Saturday, January 31, 2009

Senate Committee Approves Education Aid in Stimulus Plan

from NIEER

Early childhood programs, school districts, and colleges will receive a one-time injection of $125 billion in emergency aid if the spending portion of the stimulus package approved by the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee becomes law.

The Senate version mirrors much of the education spending outlined in the House stimulus bill. Both provide $1 billion in increased funding for Head Start and a $1.1 billion increase for Early Head Start. Both provide $2 billion more for Child Care and Development Block Grants. The Senate bill increases the funding for school renovation and construction from the $14 billion in the House bill to $16 billion. Another $25 billion in state and local aid would be flexible, enabling state and local entities to determine spending priorities, which could include school support. The Senate version ties early childhood programs and early childhood education together more closely than the House bill and contains important provisions for quality. New America Foundation's Sara Mead explains the nuances in her blog.

Why Atheists come to church

From All Souls Church of NYC
Sermon delivered by Rev. Marlin Lavanhar, Senior Minister, on January 25, 2009 at All Souls Unitarian Church.

Truthout 1/31

Obama Team Looks for Opening in Iran
David S. Cloud, "President Barack Obama is saying he wants a new, more open relationship with Iranian leaders - but his new team is hoping Tehran will make the first move. They're insisting that this isn't a back-track from Obama's call during the campaign for 'tough, direct presidential diplomacy with Iran without preconditions.'"

Obama Unlikely to Widen Afghan War
Anne Gearan, The Associated Press: "President Barack Obama campaigned on a promise to redirect US troops and resources to Afghanistan from Iraq, but he has done little so far to suggest he will significantly widen the grinding war with insurgents in Afghanistan. On the contrary, Obama appears likely to streamline the US focus with an eye to the worsening economy and the cautionary example of the Iraq war that sapped political support for President George W. Bush."

Iraqis Stream to the Polls Amid Tight Security
Sudarsan Raghavan, The Washington Post: "Iraqis streamed past police cordons and barbed wire as they went to the polls on Saturday to vote in their first elections in four years, widely seen as a test of Iraq's stability as the US role in Iraq diminishes. The all-important provincial elections are viewed as a key indicator of whether the nation can build upon fragile security gains and address imbalances in power that still plague many areas. More than 14,000 candidates are running for 440 seats to lead councils that are the equivalent of state legislatures in the United States."

Progressive Faith Groups Now Trying to Shift Debate
Jacqueline L. Salmon and Michelle Boorstein, The Washington Post: "With a president they view as more sympathetic to their causes, progressive religious activists are pushing the new Obama administration for aggressive action - on poverty, the environment and social justice issues - that would mark a significant shift in the faith agenda that dominated the Bush years. Many faith groups close to President George W. Bush focused on abortion, stem cell research and same-sex marriage. But now, liberal and centrist evangelicals and other activists say they are getting a voice and trying to turn the debate."

Castro Demands Return of Guantanamo
Marc Frank, Reuters: "Ailing Cuban leader Fidel Castro demanded on Thursday that President Barack Obama return the US naval base at Guantanamo to Cuba without conditions, and he accused the new US leader of supporting 'Israeli genocide' against Palestinians. Castro, who had recently praised Obama as 'honest' and 'noble', lashed out at his administration for stating that Washington will not return Guantanamo if it has any military use for the United States and without concessions in return."

FOCUS Isaiah Poole: What A Difference Ten Days Make
Isaiah J. Poole, The Campaign for America's Future: "Consider how far we've come since January 20. On Thursday, the Senate followed the House in passing a reauthorization of a child health insurance bill that will mean 4 million more children will have access to health insurance. When the Congress passed similar legislation last year, then-President Bush vetoed the legislation - twice. This time, President Obama is expected to sign the bill into law next week. Increasing the number of working-class families who have health insurance for their children is just one of the significant victories progressives can lay claim to in just the first 10 days of the Obama administration."

FOCUS Michael Winship: Reading, Writing and Recession
Michael Winship, Truthout: "That was quite a crowd at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, last week. Thousands of students took to the streets in protest. But it wasn't an antiwar march - the campus has a reputation for a lack of activism. It wasn't even a pep rally for UNLV's beloved championship basketball team, the Runnin' Rebels. No, they came out to raise hell as they never have before because Jim Gibbons, the governor of Nevada, just proposed state budget cuts to higher education of a whopping 36 percent. At UNLV, that could mean a budget slash of as much as 52 percent and possible tuition increases of 225 percent."

Friday, January 30, 2009

FP morning post 1/30

Top Story

President Barack Obama's plans to close the military prison at Guantanamo Bay hit a snag yesterday as a military judge refused an order to suspend the trial of Abd al-Rashim al-Nashiri, who is accused of planning the attack on the U.S.S. Cole in 2000. The judge, Army Col. James Pohl, described the request to delay proceedings for 120 days as "not reasonable" and its legal rationale as "unpersuasive."

Survivors of the Cole bombing applauded the decision. The Pentagon still has the option of dismissing the charges against Nashiri and then filing new ones, effectively removing the case from Pohl's docket.

A new Fox News poll shows that nearly half of Americans think the prison should be closed, up from 22 percent in 2005. Karen Greenberg argues for FP that the security risks of closing Guantanamo are overblown.

Middle East
Turkish PM Tayyip Erdogan stormed off stage at the World Economic Forum in Davos after telling Israeli President Shimon Peres, "You kill people."
Envoy George Mitchell tried to keep expectations low about Mideast peace talks.
Violence still plagues Mosul in the run-up to this weekend's Iraqi elections.

Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich was removed from office.
Raul Castro met with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev at a hunting lodge near Moscow.
Venezuela is refusing to comply with a ruling by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.

Iceland may be fast-tracked for EU membership to help it out of its economic crisis.
Ireland's debt rating froom Moody's has fallen from "stable" to "negative."
Energy workers in the U.K. are on strike.

North Korea is scrapping all political and military agreements with South Korea.
Japan appears to be heading toward its worst recession since World War II.
Afghanistan set Aug. 20 as the date for its presidential election.

Zimbabwe's opposition has reluctantly agreed to a power-sharing deal.
Somalia's parliament, operating in Djibouti because of security risks, will elect a new president today.
The L.A. Times' Scott Kraft assesses the state of South Africa's democracy.

NRA attacks

With Your Help, We Will Defeat the NRA in Court

This week, the NRA filed outrageous papers in federal court ... impugning our Brady members and organization in our fight against the Bush Administration's last minute rule allowing guns in our National Parks.

In the court papers filed this week, the NRA says they:

deny that the Brady Campaign is a grassroots membership organization or that it is involved in fighting to prevent gun violence;

deny that the Brady Campaign is dedicated to safety;

deny that the members of the Brady Campaign, if any, will face an increased risk because of the new regulation.

We've worked long and hard to stop the NRA's "any gun, anywhere for anyone" campaigns and I, for one, won't stop now.

As far as I can remember, this is the first-ever direct strike against the Brady Campaign and its members in court! The gun lobby is reeling after their election defeats and losing ground on all fronts, so they have it in for us for sure.
But we have common sense — and public support — on our side!

I won't stand for their lies — especially lies that call into question the deep dedication of members like you and our long-time efforts to keep our communities safe from gun violence.

I say, allowing loaded concealed handguns in our parks and wildlife refuges puts public safety at risk! And yes, we will fight the NRA in court.

We will do all that we can — with our dedicated grassroots membership — to defeat the NRA. Please donate now to the Brady Campaign.

Thank you.

Sarah Brady,
Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence

Health care now

New York Times

The whole world is in recession. But the United States is the only wealthy country in which the economic catastrophe will also be a health care catastrophe — in which millions of people will lose their health insurance along with their jobs, and therefore lose access to essential care.

Which raises a question: Why has the Obama administration been silent, at least so far, about one of President Obama’s key promises during last year’s campaign — the promise of guaranteed health care for all Americans?

Let’s talk about the magnitude of the looming health care disaster.

Just about all economic forecasts, including those of the Obama administration’s own economists, say that we’re in for a prolonged period of very high unemployment. And high unemployment means a sharp rise in the number of Americans without health insurance.

After the economy slumped at the beginning of this decade, five million people joined the ranks of the uninsured — and that was with the unemployment rate peaking at only 6.3 percent. This time the Obama administration says that even with its stimulus plan, unemployment will reach 8 percent, and that it will stay above 6 percent until 2012. Many independent forecasts are even more pessimistic.

Why, then, aren’t we hearing more about ensuring health care access?

Now, it’s possible that those of us who care about this issue are reading too much into the administration’s silence. But let me address three arguments that I suspect Mr. Obama is hearing against moving on health care, and explain why they’re wrong.

First, some people are arguing that a major expansion of health care access would just be too expensive right now, given the vast sums we’re about to spend trying to rescue the economy.

But research sponsored by the Commonwealth Fund shows that achieving universal coverage with a plan similar to Mr. Obama’s campaign proposals would add “only” about $104 billion to federal spending in 2010 — not a small sum, of course, but not large compared with, say, the tax cuts in the Obama stimulus plan.

It’s true that the cost of universal health care will be a continuing expense, reaching far into the future. But that has always been true, and Mr. Obama has always claimed that his health care plan was affordable. The temporary expenses of his stimulus plan shouldn’t change that calculation.

Second, some people in Mr. Obama’s circle may be arguing that health care reform isn’t a priority right now, in the face of economic crisis.

But helping families purchase health insurance as part of a universal coverage plan would be at least as effective a way of boosting the economy as the tax breaks that make up roughly a third of the stimulus plan — and it would have the added benefit of directly helping families get through the crisis, ending one of the major sources of Americans’ current anxiety.

Finally — and this is, I suspect, the real reason for the administration’s health care silence — there’s the political argument that this is a bad time to be pushing fundamental health care reform, because the nation’s attention is focused on the economic crisis. But if history is any guide, this argument is precisely wrong.

Don’t take my word for it. Rahm Emanuel, the White House chief of staff, has declared that “you never want a serious crisis to go to waste.” Indeed. F.D.R. was able to enact Social Security in part because the Great Depression highlighted the need for a stronger social safety net. And the current crisis presents a real opportunity to fix the gaping holes that remain in that safety net, especially with regard to health care.

And Mr. Obama really, really doesn’t want to repeat the mistakes of Bill Clinton, whose health care push failed politically partly because he moved too slowly: by the time his administration was ready to submit legislation, the economy was recovering from recession and the sense of urgency was fading.

One more thing. There’s a populist rage building in this country, as Americans see bankers getting huge bailouts while ordinary citizens suffer.

I agree with administration officials who argue that these financial bailouts are necessary (though I have problems with the specifics). But I also agree with Barney Frank, the chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, who argues that — as a matter of political necessity as well as social justice — aid to bankers has to be linked to a strengthening of the social safety net, so that Americans can see that the government is ready to help everyone, not just the rich and powerful.

The bottom line, then, is that this is no time to let campaign promises of guaranteed health care be quietly forgotten. It is, instead, a time to put the push for universal care front and center. Health care now!

Truthout 1/30

Nick Mottern and Bill Rau Iraq Shuns Due Process
Nick Mottern and Bill Rau, Truthout: "The Iraqi government will make no commitment to ensure rights of due process for tens of thousands of detainees in its jails and prisons, judging from the response this week of the Iraqi Embassy in Washington, DC, to these questions."

Robert Parry GOP Schools Obama on Partisanship
Robert Parry, Consortium News: "On Wednesday, when the House voted on the $819 billion stimulus bill, which many economists say is vital for the United States to avoid a possible depression, not a single Republican supported the legislation. The Democrats had to provide all the 244 votes that sent the package over to the Senate, where leading Republicans, including Sen. John McCain of Arizona, have already announced their determination to fight the bill."

US Overtures Divide Iran's Policymakers
Julian Borger and Robert Tait, The Guardian UK: "Iran's foreign minister said yesterday that Tehran would be 'co-operative' in response to changes in US policy, following the revelation that President Barack Obama's team is drafting a landmark letter to the Islamic Republic aimed at thawing a three-decade freeze in relations."

Zimbabwe's Starving Millions Face Halving of Rations as UN Cash Dries Up
Chris McGreal, The Guardian UK: "The United Nations is to halve the food ration to millions of Zimbabweans, bringing it below what will keep an adult alive, as the numbers of people dependent on aid rises sharply and donations from foreign governments fall well short of demand. The World Food Programme is to cut the core maize ration in February from 10kg to 5kg a month - or just 600 calories a day - for 7 million Zimbabweans, about 70% of the people left in the country. The recommended ration is 12kg a month."

Obama Calls Wall Street Bonuses "Shameful" as Dodd Vows to Reclaim Money
Dawn Kopecki and Julianna Goldman, Bloomberg: "President Barack Obama fed a swelling populist revolt against Wall Street bonuses, calling it 'shameful' that banks doled out $18.4 billion as taxpayers bail out companies and the U.S. remains mired in a recession. The bonuses are 'the height of irresponsibility,' Obama said today before meeting Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and Vice President Joe Biden at the White House. Firms need to 'show some restraint and show some discipline,' Obama said."

Prop. 8 Campaign Can't Hide Donors' Names
Bob Egelko, The San Francisco Chronicle: "Proposition 8 proponents' complaint that a California campaign-finance disclosure law has led to harassment of same-sex marriage opponents failed today to sway a federal judge, who refused to throw out the law or shield donors' names. Lawyers for Protect Marriage, sponsor of the constitutional amendment that won voter approval Nov. 4, said contributors have already faced consumer boycotts, picketing and even death threats after the state posted their names and other information in mandatory campaign reports."

Senate Passes Health Insurance Bill for Children
Ceci Connolly, The Washington Post: "The Senate overwhelmingly approved legislation yesterday to provide health insurance to 11 million low-income children, a bill that would for the first time spend federal money to cover children and pregnant women who are legal immigrants."

Economy: Sharpest Decline in 26 Years
Chris Isidore, "The US economy suffered its biggest slowdown in 26 years in the last three months of 2008, according to the government's first reading about the fourth quarter released Friday. Gross domestic product, the broadest measure of the nation's economic activity, fell at an annual rate of 3.8 percent in the fourth quarter, adjusted for inflation."

Security Concerns Rising as Arctic Thaw Spurs Race for Oil
Bruce Pannier, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty: "Many see the problem of global warming and the melting polar ice caps as a looming ecological disaster. Others, however, see it as an opportunity - a chance to gain access to lucrative energy deposits long hidden under layers of Arctic ice. NATO officials meeting in Reykjavik - including Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer and John Craddock, the supreme allied commander in Europe - say the race for the Arctic poses serious new security threats."

Michael Isikoff A Long-Lived Privilege?
Michael Isikoff, Newsweek: "Just four days before he left office, President Bush instructed former White House aide Karl Rove to refuse to cooperate with future congressional inquiries into alleged misconduct during his administration.... The letter told Rove that President Bush was continuing to assert executive privilege over any testimony by Rove - even after he leaves office."

Eighteen Dollars, an MP3 Player and "Sensitive" US Army Files
Guerric Poncet, Le Point: "Surprise! A New Zealander made a startling discovery while attempting to operate an MP3 player purchased at a bargain stall in Oklahoma: about sixty American Army secret files were present in the device's memory. Twenty-nine-year-old Chris Ogle explored that data, containing the names and personal information of American soldiers deployed in Afghanistan and in Iraq."

Thursday, January 29, 2009

The impending new economy

from South Bend Journal

Global experts are stressing that as the United States and global economies emerge from these trying financial times within the next 4 to 8 years, it will be entering into an entirely new economy altogether. The economy we have now is based primarily on 'profits and growth'. This has accounted for an outrageous portion of our economy to be built around financial markets, housing markets, and land use development. Sub-economies upon sub-economies upon countless of sub-economies have been built around these foundation economies to get us where we are today. These economies have provided our country and other portions of the world with unparalleled standards of living, technological inovations, and supporting revenue that has allowed governments to maintain vital infrastructure improvements.


Truthout 1/29

Maya Schenwar Two Wars, 400,000 VA Patients
Maya Schenwar, Truthout: "Amid talk of a drawdown of troops in Iraq, new statistics from the Department of Defense (DoD) and the Department of Veterans' Affairs (VA) show that US casualties are still climbing quickly. Iraq and Afghanistan battlefield injuries and deaths number 81,361, up from 72,043 last January, according to data obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request by Veterans for Common Sense (VCS). Veteran patients - including those who didn't seek care until their return home - shot up to 400,304 (from 263,909 in December 2007). For the thousands of soldiers flooding the VA, mental illness tops the list of ailments.... However, many barriers to adequate care and compensation remain, particularly for veterans filing for disability benefits."

House Passes Stimulus, Sans Republicans
David Lightman, McClatchy Newspapers: "After a sharply partisan debate on Wednesday, the House of Representatives passed an $819 billion economic stimulus package designed to create millions of jobs quickly and give consumers more money to spend. The vote was 244 to 188. None of the House's 178 Republican members voted yes."

Jane Mayer Behind the Executive Orders
Jane Mayer, The New Yorker: "On Thursday, President Barack Obama consigned to history the worst excesses of the Bush Administration's 'war on terror.' One of the four executive orders that Obama signed effectively cancelled seven years of controversial Justice Department legal opinions authorizing methods of treating terror suspects so brutal that even a top Bush administration official overseeing prosecutions at Guantanamo, Susan Crawford, recently admitted that they amounted to torture. According to some of those opinions, many of which remain classified, President Bush could authorize US officials to capture, interrogate, and indefinitely imprison terror suspects all around the globe, outside of any legal process."

Nick Turse Meltdown Madness: The Human Costs of the Economic Crisis
Nick Turse, "The body count is still rising. For months on end, marked by bankruptcies, foreclosures, evictions and layoffs, the economic meltdown has taken a heavy toll on Americans. In response, a range of extreme acts including suicide, self-inflicted injury, murder, and arson have hit the local news. By October 2008, an analysis of press reports nationwide indicated that an epidemic of tragedies spurred by the financial crisis had already spread from Pasadena, California, to Taunton, Massachusetts, from Roseville, Minnesota, to Ocala, Florida."

Conn Hallinan Purple Hearts: A Cold-Blooded Decision
Conn Hallinan, Foreign Policy in Focus: "Behind the recent Pentagon decision to deny Purple Heart medals to soldiers suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a cold-blooded calculation: It saves money. The official rationale for refusing to honor what is widely considered the 'signature wound' of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is that PTSD, according to Pentagon spokeswoman Eileen Lainez, is 'an anxiety disorder caused by experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event,' not 'a wound intentionally caused by the enemy.'"

Outcry Over a Plan to Sell Museum's Holdings
Randy Kennedy and Carol Vogel, The New York Times: "The Massachusetts attorney general’s office said on Tuesday that it planned to conduct a detailed review of Brandeis University’s surprise decision to sell off the entire holdings of its Rose Art Museum, one of the most important collections of postwar art in New England. The decision to close the 48-year-old museum in Waltham, Mass., and disperse the collection as a way to shore up the university’s struggling finances was denounced by the museum’s board, its director and a wide range of art experts, who warned that the university was cannibalizing its cultural heritage to pay its bills."

