Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Friday, December 09, 2005

Open letter to Oregon governor Ted Kulongoski

Dear Gov. Kulongoski and members of the Environmental Quality Commission,

Thank you for protecting the Oregon we love.

I applaud your efforts to bring Clean Cars to Oregon and make our state a leader in curbing global warming.

The auto industry is laying off thousand of workers now, and may be heading into a slump. Why? Because they are out of touch with consumers. Rather than build fuel-efficient cars using hybrid technology and other available methods, they have over-focused on speed, power and size, with the result that most of the available vehicle lineup gets poor gas mileage and is thus not very palatable to a large segment of the consuming marketplace. There are no waiting lists for any of the large American-made SUVs currently for sale; in fact, most American-made cars would not sell at all without huge incentive programs on the part of the auto companies. However, the hybrid vehicles in the market all have waiting lists. Why? Because the industry is out of touch with the market. When the industry sues Oregon or otherwise seeks to block the will of the people, it only alienates itself from the customer base even further. I expect that most American auto companies will either file for bankruptcy, be acquired by other auto companies or adopt a policy to make fuel-efficiency and alternative fuels their first priority within a fairly short timeframe, due to the current market forces.

I applaud you in your effort to try to force these companies to wake up to reality. They don't get it. You do. Thanks.

Garlynn G. Woodsong


The Clean Cars program will fight global warming by requiring automakers to use existing technology to reduce emissions from new cars and light trucks. By adopting the program, Oregon will continue its tradition of environmental leadership.

The Governor has pledged his support, and his Department of Environmental Quality has put forward a formal proposal to adopt the Clean Cars program. Oregon's Environmental Quality Commission will vote on the program on December 22.

But the auto industry is pulling out all the stops, including suing Oregon, to prevent the state from adopting the Clean Cars program. The auto industry lawsuit is likely to fail, but industry lobbyists have said that they "will use every arrow in our quiver to try to stop Oregon from adopting standards we disagree with."

While some in the auto industry opposes this effective program to clean up global warming pollution from cars and light trucks, Oregonians across the state support it. In just the last couple of months, more than 4,000 people have put their names on thank-you cards to the Governor, over 1,200 people sent in comments to the governor's task force on clean cars in support of the program, and over 3,000 people sent emails to auto dealerships and held rallies around Oregon urging dealerships to drop the lawsuit and instead support clean cars.

The December 22nd vote by the Environmental Quality Commission on rules proposed by Gov. Kulongoski's Department of Environmental Quality for the adoption of the Clean Cars program in Oregon is fast approaching.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

A New Vision for American Development

THE BEST NEW IDEA SINCE SLICED BREAD the title of a contest being held by the SEIU, in an attempt to engage the citizenry in a national dialogue about how to rebuild the competitiveness of this country.

I've submitted an entry, which can be found at:

Other people have submitted ideas like teaching peace, not war, to the nation's children. This is a great idea. But what about all those people who drive around... with peace sign stickers on their bumpers? That is, consuming oil that has a good chance of coming from a foreign country where we go fight wars to ensure our access to the oil, all the while claiming that the solution is to embrace peace, not war.

Another idea is to use mass drivers to shoot our nuclear waste into space in sealed cartridges, presumably en route to the sun. I'm not sure this is such a good idea -- except that the mass driver might turn out to be the best way to get *anything* into space, except perhaps humans, depending on how the g-forces are calibrated for lift-off.

However, what about the country below? I would say that we need to rebuild the national public transportation system to include high-speed rail connecting the major regions, with fast, efficient, high-quality transit connecting all population centers of 1,000 people or more. New development of homes and jobs needs to be concentrated around this network, and business incubation/workforce training centers distributed near most of the hubs (stations) on the system. The idea is that most Americans who live in towns or cities would be able to walk/bike to the corner store and the transit station, and some of them even to work.

Job training centers could include union co-ops, which would make great additions to communities where jobs and housing are clustered around stations that act as hubs on an upgraded national public transportation system, one that is high-quality, high-speed, efficient and accessible to most Americans living in towns of 1,000 or more people.

Peace is just part of the picture. We can only have peace once we no longer have the internal demand within our country for oil that is externally produced. I think the big picture is to rebuild our national infrastructure so that jobs and housing can be concentrated mostly within walking distance of an upgraded national high-speed, high-quality public transportation system.

Development of homes and jobs should be concentrated around this upgraded national public transportation system, so that people can easily walk/bike from home to work to the corner store to the pub... without needing their cars. Also, workforce development and business incubation centers should be located near the hubs on this system, to further help kick-start the local economies.

We can find new transportation technologies, or use existing ones, but integrate them into a comprehensive national system, around which most new development of jobs and housing must be concentrated. I'm talking about a fast (high-speed in most cases), high-quality, efficient public transportation system that serves most towns and cities over 1,000 people in population. It would be built by union labor, but the Transit Oreinted Developments around it would incubate business and train workers for both union and non-union positions (it's hard to unionize people that work for themselves or in an extremely small/start-up business). I call this the new vision for American development, and it's expanded here:

What do you think?


Monday, November 28, 2005

Portland, OR as hub for open source software

I last wrote about using Transit-Oriented Development (TOD) and passenger rail to revitalize the economy of the state of Oregon. Today, I came across the article below on how the Portland region is shaping up as a hub for the open source community. This only adds to my argument that TOD and passenger rail will be some of the best tools to increase government revenue by breathing life into the economy. If the high tech sector is now turning to open source software as the next engine driving growth within Oregon, then it will need to be tied together with efficient infrastructure. Google's new campus in the Dalles will need to be accessible to Silicon Forest employees in Washington County, to knowledge workers in Central Portland and also to the region's airports. Passenger rail is a good way to make this connection without adding further burden to the state's strained road systems.

Read on for the text of the article, should the link be broken:

Original item:

from the November 28, 2005 edition -

Oregon city builds a reputation as a hub for software revolution
Portland is benefiting from the arrival of high-tech companies with an 'open source' philosophy.

By Elizabeth Armstrong Moore | Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor

PORTLAND, ORE. - As a kid in the 1980s, Bart Massey spent hours tinkering with computer programs, writing his own source code and then sharing it with friends. He and his buddies comprised a small band of curious computer whizzes with no agenda, and certainly no rules. Over time, that code-sharing would come to be known as open source: "We just didn't have a name for it then," says Mr. Massey, today a computer science professor at Portland State University.

