A Tortured Rationale

The President suggests Cheney is right.

Explaining his decision to put a stop to the CIA’s practice of “enhanced interrogations” of terrorist detainees, President Obama told a press conference Wednesday that “I am absolutely convinced it was the right thing to do — not because there might not have been information that was yielded by these various detainees that were subjected to this treatment, but because we could have gotten this information in other ways.” Such as?

In his memoir, former CIA Director George Tenet recalls that “In his initial interrogation by CIA officers, [9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed] was defiant. ‘I’ll talk to you guys,’ he said, ‘after I get to New York and see my lawyer.'” Mr. Obama must be under the impression that the CIA used waterboarding as a first resort.

The President also cited Winston Churchill, who, he said, refused to torture German detainees even when “London was being bombed to smithereens.” But Churchill did authorize the firebombing of Hamburg and other cities, the human toll of which numbered in the hundreds of thousands. Does Mr. Obama consider that a more ethical approach to our enemies?

Still, the President’s reference to Britain was unwittingly instructive, since the British treatment of IRA detainees during the “troubles” of Northern Ireland was one of the benchmarks the Bush Administration used in distinguishing between harsh treatment and actual torture. A 1978 ruling by the European Court of Human Rights found that “stress positions,” “hooding,” and sleep deprivation did not, in fact, constitute torture.

President Obama was then asked whether he had read the memos recently mentioned by former Vice President Dick Cheney as evidence of the effectiveness of enhanced interrogations. Yes he had, he said, immediately adding that “they haven’t been officially declassified and released, and so I don’t want to go into the details of them.” The fact that he didn’t rebut Mr. Cheney’s point about what the interrogations yielded suggests that the memos would prove the former Veep’s point. Mr. Obama should release all the memos and let Americans judge for themselves — though perhaps that’s precisely why he won’t release them.

The President wrapped up by saying “there have been no circumstances during the course of this first hundred days in which I have seen information that would make me second-guess the decision that I’ve made.” We sure hope he’ll be able to say the same about the next four years.


Full article: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB124113499670175211.html

Abu Ghraib Guards Say Memos Show They Were Scapegoats


Charles Graner and Lynndie England posed a few years ago at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. Both were sentenced to prison for their role in detainee abuse.

When the photos of detainee abuse at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq surfaced in 2004, U.S. officials portrayed Army Private Charles A. Graner Jr. as the ringleader of a few low-ranking “bad apples” who illegally put naked Iraqi detainees in painful positions, shackled them to cell doors with women’s underwear on their heads and menaced them with military dogs.

Now, the recent release of Justice Department memos authorizing the use of harsh interrogation techniques has given Graner and other soldiers new reason to argue that they were made scapegoats for policies approved at high levels. They also contend that the government’s refusal to acknowledge those polices when Graner and others were tried undermined their legal defenses.

Graner remains locked up at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., about halfway through a 10-year prison sentence for detainee abuse, assault and dereliction of duty. His lawyer said this week that he is drafting appeals arguments centered largely on the revelations in the memos and a newly released congressional investigation into the interrogation practices.

President George W. Bush “was so disappointed in what happened, yet the whole time he knew what was going on,” said Graner, answering questions through his wife, Megan, who also worked at Abu Ghraib. He is the only one of about a dozen soldiers tried for abuses at the prison who remains incarcerated.

Graner and other defendants — including Lynndie R. England, who was photographed holding a naked detainee by a leash — were blocked by military judges from calling senior U.S. officials to the stand at their trials in 2004 and 2005. The government would not acknowledge any policy or procedure that could have led to what the world saw in the photographs.

Some of what the guards at Abu Ghraib did, such as throwing hooded detainees into walls, echoes tactics authorized in the Justice Department memos, such as “walling,” in which interrogators were allowed to push detainees in CIA custody into a flexible wall designed to make a loud noise.

But the Abu Ghraib photographs also depicted some actions, such as punching or stomping, that bear no relation to the techniques described in the memos, as well as others that were improvised by guards, such as forcing detainees to masturbate or to form human pyramids while naked.

Charles Gittins, a Virginia lawyer who represents Graner, said he has been fuming since reading the memos. He said he has long believed that there was no way Graner and the other Army reservists invented techniques such as stress positions, leashing and the use of dogs, and he says the documents confirmed his suspicions.

“Once the pictures came out, the senior officials involved in the decision-making, they knew. They knew they had to have a cover story,” Gittins said. ” ‘It was the bad apples led by Charles Graner.’ ”

Gittins said he hopes to convince the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces that top officials improperly influenced the court and kept evidence from the defense.

According to the memos and congressional documents, U.S. officials reverse-engineered techniques from U.S. survival training courses designed to teach troops how to endure capture and interrogation. Justice and Defense department officials approved the use of dogs, nudity, stress positions, sleep deprivation and other techniques.

Those tactics, according to the documents, were put into use at the facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and in the CIA’s secret prisons, and eventually were adopted in Afghanistan and Iraq after then-Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld’s approval was forwarded from officials at Guantanamo to Capt. Carolyn Wood, a military intelligence officer. She told investigators that she then sought approvals in Afghanistan for the tactics and brought them with her to Iraq and Abu Ghraib. Senior officers in Iraq also approved the methods there.