Dahr Jamail A Capped Volcano of Suffering
Dahr Jamail, Truthout: "Baghdad today, on the eve of provincial elections, feels like it has emerged from several years of horrendous violence, but do not be misled. Every Iraqi I've spoken with feels it is tenuous, the still-fragile lull too young to trust."

Jonathan Schell Obama and the Return of the Real
Jonathan Schell, The Nation: "The inauguration of Barack Obama, 'whose father less than sixty years ago might not have been served at a local restaurant,' is both a culmination and a beginning. The culmination is the milestone represented by the arrival of a black man in the office of president of the United States. That achievement reaches back to the founding ideals of the Republic - 'all men are created equal' - which have been fulfilled in a new way, even as it resonates around a world in which for centuries white imperialists have subjected people of color to oppression. The event fully justifies the national and global jubilation it has touched off. This much is truly accomplished, signed and sealed."

Key House Panel Backs Measure Allowing Judges to Modify Mortgages
Renae Merle, The Washington Post: "A measure allowing bankruptcy judges to modify the mortgages of troubled homeowners, including cutting the principal they owe, cleared a key congressional committee yesterday."

A Mass Transit Dilemma: Ridership Up, Funds Down
Richard Fausset, The Los Angeles Times: "Public transport systems are reeling from an economic crisis that has dried up tax revenue and blown gaps in state budgets. They are having to raise fares and cut services."

Officials: Army Suicides at Three-Decade High
Pauline Jelinek, The Associated Press: "Suicides among Army troops soared again last year and are at a nearly three-decade high, senior defense officials told The Associated Press on Thursday."

"Crisis Unfolding" in Sri Lanka
BBC News: "A major humanitarian crisis is unfolding in northern Sri Lanka, with a quarter of a million people trapped by fighting, the Red Cross says."

FP Morning Post 1/29

Top Story

The Democrats' proposed $819 billion stimulus package was passed by the U.S. House of Representatives yesterday. Despite last-minute lobbying by President Barack Obama, not a single Republican voted for the package. The bill includes tax breaks, aid to states, and funding for infrastructure improvements, education, Medicaid, and alternative energy projects.

A controversial "buy-American" provision in the bill would mostly bar foreign steel and iron from the infrastructure projects funded by the stimulus. Critics charge that this provision constitutes protectionism and could violate existing WTO agreements.

Meanwhile, the Senate's version of the bill is nearing $900 billion.

Middle East
Israel has reportedly launched an airstrike against Gaza militants in retaliation for the killing of an IDF soldier yesterday as George Mitchell arrived in the region.
The former CIA station chief in Algeria is being investigated for rape.

Obama Administration
Obama received his first briefing from the joint chiefs of staff on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The Guardian reports that team Obama is drafting a letter to Iran's leaders as a prelude to negotiations.
Attorney General Eric Holder was approved by the senate.

Pakistani authorities arrested three men they claim were trained by India to carry out terrorist attacks within Pakistan.
Afghanistan's presidential election has been delayed because of security concerns.
A pro-democracy e-mail petition is gathering steam in China.

Another tanker has been hijacked by pirates in the Gulf of Aden.
Liberia is under siege from crop-destroying army worms.
As Passport's Elizabeth Dickinson suspected, Obama urged South African President Kgalema Motlanthe to take a strong role in resolving the Zimbabwe crisis in their phone call yesterday.

A nationwide strike has shut down French trains and subways.
The Russian ruble had its biggest two-day drop in a decade.
NATO is worried about Russian plans to build a naval base in the breakaway region of Abkhazia.

Bolivia is looking to rebuild diplomatic ties with the U.S, says its foreign minister.
Colombia's FARC rebels are planning to release six hostages this weekend.
Cuba's Raul Castro arrived in Moscow for talks.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Al Gore: Support a recovery that Repowers America

Today, I will be testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee about repowering America and the need for us to resume global leadership on the climate crisis. As you know, it's a critical time in our country and we all have a role to play.

I've recorded a short video message to share my perspective on what's at stake right now. Take a moment and please watch it.

Truthout 1/28

Israeli Warplanes Strike in "Retaliation"
Steve Weizman, The Associated Press: "U.S. President Barack Obama's new Mideast envoy sought Wednesday to boost a 10-day-old Gaza ceasefire that was thrown into turmoil, as Israeli warplanes pounded Gaza smuggling tunnels in retaliation for a Palestinian bombing that killed a soldier. The Israeli cabinet met to consider how far to go in its response to Tuesday's bombing. U.S. envoy George Mitchell said it was 'critical' that the ceasefire be extended, as he met Egypt's president before heading to Jerusalem."

ACLU Tests Obama With Request for Secret Bush-Era Memos
Marisa Taylor, McClatchy Newspapers: "Dozens of secret documents justifying the Bush administration's spying and interrogation programs could see the light of day because of a new presidential directive. The American Civil Liberties Union asked the Obama administration on Wednesday to release Justice Department memos that provided the legal underpinning for harsh interrogations, eavesdropping and secret prisons."

EU Calls for Global Carbon Market
BBC News: "The European Commission has called for a global carbon trading market as part of a plan to tackle climate change. The EU is already committed to expanding its Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS), but now it is urging other industrialised countries to join in. The commission says that by 2015 it wants to link the ETS to other carbon trading systems. The goal is to include emerging economies by 2020."

GOP May Vote No, but Economists Back Obama Stimulus
Kevin G. Hall, McClatchy Newspapers: "Economists think the stimulus plan that the House of Representatives will vote on Wednesday, while far from perfect, will help stimulate the moribund U.S. economy. There's no panacea for what ails the economy. However, most leading economists who are experienced in public policy generally favor the stimulus plan that the House is considering because through it the government will step up spending at a time when private-sector spending has fallen off sharply."

Michel Wieviorka An Exhausted System That Needs Rethinking
Michel Wieviorka, La Presse: "All during his campaign, but also since his election, Barack Obama has demonstrated the interest he takes in research and science, as well as his taking into account ecology and sustainable development perspectives in order to confront the present crisis. But is it possible; is it realistic to talk this way?"

Obama Launches Effort to "Communicate" in Mideast
Jeffrey Fleishman, The Los Angeles Times: "Fronting charm on the airways and deploying diplomacy away from the camera's flash, the Obama administration has landed in the Middle East. Hours after an interview with President Obama was broadcast across the Arab world by satellite channel Al Arabiya, special US envoy George J. Mitchell arrived in Cairo on Tuesday to discuss the fate of the Gaza Strip. It was a two-track choreography designed to inspire confidence among the region's political leaders and win over an Arab street long distrustful of Washington."

Gates Warns of Prolonged Commitment in Afghanistan
Ann Scott Tyson, The Washington Post: "Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates today signaled sharply lower expectations for the war in Afghanistan, warning the conflict will be 'a long slog' that US and allied military forces - even at higher levels - cannot win alone. Gates said the US military expects to be able to send three additional combat brigades to Afghanistan from late spring through midsummer to fill a security vacuum 'that increasingly has been filled by the Taliban.'"

Will Bunch Tear Down This Myth
Will Bunch, Truthout: "Last week didn't only mark the inauguration of Barack Obama. January 20, 2009, was also a less noticed anniversary - marking 20 years to the day that the 40th president, Ronald Reagan, said his final goodbye to the Oval Office. During those two decades since, the world evolved, and the man who some called a Great Communicator and others called a 'Teflon president' passed away - yet, watching last year's presidential race unfold, you might have been excused if you'd thought Reagan was somehow on the ballot."

J. Sri Raman Can President Obama Change Nukes Policy?
J. Sri Raman, Truthout: "What should the world expect from the new US president on the nuclear front? The question may sound distant and largely disconnected from the current context, where the financial crisis looms as his administration's first priority. No one can be blamed, however, for raising it, as nuclear weapons form one of the main issues on which Barack Obama differentiated himself clearly from his rivals - during the battle for the Democratic nomination as well as the war for the presidency."

Government Must Release Cabinet Minutes on Lead Up to Iraq War
Andrew Sparrow, The Guardian UK: "Secret government discussions about the Iraq war are to be disclosed after an information tribunal today ordered the release of cabinet minutes from 2003. The decision follows a lengthy battle by campaigners, who have argued that the public interest in learning what was said about the planned invasion outweighs the public interest in cabinet discussions being kept secret."

Geithner's Dilemma: How to Fix Financial System
Kevin G. Hall, McClatchy Newspapers: "The fate of the US banking system and the economic well-being of roughly 300 million Americans, not to mention billions of people around the globe, is now is in the hands of Timothy Geithner, the newly confirmed treasury secretary. Few, if any, treasury secretaries since America's first, Alexander Hamilton in 1789, have stepped into the office facing more daunting challenges. Geithner faces an accelerating global financial crisis that's plunging the nation and the world into a recession that's destroying jobs, wealth and the established economic order."

FP Morning Post 1/28

Top Story

Up to 51 million people could lose their jobs this year around the world predicted the U.N.'s International Labor Organization. The organization's best-case scenario was 18 million jobs lost. Developing countries will likely be hardest hit from the job losses. "We have to assume that we are now facing a global jobs crisis," said the ILO's Director-General.

In an effort to limit the damage in the U.S. at least, the House will vote tonight on an $825 stimulus bill. Despite last minute lobbying from President Barack Obama, the bill is unlikely to gain support from Republicans skeptical of its emphasis on domestic spending rather than tax cuts. It may be a few years before voters can judge whether the plan worked.

Russia may halt plans to place missiles in Kaliningrad after learning that Barack Obama was in no rush to implement a missile defense system in Eastern Europe.
Spain has arrested six people in connection with a $600 million London stock market fraud.
Participants have little to celebrate at Davos this year.

Middle East
Israeli planes bombed smuggling tunnels on the Gaza-Egypt border.
U.S. envoy George Mitchell met with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad welcomed the possibility of talks with the U.S. but demanded an apology for past "crimes" against Iran.
Early voting has begun in Iraq's provincial elections.

The first of the additional 30,000 troops to be sent to Afghanistan have arrived.
Speaking before the Senate Armed Services Committee, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said missile strikes against al Qaeda hideouts in Pakistan would continue.
Sri Lanka faces a humanitarian crisis from the civilians trapped between government forces and Tamil Tiger rebels.

More than 3,000 have died of cholera in Zimbabwe, says the WHO.
Barack Obama may be planning a diplomatic push to oust Robert Mugabe.
Madagascar's military is trying to restore order after two days of anti-government protests and rioting.

Hugo Chavez will hold a summit of Latin America's leftist leaders next week.
Remittances sent home by Mexican migrants dropped for the first time ever last year.
Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich's trial is proceeding without him.

On Roads And Trouble, Or, The Third Annual Winter Survival Story

It takes only a quick glance at the national weather outlook for today to realize that lots of people will be dealing with Big Winter in places that might not normally expect it.

Texas, Louisiana, Tennessee, Missouri--and especially Arkansas--will be at the heart of this weather event…other states, like Oklahoma and Mississippi and Virginia will be at its periphery.

Not to put too fine a point on the thing, but many of y’all are not exactly experienced snow drivers …and it looks like today you may need to be.

Lucky for you, your friendly fake consultant drives in miserable conditions all the time, which means you can gain the benefit of years of experience in just a few minutes.

So before you go outside, fire up a cup of hot chocolate, come on back, and we’ll send you on your way a bit warmer—and a bit safer to boot.

...Winter storm spreading from the Southern Plains to the Mid-Atlantic...
Snow, sleet, and freezing rain are expected to continue today from the Southern Plains to the Mid Atlantic coast with major icing expected from the Lower and Middle Mississippi Valley into the Ohio Valley

--National Weather Service forecast, January 27th, 2009

Another lovely day to drive, eh?
Before we actually talk about actual driving, a quick piece of clothing advice:

Throw a blanket, some boots, a heavy coat, and a decent ski cap in the trunk of the car…just in case. You might not get stuck in a snow bank, but if you have to spend an hour or two by the side of the road waiting for a tow truck in lousy weather, you’ll be glad you did.

That said, let’s get to some basic rules about driving when snow, slush and ice are on the roads:

--Don’t do it. If you didn’t grow up in some place like Michigan, and you’re not the driver of the local police car or fire truck or tow truck, just call in. Your boss’ answering machine will be sympathetic—and my guess is that the company will not pay the deductable on any body damage incurred on the drive to the office.

--If you really have to drive, how about this: the four-wheel drive vehicle you’re about to get into is of some value when you are trying to get going—but it won’t help you a bit when you’re trying to stop.

As it turns out, stopping distances for that four-wheel drive family truckster on ice might be 12 times longer than they are on dry pavement. The published stopping distance for most vehicles from 60mph to zero on dry pavement is 120 to 140 feet, meaning it should take about ¼ mile to stop on ice from that same speed….and 400 feet or so on wet pavement.

Trust me on this: stopping on ice is no easy task, and doing that same NASCAR drafting maneuver y’all are so fond of on the freeway is the best way I know of to end up parked in the back seat of the car you were drafting.

Instead, leave a ton of room between your bumper and the next…which leads to my next warning:

--Not all ice is easily seen. There really is such a thing as “black ice”—and it really can mess up your day. If you’ve never seen it before, the basic concept is that a thin glaze of ice forms over asphalt…and because it’s clear, before you know it you’re sliding out of control and straight into the nearest guard rail…and you’re not sure exactly why.

It turns up sooner than you think it will, too. 36 degrees F. and ice will form on those pesky bridges and overpasses. Sometimes it never melts during the day (especially in the shade), so even if the sun is out you may still get a nasty surprise around that next bend in the road. (That is exactly what happened just two days ago on the road up from the freeway to my own house, where a Chevy pickup had lost control and driven straight off the road into some bushes after rounding a sharp corner.)

There are some hints that will let you know you might be in an iced over area—or that you’re about to be.

If it’s dark, and you see the “sparkling” of ice on the sides of the roads in your headlights, that’s a big hint.

If some of the pavement looks gray…but some of it looks unnaturally black…that is a big-time hint that you’re looking at black ice.

If it snowed overnight…then that snow melted during the day…and it’s getting down to freezing again…you will be looking at lots of ice—black and otherwise.

If you can see frost—there’s a good chance black ice is in the neighborhood.

If it's not raining and you can see the reflection of headlights or tail lights on the pavement, you are traveling on an icy road.

--I know this will sound a bit like a cliché, but slowing down makes a huge difference in getting there or not getting there.

If you travel just a few miles up the freeway from my house, you will find yourself at a ski area. As a result, every Saturday and Sunday morning the road is full of drivers who go too fast until they see someone spun out…which causes them to slow down so they can get a good look…after which they all speed right back up to 70mph…even if it’s snowing at the time…until they get to the next spinout…where they slow down again.

All they while, I’m the driver over in the right lane doing 55 or less getting dirty looks from the spinning throng. (I drove home one morning doing 35 on the freeway—but I passed at least a dozen spinouts in 20 miles…and more than once I’ve seen cars blaze past me, only to be spun out farther down the road.)

I always get there…and some of them don’t.

--At this point, it’s time to talk about that mysterious piece of advice: “steer into the skid”.

If you should find yourself in a skid, the front of the car will likely be headed in a direction you did not expect—and if you were going in a straight line before the skid, your tires are pointed straight ahead.

What you want to do is turn the tires in the direction you want the car to go, in the hopes the front of the car will eventually turn in that direction as well.

Here’s an example: you’re headed in a straight line, when suddenly the front of the car starts sliding over to the left. You want to turn the steering wheel to the right—but not too far or too fast—so that the vehicle gradually recovers to traveling in a straight line again.

Turning too sharply (“overcorrection”) can cause the car to spin in the other direction—or even worse, flip, especially if one of the wheels finds dry pavement while the others are sliding. This is a big problem for large vehicles, so be careful when you feel the sliding.

If you have no experience at all with this stuff, it’s possible to practice in a medium safe environment. Find yourself a nice, flat, empty parking lot that has a nice light coating of snow. (Did you check to be sure there are none of those concrete blocks marking the rows?) You can induce spins by accelerating a bit (try to keep it below 30 mph or so), then cutting the wheel sharply in one direction or another (again, not too sharply), then take your foot off the gas and try to turn the wheel to recover.

After a bit of practice, you’ll be surprised how much more comfortable you’ll be with your car—and your driving skills.

--Now I know that this will sound counterintuitive, but using the brakes can often make a bad situation worse. It is often better to just take your foot off the gas and wait until you have control of the car.

The reason for this is because locking up the brakes prevents the wheels from “guiding” the car, giving you less steering control—and potentially converting you from a driver into a pinball.

Antilock brakes are not a complete solution to the problem…but they’re a pretty good solution, most of the time. On ice, not much of anything will help, short of special ice tires or certain tire chains--maybe.

And while we’re talking about antilock brakes—never pump them. You will “confuse” them, and make the problem you’re in much worse than it would have been otherwise.

Some of you have “hydroplaned” before, which is a perfect example of one time when just lifting your foot and waiting for the tires to make contact with the ground is the smartest thing to do. (Helpful hint: try not to drive in the “rutted” portion of a lane during rainstorms. Try instead to get up on the higher pavement in the lane.)

Of course, the fact that you might have to lift your foot off the brakes and just wait until you can control the car again is just one more argument for going slower in the first place.

Now having given this advice, I will tell you that, just like in “Ghostbusters”, on certain rare occasions you might have to “cross the streams”. A perfect example: if you’re sliding backwards down sheet ice, it might be possible to control your speed or even flip the car in the other direction through skillful—or extremely lucky—use of the brakes. (Of course, it’s also entirely possible that you might end up testing your airbags…)

That’s about a hot chocolate’s worth of advice, so let’s wrap it up right here:

If you can’t stay home, slow down.

Get some distance between your bumper and the next bumper.

Black ice creates an excellent aerobic exercise opportunity that you won’t soon forget, as do uncontrolled spins. Be smart. Respect the ice.

Not using the brakes can often be the smartest thing you can do.

“Turning into the skid” means making the wheels point in the direction you want the car to go. Go find a nice, safe parking lot and practice this skill.

And last but not least, if all this good advice fails to get you home safely, make sure you have some warm clothes in the car—the wait for the tow truck is likely to be a long one.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

What life asks of us

New York Times

A few years ago, a faculty committee at Harvard produced a report on the purpose of education. “The aim of a liberal education” the report declared, “is to unsettle presumptions, to defamiliarize the familiar, to reveal what is going on beneath and behind appearances, to disorient young people and to help them to find ways to reorient themselves.”

The report implied an entire way of living. Individuals should learn to think for themselves. They should be skeptical of pre-existing arrangements. They should break free from the way they were raised, examine life from the outside and discover their own values.

This approach is deeply consistent with the individualism of modern culture, with its emphasis on personal inquiry, personal self-discovery and personal happiness. But there is another, older way of living, and it was discussed in a neglected book that came out last summer called “On Thinking Institutionally” by the political scientist Hugh Heclo.

In this way of living, to borrow an old phrase, we are not defined by what we ask of life. We are defined by what life asks of us. As we go through life, we travel through institutions — first family and school, then the institutions of a profession or a craft.

