Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Family Christmas homily

Forrest Church

(better late than never)

Perhaps the most famous editorial ever written appeared in the New York Sun more than a century ago. It was written by a shoestring ancestor of mine, Frank Pharcellus Church. As an aside, notwithstanding this token of evidence to the contrary, the Church family lacks in imagination. In the naming of children, for instance. Those of you who have heard me allude to my father, grandfather, great-grandfather or son will remember that all the males in our family bear the first name Frank. Some of us are called by our middle name. This is usually Forrester but it sometimes is Pharcellus.

In response to the doubts of one of his young readers, Frank the editor wrote, “Yes Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love, and generosityand devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. How dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus. It would be as dreary as if there were no Virginias. There would be noc hildlike faith then, no poetry, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence . . . The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would beextinguished.”

Since in some respects Santa Claus may be easier for Unitarians to believe in than Jesus, if I were to adapt my ancestor’s editorial for today’s homily I might call it,“Yes, Virginia, there is a Jesus,” the baby Jesus, wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.

Let’s begin with the star. Just like Frank Pharcellus Church’s Santa Claus, the Christmas star leads us not away from ordinary things but straight to the very heart of them. It points not to heaven but to earth, to a stableyard, to a newbornchild. Here is the greatest wonder of all, a mystery without need for miracle, being itself miraculous. So shake off your skeptical airs for a moment. You don’t believe in the star?

Well, think again. There are 100 billion stars in our galaxy and over 100 billion galaxies. In the universe each one of us has about 1,500 personal stars. The star to person ratio is 1,500 to one.

I have an idea. Let’s pretend we don’t have the faintest notion of what Christmas is all about. I can promise you, we will not be far from the mark. What an extraordinary thing we have to look forward to. A star shines. Your star. One of your fifteen hundred stars. The heavens are filled with celestial music. And,what happens? It is really quite astounding. Not that a child is conceived by the holy ghost and born of a virgin, but that a child is born. Yes, he changed the world, but first comes the stunning fact that he was born in the first place.

A child is born to suffer and wonder, to do the best he or she can. A child is born to love and serve, to fail and recover. And of course, to forgive. A child is born to sing in the darkness and cry in the sunlight and say a million wishes.That’s what Christmas reminds us to do: to wish on a star.

But there is something else worth pondering about this miracle. Not so much the moral, but the morals of the Christmas story. A child is born. He becomes a man. Without intending to, in a lifespan of some thirty years he transforms 2000 years of history. He is inadvertantly responsible for everything done in his name, centuries of religious bigotry and persecution, and also quite personally responsible for billions of acts of mercy and love. The morals of the Christmas story have nothing to do with moralism, nothing to do with the self-rightousness and window-shattering that follows from people in glass houses throwing stones.

The morals of the Christmas story are summed up in the teachings of the Christ child. Love God. Love your neighbor as yourself; love your enemies; judge not that you be not judged; forgive those who persecute you; empty yourself and be filled; give away your life and be found..

Jesus was not a Biblical literalist, by the way. He quotes the scriptures rarely, once on the cross, when he asks God why God has forsaken him. And during his lifetime he is despised for breaking religious laws, for not honoring the Sabbath, for neglecting the commandments that enforce purity.

Beyond that, when his disciples ask him how they can guarantee their place in heaven, Jesus says, in Matthew 25, when you die there is a quiz. Nothing about the sins our modern day moralists impose as litmus tests. Nothing about
banning Gay marriage, by the way. No mention of abortion or a word about nontrinitarians being damned to hell.

No, the questions are these: Did you house the homeless, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, heal the sick, and visit those in prison. Why? Because, like us and like him they are children of the one great miracle, our blood brothers and sisters, our kith and kin.

If you tap the gospel in search for it, the Christmas commandment turns out to be quite simple: Unwrap your hearts. Wish on your stars and love to a faretheewell.

That’s the Christmas message. Man. Woman. Child. Danger. Hope. Faith. Wonder. Sacrifice. Glory. Betrayal. Death. Immortal Love.

Even fear. Not unlike today, where the dawning of a new year, ominous with economic shadows, looms dark on the horizon, the Christmas story is riddled with fear. The shepherds are sore afraid. And with the birth comes the slaughter of the innocents. Yet the miracle is about hope. Hope in the face of fear. Hope in the face of despair.

The miracle is not that some people make a million dollars, or look spectacular, or write famous editorials. The miracle is that these same people live and breathe and fall in love, fail and recover, grieve and celebrate, die and are remembered for their love. The miracle is not that some people have wonderful things to say. The miracle is that any of us can speak and say I love you.

So go ahead. Wish on one of you fifteen hundred stars. I wish I may, I wish I might. You may. You might. You might even name a few of them. After all they are shining for you. They shone over your birth. They will shine for you again tonight and every night you live. You are not a star. None of us is. But you were born under a star. And it will shine tonight. Let it bless you. Please let it bless you. And then remember to bless your loved ones and neighbors. Make good on your star, take its light, make it your light, make it shine.

And as you do, you will remember that Yes, there is indeed a Jesus. There is also a Joseph and a Mary, even a surprising number of Virginias and the occasional Forrest and Pharcellus. In fact, there are so many stars that we can’t even begin to count them. We can’t even begin. All we can do is say a wish on one or two and then go out and love and serve to a faretheewell.

After all, it’s Christmas. If you are hunting for miracles, look no further. We should be absolutely starstruck by the wonder of it all.

Amen. Merry Christmas.

And may God bless us, each and every one.

Truthout 12/31

William Rivers Pitt A Very Bad Year
William Rivers Pitt, Truthout: "The year 2008 began on a Tuesday. Matters went downhill swiftly from there."

Obama Dismisses Bush Pentagon Appointees
Sam Youngman, The Hill: "Despite keeping Defense Secretary Robert Gates in the Pentagon, President-elect Obama's transition team informed 90 Bush appointees their services will not be needed after Inauguration Day. Scott Gration, a senior official on Obama's transition team, called and emailed several of President Bush's Pentagon appointees about 10 days ago to inform them they were being dismissed."

Israel Rejects Proposed Cease-Fire
Sudarsan Raghavan and Griff Witte, The Washington Post: "Israeli leaders rejected on Wednesday a cease-fire plan to immediately pause attacks on the Gaza Strip for 48 hours, declaring that as proposed there were no guarantees Hamas fighters would honor the agreement. Discussions were continuing in hopes of developing a more durable cease-fire that would include firmer guarantees that Hamas rocket fire into Israel would stop."

Madoff: So Where's the Money, Bernie?
Stephen Foley, The Independent UK: "Three weeks ago he was one of Wall Street's grandees and one of its most sought-after investment professionals. Today, he is under house arrest at his $7m ... Manhattan apartment, accused of being the biggest swindler that the world of finance has ever seen. Bernard Madoff faces a court deadline this morning for declaring all that remains of his clients' money, and for setting out the personal fortune he amassed over the decades, including homes in Palm Beach, Florida, and New York's Long Island. What is it going to add up to?"

Senate Seat Dispute May Head to Court
David Kesmodel, Douglas Belkin and Cam Simpson, The Wall Street Journal: "The burgeoning dispute over President-elect Barack Obama's vacated U.S. Senate seat could spill into the federal courts. Embattled Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, facing federal corruption charges, shocked the political world Tuesday by naming his choice to fill the seat, former Illinois attorney general Roland Burris."

California Sues Federal Government Over Changes in Endangered Species Act
Julie Cart, The Los Angeles Times: "California Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown filed suit against the federal government Tuesday, charging that a recent rule change by the Bush administration illegally gutted provisions of the Endangered Species Act, essentially quashing the role of science in decisions made by federal agencies. Ken Alex, senior assistant attorney general, said the state took the action because it has both the legal right and the moral responsibility to protect California's environment and resources."

Giroux and Giroux Education After Neoliberalism
Henry A. Giroux and Susan Searls Giroux, Truthout: "As the financial meltdown reaches historic proportions, free-market fundamentalism, or neoliberalism as it is called in some quarters, is losing both its claim to legitimacy and its claims on democracy."

Obama to Face Critical Immigration Test Early
Silla Brush, The Hill: "President-elect Obama will likely make several tough decisions on immigration policy during his first few months in office, even if he postpones wide-ranging reform until later in his first term."

Israel Ordered to Let International Media Into Gaza
Toni O'Loughlin, The Guardian UK: "Israel's supreme court today ordered the government to allow the international media into Gaza to report on the effect of the air strikes on Palestinians."

Joshua Holland Was the "Credit Crunch" a Myth Used to Sell a Trillion-Dollar Scam?
Joshua Holland, AlterNet: "There is something approaching a consensus that the Paulson Plan -- also known as the Troubled Asset Relief Program, or TARP -- was a boondoggle of an intervention that's flailed from one approach to the next, with little oversight and less effect on the financial meltdown."

Drug Companies and Doctors: A Story of Corruption
Marcia Angell, The New York Review of Books: "Recently Senator Charles Grassley, ranking Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, has been looking into financial ties between the pharmaceutical industry and the academic physicians who largely determine the market value of prescription drugs. He hasn't had to look very hard."

Jean-Jacques Roth Mid-Tunnel Glimmerings
Jean-Jacques Roth, Le Temps: "What a year! Wherever one turns: vertigo. Financial massacre, destruction of value unprecedented in human history, the unanticipated become an everyday occurrence, the most learned predictions trampled by phenomena deemed unthinkable just twelve months ago ..."

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

On The View From Egypt, Part Four, Or, Gaza, We Have A Problem

What had been a truce between Israel and the Palestinians of the Gaza Strip seems to have abruptly come to a halt; with the Israelis blaming Hamas and Hamas blaming Israeli oppression of the displaced Palestinians for the simmering hostilities that are now boiling over into military-scale violence.

Before the recent holidays and an immoderate amount of snow buried me in things that could not be done on the computer we had been having a conversation about the strategic importance of our relationship with Egypt. Within that series of discussions we explored the influence of the political opposition, and we considered the fragility of President Mubarak’s hold on power.

We also noted the immediate proximity of Egypt to the Gaza Strip.

Today we’re going to tie all of that together—and the end result of all that tying is that we better keep a close eye on Egypt, because trouble in Gaza has spilled over into trouble in Cairo….and that’s one more Middle Eastern problem we don’t need.

If you’re looking for more details as to why Egyptian politics have been a one-party affair since the Republic’s founding, information about the opposition, or a consideration of the country’s strategic importance, have a look at Parts One, Two, or Three of this series.

So that we might put some of the background in place, here are some of the salient facts surrounding the events of the past few days:

A ceasefire that had existed between Hamas and the Israeli Government has expired. That ceasefire, however, had been a bit of an imperfect exercise.

Some attacks from Gaza into Israel have been self-attributed by Hamas (actions that they have described as responses to Israeli aggressions); and there are suggestions that forces loyal to the rival Fatah movement have also been involved in attacks. The Israeli Foreign Ministry reported 2502 rockets or mortars were fired from Gaza in the first 11 months of 2008, resulting in 17 Israeli deaths. (The ceasefire began in June of 2008.)

Over the four days since the ceasefire’s expiration at least 1100 Palestinians have been killed or wounded by Israeli airstrikes, with some airstrikes targeting tunnels that connect the Gaza Strip to Egypt.

The tunnels are important because they are used to import supplies to the region when normal commercial crossings are restricted or closed by the Israeli Defense Forces. (Truck crossings into Gaza have been reduced from 475 daily before Hamas took control of the region to 123 daily in October 2008 to none for the past eight days.)

The IDF reports that the tunnels are used to import weapons as well.

It is also reported that IDF troops are massing near the Gaza border. It is possible that an entry into Gaza by the IDF is imminent, but as of this writing that has not yet occurred…or it may have already occurred, as reported by the sometimes reliable

And it’s the tunnels that connect this story to Egypt.

As you may recall from our earlier conversations, there are many Egyptians who support the Muslim Brotherhood’s Islamist views, and there are also many Egyptians, unassociated with Islamism, who feel a sense of solidarity with Gazans and their struggles with Israel. Add to that the fact that President Mubarak’s secular but increasingly unpopular Government has been cooperative with Israel as they have worked to isolate Gaza and you have the makings of some serious trouble in the Egyptian street.

And as of today, the trouble seems to have started.

In a country with a Government that attempts to deter undesired street demonstrations with an extremely hostile internal security response, El Badeel of Cairo reports as many as 200.000 of the undeterred may have taken to the streets in demonstrations against the Government in cities such as Cairo, Alexandria, Tanta, and even down the Nile in the farm country of Minya and Asyut.

The Egyptian Foreign Minister, Ahmed Abul-Gheit, and the leader of Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah, are trading words—and Egyptian police and military border guard units are firing on Palestinians who attempt to enter Egypt through holes blown in the wall (by the bombing raids…) that would normally prevent such entries.

Now here is where it gets tricky.

Hamas, the ruling party in Gaza, is essentially descended from the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood—and the last thing Mr. Mubarak wants is hundreds of thousands of Hamas supporters taking up permanent residence in his country, especially if they end up forming fairly insular communities out in the Sinai Desert where the Egyptian internal security apparatus is at it’s weakest.

On the other hand, being perceived as supporting Israel is fraught with 200,000 or so of its own perils—and if the internal security apparatus can’t control the demonstrations, or uses unusually harsh methods to regain control, the internal security threat to Mr. Mubarak’s control from his own citizens will also rise dramatically.

There are those in Israel who want Egypt to take control of Gaza…and it is possible that Israel will use the blockade to create an atmosphere that will “require” Egypt to take “humanitarian” steps—something that might be popular in the Egyptian street…but something that Mr. Mubarak, as we have noted, has no desire to accept.

There are also those who would like to see the Fatah Party take over again in Gaza, removing Hamas from power—but you may recall that Hamas was able to come to power in Gaza because many ordinary Gazans perceived Fatah and Yasser Arafat to be extraordinarily corrupt and ineffectual during their time in power.

The bad news for the US?

We are perceived throughout the Arab and Islamic worlds as the blindly supportive enablers of what Israel is doing in Gaza…and we are perceived in Egypt as the country that enables Mr. Mubarak’s often highly oppressive rule.

As things go badly for the Palestinians, ironically, they get bad for us—and probably for the Israelis as well.

Why? Well, as I often say to my friends, we are making enemies faster than we can kill them. This blind support of Israel against the Gazans isn’t helping matters…but Johann Hari tells the story much better than I:

The world isn't just watching the Israeli government commit a crime in Gaza; we are watching it self-harm. This morning, and tomorrow morning, and every morning until this punishment beating ends, the young people of the Gaza Strip are going to be more filled with hate, and more determined to fight back, with stones or suicide vests or rockets. Israeli leaders have convinced themselves that the harder you beat the Palestinians, the softer they will become. But when this is over, the rage against Israelis will have hardened, and the same old compromises will still be waiting by the roadside of history, untended and unmade.

To understand how frightening it is to be a Gazan this morning, you need to have stood in that small slab of concrete by the Mediterranean and smelled the claustrophobia. The Gaza Strip is smaller than the Isle of Wight but it is crammed with 1.5 million people who can never leave. They live out their lives on top of each other, jobless and hungry, in vast, sagging tower blocks. From the top floor, you can often see the borders of their world: the Mediterranean, and Israeli barbed wire. When bombs begin to fall – as they are doing now with more deadly force than at any time since 1967 – there is nowhere to hide.

--From an editorial in The Independent, December 29, 2008

There is one bit of good news: if Hillary Clinton can find a way to be seen as an “honest broker”, instead of just a supporter of Israel, the incoming Obama Administration could change the atmosphere enough to allow Gazans and Israelis to again return to negotiations. Can the Obama Administration change the atmosphere enough to induce Israel to adopt a less hard-line anti-Palestinian stance? That may be the biggest question the new Secretary of State finds on her plate next month.

Another possible bit of good news: a rapid settlement and return to a semi-ceasefire status could reduce the long-term political damage. In the unfortunate event of a large-scale ground action by the IDF, it is likely the long-term damage increases. (Some suggest the Israelis chose this moment because they feel the Obama Administration will be less supportive of a hard-line policy than the Bush Administration. If this is true, the window for aggressive action may be closing sooner rather than later.)

So here we are: The Israeli actions against Gaza, intended to end the desire of Gazans to attack Israel, are likely to have exactly the opposite effect…which is spilling over the border to create all kinds of problems for the Mubarak Government in Egypt…all of which means all kinds of new bad news for us.

Hillary Clinton might have problems negotiating with all the players…but if she can overcome that obstacle, there could be a better outcome down the road than we have today.

If Israel cannot be convinced to find a way to develop a different relationship with their Palestinian neighbors—and vice versa—eight years from now President Obama will find himself just as vexed as Mr. Bush is today with his giant Middle Eastern failure…and if events cause Egypt, Pakistan, and maybe even Morocco to slide over to the Iran end of the “scale of hostile nations”, he may find himself quite a bit more vexed than he ever expected.


A mistake

Admitting that you have made a mistake and then taking steps to rectify it is difficult for most of us. It is especially tough to do that publicly. The South Bend Community School Corp. Board of Trustees did just that in its meeting on Nov. 17.

Don Wheeler (Viewpoint, Dec. 4) addressed the conduct at the meeting. Unlike Wheeler, I was one of the speakers who enthusiastically supported Superintendent James Kapsa. Like Wheeler, however, I was somewhat disappointed with the comments of some of our school
board members and audience members. Intelligent discourse was needed, not personal attacks against board members. I hope that we will learn from our mistakes, just as the
SBCSC board did, and measure our words more carefully from now on.

On a lighter note, I enjoyed the recognition presentations, just as Wheeler did. He specifically mentioned the one for 2009 Indiana Teacher of the Year, Tania "Harding." Tonya Harding was a figure skater who was associated with the assault on Nancy Kerrigan in order to eliminate the competition. Please know that I did not bring harm to anyone to receive the honor of representing our state; but then, I am not Tania Harding. My name is
Tania Harman.

Congratulations and a big thank you to James Kapsa and the SBCSC board for its dedication, leadership and commitment to our school district.

Tania Harman
South Bend

South Bend Tribune 12/30/08

Pretty funny on my part - particularly when I had previously saluted her (using her actual last name) in . Must be some sort of Freudian slip, though I can't imagine what it means. In any case, shame on me.

Interestingly, scores of people missed my mistake even before the Trib publication.

I appreciate Ms. Harman's generosity of spirit and humorous take on my goof-up. And I once again salute her service.


Truthout 12/30

Death Toll Rises as Israel Continues Gaza Assault
Dion Nissenbaum and Ahmed Abu Hamda, McClatchy Newspapers: "The Israeli military extended its air campaign in the Gaza Strip on Monday, and the nation's defense minister warned that the country is in 'an all-out war' with its Hamas adversaries, who control the Palestinian territory. The three-day death toll in Gaza climbed to 345 with more than 1,400 injured, and Gaza doctors said they were running out of blood, bandages and other supplies."

Minnesota Recount: As Deadline Looms, Confusion Reigns
Mike Kaszuba and Pat Doyle, The Minneapolis Star Tribune: "The US Senate recount spiraled deeper into confusion and bickering Monday, with the campaigns of Sen. Norm Coleman and DFLer Al Franken at odds over how many rejected absentee ballots should be counted and a state Supreme Court deadline to do so looming just four days away. The impasse clouded what might happen today as the first in a series of meetings across Minnesota, involving local election officials, convene to sort through at least 1,346 absentee ballots -- and maybe hundreds more -- to see which ones may have been improperly rejected in the Nov. 4 election."

James Rainey Freedom of the Press as a Foreign Concept
James Rainey, The Los Angeles Times: "A Mexican reporter who wrote about drug violence in his homeland is being held in custody by none other than the US government and its immigration service. Yes, we reporters might get stuck covering the late shift or -- egad! -- a parade. When disaster strikes or a source calls back on deadline, the nights can be long. Newspaper layoffs and hard economic times can cast a pall over just about everything we do. But those concerns seem a piffle every time I read dispatches from around the world about journalists who, fighting for the story, also must fight for their lives."

At Overcrowded Florida Prisons, Some Inmates May Just Camp Out
Richard Luscombe, The Christian Science Monitor: "Florida's balmy winter temperatures have long been a draw for visitors eager to spend some time under canvas, sleeping on cots and enjoying the great outdoors. But a new plan to expose some of the state's inmates to the delights of year-round 'camping' has failed to evoke the same enthusiasm. Faced with a budget deficit of $2.3 billion, Florida is saving money by buying giant tents to house prisoners at nine of its 137 facilities. With its prison population having passed 100,000 for the first time this month, corrections officials say that the hundreds of extra beds will also help address potential overcrowding problems."

Californians Shape Up as Force on Environmental Policy
Lyndsey Layton, The Washington Post: "California Democrats will assume pivotal roles in the new Congress and White House, giving the state an outsize influence over federal policy and increasing the likelihood that its culture of activist regulation will be imported to Washington. In Congress, Democrats from the Golden State are in key positions to write laws to mitigate global warming, promote 'green' industries and alternative energy, and crack down on toxic chemicals. Down Pennsylvania Avenue, Californians in the new White House will shape environmental, energy and workplace safety policies."

Andre Pratte Everything Crashes
Andre Pratte, La Presse and the authors writing as the Chronicles of Favilla for Les Echos look beyond technical causes to human psychology and medieval codes of chivalry to diagnose the roots and prescribe remedies for the financial crisis.

Norman Solomon A Hundred Eyes for an Eye
Norman Solomon, Truthout: "Even if you set aside the magnitude of Israel's violations of the Geneva conventions and the long terrible history of its methodical collective punishment of 1.5 million Palestinians in Gaza, consider the vastly disproportionate carnage in the conflict. 'An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind,' Gandhi said. What about a hundred eyes for an eye?"

Unrest Caused by Bad Economy May Require Military Action, Report Says
Diana Washington Valdez, El Paso Times: "A U.S. Army War College report warns an economic crisis in the United States could lead to massive civil unrest and the need to call on the military to restore order. Retired Army Lt. Col. Nathan Freir wrote the report 'Known Unknowns: Unconventional Strategic Shocks in Defense Strategy Development,' which the Army think tank in Carlisle, Pa., recently released."

Congress to Examine Madoff Case Next Week
Rachelle Younglai, Reuters: "Lawmakers will take their first close look next Monday at financier Bernard Madoff's alleged $50 billion fraud and why the Securities and Exchange Commission failed to discover the scandal. Information gleaned from the hearing will help guide Congress as it attempts to reform laws regulating the U.S. financial system, said Rep. Paul Kanjorski, a Pennsylvania Democrat and chairman of the House capital markets subcommittee."

Christmas Massacres "Killed 400"
BBC News: "More than 400 people have been killed by Ugandan rebels in the Democratic Republic of Congo in attacks since Christmas day, aid agency Caritas says. The head of Caritas in DR Congo told the BBC some 20,000 people had fled to the mountains from the rebels, who have denied carrying out the attacks."

Pakistan Closes NATO Supply Route to Fight Militants
Agence France-Presse: "Pakistan on Tuesday cut off supplies to NATO and US forces in Afghanistan via the Khyber Pass as security forces launched a major operation against militants there, officials said. The offensive comes after a series of spectacular raids by suspected Taliban militants on foreign military supply depots in northwest Pakistan earlier this month in which hundreds of NATO and US-led coalition vehicles were destroyed."

Teo Ballve Obama Should End Cuba Embargo
Teo Ballve, The Progressive: "This week marks the 50th anniversary of the Cuban Revolution, an opportune time for President-elect Obama to signal an end to the Cuban embargo. During the campaign, Obama promised to 'turn the page and begin to write a new chapter in U.S.-Cuba policy.' Contrary to the Bush administration's policies, Obama said he would give Cuban-Americans 'unrestricted rights' to visit family and send cash remittances to the island."

Monday, December 29, 2008

Fifty Herbert Hoovers

New York Times

No modern American president would repeat the fiscal mistake of 1932, in which the federal government tried to balance its budget in the face of a severe recession. The Obama administration will put deficit concerns on hold while it fights the economic crisis.

But even as Washington tries to rescue the economy, the nation will be reeling from the actions of 50 Herbert Hoovers — state governors who are slashing spending in a time of recession, often at the expense both of their most vulnerable constituents and of the nation’s economic future.

These state-level cutbacks range from small acts of cruelty to giant acts of panic — from cuts in South Carolina’s juvenile justice program, which will force young offenders out of group homes and into prison, to the decision by a committee that manages California state spending to halt all construction outlays for six months.

Now, state governors aren’t stupid (not all of them, anyway). They’re cutting back because they have to — because they’re caught in a fiscal trap. But let’s step back for a moment and contemplate just how crazy it is, from a national point of view, to be cutting public services and public investment right now.

Think about it: is America — not state governments, but the nation as a whole — less able to afford help to troubled teens, medical care for families, or repairs to decaying roads and bridges than it was one or two years ago? Of course not. Our capacity hasn’t been diminished; our workers haven’t lost their skills; our technological know-how is intact. Why can’t we keep doing good things?

It’s true that the economy is currently shrinking. But that’s the result of a slump in private spending. It makes no sense to add to the problem by cutting public spending, too.

In fact, the true cost of government programs, especially public investment, is much lower now than in more prosperous times. When the economy is booming, public investment competes with the private sector for scarce resources — for skilled construction workers, for capital. But right now many of the workers employed on infrastructure projects would otherwise be unemployed, and the money borrowed to pay for these projects would otherwise sit idle.

And shredding the social safety net at a moment when many more Americans need help isn’t just cruel. It adds to the sense of insecurity that is one important factor driving the economy down.

So why are we doing this to ourselves?

The answer, of course, is that state and local government revenues are plunging along with the economy — and unlike the federal government, lower-level governments can’t borrow their way through the crisis. Partly that’s because these governments, unlike the feds, are subject to balanced-budget rules. But even if they weren’t, running temporary deficits would be difficult. Investors, driven by fear, are refusing to buy anything except federal debt, and those states that can borrow at all are being forced to pay punitive interest rates.

Are governors responsible for their own predicament? To some extent. Arnold Schwarzenegger, in particular, deserves some jeers. He became governor in the first place because voters were outraged over his predecessor’s budget problems, but he did nothing to secure the state’s fiscal future — and he now faces a projected budget deficit bigger than the one that did in Gray Davis.

But even the best-run states are in deep trouble. Anyway, we shouldn’t punish our fellow citizens and our economy to spite a few local politicians.

What can be done? Ted Strickland, the governor of Ohio, is pushing for federal aid to the states on three fronts: help for the neediest, in the form of funding for food stamps and Medicaid; federal funding of state- and local-level infrastructure projects; and federal aid to education. That sounds right — and if the numbers Mr. Strickland proposes are huge, so is the crisis.

And once the crisis is behind us, we should rethink the way we pay for key public services.

As a nation, we don’t believe that our fellow citizens should go without essential health care. Why, then, does a large share of funding for Medicaid come from state governments, which are forced to cut the program precisely when it’s needed most?

An educated population is a national resource. Why, then, is basic education mainly paid for by local governments, which are forced to neglect the next generation every time the economy hits a rough patch?

And why should investments in infrastructure, which will serve the nation for decades, be at the mercy of short-run fluctuations in local budgets?

That’s for later. The priority right now is to fight off the attack of the 50 Herbert Hoovers, and make sure that the fiscal problems of the states don’t make the economic crisis even worse.

Truthout 12/29

Israel Considers Ground Attack, Mobilizes
Rory McCarthy, The Guardian UK: "Israel's cabinet yesterday approved the call-up of thousands of reservists as the military deployed tanks close to the border with Gaza while pressing on with air strikes, suggesting a major ground invasion was being considered to follow the biggest single day of conflict in Gaza since the 1967 war. Ehud Olmert, Israel's prime minister, reportedly told a cabinet meeting the fighting in Gaza would be 'long, painful and difficult.'"

Bomber Kills Up to 30 in Pakistan
Laura King, The Los Angeles Times: "A suicide car bomber set off a powerful explosion outside a polling station today in volatile northwest Pakistan, killing up to 30 people, including several children, authorities said. In the capital, Islamabad, the five-star Marriott hotel opened its doors three months after a devastating truck bombing that killed more than 50 people and epitomized Islamic militants' growing reach and boldness."

Pakistan Cancels Army Leave as India Tensions Rise
Bappa Majumdar and Kamran Haider, Reuters: "Pakistan canceled army leave and redeployed some troops Friday in a sign of rising tension with India. The United States urged both sides to refrain from further raising tensions, already high after India blamed Islamist militants based in Pakistan for attacks on Mumbai last month that killed 179 people."

Dan Rather's $70 Million Lawsuit Likely to Deal Bush Legacy a New Blow
Christopher Goodwin, The Observer UK: "As George W Bush prepares to leave the White House, at least one unpleasant episode from his unpopular presidency is threatening to follow him into retirement. A $70m lawsuit filed by Dan Rather, the veteran former newsreader for CBS Evening News, against his old network is reopening the debate over alleged favourable treatment that Bush received when he served in the Texas Air National Guard during the Vietnam war."

Energy Dispute Over Rockies Riches
Julie Cart, The Los Angeles Times: "A titanic battle between the West's two traditional power brokers - Big Oil and Big Water - has begun. At stake is one of the largest oil reserves in the world, a vast cache trapped beneath the Rocky Mountains containing an estimated 800 billion barrels -- about three times the reserves of Saudi Arabia."

Child Maid Trafficking Spreads From Africa to US
Rukmini Callimachi, The Associated Press: "They watched through their window as the child rinsed plates under the open faucet. She wasn't much taller than the counter and the soapy water swallowed her slender arms. To put the dishes away, she climbed on a chair. But she was not the daughter of the couple next door doing chores. She was their maid."

Ann Wright Iranians Ponder Their Future With an Obama Administration
Ann Wright, Truthout: "Just a month ago, while Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and US President George Bush met for the last time as heads of state in late November 2008 in Washington and continued their relentless bellicose rhetoric toward Iran, I and three activists from the United States were in Iran as citizen diplomats talking with Iranians on their views of a new American presidential administration and their hopes for their country."

Analysis: "I Don't See How This Ends Well" in Gaza
Dion Nissenbaum, McClatchy Newspapers: "As Israel clamps down on the Gaza Strip and prepares for the possibility of sending thousands of soldiers into the Palestinian area controlled by the militant Islamic group Hamas, its leaders are facing a diplomatic conundrum: They have clear military goals but no political vision for how to end the confrontation."

Wall Street Faces Worst Losses Since Herbert Hoover
Joe Bel Bruno, The Associated Press: "Investors are preparing to close out the last three trading days of 2008 with Wall Street's worst performance since Herbert Hoover was president. The ongoing recession and global economic shock pummeled stocks this year, with the Dow Jones industrial average slumping 36.2 percent. That's the biggest drop since 1931 when the Great Depression sent stocks reeling 40.6 percent."

