Monday, February 8, 2010

Rag Blog scoop about 'cognitive infiltration' stirs up Internet storm

Estrin's exclusive about Obama confidant
Triggers alarm about controversial scheme

By Thorne Dreyer, The Rag Blog

The Rag Blog broke a story on January 11 entitled "Got Fascism?: Obama Advisor Promotes 'Cognitive Infiltration'” that has stirred up an internet storm.

The article, written for The Rag Blog by novelist Marc Estrin, reveals a previously unreported and highly controversial strategy for fighting dissension and “extremism” -- especially targeted at those adhering to "conspiracy" theories -- originated by Obama appointee and long-time Obama friend and colleague Cass Sunstein in a 2008 scholarly journal.

The material published in The Rag Blog was in turn covered by Daniel Tencer at The Raw Story on January 13. It was followed up by Glenn Greenwald in an extensive article published by Salon.com entitled “Obama confidant's spine-chilling proposal,” that has been updated several times since and even received a response from Paul Krugman. Greenwald's Salon.com article was also distributed by CommonDreams.

Both Tencer and Greenwald credited The Rag Blog and Marc Estrin with breaking the story. Marc Estrin's original article has been reposted extensively on domestic and international websites, and The Rag Blog has received thousands of referral hits from the Raw Story, Salon.com, and CommonDreams postings and from the republishing of our original story around the internet.

Visits to The Rag Blog have come from links placed on a wide variety of sites and from across the political spectrum, but the story has especially caught on with conspiracy buffs and among some on the ultra-right.

(In December The Rag Blog published an article about a Supreme Court decision that let stand a lower court ruling declaring torture, in the words of the author, “an ordinary, expected consequence of military detention” -- a ruling that in effect denied even suspected enemy combatants the protection that comes with being classified a "legal entity.” The Rag Blog posting of that article (a story that did not originate with us) also drew extensive attention including a front page link on The Raw Story -- much of it again from the conspiracy fringe -- and resulted in thousands of visits to The Rag Blog.)


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Branson warns that oil crunch is coming within five years

Sir Richard Branson and fellow leading businessmen will warn ministers this week that the world is running out of oil and faces an oil crunch within five years.

The founder of the Virgin group, whose rail, airline and travel companies are sensitive to energy prices, will say that the ­coming crisis could be even more serious than the credit crunch.

"The next five years will see us face another crunch – the oil crunch. This time, we do have the chance to prepare. The challenge is to use that time well," Branson will say.

"Our message to government and businesses is clear: act," he says in a foreword to a new report on the crisis. "Don't let the oil crunch catch us out in the way that the credit crunch did."

Other British executives who will support the warning include Ian Marchant, chief executive of Scottish and Southern Energy group, and Brian Souter, chief executive of transport operator Stagecoach.

Their call for urgent government action comes amid a wider debate on the issue and follows allegations by insiders at the International Energy Agency that the organisation had deliberately underplayed the threat of so-called "peak oil" to avoid panic on the stock markets.

Ministers have until now refused to take predictions of oil droughts seriously, preferring to side with oil companies such as BP and ExxonMobil and crude producers such as the Saudis, who insist there is nothing to worry about.

But there are signs this is about to change, according to Jeremy Leggett, founder of the Solarcentury renewable power company and a member of a peak oil taskforce within the business community. "[We are] in regular contact with government; we have reason to believe their risk thinking on peak oil may be evolving away from BP et al's and we await the results of further consultations with keen interest."

The issue came up at the recent World Economic Forum in Davos where Thierry Desmarest, chief executive of the Total oil company in France, also broke ranks. The world could struggle to produce more than 95m barrels of oil a day in future, he said – 10% above present levels. "The problem of peak oil remains."

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CIA enlists Google's help for spy work

Google has been recruited by US intelligence agencies to help them better process and share information they gather about suspects.

Agencies such as the National Security Agency have bought servers on which Google-supplied search technology is used to process information gathered by networks of spies around the world.