Though considered illegal under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, the tactics were put into official use in late 2003. They have since been banned in a new Army Field Manual on interrogations.

Janis L. Karpinski, a former Army Reserve general in charge of prisons in Iraq who was demoted and left the Army as a result of the Abu Ghraib scandal, said she was stunned silent by the administration memos.

“I could have cried,” Karpinski said. “I always had a sense of betrayal because it’s just disgusting. I’m sure those photos scared the hell out of them,” she added, referring to Bush administration officials. “Here, in living color, you have a photographic rendition of your memos. Is that what they wanted it to look like? Guess what, that is what it looks like.”

It is unclear whether low-level soldiers who were convicted of crimes can retrospectively use the Justice Department memos to their advantage. Gary Myers, a New Hampshire lawyer who represented Ivan L. “Chip” Frederick on abuse charges, said that unless the soldiers knew about the policies specifically, the memos might be irrelevant in a courtroom. Still, Myers said he is going to use the recent developments to try to get Frederick’s dishonorable discharge removed from his record.

“If what was suggested as license was itself illegal, relying on illegal documents or opinions is not in my mind a defense,” Myers said. “What we know now is we had at the time a rogue government that created an environment where this sort of conduct was condoned, if not encouraged. But it doesn’t do anything for you when you hold it up against the maltreatment statute of the [Uniform Code of Military Justice], which is law, passed by the Congress.”


Full article and photo: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/04/30/AR2009043004077.html?hpid=topnews

Engines of Main Street

You Can’t Help Detroit if You Hurt the Dealers


A customer at a Chrysler Jeep dealership in Doylestown, Pa.

My family has been in the automobile business since 1921, when my grandfather opened a Ford dealership in Hope, Ark. My father sold cars, I sold cars, and my sons are in the business. We’ve been fortunate to build our enterprise at home and overseas even as that original dealership in Hope is still going strong.

Not surprisingly, I am closely following the Obama administration’s plans for restructuring and renewing our nation’s auto industry. I have proudly served presidents of both parties, including as White House chief of staff in the Clinton administration, and I think my family’s history gives me a somewhat different perspective from that of most Washington observers.

The auto industry needs a viable plan for long-term, durable success as the administration strives to revitalize our nation’s economy. The president’s task force has rightly focused on resetting the balance sheets of General Motors and Chrysler, and working with labor, management and retirees to make these iconic American companies more competitive globally. The task force aims to retool GM and Chrysler as quickly and cleanly as possible; there are no painless solutions, but it is trying hard to be fair.

I commend the progress being made. Success is possible if all stakeholders work together. I take issue with those who say bankruptcy may be necessary as the best option among bad choices. Bankruptcy should be our last resort, not our first.

The relationships between automobile manufacturers, suppliers and franchised dealers are more complex and interconnected than those of any other U.S. industry. No one knows what will happen if a shock like bankruptcy is imposed. Just the declaration of bankruptcy by a manufacturer could further damage the already dysfunctional credit markets. It could also wipe out the dealerships at the heart of many local communities and economies.

Remember, automotive dealers are automakers’ only customers. Dealers buy cars and trucks from manufacturers; consumers buy from dealers, who spend billions annually advertising the vehicles they sell, plus more than $300 million to train sales personnel — all at no cost to the automakers.

Auto dealers understand that the U.S. franchise network must be streamlined, consistent with the geographic characteristics of today’s marketplace. Yet without a strategic plan to ensure that the remaining dealerships can thrive, a rapid “rationalization” could wipe out dealers and further weaken manufacturers, with negative repercussions throughout the economy, especially in the Midwest.

Dealers rely on the credit markets to finance 95 percent of consumer auto sales. America’s dealers also need credit, known as floorplan vehicle inventory credit, to buy vehicles from manufacturers. Yet since the financial crisis began, dealers — especially those with domestic brands — have had a much harder time securing this financing.

Pushing GM or Chrysler into bankruptcy would worsen the situation. Lenders look to the manufacturers to buy back inventory if a dealer goes out of business. What banker would lend to a GM or Chrysler dealer if the manufacturer had declared bankruptcy? And if dealers no longer order vehicles, the result would be terrible for manufacturers. Dealers are already holding off on purchases for fear that customers won’t buy autos made by a bankrupt automaker.

A better approach would be for the task force to be as evenhanded and supportive of auto dealers as it has been of other stakeholders, such as by guaranteeing the $20 billion in inventory financing loans that dealers — and by extension, auto manufacturers — depend on to keep vehicles on sales floors. It would be bad, but manageable, if dealerships were forced to close. But if dealers were also stuck with millions of dollars’ worth of car inventory they couldn’t move, it could break them and cause further instability throughout the economy.