Trickle Down Meltdown
Doug Saunders, The Globe and Mail: "In this very poor corner of Bangladesh, where rice farmers get by on household incomes of less than $1 a day, where the most popular mode of transportation is the pedal-rickshaw and where life doesn't seem to have changed for centuries, it's hard to believe that anyone could be affected by the crisis that has humbled Wall Street and Canary Wharf. But the credit crunch is the main topic of conversation in the rice paddies and village bazaars here."

Webb Sets His Sights on Prison Reform
Sandhya Somashekhar, The Washington Post: "This spring, Webb (D-Va.) plans to introduce legislation on a long-standing passion of his: reforming the U.S. prison system. Jails teem with young black men who later struggle to rejoin society, he says. Drug addicts and the mentally ill take up cells that would be better used for violent criminals. And politicians have failed to address this costly problem for fear of being labeled 'soft on crime.'"

Tennessee Sludge Spill Estimate Grows to One Billion Gallons "Estimates for the amount of thick sludge that gushed from a Tennessee coal plant last week have tripled to more than a billion gallons, as cleanup crews try to remove the goop from homes and railroads and halt its oozing into an adjacent river."

Friday, December 26, 2008

Truthout 12/26

Ann Wright Remembering Nobel Laureate Harold Pinter
Ann Wright, Truthout: "On the news today of the death of Harold Pinter, the winner of the 2005 Nobel Prize for Literature, I remembered hearing his Nobel Laureate lecture/acceptance speech. I was in London in December, 2005 speaking at the annual Stop the War conference when Pinter delivered his speech - not in Oslo, as Pinter was very sick and could not travel, but in London via TV link. I was amazed and thrilled that he chose to use the Nobel Prize platform and devote a huge portion of his speech to shining an international spotlight on the tragic effects of the past decades of US foreign policy and particularly, on George Bush and Tony Blair's decisions to invade and occupy Iraq, on Guantanamo and on torture."

Bush a Catalyst in America's Declining Influence
Paul Richter, The Los Angeles Times: "As President Bush's term comes to a close, the United States has the world's largest economy and its most powerful military. Yet its global influence is in decline. The United States emerged from the Cold War a solitary superpower whose political and economic leverage often enabled it to impose its will on others. Now, America usually needs to build alliances - and often finds that other powers aren't willing to go along."

Robert L. Borosage and Eric Lotke A New New Deal?
Robert L. Borosage and Eric Lotke, The Nation: "While the old basics are crumbling, twenty-first-century needs are being ignored. We maintain our addiction to oil while forfeiting our lead in renewable-energy technologies that will drive the green markets of the future. As two-income and single-parent families spread, we are failing to provide the high-quality childcare and pre-kindergarten programs vital to educating the next generation. Even as college or advanced training are deemed essential in the modern economy, more and more Americans find them priced out of reach. Our health care system is broken, consuming too many resources while providing care for too few."

Scientists Eager for Stem Cell Policy Change
Jeffrey Young, The Hill: "Although President-elect Obama's pledge to change federal policy on stem cell research is not likely to lead to new cures by the end of his first year - or even first term - the scientific community is eager to get moving. Embryonic stem cell research is one area in which the change that Obama has promised on the campaign trail will provoke an immediate effect."

Faster Climate Change Feared
Juliet Eilperin, The Washington Post: "The United States faces the possibility of much more rapid climate change by the end of the century than previous studies have suggested, according to a new report led by the US Geological Survey."

Pakistan Moves Troops Toward Indian Border
Sebastian Abbot, The Associated Press: "Pakistan began moving thousands of troops to the Indian border Friday, intelligence officials said, sharply raising tensions triggered by the Mumbai terror attacks."

Are Iraq Contractors Subject to US Law?
Daphne Eviatar, The Washington Independent: "Earlier this month, the Department of Justice announced to great fanfare that it had indicted five guards employed by the private security firm Blackwater Worldwide for their role in a Baghdad shooting that left 17 Iraqis dead last year. A sixth guard had pled guilty to manslaughter and weapons violations. But lawyers for the five men indicted in the first case of its kind appear to have a strong defense, regardless of the circumstances of the shooting: private security guards contracting with the Department of State may not be subject to American law."

Mexico: The Next Disaster
Jesse Bogan, Kerry A. Dolan, Christopher Helman and Nathan Vardi, Forbes: "The November 4 crash of a Learjet in an upper-class Mexico City neighborhood caused a disproportionate amount of destruction. All eight passengers were killed - including Interior Minister Juan Camilo Mourino, President Felipe Calderon's right-hand man, and Jose Luis Santiago Vasconcelos, a leading prosecutor against the powerful drug cartels; seven people on the ground died, too."

Coalition Kills 11 Suspected Taliban Militants
Darah Hansen, Canwest News Service: "Coalition forces killed 11 men and detained two others following an early-morning gun battle that broke out Friday in the Maiwand district, west of Kandahar City. All those killed in the operation were suspected Taliban militants believed to be responsible for multiple deadly attacks on both coalition soldiers and Afghan civilians using improvised explosive devices, according to US army spokesman, Col. Jerry O'Hara."

States Cut Medicaid Coverage Further
Amy Goldstein, The Washington Post: "States from Rhode Island to California are being forced to curtail Medicaid, the government health insurance program for the poor, as they struggle to cope with the deteriorating economy."

Bill Moyers Journal "Beyond Our Differences"
Bill Moyers Journal presents the film "Beyond Our Differences," which explores the common threads that unify the world's religious traditions.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Truthout 12/23

Secret Tapes Helped Build Graft Cases in Illinois
Carrie Johnson and Kimberly Kindy, The Washington Post: "The wide-ranging public corruption probe that led to the arrest of Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich got its first big break when a grandmother of six walked into a breakfast meeting with shakedown artists wearing an FBI wire. Pamela Meyer Davis had been trying to win approval from a state health planning board for an expansion of Edward Hospital, the facility she runs in a Chicago suburb, but she realized that the only way to prevail was to retain a politically connected construction company and a specific investment house. Instead of succumbing to those demands, she went to the FBI and U.S. Attorney Patrick J. Fitzgerald in late 2003 and agreed to secretly record conversations about the project."

Dennis Kucinich My Battle With the Banks
Dennis Kucinich, Truthdig: "Once they were as gods, but the deities of the American banking system are now in ruins, plunged from their pedestals into the maw of taxpayer largesse. Congress voted to give the banks $700 billion, lifting them temporarily out of their sepulcher of debt, while revealing a deep truth about the condition of America’s financial powers: They never had the money they said they had as they constructed their debt-based monetary system which now lies in ruins. Their decisions on behalf of depositors, shareholders and investors were lacking in basic integrity and common sense. Green gods bailing out with their golden parachutes. There was a time when their power was real. Come with me to Cleveland 30 years ago today."

European Governments Begin Detainee Discussions
Peter Finn, The Washington Post: "European countries have begun intensive discussions both within and between their governments on whether to resettle detainees from the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, as a significant overture to the incoming Obama administration, according to senior European officials and US diplomats. The willingness to consider accepting prisoners who cannot be returned to their home countries, because of fears they might be tortured there, represents a major change in attitude on the part of European governments. Repeated requests from the Bush administration that European allies accept some Guantanamo detainees received only refusals."

Bush Pushes Persian Gulf Nuclear Agreement
Howard Lafranchi, The Christian Science Monitor: "The Bush administration is quietly advancing a nuclear cooperation agreement with the United Arab Emirates (UAE), raising concerns in Congress and among nonproliferation experts about the deal's repercussions in a volatile region. The deal to provide the small but strategically located country with the means to generate electricity through nuclear technology could be signed by President Bush before he leaves office, thus making the accord - similar to the much higherprofile nuclear pact the administration reached with India - part of his legacy."

Brentin Mock Will Environmental Justice Finally Get Its Due?
Brentin Mock, The American Prospect: "If President-Elect Barack Obama's recent cabinet choices are any indication, the decades-old environmental justice movement may finally see many of its top policy goals fulfilled. The Obama administration is poised to finally deliver on White House promises made in the early 1990s to protect minorities from toxic waste, and with the addition of an Office of Urban Policy, it may go even further toward correcting historical racial disparities when it comes to environmental hazards. On Feb. 11, 1994, President Bill Clinton signed Executive Order #12898, the Federal Actions to Address Environmental Justice in Minority Populations and Low-Income Populations. It was a huge milestone for the environmental justice movement, which began in the early 1980s when multi-racial coalitions of activists fought against pollution and dumpings near African-American communities in Warren County, North Carolina, and Dickson County, Tennessee."

Senior Federal Banking Regulator Removed
Binyamin Appelbaum, The Washington Post: "A senior federal banking regulator has been removed from his job after government investigators concluded that he knowingly permitted IndyMac Bancorp to present a misleading picture of its financial health in a federal filing only months before the California thrift was seized by regulators. The Office of Thrift Supervision removed Darrel Dochow as director of its western region, where he was responsible for regulating several of the largest banks that failed or were sold in the past year, including Washington Mutual, Countrywide Financial, IndyMac and Downey Savings and Loan."


The truthiness about our most plentiful non-renewable reasource!

Monday, December 22, 2008

An occurence at Algier's Point

During the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina

More on the story:

Truthout 12/22

Matt Renner SEC Whistleblower Speaks on Madoff Fraud
Matt Renner, Truthout: "After the revelation of a massive fraud scheme, a former government investigator has accused government law enforcement officials of repeatedly turning a blind eye to Wall Street crime and, in doing so, allowing the foundational trust of the global financial system to crumble. The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), the oversight body which was set up to enforce laws regulating finance in order to prevent a repeat of the stock market crash of 1929, has admitted to falling down on the job, missing the long-running scheme allegedly perpetrated by Bernard L. Madoff - potentially the largest scandal ever to rock Wall Street."

Bush Emails May Be Secret a Bit Longer
R. Jeffrey Smith, The Washington Post: "The required transfer in four weeks of all of the Bush White House's electronic mail messages and documents to the National Archives has been imperiled by a combination of technical glitches, lawsuits and lagging computer forensic work, according to government officials, historians and lawyers. Federal law requires outgoing White House officials to provide the Archives copies of their records, a cache estimated at more than 300 million messages and 25,000 boxes of documents depicting some of the most sensitive policymaking of the past eight years."

Gaza Near to Collapse as Israel Tightens Grip, Says Bank
Toni O'Loughlin, The Guardian UK: "Israel's blockade of Gaza is pushing the territory to the brink of collapse and fuelling the growth of a black money market controlled by Hamas, the World Bank warned yesterday. As tit-for-tat attacks across the Gaza border began to intensify following the end of a six-month truce on Friday, the World Bank said that an acute cash shortage in Gaza was playing into Hamas's hands."

AP Study Finds $1.6 Billion Went to Bailed-Out Bank Executives
Frank Bass and Rita Beamish, The Associated Press: "Banks that are getting taxpayer bailouts awarded their top executives nearly $1.6 billion in salaries, bonuses, and other benefits last year, an Associated Press analysis reveals. The rewards came even at banks where poor results last year foretold the economic crisis that sent them to Washington for a government rescue. Some trimmed their executive compensation due to lagging bank performance, but still forked over multimillion-dollar executive pay packages."

Iraqi Sunnis Embrace Shiite Reporter Who Threw Shoes at Bush
Sahar Issa, McClatchy Newspapers: "The Iraqi journalist who hurled his shoes at President George W. Bush intends to press charges against the people who he says beat him as he was taken into custody, said a member of the Iraqi parliament who's urging his release. Bahaa al Araji , a member of parliament from a party tied to Shiite cleric Muqtada al Sadr, said journalist Muntathar al Zaidi earlier on Friday had presented his case that he was beaten to an Iraqi judge."

Wall Street Still Flying Corporate Jets
Stevenson Jacobs, The Associated Press: "Crisscrossing the country in corporate jets may no longer fly in Detroit after car executives got a dressing down from Congress. But on Wall Street, the coveted executive perk has hardly been grounded. Six financial firms that received billions in bailout dollars still own and operate fleets of jets to carry executives to company events and sometimes personal trips, according to an Associated Press review."

Rebecca Solnit The Grinning Skull: The Homicides You Didn't Hear About in Hurricane Katrina
Rebecca Solnit, "What do you do when you notice that there seems to have been a killing spree? While the national and international media were working themselves and much of the public into a frenzy about imaginary hordes of murderers, rapists, snipers, marauders, and general rampagers among the stranded crowds of mostly poor, mostly black people in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina, a group of white men went on a shooting spree across the river. Their criminal acts were no secret but they never became part of the official story."

Agents: Suspected US Drones Kill Seven in Pakistan
Hafiz Wazir, Reuters: "Suspected U.S. drones fired at least two missiles into Pakistan's South Waziristan region on the Afghan border on Monday, killing seven people, intelligence agency officials and residents said. U.S. forces in Afghanistan, frustrated by a spreading Taliban insurgency that is getting support from militant enclaves in northwest Pakistan, have stepped up strikes by pilotless drones despite Pakistani objections."

Where'd the Bailout Money Go? Shhhh, It's a Secret
Matt Apuzzo, The Associated Press: "It's something any bank would demand to know before handing out a loan: Where's the money going? But after receiving billions in aid from U.S. taxpayers, the nation's largest banks say they can't track exactly how they're spending the money or they simply refuse to discuss it. 'We've lent some of it. We've not lent some of it. We've not given any accounting of, "Here's how we're doing it,"' said Thomas Kelly, a spokesman for JPMorgan Chase, which received $25 billion in emergency bailout money. 'We have not disclosed that to the public. We're declining to.'"

SEC Report: Employees Browsed Adult Material, Ran Private Businesses
Jake Bernstein, ProPublica: "The Securities and Exchange Commission is taking a drubbing these days for its abject failure - despite detailed tips - to catch Bernie Madoff in what appears to be the biggest Ponzi scheme in our nation’s history. Now, thanks to a little-noticed report from the agency’s inspector general, we have a detailed glimpse into other bad behavior by some SEC employees."

Economic Crisis Reaches the Judicial System
Bob Drogin, The Los Angeles Times: "Come February, the red-brick Rockingham County Courthouse, one of New Hampshire's busiest, will arraign criminal suspects, process legal motions and otherwise deal with murders, mayhem and contract disputes. What it won't do is hold jury trials. The economic storm has come to this: Justice is being delayed or disrupted in state courtrooms across the country."

VIDEO The Grinning Skull: The Homicides You Didn't Hear About in Hurricane Katrina
A.C. Thompson, a reporter for The Nation and ProPublica, interviews the gunmen responsible for a slew of post-Katrina vigilante shootings.

FP morning post 12/22

Top Story

The United States is aiming to send 20,000 to 30,000 additional troopsto Afghanistan before this summer, according to Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the joint chiefs ofstaff. Three thousand will be sent next month. Most of the troops will be sent to bolster struggling European forces in Southern Afghanistan.

Though he stressed that progress had been made by the troops already there, Mullen said, "We may have overstated the focus on the ability of the centralgovernment to have the kind of impact that we wanted given the historyhere in Afghanistan."

Gen. David McKiernan said he hopes the additional troops will allow international forces to reach a "tipping point" against the Taliban that will allow aid and development groups to do their work. At the same time, NATO forces will begin a strategy of reaching out to local tribal leaders, to enlist them in the fight against the Taliban. This is a central aspect of the "clear, hold, and build" strategy that now-CENTCOM Commander David Petraeus employed in Iraq.

So far, NATO has avoided discussions of actually arming local militias for fear of destabilizing the government in Kabul. Though as one NATO diplomat said, "Getting weapons in Afghanistan is not a problem."

Middle East
The Iraqi government is rushing to find a way to allow non-U.S. troops to stay in the country next year after parliament rejected a law that would do so.
The World Bank slammed Israel's new checkpoint plan for the West Bank.
Iraq began a new prosecution of "Chemical" Ali Hassan al-Majeed, who is already sentenced to death.
Iranian authorities raided and shut down the human rights organization run by Nobel Laureate Shirin Ebadi.

China is blocking Internet access to the New York Times. The specific reason is unknown.
Japan's economic outlook is increasingly bleak. Auto-giant Toyota is facing severe cutbacks.
Accused arms dealer Viktor Bout testified at his extradition trial in Bangkok.

Canada is rolling out a $3.3 billion bailout package for Detroit automakers to keep Canadian plants open.
Colombia's Farc rebels are planning to release six hostages in the next few days.
Nine decapitated corpses were found in southern Mexico.

Russia approved an extension of presidential terms from four to six years.
Belgium's government collapsed after a failed attempt at a bank bailout. The country's king and political leaders are running out of options.
Ukraine's Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko called on President Viktor Yuschenko to resign over allegations of currency speculation.

The African Union is holding crisis talks on Somalia.
Zimbabwean leader Robert Mugabe says that despite the country's new unity government, he will not budge on the controversial policy of seizing of white-owned farms. A U.S. envoy said that the United States would not support any government that included Mugabe.

World Economy
Markets in Europe and Asia fell, partially due to slumping car sales.
Oil rose to $43 a barrel with news of the U.S. auto bailout.
Repairs began on the severed underwater cable that disrupted Internet access for millions in the Middle East and Asia last week.

U.S. Presidential Transition
Obama announced a special task force to address the concerns of the American middle class. It will be led by Vice President Joe Biden.
Harvard physicist John Holdren will be Barack Obama's top science advisor.
Obama took off for a vacation in Hawaii.

Today's Agenda
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas visits Russia.
The European Union-Brazil summit kicks off in Rio de Janeiro with Nicolas Sarkozy in attendance.
Happy Hanukkah.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Truthout 12/21

UAW's Sacrifices Look to Some Like Surrender
Peter Whoriskey, The Washington Post: "For decades after its founding in 1935, the United Auto Workers stood as a powerful model for the American labor movement, an influential organization that historians credit with uplifting living standards for all working Americans. But with the announcement of the federal loan deal yesterday, the union found itself being forced into concessions that some described as tantamount to surrender."

David Bacon Blacks and Immigrants Bring in the Union
David Bacon, Truthout: "When workers at Smithfield Foods' North Carolina packing house voted in the union on December 11, the longest, most bitter anti-union campaign in modern labor history went down to defeat.

Obama Expands Stimulus Goals
Lori Montgomery, The Washington Post: "President-elect Barack Obama has expanded his goals for a massive federal stimulus package to keep pace with the increasingly grim economic outlook, aiming to create or preserve at least 3 million jobs over the next two years."

E. Benjamin Skinner A World Enslaved
E. Benjamin Skinner, Foreign Policy: "There are now more slaves on the planet than at any time in human history. True abolition will elude us until we admit the massive scope of the problem, attack it in all its forms, and empower slaves to help free themselves."

Obama Cranks Up Green Revolution
Geoffrey Lean, The Independent: "Barack Obama yesterday promised to end George Bush's 'twisting' of science to suit 'politics or ideology' in an extraordinarily outspoken address to the nation, and announced that he was putting top climate scientists in key positions in his administration."

Michael Tomasky Blaming History
Michael Tomasky, The American Prospect: "Michael Tomasky explains how Milan Kundera's The Joke changed his view of politics."

FOCUS Pentagon Wants to Double Force in Afghanistan
Golnar Motevalli, Reuters: "The United States is aiming to send 20,000 to 30,000 extra troops to Afghanistan by the beginning of next summer, the chairman of the S Joint Chiefs of Staff said on Saturday."

FOCUS Harold Meyerson: Labor's Fresh Face
Harold Meyerson, The Los Angeles Times: "When Barack Obama set out to choose his secretary of Labor, his top priority was probably not recruiting an emblematic Angeleno. But in tapping Hilda L. Solis, a Democrat who represents a portion of the San Gabriel Valley in Congress, that's just what he's done."

Ibrahim Parlak for Citizen

Every now and then I check in at to look for any news about the threatened deportation of Ibrahim Parlak. There still seems to be no ruling on his appeal hearing of oh so long ago.

Please hold the Parlak family in your thoughts this holiday season. Maybe the change in administration will finally bring a just closure to this matter.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Jerry Brown finds a pretty neat argument

In a surprise move, state Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown asked the California Supreme Court on Friday to invalidate Proposition 8. He said the November ballot measure that banned gay marriage "deprives people of the right to marry, an aspect of liberty that the Supreme Court has concluded is guaranteed by the California Constitution."

It is the attorney general's duty to defend the state's laws, and after gay rights activists filed legal challenges to Proposition 8, which amended the Constitution to ban same-sex marriage, Brown said he planned to defend the proposition as enacted by the people of California.

But after studying the matter, Brown concluded that "Proposition 8 must be invalidated because the amendment process cannot be used to extinguish fundamental constitutional rights without compelling justification."

Backers of Proposition 8 expressed anger at Brown's decision not to honor the will of voters, who approved the measure in November. "It's outrageous,"said Frank Schubert, campaign manager for Proposition 8.

Proposition 8 foes, however, were elated. "Atty. Gen. Brown's position that Proposition 8 should be invalidated demonstrates that he is a leader of courage and conviction," said Geoff Kors, executive director of Equality California.

In his brief to the high court, Brown noted that the California Constitution says that "all people are by nature free and independent and have inalienable rights," which include a right to "privacy."

The courts have previously said the right of a person to marry is protected as one of those inalienable rights, Brown wrote. The question at the center of the gay marriage cases, he told the justices, "is whether rights secured under the state Constitution's safeguard of liberty as an 'inalienable' right may intentionally be withdrawn from a class of persons by an initiative amendment." That, he concluded, should not be allowed.

Although voters are allowed to amend other parts of the Constitution by majority vote, to use the ballot box to take away an "inalienable" right would establish a "tyranny of the majority," which the Constitution was designed, in part, to prevent, he wrote. "For we are talking, necessarily, about rights of individuals or groups against the larger community, and against the majority -- even an overwhelming majority -- of the society as a whole."

The briefs filed Friday were in response to a spate of legal challenges filed by gay rights advocates, including the cities of San Francisco and Los Angeles.

Last month, the California Supreme Court announced that it would hear arguments in the case, perhaps as soon as March. A revision of the state Constitution can go before voters only after a two-thirds vote of the Legislature or a constitutional convention. Proposition 8 was put on the ballot after a signature drive. Brown's brief also said he believes that the estimated 18,000 same-sex marriages performed from June to November should remain valid.

Because it did not trust Brown to mount a staunch defense of the proposition, the group Protect Marriage intervened in the case and filed its own brief. It argued that Proposition 8 should remain legal and that the same-sex marriages performed from June to November should no longer be recognized.

--Jessica Garrison
Los Angeles Times

Shields and Brooks poilitical wrap 12/19

From the NewsHour with JIm Lehrer

Truthout 12/20

Michael Winship Corruption Destroys Afghanistan
Michael Winship, Truthout: "Just when you've finally gotten your mind around the enormous $700 billion financial bailout - even if none of us are really sure where all that money's going - there comes an even greater, breathtaking price tag."

Where Have the Bailout Billions Gone?
Adrianne Appel, Inter Press Service: "A new US investigative panel is demanding answers from the US Treasury about how the agency has spent money from the 700-billion-dollar bailout fund."

Obama Names Holdren, Lubchenco to Science Posts
Hope Yen, The Associated Press: "President-elect Barack Obama on Saturday named Harvard physicist John Holdren and marine biologist Jane Lubchenco to top science posts, signaling a change from Bush administration policies on global warming that were criticized for putting politics over science."

Harold Meyerson Destroying What the UAW Built
Harold Meyerson, The Washington Post: "In 1949, a pamphlet was published that argued that the American auto industry should pursue a different direction. Titled 'A Small Car Named Desire,' the pamphlet suggested that Detroit not put all its bets on bigness, that a substantial share of American consumers would welcome smaller cars that cost less and burned fuel more efficiently."

Bush's Last-Minute "Conscience" Rules Cause Furor
Julie Rovner, NPR News: "Health care workers, hospitals and even entire insurance companies could decline to perform, refer or pay for abortion or any other health care practice that violates a 'religious belief or moral conviction' under new rules issued by the outgoing Bush administration."

Does Old Glory Have a Dark Side?
Lee Drutman, Miller-McCune: "Research suggests that seeing the flag doesn't make Americans feel more patriotic. But it does make them feel more nationalistic and more superior to non-Americans."

FOCUS Jerry Brown: Gay-Marriage Ban Should Be Invalidated
Jessica Garrison, The Los Angeles Times: "In a surprise move, state Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown asked the California Supreme Court on Friday to invalidate Proposition 8. He said the November ballot measure that banned gay marriage 'deprives people of the right to marry, an aspect of liberty that the Supreme Court has concluded is guaranteed by the California Constitution.'"

FOCUS Tortured Reasoning
David Rose, Vanity Fair: "George W. Bush defended harsh interrogations by pointing to intelligence breakthroughs, but a surprising number of counterterrorist officials say that, apart from being wrong, torture just doesn't work. Delving into two high-profile cases, the author exposes the tactical costs of prisoner abuse."

Campaign website turns the page

The Don Wheeler for South Bend School Board website is now titled Citizens for Excellence in Early Education - South Bend. The new focus (maybe not so new) is on creating better outcomes for our youngest children - recognizing that many of them face serious challenges.

It is the intention that this site will be a blog site for an organization of that name (or something like it). It is in the conceptual stage at this point, but plans are to have an organizational meeting after the first of the year. Anyone interested in participating should email me at . Much of the effort of this group will be to enhance state policy in early education.

I have communicated with some folks with credentials in this area, and the response has been pretty positive. I think it means that I am not alone in my belief the most reliable and long lasting approach to improving High School graduation rates is to get our children off to the best possible educational start.

I hope you will join us in this effort.

Friday, December 19, 2008

FP morning post 12/19

Top Story

A six-month ceasefire between Israel and Hamas in Gaza ended today. Three Qassam rockets were fired into Israel on Friday morning, following nine on Thursday. An Israeli government source told Haaretz, "if Hamas doesn't come to its senses and calm the situation, there will be no choice other than an Israeli military response."

In fact, neither side had completely followed through on the terms of the ceasefire, with Israel blocking shipments of food into Gaza and Palestinian rocket attacks continuing throughout the truce. However, Ethan Bronner of the New York Times believes that while the truce was fundamentally flawed, "given each side’s refusal to acknowledge the other’s legitimacy, another such accord of winks and nods seems the likely outcome of any coming negotiations."

U.S. Presidential Transition
Bill Clinton released a list of donors to his foundation, which includes big donations from governments in the Middle East and some well-known business figures.
Obama's invitation to conservative pastor Rick Warren to give the invocation at his swearing-in has drawn protests from gay rights groups.

Middle East
Rival politicians are accusing Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki of ordering this week's arrests in order to bolster his own political position.
A judge said that shoe-thrower Muntadar al-Zaidi was beaten while in custody.
Three German hostages captured in Yemen this week, were released.

The Taliban is stepping up its attacks on goods bound for Afghanistan from Pakistan.
A debate over a free trade agreement with the U.S. in the South Korean parliament descended into a literal brawl.
South Korea brought its last troops home from Iraq.

Venezuela's assembly seems likely to eliminate presidential term limits.
8,000 sugar industry workers were laid off in Jamaica.
Mark Felt, the informant "Deep Throat" of Watergate fame, died at the age of 95

Russia's Gazprom threatened to cut off gas supplies to Ukraine if it does receive an additional $1.2 billion by the end of the year.
A Russian general also said the country would halt some of its new missile development if the United States agreed to scrap its planned missile defense shield.
Parmalat founder Calisto Tanzi was sentenced to 10 years in jail for fraud.
A UN court dismissed alleged Serbian war criminal Radovan Karadzic's claim that he was offered immunity by U.S. ambassador Richard Holbrooke.

Ethiopia missed a deadline to begin withdrawing troops from Somalia.
Abductions of opposition leaders are making power-sharing talks impossible in Zimbabwe.

Today's Agenda
Barack Obama will announce California Rep. Linda Solis as secretary of labor and ex-Dallas mayor Ron Kirk as trade representative.

The Madoff economy

New York Times

The revelation that Bernard Madoff — brilliant investor (or so almost everyone thought), philanthropist, pillar of the community — was a phony has shocked the world, and understandably so. The scale of his alleged $50 billion Ponzi scheme is hard to comprehend.

Yet surely I’m not the only person to ask the obvious question: How different, really, is Mr. Madoff’s tale from the story of the investment industry as a whole?

The financial services industry has claimed an ever-growing share of the nation’s income over the past generation, making the people who run the industry incredibly rich. Yet, at this point, it looks as if much of the industry has been destroying value, not creating it. And it’s not just a matter of money: the vast riches achieved by those who managed other people’s money have had a corrupting effect on our society as a whole.

Let’s start with those paychecks. Last year, the average salary of employees in “securities, commodity contracts, and investments” was more than four times the average salary in the rest of the economy. Earning a million dollars was nothing special, and even incomes of $20 million or more were fairly common. The incomes of the richest Americans have exploded over the past generation, even as wages of ordinary workers have stagnated; high pay on Wall Street was a major cause of that divergence.

But surely those financial superstars must have been earning their millions, right? No, not necessarily. The pay system on Wall Street lavishly rewards the appearance of profit, even if that appearance later turns out to have been an illusion.

Consider the hypothetical example of a money manager who leverages up his clients’ money with lots of debt, then invests the bulked-up total in high-yielding but risky assets, such as dubious mortgage-backed securities. For a while — say, as long as a housing bubble continues to inflate — he (it’s almost always a he) will make big profits and receive big bonuses. Then, when the bubble bursts and his investments turn into toxic waste, his investors will lose big — but he’ll keep those bonuses.

O.K., maybe my example wasn’t hypothetical after all.

So, how different is what Wall Street in general did from the Madoff affair? Well, Mr. Madoff allegedly skipped a few steps, simply stealing his clients’ money rather than collecting big fees while exposing investors to risks they didn’t understand. And while Mr. Madoff was apparently a self-conscious fraud, many people on Wall Street believed their own hype. Still, the end result was the same (except for the house arrest): the money managers got rich; the investors saw their money disappear.

We’re talking about a lot of money here. In recent years the finance sector accounted for 8 percent of America’s G.D.P., up from less than 5 percent a generation earlier. If that extra 3 percent was money for nothing — and it probably was — we’re talking about $400 billion a year in waste, fraud and abuse.

But the costs of America’s Ponzi era surely went beyond the direct waste of dollars and cents.