Google is also providing the search features for a Wikipedia-style site, called Intellipedia, on which agents post information about their targets that can be accessed and appended by colleagues, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

The contracts are just a number that have been entered into by Google's 'federal government sales team', that aims to expand the company's reach beyond its core consumer and enterprise operations.

In the most innovative service, for which Google equipment provides the core search technology, agents are encouraged to post intelligence information on a secure forum, which other spies are free to read, edit, and tag - like the online encyclopedia Wikipedia.

Depending on their clearance, agents can log on to Intellipedia and gain access to three levels of info - top secret, secret and sensitive, and sensitive but unclassified. So far 37,000 users have established accounts on the service, and the database now extends to 35,000 articles, according to Sean Dennehy, chief of Intellipedia development for the CIA.

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Killing your own: Massacres during the Korean War

The admission in November last year by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, a governmental body, that South Korea had murdered thousands of its own citizens in the opening weeks of the 1950-53 Korean War, marked a landmark moment in the painful journey to historical truth.

Through methodical excavation of burial sites, forensic examinations, and interviews with eyewitnesses, the commission verified 4,934 of what some researchers suspect may have been tens of thousands of unlawful executions without trial.

Although it has been 60 years since the horrific events, this first ever admission by a South Korean government did not rest easily.

Indeed, the commission, which was established when Kim Dae-jung was president, is viewed with suspicion by the present government, ruling party, and dominant media, which are more conservative on such matters and see leftist mischief rather than national truth and reconciliation in the commission's work.

In part, this reaction is fueled by ignorance. The war crimes by the Syngman Rhee government against its own citizenry are little known in Korea because they were covered up, and not only by the perpetrators.

The 1953 United States Army report on the massacre said it was the worst atrocity of the war and that the North Koreans were to blame. Stories and photographs by British reporters for the Picture Post, a news magazine, showing otherwise were spiked by its publisher.

The victims were mostly members of the National Guidance League, a body set up by the government in the pre-war years, when it was battling leftist partisans, to re-educate people who had given up their alleged support for communism.

Some 300,000 had been forced to join. In typical mass organization style, local chapters were given quotas and sometimes conned peasants into joining with promises of rice.

"The authorities pressed us to join the league," one survivor, Kim Ki-ban, 87, told a news conference in November last year. He described how he had been held in a warehouse and escaped the day before police shot the group, their hands tied behind their backs with wire.

Such testimony was confirmed by a few former police and army officers who spoke to the commission. In an interview with the New York Times, Lee Joon-young, 85, a former prison guard told how at Daejeon, batches of ten prisoners were made to kneel at the edge of a trench. "Police officers stepped up behind them, pointed their rifles at the back of their heads and fired."

Another policeman, Choi Woo-young, 82, from the southern town of Hapcheon, said he believed the league members he was responsible for posed no threat to the government.

When his unit was ordered to kill all of them before falling back, he secretly alerted league members, telling them not to respond to the usual police siren that signaled a "re-education" session.

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Bonus storm as losses hit £7bn at Royal Bank of Scotland

Royal Bank of Scotland is about to announce losses of more than £7 billion for 2009 but will still hand out enormous bonuses to its investment bankers.

State-controlled RBS is in the final throes of negotiations with the Treasury over its bonus scheme. The talks are expected to conclude within 10 days, ahead of the publication of the bank's full-year results.

The Treasury is expected to approve a total bonus pool of about £1.3 billion despite the expected losses. The move will spark a fresh furore over payments at banks that were bailed out by the taxpayer.

RBS is 84%-owned by the state thanks to huge injections of government funds. It is also being supported by a government-backed insurance scheme, which has helped to restore market confidence in the bank.

Analysts think RBS's losses will total £7 billion after a £14 billion hit on bad debts. Huge losses have been suffered on loans to businesses, on property deals and on complex derivatives. Once exceptional items are taken into account, these should be cut to £5 billion.

The only part of the bank expected to do well is its controversial investment-banking arm, which is on track to make billions of pounds in profits.

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