Making it impossible for automotive dealers to stay in business would have implications nationwide. Auto sales account for nearly 20 percent of all domestic retail sales. The franchised automobile dealer is one of America’s strongest engines of economic development. U.S. auto dealers have invested more than $200 billion in their businesses. They employ and train more than a million people in communities nationwide and pay billions in annual state and local taxes.

The vast majority of auto dealers are cornerstones of their communities — men and women who sponsor Little League teams, who lead and donate to civic organizations, who support the places they live and the people they employ. Who will fill the void if these hardworking, dedicated, locally focused entrepreneurs are obliged to shut down?

We need a careful approach to streamlining the dealer network, not abrupt, forced closures. Strong dealer networks are not a burden to the auto industry; they are its lifeline. Indeed, dealers and their employees are part of the solid foundation that President Obama spoke of recently — the rock upon which all Americans must work together to rebuild our economic future. An improvident resolution could jeopardize all that.

The writer is chairman of the RLJ-McLarty-Landers Automotive Group and president of the Washington-based international advisory firm McLarty Associates.


Full article: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/04/29/AR2009042904017.html

Photo: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/25/your-money/25money.html?scp=3&sq=Chrysler%20dealer&st=cse

The Surgeon and the Torture Memos


Having trained medical students, I’ve come to recognize a familiar pattern of behavior when young doctors hold a scalpel for the very first time. Most people — actually anyone who has experienced even a paper cut — are hesitant to slice through flesh. Aspiring surgeons are no different. Their first efforts are tentative and almost always memorable.

“Really, me?” I asked, the first time I was handed the knife. I cupped my hand as if to accept a communion wafer but was taken aback by the scalpel’s weight, a sure sign in my mind of the instrument’s gravitas. Like doctors-in-training before and after me, I wrapped my fingers around the handle in a kind of death grip and winced as the belly of the blade touched the patient’s body. And as much as I’d like not to admit it, my hand shook, so great was my fear of pushing too hard and slicing too deep.

In the end, my first attempt at a surgical incision left barely a line on the patient’s skin. The mark was so tentative and so puny that even my cat wouldn’t have deigned to claim the scratch as her own.

These days I have to try hard to remember the surge of adrenaline and the extent of my fear that very first time. After years of training, cutting began to feel second nature to me, the scalpel merely an extension of my fingers. So when a friend earlier this week told me that she could never imagine cutting into another person and wondered how young doctors learn to do so, I had to stop and think before I could respond to her.

“Habituation,” I finally said. “You get used it.”

That response, and the idea of becoming habituated, has been haunting me ever since. Is it possible for all of us to become habituated to the horrific?

Two weeks ago, the Justice Department declassified four memos regarding the interrogation techniques approved by the Bush Administration and used by the C.I.A. with senior level Al Qaeda members. The details of these documents made my skin crawl; there are cool descriptions of dousing detainees with water at 41 degrees, forced nudity, slamming detainees into walls and waterboarding.

But my mind kept wandering back to one thing: the seemingly ordinary professionals who were responsible. These were lawyers, psychologists, physicians, judges, and military and C.I.A. personnel, not just a rogue group of marginalized military grunts. In fact some of these individuals seemed hardly different from, well, me. A few were even the kind of hometown denizens I might admire.

Take, for example, Jay Bybee, former assistant attorney general and now a judge on the United States Court of Appeals. In addition to his busy job, Mr. Bybee is a father to four children and has managed to serve as both a cubmaster for the Boy Scouts and an assistant coach for youth baseball and basketball. I am lucky if I can pack lunch for my two kids and get to work on time.

The reason I keep thinking about my response to my friend’s question is that I know it is possible for even sensitive souls to become habituated to a range of grisly tasks. I am someone who has learned — become habituated — to performing a whole host of unusual and, depending on your point-of-view, potentially gruesome undertakings: poking sharp objects into other people, removing organs and extremities, and switching parts between the dead and the living. And as I implied to my friend, even cutting the flesh of another human being can become just another part of your day job.

What renders a surgeon’s work different and humane, however, is not just the individual doctor’s desire to do the right thing by his or her patients (though I seriously wonder if Jay Bybee thought he was doing the right thing by his fellow Americans when he listed the 10 acceptable interrogation techniques, waterboarding among them). It is the surgeon’s commitment to and steadfast compliance with his profession’s code of ethical conduct. It is a constant awareness of the extraordinary trust that patients and the public place in their physicians, a trust that entails transparency and accountability in the patient-doctor relationship.

As I see it, the problem now with these documents is not that our trust in those accountable has been shattered. It is that the rest of us are beginning to show signs of becoming habituated to such transgressions.

Americans have been aware of brutal interrogation techniques for several years now: the first pictures from Abu Ghraib were shown five years ago this week, and the declassified documents in fact hold little new information. And while our current president speaks of moving forward, and not looking back at this chapter of our history, can we afford to turn away?

In doing so, we accept how we have become habituated. We risk seeing the brutality not as an atrocity but as part of who we are. We become the surgeon who might have shook when first taking the knife in hand but who now dares to cut with eyes closed.


Full article and photo: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/30/health/30chen.html?hpw

Maine Senate Backs Same-Sex Marriage

Maine could be the next New England state to embrace same-sex marriage after the State Senate voted Thursday to legalize the practice.