Too many cooks may spoil the broth, but too many programmers just makes software better. For a multibillion-dollar company that's spent decades protecting its code with the rigor of Fort Knox, that's a radical notion. But open source is fast gaining converts, shattering traditional business models, and, in the process, transforming Portland into one of the world's open source hubs.

Consider the following:

• Companies like IBM, Hewlett-Packard, and Intel have developed their own open-source labs here.

• Linus Torvalds, author of Linux, the first mainstream open-source operating system, moved from the San Francisco Bay Area to work at the Open Source Development Lab in Portland.

• In mid-October the city hosted the first Government Open Source Conference, a gathering for state and municipal technology managers interested in using open-source software in the public sector.

• Most recently, Oregon Gov. Theodore Kulongoski announced a $350,000 contribution from Google to develop open-source software, hardware, and curricula at Oregon State University, which boasts an Open Source Lab, and Portland State University. Portland's standing as a hub for open-source development is not lost on the governor, who is eager to bring even more jobs and investment to what he calls a "burgeoning open technology cluster."
More Firefox than Che

Portland - a city where T-shirts on college campuses are more likely to sport Firefox than Che - is now seeing venture capitalists descending upon it, proof that all the heavyweight open-source talent here may indeed power the local economy.

"I think we'll see a sharp uptick in entrepreneurial activities because of Portland's global influence," says Lavonne Reimer, executive director of the Open Technology Business Center in Beaverton, a suburb.

On the surface it seems odd that the very companies who build and sell their own proprietary software would welcome the arrival of free, open-source rivals. When IBM built its Linux Technology Lab, many observers were left scratching their heads.

But by using open-source systems like Linux, companies can eliminate the cost of building and maintaining their own operating systems, Ms. Reimer says. That leaves them free to focus on other products and services - such as chips or hardware - that are more important to their futures.

From telecommunications to petroleum to government, most industries are choosing Linux over proprietary operating systems because it cuts costs and offers superior security and flexibility, says John Charlson, spokesman at IBM, whose Linux center in Beaverton employs hundreds of programmers. (The more people with access to the system, ironically, the fewer the problems because it is so heavily scrutinized and monitored.)

"Today if you look at the business model, it's relatively stagnant," says Richard Warren, vice president of IBM's Systems and Technology Group in Beaverton. "We're stealing markets from each other, so by creating a new computer paradigm you open the marketplace up." Entire countries - Brazil, China, France, and Australia - are turning to Linux, which has the ultimate effect of expanding the overall number of computer users.

Seen more broadly, the open-source spirit is proving viable as a means of developing many kinds of intellectual property. The popular online encyclopedia Wikipedia, for one, hands over all writing and editing rights to the end user - anyone can post anything - and boasts upward of 1 million entries, each typically informed by several perspectives. News media, for another, are toying with opportunities provided by citizen journalism, where power is handed over to the masses to report on and discuss the news of the day. Even musicians like David Bowie have given away their music to encourage deejays to make mixes.
'There's something new here'

In all of this, one underlying theory is at play: The wider the ownership is spread, the greater the contribution from those "owners" and the better the product.

"Large corporations are realizing that there's method in this madness. Their interests are at a different scale than individuals, but it's kind of the same thing: They want something, and they can't really afford to get it unless they work together," says Ward Cunningham of the Eclipse Foundation, a nonprofit project aimed at developing universal tool sets, and the inventor of the wiki, the software Wikipedia uses. "There's something new here - a cooperation in software, especially software that is clearly valuable."

The open-source revolution has been slow but steady.

"We've grown to have this blind expectation that revolutions will happen on exponential curves - that overnight we'll go from 3 percent acceptance to 70 percent acceptance - and if that doesn't happen it's a failure," Mr. Massey says. "Open source hasn't happened on that curve, but we'll pick up 3 percent for a lot of years to get to 70 percent."

When the software and processes of putting things together is all open source, he predicts, the end user will pay only for the parts with which to put computers together.

"That's a tempting vision," he says.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Options to Improve Oregon's Economy

Jason Bligh on said that:
"So if we adjust the fees down for local (and international) businesses, who's going to pay for the roads? Having low property taxes for poor people and families is also a public benefit. Are we going to give up that benefit? Shouldn't the people causing the impact (those eating the pizza) pay for building the public infrastructure required?"

In most other states, the solution is to levy a sales tax on the business transaction. Part of this tax is to pay for the maintenance and upkeep of the transportation system. In some places, like California, each county has the authority to ask its residents to levy a tax specifically for transportation purposes, which must pass with 2/3 of the vote. Many of these are 1/2 cent sales taxes.

In Oregon, the suggestion of a sales tax is political suicide. Just ask any politician anywhere in the state who has ever seriously attempted to propose such a thing, except those in the City of Ashland. Ashland has gotten away with having a municipal sales tax (or perhaps it's a luxury tax -- same difference, a sales tax generally only applies to a specific set of goods and services, excluding such things as groceries) for many years, and this is one of the reasons that town is so well-kept and generally nice-looking. Go visit Ashland to see what I'm talking about.

Is a sales tax the only option for Oregon or communities within this great state who wish to raise additional revenue to maintain the transportation system and other essential public services? No. However, the other options are limited. The property tax is pretty much maxed out in terms of its revenue-generating potential, due to a series of voter-approved limitations on it. The income tax could perhaps be broadened to raise additional revenue, but with a limited in-state tax base, especially of wealthy income-earners, this route is full of peril. Other income possibilities include public-private partnerships and options of limited geographical scope, such as Local Improvement Districts (LIDs).

The Employer Payroll Tax currently only pays for transit operations. It could perhaps be expanded (that is, increased) to pay for additional transportation services (such as capital improvements to and upkeep of the transportation system). However, this has the potential to make Oregon even less business-friendly.