At the crudest level, Wall Street’s ill-gotten gains corrupted and continue to corrupt politics, in a nicely bipartisan way. From Bush administration officials like Christopher Cox, chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, who looked the other way as evidence of financial fraud mounted, to Democrats who still haven’t closed the outrageous tax loophole that benefits executives at hedge funds and private equity firms (hello, Senator Schumer), politicians have walked when money talked.

Meanwhile, how much has our nation’s future been damaged by the magnetic pull of quick personal wealth, which for years has drawn many of our best and brightest young people into investment banking, at the expense of science, public service and just about everything else?

Most of all, the vast riches being earned — or maybe that should be “earned” — in our bloated financial industry undermined our sense of reality and degraded our judgment.

Think of the way almost everyone important missed the warning signs of an impending crisis. How was that possible? How, for example, could Alan Greenspan have declared, just a few years ago, that “the financial system as a whole has become more resilient” — thanks to derivatives, no less? The answer, I believe, is that there’s an innate tendency on the part of even the elite to idolize men who are making a lot of money, and assume that they know what they’re doing.

After all, that’s why so many people trusted Mr. Madoff.

Now, as we survey the wreckage and try to understand how things can have gone so wrong, so fast, the answer is actually quite simple: What we’re looking at now are the consequences of a world gone Madoff.

Breaking: Bush Approves $17.4 Billion Auto Bailout

from New York Times

WASHINGTON — President Bush on Friday announced $13.4 billion in emergency loans to prevent the collapse of General Motors and Chrysler, and another $4 billion available for the hobbled automakers in February with the entire bailout conditioned on the companies undertaking sweeping reorganizations to show that they can return to profitability.

The loans, as G.M. and Chrysler teeter on the brink of insolvency, essentially throw the companies a lifeline from the taxpayers that will keep them afloat until March 31. At that point, the Obama administration will determine if the automakers are meeting the conditions of the loans and will continue to receive government aid or must repay the loans and face bankruptcy proceedings.

Truthout 12/19

Marjorie Cohn Cheney Throws Down Gauntlet
Marjorie Cohn, Truthout: "Dick Cheney has publicly confessed to ordering war crimes. Asked about waterboarding in an ABC News interview, Cheney replied, 'I was aware of the program, certainly, and involved in helping get the process cleared.' He also said he still believes waterboarding was an appropriate method to use on terrorism suspects. CIA Director Michael Hayden confirmed that the agency waterboarded three al-Qaeda suspects in 2002 and 2003. US courts have long held that waterboarding, where water is poured into someone's nose and mouth until he nearly drowns, constitutes torture. Our federal War Crimes Act defines torture as a war crime punishable by life imprisonment or even the death penalty if the victim dies."

Gates Orders Development of Plans to Close Guantanamo
Jonathan S. Landay and Margaret Talev, McClatchy Newspapers: "The Defense Department is drawing up plans to close the Guantanamo Bay military prison in anticipation that one of President-elect Barack Obama's first acts will be ordering the closure of the detention center associated with the abuse of terror suspects. Defense Secretary Robert Gates 'has asked his team for a proposal on how to shut (the detention center) down, what would be required specifically to close it and move the detainees from that facility while at the same time, of course, ensuring that we protect the American people from some dangerous characters,' Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell told reporters on Thursday."

Obama Chooses Rep. Hilda Solis as Labor Chief
Jesse J. Holland, The Associated Press: "President-elect Barack Obama's choice to be labor secretary, Democratic Rep. Hilda Solis of California, is expected to advocate greater union influence in the workplace and more 'green' jobs. Solis, the 51-year-old daughter of a Mexican union shop steward and a Nicaraguan assembly line worker, is in line to be the third Hispanic nominee in Obama's Cabinet. Obama planned to announce her nomination on Friday, said a labor official who spoke on condition of anonymity because an announcement had not been made yet."

Blackwater Might Lose License to Work in Iraq
The Associated Press: "The State Department faces serious challenges protecting US diplomats in Iraq and may no longer be able to rely on Blackwater Worldwide to do the job, according to an internal report. A report from the department's inspector general says the agency must deal with the prospect that Blackwater - its main private security contractor in Iraq - could lose its license to work in Iraq. Officials say that means preparing alternative arrangements."

Franken Within Five Votes as Supreme Court Rules Rejected Absentee Ballots Must Be Counted
Pat Doyle, The Minneapolis Star Tribune: "In a ruling crucial to the disputed US Senate election, the Minnesota Supreme Court Thursday rejected an attempt by incumbent Norm Coleman to block the state Canvassing Board from counting improperly rejected absentee ballots." Also, Kevin Duchschere and Paul Walsh, The Minneapolis Star Tribune: "After finishing off Franken's 420 regular challenges Wednesday, the board started the day on Coleman's 800 or so challenges. The Coleman campaign withdrew 409 challenges late Wednesday, after earlier restoring 204 challenges they reconsidered once they saw how the board was judging the ballots. At day's end, Coleman held a single-digit lead over Franken."

"Deep Throat" Mark Felt Dies at 95
Patricia Sullivan and Bob Woodward, The Washington Post: "W. Mark Felt Sr., the associate director of the FBI during the Watergate scandal who, better known as 'Deep Throat,' became the most famous anonymous source in American history, died yesterday. He was 95. Felt died at 12:45 p.m. at a hospice near his home in Santa Rosa, Calif., where he had been living since August."

GOOD: Alcohol Olympics

"Special" olympics

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Is LDS GLBT-friendly?

As you may know, Mormon donors played a critical and extensive role in passing California's ban against marriage for gay and lesbian couples. And they've been feeling the heat ever since.

But leaders of the Utah-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) insist that they're not "anti-gay," that it's only marriage equality they're concerned about. They have even said they support same-sex civil unions.

Let's see that commitment in action. Use the link below to send a message to the LDS President Thomas S. Monson urging him to publicly support legislation with real protections for LGBT citizens in Utah:

FP morning post 12/18

Top Story

The New York Times reports that 35 Iraqi interior ministry officials have been arrested over the past few days for attempting a coup. The officials, including four generals, had allegedly been planning to reconstitute Saddam Hussein's Baath Pary. The officials were arrested by an elite counterterrorism unit that reports directly to prime minister Nuri al-Maliki. According to the Times, "the involvement of the counterterrorism unit speaks to the seriousness of the accusations."

Maliki's opponents, particularly Sunni political leaders, accuse him of using the arrests to consolidate power. Prominent followers of the Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr have also been detained in recent months.

Middle East
OPEC agreed on the deepest cuts in oil production ever, in order to balance supply with flagging demand.
Iraqi lawmakers held an angry session of parliament to debate the fate of shoe-thrower Muntazar al-Zaidi. According to Prime Minister Maliki, al-Zaidi has apologized for embarassing him.
Russia is offering to sell 10 warplanes to Lebanon.

Barack Obama plans to close the Guantanamo Bay prison within two years of becoming president.
The LA Times profiles a mysterious Tijuana crime lord.
Alleged fraudster Bernard Madoff is under house arrest in New York.

U.S. Presidential Transition
Barack Obama was named person of the year by Time magazine.
Obama selected former Iowa Senator Tom Vilsack as secretary of agriculture and Colorado Senator Ken Salazar as secretary of the interior.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said the time is not right to send peacekeeping troops to Somalia. China is a sending a naval fleet to battle pirates.
Former Rwandan army colonel Theoneste Bagosora was sentenced to life in prison for his role in the 1994 genocide.
Dozens of children were killed by poison medicine in Nigeria.

India's cricket team pulled out of a planned tour of Pakistan for political reasons.
The last Japanese troops left Iraq.
South Korea will launch a $15 billion bank bailout fund.

NATO and Russia are planning their first high-level meetings since the war in Georgia
New clashes broke out between police and anti-government protesters in Greece.
German business confidence is at its lowest since the early 1980s.

Truthout 12/18

Steve Weissman Has Obama Already Vetoed Single-Payer Health Care?
Steve Weissman, Truthout: "Back in 2003, an Illinois state senator named Barack Obama spoke to an AFL-CIO group and what he told them is now making headlines across the Internet. 'I happen to be a proponent of a single-payer universal health-care plan,' he said to applause. 'I see no reason why the United States of America, the wealthiest country in the history of the world, spending 14 percent of its Gross National Product on health care, cannot provide basic health insurance to everybody.'"

Ex-Contractor Gets Two and a Half Years in Prison in Cunningham Case
Del Quentin Wilber, The Washington Post: "A former defense contractor who gave more than $1 million in gifts - including cash, home furnishings, a Rolls-Royce and an antique commode -- to then-Rep. Randy 'Duke' Cunningham (R-Calif.) was sentenced yesterday to 2 1/2 years in federal prison. Mitchell J. Wade pleaded guilty in February 2006 to bribing Cunningham over three years and giving nearly $80,000 in illegal campaign contributions to two other House members in the hopes of improving his business prospects. Wade also hired the son of a Defense Department official with oversight of a multimillion-dollar contract, prosecutors said."

Chrysler Closing All 30 Plants for One Month
William Branigin, The Washington Post: "Chrysler announced today that it will close all 30 of its auto manufacturing plants for at least a month starting at the end of shifts on Friday as it tries to conserve cash and avoid bankruptcy amid plunging demand for its vehicles. The company, the third-largest US automaker, said in a statement that it is taking the action to bring its inventories more into line with reduced US demand for new cars and trucks. It blamed its current difficulties largely on customers' inability to obtain financing to purchase new vehicles and said tight credit markets were discouraging would-be buyers."

Tom Engelhardt The Axe, the Book and the Ad: On Reading in an Age of Depression
Tom Engelhardt, TomDispatch: "Worlds shudder and collapse all the time. There's no news in that. Just ask the Assyrians, the last emperor of the Han Dynasty, the final Romanoff, Napoleon, or that Ponzi-schemer Bernard Madoff. But when it seems to be happening to your world, well, that's a different kettle of fish. When you get the word, the call, the notice that you're a goner, or when your little world shudders, that's something else again. Even if the call's not for you, but for a friend, an acquaintance, someone close enough so you can feel the ripples, that can do the trick."

Obama Said to Select FINRA Chief Schapiro to Lead SEC
Jesse Westbrook, Bloomberg: "President-elect Barack Obama plans to name Mary Schapiro, chief executive officer of the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, to be chairman of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, people familiar with the selection said. Obama will formally announce plans to nominate Schapiro, 53, in Chicago tomorrow, according to a top Democrat and a securities law expert who have discussed the selection with the president-elect's transition team. Schapiro headed the Commodity Futures Trading Commission in the Clinton administration."

Obama Looking at $850 Billion Jolt to the Economy
Jim Kuhnhenn, The Associated Press: "Anxious to jolt the economy back to life, President-elect Barack Obama appears to be zeroing in on a stimulus package of about $850 billion, dwarfing last spring's tax rebates and rivaling drastic government actions to fight the Great Depression. Obama has not settled on a grand total, but after consulting with outside economists of all political stripes, his advisers have begun telling Congress the stimulus should be bigger than the $600 billion initially envisioned, congressional officials said Wednesday."

Aaron Lake Smith The Shoe Heard Round the World
Aaron Lake Smith, Truthout: "As with any event that pushes history forward, when you click the play button over and over to watch Muntanzer al-Zaidi mumble something in Arabic that we now know meant 'This is a farewell kiss from the Iraqi people, you dog!,' the question inevitably arises - Why hasn't this happened before?"

UN Tribunal Jails Rwanda Genocide Mastermind for Life
Chris McGreal, The Guardian UK: "An international court has sentenced the mastermind of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, Theoneste Bagosora, to life imprisonment in what prosecutors hailed as the most significant verdict of its kind since Nuremberg. The five-year trial of Bagosora, who was the chief of staff in Rwanda's defence ministry, established that he oversaw a complex and extensive conspiracy to commit genocide, including years organising and arming the 'Interahamwe' militia which led the killing of about 800,000 Tutsis in 100 days."

US Military to Launch Pilot Program to Recruit New Local Afghan Militias
Anna Mulrine, US News & World Report: "The U.S. military will soon launch a pilot program to raise local militias, paid by the Pentagon, in an effort to improve security throughout the country. The plan is modeled in part on a similar program in Iraq to build up Sunni neighborhood militias. But officials warn that the forces must be carefully vetted to avoid repeating the mistakes of Afghanistan's past, notably bolstering local warlords."

Jeff Cohen and Norman Solomon Announcing the P.U.-litzer Prizes for 2008
Jeff Cohen and Norman Solomon, Truthout: "Now in their 17th year, the P.U.-litzer Prizes recognize some of the nation's stinkiest media performances. As the judges for these annual awards, we do our best to identify the most deserving recipients of this unwelcome plaudit."

Pro-Prop. 8 Evangelist to Speak at Obama's Inauguration
Paloma Esquivel, The Los Angeles Times: "Nationally known author and pastor Rick Warren has accepted an offer to deliver the invocation at President-elect Barack Obama's inaugural swearing-in ceremony, drawing fury from gay rights activists and opponents of Proposition 8. Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, accepted the invitation to participate in the ceremony within the last few days, said Kristin Cole, a spokeswoman for the 20,000-member, four-campus mega-church.... Earlier this year, as the debate over same-sex marriage raged in California, Warren publicly endorsed Proposition 8, which amends the state Constitution to declare that 'only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.'"

UN Special Rapporteur Decries Free Trade Harm to Agriculture
Jean-Pierre Stroobants, Le Monde: "The United Nations special rapporteur on the right to food emphasizes that free trade in agricultural products threatens the already-precarious situation of tens of millions of small farmers and gives rise to 'hidden' social, environmental, and health costs."

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Cheney admits to war crimes

Support the Free Choice Act

Last month we witnessed a historic election. Progressive Democrats won all across the country thanks to the hard work of DFA members like you. Now, we have to put these new majorities to work to help save the hard working American middle class.It is called the Employee Free Choice Act.

Unionized workers are the backbone of a strong and growing middle class and the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) will re-empower American workers to freely form and join a union.

But major corporations are against the bill and have already come out swinging. Anti-EFCA ads are already on radio and television, and big businesses like McDonald's are pressuring middle management to organize against the bill. We need to take a stand and fight back against big business.

Write your local paper today supporting the Employee Free Choice Act

The current system for workers to come together to improve working conditions is broken. Corporations can intimidate or lay off employees who try to organize and bargain collectively, leaving millions of middle class people working without health insurance, at unfair wages and in potentially unsafe conditions.

The Employee Free Choice Act puts the power to organize back in the hands of working people, protecting them from corporate coercion and threats. It fixes a broken system that heavily favors corporations over people, and empowers millions of Americans by bringing democracy into the workplace.

Use DFA's easy letter-to-the-editor tool and write a letter today

This is our chance to stand up for middle class Americans.

Thank you for all that you do.

Adam Quinn
Field Director
Democracy for America

FP morning post 12/17

Top Story

In a surprise visit to Iraq, PM Gordon Brown confirmed earlier reports that British forces would pull out of Iraq by the end of July, 2009. Speaking with Iraqi PM Nuri al Maliki, Brown said, "The role played by the UK combat forces is drawing to a close." There are currently 41,000 British troops stationed around Basra.

Britain had been working to negotiate a deal to keep its troops in Iraq beyond the end of this year. Five smaller countries including Romania, El Salvador, and Estonia have also been "tacked on" to the British agreement.

At its height, Britain's Operation Telic involved 100,000 soldiers, and 178 have died in the conflict. While Brown was making his announcement in Baghdad, a nearby car-bomb explosion killed 18.

World stock markets had mixed reactions to the Fed's decision to cut interest rates to almost zero.
Countries throughout Latin America are launching stimulus plans to boost their slumping economies.
U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson says the government is working quickly on a plan to bail out the auto industry, using the $700 billion financial-sector stimulus fund.
The recount in Minnesota's governor's race continues to get more complicated.

Middle East and Africa
Muntadar al-Zaidi appeared in court and admitted to throwing his shoes at President Bush. There's still no confirmation of his brother's claims that Zaidi has been mistreated in prison.
Eleven Qassam rockets were launched from the Gaza Strip into Israel, two days before a six-month ceasefire was scheduled to end.
The U.N. Security Council gave international forces the authority to pursue Somali pirates on land.

Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari says there's still no evidence the Mumbai attackers came from Pakistan.
Voters in the embattled Indian state of Kashmir went to the polls for state elections.
Government forces launched a heavy assault on rebel bases in Sri Lanka.
China sentenced two people to death in the western region of Xinjiang for an alleged terror plot during the Olympics.

The European Parliament endorsed a package of bills intended to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent by 2020.
Anti-government protests continued in Greece, though the violence has died down since last week.
Three prisoners from Guantanamo Bay were released home to Bosnia.

U.S. Presidential Transition
Ths Bush administration has prepared a series of emergency-planning memos for Barack Obama's team.
Former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack was chosen as secretary of agriculture.
Obama has appointed a record number of Hispanics to his cabinet.

Today's Agenda
OPEC oil ministers meet to plan for a 2 million barrel cut in oil production.
Obama is expected to name Colorado Sen. Ken Salazar as his secretary of the interior.

Truthout 12/17

Fed Cuts Interest Rate to Historic Low
Kevin G. Hall, McClatchy Newspapers: "By cutting its benchmark lending rate to historic lows Tuesday and promising to combat the U.S. recession head on and aggressively, the Federal Reserve served notice that more unconventional actions probably are ahead as it fights to reverse the nation's economic woes. The Fed pushed its federal funds rate from an already low 1 percent to a target range of 0 to 0.25 percent. This marks the lowest point ever for this target rate that banks charge each other for overnight loans. The funds rate serves as a benchmark for a wide range of loans in the U.S. economy."

Leslie Thatcher Change Is Coming
Leslie Thatcher, Truthout: "On Sunday, December 14, 15 people in Flagstaff, Arizona, responded to the Obama campaign's invitation to attend a 'change is coming' house meeting that one woman - with a little help from her friends - agreed to host. It was one of 4,000 such meetings to take place that day. Ten women, six men: 15 whites over 45 - if not 50 - and one younger black woman. Why were they there?"

Sources: Vilsack to Be Tapped for Agriculture Secretary
Thomas Beaumont, The Des Moines Register: "Former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack is expected to be named US Secretary of Agriculture on Wednesday, Democratic sources told The Des Moines Register today. President-elect Barack Obama is expected to make the announcement at a 10:45 a.m. news conference in Chicago."

J. Sri Raman India's Right Wing Wants Nuclear War
J. Sri Raman, Truthout: "Mumbai's terrorist outrage of November 26 has found a response truly matching it in madness. A call for a nuclear war - and nothing less - has come as the culmination of warped and warlike reactions to the traumatizing tragedy, which has claimed a toll of 200 lives. The demented call, which still cannot, unfortunately, be dismissed as inconsequential, is not only a regional war of the said, scary description. It is also one for a global conflict of the kind."

"Thousands Made Slaves" in Darfur
BBC News: "Strong evidence has emerged of children and adults being used as slaves in Sudan's Darfur region, a study says. Kidnapped men have been forced to work on farmland controlled by Janjaweed militias, the Darfur Consortium says. Eyewitnesses also say the Sudanese army has been involved in abducting women and children to be sex slaves and domestic staff for troops in Khartoum."

Somali Government Splits Amid Fight for Control
The Associated Press: "Somalia's UN-backed government was crumbling Tuesday as the president defied parliament and Kenya announced sanctions against him in a strong public rebuke. The government dispute does nothing to stabilize the administration, which wields virtually no authority in the face of powerful Islamic insurgents who have taken over most of the Horn of Africa country."

William Rivers Pitt The War in Common
William Rivers Pitt, Truthout: "I met a chef from Texas who was like an oak tree with tattoos, and made a mean barbecue sauce. He'd been in the 101st Airborne and was about to be deployed to Iraq, but destroyed his knee in a training exercise and wound up getting discharged. He knew the war was nonsense and thought the Bush guys all deserved to rot in jail, but he still wanted to go to Iraq, and wept whenever a soldier he knew died over there because he should have been there and maybe could have saved that person if his knee hadn't buckled."

Cheney Was Key in Clearing CIA Interrogation Tactics
Greg Miller, The Los Angeles Times: "Vice President Dick Cheney said Monday that he was directly involved in approving severe interrogation methods used by the CIA, and that the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, should remain open indefinitely."

Bush-Era Abortion Rules Face Possible Reversal
Laura Meckler, The Wall Street Journal: "The outgoing Bush administration this week will finalize a regulation establishing a 'right of conscience' allowing medical staff to refuse to participate in any practice they object to on moral grounds, including abortion but possibly birth control and other health care as well."

Francois Vidal Wall Street's Bankruptcy
Francois Vidal, writing for France's premier business paper, Les Echos: "Beyond the shock of an affair that promises to be worthy of a Hollywood screen play, the first elements of this new scandal prove that there is decidedly something broken on Wall Street."

Iraq Cabinet Wants All Non-US Foreign Troops Out by July
Agence France-Presse: "The Iraqi cabinet has approved a bill calling for all foreign soldiers except for American forces to pull out of the country by the end of July, a top MP said on Tuesday."

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The difficulty of High School scheduling

Don Wheeler

I wasn't able to attend last night's South Bend Community School Corporation Board meeting, but I did catch it on 91.7 FM. Though many other things were on the agenda, the main item was introduce a redo of High School scheduling - with the leading proposal being a switch to trimesters featuring 5 class periods of an hour and fifteen minutes each.

High School scheduling came up as in issue during the recent school board campaign. The folks from TAP (Transforming Action through Power) pointed in particular to the Adams High School's International Baccalaureate (IB) requirements being incompatible with the current scheduling system. Reason enough for a redo, seemed to me.

The Administration has been hard at work on this issue, and their task is not easy. They chose the trimester option as the best, realistic option - in their view.

I listened carefully to what citizens/parents had to say on the matter. Some I know or know of. Our own Rhonda Redman and April Lidinsky spoke. Also, Kevin Barry - whom I've known a long time. Toni Fein spoke also, and appears to be the point person on this (and many other matters, I suspect). Rhonda sent me a summary of her observations. We'll get to those a bit later.

Though these four people had different things to talk about, I think it would be fair to say each has some healthy skepticism of the proposal and coached caution. Each impressed me with their reasoning. Each has been in the middle of this process for a while - unlike me.

Rhonda sent me Toni's analysis a while ago in hopes I would write about the issue. I'm sure I disappointed her by not doing so, but I try to avoid weighing in on matters I haven't worked on at least a bit. My other problem is that none of the proposals are anything like the way scheduling was done in my High School.

Roger Parent campaigned on a vision to create a world-class school system. I actually was educated in a world-class High School. Evanston Township High School was a top ten (public or private) institution the four years I attended - including at least one #1 ranking. It is still considered an elite school today.

Much larger than Penn, ETHS served a population of around 90,000 - my graduating class was 1100. Though there were minor adjustments year-to-year, a typical scheduling system employed modules in the 15-20 minute range, with five (or was it three?) minute passing periods. The formal school day was about seven hours, and there were extra curricular options before and after.

The mods allowed a ton of flexibility. Classes would stack mods as appropriate. Science lectures might be two or three mods long, lab would be four. There was a lot of flexibility. Classes could meet for longer periods, but less often - or the opposite. Students could fit in electives readily, depending on which sections they signed up for. For motivated students, take an occasional summer school class and you could graduate from a top-notch school in three years. I won't bore you by recounting them, but somewhere between a quarter to a third of my four year credits total were electives.

The other advantage of mods was that you didn't dump the entire population into the halls every time the bell rang.

After graduation I went to a university on trimesters (they called it quarters), didn't like it, and transferred to a school on semesters. I took a hit on transferred credits to do that. Which brings us back to our topic.

From Toni's notes:

2) Trimesters –At Elkhart Central it means students take 5 x 75 minute classes in each of three trimesters. Each trimester students finish one semester of 5 classes. Teachers teach 4 of 5 classes /day and have one 75 minute plan. Ideally, students will have finished 15 semesters of classes in one year.

All trimesters accelerate/condense classes at least some classes into shorter time frames with longer class periods. Students have a trimester (and summer) off from band, language and math classes each year. Music, Language and Math profs. believe that many students have difficulty retaining information/playing ability when they have long breaks from studying a subject. This break could be as long as 6 months, 1 trimester plus, summer.

Some schools have students take Band, World Languages, and Math on regular semesters and use trimesters for electives. This “fix” results in few if any added electives relative to a six period day. Per Elkhart's guidance counselor, it is extremely difficult for students to move between schools with trimesters and semesters because students lose credits that are not complete. This is a serious problem for the SBCSC where we have significant mobility among our at-risk students between South Bend and neighboring districts on semester calendars. It is rarely used in I.B. programs in the U.S. because finishing required classes in February is not compatible with the IB program which tests all students worldwide only in May. Students who struggle to learn may find it difficult to learn more material each day and they may also have difficulty retaining information during breaks in learning that are part of the trimester system. It is more expensive than our current schedule, but less expensive than block 8 to implement because fewer teachers are needed than in block 8.

Feel free to email me to get Ms. Fein's views on seven different strategies.

This will come up again on the Board's Jan. 12 agenda. I would suggest we think hard about whether this looks like the best option for our High Schoolers. The one thing that jumps out at me is that this appears not to address the Adams IB program problem. If that's true, it should make it a non-starter.

Lost in the crowd

New York Times

All day long, you are affected by large forces. Genes influence your intelligence and willingness to take risks. Social dynamics unconsciously shape your choices. Instantaneous perceptions set off neural reactions in your head without you even being aware of them.

Over the past few years, scientists have made a series of exciting discoveries about how these deep patterns influence daily life. Nobody has done more to bring these discoveries to public attention than Malcolm Gladwell.

Gladwell’s important new book, “Outliers,” seems at first glance to be a description of exceptionally talented individuals. But in fact, it’s another book about deep patterns. Exceptionally successful people are not lone pioneers who created their own success, he argues. They are the lucky beneficiaries of social arrangements.

As Gladwell told Jason Zengerle of New York magazine: “The book’s saying, ‘Great people aren’t so great. Their own greatness is not the salient fact about them. It’s the kind of fortunate mix of opportunities they’ve been given.’ ”

Gladwell’s noncontroversial claim is that some people have more opportunities than other people. Bill Gates was lucky to go to a great private school with its own computer at the dawn of the information revolution. Gladwell’s more interesting claim is that social forces largely explain why some people work harder when presented with those opportunities.

Chinese people work hard because they grew up in a culture built around rice farming. Tending a rice paddy required working up to 3,000 hours a year, and it left a cultural legacy that prizes industriousness. Many upper-middle-class American kids are raised in an atmosphere of “concerted cultivation,” which inculcates a fanatical devotion to meritocratic striving.

In Gladwell’s account, individual traits play a smaller role in explaining success while social circumstances play a larger one. As he told Zengerle, “I am explicitly turning my back on, I think, these kind of empty models that say, you know, you can be whatever you want to be. Well, actually, you can’t be whatever you want to be. The world decides what you can and can’t be.”

As usual, Gladwell intelligently captures a larger tendency of thought — the growing appreciation of the power of cultural patterns, social contagions, memes. His book is being received by reviewers as a call to action for the Obama age. It could lead policy makers to finally reject policies built on the assumption that people are coldly rational utility-maximizing individuals. It could cause them to focus more on policies that foster relationships, social bonds and cultures of achievement.

Yet, I can’t help but feel that Gladwell and others who share his emphasis are getting swept away by the coolness of the new discoveries. They’ve lost sight of the point at which the influence of social forces ends and the influence of the self-initiating individual begins.

Most successful people begin with two beliefs: the future can be better than the present, and I have the power to make it so. They were often showered by good fortune, but relied at crucial moments upon achievements of individual will.

Most successful people also have a phenomenal ability to consciously focus their attention. We know from experiments with subjects as diverse as obsessive-compulsive disorder sufferers and Buddhist monks that people who can self-consciously focus attention have the power to rewire their brains.

Control of attention is the ultimate individual power. People who can do that are not prisoners of the stimuli around them. They can choose from the patterns in the world and lengthen their time horizons. This individual power leads to others. It leads to self-control, the ability to formulate strategies in order to resist impulses. If forced to choose, we would all rather our children be poor with self-control than rich without it.

It leads to resilience, the ability to persevere with an idea even when all the influences in the world say it can’t be done. A common story among entrepreneurs is that people told them they were too stupid to do something, and they set out to prove the jerks wrong.

It leads to creativity. Individuals who can focus attention have the ability to hold a subject or problem in their mind long enough to see it anew.

Gladwell’s social determinism is a useful corrective to the Homo economicus view of human nature. It’s also pleasantly egalitarian. The less successful are not less worthy, they’re just less lucky. But it slights the centrality of individual character and individual creativity. And it doesn’t fully explain the genuine greatness of humanity’s outliers. As the classical philosophers understood, examples of individual greatness inspire achievement more reliably than any other form of education. If Gladwell can reduce William Shakespeare to a mere product of social forces, I’ll buy 25 more copies of “Outliers” and give them away in Times Square.

FP morning post 12/16

Top Story

The fallout of New York trader Bernard Madoff's alleged $50 billion Ponzi scheme is being felt throughout the global financial system. Major banks in the Netherlands, Spain, Britain, and Japan stand to lose millions, having invested in Madoff's fund, or lent money to clients who did. Spain's Santander faces some of the biggest losses with nearly over $3 billion in exposure to the scam.

One major U.S. hedge fund had nearly half its assets invested with Madoff. The Madoff fraud may also prove catastrophic for Jewish organizations and charities who had invested heavily with him.

The financial world was blindsided by the arrest of Madoff, a fixture of the New York financial world, though the Wall Street Journal reports that some analysts had been sounding the alarm about him for years. As one fund manager told the Financial Times, "This was the train wreck that happened in broad daylight."

The Illinois legislature may launch impeachment proceedings against Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
A U.S. Department of Justice report said that Mexican drug gangs pose the largest organized crime threat to the United States.
JKF's daughter Caroline Kennedy will seek Hillary Clinton's New York senate seat.

U.S. Presidential Transition
President-elect Barack Obama picked Chicago schools superintendent Arne Duncan as his secretary of education and officially rolled out his five-person energy team.
A grand jury is investigating contributions to Obama's commerce secretary-designate, Bill Richardson.
Obama told reporters that his advisors had "no inappropriate contact" with Blagojevich.

Middle East
Israel freed more than 200 Palestinian prisoners. The country also blocked a U.N. official who had accused it of war crimes from reentering the country.
Thousands of Iraqis demonstrated for the release of the journalist who threw a shoe at President George W. Bush.
The U.S. and United Arab Emirates finalized their nuclear cooperation deal.

A suspected U.S. missile strike killed two in northwest Pakistan.
Across east Asia, authorities are cracking down on graft.
Former Iranian President Mohammed Khatami is considering running for president again.
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN, has formed a charter.