The Democratic-controlled Senate voted 21 to 14 for a bill that would allow gay couples to marry starting later this year. The measure appears to have even broader support in the House of Representatives, which will take it up on Tuesday.

Gov. John Baldacci, a Democrat, used to oppose same-sex marriage. But since the bill was introduced in January, he has said he is keeping an open mind.

“He said at the beginning of this process that he was going to listen to debate on the question,” said David Farmer, Mr. Baldacci’s spokesman, “and make his final decision once the bill reaches his desk.”

The vote was the latest victory for gay rights groups in New England, which are campaigning to get same-sex marriage approved in all six of the region’s states by 2012. Massachusetts and Connecticut already allow same-sex marriage, and the Vermont Legislature approved it last month.

The New Hampshire legislature is likely to send a same-sex marriage bill to Gov. John Lynch in the coming weeks, though Mr. Lynch, a Democrat and an opponent, might veto it. A bill has been introduced in the Rhode Island legislature but is unlikely to be acted on this year.

If the Maine Legislature approves same-sex marriage, opponents will try to collect enough signatures to suspend the law until a public referendum can be held — probably in June 2010 — asking voters if they want to overturn it. But Mary Bonauto, the lawyer who argued the case that led to the legalization of same-sex marriage in Massachusetts, said gay rights groups would wage an exhaustive campaign against a so-called people’s veto.

“I think we have better than a fighting chance on that,” Ms. Bonauto said.


Full article: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/01/us/01maine.html?hpw

With New Software, Iranians and Others Outwit Net Censors

The Iranian government, more than almost any other, censors what citizens can read online, using elaborate technology to block millions of Web sites offering news, commentary, videos, music and, until recently, Facebook and YouTube. Search for “women” in Persian and you’re told, “Dear Subscriber, access to this site is not possible.”

Last July, on popular sites that offer free downloads of various software, an escape hatch appeared. The computer program allowed Iranian Internet users to evade government censorship.

College students discovered the key first, then spread it through e-mail messages and file-sharing. By late autumn more than 400,000 Iranians were surfing the uncensored Web.

The software was created not by Iranians, but by Chinese computer experts volunteering for the Falun Gong, a spiritual movement that has beem suppressed by the Chinese government since 1999. They maintain a series of computers in data centers around the world to route Web users’ requests around censors’ firewalls.

The Internet is no longer just an essential channel for commerce, entertainment and information. It has also become a stage for state control — and rebellion against it. Computers are becoming more crucial in global conflicts, not only in spying and military action, but also in determining what information reaches people around the globe.

More than 20 countries now use increasingly sophisticated blocking and filtering systems for Internet content, according to Reporters Without Borders, a Paris-based group that encourages freedom of the press.

Although the most aggressive filtering systems have been erected by authoritarian governments like those in Iran, China, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Syria, some Western democracies are also beginning to filter some content, including child pornography and other sexually oriented material.

In response, a disparate alliance of political and religious activists, civil libertarians, Internet entrepreneurs, diplomats and even military officers and intelligence agents are now challenging growing Internet censorship.

The creators of the software seized upon by Iranians are members of the Global Internet Freedom Consortium, based largely in the United States and closely affiliated with Falun Gong. The consortium is one of many small groups developing systems to make it possible for anyone to reach the open Internet. It is the modern equivalent of efforts by organizations like the Voice of America to reach the citizens of closed countries.

Separately, the Tor Project, a nonprofit group of anticensorship activists, freely offers software that can be used to send messages secretly or to reach blocked Web sites. Its software, first developed at the United States Naval Research Laboratories, is now used by more than 300,000 people globally, from the police to criminals, as well as diplomats and spies.

Political scientists at the University of Toronto have built yet another system, called Psiphon, that allows anyone to evade national Internet firewalls using only a Web browser. Sensing a business opportunity, they have created a company to profit by making it possible for media companies to deliver digital content to Web users behind national firewalls.

The danger in this quiet electronic war is driven home by a stark warning on the group’s Web site: “Bypassing censorship may violate law. Serious thought should be given to the risks involved and potential consequences.”

In this cat-and-mouse game, the cat is fighting back. The Chinese system, which opponents call the Great Firewall of China, is built in part with Western technologies. A study published in February by Rebecca MacKinnon, who teaches journalism at the University of Hong Kong, determined that much blog censorship is performed not by the government but by private Internet service providers, including companies like Yahoo China, Microsoft and MySpace. One-third to more than half of all postings made to three Chinese Internet service providers were not published or were censored, she reported.

When the Falun Gong tried to support its service with advertising several years ago, American companies backed out under pressure from the Chinese government, members said.

In addition, the Chinese government now employs more than 40,000 people as censors at dozens of regional centers, and hundreds of thousands of students are paid to flood the Internet with government messages and crowd out dissenters.

This is not to say that China blocks access to most Internet sites; most of the material on the global Internet is available to Chinese without censorship. The government’s censors mostly censor groups deemed to be state enemies, like the Falun Gong, making it harder for them to reach potential members.