The last option for raising revenue is to raise the overall size of the economy in such a way that the tax revenue generated exceeds the cost to the public sector of accommodating the additional burden of the resources required to support such an expanded economy. The best way to do this is probably to follow the path called "Smart Growth," which focuses new growth around existing infrastructure, especially transit, in order to maximize the revenue to government from the public resources that already exist. A good example of Smart Growth is all of the development that is taking place (and has taken place) since the opening of the Westside Light Rail Line in 1998 between Hillsboro and downtown Portland. A good example of the opportunities for further development, expansion of the economy and therefore additional revenue for the public sector lies with the remaining under-developed parcels near transit along the Westside Corridor, near the Portland Airport along the Airport MAX corridor, and in the Interstate MAX light rail corridor in N/NE Portland. Building out these three corridors with small business with a high potential for growth should be a top priority for the entire state. Small business incubators, loans for business start-up and business improvements, bridge financing and construction financing for developments, and other such policies probably represent the best "bang for the buck" for the state to revive and expand its economy over the next half-decade.

Longer-term, investments in transportation infrastructure to link the disparate sections of the state more closely together will allow for this model of economic expansion to continue in Oregon, as the state slowly climbs out of its economic hole and builds a solid economic foundation upon which to provide employment for its citizens and revenue for the public sector. The next opportunities for such investment could include:

* A higher-speed rail connection between Astoria and some point to the east, perhaps The Dalles or Pendeleton, via St. Helens, Portland, Troutdale and Hood River. Double-tracked higher-speed passenger and freight rail service in this corridor would allow for more transit-oriented development near stations, goods shipment, and even long-distance commuting. I heard a well-founded report that Google is opening a new campus in The Dalles. If so, those employees would be well-served by a passenger rail connection to downtown Portland, where they could transfer to Westside Light Rail to reach the Silicon Forest. Similarly, a new public university campus in Astoria could spur that city's economy, and with a rail connection into downtown Portland, tie it together with the outside world.

* A commuter rail link between the communities of the Rogue Valley (Ashland, Medford, Central Point and Grants Pass, with a possible northern spur to Eagle Point and Shady Cove) would allow for non-automotive transportation options, as well as bring about the potential for transit-oriented development. This is another region where another institution of higher education would do worlds of good for the economy.

* A high-speed rail link between Portland and Bend could help the Central Oregon High Desert communities expand their economies without clogging the state highway system further.

To fund all of this would require vision and leadership, as well as floating capital bonds to pay for construction. The construction would create jobs, as would the operation. Tax Increment Financing in station area locations could help pay for retiring the debt, as well as potentially help to cover operational costs. An expansion of the Employer Payroll Tax to a statewide basis could also help cover the operational costs.

There are many opportunities for the State of Oregon to exert leadership to turn its economy around and still provide the services that its citizens expect. The sales tax is not the only answer. However, this discussion needs to take place, and the sales tax needs to be on the table as a discussion option, so that everybody can weigh all options and choose the one that best reflects the spirit and desires of the state as a whole. Ultimately, I would guess that Oregonians would choose to remain a sales-tax-free state, but only if some of the other options that I have laid out here are brought to fruition to help maintain the services provided by the public sector.

Friday, November 18, 2005

2005: The Year of the Geographical Revolution

So, earlier this week I had the opportunity to sit in a fascinating presentation by Michael T. Jones, who is the Chief Technology Officer for Google Earth. He was speaking at the 2005 GIS Day event, organized by the Bay Area Automated Mapping Association (BAAMA) at the University of California -- Berkeley (Cal) campus, to a room full of about 250 GIS professionals, students, professors and interested friends thereof. He brought some kind of state-of-the-art laptop to run his presentation, and used it to give us (the audience) a blazingly fast presentation of Google Earth and exactly what is has been used for thus far.

He claims that the Google Earth Community currently has ~250,000 members, and that it is growing by approximately eight new members a minute -- worldwide. To prove this latter point, he went to places as diverse as Beijing, China and Bombay, India to show off just how many placemarks (think bookmarks & hyperlinks rolled into one, given a geographical reference and posted on the Google Earth Community) have been posted in these places. As you zoom in, the placemarks for both places tended to fill the screen, eventually blotting out the rest of the map.... and why? Because there are a lot of people in India. And also a lot of people in China. And the law of percentages means that, even if .001 percent of a lot of people knows how to use a computer, and .00001 percent of those have discovered Google Earth, that still translates into a lot of Google Earth users in these places. And because the current user base represents such an astoundingly small fraction of the total potential user base in these places (or the planet, for that matter), there is (how much can I understate this?) *plenty* of room for growth.

How much growth has already occurred in the mere four (4) months that Google Earth has been in existence?

Mr. Jones showed us some numbers. They're astounding... but not necessarily surprising to anybody who is familiar with both the extent of Google's market share and this product. Let's just put it this way: When you do a web search for "Google Earth" you get x many hits, and when you do a web search for the term "GIS" you only get ~1.3x more hits. For the blogosphere, when you do a search for the term "GIS" you get x many hits, and when you do a search for "Google Earth" you get more like 2x hits. Get it? The buzz about this product is HUGE, and growing more or less exponentially. For a company like Google that offers a more or less free product, buzz = business.

Where is this all leading? Here is one idea:

That is, Google is seeking to both lay down the physical worldwide infrastructure to support its services, and offer worldwide services for free to anyone with a computr anywhere on the planet. What services? Information. On anything. Keyed geographically. To anybody.

The possibilities are pretty much endless.

That's why I say that 2005 is the year of the Geographical Revolution. The time is now. The place is here -- this planet Earth, and spearheaded right here in the very same San Francisco Bay Area that I temporarily call my own home (though I must say that, hailing from Portland, Oregon, my ancestral, spiritual and permanent home is still in the great green state to the north of here).

And Google is the company that has drop-kicked this revolution into existence with its good sense to provide a geographical reference point for its products.

Let's just say that Michael T. Jones "gets it," in a major way. Say you want to do a Google Search. You want those results displayed on a map? No problem.


You don't have to think too much about the possibilities, because they *are* endless & infinite.

So, finally, let me just finish with a three-legged question:

What is the nexus between these three things?

1. The Geographical Revolution, as embodied by Google Earth, et. al.
2. The fast spread of cheap computing power, as embodied by the $100 laptop announced this week.
3. President Bush's declining opinion polls, and the general state of politics and democracy in the American Republic.

comments welcome.


AUTHOR: <$Garlynn G. Woodsong$>
TITLE: <$2005: The Year of the Geographical Revolution$>
DATE: <$Nov. 18th, 2005 11:15am$>

Thursday, November 10, 2005

You're damned if you do...