French police disarmed an explosive device at a Paris department store. An Afghan group has claimed responsibility.
A Nazi skinhead group allegedly responsible for 18 murders was arrested in Moscow.
Italian police made more than 100 arrests in an anti-mafia crackdown.

South Africa's former defense minister launched a new political party to challenge the African National Congress's dominance.
The U.N.'s special envoy to Niger has gone missing.
Someone took a shot at Zimbabwe's air force chief, a close ally of President Robert Mugabe.

Today's Agenda
The U.S. Federal Reserve meets. It is widely expected to cut interest rates.
The World Meteorological Organization will present its annual statement on the global climate.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel is scheduled to give an address on the global economy.

Truthout 12/16

Iraqi Shoe Thrower Captures Mideast Rage at Bush
Alistair Lyon, Reuters: "The hurling of shoes at US President George W. Bush on his farewell visit to Iraq strikes many in the Middle East as a fittingly furious comment on what they see as his calamitous legacy in the region. Arab and Iranian TV stations have gleefully replayed the clip, sometimes in slow motion, of an Iraqi reporter calling Bush a 'dog' and throwing his shoes at him - the Middle East's tastiest insults - at a Baghdad news conference on Sunday."

US Supreme Court Orders Review of Guantanamo Torture Case
Agence France-Presse: "The US Supreme Court on Monday revived a lawsuit by four former British detainees at the Guantanamo Bay military prison, ordering a lower court to reconsider their claims of torture and religious bias. The justices ordered a Washington DC appeals court to review its January 2008 ruling quashing the lawsuit against former Defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld and 10 senior US military officers."

Douglas MacGregor Mr. Obama, Weigh the Price of War
Douglas MacGregor, Defense News: "Today's world is different from the world of 1991 or 2001. Outside of the United States and Western Europe, nation-building with US military power is a euphemism for imperialism. American financial hegemony has collapsed. As seen in Iraq, the 'total victory' construct as it equates to the imposition of Western-style government and a free-market economy subservient to the US is in full retreat. In the broader Middle East, as well as in most of Africa, Latin America and Asia, 'damage control,' not 'total victory,' is the most realistic goal for US national security strategy."

Obama Announces Energy and Environment Team
The Associated Press: "President-elect Barack Obama plans to name Democratic Sen. Ken Salazar of Colorado to run the Interior Department, rounding out an environmental and energy team charged with quickly tackling global warming and developing alternative forms of energy. The choice of Salazar to be secretary of a department that oversees oil and gas drilling on public lands and manages the nation's parks and wildlife refuges will be announced later this week, an Obama transition official said Monday. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to avoid pre-empting Obama's announcement."

Illinois House O.K.s Impeachment Inquiry on Governor Blagojevich
Michael Conlon, Reuters: "The Illinois House of Representatives voted on Monday to begin an impeachment inquiry into Gov. Rod Blagojevich, accused of trying to sell the US Senate seat vacated by President-elect Barack Obama. The inquiry, approved 113-0, will be placed in the hands of a special committee. If it determines that impeachment is warranted, the House would vote on whether to impeach, to be followed by a trial in the state senate. If convicted at trial the governor could be forced from office."

Monday, December 15, 2008

FP morning post 12/15

Top Story

On a surprise visit to Baghdad, George W. Bush was forced to dodge a pair of flying shoes thrown at him by an Iraqi journalist during a press conference with Iraqi PM Nuri al-Maliki. After throwing the shoes, the man yelled, "this is a goodbye kiss from the Iraqi people, dog." See photos and video here.

The journalist who threw the shoe, Muntather al-Zaidi, has become the talk of Baghdad, with thousands demonstrating for his release from jail. McClatchy reports that Zaidi had been deeply affected by the U.S. bombing of Baghdad's Sadr City.

Bush flew to Afghanistan early on Monday morning for one last meeting with President Hamid Karzai. This surprise trip to the region will likely be Bush's last.

Zaidi's protest has understandably grabbed headlines during the president's farewell tour, but a new 500-page government report detailing how $50 billion in U.S. taxpayer money was badly misspent during the reconstruction of Iraq may prove more significant to Bush's legacy.

Thailand's opposition leader will become prime minister after winning a vote in Parliament.
A newly released survey shows a grim outlook for Japan's economy.
British PM Gordon Brown visited India and Pakistan, offering help in fighting terrorism.
Daily flights have begun between Taiwan and China.

Greeks aren't happy with their government's response to last week's riots.
Angela Merkel seems unlikely to roll out further stimulus for the German economy in the near future.
Ireland will provide a €10 billion bailout fund for its banks.
Dozens of antigovernment protesters were arrested in Russia.

Middle East and Africa
A six-month ceasefire in Gaza comes to an end this week. Hamas's leadership may be divided over whether to extend it.
Meeting in Algeria, OPEC countries are considering cutting oil production by up to 2 million barrels a day
Somalia's president fired his prime minister.

Arrested New York "hedge fund" manager Bernard Madoff may have pulled off the largest Ponzi scheme in history. Some of the world's top banks were exposed to the scam.
Cuban leader Raul Castro made his first overseas trip to see his "nephew" Hugo Chavez of Venezuela.
A group of Russian warships visited Cuba for the first time since the end of the Soviet era.

Today's Agenda
A new round of anti-government demonstrations are planned in Greece.
Electoral College delegates meet to officially elect Barack Obama.

Left and right, piling on

New York Times

In 1953, the president of General Motors, Charles Wilson, was nominated by President Eisenhower to be secretary of defense. During his confirmation hearings, Wilson was asked if he’d be able, as defense secretary, to make decisions contrary to the interests of G.M. He answered yes, but added that he couldn’t imagine such a situation, because “for years I thought what was good for our country was good for General Motors, and vice versa.”

It wasn’t a ridiculous view. It was widely shared — by big-business-loving Republicans and big-union-embracing Democrats, by big-car-driving suburbanites and big-tank-occupying soldiers.

Today, G.M., Ford and Chrysler get no respect. Maybe they don’t deserve much. Detroit has many sins to answer for, and it’s been doing plenty of answering. But — and I say this as someone who grew up in non-car-driving family in New York and who is the furthest thing from an auto aficionado — there is a kind of undeserved disdain, even casual contempt, that seems to characterize the attitude of the political and media elites toward the American auto industry.

As Warren Brown, who writes about cars for The Washington Post, recently put it, “There is a feeling in this country — apparent in the often condescending, dismissive way Detroit’s automobile companies have been treated on Capitol Hill — that people who work with their hands and the companies that employ them are inferior to those who work with their minds and plow profit from information. How else to explain the clearly disparate treatment given to companies such as Citigroup and General Motors?”

Now there are other ways to explain the disparate treatment of G.M. and Citigroup. Finance is different from manufacturing, and banks from auto companies. It may be that the case for a huge bank bailout was strong, and that the case for a more modest auto package is not. Still, it seems to me true that the financial big shots haven’t been treated nearly as roughly in Congress or in the media as the auto executives, who have done nothing remotely as irresponsible as their Wall Street counterparts.

What’s more, in their disdain for the American auto companies, the left and right wings of the establishment agree. Of course, the particular foci of criticism are different — the left berates the auto companies’ management, the right the United Automobile Workers. But even on the left, while Democratic politicians still try to look out for the interests of the U.A.W., there’s not really that much sympathy for the workers. The ascendant environmentalists disdain (to say the least) the internal combustion engine and everyone associated with it. Most of today’s limousine liberals are embarrassed by their political alliance with the workers who built those limousines.

Meanwhile, on the right, free-market analysts have explained that our regulatory scheme of fuel-efficiency standards is counterproductive. But despite the fact that the government is partly responsible for the Big Three’s problems, the right hasn’t really been stirred to enthusiastically promote a deregulatory agenda to help the auto companies. What excites it is mobilizing to oppose bailouts for unionized workers.

Last week, Senate Republicans picked a fight with the U.A.W. on union pay scales — despite the fact that it’s the legacy benefits for retirees, not pay for current workers, that’s really hurting Detroit, and despite the additional fact that, in any case, labor amounts to only about 10 percent of the cost of a car. But the Republicans were fighting Big Labor! They were standing firm against bailouts! Some of the same conservatives who (correctly, in my view) made the case for $700 billion for Wall Street pitched a fit over $14 billion in loans for the automakers.

So Senate Republicans chose to threaten to filibuster the House-passed legislation embodying the George Bush-Nancy Pelosi deal. The bill would have allowed President Bush to name a car czar, who could have begun to force concessions from all sides. It also would have averted for now a collapse of the auto industry, and shifted difficult decisions to the Obama administration.

Instead, Bush will now probably have to use the financial rescue funds to save G.M. — instead of being able to draw from sums previously authorized for the green transformation of the auto industry, a fight he had won in the negotiations with Pelosi. And Senate Republicans now run the risk of being portrayed as Marie Antoinettes with Southern accents.

Whichever party can liberate itself from its well-worn rut to propose policies that help both American businesses and workers has a great opportunity. That party’s leaders could begin by offering management and labor at the Big Three a little more sympathy, and heaping upon them a little less calumny. Where’s Charles Wilson when we need him?

Truthout 12/15

Marc Ash Be the Change
Marc Ash, Truthout: "Our federal government is utterly corrupt; we are confronted by creeping fascism and our environment is imperiled. The problems are real and solutions are few. There is a sense of futility and anger that becomes an oppression unto itself."

Dean Baker Homeownership Without Equity: What's It Worth?
Dean Baker, Truthout: "It is worth asking how much taxpayers should be willing to spend to keep a homeowner in a home in which they have zero equity. Unless we discuss this question in a serious way, then we are speaking nonsense when we talk about plans to deal with the foreclosure crisis."

On Final Iraq Trip, Attempted Assault on Bush
Jennifer Loven, The Associated Press: "On an Iraq trip shrouded in secrecy and marred by dissent, President George W. Bush on Sunday hailed progress in the war that defines his presidency and got a size-10 reminder of his unpopularity when a man hurled two shoes at him during a news conference."

Investors Remain Amazed Over Madoff's Sudden Downfall
David Lieberman, Pallavi Gogoi, Theresa Howard, Kevin McCoy and Matt Krantz, USA Today: "The financial world begins this week still in a daze over the spectacular collapse of an alleged Ponzi scheme by onetime Wall Street legend Bernard Madoff - possibly the biggest swindle ever committed by a single person."

Obama Left With Little Time to Curb Global Warming
Seth Borenstein, The Associated Press: "When Bill Clinton took office in 1993, global warming was a slow-moving environmental problem that was easy to ignore. Now it is a ticking time bomb that President-elect Barack Obama can't avoid."

Report: Iraq's Reconstruction a $100 Billion Failure
Agence France-Presse: "An unpublished US government report says US-led efforts to rebuild Iraq were crippled by bureaucratic turf wars, violence and ignorance of the basic elements of Iraqi society, resulting in a 100-billion-dollar failure, The New York Times reported on its website."

Steve Weissman Obama's Pakistan Problem: No, We Can't!
Steve Weissman, Truthout: "Whether ordained by God, the crusade against communism or the Global War on Terror, many Americans believe we have a mandate to police the world, hold dominion over its supply of oil and natural gas and lead the way in whatever way we happen to be leading at the time. John F. Kennedy and his New Frontiersmen believed all this as they escalated their terrible war of choice in Southeast Asia. George W. Bush and his neoincompetents still believe they pursued America's destiny in Iraq. And, from their writing and speeches, Barack Obama and his national security team believe no less strongly in America's calling to put the world right."

Taliban Tax: Allied Convoys Pay Enemies for Safe Passage
Tom Coghlan, The Times Online UK: "The West is indirectly funding the insurgency in Afghanistan thanks to a system of payoffs to Taleban commanders who charge protection money to allow convoys of military supplies to reach Nato bases in the south of the country."

Across Mideast, Arabs Hail Shoe-Hurling Journalist
Qassim Abdul-Zahra and Omar Sinan, The Associated Press: "Thousands of Iraqis took to the streets Monday to demand the release of a reporter who threw his shoes at President George W. Bush, as Arabs across many parts of the Middle East hailed the journalist as a hero and praised his insult as a proper send-off to the unpopular U.S. president."

Alfie Kohn Beware School "Reformers"
Alfie Kohn, The Nation: "Progressives are in short supply on the president-elect's list of cabinet nominees. When he turns his attention to the Education Department, what are the chances he'll choose someone who is educationally progressive?"

Executive Pay Limits May Prove Toothless
Amit R. Paley, The Washington Post: "Congress wanted to guarantee that the $700 billion financial bailout would limit the eye-popping pay of Wall Street executives, so lawmakers included a mechanism for reviewing executive compensation and penalizing firms that break the rules. But at the last minute, the Bush administration insisted on a one-sentence change to the provision, congressional aides said. The change stipulated that the penalty would apply only to firms that received bailout funds by selling troubled assets to the government in an auction, which was the way the Treasury Department had said it planned to use the money."

"Killing a Brown": New Evidence of Extremists in the Military
David Holthouse, The Southern Poverty Law Center: "The racist skinhead logged on with exciting news: He'd just enlisted in the United States Army. 'Sieg Heil, I will do us proud,' he wrote. It was a June 3 post to AryanWear Forum 14, a neo-Nazi online forum to which 'Sobibor's SS,' who identified himself as a skinhead living in Plantersville, Ala., had belonged since early 2004. (Sobibor was a Nazi death camp in Poland during World War II)."

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Truthout 12/14

Fed Refuses to Disclose Recipients of $2 Trillion in Bank Loans
Mark Pittam, Bloomberg News: "The Federal Reserve refused a request by Bloomberg News to disclose the recipients of more than $2 trillion of emergency loans from U.S. taxpayers and the assets the central bank is accepting as collateral."

Eileen Appelbaum The Obama Moment
Eileen Appelbaum, Truthout: "The election of Barack Obama on November 4 to serve as the next president of the USA was a triumph of hope over history for America. In these perilous times we, along with millions in other lands, have pinned our hopes for the future on the intellect, inspiration and compassion of this gifted leader. Obama raised expectations in his campaign - about what he expected from us as Americans, and about what we and the world could expect from an American administration he led. He could not have known, starting out, just how great the challenges would be."

Homelessness, Hunger on Rise in US Cities: Report
Agency France-Presse: "Homelessness and hunger increased in an overwhelming majority of 25 US cities in the past year, driven by the foreclosure crisis and rising unemployment, a survey showed Friday. Out of 25 cities across the United States surveyed by the US Conference of Mayors, 83 percent said homelessness in general had increased over the past year while 16 cities, or nearly two-thirds of those polled, cited a rise in the number of families who had been forced out of their homes."

Canada Promises $2.8 Billion in Auto Aid
Jamie Sturgeon and Allison Hanes, National Post: "The federal and Ontario governments have pledged as much as US$2.8-billion to bail out the faltering auto industry in Canada, but only if U. S. lawmakers draft a rescue plan for the Big Three automakers first. Tony Clement, Canada's Industry Minister, made the announcement last night, adding he believes a U. S. bailout of General Motors Corp., Chrysler LLC and Ford Motor Co., is imminent."

Banks and Consumers Brace for New Credit Card Rules
John Poirier, Reuters: "The U.S. credit card industry, harshly criticized for imposing surprise fees and interest rate hikes on consumers, may face a day of reckoning on Thursday. The Federal Reserve is to vote on credit card reforms that may bring some relief to customers who face a variety of ways for being hit with late fees, universal defaults, shorter payment periods and confusing payment allocations for different balances."

Mood Mixed As Climate Summit Ends
Richard Black, BBC News: "The UN climate summit has ended with delegates taking very different views on how much it has achieved. Western delegates said progress here had been encouraging, but environment groups said rich countries had not shown enough ambition. Developing nations were angry that more money was not put forward to protect against climate impacts."

FOCUS No Decision from White House on Auto Bailout
SUMMARY Tabassum Zakaria, Reuters: "The White House was studying on Saturday how best to rescue collapsing U.S. automakers, a day after picking up the pieces of a failed congressional bailout plan. The Bush administration stepped into the auto fray on Friday, saying it would consider tapping a $700 billion fund set up to rescue Wall Street banks, after Congress failed to pass a bailout."

FOCUS Obama: HUD Pick Central Part of Economic Blueprint
Philip Elliott and Jim Kuhnhenn, The Associated Press: "In naming his choice for housing secretary, President-elect Barack Obama on Saturday rounded out his economic team and gave new prominence to the mortgage crisis that has dragged the country into a recession. The selection of Shaun Donovan as secretary of Housing and Urban Development puts the current New York City housing commissioner at the forefront of one of the more nettlesome economic challenges confronting the new administration - the soaring foreclosures that are threatening homeownership nationwide."

I won't miss Day To Day, or, so goes the dumbing down of NPR

Don Wheeler

National Public Radio has announced cutbacks effective this Spring. One of the casualties is the mid-day (eastern time zone) program Day To Day. It will be the most recent (and by far most expensive) failure in the that time slot.

DTD was created in early days of dumbing down (2003) which coincided with the launch of "NPR West". (Many of us thought NPR Waste was a better characterization). Co hosted by Alex Chadwick and Madeliene Brand, the program was clearly aimed at ten-somethings - sort of a combination of USA Today and Entertainment Tonight. Who can forget Ms. Brand's probing interview questions; typically, "What's up with that?" I thought I remembered her as a serious reporter, but it's so long ago I can't be sure.

I do remember Mr. Chadwick from his National Geographic Radio Expedition reports - which were fabulous. He did his best on this vehicle, but there's only so much one person can do. Later, Alex Cohen was added. Apparently someone felt her snarling through the nose delivery would make the program "edgier". I guess.

Oddly, only Ms. Brand's name appears on the website now.

There were the annoying regulars as well. Michelle the miser (whose finance knowledge is pretty limited) offered us such gems as Payday Loans being a bad deal and five year auto financing (even at zero interest) was "too-oo long". I once heard her talk up adjustable rate mortgages when fixed rate plans were at historic lows. And, of course, there was the unfunny Mr. Unger as well.

Though the first few days of the zaniness of the California Gubernatorial Recall escapade were mildly interesting, generally all the serious stuff was done better by Morning Edition and All-Things Considered. But for the most part DTD seemed to be myopicism for myopics.

Before DTD we had Todd Mundt. That show featured academics droning endlessly about arcane parts of arcane topics in their fields. It was no wonder listeners wanted to give Day To Day a chance. Before Todd, there was Public Interest (which still airs on WAMU I believe). I happened to like that show because it typically had segments on a part of the world we don't get a lot of news and analysis about - third world Africa. The show was serious - and that's what I go for on National Public Radio.

What did the three shows have in common? Catchy theme songs.

I wish NPR success on their next attempt, but I won't miss this one.

Preschool for all a critical reform

The Republican (MA)

For many middle-class Americans, a preschool education is considered an essential part of their children's schooling; they wouldn't dream of sending their children off to kindergarten without a foundation for an education they hope will extend to college or beyond.

In 2005, two-thirds of 4-year-olds and more than 40 percent of 3-year-olds were enrolled in a preschool education program, representing a substantial increase over earlier decades, according to a publication of the National Institute for Early Education Research. Studies also show that children's learning and development improves with an early education.

So who wouldn't want their child to have the benefit of a preschool education? Very few, according to a recent survey of parents in Springfield and Holyoke, where poverty rates are high and preschool enrollment is lower than the state average.

According to a survey commissioned by the Irene E. and George A. Davis Foundation's Cherish Every Child Initiative, there is strong interest in high-quality, affordable universal pre-kindergarten among parents in Springfield and Holyoke. But the survey also found that Springfield and Holyoke children are much less likely to benefit from a formal preschool experience than children statewide. Specifically, 53 percent of Springfield's children under the age of 7 and 58 percent of Holyoke's children are cared for exclusively by family members, in contrast to 8 percent of young children statewide.

Access to a preschool education shouldn't be only a middle-class prerogative; it should be a right, not a privilege.

Gov. Deval L. Patrick has identified affordable universal pre-kindergarten as one of his top educational priorities, and we hope the current budget difficulties won't affect funding for this critical education component.

Funding early childhood education is the right thing to do and it's an investment in the future of our children and the long-term economic strength of the commonwealth.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Shields and Brooks 12/12

The political wrap from the NewsHour with Jim Lehrer

Truthout 12/13

Madoff's Alleged $50 Billion Fraud Hits Other Investors
Jon Stempel and Christian Plumb, Reuters: "Investors scrambled to assess potential losses from an alleged $50 billion fraud by Bernard Madoff, a day after the arrest of the prominent Wall Street trader. Prosecutors and regulators accused the 70-year-old, who was chairman of the Nasdaq Stock Market in the early 1990s, of masterminding a fraud of epic proportions through his investment advisory business, which managed at least one hedge fund."

Arundhati Roy 9 Is Not 11 (and November Isn't September)
Arundhati Roy, "We've forfeited the rights to our own tragedies. As the carnage in Mumbai raged on, day after horrible day, our 24-hour news channels informed us that we were watching 'India's 9/11.' And like actors in a Bollywood rip-off of an old Hollywood film, we're expected to play our parts and say our lines, even though we know it's all been said and done before. As tension in the region builds, US Senator John McCain has warned Pakistan that, if it didn't act fast to arrest the 'bad guys,' he had personal information that India would launch air strikes on 'terrorist camps' in Pakistan and that Washington could do nothing because Mumbai was India's 9/11."

Pentagon Pro-Troop Group Misspent Millions
Noah Shachtman, Wired: "While the Pentagon preps for a new administration, a scandal from an earlier era is rearing its head. A Defense Department project, supposedly designed to support US troops, was used instead to channel millions of dollars to personal friends and allies of its chief. The 'America Supports You,' or ASY, program was led in a 'questionable and unregulated manner,' according to a Department of Defense Inspector General report, obtained by Danger Room. At least $9.2 million was 'inappropriately transferred' by the project's managers. Much of that money served only to further promote ASY, instead of assisting servicemembers."

Bush Plans to Sign Nuclear Pact With UAE
Jay Solomon, The Wall Street Journal: "The Bush administration plans to sign its first nuclear-cooperation agreement with a Middle Eastern nation within the next few weeks, according to a senior US official, raising concerns among congressional critics who say the deal could fuel nuclear proliferation in the region. The proposed deal with the United Arab Emirates has attracted attention because the UAE's largest trading partner is Iran. The UAE has served in the past as a transshipment point for technology with military applications headed to Iran."

Texas County Files Appeal to Stop Border Fence
Alicia A. Caldwell, The Associated Press: "A Texas county filed an appeal with the US Supreme Court this week in the latest bid to stop construction of hundreds of miles of fencing along the US-Mexico border. In asking the court to review a lawsuit previously dismissed by a federal court judge, lawyers for El Paso County contend that US Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff overstepped his legal authority when he waived 37 federal laws that could have slowed or blocked construction of fencing along the border."

Sabina Dewan and Reuben Brigety Putting Aid and Trade to Work
Sabina Dewan and Reuben Brigety, The Center for American Progress: "The United States is facing a period of unprecedented challenges, from overcoming a severe economic recession to battling terrorism and climate change. On the one hand, each of these challenges reaffirms America's interconnectedness with its global community. But on the other, each also points to its faltering leadership. This unique juncture for the United States requires a new model for sustainable security that takes into account the dynamism, interdependence, and mutual vulnerabilities of an integrated world."

FOCUS UN Confirms Afghan Mass Grave Site Disturbed
Heidi Vogt, The Associated Press: "The UN confirmed Friday that a mass grave in northern Afghanistan has been disturbed, raising the possibility that evidence supporting allegations of a massacre seven years ago may have been removed. The Dasht-e-Leili grave site holds as many as 2,000 bodies of Taliban prisoners who died in transit after surrendering during one of the regime's last stands in November 2001, according to a State Department report from 2002."

FOCUS Winship: Bush's Farewell Hallelujah Chorus
Michael Winship, Truthout: "With all the interviews President Bush has been giving out lately, you'd think he has a new movie coming out for Christmas. ABC, NBC, National Review, Middle East Broadcasting, the Real Clear Politics Web site - even a talk with The Washington Post's NASCAR expert. For a fellow who's sometimes gone for months without a press conference, suddenly, the president's a regular chatterbox, spreading the word in these final days that his eight years in office really, really weren't all that bad. Honest."

Friday, December 12, 2008

FP morning post 12/12

Top Story

Countries around the world are rushing to boost their economies after a propose $15 billion bailout for the U.S. auto industry died in the senate. Up to 3 million jobs in the United States could be affected.

Japan announced it will expand its fund to recapitalize banks to $131.1 billion. After an unusually public tiff between Britain and Germany over stimulus measures, the EU agreed on a $264 billion plan to revive the bloc's economy.

Markets across Asia took a dive, with a long, painful day likely on Wall Street. Vice President Dick Cheney reportedly told Republican senators that a failed bailout would lead to "Herbert Hoover time."

Meeting the Brussels, EU leaders agreed to cut carbon emissions 20 percent by 2020.
Secretary General Ban Ki-moon advocated a "green new deal" at the UN climate change summit in Poland.
Among the terror suspects arrested by the Belgian police on Thursday was a high-ranking female recruiter and spokesperson.

Visiting Afghanistan, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates called for an increase in troop levels.
India unveiled new counterterrorism measures.
China's economic downturn is leading to rioting and civil unrest.
Taiwan's ex-president was indicted for accepting bribes.

Middle East
The U.S. plans to sign a nuclear cooperation deal with the United Arab Emirates, the first ever with a Middle Eastern nation.
Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni made an ill-advised statement that a Palestinian state would be a "national solution" for Israel's Arabs.
Iran may be reducing its support for Shiite groups in Iraq

The International Red Cross said Zimbabwe's cholera crisis may be getting better, though new cases continue to be reported. A prominent South African Anglican bishop reverred to Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe as a "modern-day Hitler."
Eighty percent of Somalia's armed forces have deserted, according to the UN.

Bank of America will cut more than 30,000 jobs.
Mounting personal debts may have led Rod Blagojevich to his crimes.
A wire service in Miami for Cuban immigrants sending remittances to the island may have stolen $189,000 from 502 customers.

Today's Agenda
Italy's main labor union holds a nationwide strike to protest Silvio Berlusconi's economic policies.

Happiness is the Declaration of Human Rights


I was sitting in the Local 5, United Auto Workers, hall for the 60th anniversary of the United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights on Dec. 6 and I was feeling proud. I had a smile in my heart. I was smiling because my dear mother was so proud of being a union member all of the years that she worked at Simplicity Pattern Company. I was proud because my daughter is a current member of Local 5. The unions make it possible for working-class people, people of color and women, to live well — good decent independent lives. Honest money.

I was proud of the Indiana University South Bend students who provided us with slapstick between speakers. I smiled at the adorable little girl, now a teenager, who I remember sleeping in the brown rocking chair that I bought from her mother during the West Washington Street yard sale 10 years ago. I smiled at all of the people in the room who I have known for years who, like me, are gray, wrinkled, pot-bellied and committed.

I smiled to think about the article in The Tribune that said Eleanor Roosevelt was instrumental in getting the Universal Human Rights Declaration passed and how Hillary Clinton stood up for women's rights in Beijing 13 years ago.

When it was my turn to speak, I was in good company as I stood up once again for individuals' long overdue human rights. A person's right to file a complaint with the South Bend Human Rights Commission if that person believes he or she may have been discriminated against because of sexual orientation or gender identity in the areas of education, housing, public accommodations or employment is a human right. I smiled because the South Bend Common Council came within one vote in 2006 of amending the ordinance that would allow this very basic human right: justice.

The late, beloved and former council member Roland Kelly and I held hands under the table as the ordinance was being debated. I always smile when I think of my sweetheart.

It seems so pitiful, so embarrassing and so sad that people today in this great country would have to beg for a basic human right, justice. Indianapolis passed the same ordinance in December 2005. South Bend can also.

The boogeyman accusations are, "where will this stop, we are going down a slippery slope, and these are special rights."

In the USA we don't stop. There is nothing slippery about this slope and the only thing special about these rights is that we openly deny them to some people while we give them to others.

I continue to run into people who are shocked that these rights are denied to some of our citizens. Those shocked are old and young, people of all races, and Christians and non-Christians.

Our Declaration of Independence talks about inalienable rights ... "Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." We don't stop until we fulfill the promise of the president that President-elect Barack Obama most admires, Abraham Lincoln, who stated in the Gettysburg Address, "Dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal."

I smiled. I smiled inside; a smile of pride, hope and the confidence that we will do the right thing ... we always do. Happy birthday, Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Happy birthday to ya!

Charlotte D. Pfeifer lives in South Bend.

Originally published in the South Bend Tribune December 12, 2008

Truthout 12/12

Senate Report Ties Rumsfeld to Abu Ghraib Torture
David Morgan, Reuters: "Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and other senior US officials share much of the blame for detainee abuse at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, according to portions of a report released on Thursday by the Senate Armed Services Committee. The report's executive summary, made public by the committee's Democratic chairman Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan and its top Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona, said Rumsfeld contributed to the abuse by authorizing aggressive interrogation techniques at Guantanamo Bay on December 2, 2002."

Auto Bailout Talks Collapse as Senate Deadlocks Over Wages
Paul Kane, The Washington Post: "An eleventh-hour effort to salvage a proposed $14 billion rescue plan for the auto industry collapsed last night as Republicans and Democrats failed to agree on the timing of deep wage cuts for union workers, killing the legislative plan and threatening America's carmakers with bankruptcy. 'We're not going to get to the finish line. That's just the way it is. There too much difference between the two sides,' Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) announced after 10 p.m., concluding a marathon negotiating session that ended in gridlock. Reid warned that markets could plummet when trading begins this morning. 'I dread looking at Wall Street tomorrow. It's not going to be a pleasant sight,' he said."

US Keeps Silent as Afghan Ally Removes War Crime Evidence
Tom Lasseter, McClatchy Newspapers: "Seven years ago, a convoy of container trucks rumbled across northern Afghanistan loaded with the human cargo of suspected Taliban and al Qaida members who'd surrendered to Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum, an Afghan warlord and a key U.S. ally in ousting the Taliban regime. When the trucks arrived at a prison in the town of Sheberghan, near Dostum's headquarters, they were filled with corpses. Most of the prisoners had suffocated, and others had been killed by bullets that Dostum's militiamen had fired into the metal containers."

California Adopts Major Global Warming Plan
The Associated Press: "California air regulators on Thursday approved a climate plan that would require the state's utilities, refineries and large factories to transform their operations to cut greenhouse gas emissions. The California Air Resources Board adopted what will be the nation's most sweeping global warming plan, outlining for the first time how individuals and businesses will have to meet a landmark 2006 law that made the state a leader on curbing warming emissions."