Each of these institutions comes with certain rules and obligations that tell us how to do what we’re supposed to do. Journalism imposes habits that help reporters keep a mental distance from those they cover. Scientists have obligations to the community of researchers. In the process of absorbing the rules of the institutions we inhabit, we become who we are.

New generations don’t invent institutional practices. These practices are passed down and evolve. So the institutionalist has a deep reverence for those who came before and built up the rules that he has temporarily taken delivery of. “In taking delivery,” Heclo writes, “institutionalists see themselves as debtors who owe something, not creditors to whom something is owed.”

The rules of a profession or an institution are not like traffic regulations. They are deeply woven into the identity of the people who practice them. A teacher’s relationship to the craft of teaching, an athlete’s relationship to her sport, a farmer’s relation to her land is not an individual choice that can be easily reversed when psychic losses exceed psychic profits. Her social function defines who she is. The connection is more like a covenant. There will be many long periods when you put more into your institutions than you get out.

In 2005, Ryne Sandberg was inducted into the baseball Hall of Fame. Heclo cites his speech as an example of how people talk when they are defined by their devotion to an institution:

“I was in awe every time I walked onto the field. That’s respect. I was taught you never, ever disrespect your opponents or your teammates or your organization or your manager and never, ever your uniform. You make a great play, act like you’ve done it before; get a big hit, look for the third base coach and get ready to run the bases.”

Sandberg motioned to those inducted before him, “These guys sitting up here did not pave the way for the rest of us so that players could swing for the fences every time up and forget how to move a runner over to third. It’s disrespectful to them, to you and to the game of baseball that we all played growing up.

“Respect. A lot of people say this honor validates my career, but I didn’t work hard for validation. I didn’t play the game right because I saw a reward at the end of the tunnel. I played it right because that’s what you’re supposed to do, play it right and with respect ... . If this validates anything, it’s that guys who taught me the game ... did what they were supposed to do, and I did what I was supposed to do.”

I thought it worth devoting a column to institutional thinking because I try to keep a list of the people in public life I admire most. Invariably, the people who make that list have subjugated themselves to their profession, social function or institution.

Second, institutional thinking is eroding. Faith in all institutions, including charities, has declined precipitously over the past generation, not only in the U.S. but around the world. Lack of institutional awareness has bred cynicism and undermined habits of behavior. Bankers, for example, used to have a code that made them a bit stodgy and which held them up for ridicule in movies like “Mary Poppins.” But the banker’s code has eroded, and the result was not liberation but self-destruction.

Institutions do all the things that are supposed to be bad. They impede personal exploration. They enforce conformity.

But they often save us from our weaknesses and give meaning to life.

FSSA bil should send a message

The Editors
South Bend Tribune

We have no illusions that a bill to slow the rollout of Indiana's problem-plagued automated welfare intake system will ever become law.

Even if the bill does pass the Democrat-controlled Indiana House of Representatives, where Evansville Republican Suzanne Crouch has introduced it, the prognosis for survival in the Republican-controlled Senate is poor.

And in the unlikely event that it should pass the Senate, where it is being offered by Evansville Republican Sen. Vaneta Becker, it would face almost certain veto by Gov. Mitch Daniels.

So, no, it isn't likely that Crouch and Becker will succeed in holding the FSSA accountable under the law. But they will have succeeded just the same if their legislation gets the governor's attention. We hope that it does, and that it is regarded in the spirit intended rather than as an act of defiance.

The legislation would stop the FSSA from taking its overhauled application system to the 33 Indiana counties that have not yet been "modernized." Those include St. Joseph, Elkhart, Marshall and LaPorte counties. The new system, which is being put in place by a consortium of companies headed by IBM Corp., under a 10-year, $1.16 billion privatization contract, could expand once problems are fixed.

The state welfare system provides food stamps, Medicaid, Temporary Assistance to Needy Families and other services to about 1.1 million Hoosiers. With less face-to-face access to caseworkers, clients are encouraged to use call centers and the Internet, and they rarely get the same call center caseworker twice. There have been many reports of lost paperwork, revoked benefits for which the clients were eligible, duplication of services and long telephone hold times.

Daniels' initial reaction to members of his own party attempting to hold up the rollout, according to a report in the Evansville Courier & Press, was an angry one.

Becker and Crouch acknowledged that the governor's office and the new FSSA director tried to dissuade them from proceeding. They said they felt obligated to go ahead. Many of their constituents, including two hospitals and all Evansville-area United Way agencies, have called for the bill.

We are among those who repeatedly have urged Daniels to make sure that the new eligibility processing system is accessible to all and working efficiently before it expands further. Our concern is based both on the reservations of the federal Food and Nutrition Service, which administers the food stamps program, and on reports from the "roll-out counties" (where the changeover is in effect).

The actions of Becker and Crouch only reinforce those worries. We hope that Daniels accepts their action in the spirit in which it is intended. He and the new FSSA secretary, Anne Murphy, should voluntarily hold up further expansion of the process until the current, well-documented problems are solved.

FP morning post 1/27

Top Story

President Barack Obama granted his first formal television interview as president to the Arabic station Al Arabiya. In the interview, Obama discussed his own Muslim family ties a promised to speak to the Islamic world in a "language of respect."

Mideast envoy George Mitchell has been dispatched on a trip to the region in which he will visit Egypt, Israel, the West Bank, Jordan, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia. As Marc Lynch noted, Obama's earlier exclusion of Saudi Arabia from a visit to the region may have been interpreted as a snub. Obama vowed that Mitchell has been charged with making real progress, "not just photo-ops."

Newly-installed U.N. ambassador Susan Rice also promised "direct diplomacy" with Iran shortly after meeting with Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

Time's Scott Macleod was encouraged over the weekend by Obama's early charm offensive, but wrote that real progress requires more than renewed diplomacy: "To succeed, Obama needs a new Middle East policy, one that genuinely addresses the needs, interests and aspirations of the region itself."

Middle East
An Israeli soldier was killed near Gaza in the first major test of the recent ceasefire.
Syria is ready for negotiations with the Obama administration, says President Bashar al-Assad.
Gunmen opened fire outside the U.S. embassy in Yemen. No one was injured.

The EU expressed support for Obama's decision to shut down Guantanamo Bay but stopped short of agreeing to accept prisoners.
Iceland's Social Democrats and Greens are working to form a coalition government after the country's Conservative-led government collapsed over the weekend.
A corruption scandal has rocked Britain's House of Lords.

Fighting is escalating between Darfur rebels and Sudanese government forces.
Islamist insurgents took over another major Somali town as Ethiopian troops pulled back.
The U.S. plans to hand over captured Somali pirates to Kenya for trial.

An opinion poll showed strong opposition to Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso.
The Reserve Bank of India predicted growth would fall to a six year low.
China began the Year of the Ox.

Bolivia's constitutional referendum passed with 60 percent support.
Hillary Clinton's senate successor, Kristen Gilibrand, will be sworn in today.
A crippling drought has been declared an emergency in Argentina.

Obama Administration
Timothy Geithner was confirmed as secretary of the treasury.
Obama's tech-savvy staff are flummoxed by the White House's archaic e-mail system.

Truthout 1/27

Deadly Bombing, Israeli Strike Threaten Gaza Truce
Matti Friedman, The Associated Press: "Palestinian militants detonated a bomb next to an Israeli army patrol along the border with Gaza on Tuesday, killing one soldier and straining the fragile cease-fire on the eve of a visit by President Barack Obama's new Mideast envoy. Israeli soldiers briefly crossed the border in search of the attackers and Hamas said one of its militants was wounded in an Israeli airstrike."

Emissions Rule Waiver Expected This Spring
Matthew Yi and Wyatt Buchanan, The San Francisco Chronicle: "California officials say they plan to enforce the state's regulation requiring the nation's most fuel-efficient vehicles as soon as the federal government grants the state a waiver from less-stringent national standards. The move is expected this spring. The regulation would have the single largest impact on the state's ambitious goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent by 2020 under the landmark legislation AB32."

Markings on Ballot Copies Upset Minnesota Senate Case
Patrick Condon, The Associated Press: "The trial on Minnesota's U.S. Senate recount stalled on its first day Monday when the judges said photocopies of 5,000 excluded absentee ballots couldn't be used as evidence because Republican Norm Coleman's campaign workers had marked on them. Coleman's lawsuit argues in part that local election officials wrongly rejected many absentee ballots. Democrat Al Franken has a 225-vote lead and says any flaws are not substantial enough that they resulted in the wrong man winning."

US Treasury to Restrict Lobbying on Bailout Funds
Reuters: "U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner announced new rules on Tuesday to limit lobbying by companies that receive government financial assistance in one of his first moves after being sworn into office. The rules restrict lobbyist contacts in connection with applications for or disbursement of the Treasury's $700 billion bailout program, the Treasury said in a statement."

Week of Mass Strikes Set to Paralyze France in Protest Against Sarkozy's Reforms
Angelique Chrisafis, The Guardian UK: "Nicolas Sarkozy this week faces the first mass-protests over his handling of the financial crisis as unions prepare to paralyse France in a general strike uniting train-drivers, air traffic controllers, journalists, bank staff and even ski-lift operators. 'Black Thursday' is the first general strike since the French president's election in 2007. All the leading unions have joined forces to protest that the government's stimulus plans should focus less on companies and more on workers' job-protection and purchasing power."

Why Do We Act Like Sheep?
Viviane Thivent, Sciences Actualites: "To proclaim out loud what one is silently thinking all alone: sometimes that initiative requires a superhuman effort. But, why? Where does this propensity to line up with majority opinion come from? A cerebral automatism related to the learning process, a Dutch team proposes today."

Steve Weissman But What If Torture Works?
Steve Weissman, Truthout: "A well-thought-out nudge produces far better intelligence than does any effort to impose fear and control. It also yielded a much clearer understanding of why so many Iraqi Sunnis turned to Zarqawi's terrorists, whether for protection against Shi'a militia, a chance to earn money, or a sincere belief in a new Islamic Caliphate. These were nuances that Dick Cheney, Don Rumsfeld and much of the military brass found hard to accept, as was the undeniable truth that Abu Ghraib and Gitmo encouraged far more ticking bombs than torture ever prevented."

Conyers Subpoenas Rove
Susan Crabtree, The Hill: "House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.) subpoenaed former White House senior adviser Karl Rove, a sign that Democrats are not letting go of investigations the Bush administration stonewalled. The subpoena requires Rove to testify regarding his role in the Bush administration's politicization of the Justice Department, including the firings of nine US attorneys and the prosecution of former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman."

Bolivia Sets New Global High Mark for Indigenous Rights
Sara Miller Llana, The Christian Science Monitor: "Bolivia's first indigenous president, Evo Morales, easily won his campaign for a new constitution Sunday - promising vast new powers to the country's indigenous majority and bolstering his political clout. Critics say Mr. Morales is dangerously dividing the nation and merely following in the footsteps of populist leftist allies Hugo Chavez in Venezuela and Rafael Correa in Ecuador, who have also rewritten their constitutions to invest the executive branch with more power."

Economic Downturn Takes Toll on America's Nonprofits
Jane Lampman, The Christian Science Monitor: "Is America's safety net in danger of unraveling? Many of the country's nonprofit organizations are on the front lines of the economic crisis, providing food and shelter, help in preventing foreclosures, job retraining. But they're being hit by the hard times, too. As Congress digs in this week for negotiations on President Obama's $825 billion economic stimulus bill - with funds targeted to tax cuts, infrastructure, and state aid - people in and outside the nonprofit sector say it ought to be part of that package. Not only would this preserve jobs and shore up a crucial part of the US service-delivery network, they say, but would employ it most effectively in spurring an economic recovery."

John I. Laun The Rule of Law at Home and Abroad
John I. Laun, Colombia Support Network: "It is also vital, however, for the Obama Administration to take into account the manner and extent of compliance with the rule of law by governments in countries with which the United States has diplomatic and commercial relations. If the rule of law is sacrosanct for the new President and his Administration, it must be given importance in this country's relations with other countries. This consideration is particularly important in the case of Colombia."

Global Warming Is Irreversible, Study Says
Richard Harris, NPR News: "Climate change is essentially irreversible, according to a sobering new scientific study. As carbon dioxide emissions continue to rise, the world will experience more and more long-term environmental disruption. The damage will persist even when, and if, emissions are brought under control, says study author Susan Solomon, who is among the world's top climate scientists. 'We're used to thinking about pollution problems as things that we can fix,' Solomon says. 'Smog, we just cut back and everything will be better later. Or haze, you know, it'll go away pretty quickly.'"

Monday, January 26, 2009

Michiana Monologues 2009: For the Love of Women

February 12, 13, and 14, IU South Bend

Tickets are now on sale at Indiana University South Bend for the second annual original production of “Michiana Monologues,” an original theatrical production written anonymously by local women about their lives. Performances are at 7 p.m. February 12, 13, and 14, in Northside Hall’s Recital Auditorium, IU South Bend.

General admission tickets are $10 and are available at the Northside Hall Arts Box Office (NS 017) or by calling (574) 520-4203. Credit card purchases welcome.

A silent auction of art/local goods and services starts at 6 p.m. before each show. There will be information tables from local organizations related to women’s health. The show is a fundraiser for local organizations working to stop violence against women. This year’s beneficiaries are the YWCA of St. Joseph County, SOS of the Madison Center, St. Margaret’s House, and the Elkhart Women’s Shelter. Last year’s production raised nearly $10,000; the goal this year is to raise at least $15,000.

“Michiana Monologues” is modeled on Eve Ensler’s play, “The Vagina Monologues,” which uses the art form of the monologue and reader’s theater to educate, entertain, and raise awareness about the complexities of women’s lives. With “Michiana Monologues,” our goal is to bring to light the wide range of women’s lives in our area, and to give voice to the humor, strength, pain, creativity, and intimacy of women of all ages and all backgrounds.

If you have questions about the production, or are interested in becoming involved in this exciting theatrical fundraiser, feel free to contact director Katie Kreider at or faculty adviser, April Lidinsky at (574) 520-4528 or

April Lidinsky, Ph.D.
Women’s Studies Program
2257 Wiekamp Hall
Indiana University South Bend
1700 Mishawaka Ave, PO Box 7111
South Bend, IN 46634-71111

Women and men: Get involved with the Michiana Monologues!

Bad faith economics

New York Times

As the debate over President Obama’s economic stimulus plan gets under way, one thing is certain: many of the plan’s opponents aren’t arguing in good faith. Conservatives really, really don’t want to see a second New Deal, and they certainly don’t want to see government activism vindicated. So they are reaching for any stick they can find with which to beat proposals for increased government spending.

Some of these arguments are obvious cheap shots. John Boehner, the House minority leader, has already made headlines with one such shot: looking at an $825 billion plan to rebuild infrastructure, sustain essential services and more, he derided a minor provision that would expand Medicaid family-planning services — and called it a plan to “spend hundreds of millions of dollars on contraceptives.”

But the obvious cheap shots don’t pose as much danger to the Obama administration’s efforts to get a plan through as arguments and assertions that are equally fraudulent but can seem superficially plausible to those who don’t know their way around economic concepts and numbers. So as a public service, let me try to debunk some of the major antistimulus arguments that have already surfaced. Any time you hear someone reciting one of these arguments, write him or her off as a dishonest flack.

First, there’s the bogus talking point that the Obama plan will cost $275,000 per job created. Why is it bogus? Because it involves taking the cost of a plan that will extend over several years, creating millions of jobs each year, and dividing it by the jobs created in just one of those years.

It’s as if an opponent of the school lunch program were to take an estimate of the cost of that program over the next five years, then divide it by the number of lunches provided in just one of those years, and assert that the program was hugely wasteful, because it cost $13 per lunch. (The actual cost of a free school lunch, by the way, is $2.57.)

The true cost per job of the Obama plan will probably be closer to $100,000 than $275,000 — and the net cost will be as little as $60,000 once you take into account the fact that a stronger economy means higher tax receipts.

Next, write off anyone who asserts that it’s always better to cut taxes than to increase government spending because taxpayers, not bureaucrats, are the best judges of how to spend their money.

Here’s how to think about this argument: it implies that we should shut down the air traffic control system. After all, that system is paid for with fees on air tickets — and surely it would be better to let the flying public keep its money rather than hand it over to government bureaucrats. If that would mean lots of midair collisions, hey, stuff happens.

The point is that nobody really believes that a dollar of tax cuts is always better than a dollar of public spending. Meanwhile, it’s clear that when it comes to economic stimulus, public spending provides much more bang for the buck than tax cuts — and therefore costs less per job created (see the previous fraudulent argument) — because a large fraction of any tax cut will simply be saved.

This suggests that public spending rather than tax cuts should be the core of any stimulus plan. But rather than accept that implication, conservatives take refuge in a nonsensical argument against public spending in general.

Finally, ignore anyone who tries to make something of the fact that the new administration’s chief economic adviser has in the past favored monetary policy over fiscal policy as a response to recessions.

It’s true that the normal response to recessions is interest-rate cuts from the Fed, not government spending. And that might be the best option right now, if it were available. But it isn’t, because we’re in a situation not seen since the 1930s: the interest rates the Fed controls are already effectively at zero.

That’s why we’re talking about large-scale fiscal stimulus: it’s what’s left in the policy arsenal now that the Fed has shot its bolt. Anyone who cites old arguments against fiscal stimulus without mentioning that either doesn’t know much about the subject — and therefore has no business weighing in on the debate — or is being deliberately obtuse.

These are only some of the fundamentally fraudulent antistimulus arguments out there. Basically, conservatives are throwing any objection they can think of against the Obama plan, hoping that something will stick.

But here’s the thing: Most Americans aren’t listening. The most encouraging thing I’ve heard lately is Mr. Obama’s reported response to Republican objections to a spending-oriented economic plan: “I won.” Indeed he did — and he should disregard the huffing and puffing of those who lost.

FP morning post 1/26

Top Story

The global economic downturn appears to be spreading and accelerating faster than analysts predicted even a few weeks ago as European stock markets hit their lowest close in six years on Friday. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown is scrambling to bail his country out of a depression. Major European firms including ING, Philips, and Corus have announced cutbacks.

Political unrest is spreading throughout Eastern Europe in response to the crisis. There have been recent demonstrations and riots in Latvia, Lithuania, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic and Hungary. Analysts fear for the stability of these countries' young political systems.

After Iceland's commerce minister resigned over the weekend, taking responsibility for the country's financial woes, the country's government has now collapsed entirely. Iceland's economy is expected to shrink by 9.6 percent this year. Iceland is the world's first government to collapse as a result of the crisis, but seems unlikely to be the last.

Bolivian voters appear to have approved a charter allowing President Evo Morales to run for another term.
A man arrested in Mexico stands accused of disposing of more than 300 bodies for drug gangs.
Colombia and Venezuela created a $200 million fund to boost trade between the two countries.

Middle East
Gazans are hastily rebuilding tunnels on the Egyptian border.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert defended Israeli troops against accusations of war crimes.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki expects a faster U.S. pullout than the one agreed upon with George W. Bush.

