Daily Archives: May 12, 2007

Shameful Bowing Before the Crown

Washington Post | May 6, 2007


Royal family reunion. What’s wrong with this picture? Take a good long look. Hint: it’s not “Hook ’em Horns”

In Richmond’s Capitol Square and along the streets of Colonial Williamsburg, Americans wearing Burger King crowns greeted the visiting British monarch. Women who had lined up hours in advance sported tiaras. Gracious hospitality, all in good fun.

But look closer:

Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine gave state workers a day off to celebrate Queen Elizabeth’s visit. Cost to the taxpayers: about $11 million, in a state where legislators this year rejected raising the minimum wage, which has not changed in a decade.

When the queen met with four Virginia Tech students who were injured in last month’s horrific shootings, one of the students presented the visitor with a gift, a custom-designed silver bracelet featuring 32 orange and maroon stones, one for each person killed.

And get this: Inside the Virginia Capitol — a building designed by the American revolutionary Thomas Jefferson — the majority leader of the House of Delegates, Morgan Griffith, paused before ushering the queen into the House chamber and then bowed his head.

The hype and hoopla over the royal visit has driven too many of us to forget who we are.

“We are Elizabeth’s subjects and she our monarch for a day,” editorialized the Virginian-Pilot newspaper.

No. We are no one’s subjects. We do not bow to kings and queens. When we forget this, we sully ourselves.

In our country, all men are created equal. “Exalting one man so greatly above the rest cannot be justified on the equal rights of nature,” Thomas Paine wrote in “Common Sense,” the 46-page tract that called on colonial Americans to revolt.

Our revolution was not against King George III so much as the concept of the monarch, the notion that power and status are inherited from one generation to the next. Paine called this idea “unwise, unjust, unnatural — an insult and an imposition on posterity.”

Every word of Paine’s booklet applies as much today as it did in 1776, when he warned that people who believe they are born to be in charge of others “are early poisoned by importance. . . . The world they act in differs so materially from the world at large that they have but little opportunity of knowing its true interests.”

Today, as we enter the eighth consecutive presidential campaign involving a Clinton or a Bush on the ticket — a span of 28 years — it is sad to see Americans bowing and curtsying to a monarch, a descendant of the very king against whom we fought a revolution.

“The people who wrote the American Constitution were the most radical people on the planet,” says Craig Nelson, author of “Thomas Paine: Enlightenment, Revolution, and the Birth of Modern Nations,” a biography of the most important anti-monarchist of the Revolution. “Paine was trying to undo people’s loyalty to the crown. Today, most Americans are taught that King George was a mean guy, not that ours was a revolution against monarchy and inherited aristocracy.”

Both left and right in this country have embraced the symbol of Tom Paine. His stirring assertion of the value of ordinary people — “one honest man,” he wrote, is of more worth “than all the crowned ruffians that ever lived” — remains at the heart of our self-image as Americans.

But in a society increasingly divided by money and access to power, in a country that places more value in stability than in Jefferson’s belief that “a little rebellion now and then is a good thing,” the visit of a queen becomes one more chance to celebrate celebrity.

In Britain, our attitude toward the royal visit strikes many as odd. The Guardian newspaper, wondering how the queen got “so hot stateside,” blames it on ” ‘The Queen’ Effect,” actress Helen Mirren’s sympathetic portrayal of Elizabeth in last year’s movie. “America now believes that the Queen is a graceful, complex, dignified but still very human monarch with an admirable devotion to family and duty, instead of a little old lady who likes horses and never says anything much,” writes Tim Dowling.

“The idea that anybody should bow to anybody is beyond me,” says Graham Smith, campaign manager for Republic, a British political group that pushes to replace the monarchy with an elected head of state. “Americans wouldn’t bow to George Bush. But they think that’s what people do over here.”

Smith says the democracy inherent in the digital revolution — electronic voting, blogs, the ability to use the Internet to foil powerful governments — has finally lifted the taboo against discussing elimination of the British crown. The American reverence for the queen, he says, is nothing more than “untainted celebrity worship,” a quest for a fairy tale to believe in.

It is a dangerous fairy tale, fomented by celebrity-crazed media companies (700 news credentials were issued for the queen’s visit) and accepted all too readily by people who should know better. Let the queen play at the Kentucky Derby; the rest of us should read Tom Paine.