So, the lesson here is...

...keep driving?

I hate to say it, but I think it may be true. Correct me if I'm wrong. Please. :-)

Deer hit by car lands on man

- Suzanne Herel, Chronicle Staff Writer
Thursday, November 10, 2005

(11-10) 15:40 PST BLACKHAWK -- A Modesto man who thought he had struck a deer was hit by a deer himself as he checked the exterior of his car for damage.

Robert Brooks, 50, was driving along Blackhawk Road near Mount Diablo State Park on Tuesday evening when a deer leaped in front of him so suddenly he wasn't sure if he had struck it, said Officer Steve Creel of the California Highway Patrol.

Brooks pulled his car to the side of the road, got out, and was examining the front end when another vehicle approached from the opposite direction.

Just then, another deer -- or perhaps the same one Brooks saw -- jumped into the roadway and was struck by the oncoming car.

The impact propelled the animal through the air and into Brooks, who fell to the ground and broke his right ankle.

He was taken to a nearby hospital, and the deer was pronounced dead.

The motorist who hit the deer drove away.

E-mail Suzanne Herel at


©2005 San Francisco Chronicle

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Vatican vs. kooks in Kansas (&, apparently, Seattle)

So, the Vatican has laid down the law. Apparently, darwin was right, Christian fundamentalists are kooks, and intelligent design is a load of hogwash. :,10117,17162341-13762,00.html

I predict that the Kansas school board will lose its conservative edge in the elections next year, and their ill-informed recent re-definition of the word "science" and attempts to introduce creationism into the classroom will be reversed. I don't care if you are a fundamentalist Protestant Christian -- if the Vatican comes out and says "no, you're bit off in your interpretation of the Bible, this is what it actually says" -- that should give you some pause, right?

Well, not if you happen to be a think-tank in Seattle, whose whole purpose is to promote intelligent design as an alternative theory to explain the universe that should be taught in the classroom alongside evolution:

Where is all this headed? The optimist in me says that all these fundamentalist kooks will finally be revealed to be profit-driven schemers and run off to the sidelines of public opinion where they belong. The pessimist says that they've already got control of the presidency, so the only question is where they will go next. The pragmatist senses that the pendulum may be about to swing back, and all of us who care about the rule of law, the proper role of science in society, the separation of church and state and other important principles of the republic -- we should be using the lever to help the pendulum along!!


full text of the australian article about the Vatican's new stance, followed by full text of an article about the source of much of this intelligent design debate crap:


THE Vatican has issued a stout defence of Charles Darwin, voicing strong criticism of Christian fundamentalists who reject his theory of evolution and interpret the biblical account of creation literally.

Cardinal Paul Poupard, head of the Pontifical Council for Culture, said the Genesis description of how God created the universe and Darwin's theory of evolution were "perfectly compatible" if the Bible were read correctly.

His statement was a clear attack on creationist campaigners in the US, who see evolution and the Genesis account as mutually exclusive.

"The fundamentalists want to give a scientific meaning to words that had no scientific aim," he said at a Vatican press conference. He said the real message in Genesis was that "the universe didn't make itself and had a creator".

This idea was part of theology, Cardinal Poupard emphasised, while the precise details of how creation and the development of the species came about belonged to a different realm - science. Cardinal Poupard said that it was important for Catholic believers to know how science saw things so as to "understand things better".

His statements were interpreted in Italy as a rejection of the "intelligent design" view, which says the universe is so complex that some higher being must have designed every detail.


Small Group Wields Major Influence in Intelligent Design Debate

Some Question Organization's Religious Affiliations as Controversy Continues

Nov. 9, 2005 — - Intelligent design, the idea that life was designed by a higher power, is dividing communities across the country. In Tuesday's election, voters in Dover, Pa., removed from office the school board that wrote intelligent design into the high school curriculum. And Kansas became the fifth state in the nation to question evolution in its curriculum.

The Kansas school board now says high school students should learn that evolution is controversial -- including some of its basic tenets, such as monkeys evolving into men.

They also redefined the word "science," no longer limiting it to natural explanations of phenomena. The move opens the door to alternative explanations such as intelligent design.

"This is a great day for education," said Kansas Board of Education member Steve Abrams. "This absolutely raises science standards. I have no doubt about it -- positively no doubt about it whatsoever."

Not all board members agreed. "I think this is a sad day," said another member, Carol Rupe, "not only for Kansas kids, but for Kansas."

Think Tank Embraces Controversy

It was a major victory for the Discovery Institute, a little-known think tank in Seattle that promotes intelligent design.

Instead of forcing students to learn intelligent design, the Discovery Institute takes a "teach the controversy" approach -- exactly what Kansas adopted.

"Our policy proposal for science education is that students should learn the strengths and the scientific weaknesses of modern Darwinian theory," said Discovery Institute Director Dr. Stephen Meyer.

This "free speech" approach has been endorsed by President Bush and helped insert intelligent design into the national dialogue. But many scientists say it's just slick marketing.

"When they say 'teach the controversy' -- their ringing phrase -- they want us to pretend to students that scientists are arguing whether evolution took place," said Eugenie Scott, executive director of the National Center for Science Education. "This argument is not taking place."

The Discovery Institute denies allegations that its true agenda is religious.

Their public relations representative stopped ABC News' interview when asked about the organization's many evangelical Christian donors.

"I don't think we want to go down that path," he said.

Meyer says no matter who provides financial support, his goals are scientific and that science may one day prove his belief that the intelligent designer is God.

ABC News' Dan Harris filed this report for "World News Tonight."

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Those secret CIA "Black Site" prisons

So, the CIA has set up a network of secret prisons that has at times spanned three continents. This, in itself, is not surprising. We've talking about the spooks here. They go to other countries, catch or kill people who are deemed to be enemies of the United States Government, and then escape without notice. James Bond stuff. In some ways, putting these enemies of the state into secret prisons, rather than killing them outright, may be a more humane solution.

However, we live in a democracy, under the rule of law. The host countries for these prisons, presumably, also have the rule of law, and most (if not all) of them are also democracies. The rule of law includes the right to a fair trial, and the right to not be held without charges. Presumably, if these people are dangerous enough to be held by the CIA, there are other ways to deal with them that may be more acceptable to the public. Of course, if the allegations against them are based on classified evidence, this could get more tricky... but presumably, this situation has arisen before, and the solution is simply to limit the spread of the classified evidence to those who need to know in order to hold a trial. This isn't rocket science, right?