Illinois Democrats Move Toward Blagojevich Impeachment
Dave McKinney, The Chicago Sun-Times: "Four House Democrats this afternoon have begun circulating a letter among their colleagues gauging interest in having their names attached to an impeachment resolution being prepared against Gov. Blagojevich. The maneuver by Rep. John Fritchey (D-Chicago), Rep. David Miller (D-Dolton), Rep. James Brosnahan (D-Evergreen Park) and Rep. Thomas Holbrook (D-Alton) sets the stage next week for lawmakers to begin unleashing their most lethal weapon against a politically isolated and ethically stained governor who stubbornly refuses to relinquish power."

Frida Berrigan Mumbai Wake-up Call
Frida Berrigan, Foreign Policy In Focus: "A few months ago, trucks loaded with goods crossed a border. All over the world, this kind of thing happens every day, but not here. October marked the first time in 60 years that Indian trucks loaded with apples and walnuts traveled to Pakistan. The trucks returned carrying a shipment of Pakistani rice and raisins. Around the same time, India and Pakistan increased the number of goods the two nations could trade from just 13 to nearly 2,000. They opened new freight train lines and refurbished custom houses in anticipation of vigorous cross border trade. All of this goodwill is now frozen, stopped by a hail of bullets and the deafening crash of bombs in Mumbai."

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Photos from Michiana Celebrates Human Rights

Teamsters #364 - Housing Authority Campaign

Charlotte Pfeiffer

Wendell Wiebe-Powell

Karen Gonzalez

Paul Mishler

Unchained Melodies, David James, Monica Tetzlaff

Unchained Melodies

**We don't have good photos of all of the speakers yet**

FP morning post 12/11

Top Story

Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe declared his country's cholera epidemic over while the WHO described it as worsening, saying that over 15,000 are now infected and another 60,000 at risk. They can't both be right. Zimbabwean refugees are also creating a cholera crisis in northern South Africa. The border region has been declared a "disaster area."

Mugabe's forces have also killed hundreds in a campaign against illegal diamond mining, according to the country's opposition. The Times calls on Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton to join other world leaders in condemning Mugabe.

U.S. Presidential Transition
Nobel Prize-winning physicist Steven Chu is Barack Obama's pick for secretary of energy.
Former Clinton EPA Administrator Carol Browner is expected to be appointed White House "energy czar."
Sentate Republicans want to question former President Bill Clinton at his wife's confirmation hearings.
The president-elect is riding high in the polls.

Belgium arrested 14 al Qaeda suspects ahead of a planned EU summit.
Greece's riots entered a fifth night, though an uneasy calm now seems to have fallen over parts of the country.
Irish citizens will vote again next year on the stalled EU integration treaty they rejected in June.

The proposed bailout for the U.S. auto industry passed in the House.
Illinois Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. has been implicated in the Blagojevich bribery scandal.
The remains of hundreds of people "disappeared" during Argentina's dirty war were found in a pit.

Asia and Pacific
Indian investigators are turning their attention to homegrown suspects.
China arrested a prominent human rights activist for circulating an online petition.
North Korea nuke talks ended in a stalemate.
Austalian police busted a child pornography ring with operations in 70 countries.

Middle East
A suicide bombing in Kirkuk, Iraq killed 47.
Iran is outraged at comments made by French President Nicolas Sarkozy at a Human Rights Day event.
Saudi Arabia cut oil production more than expected last month. Further cuts are likely immiment.

The UN accused Rwanda of aiding Tutsi rebels in Eastern Congo. The New York Times reports on a massacre that occured with UN peacekeepers less than a mile away.
Somali pirates captured two Yemeni fishing boats.

Today's Agenda
Barack Obama will nominate former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle as secretary of Health and Human Sevices.
Golden Globe nominations are announced.

Truthout 12/11

Elizabeth de la Vega For Blagojevich, RICO Under the Tree
Elizabeth de la Vega, Truthout: "The ghost of Christmas present arrived a bit early for Rod Blagojevich - at about 6:00 a.m. on December 9 to be exact - in the form of an FBI agent bearing handcuffs and an arrest warrant. It was not a joke, the agent assured the Illinois governor, which should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with the FBI. (When it comes to arrests, at least, Tommy Lee Jones's Special Agent K had it exactly right in Men in Black: 'We at the FBI have no sense of humor we're aware of.') Unfortunately, for the current occupants of the historic Illinois executive mansion, the pending complaint against the governor is not their biggest problem."

Obama Picks Leaders of Energy Team
Deborah Charles, Reuters: "Announcements to come in the days ahead include several key environment-related appointments - Steven Chu as energy secretary, Carol Browner as energy and climate coordinator, Nancy Sutley to head the White House Council on Environmental Quality and Lisa Jackson to run the Environmental Protection Agency. They will be charged with developing policies to reduce carbon emissions blamed for global warming, develop new sources of energy and create new jobs - a top priority for Obama."

House Passes Auto Rescue Plan
David M. Herszenhorn and David E. Sanger, The New York Times: "The House voted on Wednesday to approve a $14 billion government rescue of the American automobile industry, but the bailout plan, which would provide emergency loans to General Motors and Chrysler, was in jeopardy because of strong Republican opposition in the Senate. The House approved the rescue plan by 237 to 170, mostly along party lines, with 32 Republicans mainly from states heavily dependent on the auto industry joining 205 Democrats in supporting the measure. Voting against were 150 Republicans and 20 Democrats. The White House so far has failed to generate support among Senate Republicans, who have the power to kill the bill."

Britain Says Most Troops to Leave Iraq
John F. Burns, The New York Times: "Britain's remaining troops in Iraq will begin withdrawing from the country in March on a timetable that will aim to leave only a small training force of 300 to 400 by June, according to Defense Ministry officials quoted by the BBC and several of Britain's major newspapers on Wednesday. The long-expected drawdown of the British force next year from its current level of 4,100 troops will bring an effective end to Britain's role as the principal partner of the United States in the occupation of Iraq."

September 11 Families Denounce Guantanamo Trials
Jane Sutton, Reuters: "Two dozen people who lost loved ones in the September 11 attacks issued a statement on Wednesday denouncing the Guantanamo war crimes trials as illegitimate, shameful and politically motivated. Their criticism came in response to passionate praise for the Guantanamo tribunals from other victims' relatives, whom the Pentagon brought to the remote US naval base in Cuba this week to observe pretrial hearings for five prisoners charged with plotting the September 11 attacks."

Robert Reich A Hybrid Vehicle (One-Third Bailout, Two-Thirds Chapter 11)
Robert Reich, Robert Reich's Blog: "The Big Three need a hybrid vehicle, if you will - a combination of chapter 11 bankruptcy and a bailout. For every taxpayer dollar they receive, the automakers should be required to come up with $2 from their stakeholders (creditors, shareholders, executives, white and blue collar employees), just as stakeholders would have to sacrifice under Chapter 11. This is the only way GM, Ford, and Chrysler can possibly accumulate enough money to survive and restructure."

Video: Michiana Celebrates Human Rights

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Truthout 12/10

US Forces Mistakenly Kill Six Afghan Police
Kirk Semple, The New York Times: "American forces killed six Afghan police officers and one civilian Wednesday during an assault on the hideout of a suspected Taliban commander, in what a senior military spokesman called a 'tragic case of mistaken identity,' the authorities said. Thirteen Afghan security officers were wounded in the incident. A statement issued jointly by the American and Afghan military commands said a contingent of police officers fired on American forces after the Americans had successfully overrun the hideout, killing the suspected Taliban commander and detaining another man."

Ira Chernus The First or Last Hundred Days?
Ira Chernus, TomDispatch: "Looking back on Barack Obama's first post-election interview with '60 Minutes,' no one should be surprised that he admitted he's reading about Franklin D. Roosevelt's first hundred days in office. In fact, the president-elect -- evidently taking no chances -- is reportedly reading two books: Jonathan Alter's The Defining Moment: FDR's Hundred Days and the Triumph of Hope and Jean Edward Smith's FDR. As he told 'Sixty Minutes,' his administration will emulate FDR's 'willingness to try things and experiment … If something doesn't work, [we're] gonna try something else until [we] find something that does.'"

Babylon's History Swept Away in US Army Sandbags
Agence France-Presse: "Fragments of bricks, engraved with cuneiform characters thousands of years old, lie mixed with the rubble and sandbags left by the US military on the ancient site of Babylon in Iraq. In this place, one of the cradles of civilisation, US troops in 2003-2004 built embankments, dug ditches and spread gravel to hold the fuel reservoirs needed to supply the heliport of Camp Alpha. Today, archaeologists say a year of terracing work and 18 months of military presence, with tanks and helicopters, have caused irreparable damage."

The Chicago Sun-Times Governor Blagojevich Must Go - Right Now
The Chicago Sun-Times: "If Gov. Blagojevich does not resign immediately, impeach him. This is the inescapable conclusion that comes after reading Tuesday’s 76-page criminal complaint against the governor alleging a runaway crime spree of political corruption. Even if the governor were found not guilty of every accusation against him - and given the apparent weight of the evidence against him, we’re not taking any bets - the criminal charges would cripple his already limited ability to lead Illinois."

Workers Win a Big Round in Chicago Factory Sit-In
Michael Tarm, The Associated Press: "The creditor of a Chicago plant where laid-off employees are conducting a sit-in to demand severance pay said Tuesday it would extend limited loans to the factory so it could resolve the dispute, but the workers declared their protest unfinished. The Republic Windows and Doors factory closed last week after Bank of America canceled its financing. About 200 laid-off workers responded by staging a sit-in at the plant, vowing to stay until getting assurances they would receive severance and accrued vacation pay. Their action garnered national attention, seen by some as a symbol of defiance for workers laid off nationwide."

UN: Climate Talks to Fail Without Tough CO2 Goals
Alister Doyle and Anna Mudeva, Reuters: "The United States and other rich nations must pledge by the end of next year specific targets for cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 to win agreement on a U.N. climate pact, the UN's top climate official said on Tuesday. Some analysts say that President-elect Barack Obama may not be ready to set formal emissions targets for 2020 within a year, and that economic recession could delay an end-2009 deadline by 190 nations for agreement on a new UN global warming pact. 'We have to have numbers on the table from industrialized countries (by the end of 2009) otherwise the other dominoes won't fall,' Yvo de Boer, head of the U.N. Climate Change Secretariat said during December 1-12 talks on global warming."

Eugene Robinson A Whitewash for Blackwater?
Eugene Robinson, The Washington Post: "The federal manslaughter indictment of five Blackwater Worldwide security guards in the horrific massacre of more than a dozen Iraqi civilians in Baghdad may look like an exercise in accountability, but it's probably the exact opposite -- a whitewash that absolves the government and corporate officials who should bear ultimate responsibility."

Czar Would Hold Sway Over Bailed-Out Car Companies
Ken Thomas, The Associated Press: "Detroit's automakers may soon be answering to a powerful 'car czar,' who would dole out short-term emergency loans like a kid's allowance, put them on a restructuring diet and hold veto power over any transaction of more than $25 million."

Pentagon Ignored Danger of Roadside Bombs, Report Charges
David Goldstein, McClatchy Newspapers: "The military ignored steps before the invasion of Iraq that could have prevented the staggering number of casualties from roadside bombs, the Pentagon's acting inspector general charged Tuesday."

Robert Scheer Republicans Bring Socialism to America
Robert Scheer, Truthdig: "Let the record show that it was George W. Bush, the rich Texas Republican, who brought socialism to America, so don’t blame it on that African-American Chicago Democrat community organizer who made it into the White House. The government takeover of the banking and automobile industries not only happened on President Bush’s watch, it was also the deregulatory mania of this president’s family, beginning with his father, which took this country into such starkly unfamiliar territory."

Le Monde Greece Without a State
Le Monde's editorialist analyzes the root causes of the continuing riots in Greece's big cities.

Robin Willoughby Human Rights ... for Whom?
Robin Willoughby, Share The World's Resources: "The 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights will be rightly lauded as a landmark in international attempts to formalize the rights and responsibilities between governments and their citizens. If we ask if the Declaration has proven a success, however, we need only glance at a few statistics; almost three billion people live in poverty on less than US$2.50 a day, and the number of hungry people actually increased this year to nearly one billion people. As the world reaped record levels of harvests in 2008, the most basic right to food is still denied to around 1 in 6 people on the planet. But how did we get to this situation?"

FP morning post 12/10

Top Story

As expected, the funeral of the teenager shot by police last week provoked a fourth day of rioting throughout Greece yesterday. Compounding the chaos, labor unions are also holding a general strike today in protest of the government's economic policies.

"The country has come to a standstill," said one union spokesman. Indeed, nearly all businesses and schools have been shut down and domestic and international flights have been grounded.

Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich was arrested on corruption charges, including putting Barack Obama's senate seat up for sale. Profane recorded telephone conversations have shocked Blagojevich's supporters.
Congressional Democrats and the White House have reached an "agreement in concept" on a bailout plan for the U.S. auto industry. The deal would create a new "car czar" to manage the bailout and oversee the industry.
Mexican president Felipe Calderon said graft is hampering his government's ability to combat drug trafficking.

U.S. forces accidentally killed six Afghan police officers.
Pakistan arrested 40 suspected terrorists in a countrywide crackdown.
Indian police revealed a fifth suspect in the Mumbai attacks.
China will cut taxes and increase public spending to spur slumping domestic demand.

Middle East
The Times reports that Britain will pull almost all of its troops out of Iraq by next summer.
Violence in Iraq is at its lowest point since 2003 according to Gen. David Petraeus.
Iraqis applauded the manslaughter charges against Blackwater contractors for a 2007 shooting.

The African Union decided against taking tougher measures against Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe. The BBC has disturbing firsthand accounts of the country's cholera epidemic.
Somali pirates apparently put down a hostage revolt on board the Ukrainian freighter they've been hoding since late September.

Ukraine's leaders came to an agreement on a governing coalition, meaning new elections will not be necessary.
A Lebanese student was sentenced to life imprisonment for plotting to bomb German commuter trains in 2006.
U.N. climate talks in Poznan, Poland ended with little progress made.

Today's Agenda
The U.S. Congress may vote on the $15 billion auto bailout.
Former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari receives the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo.
Condoleezza Rice is in Panama for trade talks.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Breaking - Illinois Governor arrested

Charles Rex Arbogast
AP report

CHICAGO (Dec. 9) - Federal authorities arrested Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich Tuesday on charges that he brazenly conspired to sell or trade the U.S. Senate seat left vacant by President-elect Barack Obama to the highest bidder.

Federal authorities in Chicago arrested Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, accusing him of attempting to benefit financially from his ability to name a successor to the Senate seat vacated by President-elect Barack Obama. The Democrat's chief of staff, John Harris, was also taken into custody. Click through the gallery for other political scandals.

Blagojevich also was charged with illegally threatening to withhold state assistance to Tribune Co., the owner of the Chicago Tribune, in the sale of Wrigley Field, according to a federal criminal complaint. In return for state assistance, Blagojevich allegedly wanted members of the paper's editorial board who had been critical of him fired.

A 76-page FBI affidavit said the 51-year-old Democratic governor was intercepted on court-authorized wiretaps over the last month conspiring to sell or trade the vacant Senate seat for personal benefits for himself and his wife, Patti.
Otherwise, Blagojevich considered appointing himself. The affidavit said that as late as Nov. 3, he told his deputy governor that if "they're not going to offer me anything of value I might as well take it."

"I'm going to keep this Senate option for me a real possibility, you know, and therefore I can drive a hard bargain," Blagojevich allegedly said later that day, according to the affidavit, which also quoted him as saying in a remark punctuated by profanity that the seat was "a valuable thing — you just don't give it away for nothing."

The affidavit said Blagojevich also discussed getting a substantial salary for himself at a nonprofit foundation or an organization affiliated with labor unions.

It said Blagojevich also talked about getting his wife placed on corporate boards where she might get $150,000 a year in director's fees.

Illinois Governor Arrested on Federal Charges

Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich has been arrested on federal charges. Prosecutors have been investigating Blagojevich's administration for at least three years. (Dec. 9)

He also allegedly discussed getting campaign funds for himself or possibly a post in the president's cabinet or an ambassadorship once he left the governor's office. He noted becoming a U.S. senator might remake his image for a possible presidential run in 2016, according to the affidavit. And he allegedly said a Senate seat would also provide him with corporate contacts if he needed a job and present an opportunity for his wife to work as a lobbyist.

"I want to make money," the affidavit quotes him as saying in one conversation.

The affidavit said Blagojevich expressed frustration at being "stuck" as governor and that he would have access to greater resources if he were indicted while in the U.S. Senate than while sitting as governor.

U.S. Attorney Patrick J. Fitzgerald said in a statement that "the breadth of corruption laid out in these charges is staggering."

"They allege that Blagojevich put a for sale sign on the naming of a United States senator," Fitzgerald said."

Among those being considered for the post include U.S. Reps. Danny Davis and Jesse Jackson Jr.
Blagojevich also was charged with using his authority as governor in an attempt to squeeze out campaign contributions.

His chief of staff, John Harris, also was arrested.

Corruption in the Blagojevich administration has been the focus of a federal investigation involving an alleged $7 million scheme aimed at squeezing kickbacks out of companies seeking business from the state. Federal prosecutors have acknowledged they're also investigating "serious allegations of endemic hiring fraud" under Blagojevich.

Political fundraiser Antoin "Tony" Rezko who raised money for the campaigns of both Blagojevich and Obama is awaiting sentencing after being convicted of fraud and other charges. Blagojevich's chief fundraiser, Christopher G. Kelly, is due to stand trial early next year on charges of obstructing the Internal Revenue Service.

According to Tuesday's complaint, Blagojevich schemed with Rezko, millionaire-fundraiser turned federal witness Stuart Levine and others to get financial benefits for himself and his campaign committee.

Federal prosecutors said Blagojevich and the chairman of his campaign committee have been speeding up corrupt fundraising activities in the last month to get as much money as possible before the end of the year when a new law would curtail his ability to raise contributions from companies with state contracts worth more than $50,000.

According to the affidavit, agents learned Blagojevich was seeking $2.5 million in campaign contributions by the end of the year, with a large part allegedly to come from companies and individuals who have gotten state contracts or appointments.

Blagojevich took the chief executive's office in 2003 as a reformer promising to clean up former Gov. George Ryan's mess.

Ryan, a Republican, is serving a 6-year prison sentence after being convicted on racketeering and fraud charges. A decade-long investigation began with the sale of driver's licenses for bribes and led to the conviction of dozens of people who worked for Ryan when he was secretary of state and governor.

FBI spokesman Frank Bochte said federal agents arrested the governor and Harris simultaneously at their homes at 6:15 a.m. and took them to the Chicago FBI headquarters.

Bochte said he did not know if either man was handcuffed or if the governor's family was their North Side home at the time of his arrest. He did say Blagojevich and Harris both were given time to get dressed before being taken to the headquarters.

He also did not have any details about Blagojevich's arrest, only that he was cooperative with federal agents.
"It was a very calm setting," he said.

The governor was to appear later Tuesday before U.S. Magistrate Judge Nan Nolan to answer the charges. The time was not immediately set.

Associated Press Writer Don Babwin contributed to this report.

FP morning post 12/9

Top Story

Congressional Democrats unveiled a $15 billion plan to bail out the struggling U.S. auto industry. Under the plan, companies would have until March 31 to submit detailed plans for restructuring their operations. Congress and the White House are still negotiating details of the plan today, but they appear to be close to a resolution.

The plan involves a significant oversight role for U.S. government regulators and according to the New York Times' David Sanger, comes "perilously close to a word that no one in Mr. Obama’s camp wants to be caught uttering: nationalization."

Accused 9/11 planner Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, along with his four codefendents at Guantanamo Bay, offered to plead guilty to murder and war crimes.
Some 5,400 people were killed by drug violence in Mexico this year.
Tribune Co., the publisher of the Chicago Tribune and the Los Angeles Times, filed for bankruptcy.

Pakistan will not hand over arrested Lashkar-e-Taiba militants to India.
In an upset, India's ruling Congress party won three state elections.
North Korea's need for food aid is increasing.
Japan's Sony Corp. is cutting 8,000 jobs.

Middle East
Five Blackwater guards were charged with killing 14 Iraqi civilians in a 2007 shooting.
Egypt's top cleric is under pressure to resign after he was photographed shaking hands with Israeli President Shimon Peres.
Israel's Likud Party is running a ticket of hardliners in upcoming parliamentary elections.

Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe accused the U.S. and Britain of planning an invasion of his country in response the current cholera outbreak.
Sudan's leaders are worried that Barack Obama will take a tougher line on Darfur.
Ghana's current president holds a slim lead in the country's election.

The EU is taking over peacekeeping operations from the U.N. in Kosovo. Anti-police riots continue to flare throughout Greece.

Today's Agenda
The funeral of a teenager shot by police last week is expected to provoke more rioting in Greece.
President-elect Obama will meet with Al Gore in Chicago.

Truthout 12/9

Democrats Send White House Auto Bailout Proposal
Julie Hirschfeld Davis, The Associated Press: "Congressional Democrats sent the White House an emergency $15 billion auto bailout plan Monday, complete with provision of a 'car czar' to oversee the industry's reinvention of itself. The Bush administration said there had been progress toward agreement but pressed further negotiations into the night. The measure would rush bridge loans to Detroit's struggling Big Three but would also demand that the auto industry restructure itself in order to survive and would put an overseer chosen by President George W. Bush in charge of monitoring that effort."

Illinois Governor Suspends Business With Bank of America
Corky Siemaszko, The New York Daily News: "Showing solidarity with workers staging a sit-in over unpaid wages at a dying Chicago factory, Illinois' governor Monday lashed out at the bank that cut off the firm's funding. Gov. Rod Blagojevich told all state agencies to suspend business with Bank of America immediately. He said some of the billions in bailout money the bank got from taxpayers to stay afloat should be used to pay the workers' severance and accrued vacation."

Blackwater Guards "Used Grenades"
BBC News: "US guards indicted over the 2007 fatal shooting of 17 Iraqis used machine guns and grenade launchers against unarmed civilians, prosecutors have said. The guards, from the US security firm Blackwater, were contracted to defend US diplomats. The firm says its guards acted in self-defence."

Obama Might Change Cuba Policy
Shawn Zeller, Congressional Quarterly: "Campaigning among Cuban-Americans in Florida this fall, Barack Obama promised that as president he would lift some of the restrictions on traveling to the island and on sending money to relatives back home. He said he wouldn't go further than that, but U.S. business groups want him to go on and lift the trade embargo that has been in place since the Kennedy administration. Isolating Cuba, these groups contend, has not worked the way a succession of presidents hoped. Last week, several leading groups, including the National Foreign Trade Council, the US Chamber of Commerce and the Business Roundtable, wrote Obama with their view 'that the embargo is not having - and will not have - the type of economic impact that might influence the behavior of the Cuban government.'"

Tribune Company Files for Bankruptcy Protection
Frank Ahrens, The Washington Post: "Media giant Tribune Co., saddled with billions in debt since it became a privately held company last year, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in a Delaware court this afternoon, becoming the first major newspaper or chain to declare bankruptcy in modern history. The move will allow Tribune to stay in business while it seeks better terms from its creditors. The Chicago-based company owns a coast-to-coast empire with television stations and newspapers in most of the nation's largest cities."Norman Solomon The Silent

Winter of Escalation
Norman Solomon, Truthout: "...the silence now enveloping the political nonresponse to plans for the Afghanistan war is a message of acquiescence that echoes what happened when the escalation of the Vietnam War gathered momentum. Right now, the basic ingredients of further Afghan disasters are in place - including, pivotally, a dire lack of wide-ranging debate over Washington's options."

Illinois Governor Blagojevich Arrested on Corruption Charges
Michael Conlon and Andrew Stern, Reuters: "Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich was arrested on criminal charges on Tuesday, including trying to sell the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by fellow Democrat President-elect Barack Obama, federal prosecutors said."

Who's at Fault for Harsh Antiterror Tactics?
Warren Richey, The Christian Science Monitor: "The US Supreme Court this week takes up a case examining whether cabinet-level officials in the Bush White House can be held legally accountable for the administration's controversial tactics in the war on terror. At issue is an attempt to force former Attorney General John Ashcroft and FBI director Robert Mueller to stand trial with federal agents, prison guards, and their supervisors. They are all named in a lawsuit filed by a Pakistani man who was held as a terror suspect for five months in solitary confinement in a US prison although there was no evidence connecting him to terrorism."

Potential Conflicts Abound for Attorneys General
Dave Helling and Mike McGraw, The Kansas City Star: "Attorneys general from around the nation are attending professional and political conferences this month - paid for in large part by corporations and lobbyists with potential legal issues in their states. Among those attending, or planning to attend, the sessions: Kansas Attorney General Steve Six and incoming Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster, both Democrats. The donors? Drug companies, tobacco firms, alcohol lobbyists, banks, energy companies and labor unions, among others."

Herve Kempf Economic Crisis, Societal Opportunity
Le Monde's Herve Kempf interviews IPCC President Rajendra Pachauri on the eve of the Poznan Conference about emissions reduction, economic growth models, short- and long-term crisis management and the climate change tipping point.

Oklahoma celebrates milestone

Only state with decade of universal pre-kindergarten education! Data indicates majority of parents favor full-day programs

OKLAHOMA CITY - State Superintendent Sandy Garrett said today Oklahoma is celebrating a milestone: being the only state in the nation to provide universal pre-kindergarten education on a voluntary basis for an entire decade.

Oklahoma's program is called universal because all four-year-olds have the opportunity to attend public pre-kindergarten, whereas prior to 1998 state funding was provided only for low-income, high-risk students. Garrett said this achievement has elevated the importance of universal pre-kindergarten education to a national discussion, prompting leaders from other states to ask for Oklahoma's insight into how they, too, can develop quality programs.

For five years, the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER, ) has ranked Oklahoma No. 1 in the nation for early childhood education. "What distinguishes Oklahoma is that we provide voluntary access for all four-year-olds to pre-kindergarten programs with a high-quality, appropriate curriculum and led only by teachers certified in early childhood education - and we've done this now for 10 years!" Garrett said. "These high standards are not found in most other states and we're truly blazing the trail."

Not only has pre-kindergarten enrollment swelled during the last decade, data indicates 10 years after parents were given a choice to send four-year-olds to public schools in Oklahoma, most parents prefer their children be given full-day learning opportunities. In 1998, there were 16,787 four-year-olds enrolled in public schools, yet only 5,806 of the students attended full-day. This current school year, there are 35,688 four-year-olds enrolled in public schools, with 55 percent of the students, or 19,522 of them, being served in full-day programs.

"We experienced a 4 percent jump in full-day enrollment in just one year," Garrett said, "and we've added nearly 19,000 more pre-kindergarten students to our public schools in 10 years. That is remarkable and indicative of the confidence parents have in our programs." She added: "The president-elect has indicated his wish for more investment in such programs because of the high return to the economy. Considering how much our preK enrollment in Oklahoma has grown since 1998, we are hopeful he is successful in that effort."

from the Oklahoma State Department of Education

This old house

New York Times

The 1980s and 1990s made up the era of the great dispersal. Forty-three million people moved every year, and basically they moved outward — from inner-ring suburbs to far-flung exurbs on the metro fringe. For example, the population of metropolitan Pittsburgh declined by 8 percent in those years, but the developed land area of the Pittsburgh area sprawled outward by 43 percent.

If you asked people in that age of go-go suburbia what they wanted in their new housing developments, they often said they wanted a golf course. But the culture has changed. If you ask people today what they want, they’re more likely to say coffee shops, hiking trails and community centers.

People overshot the mark. They moved to the exurbs because they wanted space and order. But once there, they found that they were missing community and social bonds. So in the past years there has been a new trend. Meeting places are popping up across the suburban landscape.

There are restaurant and entertainment zones, mixed-use streetscape malls, suburban theater districts, farmers’ markets and concert halls. In addition, downtown areas in places like Charlotte and Dallas are reviving as many people move back into the city in search of human contact. Joel Kotkin, the author of “The New Geography,” calls this clustering phenomenon the New Localism.

Barack Obama has said that he would start an infrastructure project that will dwarf Dwight Eisenhower’s highway program. If, indeed, we are going to have a once-in-a-half-century infrastructure investment, it would be great if the program would build on today’s emerging patterns. It would be great if Obama’s spending, instead of just dissolving into the maw of construction, would actually encourage the clustering and leave a legacy that would be visible and beloved 50 years from now.

To take advantage of the growing desire for community, the Obama plan would have to do two things. First, it would have to create new transportation patterns. The old metro design was based on a hub-and-spoke system — a series of highways that converged on an urban core. But in an age of multiple downtown nodes and complicated travel routes, it’s better to have a complex web of roads and rail systems.

Second, the Obama stimulus plan could help localities create suburban town squares. Many communities are trying to build focal points. The stimulus plan could build charter schools, pre-K centers, national service centers and other such programs around new civic hubs.

This kind of stimulus would be consistent with Obama’s campaign, which was all about bringing Americans together in new ways. It would help maintain the social capital that’s about to be decimated by the economic downturn.

But alas, there’s no evidence so far that the Obama infrastructure plan is attached to any larger social vision. In fact, there is a real danger that the plan will retard innovation and entrench the past.

In a stimulus plan, the first job is to get money out the door quickly. That means you avoid anything that might require planning and creativity. You avoid anything that might require careful implementation or novel approaches. The quickest thing to do is simply throw money at things that already exist.

Sure enough, the Obama stimulus plan, at least as it has been sketched out so far, is notable for its lack of creativity. Obama wants to put more computers in classrooms, an old idea with dubious educational merit. He also proposes a series of ideas that are good but not exactly transformational: refurbishing the existing power grid; fixing the oldest roads and bridges; repairing schools; and renovating existing government buildings to make them more energy efficient.

This is the federal version of “This Old House.” And this is before the stimulus money gets diverted, as it inevitably will, to refurbish old companies. The auto bailout could eventually swallow $125 billion. After that, it could be the airlines and so on.

It’s also before the spending drought that is bound to follow the spending binge. Because we’re going to be spending $1 trillion now on existing structures and fading industries, there will be less or nothing in 2010 or 2011 for innovative transport systems, innovative social programs or anything else.

Before the recession hit, we were enjoying a period of urban and suburban innovation. We could have been on the verge of a transportation revolution. It looks as if the Obama infrastructure plan may freeze that change, not fuel it.

And not to get all Rod McKuen on you or anything, but the larger point is this: Social change has a natural rhythm. The season of prosperity gives way to the season of economic scarcity, and out of the winter of recession, new growth has room to emerge. A stimulus package may be necessary, but unless designed with care, its main effect will be to prop up the drying husks of the fall.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Clay High School food drive and Hope Rescue Mission

Big Kahuna
South Bend Forum

I always say that in todays world...not a whole lot surprises me any more. But today I got surprised.