Big Brother Spychip Technology Creating a Tiny Revolution

Independent | May 9, 2007

With the potential for tags to find their way into so many of our belongings, the rise of RFID has alarmed privacy groups, who say that smart labels are yet another face of Big Brother. They fear that RFID “spychips” could trample consumer privacy by allowing retailers to gather unprecedented amounts of information about activity in their stores and link it to databases.

More worrying is the possibility that governments, organisations or would-be thieves could monitor people’s belongings via chips the individual might not even be aware of. As one American politician put it at a 2003 Senate hearing on the matter: “How would you like it if your underwear was reporting on your whereabouts?”

Microchips are becoming so inexpensive to make that they’ll soon be in almost everything we buy.

Early versions were developed by Allied forces to identify Second World War fighter planes. Later, Soviet spies used them to build covert listening devices. Now, more than 60 years on, you might not even know that these tiny radio-transmitting microchips exist, but they feature in everything from cows to car keys.

And, as new advances make them microscopically small and as cheap as, well, chips, they are being used in even more ways – for example, as implants in tickets for the Beijing Olympics, which went on sale this month. Soon, they could be embedded in footballs, photos and even knee joints.

The idea behind the technology, called RFID (radio frequency identification) chips, is simple. An antenna is coupled with a silicon memory chip that can store information such as names, addresses or serial numbers, built into a plastic tag. When it comes within range of a reader, it draws enough power from the radio field to return the information stored on the chip. That can be checked against a database to track a consignment of tea, let you into your office, verify that duty has been paid on your pack of cigarettes, or ensure that money is taken off your Oyster card account.

Radio waves are hardly hi-tech. In the 1970s, the US Department of Defense used smart labels to track shipments of nuclear material. The civilian world soon caught up and tags began appearing in office access cards, clipped to cows’ ears to help farmers track cattle, and on car windscreens for automatic road toll payment.

But the challenge today has been to develop tags small enough to embed in everyday objects, and cheap enough to be disposable. In 2003, the Japanese electronics firm Hitachi launched the Mu-chip, which did away with the bulky metal insulating rings required by older tags in favour of thin layers of silicon dioxide. At just 0.16mm square and 7.5 microns thick, the Mu-chip is small enough to get lost in a teaspoon of sugar. In February, Hitachi released pictures of a new prototype in which the chip is dwarfed by salt crystals.

This remarkable shrinking act is opening the door to a whole new world of chipping opportunities. Tiny tags embedded in paper tickets for the Beijing Olympics will make it almost impossible for counterfeiters to make good copies. The European Central Bank has expressed an interest in using the technology to chip banknotes. And, last month, the Government announced plans to tag cigarette packs to allow customs officials to determine whether duty has been paid.

But it’s in retail that the technology takes off. In 2003, Wal-Mart became the first supermarket chain to use tags to track pallets and crates through the supply chain. In some stores, RFID stickers are turning up on high-value, easily pocketed items such as CDs, DVDs and packs of razor blades.

This summer, Marks & Spencer will start tagging suits at 120 UK stores. The labels will do the same job as a bar code at the checkout, but will also improve distribution; “smart” shelves will know when stocks are running low.

A future where every box of eggs and pint of milk comes with a microchip is being predicted. “It will happen,” says Raghu Das, the chief executive of IDTechEx, an independent RFID consultancy firm in Cambridge. “But we think that day is decades away because it’s harder to justify the cost of tagging low-cost items. It’s just too expensive to start putting silicon chips on every piece of throwaway packaging.”

The price of tags for consumer goods is falling fast, but at 13p apiece, they are still too expensive to use on individual cucumbers and tomatoes. Fast-forward 10 years, and IDTechEx estimates that each chip will cost a quarter of a penny. In 2017, global demand will be an estimated 670 billion tags, compared with a 1.7 billion this year.

But RFID technology will have moved on by then, Das says. “The most exciting development is printed electronics. Bar codes are great because they are virtually free – you only pay the cost of the ink. We see RFID going the same way; one day you will print a tag on the side of a product.”