Blocking such groups has become more insidious as Internet filtering technology has grown more sophisticated. As with George Orwell’s “Newspeak,” the language in “1984” that got smaller each year, governments can block particular words or phrases without users realizing their Internet searches are being censored.

Those who back the ragtag opponents of censorship criticize the government-run systems as the digital equivalent of the Berlin Wall.

They also see the anticensorship efforts as a powerful political lever. “What is our leverage toward a country like Iran? Very little,” said Michael Horowitz, a fellow at the Hudson Institute who advises the Global Internet Freedom Consortium. “Suppose we have the capacity to make it possible for the president of the United States at will to communicate with hundreds of thousands of Iranians at no risk or limited risk? It just changes the world.”

The United States government and the Voice of America have financed some circumvention technology efforts. But until now the Falun Gong has devoted the most resources, experts said, erecting a system that allows the largest number of Internet users open, uncensored access.

Each week, Chinese Internet users receive 10 million e-mail messages and 70 million instant messages from the consortium. But unlike spam that takes you to Nigerian banking scams or offers deals on drugs like Viagra, these messages offer software to bypass the elaborate government system that blocks access to the Web sites of opposition groups like the Falun Gong.

Shiyu Zhou, a computer scientist, is a founder of the Falun Gong’s consortium. His cyber-war with China began in Tiananmen Square in 1989. A college student and the son of a former general in the intelligence section of the People’s Liberation Army, he said he first understood the power of government-controlled media when overnight the nation’s student protesters were transformed from heroes to killers.

“I was so disappointed,” he said. “People believed the government, they didn’t believe us.”

He decided to leave China and study computer science in graduate school in the United States. In the late 1990s he turned to the study of Falun Gong and then joined with a small group of technically sophisticated members of the spiritual group intent on transmitting millions of e-mail messages to Chinese.

Both he and Peter Yuan Li, another early consortium volunteer, had attended Tsinghua University — China’s Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Mr. Li, the son of farmers, also came to the United States to study computer science, then joined Bell Laboratories before becoming a full-time volunteer.

The risks of building circumvention tools became clear in April 2006 when, Mr. Li later told law enforcement officials, four men invaded his home in suburban Atlanta, covered his head, beat him, searched his files and stole two laptop computers. The F.B.I. has made no arrests in the case and declined to comment. But Mr. Li thinks China sent the invaders.

Early on, the group of dissidents here had some financial backing from the International Broadcasting Bureau of the Voice of America for sending e-mail messages, but the group insists that most of its effort has been based on volunteer labor and contributions.

The consortium’s circumvention system works this way: Government censorship systems like the Great Firewall can block access to certain Internet Protocol addresses. The equivalent of phone numbers, these addresses are quartets of numbers like that identify a Web site, in this case, google.com. By clicking on a link provided in the consortium’s e-mail message, someone in China or Iran trying to reach a forbidden Web site can download software that connects to a computer abroad that then redirects the request to the site’s forbidden address.

The technique works like a basketball bank shot — with the remote computer as the backboard and the desired Web site as the basket. But government systems hunt for and then shut off such alternative routes using a variety of increasingly sophisticated techniques. So the software keeps changing the Internet address of the remote computer — more than once a second. By the time the censors identify an address, the system has already changed it.

China acknowledges that it monitors content on the Internet, but claims to have an agenda much like that of any other country: policing for harmful material, pornography, treasonous propaganda, criminal activity, fraud. The government says Falun Gong is a dangerous cult that has ruined the lives of thousands of people.

Hoping to step up its circumvention efforts, the Falun Gong last year organized extensive lobbying in Congress, which approved $15 million for circumvention services.

But the money was awarded not to the Falun Gong consortium but to Internews, an international organization that supports local media groups.

This year, a broader coalition is organizing to push for more Congressional financing of anti-filtering efforts. Negotiations are under way to bring together dissidents of Vietnam, Iran, the Uighur minority of China, Tibet, Myanmar, Cuba, Cambodia, Laos, as well as the Falun Gong, to lobby Congress for the financing.

Mr. Horowitz argues that $25 million could expand peak usage to as many as 45 million daily Internet users, allowing the systems to reach as many as 10 percent of the Web users in both China and Iran.

Mr. Zhou says his group’s financing is money well spent. “The entire battle over the Internet has boiled down to a battle over resources,” he said. “For every dollar we spend, China has to spend a hundred, maybe hundreds of dollars.”

As for the Falun Gong software, it proved a little too popular among Iranians. By the end of last year the consortium’s computers were overwhelmed. On Jan. 1, the consortium had to do some blocking of its own: It shut down the service for all countries except China.


Slipping Through the Net

Computers, indispensable in peace, are becoming ever more important in political conflicts and open warfare. This is the second article in a New York Times series on the growing use of computer power as a weapon.

Full article: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/01/technology/01filter.html?hpw

The Chrysler Bankruptcy

When President Obama outlined his plan to restructure Chrysler under bankruptcy-court protection, we shared his view that keeping a company “afloat on an endless supply of tax dollars” was no solution to the cratering of even iconic American companies.