Over the last few weeks...Clay High school has put alot of effort into the annual canned food drive. A yearly event that is one of the largest in the entire country. This year...the students ended up with just short of 90,000 items. A very impressive effort. Today was the day that all the food made its way to the various shelters and organizations. 21 different groups were to share in the efforts.

20 of the groups were absolutely elated over what was collected. One man was almost in tears when he was presented with enough food items that he had to call for back his little vehicle was not large enough. All except the Hope Rescue Mission. When contacted...The Hope Rescue Mission told the kids that they would need to deliver the food to them. And if they couldn't deliver it...they didn't want it. LOL!! DIDN'T WANT IT!?!

Are you kidding me. You want the kids...who went door to now deliver it to you and carry it in and stack it all neatly. You betcha. What kind of people run this place? I couldn't believe that this could possibly be the response when being gifted with such a huge amount of food items.

Guess what Hope Rescue're 40 huge boxes were divided amongst the others who sent people to pick the items up. Sorry....if you're going to demand it be might as well be left off the list next year. Unbelievable!
My wife says I never listen to her....or something like that.

Truthout 12/8

Pakistan Arrests Suspect in Mumbai Attacks
Jane Perlez and Salman Masood, The New York Times: "Pakistani authorities have arrested the operational leader of the Pakistani-based militant group suspected of conducting the Mumbai attacks, a senior security official said Monday. The arrest Sunday of Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi, the supreme commander of Lashkar-e-Taiba, came as Pakistan raided a camp run by the group in Pakistani-held Kashmir, the first concrete steps by Pakistan in response to the assault on Mumbai."

Obama: Economy Will Get Worse
David Espo, The Associated Press: "President-elect Barack Obama said Sunday the economy will get worse before it gets better, pledged a recovery plan 'equal to the task' and warned lawmakers that the days of pork barrel spending are over. Less than six weeks before his inauguration, Obama declined to say how large an economic stimulus plan he envisions. He said his blueprint for recovery will include help for homeowners facing foreclosure on their mortgages if President George W. Bush has not acted by Inauguration Day, Jan. 20."

Congress Near a Big Three Deal, With Strings Attached
Gail Russell Chaddock, The Christian Science Monitor: "Congress this week returns for a second lame-duck session to help the US auto industry reinvent itself - or at least get through the next few months. Without billions in government loans, two of the Big Three assert that they won't make it into the new year. News that the US economy lost more than half a million jobs in November is also driving lawmakers toward an agreement that is expected to give General Motors Corp., Chrysler, and, if needed, Ford Motor Co. access to some $15 billion in federal loans."

Tom Engelhardt The Imperial Transition: 44, the Prequel
Tom Engelhardt, TomDispatch: "Maybe if the imperial presidency and the national security state worked, none of this would matter. But how can they, given the superlatives that apply to them? They're oversized, over-muscled, overweight, overly expensive, overly powerful, and overly intrusive. Bottom line: they are problem creators, not problem solvers. To expect one genuine 'decider,' moving in at the top, to put them on a diet-and-exercise regimen is asking a lot. After all, at the end of the George Bush era, what we have is the GM of governments, and when things start to go wrong, who's going to bail it out?"

Suspected Taliban Militants Destroy 160 NATO Vehicles in Pakistan
Riaz Khan, The Associated Press: "Militants blasted their way into two transport terminals in Pakistan on Sunday and torched more than 160 vehicles destined for U.S.-led troops in Afghanistan, in the biggest assault yet on a vital military supply line, officials said. The US military said its losses in the raid near the northwestern city of Peshawar would have only a 'minimal' impact on its operations against resurgent Taliban-led militants in Afghanistan."

Tribune Hires Advisers to Help Stave Off Bankruptcy
Michael J. de la Merced, Richard Perez-Pena and Andrew Ross Sorkin, The New York Times: "Tribune has hired bankruptcy advisers as the ailing newspaper company faces a potential bankruptcy filing, people briefed on the matter said. The newspaper, which was taken private last year by billionaire investor Samuel Zell, has hired advisers including Lazard and Sidley Austin, one of its longtime law firms, these people said. Tribune has been hobbled by debt related to that sale last year, which has been compounded by the growing drought of advertising for newspapers. It is only the latest - and biggest - sign of duress for the newspaper industry yet."

Obama Defends Republic Windows and Doors Workers
Abdon Pallasch, The Chicago Sun-Times: "President-elect Barack Obama put himself on the side of the workers at the Republic Windows and Doors factory Sunday: 'When it comes to the situation here in Chicago with the workers who are asking for their benefits and payments they have earned, I think they are absolutely right, what's happening to them is reflective of what's happening across this economy.'"

Alleged 9/11 Plotters Offer to Confess at Guantanamo
William Glaberson, The New York Times: "All five of the Guantanamo detainees charged with planning and coordinating the Sept. 11 attacks have asked a military judge to accept their confessions in full. The request appeared to be intended to cut short any effort to try them, and to challenge the United States government to put them to death."

Dean Baker Question for Economic Experts: Can You Say "Housing Bubble"?
Dean Baker, Truthout: "Before Paulson is allowed to carry through with his scheme to use public money in an attempt to reinflate the housing bubble, he should be forced to publicly explain how he thinks this policy will work. There are clearly people who will be badly harmed by temporarily reinflating the bubble. Unless Paulson can explain how the benefits will outweigh this harm, he should not be allowed to pursue his blanket policy of providing 4.5 percent mortgages everywhere."

Mystery Phone Call Put Pakistan and India on the Brink of War
Saeed Shah, McClatchy Newspapers: "A mysterious night-time telephone call last week brought nuclear-armed India and Pakistan close to the brink of war at the height of the crisis over the Mumbai terror attacks, Pakistani officials said Sunday."

Blackwater Guards Plan Surrender, Court Fight Begins
Matt Apuzzo and Lara Jakes Jordan, The Associated Press: "The legal drama surrounding five Blackwater Worldwide security contractors charged with killing Iraqi civilians was unfolding Monday on two stages thousands of miles apart. In Washington, the Justice Department planned to make public the manslaughter indictment it obtained last week. And in Utah, the five guards were to surrender and question the legitimacy of the government's case."

Defense in Terrorism Case Charges Government With Abuse Cover-Up
Colin Perkel, The Canadian Press: "The American government has withdrawn a witness against Omar Khadr in an effort to hide evidence of its mistreatment of the Canadian during his detention at Guantanamo Bay, his Pentagon-appointed lawyer says."

FP morning post 12/8

Top Story

Pakistan arrested Zakiur ur-Rehman Lakhvi, operational leader of the militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba, in connection with last week's Mumbai attack

Pakistani security forces raided a camp used by the group yesterday. The New York Times reports on the connections between LeT and Pakistani intelligence.

It was also revealed that a prank call to Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari almost set off a war between Pakistan and India.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh may be losing support from Indian voters.

U.S. Presidential Transition
Barack Obama picked retired Gen. Eric Shinseki to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs. Shinseki is best known as an early critic of the Pentagon's Iraq war strategy.
Appearing on "Meet the Press," Obama vowed tougher financial regulations and said the U.S. financial malaise would worsen before it got better. The president-elect reiterated his support of a bailout for the auto industry despite the fact that he believes company executives made "strategic mistakes."
Obama is largely staying out of the ongoing indusry bailout debates, perhaps saving his ammunition for a much larger stimulus plan. If passed, his plan would include the largest investment in U.S. infrastructure since the 1950s.

Militants near Peshawar, Pakistan, destroyed 150 U.S. military vehicles meant for service in Afghanistan.
Envoy Christopher Hill is in Beijing leading the Bush administration's last attempt at negotiations with North Korea.
Thailand's main opposition party is working to form a government.

The shooting of a teenager by police has set of widespread rioting in Greece.
Scheduled anti-pirate patrols off the coast of Somalia will be the first naval operations conducted under the aegis of the European Union.
Contaminated pork from Ireland may have reached up to 25 countries.

Middle East and Africa
Turnout was high in Ghana's national elections. The contest is going down to the wire.
Zimbabwe's cholera outbreak is spilling over into neighboring countries.
Ehud Olmert condemned last week's Hebron riots as a "pogrom" by Jewish settlers.
Blackwater guards suspected in a 2007 shooting will surrender to Iraqi authorities.

Eleven were killed in a shootout between drug traffickers and the police in Mexico City. Canada's death toll in Afghanistan reached 100.

Today's Agenda
The U.S. Senate will attempt to hammer out a bailout deal for the struggling auto industry.
9/11 suspect Khalid Sheikh Muhammed will appear at a pre-trial hearing in Guantanamo Bay. Victims' families will be in attendance.
The U.N. climate conference in Poznan starts its second week. Progress has been slow so far.

Michiana celebrates Human Rights

Thank You to all who made the party such a great success!

Watch the Fox28 news story from their Saturday December 6 evening broadcast. Read the story here.

Michiana celebrates Human Rights
Event marks anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Between 150 and 200 area residents from many walks of life braved the snow on Saturday to help celebrate the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). This Wednesday, December 10, is International Human Rights day, and the Universal Declaration will mark its 60th anniversary.

As several speakers at the event pointed out, we’re a long way from realizing the aspirations of the Declaration, which establishes that everyone has the right to be treated equally, to be free from discrimination, and to enjoy the ability to participate fully in the social and cultural life of the community.

The organizers of the event, the Michiana Social Forum and St. Joseph Valley Project/ Jobs with Justice, thought the UDHR anniversary was a good occasion to help advance the goal of building coalitions between the various groups working to improve life in our community. The UAW Local #5 provided the venue for the party, and some guests—who included students, members of different church groups, and community leaders working for peace and social justice—experienced their first visit to a labor hall.

Significantly at this time of economic crisis, the UDHR establishes for everyone the right to decent work at a fair wage, the right to an adequate standard of living, the right to health care and social security. Against the backdrop of the UAW local’s history, which is told in the murals that adorn the hall’s walls, union representatives and students spoke of the efforts to protect worker’s rights on area campuses and in our local Housing Authority. Jobs with Justice president, Joseph Carbone, addressed the national campaign to advance UDHR Article 23 with the Employee Free Choice Act legislation, aimed at making workplace elections more fair.

Lonnie Douglas, executive director of the South Bend Human Rights Commission, outlined some of his hopes for new advances in local human rights protections. He called for legislation to extend the Commission’s mandate to allow it to defend against discrimination based on sexual orientation, age, and disability. Other speakers reinforced this call, and former City Council member Charlotte Pfeiffer, who introduced legislation on human rights while in the Council, encouraged continued action to protect the rights of all of South Bend’s residents.

As many know, our community includes many people who have come here from other countries seeking a means of earning a decent living for their families. Many Latino/a residents of our area face discrimination and harassment every day. Karen Gonzalez from La Casa de Amistad spoke of the work her group does to defend the basic rights and provide for the needs of our immigrant neighbors.

Michiana Social Forum organizers said that they hoped to advance some new initiatives supporting immigrant rights in the coming year. As the economy declines, people will be tempted to blame someone else for their hardship, and usually it is those least responsible—the poorest and most vulnerable members of our community—who suffer. The organization wants to focus attention on the local and national policies that have contributed to unemployment and poverty, and to demonstrate that all people in our community have a right to be treated with dignity and respect.

Kathy Liggett, of the Michiana Peace and Justice Coalition and Women’s Action for New Direction, spoke of her dedication to peace and brining and end to the War in Iraq. Liggett, whose son served three tours of duty in Iraq, reminded the gathering of both the American and Iraqi loss of life and maintained that the right to live is the most fundamental human right of all.

Two students, Derek Webb of IU-South Bend and Sarah Lyons of the University of Notre Dame, made a joint statement. Webb spoke as president of IU-South Bend’s Civil Rights Heritage Center and told of history of South Bend’s Natatorium. He also raised the issue of skyrocketing tuition prices and the impact this has on the equal right to education. Lyons related her work as part of the Campus Labor Action Coalition and spoke of coming to recognize that human rights violations happen here in our midst, even on the Notre Dame campus.

Debra Stanley of Imani Unidad highlighted the challenges to human rights protections for people living with HIV and AIDs. Her group, Imani Unidad, works to protect these rights and to raise awareness of the need for human dignity.

Wendell Wiebe-Powell, an activist from the Elkhart/Goshen area, came to discuss some of the links between human rights and the protection of our environment. Without a healthy planet and clean air and water, none of the rights in the UDHR can be enjoyed. He discussed the need to work together on efforts to promote green jobs in our community, and pointed to promising examples of work being done elsewhere to eliminate the traditional tensions between environmentalists and trade unions.

The program ended with a moving call from Paul Mishler, an IU-South Bend labor studies professor, for solidarity across the many divides in our community. A documentary on the Civil Rights Heritage Center highlighted work being done to restore the Natatorium and to tell its history of racial discrimination and the ultimate triumph of efforts of African American leaders to integrate this public facility.

The program also included musical and theatrical performances from student groups, Teatro (IU-South Bend) and Unchained Melodies (Notre Dame) and featured local musicians David James and KellieRae Boann (who was joined by IU-South Bend history professor Monica Tetzlaff), singing traditional and contemporary songs for labor and social justice.

For more information:

Universal Declaration of Human Rights
(574) 807-1349

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Truthout 12/7

John Lamperti Remember Pearl Harbor!
John Lamperti, Truthout: "Sixty years after Pearl Harbor, the administration of GW Bush has made 'preemption' an official part of US policy. According to this so-called 'Bush Doctrine,' the United States claims the right to use military force whenever it determines that its security or economic interests may be threatened by another nation in the future. The Bush National Security Strategy of 2002 states that 'The greater the threat, the greater is the risk of inaction - and the more compelling the case for taking anticipatory action to defend ourselves, even if uncertainty remains as to the time and place of the enemy's attack.'"

Kennedy and NY Governor Discuss Clinton's Senate Seat
Chris Cillizza, The Washington Post: "Caroline Kennedy, a scion of the most famous family in American politics, has spoken by phone with New York Gov. David A. Paterson (D) about the Senate seat that would open with the confirmation of Hillary Rodham Clinton as secretary of state. Robert F. Kennedy Jr., a cousin of Caroline Kennedy, confirmed to the Associated Press late Friday that she was 'interested' in the seat, but national party operatives cautioned that the process of picking a replacement for Clinton remains in its early stages."

Workers Occupy Factory in Chicago
Rupa Shenoy, The Associated Press: "Workers who got three days' notice their factory was shutting its doors voted to occupy the building and say they won't go home without assurances they'll get severance and vacation pay they say they are owed. In the second day of a sit-in on the factory floor Saturday, about 200 union workers occupied the building in shifts while union leaders outside criticized a Wall Street bailout they say is leaving laborers behind. About 50 workers sat on pallets and chairs inside the Republic Windows and Doors plant. Leah Fried, an organizer with the United Electrical Workers, said the Chicago-based vinyl window manufacturer failed to give 60 days' notice required by law before shutting down."

Rumsfeld Nemesis Shinseki to be Named VA Secretary
Hope Yen, The Associated Press: "President-elect Barack Obama has chosen retired Gen. Eric K. Shinseki to be the next Veterans Affairs secretary, turning to a former Army chief of staff once vilified by the Bush administration for questioning its Iraq war strategy. Obama will announce the selection of Shinseki, the first Army four-star general of Japanese-American ancestry, at a news conference Sunday in Chicago. He will be the first Asian-American to hold the post of Veterans Affairs secretary, adding to the growing diversity of Obama's Cabinet."

New Rule Lifts Ban on Firearms in National Parks
The Associated Press: "People will soon be able to carry concealed, loaded guns in most national parks and wildlife refuges. The Bush administration said Friday it is overturning a 25-year-old federal rule that severely restricts loaded guns in national parks."

Daschle Says US Health-Care Overhaul Will Help Spur Economy
Aliza Marcus, Bloomberg: "Former US Senator Tom Daschle, the top health policy adviser to President-elect Barack Obama, said reworking the U.S. health-care system is a necessary part of an economic recovery plan. High health costs hurt the ability of US businesses to stay competitive and create new jobs, making it a "top priority" that health-system changes not be delayed, said Daschle, speaking today in Denver at a health-care forum."

VIDEO Obama Pledges Public Works on a Vast Scale
Peter Baker and John M. Broder, The New York Times: "President-elect Barack Obama promised Saturday to create the largest public works construction program since the inception of the interstate highway system a half century ago as he seeks to put together a plan to resuscitate the reeling economy. With jobs evaporating and the recession deepening, Mr. Obama began highlighting elements of the economic recovery program he is trying to fashion with Congressional leaders in hopes of being able to enact it shortly after being sworn in on January 20."

FOCUS Spying on Pacifists, Environmentalists and Nuns
Bob Drogin, The Los Angeles Times: "'Lucy' was an undercover Maryland State Police trooper who between 2005 and 2007 infiltrated more than two dozen rallies and meetings of nonviolent groups. Maryland officials now concede that, based on information gathered by 'Lucy' and others, state police wrongly listed at least 53 Americans as terrorists in a criminal intelligence database - and shared some information about them with half a dozen state and federal agencies, including the National Security Agency. Among those labeled as terrorists: two Catholic nuns, a former Democratic congressional candidate, a lifelong pacifist and a registered lobbyist. One suspect's file warned that she was "involved in puppet making and allows anarchists to utilize her property for meetings."

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Truthout 12/6

Five Blackwater Guards Face US Charges in Iraq Deaths
Ginger Thompson and James Risen, The New York Times: "The Justice Department has obtained indictments against five guards for the security company Blackwater Worldwide for their involvement in a 2007 shooting in Baghdad that killed at least 17 Iraqi civilians and remains a thorn in Iraqi relations with the United States. The indictments, obtained Thursday, remained sealed. But they could be made public in Washington as soon as Monday, according to people who have been briefed on the case and who spoke on condition of anonymity because the indictments had not been unsealed. A sixth guard was negotiating a plea, those people said."

Suit Claims Halliburton, KBR Sickened Base
Kelly Kennedy, Army Times: "A Georgia man has filed a lawsuit against contractor KBR and its former parent company, Halliburton, saying the companies exposed everyone at Joint Base Balad in Iraq to unsafe water, food and hazardous fumes from the burn pit there. Joshua Eller, who worked as a civilian computer-aided drafting technician with the 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing, said military personnel, contractors and third-country nationals may have been sickened by contamination at the largest U.S. installation in Iraq, home to more than 30,000 service members, Defense Department civilians and contractors."

Berlusconi Plans to Use G8 Presidency to "Regulate the Internet"
Chris Williams, The Register UK: "Italian president and media baron Silvio Berlusconi said today that he would use his country's imminent presidency of the G8 group to push for an international agreement to 'regulate the internet'. Speaking to Italian postal workers, Reuters reports Berlusconi said: 'The G8 has as its task the regulation of financial markets... I think the next G8 can bring to the table a proposal for a regulation of the internet.'"

Jennifer Acosta The Colombia FTA: A Less Attractive Face for Trade?
Jennifer Acosta, Council on Hemispheric Affairs: "The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which came into being in December 1994, has been one of the more important free trade agreements of its time. The NAFTA pact was signed by Canada, Mexico, and the United States in hopes of strengthening the prevailing commercial climate and promoting trade among the three member countries. NAFTA has been the model for other trade agreements, including the pending Colombian Free Trade Agreement. Both NAFTA and the Colombian FTA have been controversial in terms of market access, creation of jobs as well as the labor and environmental regulations applicable to them."

Canadian Leader Suspends Parliament to Stay in Power
CNN : "Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Thursday that Canada's governor general has allowed him to suspend Parliament, postponing a no-confidence vote from his opponents that he was likely to lose. Harper called on his opponents to work with his government on measures to aid the nation's economy when Parliament returns on January 26."

Foreclosures Soar 76 Percent to Record 1.35 Million
Tami Luhby, "A record 1.35 million homes were in foreclosure in the third quarter, driving the foreclosure rate up to 2.97%, the Mortgage Bankers Association said Friday. That's a 76% increase from a year ago, according to the group's National Delinquency Survey. At the same time, the number of homeowners falling behind on their mortgages rose to a record 6.99%, up from 5.59% a year ago, the association said."

FOCUS Democrats Set to Offer Loans for Carmakers
David M. Herszenhorn and Bill Vlasic, The New York Times: "Faced with staggering new unemployment figures, Democratic Congressional leaders said on Friday that they were ready to provide a short-term rescue plan for American automakers, and that they expected to hold a vote on the legislation in a special session next week. Seeking to end a weeks-long stalemate between the Bush administration and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, senior Congressional aides said that the money would most likely come from $25 billion in federally subsidized loans intended for developing fuel-efficient cars. By breaking that impasse, the lawmakers could also clear the way for the Treasury secretary, Henry M. Paulson Jr., to request the remaining $350 billion of the financial industry bailout fund knowing he will not get bogged down in a fight over aiding Detroit."

Friday, December 5, 2008

Clay High School Food Drive bucks current economic challenges

from WNDU-TV

For more than 25 years, Clay High School has run a food drive, one that measures up to some of the biggest in the country. This year, corporate donations are down because of a battered economy. That's why on Thursday night, during the final hours of this year's food drive, students collected each and every can they could.

Clay High School calls the final evening the "Mad Dash."

For Matt Tiffany, a Clay senior out knocking on doors for cans Thursday night, it's a tradition he says he's proud to carry on.

"We've been doing it for so long I think it's just something we want to keep a tradition, keep it up and keep it going," said Tiffany.

Tiffany and a group of fellow Clay students kept at it through cold and snow until returning to the high school. There, in the entryway, loud voices competed with the sound of cans dumped from plastic bags onto tables.

Lining the hallways were boxes filled with donated cans. One sign of the economic times: the boxes this year don't stack up as high as they have in years past.

"Having very few big money donations this year has really cut into our cans," said Allee Gushwa, vice president of Clay's student council.

Gushwa say's the food drive isn't about a grand total of cans; instead, it's about everybody coming together and pitching in towards a good cause.

"We get the people that are less involved with the valedictorians, and they you get the overachievers mixed in with the kids that just kind of stay to themselves," said Gushwa.

Nobody stayed to themselves as they worked to finish the "Mad Dash."

At night's end, the students tallied up a grand total: 83,649 cans, to be distributed to local charities and churches.

FP morning post 12/5

Top Story

It looks like the makings of another ugly day on Wall Street.

Today's economic news: the latest U.S. employment report is the worst since 1974, with an estimated 533,000 jobs lost in November. Meanwhile, the latest U.S. retail sales figures are the worst in 35 years.

"This is a clear employment blowout," one analyst told Reuters. The U.S. unemployment rate has now climbed to 6.7 percent.

And in Germany, the world's export powerhouse, manufacturing orders have fallen off a cliff.

U.S. Presidential Transition
Former British PM Tony Blair weighs in on President-elect Barack Obama and Middle East peace.
Retailers are gearing up for big sales of Obama merchandise during inauguration week.
Former Cuban President Fidel Castro says he will meet Obama "anywhere he wants."

Canadian PM Stephen Harper has staved off a no-confidence vote -- for now -- by suspending Parliament.
Hospitals have become a battlefield in Mexico's drug war.
Detroit's Big Three auto executives are finding little sympathy on Capitol Hill.

New warnings of a possible hijacking threat have Indians rattled.
Newsweek's Fasih Ahmed visits the stronghold of Lashkar-e-Taiba, the Pakistani militant group thought responsible for the Mumbai attacks.
Bangkok's airport is back in business.

Middle East and Africa
Calls are escalating -- from Archbishop Desmond Tutu to U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to Kenyan PM Raila Odinga -- for Robert Mugabe to step down as president of Zimbabwe. Mugabe isn't bending.
Tensions are growing in the West Bank after Israeli troops forcibly ejected some 250 extremist settlers from a building in the disputed town of Hebron.

In a record-breaking heist, thieves stole $100 million in merchandise from Harry Winston, one of Paris's elite jewelry shops.
Russian PM Vladimir Putin faced tough questions about the economy in an annual Q&A session with the public.
Liechtenstein, the tiny European tax haven, has agreed to cough up some of its banking secrets.

Weekend Agenda
Neel Kashkari, the point man for the U.S. Treasury Department's Troubled Assets Relief Program, gives an update on the banking rescue.
The Saban Forum, an annual dialogue between U.S. and Israeli officials, hosts a keynote address by U.S. President George W. Bush.
The U.S. Supreme Court considers a lawsuit alleging that President-elect Obama is not a U.S. citizen. "Legal experts say the appeal has little chance of succeeding," according to the Chicago Tribune.
News organizations expect the United States and Russia begin talks on renewing the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty. It expires this month.

Truthout 12/5

Michael Winship Obama's Familiar Orbit
Michael Winship, Truthout: "I keep thinking about that tool bag. You know - the one that the astronaut accidentally let loose while she was repairing the International Space Station last month. Now it's in orbit, more than 200 miles above the Earth ... For now, it's up there, floating silently and uselessly, which, if you think of government as a sort of national tool kit for protecting and improving the lives of its citizens, could be seen as a pretty good metaphor for the last eight years. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, nothing done - except with the kind of blunt hammers that see everything as a nail and cause more harm than good."

Iraq Blasts Kill at Least 18, Including Two US Soldiers
Tina Susman, The Los Angeles Times: "Explosions tore through two police stations in the western Iraq city of Fallouja on Thursday, leaving at least 16 people dead, and a blast in a northern city killed two U.S. soldiers in the latest reminders of country's fragile security situation."

Obama Partially Rescinds Promise to "End the War"
Thom Shanker, International Herald Tribune: "On the campaign trail, Senator Barack Obama offered a pledge that electrified and motivated his liberal base, vowing to 'end the war' in Iraq. But as he moves closer to the White House, President-elect Obama is making it clearer than ever that tens of thousands of American troops will be left behind in Iraq, even if he can make good on his campaign promise to pull all combat forces out within 16 months."

Fed Chair Calls for Additional Steps to Stem Foreclosures
Neil Irwin and Dina ElBoghdady, The Washington Post: "The government needs to move much more aggressively to help people avoid losing their homes to foreclosure, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke said yesterday, trying to boost efforts that had stalled in recent weeks. Bernanke spoke approvingly of several proposals to use government funds to help people stuck in mortgages they cannot afford. 'Steps that stabilize the housing market will help stabilize the economy as well,' he said in a speech to a housing and mortgage conference at the Fed."

US Mulls Unusual Tactic as Blackwater Charges Loom
Matt Apuzzo And Lara Jakes Jordan, The Associated Press: "Blackwater Worldwide guards involved in the deadly 2007 Baghdad shooting of Iraqi civilians could face mandatory 30-year prison sentences under an aggressive anti-drug law being considered as the Justice Department readies indictments, people close to the case said."

Twelve Coalition Force Contingents Leaving Iraq
Adam Ashton, McClatchy Newspapers: "The Tongan marines left with a song, their vowel-rich war choruses echoing in the marble halls of a palace built for Saddam Hussein but now occupied by the U.S. military. Fifty-five of them had spent the past four months guarding Camp Victory, a base that sits on a plush estate near the Baghdad airport ... Their departure this week marks the exit of another member of the 'coalition of the willing,' the 49 nations that signed on to support the war in Iraq since 2003."

Jobless Rate Soars to 6.7 Percent, 533,000 Jobs Lost
Louis Uchitelle, The New York Times: "With the economy deteriorating rapidly, the nation’s employers shed 533,000 jobs in November, the 11th consecutive monthly decline, the government reported Friday morning, and the unemployment rate rose to 6.7 percent."

Justice Department Says Pentagon Must Comply With EPA Cleanup Orders
Lyndsey Layton, The Washington Post: "The Justice Department dealt a blow to the Pentagon this week, saying it has no legal authority to resist orders from the Environmental Protection Agency to clean up Fort Meade in Maryland and two other military sites that have been contaminated by chemicals."

Dean Baker "IOUSA": Failed Scare Flick of the Decade
Dean Baker, The Guardian UK: "Every few years there is a book or movie that stands out for its incredibly bad timing. As the Internet bubble exploded in 2000, the book 'Dow 36,000' quickly went from a work of inspired genius to intense derision. More recently, the 2005 book, 'Why the Real Estate Boom Will Not Bust and How You Can Profit From It,' has become one of the great jokes of the housing crash. As the country and the world attempt to recovery from the wreckage caused by these bubbles, the new documentary, IOUSA, seems destined to join these two earlier classics of bad timing."

Zimbabwe Declares Cholera Emergency
Chris McGreal, The Guardian UK: "Zimbabwe has declared a national health emergency days after playing down an escalating cholera outbreak that has already claimed more than 500 lives. The move appeared aimed at winning aid from countries and organisations that have been isolating Robert Mugabe's regime."

Philippe Sands What Next for Guantanamo Bay?
Philippe Sands, The Guardian UK: "President Bush leaves the Obama administration with some difficult decisions: looking back, how to address a legacy of abuse, illegality and global disrepute? Looking forward, what to do with present and future detainees? Obama needs to say five things on day one, to America and to his global audience."

Bernard Descoteaux Political Crisis in Ottawa
Bernard Descoteaux, Le Devoir: "Prime Minister Stephen Harper did not live up to his responsibility to offer the cohesive leadership that was called for to confront the looming economic slowdown. Thus did he provoke a political crisis to which the coalition government proposed by the Liberal Party and the New Democratic Party, supported by the Quebec Bloc, would appear a valid solution."

Thursday, December 4, 2008

In the Bailout Bowl, New York shuts out Detroit

FP morning brief 12/4

Top Story

Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari promised U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice he would take "strong action against any Pakistani elements found involved in the attack" on Mumbai.

His government continues to deny any involvement, however, and has expressed skepticism about Indian claims that the attackers came from Pakistan.

"Pakistan is determined to ensure that its territory is not used for any act of terrorism," Zardari said, though analysts doubt Pakistan's civilian leadership has much control over the country's military and intelligence services, which in turn may have lost their hold over militant groups such as Lashkar-e-Taiba.

"They've turned against the hands that once fed them," says Daniel Markey of the Council on Foreign Relations, adding, "[T]here appears to be evidence of continued complicity or at least passive relations between the Pakistani state and some of these groups."

U.S. Presidential Transition

Microsoft founder Bill Gates met with Vice President-elect Joe Biden yesterday, according to Marc Ambinder.
The New York Times looks into incoming White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel's banking ties.
The Washington Post rounds up reactions to President-elect Barack Obama's choice of Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson as commerce secretary.