The surprising thing for me, really, is that the Washington Post uncovered this story, and then proceeded to *publish* it. This is a blow for real news in this country! Reporters are finally striking back, and taking the moral high ground by reporting *real news stories* that validate the importance of a free press in a free society!

...OK, let's not carried away here. But, it's a damn good scoop.

Read on for the original article, which I have re-posted here in its entirety because I don't trust the Post to continue hosting it on their site for free for much longer. ;-)


Original article:

CIA Holds Terror Suspects in Secret Prisons
Debate Is Growing Within Agency About Legality and Morality of Overseas System Set Up After 9/11

By Dana Priest
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 2, 2005; A01

The CIA has been hiding and interrogating some of its most important al Qaeda captives at a Soviet-era compound in Eastern Europe, according to U.S. and foreign officials familiar with the arrangement.

The secret facility is part of a covert prison system set up by the CIA nearly four years ago that at various times has included sites in eight countries, including Thailand, Afghanistan and several democracies in Eastern Europe, as well as a small center at the Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba, according to current and former intelligence officials and diplomats from three continents.

The hidden global internment network is a central element in the CIA's unconventional war on terrorism. It depends on the cooperation of foreign intelligence services, and on keeping even basic information about the system secret from the public, foreign officials and nearly all members of Congress charged with overseeing the CIA's covert actions.

The existence and locations of the facilities -- referred to as "black sites" in classified White House, CIA, Justice Department and congressional documents -- are known to only a handful of officials in the United States and, usually, only to the president and a few top intelligence officers in each host country.

The CIA and the White House, citing national security concerns and the value of the program, have dissuaded Congress from demanding that the agency answer questions in open testimony about the conditions under which captives are held. Virtually nothing is known about who is kept in the facilities, what interrogation methods are employed with them, or how decisions are made about whether they should be detained or for how long.

While the Defense Department has produced volumes of public reports and testimony about its detention practices and rules after the abuse scandals at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison and at Guantanamo Bay, the CIA has not even acknowledged the existence of its black sites. To do so, say officials familiar with the program, could open the U.S. government to legal challenges, particularly in foreign courts, and increase the risk of political condemnation at home and abroad.

But the revelations of widespread prisoner abuse in Afghanistan and Iraq by the U.S. military -- which operates under published rules and transparent oversight of Congress -- have increased concern among lawmakers, foreign governments and human rights groups about the opaque CIA system. Those concerns escalated last month, when Vice President Cheney and CIA Director Porter J. Goss asked Congress to exempt CIA employees from legislation already endorsed by 90 senators that would bar cruel and degrading treatment of any prisoner in U.S. custody.

Although the CIA will not acknowledge details of its system, intelligence officials defend the agency's approach, arguing that the successful defense of the country requires that the agency be empowered to hold and interrogate suspected terrorists for as long as necessary and without restrictions imposed by the U.S. legal system or even by the military tribunals established for prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay.

The Washington Post is not publishing the names of the Eastern European countries involved in the covert program, at the request of senior U.S. officials. They argued that the disclosure might disrupt counterterrorism efforts in those countries and elsewhere and could make them targets of possible terrorist retaliation.

The secret detention system was conceived in the chaotic and anxious first months after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, when the working assumption was that a second strike was imminent.

Since then, the arrangement has been increasingly debated within the CIA, where considerable concern lingers about the legality, morality and practicality of holding even unrepentant terrorists in such isolation and secrecy, perhaps for the duration of their lives. Mid-level and senior CIA officers began arguing two years ago that the system was unsustainable and diverted the agency from its unique espionage mission.

"We never sat down, as far as I know, and came up with a grand strategy," said one former senior intelligence officer who is familiar with the program but not the location of the prisons. "Everything was very reactive. That's how you get to a situation where you pick people up, send them into a netherworld and don't say, 'What are we going to do with them afterwards?' "

It is illegal for the government to hold prisoners in such isolation in secret prisons in the United States, which is why the CIA placed them overseas, according to several former and current intelligence officials and other U.S. government officials. Legal experts and intelligence officials said that the CIA's internment practices also would be considered illegal under the laws of several host countries, where detainees have rights to have a lawyer or to mount a defense against allegations of wrongdoing.

Host countries have signed the U.N. Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, as has the United States. Yet CIA interrogators in the overseas sites are permitted to use the CIA's approved "Enhanced Interrogation Techniques," some of which are prohibited by the U.N. convention and by U.S. military law. They include tactics such as "waterboarding," in which a prisoner is made to believe he or she is drowning.

Some detainees apprehended by the CIA and transferred to foreign intelligence agencies have alleged after their release that they were tortured, although it is unclear whether CIA personnel played a role in the alleged abuse. Given the secrecy surrounding CIA detentions, such accusations have heightened concerns among foreign governments and human rights groups about CIA detention and interrogation practices.

The contours of the CIA's detention program have emerged in bits and pieces over the past two years. Parliaments in Canada, Italy, France, Sweden and the Netherlands have opened inquiries into alleged CIA operations that secretly captured their citizens or legal residents and transferred them to the agency's prisons.

More than 100 suspected terrorists have been sent by the CIA into the covert system, according to current and former U.S. intelligence officials and foreign sources. This figure, a rough estimate based on information from sources who said their knowledge of the numbers was incomplete, does not include prisoners picked up in Iraq.

The detainees break down roughly into two classes, the sources said.

About 30 are considered major terrorism suspects and have been held under the highest level of secrecy at black sites financed by the CIA and managed by agency personnel, including those in Eastern Europe and elsewhere, according to current and former intelligence officers and two other U.S. government officials. Two locations in this category -- in Thailand and on the grounds of the military prison at Guantanamo Bay -- were closed in 2003 and 2004, respectively.

A second tier -- which these sources believe includes more than 70 detainees -- is a group considered less important, with less direct involvement in terrorism and having limited intelligence value. These prisoners, some of whom were originally taken to black sites, are delivered to intelligence services in Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Afghanistan and other countries, a process sometimes known as "rendition." While the first-tier black sites are run by CIA officers, the jails in these countries are operated by the host nations, with CIA financial assistance and, sometimes, direction.