We also admired his supreme confidence that the Chrysler bankruptcy will be a quick, official and controlled process. We just wished we were as confident as the president.

If the process is prolonged, the costs and complexity would likely ensure that the company would never emerge from bankruptcy proceedings, with dire implications for employment and economic recovery.

For the administration, the Chrysler bankruptcy filing became inevitable when a holdout group of the carmaker’s lenders rejected the government’s final offer to settle their debts, for about 33 cents on the dollar. The United Auto Workers union had already agreed to concessions to help keep the company afloat, as had large banks who hold most all of the company’s debt. Chrysler and the Italian carmaker, Fiat, had also agreed to a partnership that would enable Chrysler to tap into Fiat’s technology, designs and management.

By pushing the matter into bankruptcy court, the administration is assuming that the judge will also reject the holdouts’ demands. That would allow for a quick restructuring while keeping intact the previous agreements with the union, the big bank lenders and Fiat. In short order — 30 to 60 days by the administration’s estimate — Chrysler would emerge from bankruptcy with all the pieces in place to become in Mr. Obama’s words, “stronger” and “more competitive.”

There are reasons to hope it will work out that way. In particular, a judge may be unwilling to favor the dissident bondholders when other significant stakeholders have been able to come to agreement outside of court.

But short “prepackaged” bankruptcies generally succeed when all of the difficult issues are resolved ahead of time, requiring only a judge’s official approval. The judge in the Chrysler case may not see the remaining issues in the same cut-and-dried way that the administration does. Quickie bankruptcies like the one the administration envisions for Chrysler have also never been attempted for a company as big and multifaceted as a carmaker. If the Chrysler bankruptcy case does not proceed apace, the administration will need a new plan — and fast — to avoid pouring taxpayer money into a restructuring that may never yield the desired result.

If the bankruptcy succeeds, there is no guarantee that the Chrysler and Fiat partnership will succeed. A recent report by Fortune magazine detailed the likelihood of culture clash in a Chrysler-Fiat combination, given the companies’ complexity and different national identities. Remember the disastrous Daimler-Chrysler marriage?

It will also take some time, probably at least a couple of years, before the Chrysler and Fiat partnership yields any new cars. In the meantime, Chrysler’s own brands like Dodge and Jeep have been badly damaged by the company’s failing fortunes.

The Chrysler bankruptcy filing is a bold move for the administration, a refusal to blink when confronted with what it perceived as unreasonable demands. The object of the game — a strong and competitive Chrysler — is far from achieved.

Editorial, New York Times


Full article: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/01/opinion/01fri1.html/

Remains ID’d of vagabond poet Everett Ruess, who vanished in ’30s


This image provided by National Geographic Adventure shows Everett Ruess photographed in 1933 by Dorthea Lange. Everett Ruess, a talented artist, poet and wanderer of the 1930s whose disappearance became the stuff of Western lore and Navajo legend.

Scientists at the University of Colorado have confirmed that a skeleton found in remote southeastern Utah was that of a young artist, poet and wanderer who disappeared in the 1930s.

The disappearance of Everett Ruess, a self-described vagabond from California, became part of Western legend, inspiring books, film documentaries and folk songs.

Ruess was just 20 when he set off for his final wilderness journey from the town of Escalante, Utah, in 1934. The skeleton was found 60 miles to the east at Comb Ridge.

University of Colorado geneticist Kenneth Krauter says DNA tests involving the explorer’s surviving relatives make it “irrefutable” that the bones were that of Ruess.


Article and photo: http://www.adn.com/nation/story/779250.html


See also:

A Mystery of the West Is Solved


Everett Ruess with two donkeys in the Southwest in the 1930s

The gifted young idealist who slips the bonds of civilization and prevails against the wild, or fails in the trying, is a recurring theme of the American West — not to mention Hollywood.

Everett Ruess in many ways defined the template. A poet, painter and confidant to a leathery set of Western artists in the 1930s, including Dorothea Lange and Ansel Adams, the 20-year-old Mr. Ruess rode off into the desert of the Southwest in 1934 with two burros and a notebook full of dreams, never to be seen again. Over the next 75 years, the West became tamer, but Mr. Ruess and his legend did not, and the lingering mystery of his disappearance only added to the romantic aura of the time and fueled the periodic search for evidence of his fate.

ruess july 4

A photograph of Everett Ruess by Dorothea Lange, with photographic superimposition of skeletal remains found in southern Utah done by Paul Sandberg of the University of Colorado at Boulder.

Now the circle has been closed with a tale that is gritty and grim — and scientifically gee-whiz at the same time.

Human remains were found last year about 60 miles from Escalante in southern Utah by a Navajo man who knew nothing of the Ruess story. The man has been searching for evidence of a killing that his grandfather had witnessed during the Depression. On Thursday, researchers at the University of Colorado connected the dots and said that DNA in the recovered bones matched that of living Ruess relatives. Citing the DNA evidence, as well as a forensic facial reconstruction that was compared with photographs of Mr. Ruess, the researchers concluded that the remains were those of the long-lost artist.

