a clumsy error by Michelangelo, the peculiar angle deliberately enhanced the anatomical components of the brain.

By merging an image of God with a human brain, Michelangelo may have been seeking a covert outlet to show off his anatomical knowledge at a time when picking apart cadavers was frowned on by the Roman Catholic Church.

Alternatively, he may have been alluding to the wisdom of the Almighty or – more dangerously - hinting at his growing belief that ordinary Christians had the wit and intelligence to directly commune with God, rather than pray to Him indirectly through the Church.

That was an idea that would have been seen as heresy, particularly as the fresco is situated directly above the chapel altar.

Michelangelo's relationship with the Vatican became increasingly fraught during his career.

He fell out with Pope Julius II over payment for painting the Sistine Chapel, and came to loathe what he saw as the extravagance and vanity of the Church.

This is not the first time that medical experts have discerned hidden anatomical drawings in Michelangelo's work.

In 1990, an American doctor, Frank Meshberger, published a report in the Journal of the American Medical Association in which he suggested that a cross-section image of a brain was concealed in another of the Sistine Chapel panels, the "Creation of Adam".

'Harry Potter' movie stars help christen Wizarding World

'Harry Potter' movie stars help christen Wizarding World
Magical: The stars of the Harry Potter movies were among the hundreds in attendance at Hogwarts Castle for Wednesday's fireworks show to kick off the theme park's grand opening celebration.
Jennifer Sangalang, Special for USA TODAY

ORLANDO — When you enter the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Orlando Resort, you really do enter the world of Harry Potter.

"Bloody hell!" says Matthew Lewis when asked to describe it.

Lewis, who plays Neville Longbottom in the Harry Potter films, was at Islands of Adventure this week for opening festivities; the attraction officially opens today.

He was joined by castmates including Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter), Rupert Grint (Ron Weasley), Tom Felton (Draco Malfoy) and Michael Gambon (Albus Dumbledore).

"I did actually love the Dragon Challenge," Radcliffe said Thursday during a news conference. "The technology they're using in this is really quite amazing."

The Dragon Challenge features a Chinese Fireball coaster and a Hungarian Horntail coaster. It includes twists, upside-down loops and a free-fall that probably is just a second, but feels like 10.

Radcliffe and the other Harry Potter actors are featured via video in parts of the attraction.

Grint's favorite part?

"The castle. I just can't stop looking at it."

Neither could most of the guests. Stepping into the castle is like stepping onto a movie set — or into the actual Hogwarts. And the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey ride, though not an actual roller coaster, feels like one. The visual effects are stunning and a little scary. (Ever been breathed on by a Dementor?)

Bob Sehlinger, theme park enthusiast and co-author of The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World 2011, offers insight into what makes the ride so realistic.

The cutting-edge technology Universal used for the ride includes the Kuka Arm, a high-tech robotic device, and Musion Eyeliner, a high-definition video-projection system that creates 3-D holograms. The Kuka Arm, says Sehlinger, swoops and moves in any direction. The arm usually is a fixed platform. Universal, however, made it mobile.

"In Forbidden Journey, these things are mounted on track vehicles — little trains, so to speak. (They) move you from scene to scene. It's never been attempted" at a theme park, Sehlinger says.

The Musion Eyeliner's life-size holograms are used in the chambers where the story is introduced. It brings the characters to life, Sehlinger adds.

Sehlinger says J.K. Rowling, the best-selling author who created Harry Potter, signed off on everything at the attraction, from the food served in the restaurants to the drinks and merchandise.

"She vetoed serving any kind of Coke product," Sehlinger says. "So Wizarding World has its own special Harry Potter-themed foods and beverages."

Like butterbeer, which comes in frozen and fountain varieties. It tastes like a light cola with whipped cream on top.

Visitor Katie Cross of Flagstaff, Ariz., was especially taken with the food. "I'm a big candy freak, so I love Honeydukes."

For theme park guests unfamiliar with the Potter hoopla, Sehlinger suggests brushing up on the topic before you go.

"There's just so much iconography from the films," he said. "It's just more meaningful if you know a bit about Harry Potter."

But even if you don't, "if you're going just to ride a roller coaster, you won't be disappointed," he says. "It's a great coaster."

Sangalang reports for Florida Today.

BabeWatch: Megan Fox