One reason why retail chips can be cheap is their tiny memories. Marks & Spencer’s suit tags only store 64 bits of data – just enough for a serial number – but technicians at Hewlett-Packard’s Bristol lab have developed a tag, called a Memory Spot, which can store 60,000 times as much data in a chip the size of pencil tip. The chip, which has half a megabyte of memory, works at a higher frequency, so it can be read at a blistering 10 megabits per second – 10 times faster than a mobile-phone Bluetooth link. But, instead of beaming the data over several metres, like many RFID tags, the Memory Spot can only be read from a distance of 1.5mm.

Even so, Ed McDonnell, Memory Spot project manager at HP Labs, says the chip will take RFID technology to a new level. He says: “It will allow us to give a kind of electronic personality to any object.” HP envisages a future where photo printers can load an audio file, video clip or digital version of the print on to blank chips embedded in photo paper.

“Say you’re at a party and you want to capture the atmosphere in a photo. You could put a sound clip on to a memory spot and play it back with a reader to really enhance the memories of the occasion,” McDonnell says. HP hopes to persuade mobile phone- and PDA-makers to enable their products to read the Memory Spot.

With the potential for tags to find their way into so many of our belongings, the rise of RFID has alarmed privacy groups, who say that smart labels are yet another face of Big Brother. They fear that RFID “spychips” could trample consumer privacy by allowing retailers to gather unprecedented amounts of information about activity in their stores and link it to databases.

More worrying is the possibility that governments, organisations or would-be thieves could monitor people’s belongings via chips the individual might not even be aware of. As one American politician put it at a 2003 Senate hearing on the matter: “How would you like it if your underwear was reporting on your whereabouts?”

But Das cautions against scaremongering. He says: “RFID seems like a scary tool but we can already be tracked via our mobile phones. We put up with it because it’s useful and I think the same will be true for tagging. RFID has benefits that nobody seems to be demonstrating.

“For example, a hospital in Chicago puts tags on pill bottles and gives elderly or partially sighted patients a talking reader. They hold it up to the bottle and it tells them when to take them, or if it’s the wrong time of day. That’s an incredible service, and it’s just one example of how the technology could revolutionise our lives.”

Chips with everything…


Unsure if you need milk? Text your fridge to find out what’s left and when it expires. Need dinner ideas? Your fridge will e-mail you recipes based on what you have. If anything runs low, it will add it to your shopping list. A new Samsung prototype, with an RFID reader, will scan things in and out automatically.


Some US patients already carry their medical records in chipped bracelets. Kodak has made an ingestible RFID tag that stops working when exposed to gastric acid, giving details about the digestive system. Chips in hip or knee replacements couldwarn when a new one is needed. Chips on pills could let nurses ensure they are swallowed.


VIP guests at a bar in Barcelona don’t need to have their names on the list or ID to get in, or indeed cards or cash. The Baja Beach Club offers an RFID tag, which is implanted in the arm. The chip, developed by VeriChip Corporation, links to an online guest list and bar tab. It is also used in hospitals and as a security pass.


Football authorities have long considered electronic systems to determine whether the ball crosses the goal line. Adidas has developed a chipped ball that causes the referee’s watch to beep if it passes readers in the goalposts. Similar chips in shin pads could perfect offside decisions. The Fifa president, Sepp Blatter, has said he expects a system to be up and running in time for this December’s World Club Championship.

Candy-flavored meth targets young users

KOMO TV| May 10, 2007


In their quest to lure new, younger clientele, drug dealers are mixing their wares with over-the-counter pain remedies and other familiar products – even candy – and peddling them under non-threatening names.

A new drug temptation has turned up in Grays Harbor County. It tastes like candy – often times like strawberry-flavored candy – but it’s flavored methamphetamine. On the street, users call it “Strawberry Quick”.

Users and investigators say some kids as young as 11 and 12 already use meth. Now with a new evolution in meth production – meth with the coloring, look and flavor of sugar candy – they worry even younger kids will be lured by the drug.

Tiffany Leal took her first hit of meth at the age of 15. A mug shot shows her battered by the drug, weighing just 98 pounds. She’s clean now, speaking at a meth summit to students, some of whom cried when they heard her story.

“I don’t want people to cry but now I know it’s making a difference,” Leal said. “They’re feeling what it’s caused to somebody. They’re seeing the truth, they’re seeing the hurt.”

She never contended, though, with Strawberry Quick.

Grays Harbor County sheriff’s deputies say locals have only months before they contend with it.