Morocco, Egypt and Jordan have said that they do not torture detainees, although years of State Department human rights reports accuse all three of chronic prisoner abuse.

The top 30 al Qaeda prisoners exist in complete isolation from the outside world. Kept in dark, sometimes underground cells, they have no recognized legal rights, and no one outside the CIA is allowed to talk with or even see them, or to otherwise verify their well-being, said current and former and U.S. and foreign government and intelligence officials.

Most of the facilities were built and are maintained with congressionally appropriated funds, but the White House has refused to allow the CIA to brief anyone except the House and Senate intelligence committees' chairmen and vice chairmen on the program's generalities.

The Eastern European countries that the CIA has persuaded to hide al Qaeda captives are democracies that have embraced the rule of law and individual rights after decades of Soviet domination. Each has been trying to cleanse its intelligence services of operatives who have worked on behalf of others -- mainly Russia and organized crime.
Origins of the Black Sites

The idea of holding terrorists outside the U.S. legal system was not under consideration before Sept. 11, 2001, not even for Osama bin Laden, according to former government officials. The plan was to bring bin Laden and his top associates into the U.S. justice system for trial or to send them to foreign countries where they would be tried.

"The issue of detaining and interrogating people was never, ever discussed," said a former senior intelligence officer who worked in the CIA's Counterterrorist Center, or CTC, during that period. "It was against the culture and they believed information was best gleaned by other means."

On the day of the attacks, the CIA already had a list of what it called High-Value Targets from the al Qaeda structure, and as the World Trade Center and Pentagon attack plots were unraveled, more names were added to the list. The question of what to do with these people surfaced quickly.

The CTC's chief of operations argued for creating hit teams of case officers and CIA paramilitaries that would covertly infiltrate countries in the Middle East, Africa and even Europe to assassinate people on the list, one by one.

But many CIA officers believed that the al Qaeda leaders would be worth keeping alive to interrogate about their network and other plots. Some officers worried that the CIA would not be very adept at assassination.

"We'd probably shoot ourselves," another former senior CIA official said.

The agency set up prisons under its covert action authority. Under U.S. law, only the president can authorize a covert action, by signing a document called a presidential finding. Findings must not break U.S. law and are reviewed and approved by CIA, Justice Department and White House legal advisers.

Six days after the Sept. 11 attacks, President Bush signed a sweeping finding that gave the CIA broad authorization to disrupt terrorist activity, including permission to kill, capture and detain members of al Qaeda anywhere in the world.

It could not be determined whether Bush approved a separate finding for the black-sites program, but the consensus among current and former intelligence and other government officials interviewed for this article is that he did not have to.

Rather, they believe that the CIA general counsel's office acted within the parameters of the Sept. 17 finding. The black-site program was approved by a small circle of White House and Justice Department lawyers and officials, according to several former and current U.S. government and intelligence officials.
Deals With 2 Countries

Among the first steps was to figure out where the CIA could secretly hold the captives. One early idea was to keep them on ships in international waters, but that was discarded for security and logistics reasons.

CIA officers also searched for a setting like Alcatraz Island. They considered the virtually unvisited islands in Lake Kariba in Zambia, which were edged with craggy cliffs and covered in woods. But poor sanitary conditions could easily lead to fatal diseases, they decided, and besides, they wondered, could the Zambians be trusted with such a secret?

Still without a long-term solution, the CIA began sending suspects it captured in the first month or so after Sept. 11 to its longtime partners, the intelligence services of Egypt and Jordan.

A month later, the CIA found itself with hundreds of prisoners who were captured on battlefields in Afghanistan. A short-term solution was improvised. The agency shoved its highest-value prisoners into metal shipping containers set up on a corner of the Bagram Air Base, which was surrounded with a triple perimeter of concertina-wire fencing. Most prisoners were left in the hands of the Northern Alliance, U.S.-supported opposition forces who were fighting the Taliban.

"I remember asking: What are we going to do with these people?" said a senior CIA officer. "I kept saying, where's the help? We've got to bring in some help. We can't be jailers -- our job is to find Osama."

Then came grisly reports, in the winter of 2001, that prisoners kept by allied Afghan generals in cargo containers had died of asphyxiation. The CIA asked Congress for, and was quickly granted, tens of millions of dollars to establish a larger, long-term system in Afghanistan, parts of which would be used for CIA prisoners.

The largest CIA prison in Afghanistan was code-named the Salt Pit. It was also the CIA's substation and was first housed in an old brick factory outside Kabul. In November 2002, an inexperienced CIA case officer allegedly ordered guards to strip naked an uncooperative young detainee, chain him to the concrete floor and leave him there overnight without blankets. He froze to death, according to four U.S. government officials. The CIA officer has not been charged in the death.

The Salt Pit was protected by surveillance cameras and tough Afghan guards, but the road leading to it was not safe to travel and the jail was eventually moved inside Bagram Air Base. It has since been relocated off the base.

By mid-2002, the CIA had worked out secret black-site deals with two countries, including Thailand and one Eastern European nation, current and former officials said. An estimated $100 million was tucked inside the classified annex of the first supplemental Afghanistan appropriation.

Then the CIA captured its first big detainee, in March 28, 2002. Pakistani forces took Abu Zubaida, al Qaeda's operations chief, into custody and the CIA whisked him to the new black site in Thailand, which included underground interrogation cells, said several former and current intelligence officials. Six months later, Sept. 11 planner Ramzi Binalshibh was also captured in Pakistan and flown to Thailand.

But after published reports revealed the existence of the site in June 2003, Thai officials insisted the CIA shut it down, and the two terrorists were moved elsewhere, according to former government officials involved in the matter. Work between the two countries on counterterrorism has been lukewarm ever since.

In late 2002 or early 2003, the CIA brokered deals with other countries to establish black-site prisons. One of these sites -- which sources said they believed to be the CIA's biggest facility now -- became particularly important when the agency realized it would have a growing number of prisoners and a shrinking number of prisons.

Thailand was closed, and sometime in 2004 the CIA decided it had to give up its small site at Guantanamo Bay. The CIA had planned to convert that into a state-of-the-art facility, operated independently of the military. The CIA pulled out when U.S. courts began to exercise greater control over the military detainees, and agency officials feared judges would soon extend the same type of supervision over their detainees.