So it was that two family stories of secrets and mysteries became intertwined, and then resolved.

“Navajo oral tradition, the forensic analysis and now the DNA test,” said Dennis Van Gerven, a professor of anthropology at the university. “We can be certain that this is Ruess.”

But the story, pieced together in the April/May issue of National Geographic Adventure magazine and announced Thursday in a conference call, probably still leaves enough loose ends to keep Ruess flame-keepers at work.

The resonant sentences Mr. Ruess wrote in a letter to his family before heading out in November 1934 will probably live on as well. “As to when I shall visit civilization, it will not be soon, I think,” he wrote, as quoted in the book Sandstone Sunsets: In Search of Everett Ruess, by Mark A. Taylor (Gibbs Smith, 1997).

“I prefer the saddle to the streetcar, the star-sprinkled sky to a roof,” wrote Mr. Ruess, who painted, made woodcuts and filled volumes of notebooks, all while still in his teens.

In their analysis, the Colorado researchers said the preliminary evidence was circumstantial; the bones confirmed that the body was male, Caucasian, 19 to 22 years old, and about 5 feet 8 inches tall — all a match for Mr. Ruess. The jaw and eye sockets were largely intact, and so a facial reconstruction came next. It closely matched photographs of Mr. Ruess taken by Ms. Lange, a photographer probably best known for her images of migrant workers during the Depression.

Finally, DNA extracted from the bones showed a 25 percent match with nephews and nieces of Mr. Ruess, the exact amount that would be expected in that family relationship. The conclusion, said Kenneth Krauter, a professor of molecular, cellular and developmental biology at Colorado, was “irrefutable.”

How the remains were found at all is an astonishing tale in its own right.

That story begins in the early 1970s, when Aneth Nez broke a 37-year silence to tell his family about being witness to a dark incident in the 1930s. He told them that while sitting on a ridge, he watched three Ute boys chase down and kill a young white man. After the killers took the victim’s two mules, Mr. Nez, out of respect, buried the body, he told his granddaughter, Daisy Johnson, but was too afraid to talk about it.

Last year, Ms. Johnson told the story to her younger brother, Denny Bellson, and together, on May 25, they went to the general area their grandfather had talked about. Mr. Bellson, speaking in the conference call, said he saw a saddle first— probably his grandfather’s, which, in the Navajo tradition, he would have disposed of because it had been contaminated by coming in contact with the blood of the dead. Then, Mr. Bellson said, he saw the bones, jammed down into a rock crevice.

“The skull was in pieces,” he said. But he said he also saw that it was indented, as though caved in, which fit with his grandfather’s tale.

One of Mr. Ruess’s nephews, Brian Ruess, said in a telephone interview that he had grown up with open-ended versions of his uncle’s story, with each family member drawn to speculate. Some wanted to think their uncle had fallen in love with a Navajo girl and intentionally disappeared into the desert. Brian Ruess said he had always imagined his uncle being swept away while crossing the Colorado River.

“But Everett’s story is more important than just his disappearance — his message wasn’t to go disappear,” added Brian Ruess, 44, who works in software sales in Portland, Ore. “I think the message to be found in his life and writing and art — that there’s beauty in the wilderness and beauty in adventure, and go seek adventure, go live your wanderlust.”

And what happened to Everett Ruess’s gear and notebook, and the bulky box camera that was being carried by one of his burros? Much is still unknown.

Was the campsite discovered in 1957 on a high plateau by geologists working on the Glen Canyon Dam on the Colorado River — spoons and cups set on rocks as if someone had just stepped away, set around a fire ring and a box of razor blades from a Los Angeles drug store near the Ruess family home in Los Angeles — evidence of Mr. Ruess’s last night on earth, as some researchers have long believed?

It is a question the National Geographic article does not address. So it may be a piece of someone else’s desert mystery, still waiting to be solved.


Full article and photos: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/01/us/01ruess.html?hp

Study bolsters hopes for prostate cancer vaccine rejected by FDA

The vaccine, Provenge, extended life an average of four months, nearly twice as long as the best available chemotherapy, researchers say.
A controversial prostate cancer vaccine that previously had been rejected by the Food and Drug Administration improves survival of patients with the advanced form of the disease more than existing treatments and should be brought to market, researchers said Tuesday.

The therapeutic vaccine, called Provenge, extended average survival by four months compared with a placebo, nearly twice as long as the best available chemotherapy, and increased three-year survival by 38%, researchers said at a Chicago meeting of the American Urological Assn.

“This is going to change the way we treat . . . metastatic prostate cancer,” said Dr. David Penson, a urologist at USC’s Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center. “Any patient who has this form of cancer, this is the drug they are going to want, and it is going to be first-line therapy.”

“This will be much easier for patients than going through chemotherapy because there are no side effects,” added Dr. Stanton Gerson, director of the University Hospitals Ireland Cancer Center in Cleveland. Prostate cancer patients “have never had cell therapy or a vaccine as an option before. Now they will.”