“It’s only a matter of time,” said Sgt. Ross McDowell. “It’ll be here, I imagine probably by this summer.”

The doors of the youth meth action summit open into rural Lewis County, fertile ground for meth addiction.

“Meth is major problem in Lewis County. It’s connected to 80 percent of our major crime,” McDowell said.

“I’ve met 11 year olds who’ve done meth and still do it,” Leal said. “It’s just crazy. I never knew it until I saw them doing it.”

And there’s the potential for more crime by even younger addicts hooked on Strawberry Quick. Many predict the new form will tempt younger kids and vulnerable people.

“I think a lot more people will start using,” Leal said.

Police say the best thing to do is to talk to your kids. They say meth flavored like strawberry, blueberry or chocolate candy is still meth – addictive and potentially deadly.

Why I Support Congressman Ron Paul for President

Op Ed News | May 10, 2007


Presidential candidate Congressman Ron Paul (R-TX), MD

Why I Support Congressman Ron Paul for President

by Mark Anderson 

Ignoring habeas corpus and the fourth amendment is a calculus for tyranny. Between the attacks on habeas corpus and the fourth amendment, liberty is imperiled. The Bill of Rights was not written to protect terrorists, as many neocon talking heads argue. The Bill of Rights was written to protect the innocent from tyranny. Congressman Ron Paul is the only candidate who would be a roadblock in front of the police state. He is the only candidate who would work to maximize liberty, and so he gets my support

There are a plurality of reasons why I support Ron Paul and oppose the rest of the candidates. I couldn’t possibly enumerate them all in this one commentary. However, I will begin by pointing out a few of the reasons why Ron Paul appeals to me.

Ron Paul is a true intellectual who didn’t get into politics looking to score personal gain and fortune. Running for office wasn’t a perfunctory thing for the Congressman. He has devoted his life to learning and understanding issues that escape the opportunists in Washington, D.C. Ron Paul is a very intelligent man, and he isn’t some “fringe” candidate like the establishment tries to portray. He is a medical doctor who has delivered many babies throughout his life.  I believe Ron Paul is the only electable Republican, since he doesn’t come with the Iraq war baggage that the rest of the candidates have.

One issue that Congressman Ron Paul understands is inflation versus sound money. Ron Paul understands that there is a nexus between the present monetary situation and the expansion of government. Ron Paul also understands how government power comes at the expense of individual liberty.

Nobody can favor inflation – i.e., an expansion of the money supply – while being against big government, the war, and a police state. When Ron Paul calls inflation a tax, he is absolutely correct. There is no objective difference between the government taking the money you have in your pocket and the government duplicating the money you have in your pocket, consequently devaluing what you do have. Inflation is a much more sinister tax, since it is a stealth tax that is difficult to trace and account for.  We feel this tax with higher prices of goods and services.

People get fooled into spending even more money with inflation, unwittingly spending their savings. Inflation itself penalizes savers and makes saving objectively impossible. You certainly have the freedom to save money, but saving the value of the money is impossible with the government devaluing it to finance its spending orgies. Trying to save money that politicians are constantly tampering with is a lot like trying to save milk for a few months.

Inflation also discourages any attempt to save, artificially speeding up consumption. There should be no surprise that with the expansion of government, more and more elderly people find themselves unable to retire and have to remain in the work force. I can think of no position more friendly towards the elderly and retirees than being in favor of sound money.

Especially with rising gas prices, I believe the country is ripe for Ron Paul’s message.  Congressman Ron Paul would actually do something to curtail this abuse of our money, whereas the rest of the candidates wouldn’t.

Ron Paul is also opposed to the war, unlike the establishment Republicans and Democrats. Ron Paul correctly amalgamates the antiwar position with the paleoconservative position. If being against the war is such a “left wing liberal” position, then why is it that Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, et. al., have consistently voted to keep funding the war? Even the recent bill which Democrats passed is a war funding bill, which was camouflaged with antiwar sounding rhetoric and platitudes. The withdrawal provision in the bill is a pseudo-withdrawal provision.

What I appreciate about Ron Paul’s truly antiwar position is how this is, itself, a good thing for veterans. While the big so-called veterans’ advocacy groups grade candidates by how much money they throw at the Department of Veterans’ Affairs, there are more ways to support and help veterans than merely throwing more money at the bureaucracy. Supporting veterans should not be conflated with throwing more money at the VA, especially given the VA’s rampant misfeasance.