Oil prices have sunk to $46 a barrel, a four-year low.
A record number of European companies are at risk of default, the Financial Times reports.
The U.S. Treasury Department is considering a deeper intervention into the mortgage market.

The U.S. government has released nearly $200 million in funding to help Mexico fight drug trafficking. The situation is out of control: Drug gangs in Ciudad Juarez are now shaking down schoolteachers for money.
Canadian PM Stephen Harper is fighting for his political life.
Hate crimes against Arab-Americans have steadily declined since 9/11.

In a turnabout, Chinese officials are now lecturing the United States about the need to stabilize the U.S. economy.
Thailand's popular king was too ill to deliver his traditional birthday speech.
On top of terrorism, India is grappling with a worsening economic downturn.

Middle East and Africa
Zimbabwe's cholera outbrook is a full-blown emergency, officials now admit. The death toll is at 565 and counting, accoring to U.N. figures.
Insurgent attacks in Iraq are at their lowest monthly level since the war began, according to the U.S. military.
Iraqi PM Nuri al-Maliki's bid to accumulate power is provoking a backlash.

Sweden slashed its benchmark interest rate by a record 175 basis points Thursday. Other European countries may soon follow.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy is pushing for a $33 billion stimulus package, massive by French standards.
Credit Suisse announced a fresh round of layoffs.
The Vatican's reiteration of its stance on homosexuality is coming under fire.

Today's Agenda
Ben Bernanke, the U.S. Federal Reserve chairman, gives a talk on "concentrated poverty."
U.S. auto industry executives appear before the Senate Banking Committee for another grilling. This time, they drove fuel-efficient cars to Washington.
U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson is in Beijing for his final Strategic Economic Dialogue summit. His opening remarks are posted here.
Russian PM Vladimir Putin is holding his annual live call-in show.

Truthout 12/4

Marc Ash The Threat of Realism
Marc Ash, Truthout: "Change has indeed come. America has elected its first president of partly African heritage. That alone stands as a quantum leap forward that no force on earth will ever change. It is nothing short of a collective national triumph. And the man is a bona fide intellectual no less. Intellectuals, of course, being as rare as good decisions at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. While there is ample grist for optimism, only a fatal optimist or a militarist could fail to be concerned about the rough sketch emerging for Iraq and Afghanistan."

Obama Names Richardson as Commerce Secretary
Brian Knowlton, The New York Times: "President-elect Barack Obama named Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico as his choice for secretary of commerce on Wednesday, pointedly denying that the job was a 'consolation prize' for the two-time cabinet officer who had been considered a candidate for secretary of state."

Historic Signing of Cluster Munitions Treaty
Stephane Bussard, Le Temps: "This was the result of an extraordinary mobilization of state and non-state actors. In Oslo's City Hall this morning ... over 100 countries signed the Cluster Munitions Convention. Notably absent were producers, such as the United States, Russia, China, Pakistan and even Israel."

No Commitment on Auto Bailout Despite Union Concessions
David Lightman and Kevin G. Hall, McClatchy Newspapers: "On the eve of congressional hearings, union leaders agreed to concessions on Wednesday, removing a roadblock to a proposed rescue of the U.S. auto industry as Congress weighs whether to give carmakers $34 billion in emergency aid or allow them to face bankruptcy.... The concessions are designed to show wary lawmakers that labor is a willing partner in what amounts to a taxpayer-financed effort to help one or more of the Big Three avoid a bankruptcy that would send shockwaves across an economy already battered by recession."

Gates: Military Looking at Quicker Iraq Withdrawal
Lolita C. Baldor, The Associated Press: "Defense Secretary Robert Gates signaled a willingness yesterday to forge ahead with two key priorities for the incoming Obama administration: accelerating the US withdrawal from Iraq and shutting down the Guantanamo Bay detention center. As the only Republican Cabinet member asked to stay on by President-elect Barack Obama, Gates told reporters that military commanders are looking at ways to more quickly pull troops out of Iraq in light of the 16-month timetable that was a centerpiece of the Democrat's campaign."

Daniel J. Weiss A Bridge Loan to the 21st Century
Daniel J. Weiss, The Center for American Progress: "To avoid the deadly consequences of bankruptcy, Congress should create a federal bridge loan program that would provide up to $38 billion in loans if the companies agree to avoid excessive executive compensation, fulfill their recently renegotiated health and pension obligations to their hourly workers and retirees, continue to implement plans to build super-efficient cars, and cease efforts to block or weaken fuel economy and greenhouse gas standards. This would stabilize the Big Three, reduce oil use, and prevent an economic catastrophe that could last for years."

Davis and Clarke Protect Student Loan Borrowers
Danny K. Davis and Yvette D. Clarke, Truthout: "Although the Treasury recently released some details about the new Term Asset-Backed Securities Loan Facility, the nature of the program related to student loans remains unclear."
Government Unions Criticize Order Denying Collective Bargaining Rights
Spencer S. Hsu, The Washington Post: "Government unions yesterday criticized a White House executive order that bars certain workers at five federal departments from joining a union because they are engaged in intelligence gathering, investigations and other national security work."

Indian Opposition Demand Action Against Pakistan
Agence France-Presse: "The leader of India's main opposition party urged the government to 'avenge the repeated terror attacks' and hit back at arch-rival Pakistan, the Press Trust of India said on Thursday."

Robert Reich Of Financial Capital and Human Capital
Robert Reich, Robert Reich's Blog: "Our preoccupation with the immediate crisis of financial capital is causing us to overlook the bigger crisis in America's human capital. While we commit hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars to Wall Street, we're slashing our outlays for public education."

Naomi Klein: Outside Agitator
Larissa MacFarquhar, The New Yorker: Naomi Klein "followed the Dow as it pitched downward, thinking how ridiculous it was for Paulson to believe that he could control it. 'This is politicians acting like traders,' she said, staring at the television. 'A government shouldn't play the market - it should govern.'"

US Soldiers Re-enlisting Because of Poor Economy
The Associated Press: "In 2008, as the stock market cratered and the housing market collapsed, more young members of the Army, Air Force and Navy decided to re-up. While several factors might explain the rise in re-enlistments, including a decline in violence in Iraq, Pentagon officials acknowledge that bad news for the economy is usually good news for the military."

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

High tide wallops Venice for 2nd straight day

VENICE, Italy (AP) -- Strong southern winds pushed the Adriatic Sea into Venice again Tuesday, submerging parts of the lagoon city a day after an unusually high tide caused the worst flooding in 20 years.

Tuesday's tidal surge peaked at 3 feet, 4 inches (102 centimeters), well below Monday's 5 foot, 1-inch level (156 centimeters), which marked the fourth highest tide in the city's recorded history and the worst since 1986.

Still, the water Tuesday was high enough to flood the city's landmark St. Mark's Square and other low-lying areas.

Tourists and locals waded through the historic piazza with high boots as alarms warned of the latest bout of "acqua alta." At least one person decided to enjoy the flooded square, zipping about with a kite-surf until police stepped in to end his fun.

Most locals were not amused by the sea's return.

FP morning post 12/3

Condoleezza Rice has arrived in New Delhi, where she intends to show solidarity with India after last week's terrorist incidents in Mumbai and defuse a dangerous diplomatic standoff in South Asia.

At a press conference today, the U.S. secretary of state called on Pakistan to "cooperate fully and transparently" with investigations into the Mumbai attacks. Although India and the United States appear to agree that the perpetrators came from Pakistan, the question now is whether the Pakistani government and/or military is involved.

Indian officials are convinced that the terrorists communicated with Yusuf Muzammil, a top aide to Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakvhi, the operational commander of the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba. The militant group is thought to have had extensive links with Pakistan's security services in the past, but the organization is now banned and it's unclear to what extent those ties still exist.

Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, however, has not even accepted that the lone surviving attacker came from his country. "We have not been given any tangible proof to say that he is definitely a Pakistani. I very much doubt ... that he's a Pakistani," he told CNN's Larry King Tuesday.

U.S. Presidential Transition
The U.S. public seems pleased with how the transition process is going.
That said, President-elect Barack Obama's agency review teams are causing some minor anxiety in the Bush administration, and his handling of John Brennan's potential appointment as CIA director is provoking concern within the agency.
The Wall Street Journal interviewed incoming national security advisor James L. Jones on how he views his new assignment.
Robert Gates says he has "no intention of being caretaker secretary" and that his tenure at the Pentagon has no time limit. His top deputy, however, is definitely leaving.

Led by Thailand, a fresh global round of interest rate cuts is on the way.
Detroit's Big Three automakers, warning of imminent collapse and seeking a $34 billion bailout, returned to Washington yesterday with somewat more concrete restructuring plans. "Bankruptcy is not an option," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said, urging a rescue.

Paramilitary groups are still running amok in Colombia, the LA Times reports.
Brazil plans to reduce Amazon deforestation by 70 percent over the next decade.

International flights may be resuming in Bangkok, but a Newsweek article argues that Thailand's political conflict is "far from over."
Afghanistan's finance minister has resigned. No reason was given.
In China, thrift has become a liability as the country tries to jump-start consumer spending.

Middle East and Africa
There's a rumor going around Baghdad that Barack Obama is a Shiite.
Local elders convinced a group of Somali pirates to release a Yemeni cargo ship without ransom.
As oil prices tumble, Iran's economy -- and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's political future -- looks increasingly vulnerable.

The United States agreed to let NATO resume dialogue with Russia, while the EU resumed its strategic partnership talks with Moscow.
Italy has foiled an alleged plot to bomb a military base and other targets north of Milan.
The radical Islamic preacher known as Abu Qatada is headed back to prison in Britain.

Today's Agenda
President-elect Obama gives a press conference at 11:40 a.m. ET to name New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson as secretary of commerce.
Vice president-elect Joe Biden gets briefed on a new report on terrorism and WMD.
Arizona Sen. John McCain is touring South Asia.
Roughly 100 countries are set to sign a treaty banning cluster bombs. The United States is not among them. More here.
The U.S. Federal Reserve releases the latest Beige Book -- anecdotal reports from Fed branches on the state of the U.S. economy. It will be ugly.

Truthout 12/3

Mottern and Rau Iraqi Detention Gulag Awaits Obama
Nick Mottern and Bill Rau, Truthout: "When Barack Obama becomes president, he will inherit a human rights debacle in Iraq, now entering a phase in which the US appears ready to bulldoze thousands of its Iraqi prisoners over a legal cliff into Iraqi government prisons where they face the possibility of torture and execution. The darkening future for the detainees comes with the approval on November 27, 2008, of the US-drafted Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) by the Iraqi Parliament."

Robert Dreyfuss The Neoconservatives in the Obama Era
Robert Dreyfuss, TomDispatch: "What, exactly, does Barack Obama's mild-mannered choice to head the Department of Health and Human Services, former Senator Tom Daschle, have to do with neocons who want to bomb Iran? A familiar coalition of hawks, hardliners, and neoconservatives expects Barack Obama's proposed talks with Iran to fail -- and they're already proposing an escalating set of measures instead. Some are meant to occur alongside any future talks. These include steps to enhance coordination with Israel, tougher sanctions against Iran, and a region-wide military buildup of U.S. strike forces, including the prepositioning of military supplies within striking distance of that country."

Odetta, Voice of Civil Rights Movement, Dies at 77
Tim Weiner, The New York Times: "Odetta, the singer whose deep voice wove together the strongest songs of American folk music and the civil rights movement, died on Tuesday at Lenox Hill Hospital in Manhattan. She was 77. The cause was heart disease, said her manager, Doug Yeager. He added that she had been hoping to sing at Barack Obama's inauguration. Odetta sang at coffeehouses and at Carnegie Hall, made highly influential recordings of blues and ballads, and became one of the most widely known folk-music artists of the 1950s and '60s."

Chambliss Wins Second Term in US Senate
Jim Tharpe, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: "Republican US Senator Saxby Chambliss beat back a prolonged challenge from Democrat Jim Martin on Tuesday to win a second term in office after a bruising four-week runoff between the one-time University of Georgia fraternity brothers. Chambliss's double-digit victory dashed Democrats' dreams of securing a filibuster-proof, 60-vote 'super majority' in the Senate and buoyed a Republican Party battered by staggering losses in the Nov. 4 general election."

Ex-Generals to Urge Obama Action on Torture Issue
Randall Mikkelsen, Reuters: "Barack Obama should act from the moment of his inauguration to restore a US image battered by allegations of torturing terrorism suspects, said a group of retired military leaders planning to press their case with the president-elect's transition team on Wednesday. 'We need to remove the stain, and the stain is on us, as well as on our reputation overseas,' said retired Vice Adm. Lee Gunn, former Navy inspector general."

The "New" Richard Nixon Tapes: A Bad Reputation Deserved
Joe Gandelman, The Moderate Voice: "The American press and American public - with the exception of some steadfast loyalists - now have Nixon to kick some more. And for good reason. The release of some 200 hours of Nixon White House recordings is going to provide a treasure chest of inside glimpses into the man who helped usher in the politics of polarization and who helped dismember 1950s-early-1960s consensus politics - a trend that many hope will be reversed with the new, presumably more post-partisan Obama administration. Tidbits trickling out now about Nixon as preserved on tape aren't exactly going to bolster Nixon's image among the public - or among historians who'll shape future generations' perceptions."

KBR Contractor Warehousing Foreign Workers in Iraq
Adam Ashton, McClatchy Newspapers: "About 1,000 Asian men who were hired by a Kuwaiti subcontractor to the U.S. military have been confined for as long as three months in windowless warehouses near the Baghdad airport without money or a place to work."

Federal Prosecutor Investigating Dismissal of US Attorneys
Carrie Johnson, The Washington Post: "A prosecutor who is investigating the dismissals of nine US attorneys has been meeting with defense lawyers, dispatching subpoenas and seeking information about the events, according to legal sources familiar with the case."

Roma Children Dying of Lead Poisoning
Paul Polansky, The New Kosova Report: "Two hours from here by plane, in Eastern Europe, are two death camps, mainly for children under the age of six years. If these children don't die by the age of six, they will have irreversible brain damage for the rest of their short lives. These camps have been running for nine years. They were built on the tailing stands of the biggest lead mine in Europe, and next to a toxic slagheap of 100 million tons."

Charles Homans Last Secrets of the Bush Administration
Charles Homans, The Washington Monthly: "In March 2001, US Archivist John W. Carlin received a letter from Alberto Gonzales, then counsel to the newly inaugurated president George W. Bush. It concerned an important deadline that was looming - one that Bush owed to Richard Nixon."

Obama Wrapping Up Cabinet Picks With Richardson
Jeff Mason, Reuters: "President-elect Barack Obama moved swiftly toward wrapping up his cabinet appointments on Wednesday with the selection of rival-turned-supporter Bill Richardson as secretary of commerce."

The Chronicles of Favilla Alienated Patrimony
The authors writing as The Chronicles of Favilla for France's premier business paper, Les Echos, reflect on the "latest globalization news: South Korean company Daewoo Logistics is negotiating the 99-year rental of some 1.3 million hectares of agricultural lands with Madagascar's government - that is, a forty-fifth of the island's surface: as though France bestowed freedom of disposition over two of its departments to a foreign investor for a century."

On Traffic Checkpoints, Part Two, Or, When Does Safety Become Siege?

We gathered yesterday, Gentle Reader, for a discussion of the constitutionality of highway sobriety checkpoints.

In yesterday’s episode we learned that the Fourth Amendment, according to the Supreme Court, can be ignored if the challenges of enforcing the law seem too burdensome for the Government...and we learned that despite a history stretching all the way back to the 1700s and the British case Entick v. Carrington, the Court was, for the first time, willing to allow general search warrants on American soil.

Today we take the history a bit further...and then we talk about what happens when freedom is given away...and sadly, we need look no further than a few miles from the Capitol Building, in Washington DC itself, to see exactly what happens when freedom is suddenly gone and a community is placed under siege by the police—all, we suppose, for the community’s own good.

We have a lot of ground to cover, so we best get out on the proverbial road—and let’s see if we can avoid our own roadblocks along the way.

In yesterday’s conversation we described how the Supreme Court, in United States v. Martinez-Fuerte, 428 U.S. 543, had authorized the use of an “area search warrant” (a form of general search warrant) to authorize the stopping and searching of all vehicles passing the Customs and Border Protection immigration checkpoint at San Clemente, California.

This occurred despite the fact that there was no “probable cause”, as required by the Fourth Amendment, before any of the vehicles were searched—and despite the precedent of a recent similar case, United States v. Ortiz, 422 U.S. 891, in which the Court stated:

The Fourth Amendment [is] held to forbid Border Patrol officers, in the absence of consent or probable cause, to search private vehicles at traffic checkpoints removed from the border and its functional equivalents, and for this purpose there is no difference between a checkpoint and a roving patrol.

The Government had argued that it was impractical to find probable cause before conducting this type of search; therefore they were justified in ignoring the Fourth Amendment and establishing this checkpoint.

The Court agreed, and justified this conclusion by deciding that the searches were not “unreasonable”, and therefore a warrant was not required. Justices Brennan and Marshall, in dissent, reminded the majority that the inconvenience of the Government was no excuse for ignoring the clear language of the Constitution.

"Tyrant! You are a tyrant!"

--Washington State Supreme Court Justice Richard Sanders, to Attorney General Richard Mukasey, November 20, 2008

But that’s the old business.
Now it’s time to fast forward to Michigan, and a 1990 case, Michigan Department of State Police v. Sitz, 496 U.S. 444.

In 1986, Saginaw County, Michigan decided to set up a sobriety checkpoint in their County, and they had the advice of a State-level Sobriety Checkpoint Committee to assist them in planning an operation that would (hopefully) pass legal muster.

The day before the checkpoint went into operation, a lawsuit was filed seeking to shut the program down, and that lawsuit was successful. (The checkpoint did operate on one occasion, however, and we’ll discuss that evening in a moment.) On appeal, the suit was again upheld, and it was upheld again by the Michigan State Supreme Court.

Each Court agreed that the controlling authority for the decision was the ruling in Brown v. Texas, 443 U.S. 47, which said that in order to justify an intrusion by Government upon an individual’s privacy, the Government’s action had to pass a “three-prong test”.

In this instance the test required balancing the State’s interest in preventing these accidents, how effective sobriety checkpoints are in reducing the accidents, and how intrusive the checkpoints are upon the citizens.

The Michigan Courts held that the checkpoints were ineffective—and critical to that finding were the results of the one night the checkpoint did operate. Of the 142 cars stopped in the checkpoint’s 75 minutes of operation, only two drivers were cited for DUI.

(As a comparison, the Washington State Patrol was able to reduce traffic deaths 13%, in one year, by increasing enforcement on the highways. Checkpoints are not allowed in the State.)

Beyond that, it was further ruled that the stops were “subjectively” too intrusive to be justified under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to the US Constitution.

The US Supreme Court agreed to hear the case—and they did not agree with the Michigan Supreme Court’s thinking.

The Majority Opinion notes that the average motorist stop was 25 seconds, which they felt was a minimal degree of “objective” intrusion (an opinion shared by the State Court)...but they found no substantial “subjective” intrusion.

This is because, in their opinion, the average motorist should have no “fear or surprise” regarding a checkpoint. An examination of the ruling shows no recognition of any other factor as contributing to a subjective intrusion, including motorist annoyance or resentment.

Further, the Majority felt that stopping the 98.5% of the innocent motorists to catch the other 1.5% was, in fact, effective in ”advancing the public interest” in stopping drunk drivers (the controlling language from Brown v. Texas).

The case was remanded back to the Michigan State Supreme Court so that they might reconsider...and for the rest of the Nation, sobriety checkpoints had the Supreme Court’s seal of approval.

Ironically, in Michigan checkpoints are not allowed to this very day. The State Supreme Court, upon further review (as the referees like to say...), found that the checkpoint program violated the State Constitution’s search and seizure provisions; and does not permit them within the State.

There are other States that bar the checkpoints for similar reasons—we’ve mentioned Washington and Michigan; Louisiana (sort of) and Texas (for the moment) are others.

So that’s the history.
Now let’s talk about what’s happened since then.

“...for there is nothing as short sighted as a Politician unless it is a delegation of them.”

--Will Rogers, “Letters of a Self-Made Diplomat to His President”

What began as a tool to identify drinking drivers—and what was supposed to have no other purpose—has developed into a multi-purpose enforcement dragnet...exactly as Justices Brennan and Marshall predicted it would in Martinez-Fuerte.

In addition to sobriety checkpoints, we now have “seatbelt” checkpoints, proposed driver’s license checkpoints in Texas that apparently are actually intended to identify illegal immigrants...and, in an interesting new twist, we have checkpoints that exist to gather information about crimes that were recently committed at a location. The argument is that questioning everyone who passes by a location is not a stop or a search—even though the police are stopping people and...well, searching them.

Let’s stop for a quick “Checkpoint Bonus”.

If you would like to see exactly what happens when an individual refuses to cooperate with a CBP agent at an immigration checkpoint, have a look at this fascinating video, where the driver refuses to answer any questions...and in return, the CBP agent tries to avoid answering the questions “am I being detained?” and “am I free to go?”...and as it turns out, Terry Bressi’s lawsuit seeking to stop checkpoints had a hearing November 20th before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

And with that, let’s return to how checkpoints are used today.


The enforcement seems to be often directed at minority and poor communities...and the vast majority of arrests at the “sobriety checkpoints”, in many locales, are non-DUI/DWI related...and for some agencies, the goal seems to be the seizure of property rather than the original goal of stopping drunk driving.

According to some of the comments I received after Part One of this story was posted, being the guy with a Grateful Dead sticker on your car might be enough to guarantee you “special treatment”, regularly, no matter if you appear drunk or not. (Sound familiar to anyone?)

Which brings us to Pomona, California.

In Pomona, there is a strong perception that the Police’s traffic checkpoints target illegal immigrants and low-income Blacks and Hispanics.

The local newspaper, the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin, agrees, pointing out that 90% of the City’s checkpoint operations occur in low-income South Pomona...and, according to the paper, 99% of vehicles seized at the checkpoints are from drivers who were not charged with DUI.

Checkpoints may also have unintended side effects.

The paper points out that Pomona Police only solve 44% of their murder cases...while the State average is closer to 70%. It is suggested the hostile feelings between the community and the Police, caused by the checkpoints, are at the heart of this problem.

The checkpoints in Pomona, the paper reports, have involved as many as 70 officers, and at least one involved the “cordoning off” of a local market, presumably in an effort to snare a large group of shoppers. The paper wonders if criminals are taking advantage of this concentrated Police presence to strike in other parts of the City during the checkpoint operations.

In an effort to “start a dialog” with the community, several off-duty Pomona officers attended a community meeting regarding the checkpoints...and despite what the Supreme Court might think, apparently the “subjective” impact of the checkpoints was strong enough that the on-duty Police had to be called to extricate the off-duty Police from the meeting, according to attendees writing for the “Americans for Legal Immigration” Political Action Committee’s blog.

Similar complaints are being heard in the San Diego area as well.

Our next stop on the “Checkpoints Gone Wild Tour”: Illinois.

In order to “secure” an apartment complex in Rolling Meadows, the local police decided to set up a checkpoint on one of the complex’s 13 entrances—and then they blocked off all access to the other 12.

The checkpoint has been staffed every day from Noon to 8PM.

The 2,000 residents are thus required to submit to police scrutiny each and every time they wish to enter or leave their own homes and go anywhere in a car beyond the parking lot during those hours. (We are surprised, frankly, that the police only operate during those hours; we always thought that a lot of crime takes place at night....but what do we know?)

In Washington, Illinois, the local police closed off an entire neighborhood, demanded ID that proves drivers reside in the area, and did not allow outsiders to enter without what they consider to be a “legitimate reason” to be in the area, according to the local chapter of the ACLU.

In an effort to bring this sort of law enforcement to every State, the Federal Government, in the form of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, is now pushing the remaining States that don’t allow checkpoints to...reconsider...something the Governor of my own State, Washington, is trying to make happen...even though the State Supreme Court has already ruled the practice violates the State Constitution.

And finally, as promised, a quick visit to Washington, DC...theoretically, the world’s “Freedom Captiol”.

The City has successfully defended, before a US District Judge, a program that seals off the Trinidad neighborhood after a series of shootings. The Police are also turning away those they feel should not be in the area, and that was the source of the complaint. The ACLU’s reaction:

"My reaction is, welcome to Baghdad, D.C.," said Arthur Spitzer, legal director for the ACLU's Washington office. "I mean, this is craziness. In this country, you don't have to show identification or explain to the police why you want to travel down a public street."

And that, very neatly, describes the problem of checkpoints.

What began as a rare and unusual—and frankly, poorly justified—exception to the Fourth Amendment has morphed into a legal principle that allows law enforcement to choose to seal off entire communities, if they wish, to target populations based on no “particularized suspicion” (which often seems to be a low-income or minority population), to develop ever more creative and tortuous justifications for the targeting—and to do all of this because of our fear of crime, which has apparently overridden our trust in freedom...and because of our unwillingness to tackle the root causes of the problems that checkpoints can never really solve.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Continuity we can believe in

New York Times

The 2008 election results did not fundamentally change American foreign policy. The real change began a few years ago in Afghanistan and Iraq.

It began with colonels and captains fighting terror on the ground. They found that they could clear a town of the bad guys, but they had little capacity to establish rule of law or quality of life for the people they were trying to help. They quickly realized that the big challenge in this new era is not killing the enemy, it’s repairing the zones of chaos where enemies grow and breed. They realized, too, that Washington wasn’t providing them with the tools they needed to accomplish their missions.

Their observations and arguments filtered through military channels and back home, producing serious rethinking at the highest levels. On Jan. 18, 2006, Condoleezza Rice delivered a policy address at Georgetown University in which she argued that the fundamental threats now come from weak and failed states, not enemy powers.

In this new world, she continued, it is impossible to draw neat lines between security, democratization and development efforts. She called for a transformational diplomacy, in which State Department employees would do less negotiating and communiqué-writing. Instead, they’d be out in towns and villages doing broad campaign planning with military colleagues, strengthening local governments and implementing development projects.

Over the past year, Defense Secretary Robert Gates has delivered a series of remarkable speeches echoing and advancing Rice’s themes. “In recent years, the lines separating war, peace, diplomacy and development have become more blurred and no longer fit the neat organizational charts of the 20th century,” he said in Washington in July.

Gates does not talk about spreading democracy, at least in the short run. He talks about using integrated federal agencies to help locals improve the quality and responsiveness of governments in trouble spots around the world.

He has developed a way of talking about security and foreign policy that is now the lingua franca in government and think-tank circles. It owes a lot to the lessons of counterinsurgency and uses phrases like “full spectrum operations” to describe multidisciplinary security and development campaigns.

Gates has told West Point cadets that more regime change is unlikely but that they may spend parts of their careers training soldiers in allied nations. He has called for more spending on the State Department, foreign aid and a revitalized U.S. Information Agency. He’s spawned a flow of think-tank reports on how to marry hard and soft pre-emption.

The Bush administration began to implement these ideas, but in small and symbolic ways. President Bush called for a civilian corps to do nation-building. National Security Presidential Directive 44 laid out a framework so different agencies could coordinate foreign reconstruction and stabilization. The Millennium Challenge Account program created a method for measuring effective governance.

Actual progress was slow, but the ideas developed during the second Bush term have taken hold.

Some theoreticians may still talk about Platonic concepts like realism and neoconservatism, but the actual foreign policy doctrine of the future will be hammered out in a bottom-up process as the U.S. and its allies use their varied tools to build government capacity in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Lebanon, the Philippines and beyond. Grand strategists may imagine a new global architecture built at high-level summits, but the real global architecture of the future will emerge organically from these day-to-day nation-building operations.

During the campaign, Barack Obama embraced Gates’s language. During his press conference on Monday, he used all the right code words, speaking of integrating and rebalancing the nation’s foreign policy capacities. He nominated Hillary Clinton and James Jones, who have been champions of this approach, and retained Gates. Their cooperation on an integrated strategy might prevent some of the perennial feuding between the Pentagon, Foggy Bottom and the National Security Council.

As Stephen Flanagan of the Center for Strategic and International Studies notes, Obama’s challenge will be to actually implement the change. That would include increasing the size of the State Department, building a civilian corps that can do development in dangerous parts of the world, creating interagency nation-building institutions, helping local reformers build governing capacity in fragile places like Pakistan and the Palestinian territories and exporting American universities while importing more foreign students.

Given the events of the past years, the U.S. is not about to begin another explicit crusade to spread democracy. But decent, effective and responsive government would be a start.

Obama and his team didn’t invent this approach. But if they can put it into action, that would be continuity we can believe in.

FP morning post 12/2

Top Story

The staggering global economy took a few more shots to the gut yesterday.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average posted a 680-point loss as the National Bureau of Economic Research reported that the U.S. economy had already been in recession for a full year -- since December 2007.

But that wasn't the only economic news spooking investors Monday. A key index showed U.S. manufacturing activity as weaker than it has been since 1982, and similar indexes show declines in Britain, China, Europe, and Russia.

Construction spending in the United States is falling faster than expected. And new-car sales are collapsing across the world.

"Economic conditions will probably remain weak for a time," Ben Bernanke warned in a speech in Austin, Texas. The Federal Reserve chairman indicated that a new round of interest-rate cuts may be in the offing, though with the nominal benchmark rate at 1 percent, he suggested that more radical options might be necessary. Yields on 10- and 30-year Treasury bills fell to record lows as investors speculated that the Fed might begin buying the bonds itself to push down the cost of long-term borrowing.

Henry Paulson also made comments yesterday, in which the Treasury secretary said he was looking for new ways to spend the $700 billion bailout allocated to him by the Congress.

U.S. Presidential Transition
As expected, President-elect Barack Obama named his national-security team.

Venezuela's Hugo Chavez is making a fresh push to strip presidential term limits from the country's constitution.
At least nine people have been decapitated in Tijuana, Mexico, since Saturday.
A Peruvian general has provoked a minor diplomatic crisis by saying that Chileans in Peru should be sent home in body bags.

India has ruled out war, but is stepping up the pressure on Pakistan to hand over terrorism-related "fugitives" such as Dawood Ibrahim.
Thailand's Consitutional Court ruled that PM Songchai Wongsawat must step down and also disbanded his political party. The airport seige has ended.
China is contending with reverse migration as jobs dry up in Chinese cities.

Middle East and Africa
An Iraqi court has slapped "Chemical Ali" with a second death sentence.
Jewish settlers are rioting in the troubled West Bank town of Hebron over rumors that some of them might be evacuated.
Cholera has killed nearly 500 people in Zimbabwe since August.

European finance ministers have gathered in Brussels to hash out an EU-wide stimulus plan. But German Chancellor Angela Merkel says nein.
European leaders have agreed to deep cuts in vehicle emissions.
The Netherlands have banned psychadelic mushrooms.