Jewish groups are dismayed at Pope Benedict's decision to reverse the excommunication of a bishop who denies the Holocaust.
EU foreign ministers are discussing whether their countries should take in Guantanamo inmates.

Former Congolese militia leader Thomas Lubanga pleaded not guilty to using child soldiers at The Hague.
A growing movement of South Africans is pushing the government to take action against Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe. Somali lawmakers voted to expand parliament, but were forced by violence to meet in next-door Djibouti.

Chinese officials strongly condemned U.S. Treasury Secretary nominee Tim Geithner's accusations of currency manipulation.
The U.S. fired missiles at two suspected terrorist hideouts in Northwest Pakistan, the first such attacks under the Obama administration.
The Sri Lankan government is targeting the last of the Tamil Tigers' hideouts.

Obama Administration
President Obama moved Monday to tighten emissions standards on U.S. automobiles.
Last Friday, Obama lifted a ban on federal funding for international health groups that perform abortions.
Obama's $825 billion stimulus plan will be debated by the House this week.

Truthout 1/26

Dean Baker The Anti-Stimulus Crowd Blows a Gasket
Dean Baker, Truthout: "The anti-stimulus crowd is getting desperate. The possibility that a young charismatic new president will push through an ambitious package that begins to set the economy right is truly terrifying to this crew. After all, if the economy begins to turn around and has largely recovered in three or four years, the Republican leadership can look forward to spending most of their careers in the political wilderness."

Torture Case Tests Obama Secrecy Policy
Daphne Eviatar, The Washington Independent: "President Obama's sweeping reversals of torture and state secret policies are about to face an early test. In issuing an executive order and two presidential memoranda last week proclaiming a new transparency in the workings of the federal government, advocates for open government were thrilled. The test of those commitments will come soon in key court cases involving CIA 'black sites' and torture that the Bush administration had quashed by claiming they would reveal state secrets and endanger national security."

Iraq Prime Minister Expects Speedier US Pullout
Reuters: "US President Barack Obama will withdraw forces from Iraq sooner than the three-year deadline agreed by ex-president George W. Bush, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said Monday. Under a pact agreed with the previous US administration, the US troops that invaded Iraq in 2003 to topple Saddam Hussein have until the end of 2011 to leave. But Obama pledged during his election campaign to pull out combat troops within 16 months. US defense officials say that 16-month timeline is one of the options on the drawing board."

Economic Crisis Fuels Unrest in Eastern Europe
Philip P. Pan, The Washington Post: "On a frigid evening this month, more than 10,000 people gathered outside a 13th-century cathedral in this Baltic capital to protest the government's handling of Latvia's economic crisis and demand early elections. The demonstration was one of the largest here since the mass rallies against Soviet rule in the late 1980s, and a sign of both the public's frustration and its faith in the political system. But at the end of the night, as the crowd dispersed, the protest turned into a riot. Hundreds of angry young people, many drunk and recently unemployed, rampaged through the historic Old Town, smashing shop windows, throwing rocks and eggs at police, even prying cobblestones from the streets to lob at the Parliament building."

Banking Crisis Brings Down Iceland Government
Peter Walker, The Guardian UK: "Iceland's prime minister today announced the immediate resignation of his government because of the country's severe financial crisis, which saw the collapse of the currency and banking system. Geir Haarde announced as recently as Friday that his coalition administration would remain in office until early elections called for May 9 after violent protests at its handling of the economic situation. Today he said his Independence party and its Social Democrat partners were quitting immediately after a disagreement over whether he should step down as prime minister."

Joseph L. Galloway It's Time to Choose Right Over Wrong
Joseph L. Galloway, McClatchy Newspapers: "While President Barack Obama was busy closing down our military prison in Guantanamo and shuttering the Central Intelligence Agency's secret Gulag around the world, Republicans on Capitol Hill were stalling a vote on Obama's choice for attorney general, apparently in hopes of negotiating a plea bargain on war crimes. Although it violates everything we know and believe about equality under the law, the Republicans on the Judiciary Committee, led astray by Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, forced a week's delay in voting on Eric Holder's nomination to be the new attorney general in a crude attempt to get him to swear that he won't prosecute anyone from the Bush administration for violating our laws."

Ken Camp GOP Links Nomination to Torture Prosecutions
Ken Camp, The Northwest Progressive Institute Advocate: "In an effort to derail the nomination of Attorney General-designate Eric Holder, it seems Senate Republicans are now resorting to extortion. They'll confirm Holder if he promises not to prosecute any Bush Administration officials for any involvement in acts of torture, according to Senator Sheldon Whitehouse(D-RI). Anyone familiar with the criminal justice system - especially those with experience as prosecutors or judges - should know that a prosecutor should make no determination about who to prosecute before he or she has all the facts, and particularly not in response to legislative pressure."

Muammar Qaddafi The Mideast's One-State Solution
Muammar Qaddafi, The International Herald Tribune: "The shocking level of the last wave of Israeli-Palestinian violence, which ended with this weekend's cease-fire, reminds us why a final resolution to the so-called Middle East crisis is so important. It is vital not just to break this cycle of destruction and injustice, but also to deny the religious extremists in the region who feed on the conflict an excuse to advance their own causes. But everywhere one looks, among the speeches and the desperate diplomacy, there is no real way forward. A just and lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians is possible, but it lies in the history of the people of this conflicted land, and not in the tired rhetoric of partition and two-state solutions."

US Weighs Strategies to Stem Home Foreclosures
Peter Y. Hong and Maura Reynolds, The Los Angeles Times: "The Obama administration is promising an aggressive fight against the rising tide of home foreclosures, but officials have yet to decide what strategy -- or combination of strategies -- they will use. Among the possibilities being pushed by various interest groups are a six-month foreclosure moratorium, a doubling of the mortgage interest deduction, a tax credit for those who buy homes and a federally sponsored mortgage refinancing program. But it's been two years since foreclosures began to mount. And government and the financial industry have been unable to agree on a plan largely because they cannot resolve a central issue: How should losses be divided between borrowers and lenders?"

Experts: Mitchell as US Mideast Envoy Revitalizes Peace Process
Agence France-Presse: "The choice of former US senator George Mitchell as special envoy to the Middle East shows that President Barack Obama is serious about changing the direction of US policy in the Middle East, experts say. Several names were floated over the past weeks as possible special envoys to the region, including those of Dennis Ross, former president Bill Clinton's envoy to the region, and former US ambassador to Cairo Daniel Kurtzer."

Bolivians Approving New Constitution, Exit Polls Show
Tyler Bridges, McClatchy Newspapers: "President Evo Morales took a major step toward creating a socialist state that empowers the indigenous majority when 60 percent of Bolivians approved a new constitution on Sunday, according to television exit poll results. The new charter also allows Morales to seek re-election to a five-year term in December. The country's first self-identified indigenous president, Morales begins the race as the heavy favorite to remain in power until 2014."

Obama to Let California Set Its Own Auto Emissions Standards
Kim Chipman, Bloomberg: "President Barack Obama is set to allow California to regulate greenhouse-gas emissions for autos, reversing a Bush administration ruling, people familiar with the matter said. More than a dozen other US states may then adopt the same standards, which are opposed by automakers. Obama, who will discuss his energy and environmental plans tomorrow, also will start finalizing new rules requiring cars and light trucks to be more fuel-efficient, the people said."

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Mason works some magic at Best Buy

Don Wheeler

Rewards come to those who pay attention.

In Friday's South Bend Tribune, Andy Hughes gave us a heads up on one of the more improbable sounding events I'd ever come across. Dave Mason was going to be appearing for free at Best Buy in Mishawaka.

Best Buy is not exactly a venue I think of for cool, live music - let alone one for legendary performers. But it wasn't a spoof, and boy, was it a nice show.

Yes, we are talking about same guy. The guy who played with Traffic, Jimi Hendrix, and has a bunch of solo albums - including several commercial successes.

At age 18, the Worcester England native teamed up with Steve Winwood, Jim Capaldi and Chris Wood to form the legendary band Traffic. At 19, Mason penned the song "Feelin' Alright". This song has since become a rock and roll anthem, having been recorded by well over 48 artists, the best known version being Joe Cocker. The group's profound influence over rock music remains unquestioned even today. Mason departed from the group after their second album.

In 1969 Dave headed for the USA to pursue a solo career. He struck gold with the album "Alone Together", which is considered a rock classic. This was followed by five albums for CBS/Sony including "Dave Mason" and "Mariposa De Oro", four of which received gold albums. "Let It Flow", which has gone well over platinum, contained the classic "We Just Disagree", a
top-ten single!

In addition to performing to sold-out audiences, Mason performed on a number of albums such as The Rolling Stones' "Beggars's Banquet", George Harrison's "All Things Must Pass", Paul McCartney's "Listen To What The Man Said" and Jimi Hendrix's "Electric Ladyland". One of the songs from the "Ladyland" album, "All Along the Watchtower", featured Dave playing acoustic guitar. This song, written by Bob Dylan, remains a big favorite in Dave's live show!


For those of us who haven't followed Dave in a while, he had a bit of a surprise for us. Playing lead next to him was Johnne Sambataro of Firefall fame. When Dave introduced Johnne, he suggested that we might prevail on Johnne to play something later. Johnne then strummed an Fmajor7 chord - and the crowd reacted "Ohh!". It was instantly recognized as the first chord in "Just remember I love You". He later treated us to an abbreviated version of the song, which was well received.

Dave opened the show with a cut from his new album (well worth owning, by the way). Then, his gorgeous looking and sounding black twelve-string sounded the familiar opening of "We just disagree".

I must confess that when that song was released, it got so much radio play that I grew to loath it. Not any more. The song works better with just two guitars, sung by a man who's now lived a while. And I've lived a while now, too.

Dave treated us to "Feelin' Alright", "Hey Mr. Fantasy" and "All Along The Watchtower" as well as some of his new stuff.

Mr. Mason must take care of himself. His voice sounds just the same to me, and he sure plays a nice guitar. And he has a cause he's supporting:

John Niekrash founded Work Vessels For Veterans (WVFV), a foundation to assist returning U.S. military personnel looking to start their own business.

John is a commercial lobsterman in Connecticut and donated his boat to a returning U.S. Marine last April, as he needed a bigger vessel. Thus began WVFV; the full story can be seen on his web site,

Rock 'n roll legend Dave Mason is a good friend of John’s and is on his board of advisors along with Fox sports' Tony Siragusa. Dave Mason has helped raise money and awareness for WVFV through some of his shows and is a very strong supporter of the men and women of our Military.

People had a great time. The store sold out the entire display of Dave's CD. I'd guess almost half the crowd stuck around for autographs.

As for me - just another day in an abundant life.

The local effect of the Obama plan

South Bend Journal

As major deficits plague many local governments in the Greater South Bend region, what aspects of Obama's stimulus plan will help get us back on our feet? Most of the talk has been focused lately on the infrastructure improvements, but will that really help us here in South Bend?

Most of the city and county roads in our region are already paid for by the federal government. This comes about in either fully-funded or matching road grants. This means that any more infrastructure money will only serve the purpose of repairing more roads without actually freeing up any money for the municipality to fund other essential services such as police and fire protection, libraries, county health services, jails, justice system, etc.


Ivy Tech to expand South Bend campus

South Bend Journal

Ivy Tech Community College - South Bend is currently in the process of buying property along the south side of Sample St between Michigan St and Fellows St near downtown South Bend. School officials are reporting that an over abundance of students is leaving them no choice but to turn away students from enrolling in many classes.


Truthout 1/25

Flood of Foreclosures: It's Worse Than You Think
Les Christie, "Housing might be in worse shape than we think. There is probably even more excess housing inventory gumming up the market than current statistics indicate, thanks to a wave of foreclosures that has yet to hit the market. The problem: Many foreclosed homes and other distressed properties that are now owned by banks have yet to be listed for sale. The volume of this so-called 'ghost inventory' could be substantial enough to depress already steeply falling prices when it does go on the market."

Spilling Ink Instead of Blood: Bolivia Votes on a New Constitution
Benjamin Dangl, Truthout: "Dozens of marches and rallies in support of Bolivia's new constitution, being voted on today, have filled the streets of the La Paz in recent days. On Tuesday, at a rally for the constitution and to celebrate Venezuela's donation of 300 tons of asphalt to the city of La Paz, President Evo Morales took the stage, covered in confetti and with a coca leaf wreath around his neck. The crowd cheered and waved signs, one of them saying, 'Thanks for the asphalt and the progress.'"

Security Experts Skeptical on Guantanamo Detainee Report
CNN: "Security experts are questioning information released by the Pentagon last week, saying 61 former detainees from its detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, may have returned to terrorist activities. The report, released days before President Obama took office, says 18 former detainees are confirmed to have participated in attacks, and 43 are suspected to have been involved in attacks."

William Dalrymple Pakistan in Peril
William Dalrymple, The New York Review of Books: "The relative calm in Iraq in recent months, combined with the drama of the US elections, has managed to distract attention from the catastrophe that is rapidly overwhelming Western interests in the part of the world that always should have been the focus of America's response to September 11: the al-Qaeda and Taliban heartlands on either side of the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan."

Michael Klare Repudiate the Carter Doctrine
Michael Klare, Foreign Policy In Focus: "Twenty-nine years ago, President Jimmy Carter adopted the radical and dangerous policy of using military force to ensure U.S. access to Middle Eastern oil. 'Let our position be absolutely he clear,' he said in his State of the Union address on January 23, 1980. 'An attempt by any outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf region [and thereby endanger the flow of oil] will be regarded as an assault on the vital interests of the United States of America, and such an assault will be repelled by any means necessary, including military force.'"
Hate. Remorse. Forgiveness
Andrew Dys, The Herald: "Next to a lunch counter that was segregated for so long sat a table of two white people and five black people Friday afternoon. Just another Friday in Rock Hill, South Carolina, January 2009. Conversation quickly took the group back to Jan. 31, 1961. Elwin Wilson, one of those white men, had come that day to that very lunch counter four steps from where he was now, wanting to pull one of those black men off of the stool he was sitting on. He wanted to give a beating."

FOCUS Weisbrot: Obama Has Opportunity to Reverse Mistake on Offshore Drilling
Mark Weisbrot, The Center for Economic and Policy Research: "Campaigning in Florida last June as a presidential candidate, then-Senator Barack Obama blasted the proposal of his opponent, Senator John McCain, to open coastal areas of the United States to offshore drilling. Declaring that it 'makes no sense at all,' Obama correctly stated that such drilling would make very little difference in the price of gasoline, and supported a reduction of fossil fuel use through a stimulus program that would create 'green jobs.' But as gasoline prices soared past $4 a gallon and the Republicans campaigned on the issue of 'drill here, drill now,' the Democratic leadership softened its position. The end result was that a 27-year ban on drilling in coastal areas off the United States was allowed to expire."

FOCUS US Probes Possible Civilian Deaths in Afghanistan
Jason Straziuso and Rahim Faiez, The Associated Press: "The US coalition in Afghanistan opened an investigation into an overnight raid early Saturday that American commanders say killed 15 armed militants but that two Afghan officials say killed 11 civilians."

VIDEO Weekly Address: Remarks of President Barack Obama
Barack Obama delivered his first weekly address to the American people Saturday: "We begin this year and this Administration in the midst of an unprecedented crisis that calls for unprecedented action. Just this week, we saw more people file for unemployment than at any time in the last twenty-six years, and experts agree that if nothing is done, the unemployment rate could reach double digits. Our economy could fall $1 trillion short of its full capacity, which translates into more than $12,000 in lost income for a family of four. And we could lose a generation of potential, as more young Americans are forced to forgo college dreams or the chance to train for the jobs of the future. In short, if we do not act boldly and swiftly, a bad situation could become dramatically worse."

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Truthout 1/24

New US Administration Launches Airstrikes in Pakistan
R. Jeffrey Smith, Candace Rondeaux and Joby Warrick, The Washington Post: "Two remote US missile strikes that killed at least 20 people at suspected terrorist hideouts in northwestern Pakistan yesterday offered the first tangible sign of President Obama's commitment to sustained military pressure on the terrorist groups there, even though Pakistanis broadly oppose such unilateral US actions."

Obama Pitches His Plan to Reverse Economic Slide
Philip Elliott, The Associated Press: "President Barack Obama on Saturday laid out more pieces of an economic plan he says would add 3,000 miles of electrical lines, increase security at 90 ports and double the United States' renewable energy capacity within three years. It was the latest appeal from the new president for a massive spending bill designed to inject almost a trillion dollars into a flailing US economy and to fulfill campaign pledges. As members of Congress consider an $825 billion plan and Obama woos them, his White House released a radio and Internet address directed at voters who want answers."

A "Green Tsunami" in Brazil: The High Price of Clean, Cheap Ethanol
Clemens Hoges, Der Spiegel: "Brazil hopes to supply drivers worldwide with the fuel of the future -- cheap ethanol derived from sugarcane. It is considered an effective antidote to climate change, but hundreds of thousands of Brazilian plantation workers harvest the cane at slave wages. In the middle of the night, the plantations around Aracoiaba in Brazil's ethanol zone are on fire. The area looks like a war zone during the sugarcane harvest, as the burning fields light up the sky and the wind carries clouds of smoke across the countryside."

Ben Ehrenreich Resistance to Housing Foreclosures Spread Across the Land
Ben Ehrenreich, The Nation: "'This is a crowd that won't scatter,' James Steele wrote in the pages of The Nation some seventy-five years ago. Early one morning in July 1933, the police had evicted John Sparanga and his family from a home on Cleveland's east side. Sparanga had lost his job and fallen behind on mortgage payments. The bank had foreclosed. A grassroots 'home defense' organization, which had managed to forestall the eviction on three occasions, put out the call, and 10,000 people - mainly working-class immigrants from Southern and Central Europe - soon gathered, withstanding wave after wave of police tear gas, clubbings and bullets, 'vowing not to leave until John Sparanga [was] back in his home.'... The crowds appear to be gathering again - far more quietly this time but hardly tentatively. Community-based movements to halt the flood of foreclosures have been building across the country."

Blagojevich to Boycott Impeachment Trial "Gov. Rod Blagojevich today likened his Monday impeachment trial to a 'hanging' of the 12 million people of Illinois. The governor used an Old West analogy, citing an example where a cowboy stood accused of stealing a horse. One accuser would suggest hanging the thief while another would sarcastically suggest giving the thief a fair trial, then hanging him."

Red Cross: Zimbabwe Cholera Epidemic Could Top 60,000
Stephanie Nebehay, Reuters: "Zimbabwe's cholera epidemic is 'far from under control' and could exceed 60,000 cases over the next week, the Red Cross warned on Friday. Torrential rains are expected to spark major flooding and exacerbate the water-borne outbreak that has killed 2,773 people among 50,000 infected since August, the United Nations said."