In hindsight, say some former and current intelligence officials, the CIA's problems were exacerbated by another decision made within the Counterterrorist Center at Langley.

The CIA program's original scope was to hide and interrogate the two dozen or so al Qaeda leaders believed to be directly responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks, or who posed an imminent threat, or had knowledge of the larger al Qaeda network. But as the volume of leads pouring into the CTC from abroad increased, and the capacity of its paramilitary group to seize suspects grew, the CIA began apprehending more people whose intelligence value and links to terrorism were less certain, according to four current and former officials.

The original standard for consigning suspects to the invisible universe was lowered or ignored, they said. "They've got many, many more who don't reach any threshold," one intelligence official said.

Several former and current intelligence officials, as well as several other U.S. government officials with knowledge of the program, express frustration that the White House and the leaders of the intelligence community have not made it a priority to decide whether the secret internment program should continue in its current form, or be replaced by some other approach.

Meanwhile, the debate over the wisdom of the program continues among CIA officers, some of whom also argue that the secrecy surrounding the program is not sustainable.

"It's just a horrible burden," said the intelligence official.

Researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.
© 2005 The Washington Post Company

Friday, November 04, 2005

Direction of the Country

Where is the country headed?

Polls now show President Bush to have the lowest approval rating (35%) of any sitting president since Nixon. Cheney's is even worse, hovering somewhere around 17%. Members of the administration are being scrutinized by a special prosecutor (and, of course, one has been indicted and is currently in court). Democrats in the Senate are pushing for a full investigation of how this administration may have misled Congress and the public in attempting to justify an invasion of Iraq.

But what's the real story here?

Is it possible that 9/11 was a plot to scare the American public, that it was indeed planned in advance as a way to shock the nation into supporting the agenda of an administration that sought to radically change the power structure and governance of the nation?

Even if this is not the case, is it relevant? Or is the more relevant thing what the administration has done since 9/11 using the authority granted to it by the public in the name of fighting terrorism?

I think the latter. The former can invite charges of "conspiracy theorism," whereas the latter is a more pure examination of known facts. Which we should examine here:

Fact 1: Following 9/11, the U.S. invaded Afghanistan.

Analysis: Ostensibly, the U.S. invaded Afghanistan because this was the country, controlled by the Taliban, where the Al-Quaeda training camps were located that trained the terrorists who piloted the airplanes into the World Trade Center. The back story, from what I can gather, is that Afghanistan was out of control politically, and U.S. corporate interests desparately needed the territory to fall under U.S. political control so as to enable an energy pipeline to transfer energy to our markets without passing through Russia's sphere of influence. Also, there was much speculation that Afghanistan might have harbored massive energy reserves beneath its soil, though this speculation turned out to be false.

Fact 2: Following Afghanistan, the U.S. invaded Iraq.

Analysis: There's no disputing that the U.S. was seeking regime change and direct access to Iraq's oil reserves, and that the "Weapons of Mass Destruction" thing was really just a ruse. Is there an even deeper back story, or is this enough? The invasion of another country in order to overthrow their president and take their natural resources, not to mention bomb their cities, destroy their already-limping economy and throw their society into open civil war, is likely an illegal act under international law. Does this matter? Not if the U.S. is the only contry able to enforce international law on the world scene. It does matter if we are deemed vulnerable to world opinion, however. It can also hurt our economic and social interests, which will ultimately have an effect on our military abilities in the long run.

Fact 3: The Republicans control all three branches of the United States Federal Government.

Analysis: What happened to the balance/separation of power laid out in the Constitution, in which each branch of government is supposed to balance out the other two? This balance is crumbling. Congressional oversight of the executive branch is very weak at this point. The ability of the judiciary to operate in an environment that is impartial and free from political influence is severely compromised, and will only get worse with Bush's new addition to the Supreme Court.

Fact 4: More bicycles were sold in the past year than automobiles in this country.

Analysis: High oil prices, combined with Lance Armstrong's victories in the Tour de France, expanded national bicycle infrastructure and a general movement towards bicycling have combined to propel bicycles to the forefront of American society. Both candidates for president in 2004 rode bicycles and courted the bicycle vote. Bicycle infrastructure is expanding nationwide, as is bicycle usage. Where bicycle facilities are built that form a part of a connected bicycle network, they are used. The mantra most definitely is, "if you build it they will ride it." Bicycles give their riders feelings of empowerment and self-confidence, and bicycle usage can reduce automobile usage. Will bicycles save the planet? I'm not sure the planet, per se, is what needs saving. But, bicycles may help us save ourselves, and certainly will give us all better-looking (and feeling) arses.

Fact 5: Smart Growth/New Urbanism is picking up momentum in this country in the same way that suburban ranch-style development picked up momentum following World War Two.

Analysis: While the development of suburbs has not slowed, there is a definite momentum towards growing smarter, with more mixed-use communities that are proximate to transit and feature amenities more commonly found in urban neighborhoods. Social isolation is a huge problem afflicting traditional suburbs, so I believe that this trend towards smarter growth will wind up turning out smarter, more sociable people.

Fact 6: Americans tend to lag in their geographic knowledge behind their world peers.

Analysis: As the 21st century emerges from the shadow of the 20th, it is quite clear that America is the dominant superpower on the world political scene. For the country that more or less is in charge of the affairs of the rest of the world, America's population seems to be quite clueless about what is really going on outside of this country's borders. This has severe implications for the ability of this country to produce new leaders with an understanding of the countries that they will interact with on the world scene. To the extent that we cannot run roughshod over ever single international negotiation, and even regardless of this ability, this has serious implications for the political future of the nation. Our leaders must have at least a basic understanding of the dynamics of the countries that we interact with, so that they do not appear to be fools or worse when acting on the world stage.


You're hoping I've got some brilliant, simple analysis that ties all of this together, right?

Well, it's not quite that easy.

But there are some things that will make it better.


Solution 1. America needs to migrate from a two-party system to a multi-party system.