As a disabled veteran, I notice how almost every politician will engage in grandstanding by saying how much they care about veterans and then claim accolades for handing more money to bureaucrats at the VA – very little of which actually helps veterans. Author’s note: Government programs are about helping those in the bureaucracy, while making the masses that much less self-sufficient. Hoping that money trickles down from the government is trickle down economics at its worst.  Ron Paul will point out the obvious: viz., that government isn’t a philanthropic institution.  When politicians spend money, it isn’t their money being spent.

While those same politicians say how underserved veterans are, they will simultaneously vote to appropriate more funds to keep a war policy going, which will create even more disabled veterans. You don’t have to be an expert in calculus to see a paradox there. If veterans are underserved as it is, why would you wish to create more disabled veterans? Getting help from the VA is akin to trying to win the lottery. How dare any politician who votes to keep funding the war – i.e., creating more disabled veterans – turn around and claim accolades for “helping” veterans.

This leads me to the following axiom: There is an inextricable nexus between opposing policies that are creating even more disabled veterans and supporting veterans. Being opposed to the war policy is merely a different way to support more per capita funding for veterans. When will the big so-called veterans’ advocacy groups realize this?

Drawing the two issues of inflation and the war together, I would like to point out to those who are opposed to the war on the left: There is a nexus between the government’s power to inflate and the war policy. As long as government has the power to print money, it will be able to get us into wars. The government’s power to spend money is directly related to its power to act. This makes Ron Paul the only true antiwar candidate and friend of liberty in the race for President.

While the establishment tries to sterilize the debate with personality related issues, Ron Paul is addressing real issues, such as habeas corpus. When I heard Ron Paul say that he wouldn’t abuse habeas corpus during the debate, I was hearing the voice of a man who loves his country and its inhabitants. With the growth of government has come a crowding out of citizen cognizance of issues such as habeas corpus, and the importance of jury trials, and the need for warrants before conducting a search. The establishment does its best to misdirect us by talking about Mitt Romney’s looks, or whatever else we can be distracted with.

The Bush administration has candidly expressed its view that the Constitution does not explicitly grant the right of habeas corpus. This is setting the precedent for the government to grab people, put them away in jail or execute them, without due process of law. People should have the right to face their accusers, examine and confront evidence, and receive a fair trial by an impartial jury.

US air strikes kill 21 civilians in Afghanistan including six children

Independent | May 10, 2007

At least 21 civilians, including six children, have been killed in US air strikes in Afghanistan, leading to angry protests among locals.

The deaths brought the total of civilian deaths to almost 100 in the past two weeks and followed President Hamid Karzai’s declaration that his people “can no longer accept casualties the way they occur”.

The new round of “collateral damage” also came a day after the US military said it was “deeply ashamed” of the killings of 19 civilians by marines in early March.

In the latest incident American special forces called for air strikes in the village of Soro near Sangin in Helmand, after coming under attack from around 200 Taliban fighters.

A spokesman for the US forces, Major William Mitchell, declared that the troops had killed a “significant” number of insurgents in firefights and the subsequent bombing.

“We don’t have any reports of civilian casualties” he said. ” There are enemy casualties – I think the number is significant.” However, this was immediately contradicted by the governor of Helmand, who said: “Nato forces carried out an operation in Sangin and as a result of the bombing 21 civilians, including women and children, were killed.”

Mohammed Asif, a resident of the village which came under Nato aircraft fire, said: “I know at least five homes were destroyed, there may be up to 38 people killed and 20 more were wounded. Foreign and Afghan troops are stopping people from some of the roads getting here.”

Another resident claimed that a number of bodies had been taken to the British base in Sangin in an attempt to prove that they were civilians and not Taliban fighters. However, there was no confirmation of this from the British forces.

Following the apology over the casualties in March, Nato’s British spokesman Nicholas Lunt said yesterday: “We know that our ability to operate here in support of the government of Afghanistan is dependent upon the support of the people of Afgha-nistan. We know very well that civilian deaths and injuries undermine this goodwill and support.”