VIDEO Weekly Address: Remarks of President Barack Obama
Barack Obama delivered his first weekly address to the American people Saturday: "We begin this year and this Administration in the midst of an unprecedented crisis that calls for unprecedented action. Just this week, we saw more people file for unemployment than at any time in the last twenty-six years, and experts agree that if nothing is done, the unemployment rate could reach double digits. Our economy could fall $1 trillion short of its full capacity, which translates into more than $12,000 in lost income for a family of four. And we could lose a generation of potential, as more young Americans are forced to forgo college dreams or the chance to train for the jobs of the future. In short, if we do not act boldly and swiftly, a bad situation could become dramatically worse."

FOCUS: Michael Winship Walking Down to Washington
Michael Winship, Truthout: "The image from Barack Obama's inauguration that will stay with me forever is people walking. Walking from wherever they lived or were staying in Washington, DC. And all headed for the exact same place. In the hours before dawn on January 20, they already were moving down Connecticut Avenue outside my brother and sister-in-law's apartment: groups of two and three and four or more; some wearing backpacks and carrying signs, quietly converging on the National Mall."

Pelosi Backs Letting Courts Modify Troubled Mortgages
Renae Merle, The Washington Post: "House Speaker Nancy Pelosi yesterday gave her support to legislation that would allow bankruptcy judges to modify troubled mortgages, saying it is a 'very high priority and should be passed as soon as possible.' Democrats have been considering whether to include the provision in the economic stimulus package making its way through Congress or attempt to pass it as a stand-alone bill. 'Either way, I'd like to get it passed as soon as possible,' the California Democrat said."

VIDEO Olbermann Interviews NSA Whistleblower on Wiretaps
Kim Zetter, Wired: "NSA whistleblower Russell Tice was back on Keith Olbermann's MSNBC program Thursday evening to expand on his Wednesday revelations that the National Security Agency spied on individual US journalists, entire US news agencies as well as 'tens of thousands' of other Americans."
Part I

Friday, January 23, 2009

Don't miss Dave Mason in Mishawaka tomorrow

Dave Mason will appear at Best Buy - 6502 Grape Rd. at 4pm. Admission is free.

Tribune Staff Writer

Dave Mason is feelin’ better than alright about his new album, “26 Letters — 12 Notes.” “I think it’s one of the better albums that I’ve done,” he says by telephone from his home in California. “I think it’s a really good album that I’ve put together.”

He’s right.

His first studio album since 1987, “26 Letters — 12 Notes” contains several very good examples of Mason’s roots-based songwriting, as well as a few well-chosen songs by others, and highlights his underrated guitar playing and resonant voice.

“Essentially, I was making the album for my own amusement, but I guess I could say that anyway,” he says. “I do this stuff for my own amusement and get to a point where I like it and then hope somebody else likes it.”

So far, Mason has done well on that front since he and Steve Winwood, Jim Capaldi and Chris Wood founded Traffic in 1967. For that band, Mason wrote “You Can All Join In,” “Feelin’ Alright?” and “Hole in My Shoe” during his on-again, off-again tenure with the band in the late ’60s and early ’70s. As a songwriter and solo artist, Mason had hits with such songs as “Only You Know and I Know,” “World in Changes” and “We Just Disagree.”

The guitarist also played on some of rock’s classic albums, including The Rolling Stones’ “Beggar’s Banquet,” Jimi Hendrix’s “Electric Ladyland” and George Harrison’s “All Things Must Pass,” as well as such lesser-known albums as Delaney & Bonnie and Friends’ “On Tour With Eric Clapton,” Graham Nash’s “Songs for Beginners” and Capaldi’s “Oh How We Danced.”

full article:

Our response - ability

from All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church of NYC

The first test

New York Times

There is a strong case to be made for a short, sharp stimulus package to restrain the collapse of the American economy. This would involve big, simple programs with immediate impact — a temporary cut in the payroll tax, big aid to the states, expanded unemployment insurance and food stamps.

There’s also a very strong case to be made for long-term government reform. America could fundamentally rethink its infrastructure policies — create a new model adapted to new modes of community-building. It could fundamentally rethink human capital policies — create a lifelong menu of learning options, from pre-K programs to service opportunities for the elderly.

But the stimulus bill emerging in the House of Representatives does neither of these things. The bill marked up Wednesday in the Appropriations Committee is a muddled mixture of short-term stimulus haste and long-term spending commitments. It is an unholy marriage that manages to combine the worst of each approach — rushed short-term planning with expensive long-term fiscal impact.

The bill has three essential failings. First, it lacks any strategic vision. This $825 billion bill has to be passed within weeks. There’s no time for fundamental rethinking or new approaches. Instead, there’s a sloppy profusion of 152 different appropriations — off-the-shelf ideas that mostly create costlier versions of the status quo.

The committee staff took the kernel of President Obama’s vision — infrastructure programs to create jobs — and surrounded it with an undisciplined sprawl of health, education, entitlement and other spending. There’s money for nurse training, Medicare, Head Start, boatyard support, home weatherization and so on. Eleven of the programs in the bill account for the vast majority of the actual job creation. The rest may be worthy or not, but they have little to do with stimulus. The total package is so diffuse, it costs $223,000 to create a single job.

Second, the bill has relatively modest short-term impact. Many parts don’t even pretend to be stimulus measures, like funding for basic research, or special ed programs. But even the parts of the bill that aim to stimulate will have modest near-term impact. A study by the Congressional Budget Office found that less than half of the money for infrastructure and discretionary programs would be spent by Oct. 1, 2010.

According to The Washington Post, of the $30 billion devoted to highway spending, only $4 billion will be spent in the next two years. Less than $3 billion of the $18.5 billion for renewable energy and less than half the financing for school construction will be spent by 2011.

The Appropriations Committee chairman, David Obey, fulminated against the C.B.O. Wednesday, and the uselessness of economists in general, but he had no answer to these findings.

Third, the spending measures in this bill have no sunset. In the middle of the Appropriations markup, the ranking member, Jerry Lewis from California, asked his chairman the crucial question: What happens when the economy recovers? Does this new spending disappear?

Chairman Obey refused to answer, but he didn’t have to. The entire argument for these measures over the previous hours had been that they were good in themselves. The commitments in this bill will constitute the new budget base line. They will contribute to the coming $2 trillion deficits. Worse, these new structures, and the lobbyists they attract, will create more impediments to the innovation that Obama may seek in the years ahead.

On Tuesday, President Obama was inaugurated and vowed a new era. On Wednesday, the House Appropriations Committee met and showed the old era was very much alive. Democratic subcommittee chairmen sat like potted plants because all power was wielded by Chairman Obey. Republicans were in the dark because of an information embargo placed on the majority staff.

President Obama is clearly going to have to show the hard way that he meant what he said about bringing change. He didn’t run for president just to sign whatever bills the Old Bulls put on his desk.

He’s going to have to prove the hard way that he meant what he said about being pragmatic and evidence-based. That means he won’t sweep a C.B.O. study under the rug simply because the findings are inconvenient.

He’s going to have to show that his plans have credibility, that a stimulus bill is really a stimulus bill, and not a Christmas tree for every special interest desire.

If he can do that, we’ll look back on this stimulus as a timely, temporary and targeted success. If not, we’ll just remember it as the sprawling mess that kicked up dozens of scandal headlines about $200 million programs to lay grass around the Jefferson Memorial.

The glow of the inauguration lingers, but the precedent-setting tests are already at hand.

Stuck in the muddle

New York Times

Like anyone who pays attention to business and financial news, I am in a state of high economic anxiety. Like everyone of good will, I hoped that President Obama’s Inaugural Address would offer some reassurance, that it would suggest that the new administration has this thing covered.

But it was not to be. I ended Tuesday less confident about the direction of economic policy than I was in the morning.

Just to be clear, there wasn’t anything glaringly wrong with the address — although for those still hoping that Mr. Obama will lead the way to universal health care, it was disappointing that he spoke only of health care’s excessive cost, never once mentioning the plight of the uninsured and underinsured.

Also, one wishes that the speechwriters had come up with something more inspiring than a call for an “era of responsibility” — which, not to put too fine a point on it, was the same thing former President George W. Bush called for eight years ago.

But my real problem with the speech, on matters economic, was its conventionality. In response to an unprecedented economic crisis — or, more accurately, a crisis whose only real precedent is the Great Depression — Mr. Obama did what people in Washington do when they want to sound serious: he spoke, more or less in the abstract, of the need to make hard choices and stand up to special interests.

That’s not enough. In fact, it’s not even right.

Thus, in his speech Mr. Obama attributed the economic crisis in part to “our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age” — but I have no idea what he meant. This is, first and foremost, a crisis brought on by a runaway financial industry. And if we failed to rein in that industry, it wasn’t because Americans “collectively” refused to make hard choices; the American public had no idea what was going on, and the people who did know what was going on mostly thought deregulation was a great idea.

Or consider this statement from Mr. Obama: “Our workers are no less productive than when this crisis began. Our minds are no less inventive, our goods and services no less needed than they were last week or last month or last year. Our capacity remains undiminished. But our time of standing pat, of protecting narrow interests and putting off unpleasant decisions — that time has surely passed.”

The first part of this passage was almost surely intended as a paraphrase of words that John Maynard Keynes wrote as the world was plunging into the Great Depression — and it was a great relief, after decades of knee-jerk denunciations of government, to hear a new president giving a shout-out to Keynes. “The resources of nature and men’s devices,” Keynes wrote, “are just as fertile and productive as they were. The rate of our progress towards solving the material problems of life is not less rapid. We are as capable as before of affording for everyone a high standard of life. ... But today we have involved ourselves in a colossal muddle, having blundered in the control of a delicate machine, the working of which we do not understand.”

But something was lost in translation. Mr. Obama and Keynes both assert that we’re failing to make use of our economic capacity. But Keynes’s insight — that we’re in a “muddle” that needs to be fixed — somehow was replaced with standard we’re-all-at-fault, let’s-get-tough-on-ourselves boilerplate.

Remember, Herbert Hoover didn’t have a problem making unpleasant decisions: he had the courage and toughness to slash spending and raise taxes in the face of the Great Depression. Unfortunately, that just made things worse.

Still, a speech is just a speech. The members of Mr. Obama’s economic team certainly understand the extraordinary nature of the mess we’re in. So the tone of Tuesday’s address may signify nothing about the Obama administration’s future policy.

On the other hand, Mr. Obama is, as his predecessor put it, the decider. And he’s going to have to make some big decisions very soon. In particular, he’s going to have to decide how bold to be in his moves to sustain the financial system, where the outlook has deteriorated so drastically that a surprising number of economists, not all of them especially liberal, now argue that resolving the crisis will require the temporary nationalization of some major banks.

So is Mr. Obama ready for that? Or were the platitudes in his Inaugural Address a sign that he’ll wait for the conventional wisdom to catch up with events? If so, his administration will find itself dangerously behind the curve.

And that’s not a place that we want the new team to be. The economic crisis grows worse, and harder to resolve, with each passing week. If we don’t get drastic action soon, we may find ourselves stuck in the muddle for a very long time.

FP morning post 1/23

Top Story

President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton yesterday announced the appointment of high-level envoys for two of the world's toughest hotspots. George Mitchell, a former Senate majority leader who was widely praised for facilitating negotiations in North Ireland, will be dispatched to Israel. Richard Holbrooke, a former assistant secretary of state (and managing editor of FP) known for his work in Bosnia, will coordinate development and diplomacy in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Both envoys will report directly to Clinton. According to Clinton, the high-profile appointments "make it abundantly clear that robust diplomacy and effective development are the best long-term tools for securing America's future."

But some observers, like veteran Mideast negotiator Aaron David Miller, worried that subcontracting these critical issues "could create a management problem."

Middle East
A former Guantanamo inmate is now running the Yemeni branch of al Qaeda, the New York Times reports.
Israel's war in Gaza boosted the popularity of its leaders, though perhaps not enough to defeat surging Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu.
Hamas has reportedly stepped up attacks against members of the rival Fatah party.

U.S. Treasury nominee Timothy Geithner accused China of manipulating its currency.
Kim Jong Il held his first meeting with a foreign envoy, a top Chinese official, since his stroke.
Thailand is coming under fire for its treatment of Burmese migrants.

Rwanda arrested Congo rebel leader Laurent Nkunda, a former ally.
City workers in the Zimbabwean capital, Harare, have gone on strike, demanding to be paid in hard currency.
The U.S. and its allies are working on a legal framework to try Somali pirates outside their homeland.

The UK is officially in a recession.
Ukraine may not be done negotiating over the recently inked gas deal with Russia.
Spain's already-high unemployment rate hit 13.9 percent.

Cuba's leader Raul Castro is hoping for a meeting with Barack Obama.
Mexico inaugurated one of the world's largest wind-farm projects.
Voters in Nashville, Tennessee rejected a proposal to make English the city's official language.

Truthout 1/23

Obama Moves to Reshape US Foreign Policy
The Associated Press: "President Barack Obama moved quickly Thursday to reshape US national-security policy, ordering the Guantanamo Bay prison camp closed within a year, forbidding the harshest treatment of terror suspects and naming new envoys to the Middle East and Afghanistan-Pakistan. 'We have no time to lose,' he said at the State Department as he welcomed newly confirmed Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to help him forge what he called 'a new era of American leadership' in the world."

Palestinians Mend Tunnels Despite Israeli Threats
Nidal al-Mughrabi, Reuters: "Hundreds of Palestinians came to the Gaza Strip's border with Egypt on Thursday to try to repair smuggling tunnels bombed by Israel during a 22-day offensive and restore a commercial lifeline to the Hamas-ruled territory. Residents along the border, where some Palestinians own tunnels and run them as businesses, said shipments of fuel and kerosene stoves had already been moving through the several dozen tunnels, out of hundreds, that were still functioning."

Obama Frees Bush Historical Records
Robert Parry, Consortium News: "When authoritarian forces seize control of a government, they typically move first against the public's access to information, under the theory that a confused populace can be more easily manipulated. They take aim at the radio stations, TV and newspapers. In the case of George W. Bush in 2001, he also took aim at historical records, giving himself and his family indefinite control over documents covering the 12 years of his father's terms as President and Vice President. It was, therefore, significant that one of Barack Obama's first acts as President was to revoke the Bush Family's power over that history and to replace it with an easier set of regulations for accessing the records."

Senate Passes Wage Discrimination Bill
Jim Abrams, The Associated Press: "A wage discrimination bill that heralds the pro-labor policies of the Democratic-controlled Congress and White House cleared the Senate Thursday and could be on President Barack Obama's desk within days. The legislation reverses a 2007 Supreme Court ruling that narrowly defines the time period during which a worker can file a claim of wage discrimination, even if the worker is unaware for months or years that he or she is getting less than colleagues doing the same job. It has been a priority for women's groups seeking to narrow the wage gap between men and women."

Aide: Paterson Picks Gillibrand as Next New York Senator
Michael Gormley, The Associated Press: "Gov. David Paterson has picked Democratic US Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand to fill New York's vacant US Senate seat, an aide to the governor said early Friday, a day after Caroline Kennedy abruptly withdrew from consideration. Gillibrand, a second-term lawmaker from upstate New York, will be named to fill the seat vacated when Hillary Rodham Clinton resigned to become secretary of state in the Obama administration, the aide said, speaking on condition of anonymity because an announcement hadn't been made. An announcement was scheduled for later Friday."

Global Warming Increasing Death Rate of US Trees, Scientists Warn
Alok Jha, The Guardian UK: "Trees in the western United States are dying twice as quickly as they did three decades ago and scientists think global warming is to blame. In their surveys, ecologists found that a wide range of tree species were dying including pines, firs and hemlocks and at a variety of altitudes. The changes can have serious long-term effects including reducing biodiversity and turning western forests into a source of carbon dioxide as they die and decompose. That could lead to a runaway effect that speeds up climate change."

Phillip Butler To Support and Defend
Phillip Butler, Truthout: "I served 20 years as an active duty commissioned officer. During that time, I became a naval aviator, flew combat in Vietnam, was downed over North Vietnam on April 20, 1965, and became a prisoner of war. I was repatriated on February 12, 1973, having served 2,855 days and nights as a POW - just short of eight years. The Vietnamese were not signatories to any international treaties on treatment of prisoners. They pronounced us 'criminals' and freely used torture, harassment, malnutrition, isolation, lack of medical care, and other degradations during our captivity. I was tortured dozens of times during my captivity. But I often thought of our Constitution and the higher purpose we served - a purpose that helped me resist beyond what I thought I'd ever be capable of. Ironically, we POWs often reminded each other 'that our country would never stoop to torture and the low level of treatment we were experiencing at the hands of our captors.'"

Paul Rockwell A New Economy Has Already Begun
Paul Rockwell, The Berkeley Daily Planet: "Olivia Caldwell is a young, single mother who lives in Oakland, a city wracked by unemployment, foreclosures, escalating high school dropout rates, and violent crime. Olivia herself served time for petty theft. When she was released from prison, she joined Oakland's Green Jobs Corps, an experimental project that changed her life. Backed by local trade unions and community colleges, 40 paid trainees were prepared for green construction jobs, primarily in solar panel installation. The program worked, and today, small as it may be in size, it is a microcosm for the future."

First Embryonic Stem Cell Trial Gets Approval From the FDA
Malcolm Ritter, The Associated Press: "A U.S. biotech company says it plans to start this summer the world's first study of a treatment based on human embryonic stem cells - a long-awaited project aimed at spinal cord injury. The company gained federal permission this week to inject eight to 10 patients with cells derived from embryonic cells, said Dr. Thomas Okarma, president and CEO of Geron Corp. of Menlo Park, Calif. The patients will be paraplegics, who can use their arms but can't walk. They will receive a single injection within two weeks of their injury."

UN Concerned for Safety of Sri Lankan Civilians
Ravi Nessman, The Associated Press: "The United Nations expressed growing concern Friday for the safety of tens of thousands of children and other civilians trapped in the war zone in northern Sri Lanka and called on the Tamil Tiger rebels to let them leave. The move came amid reports that scores of civilians have been killed by government artillery and rocket attacks on the rebel-held areas in recent days."

Matthew Yglesias Getting Rid of the "War on Terror" Mindset
Matthew Yglesias, The American Prospect: "The notion of a 'war on terror' is a controversial one - British Foreign Secretary David Miliband recently critiqued it for giving the impression of a 'unified, transnational enemy.' Will Obama discard the phrase? The inauguration of Barack Obama clearly augurs the beginning of the end of America's disastrous war in Iraq. Less clear is what it means for the larger conceptual framework in which the war is embedded, the so-called 'war on terror' of which the Iraq war, in the Bush administration's formulation, is but one 'battle.'"

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Would you want your kids excluded?

Last week, hundreds of you emailed your Representative in Congress to demand that economic stimulus include everyone. Now we need your help to make sure the Senate follows through on your community values --- and improves the lives of children across our country.

The State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) is the federal block grant program that States depend on to provide health coverage for low-income and working poor families. Thanks to grassroots organizations that are part of the Campaign for Community Values, legislation now in the Senate would expand SCHIP to remove a five-year waiting period on covering immigrant children who are permanent, legal residents in the United States. We need your help to make sure the legislation passes in tact because caring for our nation's children means all children. You wouldn't want your children left behind.

In his inaugural address, President Barack Obama said "our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness." Tell the Senate that strong communities include everyone --- and so should SCHIP!