Dr. Jonathan W. Simons, president of the Prostate Cancer Foundation, said in an e-mailed statement, “The results validate 16 years of modern research to harness a patient’s own immune system to fight their prostate cancer.”

Both Penson and Gerson participated in the study, but neither has financial links to Dendreon Corp. of Seattle, which developed Provenge. The foundation provided support for some of the initial research on the vaccine.

As a therapeutic vaccine, Provenge is designed to treat the disease rather than prevent it. Physicians collect specialized immune cells called dendritic cells from the patient’s blood, mix them with proteins collected from the surface of tumor cells and inject them back into the patient in three doses at two-week intervals.

In a previous study released in 2007, Dendreon found that the vaccine increased survival in patients with metastatic disease by 18 weeks compared with patients given a placebo. After three years, 34% of those in the vaccine group survived, compared with 11% of those in the placebo group.

An FDA advisory committee recommended that the vaccine be approved for marketing, but the FDA disagreed, arguing that the study did not provide evidence the vaccine slowed progression of tumors.

The decisions provoked outrage among cancer patients. “Since 2007, I have watched men who could have been helped by Provenge suffer and die from prostate cancer,” Thomas A. Farrington, founder and president of the Prostate Health Education Network, said in a statement. “I urge FDA to move as quickly as possible now to make Provenge available to patients.”

The new double-blind study involved 512 patients with advanced prostate cancer. Two-thirds received Provenge, and the rest received a placebo. Dr. Paul Schellhammer of Eastern Virginia Medical School in Norfolk, Va., said that median survival in the Provenge group was 26 months, compared with 22 months in the placebo group.

That may seem like a short time, experts said, but drugs that provide shorter survival are routinely approved.

“The ability to boost survival for patients is the gold standard end point in prostate cancer clinical trials,” said Dr. Ira D. Sharlip, a urologist at UC San Francisco, a spokesman for the urology association.

The current treatment for such patients is Taxotere, known generically as docetaxel, which extends survival two to three months at most and has often-disabling side effects. Many men refuse to take it, Penson said. He has seen many patients taking it end up in a wheelchair from its side effects, which can include bone and muscle pain, allergic reactions, decreases in white and red blood cells, and neuropathy.

But with Provenge, “they might have a little fever, and the next day they are out playing golf,” Sharlip said.

Dendreon officials said they would reapply to the FDA sometime this year. They have not said how much the therapy might cost. An estimated 186,000 American men develop prostate cancer each year, and about 28,660 die of it.

Full article: http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/la-sci-prostate29-2009apr29,0,3194232.story

Spider sex violent but effective

A violent but evolutionarily effective mating strategy has been spotted in spiders from Israel.

Males of the aptly-named Harpactea sadistica species pierce the abdomen of females, fertilising their eggs directly in the ovaries.

The so-called traumatic insemination gives the first male to inseminate a reproductive advantage by bypassing structures in the females’ genitalia.

The findings are reported in Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

Insects including mites and bedbugs have been spotted using a similar strategy, but this is the first time that it has been seen in spiders.

Typically, spider males deliver their genetic package via sperm that is deposited into a small web and manually inserted using a pair of appendages on their undersides known as pedipalps.

The sperm are then held in a receptacle between the ovipore and ovary known as a spermatheca until an egg is released.

However, the spermatheca is a “last in, first out” structure, so that if any further males inseminate a female, the last mate’s sperm is the first in line to fertilise an egg.

Direct route

Milan Rezic, an entomologist at the Crop Research Institute in Prague, has spotted a spider circumventing this problem by delivering sperm directly to the ovaries via holes that the males bore directly in the females’ abdomens.

H sadistica male genitalia (M Rezac)

The male sports a pair of these emboli, optimised for piercing the females

Naming the species H. sadistica , Dr Rezac noted that the species has specialised sex organs at the ends of its pedipalps, with one part specialised for gripping and another, hypodermic needle-like structure for injecting sperm.

Like many spider mating rituals, H. sadistica ‘s approach follows an elaborate pattern, with the male tapping the female, subduing her, and wrapping himself around her to properly position the sex organs.

He then alternates between the two, piercing and injecting the sperm on one side, then the other, forming two neat rows of holes in her abdomen.

An analysis of the females of the species has shown that relative to other spiders, their spermathecae are atrophied, or shrunken.

In an apparent case of co-evolution, they seem to be slowly shrinking into nonexistence now that their purpose is being bypassed by the males’ more direct approach.

“In insects there is a co-evolutionary development of female physiological responses to the male sperm that gives her at least some control of fertilisation,” said William Eberhard, an expert in the mating habits of insects and spiders at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute.

“Something similar might occur here.”

Dr Rezac suggests equally that a means to avoid the injury caused by the males might drive the evolution of secondary genitalia nearer to the ovaries, which have been seen in some spiders and butterflies.

“The evolution of these features has been heretofore difficult to explain,” he said.

“Perhaps the secondary genital structures of butterflies and spiders could have originated via traumatic insemination.”



Violent sex strategy of spiders

The ritual of traumatic insemination plays out.



Full article and photo: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/8023413.stm