Nato has announced that in future it will engage the Afghan government much more in planning military operations and keep it fully informed about developments. There is unease, however, among some Western commanders that information about previous offensives has been leaked to the Taliban from official Afghan sources.

Meanwhile, Afghanistan’s senate called on President Karzai’s government to open direct talks with the Taliban in an effort to bring the bloodshed to an end.

There have been unconfirmed claims that the reason the Afghan capital, Kabul, has not experienced a serious suicide bombing for several months is because of an unofficial agreement between the government and Gulbuddin Hikmatayar, one of the insurgent leaders.

Many MPs are now demanding that similar pacts should be sought with the “local Taliban” in many areas.

In a separate incident, four civilians were killed yesterday when a suspected suicide bomber appeared to detonate his explosive device prematurely in the south-eastern province of Paktika. Afghan officials said the man had arrived from across the border in Pakistan along with a group of suspected insurgents.

Taliban fighters have stepped up attacks in recent weeks following a series of operations by Nato forces designed to prevent insurgents from gathering forces for a spring offensive.

Western commanders say that their tactics are working as the spring offensive promised by Taliban leaders has not yet materialised. But local Afghans in the south of the country say large numbers of men and weapons have crossed the border in recent weeks undetected by Nato forces.

Texas governor backs down on HPV vaccine effort

Reuters | May 8, 2007

Texas Gov. Rick Perry said on Tuesday he is backing down in his effort to require that pre-teen girls be vaccinated against a virus known to cause cervical cancer after the state’s legislature overturned his order.

The February order would have made Texas the first U.S. state to require that girls receive the Merck & Co. Inc.’s vaccine against human papillomavirus (HPV) so they can enroll in sixth grade, when most students are 11 or 12 years old. But social conservatives opposed it, saying it would lead to sexual promiscuity.

The Republican-majority Texas Legislature passed a bill last month contravening the order by preventing the vaccination program for at least four years. Several other states are also considering requiring the vaccine.

Perry announced on Tuesday he would not to veto that bill, meaning it will become law. Perry said a veto was futile because the legislature would vote to override it. He blasted the legislature for its decision.

“They have sent me a bill that will ensure three-quarters of our young women will be susceptible to a virus that not only kills hundreds each year, but causes great discomfort and harm to thousands more,” said an emotional Perry.

Perry, a Republican with close ties to the religious right, surprised observers when he issued the order in February.

The girls would have been vaccinated with Merck’s Gardasil, which won U.S. approval last June as the first vaccine to prevent cervical cancer, a disease that kills about 300,000 women worldwide each year.

The vaccine, which targets four HPV types believed to cause more than 70 percent of cervical cancer cases and 90 percent of genital warts, is cleared for use in girls and young women aged 9 to 26. In clinical trials, Gardasil was shown to be 100 percent effective against two of the most common HPV strains.

Karzai Says Afghanistan Is ‘Not a Narco State’

VOA News | May 11, 2007


“It is not a narco-state, but it does produce a lot of poppies,” says Karzai.

Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai in an exclusive television interview told the Voice of America (VOA) that Afghanistan is “not a narco-state.”

“It is not a narco-state, but it does produce a lot of poppies. There is a difference between being a mafia-dominated, state-run economy – that you can call a narco-state,” said Karzai. “A state that fights narcotics, a state that suffers the consequences of that fight, a state that has gone through 30 years of extreme desperation and displacement of its population, will have problems.”

Karzai said that better security has led to better government institutions and better performance of the civil services and the police, and that better trade, education, and reconstruction have helped to decrease the reliance on growing poppies.

In the wide ranging interview, President Karzai talked about a number of important topics including his recent trip to Turkey and the security situation in Herat.

VOA TV’s in-depth profile covering their day-long visit at the Palace with President Karzai will air on May 19. The profile will discuss his plan for drug eradication; how he is dealing with civilian deaths in Afghanistan; his perspective of being a Muslim; his excellent working relationship with Washington; how he began his career in politics; his love of poetry, especially Tennyson; and what it means to be a father for the first time.

VOA’s Afghan Service broadcasts TV Ashna in Dari and Pashto to Afghanistan where it is heard from 6:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. daily on National Afghan TV and by satellite on Asiasat Channel 24 and on IOR for Europe on Channel 409. The Service’s Radio Ashna also broadcasts 12 hours of Dari and Pashto programming daily on radio.