Thanks for everything you do,

PS --- Taproots fellow Joseph Phelan from the Miami Workers Center just wrote an excellent article for the Movement Vision Lab about the current political moment and the change that is possible. You should check it out!.

The whole world is watching

UN chief leads protests after Israeli air strikes
Jan 15, 2009

PARIS (AFP) — UN chief Ban Ki-moon led international protests Thursday describing the Palestinian death toll as "unbearable" as Israeli air strikes hit a hospital, media building and UN compound.

"I have conveyed my strong protest and outrage and demanded a full explanation from the defence minister and foreign minister," Ban told reporters in Tel Aviv after the strike on a UN compound in Gaza.

The UN suspended its operations in Gaza after Israeli shells smashed into the compound, setting fire to warehouses holding badly-needed aid.

Other strikes set a hospital on fire and wounded two cameramen in a building housing international and Arab media outlets.

"The number of casualties has reached an unbearable point," said Ban.

Wrapping up a three-day visit to the Palestinian territories and Israel, International Committee of the Red Cross President Jakob Kellenberger also condemned the strikes, saying it was "unacceptable that wounded people receiving treatment in hospitals are put at risk."

Following the bombing of the UN compound, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice spoke by telephone to Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak and Prime Minister Tzipi Livni, said spokesman Sean McCormack.

"We are also deeply concerned by the situation in Gaza. The situation on the ground is dreadful," he said.

And in Brussels, the European Union's Czech presidency called Israel's attack on the UN building "simply unacceptable," with the EU's humanitarian aid commissioner calling for an investigation -- a call echoed by London-based rights group Amnesty International.

Meanwhile, the UN General Assembly began an emergency session with its president, Nicaragua's Miguel d'Escoto Brockmann, accusing Israel of violating international law by pressing on with its deadly military assault.

"Gaza is ablaze. It has been turned into a burning hell," D'Escoto said, describing numerous violations to international law in the Israeli offensive.

UN Security Council envoys also expressed "grave concern" over the strikes during closed-door consultations, France's UN ambassador told reporters.

"We are calling on all parties to respect international humanitarian law and especially to ensure the protection of civilians," said Jean-Maurice Ripert, the council chair this month.

Since Israel launched its offensive on December 27, at least 1,038 people, including many children, have been killed in the Hamas-run territory, according to Gaza's head of emergency services Moawiya Hassanein. Another 4,850 have been wounded.

France denounced the latest attacks "in the strongest terms," said foreign ministry spokesman Eric Chevallier.

In Berlin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel expressed shock at the humanitarian situation and stressed the need to stop arms smuggling into Gaza.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown also condemned the violence on both sides and described the attack on the UN headquarters as "indefensible."

Greece strongly protested to Israel after its navy turned back a boat chartered by Greek activists to take medical aid to the Gaza Strip, the foreign ministry said, while the European Parliament similarly denounced the Israeli blockade for preventing aid from arriving in Gaza.

In Rome, Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini announced he would accompany an aid convoy into Gaza on Monday. In line with many other world leaders, he called for a ceasefire.

For his part, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad accused some Arab and Islamic states of complicity in what he described as the "genocide" being carried out by the Israelis against Palestinians in Gaza.

"Unfortunately, some states in the Arab and Islamic region tolerate or support this rare genocide with silence or a smile of satisfaction," Ahmadinejad said in a letter to Saudi King Abdullah.

And the Council of Jewish Communities in Morocco (CCIM) described the population of Gaza as "sitting targets" who were "suffering under the bombs, the widespread destruction, the lack of food and water."

In Tunisia, more than 2,000 lawyers marched through the capital clad in their traditional black robes and chanting anti-Israeli and pro-Palestinian slogans.

The African Union said it maintained its "strong condemnation of the ongoing intolerable air raids and onslaughts on the Gaza Strip by Israel."

FP morning post 1/22

Top Story

In his first major break from Bush administration policy, President Barack Obama is expected today to order the closing of the prison at Guantanamo Bay within a one-year deadline. Obama is also expected to order an end to the CIA's interrogation of prisoners at so-called "black site" prisons and the use of abusive interrogation techniques like waterboarding.

What will be done with the Guantanamo detainees -- including suspected 9/11 planner Khalid Sheikh Mohammed whose trial is currently on hold -- is less clear.

On today, Columbia law professor Matthew Waxman explains why the hardest part of closing Guantanamo is still to come. We also have a list of the most notorious prisons still in operation.

Middle East
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called Gaza's civilian death toll "unbearable" and demanded an explanation from Israel
Turkey arrested dozens more suspected coup plotters.
Israel is hoping for a prisoner swap with Hamas to secure the return of imprisoned IDF soldier Gilad Shalit.

China's economic growth fell almost 7 percent last quarter.
China sentenced two officials blamed for producing tainted milk to death.
Indian software giant Satyam padded its employee numbers in order steal cash, say prosecutors.

The death toll from Zimbabwe's cholera outbreak rose 20 percent in a week.
Guinea's new military government is investigating graft charges against their predecessors.
Kenya is investigating the disappearance of $100 million worth of oil imports.

Controversial Dutch MP Geert Wilders will be charged with hate speech for making anti-Islamic statements.
A group of banks is lobbying the EU to provide crisis aid to Eastern Europe's flagging economies.
Analysts worry that Ukraine may default on its sizeable debts.

Caroline Kennedy has withdrawn her bid for Hilary Clinton's New York senate seat.
Opposition protests are becoming more intense in Venezuela as the country' gears up for next month's vote on a referendum to extend presidential term limits.
Exxon has discovered new oil reserves off the coast of Brazil.

Obama administration
Six Obama cabinet nominees, including Hillary Clinton, were confirmed yesterday.
Treasury nominee Timothy Geithner was grilled over his personal finances.
Just to be safe, Chief Justice John Roberts administered the oath of office to Barack Obama one more time. Do all the things he did yesterday still count?

Truthout 1/22

Steve Weissman Hopes and Fears for Obama's First Year
Steve Weissman, Truthout: "The excitement over America's new president is growing, even here in the backwoods of France. Over dinner last week, a completely apolitical and non-religious British friend compared Barack Obama to Jesus Christ, while my favorite French magazine waxed lyrical on Obama's 'cool.' As an old-time Doubting Thomas, I have never felt that kind of enthusiasm for any political figure, but the significance of Obama's election struck me in an unexpected way."

Obama Signs Order to Close Guantanamo
CBS News: "President Barack Obama began overhauling U.S. treatment of terror suspects Thursday, signing orders to close the Guantanamo Bay detention center, review military trials of suspects and ban the harshest interrogation methods. With three executive orders and a presidential directive signed in the Oval Office, Mr. Obama started reshaping how the United States prosecutes and questions al Qaeda, Taliban or other foreign fighters who pose a threat to Americans."

Benjamin Dangl Bolivians Mobilize for National Vote on New Constitution
Benjamin Dangl, Truthout, examines the upcoming vote in Bolivia on a new constitution. He writes from La Paz: "The coming days will be full of marches across the country for and against the new constitution ..."

Obama Boom for K Street
Jeffrey Young and Kevin Bogardus, The Hill: "K Street lobbyists expect a bonanza this year because of the aggressive agenda of President Obama and congressional Democrats. 'Big government is back,' said Mark Ruge, who heads the policy group at K&L Gates. 'It's going to be a very, very active Congress.' A day after the Inauguration of Obama, lobbying firms were releasing weak 2008 money numbers, but realized that big government was going to mean big demand from corporate America for lobbyists to play offense and defense on their behalf."

Jobless Claims Surge, Housing Starts Tumble
Lucia Mutikani, Reuters: "The number of workers lining up for jobless benefits surged last week, while new housing starts and permits hit record lows in December, pointing at an acceleration in the economy's downward spiral. First time applications for state unemployment insurance benefits increased to a seasonally adjusted 589,000 in the week ended January 17 from a revised 527,000 the prior week, the Labor Department said on Thursday. The last time claims were higher was in 1982, when they notched a weekly rise of 612,000."

Obama First Calls Abbas
Patrick Martin, The Globe and Mail: "US President Barack Obama's first full day in office certainly made a big impression on some people. His first action - the suspension of the Guantanamo system for alleged Islamic terrorists - caught the attention of Muslims around the world. And his first overseas telephone call, to Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas, stunned Palestinians and many Israelis as well. 'We were not expecting such a quick call from President Obama, but we knew how serious he is about the Palestinian problem,' said a very excited Yasser Abed Rabbo, a senior adviser to Mr. Abbas."

Senate Republicans Delay Holder Vote Over Torture Views
David Lightman and Marisa Taylor, McClatchy Newspapers: "Key Republicans delayed a vote on Wednesday on the confirmation of attorney general nominee Eric Holder in part over concerns that he views Bush administration interrogation practices as torture. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, a senior member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he wanted to know more after Holder sidestepped questions about whether he intends to prosecute officials who condoned or carried out the interrogations. 'He's been very ambiguous,' Cornyn told reporters. 'We need more clarification.'"

US Accused of Killing 25 Afghan Civilians in Raid on Militants
Saeed Shah, The Guardian UK: "The US military is investigating claims that more than two dozen Afghan civilians were killed during an attack on militants. The issue has badly undermined support for the international coalition and President Hamid Karzai. As Karzai seeks re-election later this year, he has used the issue of civilian deaths to try to distance himself from the west and has repeatedly called for more care to be taken by coalition troops."

Obama to Sign Order Shutting Guantanamo in a Year
Lara Jakes And David Espo, The Associated Press: "President Barack Obama plans to sign an executive order Thursday to close the Guantanamo Bay detention center within a year and halt military trials of terror suspects held there, a senior administration official said. The executive order was one of three expected imminently on how to interrogate and prosecute al-Qaida, Taliban or other foreign fighters believed to threaten the United States. The official said the president would sign the order Thursday, fulfilling his campaign promise to shut down a facility that critics around the world say violates domestic and international detainee rights."

Caroline Kennedy Withdraws Senate Bid
The Associated Press: "Caroline Kennedy withdrew from consideration for the US Senate seat once held by her slain uncle, Bobby Kennedy, after a night of turmoil and uncertainty over her intentions. 'I informed Governor Paterson today that for personal reasons I am withdrawing my name from consideration for the United States Senate,' she said in a one-sentence statement released after midnight. Her spokesman, Stefan Friedman, wouldn't comment further. Her uncle, Sen. Edward Kennedy, suffered a seizure on Inauguration Day."

Senate Democrats Move Toward Seating Franken
The Associated Press: "It's no joke: Senate Democrats are moving toward letting comedian Al Franken join the chamber while Republican Norm Coleman's election lawsuit is pending. 'We're going to try to seat Al Franken,' Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., told reporters on Wednesday, a few hours before he posed with Franken for photos just off the Senate floor. 'There's not a question in anyone's mind, an assertion by anyone, that there's been any fraud or wrongdoing in this election.'"

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Another evening in the Twilight Zone

Don Wheeler

If you've never attended a SBCSC Board Meeting, I can assure you that it's a singular experience. I fear the weirdness of the pageant may be addictive. In fact, though I've only been to a few, I notice some people (who look like regulars) have expressions reminiscent of "the guy at the end of the bar". They can't seem to not be there. But I digress.

I was assured by Dustin Saunders, a regular, that this meeting last night was a record setter - tipping the scales at approximately four hours. The agenda was ambitious and there were two highly contentious issues on it - proposed trimester scheduling as well as the new retirement program.

After the gallery had been heard from on the business matters of the evening, the Board rapidly moved to the item proposing changing all High School schedules from semesters to trimesters - as recommended by the administration. With one exception (which I'll return to), this discussion went pretty well. There was more posturing and pontificating than was needed, but that's not a terrible thing.

The motion failed 3-4.

Another proposal was introduced to install a trimester trial program (for 4 years) at Washington High School. When asked about that, Superintendent James Kapsa stated that the research committee for scheduling did not support this sort of option. When asked whether the corporation was currently set up to administer two different types of High School scheduling, reports, etc., Director of High School Programs, Gene Hollenberg said no.

So the board voted 6-1 to do it anyway.

One of the multitude of ironies is that supporters of the district wide plan cited the need to honor the skills and research of the administration - and accept their recommendation. Yet, when the recommendation was not to approve the partial approach - suddenly it didn't seem to matter.

I find infuriating that these folks can't seem to be consistent. Whether its true or not, (and I believe this Board gets criticism which is unjust) this gives the appearance of political expediency.

Another example of this lack of consistency: Trustee Sniadecki objected to allowing Superintendent Kapsa the authority to make a decision on behalf of the Corporation. He argued that state law required the Board had to make that sort of decision directly. I disagree - I believe the Board can delegate the authority, but not the responsibility. Still, I respect his argument.

Later, he argued that the Board should accept the second lowest bid on the Monroe Primary project because it was offered by a local company. Several members said that they sympathized, but state law required them to accept the low bid. The Board accepted the low bid 6-1.

Part of the reason the meeting lasted so long had to do with the conduct of the presiding officer. Sporatic, unprovoked personal attacks of Ms Hummel (this meeting's target) by Mr. Sniadecki were not discouraged. When tempers heated, there was no admonition that remarks be addressed to the Chair. There was a mix-up on a motion to end debate - treated as a vote on the main motion. Thanks to Ms. Hummel, that was sorted out.

Then there was the discussion of the Washington High test program, where Principal George McCullough was asked for input. The question posed to him, as I remember it was roughly: Does this one school option make sense to you and can it work?

Mr. McCullough started by saying "Yes", but then proceeded to upbraid the Board for not passing the original plan. He accused them, he insulted them, he went on and on... Finally, Trustee Roger Parent asked if his remarks could be narrowed to the question he was asked. That worked briefly, but Mr. McCollough managed a reprise later.

I've said this before, but I will continue to say it. The community will never have confidence in the administration of public education until the leadership gives them good reason to.

I gave them all our money and said "please, leave us alone!", or, let's go phishing!



We the Federal bureau of investigation (FBI) Washington, DC inconjunction with
some other relevant Investigation Agencies here in the United states of
America have recently been informed through our Global intelligence monitoring
network that you presently have a transaction going on with the Central Bank
of Nigeria (CBN) as regards to your over-due contract payment which was fully
endorsed in your favor accordingly.

It might interest you to know that we have taken out time in screening through
this project as stipulated on our protocol of operation and have finally
confirmed that your contract payment is 100% genuine and hitch free from all
facet and of which you have the lawful right to claim your fund without any
further delay.Having said all this, we will further advise that you go
ahead in dealing with the Central Bank office

accordingly as we will be monitoring all their services with you as well as
your correspondence at all level. In addendum, also be informed that we recently had a meeting with the
Executive Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, in the person of Prof.
Chukwuma Soludo along with some of the top officials of the Ministry regarding
your case and they made us to understand that your file has been held in abase
depending on when you personally come for the claim.They also told us that the
only problem they are facing right now is that some unscrupulous element are
using this project as an avenue to scam innocent people off their hard earned
money by impersonating the Executive Governor and the Central Bank office.

We were also made to understand that a lady with NAME: JANET WHITE BANK NAME: CITI BANK ARIZONA, USA.
ACCOUNT NUMBER: 6503809428. has already contacted them and also presented to them all the necessary
documentation’s evidencing your claim purported to have been signed personally
by you prior to the release of your contract fund valued at about
US$10,500,000.00 (Ten Million Five Hundred Thousand United States Dollars.),
but the Central Bank office did the wise thing by insisting on hearing from
you personally before the go ahead on wiring your fund to the Bank
information’s which was forwarded to them by the above named Lady so that was
the main reason why they contacted us so as to assist them in making the

They further informed us that we should warn our dear citizens who must have
been informed of the contract payment which was awarded to them from the
Central Bank of Nigeria, to be very careful prior to this irregularities so
that they don't fall victim to this ugly circumstance. And should incase you
are already dealing with anybody or office claiming to be from the Central
Bank of Nigeria, you are further advised to STOP further contact with them in
your best interest and then contact immediately the real office of the Central
Bank of Nigeria (CBN) only with the below informations accordingly,
And you are to call him rigth away that you are Instructed by We the FBI to call him and he should stop the payment not to be made to Janet White:

NAME: Prof. Charles C. Soludo.
Executive Governor, Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN)..

OFFICE ADDRESS: Central Bank of Nigeria,
Abuja, Federal Capital Territory,
Direct Number: +234-80-223-994-91



In your best interest, any message that doesn't come from the above official
email address and phone numbers should not be replied to and should be
disregarded accordingly for security reasons. Meanwhile, we will advise that
you contact the Central Bank office immediately with the above email address
and request that they attend to your payment file as directed so as to enable
you receive your contract fund accordingly.

Ensure you follow all their procedure as may be required by them as that will
further help hasten up the whole procedures as regards to the transfer of your
fund to you as designated. Also have in mind that the Central Bank of Nigeria
equally have their own protocol of operation as stipulated on their banking
terms, so delay could be very dangerous. Once again, we will advise that you
contact them with the above email address and make sure you forward to them
all the necessary informations which they may require from you prior to the
release of your fund to you accordingly.

All modalities has already been worked out even before you were contacted and
note that we will be monitoring all your dealings with them as you proceed so
you don't have anything to worry about. All we require from you henceforth is
an update so as to enable us be on track with you and the Central Bank of
Nigeria. Without wasting much time, will want you to contact them immediately
with the above email address so as to enable them attend to your case
accordingly without any further delay as time is already running out.

Should in case you need any more informations in regards to this notification,
feel free to get back to us so that we can brief you more as we are here to guide you
during and after this project has been completely perfected and you have
received your contract fund as stated.Thank you very much for your anticipated
co-operation in advance as we earnestly await your urgent response to this matter.


Robert S. Mueller III
Federal Bureau of Investigation
J. Edgar Hoover Building
935 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW Washington, D.C.
20535-0001, USA Email:

America's sin: Silence in the face of injustice

from Voice of the People
South Bend Tribune

In his "Letter from a Birmingham Jail," the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. proclaimed, "We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the vitriolic words and actions of the bad people, but for the appalling silence of the good people ..."

While we can take comfort in the fact that the civil rights movement ended this country's most blatant forms of racism, the persistence of injustice in our society should inspire outrage and action.

Are we standing in appalling silence as our immigrant neighbors live in constant fear of workplace raids and racial profiling — all because they were forced to leave their home countries to find work to support their families?

Are we speaking out to demand and end to discrimination against people based on their sexual orientation? Or are we watching silently as others are denied equal rights?

Are we demanding that this exceptionally rich country provide for the basic needs of all? Or are we content to substitute charity for justice as long as our own comforts are secure?

If King were alive today, he would no doubt demand that we end these appalling silences that perpetuate human suffering and indignity.

Jackie Smith
South Bend

FP Morning Post 1/21

Top Story

After being sworn in as the first African-American president in U.S. history, Barack Obama urged Americans to "put away childish things" and usher in a "new era of responsibility" in an inaugural address that was more somber than some of his previous speeches.