Today's Agenda
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is meeting with NATO foreign ministers in Brussels. At issue: Georgia and Ukraine's membership bids and NATO's relationship with Russia.
Today is the International Day for the Abolition of Slavery.
The U.N.'s final report on the assassination of former Lebanese PM Rafiq al-Hariri has been distributed to member states and is expected to be released today.

Truthout 12/2

Jeremy Scahill Barack Obama's Kettle of Hawks
Jeremy Scahill, The Guardian UK: "Barack Obama has assembled a team of rivals to implement his foreign policy. But while pundits and journalists speculate endlessly on the potential for drama with Hillary Clinton at the state department and Bill Clinton's network of shady funders, the real rivalry that will play out goes virtually unmentioned. The main battles will not be between Obama's staff, but rather against those who actually want a change in US foreign policy, not just a staff change in the war room."

Dow Plunges 680 Points as Recession Is Declared
Michael M. Grynbaum, The New York Times: "The evidence of a recession has been widespread for months: slower production, stagnant wages and hundreds of thousands of lost jobs. But the nonpartisan National Bureau of Economic Research, charged with making the call for the history books, waited until now to make it official - and the announcement came on a day when the American stock market fell nearly 9 percent in a single session."

Consensus Emerging on Universal Health Care
Noam N. Levey, The Los Angeles Times: "After decades of failed efforts to reshape the nation's healthcare system, a consensus appears to be emerging in Washington about how to achieve the elusive goal of providing medical insurance to all Americans. The answer, say leading groups of businesses, hospitals, doctors, labor unions and insurance companies - as well as senior lawmakers on Capitol Hill and members of the new Obama administration - is unprecedented government intervention to create a system of universal protection."

Michael Grunwald What's Really at Stake in Georgia's Senate Runoff
Michael Grunwald, Time Magazine: "Some political observers think Tuesday's Senate runoff in Georgia is a big deal, because a victory by underdog Jim Martin over incumbent Republican Saxby Chambliss would keep alive the Democratic Party's dreams of a filibuster-proof 60-seat majority to move its agenda successfully through the Senate. Other experts see the race as a big deal for the opposite reason; Democrats with a filibuster-proof 60-seat Senate majority as well as control of the House and White House could overreach, leading to a conservative backlash in 2010. But really, there's no such thing as a 'filibuster-proof 60-seat majority.'"

Maleeha Lodhi Fallout Will Hit Obama's Afghan Plan
Maleeha Lodhi, The Independent UK: "The terrorist attacks in Mumbai have dramatised how the urgent will often take precedence over the important for the incoming Obama administration. The attacks have plunged relations between Pakistan and India into unpredictable territory just when a series of policy reviews in Washington are focussed on overhauling strategy in Afghanistan. With Afghanistan in a 'downward spiral' Washington is groping for a new strategy."

Eric Weltman and Paul Lachelier Obama and Beyond
Eric Weltman and Paul Lachelier, Truthout: "On November 4, Americans made history by sending Barack Obama to the White House. Only decades after blacks were murdered for simply trying to vote, it was a powerful and inspiring moment. Now, Americans have the chance to make the future. By electing Obama, we've created a window of opportunity to make progress on a range of concerns, from ending the war in Iraq to establishing health care as a universal right to preventing climate change. But Obama can't do it alone. He must collaborate with Congress, of course, but he also needs organized voices outside of Washington, from unions to community groups, to maintain the demand for change that was heard very loud and clear on Election Day."

In Courtroom Showdown, Bush Demands Amnesty for Spying Telecoms
David Kravets, "The Bush administration on Tuesday will try to convince a federal judge to let stand a law granting retroactive legal immunity to the nation's telecoms, which are accused of transmitting Americans' private communications to the National Security Agency without warrants."

Robert Reich The Great Crash of 2008
Robert Reich: "If this isn't a Great Crash I don't know how to define one. Stocks were down another 7 percent today. Since the peak of last year, major stock indexes have dropped 47 percent. We're in range of the Great Crash of 1929. Why is the Great Crash of 2008 happening? First, because investors are beginning to understand the enormity of the bubble economy that began to form in the late 1990s when all constraints were lifted on borrowing in order to buy everything that was assumed to be increasing in value -- starting with houses and including securities and shares of stock themselves."

Major Shifts at Pentagon Anticipated in Obama Administration
Ann Scott Tyson, The Washington Post: "Although President-elect Barack Obama's decision to keep Robert M. Gates at the helm of the Pentagon will provide a measure of continuity for a military fighting two wars, many of Gates's top deputies are expected to depart their jobs, according to senior defense and transition officials."

Franken May Seek Senate's Help to Win Race
Michael O'Brien, The Hill: "Al Franken's (D) campaign may ask the Democratic-led Senate to intervene on his behalf to allow some disqualified absentee ballots to be counted in his quest to unseat Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.). Franken attorney Marc Elias made the case to reporters Monday that as many as 1,000 absentee ballots were improperly disqualified and that the Senate or the courts may need to step in to resolve the issue."

Philippe Escande The World Hangs in the Balance
Philippe Escande, at Les Echos, argues that the delegates from 190 countries meeting in Poznan this week must focus on climate change, even though other issues appear equally pressing, while Herve Kempf reports in Le Monde about the potential for carbon emission permits to become a huge source of corruption.

A human rights agenda for new president


The Barack Obama presidency will face unprecedented challenges as the world confronts the triple challenges of a collapsing international financial system, climate change and energy scarcity.

Many Americans are hopeful that new leadership can help our country weather these crises. But addressing these challenges will require strong leadership and some fundamental shifts in policy.

It is therefore very significant that people in our community are commemorating the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Community groups, working with the Michiana Social Forum and the St. Joseph Valley Project Jobs with Justice, have been working to educate residents about the UDHR and unite diverse groups around policies that help realize human rights in our city and region.

We invite people in our community to come together to help make the next administration's agenda a human rights agenda with the UDHR as a road map.

The UDHR is an international document, but Americans' leadership was key to its realization. Eleanor Roosevelt, our representative to the United Nations, worked tirelessly to convince governments to adopt these basic rights.

The document itself reflects the words and hopes of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, in defense of the "four freedoms": freedom from fear, freedom from want, freedom of speech and freedom of worship. FDR called for an economic bill of rights to complement our existing protections for political rights. He declared:

"...We cannot be content, no matter how high that general standard of living may be, if some fraction of our people -- whether it be one-third or one-fifth or one-tenth -- is ill-fed, ill-clothed, ill-housed, and insecure."

As we face an economy that many compare with the Depression-era's, and as more Americans face prospects of joblessness and homelessness, we should remember these words and their importance for building a just and peaceful society. If we fail to address the needs of more people, our country will become more polarized and violent, making it difficult to unite around the environmental and resource challenges we inevitably face.

Martin Luther King Jr. summed up this predicament, "injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."

Imagine a society where everyone had a right to be free from discrimination (UDHR Articles 1-3), to Social Security (Article 22), to decent work and the right to organize at work (Article 23, 24).

Imagine if our society committed itself to implementing Articles 25 and 26 of the UDHR to ensure for everyone a standard of living "adequate for the well-being of himself and his family" and to guarantee that every child could realize a right to an education that aimed to achieve the "full development of the human personality" (Article 26).

Instead, we have a society where:

* 7 percent of Indiana children (under the age of 18) live in poverty.
* # 860,000 Hoosiers -- 14 percent of the state's population -- lack health insurance coverage.
* 159,000 children in this state lack health insurance.
* Far fewer workers enjoy the opportunity to join a union today than they did 30 years ago.
* Migrant workers -- who are forced to leave their homes to provide for their families' basic needs -- frequently face discrimination and violence.
* Some residents of Michiana still face discrimination at work and in the larger society.

Although the actions of world leaders have fallen far short of the ideals of the UDHR, one lesson we can take from history is that no political leader has ever recognized a human right without pressure from ordinary people to demand those rights.

Indeed, most analysts would say that without concerted pressure from citizens, we would not have any legal recognition of human rights.

With the support of the South Bend Human Rights Commission and First Source Bank, we have printed a pocket-size version of the UDHR for distribution in the community. Our aim is to put human rights "in everyone's hands," so people can know and claim their human rights more effectively.

As Eleanor Roosevelt said:
"Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home -- so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world. Yet they are the world of the individual person; the neighborhood he lives in; the school or college he attends; the factory, farm, or office where he works.

Such are the places where every man, woman, and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere.

Without concerted citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world."

We invite everyone to come celebrate the UDHR anniversary on Saturday from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. at the United Auto Workers, Local 5, 1426 S. Main Street, South Bend.

We will have a birthday cake competition by local bakeries, music and theater performances and art on display to commemorate the anniversary. The event will also help us realize economic rights in our community by raising food and funds for northern Indiana food banks, so bring a friend and bring a buck or a can and come join the celebration.

For more details about the party and the larger human rights initiative, see

Jackie Smith is a South Bend resident.

Shields and Brooks analyze Obama's economic team

from the NewsHour with Jim Lehrer

Monday, December 1, 2008

On Traffic Checkpoints, Part One, Or, Freedom? That's So...Inefficient

The holidays are in full swing...or at least they are in the US...which means your days—and nights—are full of running around like crazy. There’s a million things to do, a thousand errands to run, and...are you kidding me?!

A police sobriety roadblock?

That’s right: there’s a crowd of officers all around you, there’s no way to avoid it...and even though you’ve committed no crime whatsoever, you get to talk to the police...and if they decide it’s acceptable, you may continue on your way.

How can this be legal in America?
Does it actually serve any purpose?
And what happens when the police decide to blockade your neighborhood--for your own good?

Believe it or not, it’s my job today and tomorrow to answer those questions...and beyond that, to defend the simple right of Americans to go somewhere if we feel like it, without having to explain it to the police...and in today’s discussion, I intend to set the stage through an examination of history.

Sobriety checkpoints are an effective law enforcement tool involving the stopping of vehicles or a specific sequence of vehicles, at a predetermined fixed location, to accomplish two goals: raise the public’s perception of being arrested for driving while impaired (DWI ), and detection of drivers impaired by alcohol and/or other drugs.

--National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, “Low-Staffing Sobriety Checkpoints

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

--The Fourth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States

So, you might ask, how is it that the Fourth Amendment is interpreted to allow searches that are not based upon any probable cause whatever—in fact, that aren’t directed toward any particular individual, but instead, against anyone and everyone that can be processed through a location?

Oddly enough, this whole story, you could say, starts at Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) San Clemente Station, an immigration checkpoint located roughly 60 miles north of the Mexican Border near San Diego, California (and the home of the famous “running family” traffic signs), where all northbound traffic on the Interstate 5 Freeway is required to stop for an inspection by CBP officers.

If an officer chooses, he can order any vehicle, for any reason, or for none at all, to pull over for a “Secondary Inspection”. That inspection can lead to a search of the vehicle, and possibly the arrest of its occupants.

A Mr. Amado Martinez-Fuerte was arrested at the checkpoint, after such an inspection, for illegally transporting aliens (the two passengers in his car), and when he got to trial his attorney moved to suppress all evidence based on a Fourth Amendment claim, specifically that absent any particular probable cause, the stop and search of his vehicle were illegal. That claim was denied at trial, but upheld upon appeal to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

His claim and a case with similar context but a differing result from the Fifth Circuit were eventually consolidated and reconciled by the United States Supreme Court in 1976 in United States v. Martinez-Fuerte, 428 U.S. 543.

"The scheme of the Fourth Amendment becomes meaningful only when it is assured that at some point the conduct of those charged with enforcing the laws can be subjected to the more detached, neutral scrutiny of a judge who must evaluate the reasonableness of a particular search or seizure in light of the particular circumstances.

And in making that assessment it is imperative that the facts be judged against an objective standard . . . . Anything less would invite intrusions upon constitutionally guaranteed rights based on nothing more substantial than inarticulate hunches, a result this Court has consistently refused to sanction...

... This demand for specificity in the information upon which police action is predicated is the central teaching of this Court's Fourth Amendment jurisprudence. "

--Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S., at 21-22

The Fourth Amendment [is] held to forbid Border Patrol officers, in the absence of consent or probable cause, to search private vehicles at traffic checkpoints removed from the border and its functional equivalents, and for this purpose there is no difference between a checkpoint and a roving patrol.

--United States v. Ortiz, 422 U.S. 891

And with those inspiring words to guide them, the Court’s majority decided to completely ignore the text of the Fourth Amendment and established precedent and uphold the right of Government agents to search you, even if you’re not suspected of anything at all (and in fact, upholding the “inarticulate hunch” standard)...because the Court felt it was really inconvenient to have to have a reason to search people:

To require that such stops always be based on reasonable suspicion would be impractical because the flow of traffic tends to be too heavy to allow the particularized study of a given car necessary to identify it as a possible carrier of illegal aliens. Such a requirement also would largely eliminate any deterrent to the conduct of well-disguised smuggling operations, even though smugglers are known to use these highways regularly.

In order to justify this line of thought, the majority adopted a line of logic that suggested that the Government had an overriding need to stop the smuggling of aliens, that this is an effective way to prevent the smuggling of aliens...and that you would find the fact that you have to be stopped and searched as you go about your day—even though you’ve done nothing wrong—so minimal of an intrusion that a warrant would be unnecessary. From the majority opinion:

While the need to make routine checkpoint stops is great, the consequent intrusion on Fourth Amendment interests is quite limited. The stop does intrude to a limited extent on motorists' right to "free passage without [428 U.S. 543, 558] interruption," Carroll v. United States, 267 U.S. 132, 154 (1925), and arguably on their right to personal security. But it involves only a brief detention of travelers during which

"`[a]ll that is required of the vehicle's occupants is a response to a brief question or two and possibly the production of a document evidencing a right to be in the United States.'" United States v. Brignoni-Ponce, supra, at 880.

Strangely enough, what the majority finds concerning is that citizens might object to being stopped and searched because the people running the operation might be some sort of fake police—not the fact that we’re being stopped and questioned in the first place:

"[T]he circumstances surrounding a checkpoint stop and search are far less intrusive than those attending a roving-patrol stop. Roving patrols often operate at night on seldom-traveled roads, and their approach may frighten motorists. At traffic checkpoints the motorist can see that other vehicles are being stopped, he can see visible signs of the officers' authority, and he is much less likely to be frightened or annoyed by the intrusion." 422 U.S., at 894-895...

... The regularized manner in which established checkpoints are operated is visible evidence, reassuring to law-abiding motorists, that the stops are duly authorized and believed to serve the public interest....”

Beyond that, the majority felt that there is a justification for certain forms of “general search warrants”, based on a prior building inspection case (Camara v. Municipal Court, 387 U.S. 523)...meaning that a magistrate can legally issue an “area warrant” permitting the search of any vehicle passing a particular place.

Is this “checkpoint search” technique effective?

According to the record in the case, only 1 in 1,000 vehicles stopped and questioned at the checkpoint contained any deportable aliens, and more than ¾ of the vehicles stopped for Secondary Inspection were in fact unconnected with any smuggling activity.

My guess is that the police could simply choose vehicles that contain Mexican-looking drivers randomly and achieve similar results—and that guess is based on the fact that, at the checkpoint, that’s basically what they do, as the record reveals.

We are going to wrap this up in a minute, but I want to offer a few salient quotes from the dissent in this case:

Today's decision is the ninth this Term marking the continuing evisceration of Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable searches and seizures... the Court's decision today virtually empties the Amendment of its reasonableness requirement by holding that law enforcement officials manning fixed checkpoint stations who make standardless seizures of persons do not violate the Amendment. This holding cannot be squared with this Court's recent decisions in United States v. Ortiz...

...This defacement of Fourth Amendment protections is arrived at by a balancing process that overwhelms the individual's protection against unwarranted official intrusion by a governmental interest said to justify the search and seizure. But that method is only a convenient cover for condoning arbitrary official conduct...

...The motorist whose conduct has been nothing but innocent - and this is overwhelmingly the case - surely resents his own detention and inspection. And checkpoints, unlike roving stops, detain thousands of motorists, a dragnetlike procedure offensive to the sensibilities of free citizens. Also, the delay occasioned by stopping hundreds of vehicles on a busy highway is particularly irritating...

... Every American citizen of Mexican ancestry and every Mexican alien lawfully in this country must know after today's decision that he travels the fixed checkpoint highways at the risk of being subjected not only to a stop, but also to detention and interrogation, both prolonged and to an extent far more than for non-Mexican appearing motorists...

... Finally, the Court's argument fails for more basic reasons. There is no principle in the jurisprudence of fundamental rights which permits constitutional limitations to be dispensed with merely because they cannot be conveniently satisfied.”

So that’s today’s Part One: the sobriety checkpoint that has you ensnared and irritated—again—is only Constitutional because our Government feels that when it comes to catching criminals it’s just too big a pain to follow the rules we set out for them...and all of this is based on an immigration control checkpoint ruling.

When we return, we’ll examine another ruling, Michigan Department of State Police v. Sitz (496 U.S. 444), which specifically authorized sobriety checkpoints...then we’ll see how checkpoints have morphed into something that, at its worst, allows authorities to literally lay siege to a neighborhood, as is happening even today in the Nation’s Capitol...and, finally, we’ll examine the efforts by the Federal Government to spread checkpoints to the states that today ban them.

Defending "rules of the road"

Don Wheeler

Remarks as prepared for the South Bend Community School Corporation Board of Trustees business meeting of Dec. 1, 2008

I have presided over business meetings of from five to over three hundred people, and have participated in many others – going all the way back to my teen years. I only mention this because I want you to know that I have at least some appreciation of your challenges and particularly those of your Chair. But it would be fair to say that I have never before experienced the atmosphere of our November 17th meeting together.

Madame President (and to all your successors), I urge you to require respectful conduct by all who meet here. You and we have important business to transact at these meetings. To that end, requiring that all comments be addressed to The Chair might help. If I’m mad at this person, but have to address my grievance to you, the temperature will naturally be turned down a few degrees. After all - I’m not mad at you.

I would also suggest that the Board appoint a Parliamentarian. In a perfect world, I’d like it if all Trustees were familiar with the basics of Robert’s Rules of Order, but that isn’t what your job is. The answer then is to have someone whose job it is.

I think some people have the wrong idea about Robert’s Rules. There is a notion that it is a method to exert power by the presiding officer. Actually, it binds everyone to the same set of rules – creating order. Everyone here has earned the right to be here – one way or another. Order ensures the dignity and the right to participate for all of us.

Finally, what I’d wish for all of us to do - before we take an action, or make a statement – ask ourselves this: “Will what I’m about to say or do work towards the goal of better outcomes for our children?”

When we all can consistently answer that question with a “yes”, I believe we will be able to do amazing things.

Thank you, and good luck.

Michiana to commemorate the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

December 6 Celebration planned for 60th Anniversary

A coalition of area organizations and individuals are planning a party in honor the 60th Anniversary of the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). The UDHR was passed unanimously by the United Nations' General Assembly in the wake of the horrors of WWII. This visionary document includes 30 Articles that cover civil, political, social, economic, and cultural rights for all human beings.

The public is invited to join us at the UAW Local #5 Hall (located at 1426 S. Main St. in South Bend) on Saturday December 6th from 2 to 5pm. At the party there will be live music, a fun skit, a short documentary film on the history of South Bend's Natatorium as well as speakers from the local social justice community. Birthday cake and some other light refreshments will be served.

Speakers include:

Scott Van de Putte (UAW #5)
Lonnie Douglas (Executive Dir. South Bend Human Rights Commission)
Paul Mishler (Professor of Labor Studies, IU-South Bend)
Joe Carbone (Jobs with Justice/St. Joe Valley Project)
Gene Knapp (Teamsters #364/Housing Authority campaign)
Kathy Liggett (Michiana Peace and Justice Coalition, WAND Network)
Charlotte Pfeiffer (former South Bend Common Councilperson, currently with IU-South Bend)
Rebecca Revalcaba (La Casa de Amistad)
Debra Stanley (Imani Unidad)
Wendell Wiebe-Powell (Goshen-area sustainability and social justice activist)
Student representatives from the University of Notre Dame and IU-South Bend

This is a wonderful opportunity for our community to come together to support Human Rights!

**Student groups and community organizations are welcome to set up informational tables. To reserve a table, please leave a message for Rick Kring at (574) 532-2826 or (574) 234-6031.

We are asking attendees to bring donatable items or a love donation (A donation of $1.00 will enable the Food Bank to purchase $8.00 worth of food) help support the Food Bank of Northern Indiana. They are seeking the following items:

Boxed Items
Mac & Cheese
Dry pasta, rice
Hamburger / tuna helper
Potato flakes
Juice boxes
Granola, nuts
Pancake mix
Taco / burrito dinners

Canned Items
Meat, chicken, or tuna
Spaghetti O's, Stews, etc.
Family sized soups
Spaghetti sauce
Beans: baked, refried, black, dry, green, etc.

Plastic containers
Peanut butter

WHAT: Community Celebration of the 60th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

WHERE: UAW Local #5 located at 1426 S. Main St. just south of downtown South Bend

WHEN: Saturday December 6th from 2 to 5pm

WHO: Everyone!

For more information:

Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Michiana Social Forum
(574) 807-1349

Fp morning post 12/1

Top Story

U.S. President-elect Barack Obama is expected to name his national security team during today's press conference in Chicago.

The lineup: Robert Gates at defense, Hillary Clinton at state, Gen. James L. Jones (ret.) as national security advisor, and Susan Rice as ambassador to the United Nations (with cabinet rank). He's also expected to name Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano as head of homeland security and Eric Holder as attorney general (the intel team is not quite ready).

What will they do in office? It's too early to tell, but all of these folks, David Sanger observes, "have embraced a sweeping shift of priorities and resources in the national security arena."

The press conference is at 10:40 a.m. ET.

The Pentagon plans to shift 20,000 troops for homeland security duties in the United States.

The Indian public is demanding accountability for the Mumbai attacks. U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is heading to New Delhi this week to show solidarity with India.
Thailand is turning to the Constitutional Court to resolve its political crisis, but protesters have maintained their grip on the airport just in case.
North Korea has carried out its threat to close the border with South Korea.
Chinese President Hu Jintao warned that "China's traditional competitive advantage is being gradually weakened" as the global economy goes into recession. China's manufacturing sector is slowing rapidly.
A car bomb killed eight people in Pakistan's Swat valley.

Middle East and Africa
Israel's navy turned back a Libyan ship that was bringing 3,000 tons of humanitarian aid to Gaza.
At least 32 people have been killed in bomb attacks in Baghdad and Mosul, Iraq. Also, the civilian death toll rose in November.

Britain is flirting with the euro.
Romania's general elections, the first since joining the EU, are too close to call.
A senior German general says his country's performance in Afghanistan has been a "miserable failure."

Today's Agenda
NATO foreign ministers meet this week in Brussels to discuss Georgia and Ukraine.
Today is World AIDS Day.
Poznan, Poland, hosts two weeks of U.N.-sponsored climate talks.

Deficits, and the future

New York Times

Right now there’s intense debate about how aggressive the United States government should be in its attempts to turn the economy around. Many economists, myself included, are calling for a very large fiscal expansion to keep the economy from going into free fall. Others, however, worry about the burden that large budget deficits will place on future generations.

But the deficit worriers have it all wrong. Under current conditions, there’s no trade-off between what’s good in the short run and what’s good for the long run; strong fiscal expansion would actually enhance the economy’s long-run prospects.

The claim that budget deficits make the economy poorer in the long run is based on the belief that government borrowing “crowds out” private investment — that the government, by issuing lots of debt, drives up interest rates, which makes businesses unwilling to spend on new plant and equipment, and that this in turn reduces the economy’s long-run rate of growth. Under normal circumstances there’s a lot to this argument.

But circumstances right now are anything but normal. Consider what would happen next year if the Obama administration gave in to the deficit hawks and scaled back its fiscal plans.

Would this lead to lower interest rates? It certainly wouldn’t lead to a reduction in short-term interest rates, which are more or less controlled by the Federal Reserve. The Fed is already keeping those rates as low as it can — virtually at zero — and won’t change that policy unless it sees signs that the economy is threatening to overheat. And that doesn’t seem like a realistic prospect any time soon.

What about longer-term rates? These rates, which are already at a half-century low, mainly reflect expected future short-term rates. Fiscal austerity could push them even lower — but only by creating expectations that the economy would remain deeply depressed for a long time, which would reduce, not increase, private investment.

The idea that tight fiscal policy when the economy is depressed actually reduces private investment isn’t just a hypothetical argument: it’s exactly what happened in two important episodes in history.

The first took place in 1937, when Franklin Roosevelt mistakenly heeded the advice of his own era’s deficit worriers. He sharply reduced government spending, among other things cutting the Works Progress Administration in half, and also raised taxes. The result was a severe recession, and a steep fall in private investment.

The second episode took place 60 years later, in Japan. In 1996-97 the Japanese government tried to balance its budget, cutting spending and raising taxes. And again the recession that followed led to a steep fall in private investment.

Just to be clear, I’m not arguing that trying to reduce the budget deficit is always bad for private investment. You can make a reasonable case that Bill Clinton’s fiscal restraint in the 1990s helped fuel the great U.S. investment boom of that decade, which in turn helped cause a resurgence in productivity growth.

What made fiscal austerity such a bad idea both in Roosevelt’s America and in 1990s Japan were special circumstances: in both cases the government pulled back in the face of a liquidity trap, a situation in which the monetary authority had cut interest rates as far as it could, yet the economy was still operating far below capacity.

And we’re in the same kind of trap today — which is why deficit worries are misplaced.

One more thing: Fiscal expansion will be even better for America’s future if a large part of the expansion takes the form of public investment — of building roads, repairing bridges and developing new technologies, all of which make the nation richer in the long run.

Should the government have a permanent policy of running large budget deficits? Of course not. Although public debt isn’t as bad a thing as many people believe — it’s basically money we owe to ourselves — in the long run the government, like private individuals, has to match its spending to its income.

But right now we have a fundamental shortfall in private spending: consumers are rediscovering the virtues of saving at the same moment that businesses, burned by past excesses and hamstrung by the troubles of the financial system, are cutting back on investment. That gap will eventually close, but until it does, government spending must take up the slack. Otherwise, private investment, and the economy as a whole, will plunge even more.

The bottom line, then, is that people who think that fiscal expansion today is bad for future generations have got it exactly wrong. The best course of action, both for today’s workers and for their children, is to do whatever it takes to get this economy on the road to recovery.

Truthout 12/1

Pakistan May Move Troops From Afghan to Indian Border
Saed Shah, McClatchy Newspapers: "Pakistan has warned that it will divert troops fighting the Taliban and al Qaida on its western border with Afghanistan to its eastern frontier with India, as tensions over the terror attacks in Mumbai push India and Pakistan towards military confrontation. Washington may be forced to mediate as Indian officials declared that their country was being put on a virtual war footing. Indian officials have squarely blamed Pakistan while its media have reported detailed but unconfirmed accounts from unnamed security officials, that last week's assault on the commercial capital Mumbai was planned and launched from Pakistan."

Matthew Alexander I'm Still Tortured by What I Saw in Iraq
Matthew Alexander, The Washington Post: "I should have felt triumphant when I returned from Iraq in August 2006. Instead, I was worried and exhausted. My team of interrogators had successfully hunted down one of the most notorious mass murderers of our generation, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq and the mastermind of the campaign of suicide bombings that had helped plunge Iraq into civil war. But instead of celebrating our success, my mind was consumed with the unfinished business of our mission: fixing the deeply flawed, ineffective and un-American way the US military conducts interrogations in Iraq. I'm still alarmed about that today."

Economic Rescue Could Cost $8.5 Trillion
Jim Puzzanghera, The Los Angeles Times: "With its decision last week to pump an additional $1 trillion into the financial crisis, the government eliminated any doubt that the nation is on a wartime footing in the battle to shore up the economy. The strategy now -- and in the coming Obama administration -- is essentially the win-at-any-cost approach previously adopted only to wage a major war. And that means no hesitation in pledging to spend previously almost unimaginable sums of money and running up federal budget deficits on a scale not seen since World War II."

Al Gore: Don't Count on Magic
Fareed Zakaria, Newsweek: "Former Vice President Al Gore-now a Nobel Prize winner and the world's most prominent environmentalist-isn't looking for another job in Washington. But his eloquent warnings about the dangers of global climate change have obviously helped shape the priorities of the incoming Obama administration. Gore talks about a bailout for Detroit, the greening of China and the elusive promise of 'clean coal.'"

Matthew Yglesias How to Repair Our Relationship With Europe
Matthew Yglesias, The American Prospect: "It's not as scary as the Middle East or as sexy as rising powers like China and India (and, sometimes, Russia, Brazil, and South Africa), but in many respects, the most important region for U.S. foreign policy in 2008 is the same as it was in 1908 or 1808 -- Europe. After all, the European Union's almost $17 trillion gross domestic product is the largest in the world by a healthy margin. Alternatively, counted as individual countries, EU members make up five of the 10 largest economies in the world."

Steve Weissman Gen. Jim Jones: What Kool-Aid Will He Offer Obama?
Steve Weissman, Truthout: "'We believe that success in Afghanistan remains a critical national security imperative for the United States and the international community.' That's quite a mouthful, I know, and the awkward syntax should alert readers to what a gargantuan task General Jones has in mind for the incoming administration."

Two Bombings Kill at Least 30 Iraqis
Katherine Zoepf and Alissa J. Rubin, The New York Times: "Suicide bombings in Baghdad and Mosul took the lives of at least 30 Iraqis on Monday in carnage that recalled levels of violence from before the American troop build-up."

Chris Hedges Confronting the Terrorist Within Chris Hedges, Truthdig: "The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, when viewed from the receiving end, are state-sponsored acts of terrorism. These wars defy every ethical and legal code that seek to determine when a nation can wage war, from Just War Theory to the statutes of international law largely put into place by the United States after World War II. These wars are criminal wars of aggression. They have left hundreds of thousands of people, who never took up arms against us, dead and seen millions driven from their homes. We have no right as a nation to debate the terms of these occupations. And an Afghan villager, burying members of his family's wedding party after an American airstrike, understands in a way we often do not that terrorist attacks can also be unleashed from the arsenals of an imperial power."

Sara Daniel Al-Qaeda Succeeding in Pakistan
Sara Daniel, Le Nouvel Observateur: "At Washington's request, the Pakistani army has grudgingly undertaken to reestablish its authority in the tribal regions where Afghan Taliban and bin Laden's fighters move around freely. But the multiple blunders of American bombing are not helping Islamabad to fight against jihadists' growing influence ..."