Analysis: The current political problems are largely due to the ability of the Republicans to marginalize and ridicule the Democrats. The Democrats, having become impotent, are unable to attract swing or undecided voters because they're seen as being a bunch of wimps with no good ideas. What's needed is a third party, for example the Green Party, to march onto the national scene (ESPECIALLY in the House of Representatives, but also in the Senate) in a major way. This third party could then form a governing coalition with the Democrats, one that positions the Democrats as a true centrist party relative to the Republicans on the right and the Greens on the left. The Democrats could then be free to let go of some of their more liberal members, and focus on a much more centrist message of providing a social safety net and balancing the national budget without raising taxes on working-class Americans. The Greens could focus on a message of environmental protectionism, drug law reform, prison reform, military reduction, greenhouse gas emissions reduction, global warming mitigation, alternative energy and all the other strategies that the Democrats are nervous about pursuing for fear of being seen as too "liberal."

Solution #2: Proportional representation and/or open primaries.

Analysis: Open primaries are the concept that anybody could place a vote in any primary, as long as they only vote once. A Republican could vote for the more moderate Democrat in a race where the Republican would want to see that person on the ballot against their candidate in the fall. Also, a Green could vote for a Democrat that more closely reflected the views of the Green. Finally, a Green could run in the primary alongside the Democrat and the Republican, and draw votes from each. A runoff election would be held between the top two vote-getters, regardless of party affiliation. Proportional representation (this page has a lot of information on the concept) has many flavors. One of them involves basically grouping districts together. A voter is then presented with a ballot that lists all the candidates under the heading of their party. The vote is taken; each person only votes for one candidate and one party. The votes are counted. If there are 10 seats up for election, and the Republicans take 41% of the vote, the Democrats 41%, and the Greens 18%, then the Greens would get two seats, the Republicans would get four seats and the Democrats four seats. The Greens would then be allowed to send their top two vote-getters to office, whereas the Republicans and Democrats would each be able to send their top four vote-getters. The end result is that for this hypothetical ten-seat legislature, the Democrats and the Greens could form a governing coalition with 60% of the vote, but no one party could control the agenda.

Solution 3: More livable communities with more bicycle facilities

Analysis: Our nation is extremely wealthy, but this fact is not necessarily reflected in the physical infrastructure of the country. We can do better, and we must. More trees, more vegetation, more bicycle routes, more compact developments with more services within walking/bicycling distance and more access to transit will give us a better-informed, more social and healthier population that is better prepared to come together and create the community alliances that will be necessary to see us through to a peaceful conclusion of the 21st century.

More to come.


Wednesday, November 02, 2005

New Blog: Paul Krugman Archive

I've launched a second blog, the Paul Krugman Archive (, to provide easy access to his writings since ~July, 2005. There seems to be a dearth of access to his writings during this critical period, so I wanted to just consolidate what I know about into one spot. Most of these writings are his columns from the New York Times, which I have copied from other sources on the web and re-posted here for convenience.

Why have I done this?

Because I feel that Krugman offers a very good analysis of political and economic events in this country that is helpful to those seeking a deeper story on what is going on and why. Just how good is his analysis? His ex-boss, Ben Bernake, will soon become the new chairman of the Federal Reserve. In different times, it could be Krugman himself nominated to fill that post. Instead, you can count on Krugman to make recommendations as to how to fix the ailments facing the nation's economy, and then see how Bernake's actions differ from Krugman's suggestions. Read through the archive here to get a sense of how this has played out over the past few months. He does a very good job of tracking how the government's failure to respond effectively to Hurricane Katrina has snowballed into the current crisis for Republican leadership in the nation's capital.

Anyways, I hope you enjoy reading the archive, and find it as useful as I have. Please feel free to post any comments you may have here. If you're a person reading this and you have a comment, please post it. I only delete comments posted by spambots (i.e. "MAKE MONEY NOW" and then some link to some pyramid scheme or some such thing), so if you see that comments have been deleted -- that's just me protecting you from having to view more spam. :-)


Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Underground Science Audioblogger Post #2

In the next installment of this series, broadcast live from BART as it comes aboveground in West Oakland, Garlynn rants about the promises of 21st century live, and his hopes to enjoy at least some of them.

this is an audio post - click to play

Monday, October 24, 2005

Underground Science Audioblogger Installment #1: Garlynn, reporting live from BART @ West Oakland

In installment #1, Garlynn covers cars that drive on water, why the BART system makes so much noise, and what the true shortest path between the Mission District of San Francisco and the Lake Merritt area of Oakland might be.

this is an audio post - click to play

Garlynn at Green Gorilla Lounge, Black Rock City, 2005

Post-Playa Thoughts

In returning from Burning Man this past year, I've discovered that there is a good amount of science involved in this whole thing. What whole thing, you may ask? Running a nightclub at Burning Man, of course. (Stay tuned to this space for more details on that.)

Let me give you a specific example.

You go up to Burning Man. Cars aren't allowed in Black Rock City, so you bring your old beater bicycle. It's survived this long, say fifteen years, so you figure it ought to be able to take the beating and keep on rolling. You have a blast out there, and when you come back, you don't remember much but you notice that all of your stuff, including the bicycle, is now covered in a talcum-powder-like dusty substance, which kind of stings the flesh if allowed to sit there for too long, and otherwise just gets *everywhere*.

This stuff is called "PLAYA DUST." It's a result of a dry lake bed, millions of years old, which once held prehistoric fish and other life. A ghost of the former lake still re-appears most winters in the form of a shallow pool of water in the middle of the Black Rock Desert. The chemistry of the lakebed tends towards the highly basic end of the pH spectrum.

The skin of our bodies tends towards the slightly acidic end of the pH spectrum. Therefore, that tingly feeling that you feel when you expose your flesh to excessive playa dust is actually your skin, reacting with the dust much the way that vinegar and baking soda fizz when mixed together. If allowed to persist, this reaction will result in injury. When this injury occurs on your foot, it is known as "playa foot" and can actually be quite painful and take months to heal.

Back to your bike. What I like to use to de-grease my chain is a combination of vinegar and citronella oil. Why? The vinegar is highly acidic, and the citronella oil contains two cleansers which are good at cutting grease: the alcohol that makes the oil burn, and the citronella, which is based on oils from orange peels which are widely known for their cleansing abilities. Combined, this mixture will leave all parts of your bicycle, including the chain, looking shiny and new post-playa.

But don't stop there. Go ahead and use this mixture to take the playa off of some of your other playafied objects, as well!