Obama took one step almost immediately, instructing military prosecutors on Tuesday night to suspend military trials at Guantanamo Bay, a maneuver designed to allow the administration time to devise a new procedure for the controversial trials.

Obama will meet today with his top military and security advisers to attempt to devise a strategy for pulling troops out of Iraq and escalating the U.S. commitment to Afghanistan. He will be meeting with his economic team as well.

He is also expected to name former senator and veteran international troubleshooter George Mitchell as Mideast envoy.

Middle East
Israel has completed its pullout from Gaza.
Iraq may be willing to have U.S. troops leave the country before the previously agreed 2011 deadline.
The U.S. consulate in Dubai is closed today because of an unspecified security threat.

Gen. David Petraeus visited Afghanistan to work out a deal to open supply routes to coalition forces.
The U.S. military is investigating an incident that the Afghan media claims left more than two-dozen civilians dead.
Singapore's economy may shrink an unprecedented 5 percent this year.

France will not send any more troops to Afghanistan, says its defense minister.
Kosovo's new armed forces have taken over security for the country.
Russia says there's no reason to worry about the disintegration of a Soviet-era nuclear satellite.

The inauguration celebrations continue in Obama's ancestral homeland, Kenya.
Gunmen kidnapped a foreign oil worker in Nigeria.
Malian authorities say they have defeated the country's main Tuareg rebel group.

Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim will become one of the largest shareholders in the New York Times.
Three severed heads were found in an icebox in northern Mexico.
Ailing Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy suffered a seizure at a luncheon for Barack Obama following the inauguration.

Truthout 1/21

Dr. Wilmer J. Leon III A Moment to Be Proud
Dr. Wilmer J. Leon III, Truthout: "On January 20, 2009, with the inauguration of America's 44th president, its first African-American president, America took a giant step toward reclaiming its light. This is the moment for Americans to be proud and an invitation for this country to truly be great again."

Obama to Discuss Accelerating Iraq Troop Drawdown
Reuters: "Barack Obama on Wednesday will meet top defense and military officials for the first time as president to discuss the possibility of accelerating the drawdown of U.S. troops from Iraq, officials said. Obama, who has pledged to pull U.S. combat forces out of Iraq within 16 months, was also expected to discuss the need for more forces in Afghanistan at the White House with a Pentagon delegation led by Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, officials said."

Judge Suspends Guantanamo Case at Obama's Request
Peter Finn, The Washington Post: "A U.S. military judge Wednesday suspended the trial of five detainees accused of involvement in plotting the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, acceding to a request from military prosecutors in accordance with a directive from the new Obama administration late Tuesday. The suspension halts until late May the trial of Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the avowed mastermind of the Sept. 11 plot, and four other accused al-Qaeda members, even though Mohammed and three of the four objected to the delay."

Israel Admits Troops May Have Used Phosphorus Shells in Gaza
Peter Beaumont, The Guardian UK: "Israel has admitted - after mounting pressure - that its troops may have used white phosphorus shells in contravention of international law, during its three-week offensive in the Gaza Strip. One of the places most seriously affected by the use of white phosphorus was the main UN compound in Gaza City, which was hit by three shells on 15 January. The same munition was used in a strike on the al-Quds hospital in Gaza City the same day."

Iraq Attacks Kill Seven, Wound 22
Agence France-Presse: "Seven people died and at least 22 were wounded in a string of attacks across Iraq on Tuesday, highlighting the continuing violence as new US President Barack Obama pledged to 'leave Iraq to its people.' A car bomb targeting a US patrol in the afternoon killed three civilians and injured eight others in the central Baghdad district of Mansour. The US military said two of its soldiers were injured in the attack."

Tom Engelhardt The Day the Earth Still Stood: What Will Obama Inherit?
Tom Engelhardt,, discusses the impact of yesterday's inauguration and the legacy the Bush administration will leave behind.

George Packer Let Us Now Set Aside Childish Things
George Packer, The New Yorker: "There were echoes of Jefferson, Lincoln, and Roosevelt, but President Obama uttered no words today that will be quoted in a hundred years. He has never been a real stem-winder or a coiner of unforgettable phrases; what he's always been is a great explainer, who pays the rest of us the highest compliment - the appeal to reason. Today he explained why Americans need to grow up, and the tone and vision of his speech - sober, realistic, clear-minded, undaunted - were absolutely equal to the occasion and the times, down to his requisite scriptural passage: 'The time has come to set aside childish things.'"

Senate Confirms Five Cabinet Secretaries, Budget Director, Delays Clinton Vote
Janet Hook, The Chicago Tribune: "The Senate, acting within hours of President Obama's inauguration, confirmed six of his Cabinet secretaries and his budget director, but postponed for one day a vote on the nomination of Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State. GOP Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), had objected to approving Clinton's nomination by voice vote -- as the other nominees were today -- because he said he had continuing concerns about potential conflicts arising from foreign donations to the foundation of her husband, former President Bill Clinton."

Afghanistan Seeks Control Over NATO Deployments
Jason Straziuso and Amir Shah, The Associated Press: "The Afghan government has sent NATO headquarters a draft agreement that would give Afghanistan more control over future NATO deployments in the country - including the deployment of some U.S. troops, officials said Tuesday. The draft technical agreement would put into place rules of conduct for NATO-led troops in Afghanistan and the number of additional NATO troops and their location would have to be approved by the Afghan government."

Senator Kennedy O.K. After Seizure at Obama's Luncheon
David Espo, The Associated Press: "Senator Edward M. Kennedy, ill with a brain tumor, was hospitalized Tuesday but quickly reported feeling well after suffering a seizure at a post-inauguration luncheon for President Barack Obama. 'After testing, we believe the incident was brought on by simple fatigue,' Dr. Edward Aulisi, chairman of neurosurgery at Washington Hospital Center said in a statement released by the senator's office. 'He will remain ... overnight for observation, and will be released in the morning.'"

New White House Site Slams Bush
Andy Barr, The Politico: "The new White House website unveiled by President Barack Obama's team Tuesday includes a shot at former President Bush's response to Hurricane Katrina. Under the 'agenda' portion of the site regarding Katrina, it reads: 'President Obama will keep the broken promises made by President Bush to rebuild New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. He and Vice President Biden will take steps to ensure that the federal government will never again allow such catastrophic failures in emergency planning and response to occur.'"

World Watches Inauguration With Hope, Skepticism
Jack Chang, McClatchy Newspapers: "Tens of millions around the world watched Barack Obama take the presidential oath of office Tuesday with a mix both of hope that he'd bring peace to a war-torn world and skepticism about what one man could accomplish. In Kenya, where his father was born, hundreds of people from all walks of life and ethnic communities sat in the great court of the University of Nairobi, counting the hours and minutes until the inauguration."

VIDEO President Barack Obama Delivers Inaugural Address
Barack Obama, sworn in as the 44th president of the United States, delivers his inaugural address in front of more than a million enthusiastic supporters on Tuesday, January 20, 2009.

On Pulling A Little Prank, Or, Hey-Hey-Hey, Good Bye!

OK, America, so I pulled a tiny prank tonight—and it was so classic that I have to tell you all about it.

It involves freedom of speech, a friendly message to one of those crazy Republicans we all know—and it forced that crazy Republican to get up at three in the morning because he could not handle the threat to his world view.

Wanna hear all about it?

Then come along and follow the story...because it’s worth it.

So here’s the deal: we have a neighbor who just has not been able to let go of the fact that McCain lost. If you drive past his one-home gated community, there on the giant steel gate is his giant McCain/Palin banner, flying proud...even to this day.

Well, driving past it every day started to give me an idea...

What if I made a banner of my own, and put it up across from his gate, so that the first thing he would see on Inauguration Day would be my special message?

Nothing mean...just something funny.

So I went out the other day, bought me a giant piece of posterboard and a big marker, and put the classic message “Na-Na-Na-Na...Na-Na-Na-Na...Hey-Hey-Hey...Good Bye!” in red letters big enough for all to see.

And tonight, at about 3AM...I put it up.

I had to drive a little way down from his property to pull over—and clad in my camouflage jacket, I surreptitiously crept up to the property across the street, which is a piece of uncleared forest.

My goal: the telephone pole just immediately across from the heavy metal security gate...and its giant banner.

There was almost no wind...and it was quiet.
Too quiet.

After about 50 feet of walking, I could hear the dogs beginning to stir.
Two, maybe three, starting to bark.

Only 25 feet to go now, and I could see my target, the telephone pole, approaching fast.

The dogs were starting to go nuts, but it’s likely the owners have to endure that several times a night as other people walk by, so I wasn’t too concerned.

So now I’ve made it to the pole—and just to show how polite I am about this kind of thing, I actually tied the sign to the pole with a string, so as not to damage the pole.

Then I set it down, facing his gate, and walked the 75 feet or so back to my car, hopped in, and drove away.

Mission Accomplished.

Two minutes later I’m back home, and The Girlfriend says: “let’s go back and see the sign”.

Chuckling, we hopped in the car for the two minute ride back.

Much to our was gone!

Apparently the owners have been sitting up, awaiting The Apocalypse all night, and now they’re sitting around the living room looking at my sign and spitting and fuming at the desecration of...well, as it turns out, the only thing desecrated was their minds, I guess.

After all, the poster was not on their property—in fact, no one even crossed over onto their side of the street during the entire event. And nothing was damaged in any way...and the sign didn’t even desecrate Our Dear Sarah Palin.

(By the way, if you’re married and obsessed with Sarah awkward do you think that must be?)

And apparently after spending the entire night waiting for the attack on his sign that never came...he’s now imported the infected sign...the Liberal Trojan Horse, if you will...onto his compound—right into the gated community of one home...where it is even now probably fueling his delusions of disaster.

So I guess I did what I set out to do. I sent a friendly message, it obviously affected the poor souls hiding behind the giant security gate...and even now, I suspect the thing they just can’t get out of their minds is that Barack Obama is going to be inaugurated, whether they like it or not, and all the denial and fear and paranoia in the world isn’t going to make the reality of it go away.

All in all...a pretty good start to a most excellent day.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The politics of cohesion

New York Times

In 1962, Daniel Bell published a book called “The End of Ideology.” The title struck a nerve because it reflected the view, common at the time, that the United States was about to leave behind the brutal, ideological politics that had characterized the 1930s and the early cold war. The 1960s, it was believed, would be a decade of cool pragmatism. Keynesian models would be used to scientifically regulate the economy. Important decisions would be made empirically.

Instead, we got what Francis Fukuyama later called The Great Disruption. The information economy began to disrupt the industrial economy. The feminist revolution disrupted gender and family relations. The civil rights revolution disrupted social arrangements. The Vietnam War discredited the establishment.

These disruptions were generally necessary and good, but the transition was painful. People lost faith in old social norms, but new ones had not yet emerged. The result was disorder. Divorce rates skyrocketed. Crime rates exploded. Faith in institutions collapsed. Social trust cratered.

As community bonds dissolved, individual autonomy asserted itself. Liberals championed the moral liberation of individuals. Conservatives championed their economic liberation. The combined result was a loss of community and social cohesion, and what Christopher Lasch called a culture of narcissism.

Instead of ending ideology, the Great Disruption produced ideological politics. The weakening of social norms led to fierce battles as groups vied to create new ones. Personal became political. Groups fought over basic patterns of morality.

Republicans tended to win elections because liberals were associated with disorder and conservatives with attempts to restore it. Yet both sides were infected with the same pulverizing style. Politics wasn’t just about allocating resources. It was a contest over values, lifestyles and the status of your tribe. This venomous style dominated politics straight through the two baby boomer presidencies — of Clinton and Bush.

But societies do mend themselves, slowly and organically. In 2002, Rick Warren wrote a phenomenally popular book called “The Purpose Driven Life.” The first sentence was, “It’s not about you.” That was a sign that the age of expressive individualism was coming to an end. New community patterns and social norms were coalescing.

Crime rates had begun to fall, along with teen pregnancy rates and a rash of other social indicators. Young people flocked to perform community service. Couples created families that sought to harvest the gains of feminism while preserving the best of traditionalism.

In the cultural realm, the Great Disruption came to an end. New social norms and patterns settled into place. Barack Obama exemplifies the social repair. The product of a scattered family, he has created a highly traditional one, headed by two professionally accomplished adults. To an almost eerie extent, he exemplifies discipline, equipoise and self-control. Under his leadership, as Peter Beinart noted in Time, Democrats came to seem like the party of order while Republicans were associated with disorder.

Obama’s challenge will be to translate the social repair that has occurred over the past decade into political and governing repair. Part of that will be done with his inaugural address today. Look for him to emphasize the themes of responsibility, cohesion and unity. Look for him to reject the culture, which lingered in the financial world, of anything goes.

Part of that will be done with his governing style. Obama aims to realize the end-of-ideology politics that Daniel Bell and others glimpsed in the early 1960s. He sees himself as a pragmatist, an empiricist. Politics is not personal with him. He does not turn political disagreements into a status contest between one kind of person and another. He is convinced that most Americans practice their politics between the 40-yard lines.

Part will be accomplished with his aggressive outreach efforts. Already he has cooperated with Republicans. He has rejected the counsel of the old liberal warriors who want retribution and insularity.

But the real test will come in the realm of policy. The next few months will be occupied with the stimulus package. And anybody who is not terrified by the prospect of spending $800 billion hastily has not spent enough time studying the difference between economic textbooks and the way government actually operates.

But after that, folks in the Obama camp hope to create a Grand Bargain. That would mean building on a culture of cohesion and tackling the issues that require joint sacrifice — like reducing deficits, fixing Medicare and Social Security and reforming health care. These problems were insoluble during the era of division and distrust. In the climactic season of his presidency, the winter of 2010, Obama would seek to fundamentally restore balance to American government.

If he can do that, the Great Disruption would truly be over. The next chapter in American history would begin on firmer ground.

FP morning post 1/20

Top Story

It's the first day of a new era as the United States and the world await the inauguration of Barack Hussein Obama as the 44th U.S. president. International polling shows that immense popularity and daunting expectations await Obama throughout the world as he takes power.

Obama spent his last day before he moves into the White House doing community service for Martin Luther King Day while outgoing president George W. Bush called to wish farewell to several world leaders.

Millions of spectators have packed the Washington Mall in anticipation of Obama's speech. There's high anticipation that Obama's speech (crafted primarily by a 27-year-old speechwriter in a D.C. Starbucks) will take its place next to those by Abraham Lincoln, John F. Kennedy and King.

Obama is planning to quickly take a number of steps after taking office including lifting restrictions on abortion education and stem cell research, devising a plan to draw down troop levels in Iraq and closing the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo.

Middle East
U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is visiting Gaza, where the Israeli pullout continues.
Israli political leaders are quickly shifting focus from Gaza to upcoming elections.
An Iranian official warned the Obama administration not to spy on Iran.

Russian gas is flowing to Europe again.
A prominent Russian human rights lawyer and a journalist were killed while investigating neo-Nazi activity.
The British government announced a second major financial bailout.

India test fired a missile near Pakistan.
Six were killed in rioting in Seoul.
China wants closer military ties with the U.S. under President Obama.

Rwandan troops entered Eastern Congo to take on Hutu rebels.
Power sharing talks collapsed in Zimbabwe in what opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai called "probably the darkest day of our lives."
Kenya's parliament is considering setting up a court to investigate violence from last year's election.

Ballots are being counted in El Salvador's parliamentary election. Leftists seem likely to pick up seats in parliament.
Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and a fellow accused 9/11 plotter were unrepentant in a court appearance at Guantanamo.

Truthout 1/20

Eugene Jarecki An Ode to Tomorrow
Eugene Jarecki, Truthout: "Though the future is yet unknowable, let us for a moment imagine that when we wake tomorrow it will be a new day in America. Let us appreciate the poetry that once upon a time, a one-term congressman from Illinois became president of the United States and freed four million African slaves and, 145 years later, an African-American first-term senator from Illinois - borne not of the rapacious legacy of that compulsory migration but rather of a voluntary choice by two adults - should become president of that same land. Let us imagine that a nation once built on the scarred backs of black Africans could, in arguably her darkest hour since, be rescued by the son of a Kenyan exchange student and a white American woman from Fort Leavenworth, Kansas."

The First Profile: What Makes Obama Run?
Hank De Zutter, The Chicago Reader: "When Barack Obama returned to Chicago in 1991 after three brilliant years at Harvard Law School, he didn't like what he saw. The former community activist, then 30, had come fresh from a term as president of the prestigious Harvard Law Review, a position he was the first African-American to hold. Now he was ready to continue his battle to organize Chicago's black neighborhoods. But the state of the city muted his exuberance. 'Upon my return to Chicago,' he would write in the epilogue to his recently published memoir, Dreams From My Father, 'I would find the signs of decay accelerated throughout the South Side - the neighborhoods shabbier, the children edgier and less restrained, more middle-class families heading out to the suburbs, the jails bursting with glowering youth, my brothers without prospects. All too rarely do I hear people asking just what it is that we've done to make so many children's hearts so hard, or what collectively we might do to right their moral compass - what values we must live by. Instead I see us doing what we've always done - pretending that these children are somehow not our own.'"

Editorials Worldwide Pillory Bush One Final Time
Erik Kirschbaum, Reuters: "Editorial writers around the world have been taking their final printed whacks at George W. Bush, accusing the president of tarnishing America's standing with what many saw as arrogant and incompetent leadership. 'A weak leader, Bush was just overwhelmed in the job,' said Germany's Sueddeutsche Zeitung under a headline: 'The Failure.' 'He confused stubbornness with principles. America has become intolerant and it will take a long time to repair that damage.' Editorials hit out at Bush for two unfinished wars, for plunging the economy into recession, turning a budget surplus into a pile of debt, for his environment policies and tarnishing America's reputation with the Guantanamo Bay detention center."

The Caldwells: A Family's Long Civil Rights Journey
Wil Haygood, The Washington Post: "As the great and sometimes heartbreaking flow of events swept around the contours of this city, the Caldwells set themselves into the portrait album of America. Figures pressed between the pages of history. One black American family: A mother and a father. Four daughters and a son. Forebears who reach back to slavery, and grandchildren who can now grow up with the knowledge that they could be president. At times, blood and fire marred their city. On other days, the monuments of downtown Washington seemed to sway with the throngs who were marching yet again. The Caldwells remembered their dead. And they honored the history their family had lived."

Guantanamo Court Convenes Amid Chaos, Confusion
Jane Sutton, Reuters: "The Guantanamo war crimes court convened in a chaotic session on Monday with accused Sept. 11 plotters disrupting the proceedings while U.S. government lawyers debated whether an administrative hiccup had left them facing any charges at all. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the self-described mastermind of the Sept. 11 hijacked plane plot, tried unsuccessfully to banish all Americans from his defense table in the courtroom at the U.S. naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and complained when the judge asked him to limit his comments. 'This is terrorism, not court. You don't give us opportunity to talk,' Mohammed told the judge, Army Col. Stephen Henley."

Gates to Sit Out Obama Inauguration
Agence France-Presse: "US Defense Secretary Robert Gates will sit out Barack Obama's inauguration at an undisclosed location as the 'designated successor' in the event of a catastrophe, the White House announced Monday. While the eyes of the world are glued Tuesday to Obama's historic swearing-in, attended by outgoing US President George W. Bush and both outgoing and incoming senior aides, Gates will stay away, said spokeswoman Dana Perino. 'In order to ensure continuity of government, Defense Secretary Robert Gates has been designated by the outgoing administration, with the concurrence of the incoming administration, to serve as the designated successor during Inauguration Day, Tuesday, January 20th,' Perino said."

VIDEO "This Land Is Your Land" Like Woody Wrote It
Folk legend Pete Seeger (89) joined Bruce Springsteen at the conclusion of the "We Are One" concert at the Lincoln Memorial to lead a sing-along of Woody Guthrie's "This Land Is Your Land." Seeger, who rode the rails with Guthrie during the Great Depression, led the 500,000 person audience on the mall in singing the song as it was originally written - including verses often left out that address worker's rights.

FOCUS William Rivers Pitt: A Great Gettin' Up Morning
William Rivers Pitt, Truthout: "It's strange. You wait for a day to come, you wish for it and pine for it and imagine what it will be like, you want so badly and wait so long for it to come that you despair it will ever be, and then one day, you're there, and you're not quite sure what to do with yourself. That was today."

Monday, January 19, 2009

Common Dreams news and views 1/19

Illegal Wire-Tapping Suit Now in Obama's Court
US Execution Breached International Law: World Court
10 Bush Pardons to Watch For
A 'Police State' Celebrates
Afghans Not Expecting Much Change Under Obama
Green-Collar Economy Taking Root in Chicago
Guantanamo War Court Back for What May Be Last Session
and more...
Martin Luther King, Jr. Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence
David Korten The Speech President Obama Should Deliver… But Won't
John Nichols Most Valuable Progressives: Code Pink's Transition
Judith Laitman and Tsela Barr We Must Demand a Just Peace for Palestinians
Norman Solomon The Return of Triangulation
Robert Jensen A "Citizens' Oath of Office" for Inauguration Day 2009
Dean Baker The Role of Government: Keeping the Wealthy Rich
and more...
ACLU Monitoring Unconstitutional Guantánamo Military Commissions This Week
The Real News Network: Israeli FM confronted at National Press Club
Ecojustice: Canada's Toxic Mine Tailings Secret Goes to Court
and more...

It's moving day for the NRA

Our day has come at last. The NRA and the gun lobby have been forced to close up their "office in the White House."

This is truly the time for your Brady Campaign and for common sense gun laws.

Thanks to you, we're making a new start in Washington.

Click here to help launch our aggressive legislative initiatives at the outset of this critical year!

This is the moment: President Obama and Vice President Biden are long-time champions of common sense gun laws — and more than 91 percent of Brady-endorsed candidates won a seat in the 111th Congress!

Jim and I have high hopes for our renewed and reinvigorated efforts to keep dangerous weapons out of the hands of dangerous people.

Donate to the Brady Campaign today. Your donation now will support our 2009 legislative agenda:

Extending Brady background checks, including closing the gun show loophole;
Renewing and strengthening the federal assault weapons ban; and
Giving law enforcement the tools they need to stop illegal gun trafficking.

Our legislative goals are achievable. In fact, the Obama transition website says:

"Obama and Biden also favor commonsense measures that respect the Second
Amendment rights of gun owners, while keeping guns away from children and from
criminals who shouldn't have them. They support closing the gun show loophole
and making guns in this country childproof. They also support making the expired
federal Assault Weapons Ban permanent, as such weapons belong on foreign
battlefields and not on our streets."

And we've already been to Capitol Hill to welcome back allies and meet new members of Congress. Just a few days ago, more than ten Brady Campaign staff members were at the Capitol and talked with more than 50 of our Senators and Representatives — including Vice President Biden.

Now all we need is your support!

Warm regards,

Sarah Brady,


P.S. Please stand with us for common sense gun laws and donate today. Thank you!

Martin Luther King, Jr. - a man of peace

Two years ago, a speaker was invited to the Riverside Church in New York City to give the keynote address. The event was the celebration of the life and work of Martin Luther King, Jr.

This was the last pulpit Dr. Martin Luther King spoke in. What an honor.

The invitor was Martin Luther King III. The invitee was John Edwards.

Wall Street voodoo

New York Times

Old-fashioned voodoo economics — the belief in tax-cut magic — has been banished from civilized discourse. The supply-side cult has shrunk to the point that it contains only cranks, charlatans, and Republicans.

But recent news reports suggest that many influential people, including Federal Reserve officials, bank regulators, and, possibly, members of the incoming Obama administration, have become devotees of a new kind of voodoo: the belief that by performing elaborate financial rituals we can keep dead banks walking.

To explain the issue, let me describe the position of a hypothetical bank that I’ll call Gothamgroup, or Gotham for short.

On paper, Gotham has $2 trillion in assets and $1.9 trillion in liabilities, so that it has a net worth of $100 billion. But a substantial fraction of its assets — say, $400 billion worth — are mortgage-backed securities and other toxic waste. If the bank tried to sell these assets, it would get no more than $200 billion.

So Gotham is a zombie bank: it’s still operating, but the reality is that it has already gone bust. Its stock isn’t totally worthless — it still has a market capitalization of $20 billion — but that value is entirely based on the hope that shareholders will be rescued by a government bailout.

Why would the government bail Gotham out? Because it plays a central role in the financial system. When Lehman was allowed to fail, financial markets froze, and for a few weeks the world economy teetered on the edge of collapse. Since we don’t want a repeat performance, Gotham has to be kept functioning. But how can that be done?

Well, the government could simply give Gotham a couple of hundred billion dollars, enough to make it solvent again. But this would, of course, be a huge gift to Gotham’s current shareholders — and it would also encourage excessive risk-taking in the future. Still, the possibility of such a gift is what’s now supporting Gotham’s stock price.

A better approach would be to do what the government did with zombie savings and loans at the end of the 1980s: it seized the defunct banks, cleaning out the shareholders. Then it transferred their bad assets to a special institution, the Resolution Trust Corporation; paid off enough of the banks’ debts to make them solvent; and sold the fixed-up banks to new owners.

The current buzz suggests, however, that policy makers aren’t willing to take either of these approaches. Instead, they’re reportedly gravitating toward a compromise approach: moving toxic waste from private banks’ balance sheets to a publicly owned “bad bank” or “aggregator bank” that would resemble the Resolution Trust Corporation, but without seizing the banks first.

Sheila Bair, the chairwoman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, recently tried to describe how this would work: “The aggregator bank would buy the assets at fair value.” But what does “fair value” mean?

In my example, Gothamgroup is insolvent because the alleged $400 billion of toxic waste on its books is actually worth only $200 billion. The only way a government purchase of that toxic waste can make Gotham solvent again is if the government pays much more than private buyers are willing to offer.

Now, maybe private buyers aren’t willing to pay what toxic waste is really worth: “We don’t have really any rational pricing right now for some of these asset categories,” Ms. Bair says. But should the government be in the business of declaring that it knows better than the market what assets are worth? And is it really likely that paying “fair value,” whatever that means, would be enough to make Gotham solvent again?

What I suspect is that policy makers — possibly without realizing it — are gearing up to attempt a bait-and-switch: a policy that looks like the cleanup of the savings and loans, but in practice amounts to making huge gifts to bank shareholders at taxpayer expense, disguised as “fair value” purchases of toxic assets.

Why go through these contortions? The answer seems to be that Washington remains deathly afraid of the N-word — nationalization. The truth is that Gothamgroup and its sister institutions are already wards of the state, utterly dependent on taxpayer support; but nobody wants to recognize that fact and implement the obvious solution: an explicit, though temporary, government takeover. Hence the popularity of the new voodoo, which claims, as I said, that elaborate financial rituals can reanimate dead banks.

Unfortunately, the price of this retreat into superstition may be high. I hope I’m wrong, but I suspect that taxpayers are about to get another raw deal — and that we’re about to get another financial rescue plan that fails to do the job.

Truthout 1/19

Dean Baker TARP II: Money for Banks, Not Homeowners
Dean Baker, Truthout: "TARP II, the second helping of $350 billion that is supposed to restore the health of our financial system, will soon be dished out by the Obama administration. Ostensibly, much of this money will go to help homeowners stay in their homes. But, as is the case with many Washington policies, this money is also going to end up in the bankers' pockets."

Pelosi: Now Is Not the Time to Talk About Tax Hikes
Klaus Marre, The Hill: "House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Sunday said that any efforts to raise taxes on the richest Americans will only be considered after an economic stimulus is passed. Pelosi has indicated that she wants to repeal the tax cuts for the top earners that were put into place under President Bush instead of simply letting them expire."

Bush Could Issue Pardons in Last Hours of His Term
Agence France-Presse: "The outgoing US administration indicated Thursday that President George W. Bush could issue pardons in the last hours of his term. White House spokeswoman Dana Perino did not hold out the possibility that Bush could issue pardons up through January 20, the day his successor, Democrat Barack Obama, will be sworn in as the 44th president."

Gas Crisis Risk Lingers for Next Winter
Daniel Fineren, Reuters: "Western Europe may be able to insulate itself better against another gas supply cut next winter but those countries hardest hit by this month's Russian gas crisis will remain vulnerable. The prime ministers of Ukraine and Russia agreed a deal on Sunday that should restore gas supplies to Europe this week. A previous price agreement, reached by the two premiers last October, fell apart within days and there is no guarantee the gas row will not flare up again next winter."

For Businesses Big and Small, It's Lights Out
Annys Shin, The Washington Post: "With the economy in the tank, companies are doing all they can to stay afloat. For many, though, even the most desperate measures have not been enough. Former giants in American business have recently tilted into extinction. Circuit City announced Friday it would follow Linens 'n Things and Sharper Image into liquidation and sell its assets. Over the next two years, analysts say, countless other businesses will simply fade away."

Pakistan Militants Bomb Five Schools in Northwest
Zarar Khan, The Associated Press: "Suspected Taliban militants bombed five schools in Pakistan's Swat valley Monday as part of a campaign against girls' education in the country's lawless northwest. Militants - who have blown up or burned down more than 170 schools in their campaign - had ordered all girls' schools in the area closed by Jan. 15. The school attacks are a throwback to conditions in Afghanistan under Taliban rule, when education for girls was banned and most women forced to stay home."

Minneapolis Star Tribune King, Obama, A Call to Serve
The Minneapolis Star Tribune: "As we remember the civil rights icon the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. today, parts of his famously eloquent speeches will be repeated. Yet in these trying economic times, and on the eve of a historic presidential inauguration, one of his simpler declarations rings especially true: 'We have an opportunity to make a better nation.' The country is celebrating the memory of its greatest civil rights leader the same week its first African-American president takes office. As if completing the circle, King's words laid the historical groundwork for President-elect Barack Obama's 'Yes, we can.'"

Israelis Withdrawing, Cease-Fire in Gaza Holds
Ahmed Abu Hamda and Dion Nissenbaum, McClatchy Newspapers: "After three weeks of living under Israeli fire, thousands of Gazans tentatively emerged Sunday to begin rebuilding their lives as Hamas leaders announced that they would bring their underdog fight against Israel to a temporary halt. Less than 24 hours after Israel declared a unilateral cease-fire in Gaza, Hamas joined the other main Palestinian militant groups in proclaiming a one-week truce. The Palestinian groups vowed to resume their attacks if Israel did not pull all its military forces out of Gaza within a week."

Andy Kroll The Duncan Doctrine
Andy Kroll, "On December 16th, a friendship forged nearly two decades ago on the hardwood of the basketball court culminated in a press conference at the Dodge Renaissance Academy, an elementary school located on the west side of Chicago. In a glowing introduction to the media, President-elect Barack Obama named Arne Duncan, the chief executive officer of the Chicago Public Schools system (CPS), as his nominee for US Secretary of Education."

Elizabeth Holtzman Obama Has to Hold Bush Accountable for the Laws He Broke
Elizabeth Holtzman, The Nation: "President Obama, on his first day in office, can make a number of changes that will mark a clean break with the Bush presidency. He can, and should, issue an executive order revoking any prior order that permits detainee mistreatment by any government agency. He should begin the process of closing Guantanamo, and he should submit to Congress a bill to end the use of military commissions, at least as presently constituted. Over the coming months he can pursue other reforms to restore respect for the Constitution, such as revising the Patriot Act, abolishing secret prisons and 'extraordinary rendition,' and ending practices, like signing statements, that seek to undo laws. While these steps are all crucial, however, it is not enough merely to cease the abuses of power and apparent criminality that marked the highest levels of George W. Bush's administration. We cannot simply shrug off the constitutional and criminal misbehavior of the administration."

Coal Ash Legislation Introduced in House
Eoin O'Carroll, The Christian Science Monitor: "Following last month's major coal-ash spill in Harriman, Tennessee, a West Virginia lawmaker has introduced legislation to set federal standards for storing the toxic waste produced by burning coal. Introduced in the House by Democrat Nick Rahall, the Coal Ash Reclamation and Environmental Safety Act of 2009 would impose design, engineering, and performance standards on all surface impoundments that are constructed to hold coal ash, a mixture of water and fly ash that contains poisonous elements."

We Are One
Robin Abcarian and Jill Zuckman, The Los Angeles Times: "It was a day that combined inspiring political rhetoric with the very best of pop culture. Tens of thousands of citizens, a throng more than a mile long on the National Mall, braved frigid weather and long security lines to attend a historic concert celebrating the country's first black president -- held at the feet of the monument honoring the country's great emancipator, Abraham Lincoln. As black-clad sharpshooters patrolled the parapet of the Lincoln Memorial, President-elect Barack Obama and his family had what looked like a rocking good time. They sat with Vice President-elect Joe Biden and his wife in a glass-walled booth on one side of the stage."

VIDEO We Are One
President-elect Obama delivered the following speech during the inaugural concert at the Lincoln Memorial on Sunday.

FP morning brief 1/19

Top Story

Israel has begun the rapid withdrawal of its military from Gaza, vowing to have all IDF troops out of the territory by Barack Obama's inauguration tomorrow. Fighting appears to have subsided. Israel says it plans to open Gaza's border crossings later on Monday to allow for humanitarian aid.

More than 1,300 Gazans were killed in the three-week war, including 700 civilians, according to local medical officials. Gazan officials put the total repair bill at more than $1.9 billion.

Israel declared that it had accomplished its strategic objectives and vowed further action of rocket attacks on Israel continued. Hamas claimed a "popular victory" and vowed to immediately begin rearming itself.

European and Arab leaders urged both parties to make the ceasefire permanent, though Saudi Arabia also warned Israel that peace between the two countries was not a guarantee.

U.S. Presidential Transition
Inauguration celebrations have kicked off in a very crowded Washington D.C.
Obama and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi may disagree on how soon to roll back the Bush tax cuts.
The Washington Post's Walter Pincus lays out Hillary Clinton's priorities as secretary of state.

NATO's Secretary General blamed weak leadership for Afghanistan's lack of progress.
18 civilians were killed in clashes between government forces and rebels in Sri Lanka.
The second bird flu case of the year has been reported in China.

Middle East
A prominent Sunni politician was killed by a suicide bomber in Iraq.
Moqtada al-Sadr's followers are looking to gain back some influence in parliamentary elections later this month.
The U.S. and United Arab Emirates signed a nuclear cooperation agreement.

Southern African leaders are working to push Robert Mugabe to accept a power-sharing government in Zimbabwe.
Tutsi rebels in DR Congo will lay down their weapons.
The UN agreed in principle to a peacekeeping force in Somalia.

Leftists seem likely to retake power in El Salvador's national elections.
Barack Obama and Hugo Chavez are already trading barbs. Chavez also ordered the use of tear gas against anti-government protesters on Saturday.
As the economy slows, more Americans are joining the military.

Ukraine and Russia have finally agreed on a price for gas shipments.
Germany's conservatives enjoyed an electoral victory on Sunday.
Turkey is renewing its push for EU membership.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

The political wrap with Shields and Brooks 1/16

From the NewsHour with Jim Lehrer

Truthout 1/18

Hamas Announces Ceasefire After Israel Declares Truce
Nidal al-Mughrabi, Reuters: "Hamas said on Sunday it would cease fire immediately along with other militant groups in the Gaza Strip and give Israel, which already declared a unilateral truce, a week to pull its troops out of the territory."

Congress, Obama Toil to Help Jobless Get Health Care
Amy Goldstein, The Washington Post: "Congress and the incoming Obama administration are contemplating profound shifts in the government's role in health insurance to try to alleviate a significant ripple effect of the damaged economy: Americans losing health coverage as they lose jobs."

Maya Angelou At Long Last, Ready for the Real Deal
Maya Angelou, The Washington Post: "The room exploded with the tumultuous sound of whistles and shouts, feet stamping and hands clapping. In the midst of all that explosive sound, Mrs. Obama took the time to thank me as she passed on her way to the microphone."

House Democrats Give Shape to Tax-Cut Plans
Paul Kane, The Washington Post: "House Democrats yesterday offered a more detailed analysis of a $275 billion tax-cut plan that gives two-thirds of its benefits to individual taxpayers, part of the $825 billion stimulus package they hope to send to President-elect Barack Obama before President's Day."

MLK's Dream Also Included Economic Justice
Deepti Hajela, The Associated Press: "While the election of Barack Obama is a huge step toward King's dream of a time when people are judged on the content of their character and not their skin color, economic data shows racial disparities are still pervasive when it comes to financial equality."

Americans, Feeling the Love
Mary Jordan, The Washington Post: "From Jakarta to Johannesburg, Americans who travel or live abroad are finding that instead of being scolded about the Iraq war, the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, or US climate change policy, they are being hugged when strangers hear their accent."

FOCUS Keith Olbermann Bush Years: 8 in 8 Minutes
Keith Olbermann addresses the eight years of the Bush administration in eight minutes

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Major move for Major Moves in the works?

from South Bend Journal

State Rep. Scott Pelath (D-Michigan City) has introduced some very forward thinking legislation to allow for Major Moves funds to be used for Public Mass Transportation. The current legistation on the books allows the money to be used only for roads, highways, and bridges.

House Bill 1273 addresses many concerns about the Toll Road legislation that was rushed through by Gov Mitch Daniels. At the time of the Republican led legislation, there was much concern from Democratic leaders that reserving funds only for roads was very short-sighted. Many Democrats believed that to much money was being spent year after year by both the state and local governments on roads. Not only are new roads expensive to build, but old roads are expensive to maintain.

Many ideas were thrown around such as the expansion of the South Shore, interurban transportation, or even high speed rail between South Bend and Indianapolis. Mitch Daniels, however, shot down every one of them. The arguments for use of the Major Moves funds for Public Mass Transportation are getting stronger. With prices of road construction materials rising -- in some cases quadrupling -- governments are not able to purchase anywhere near the same amount for a road anymore.

Still, there may be some Republican opposition to HB 1273. Stay tuned to The Journal for further updates from the 2009 legislative session.

Truthout 1/17

BREAKING Israel Declares Unilateral Cease-Fire in Gaza
CNN: "Israel has declared a unilateral cease-fire in the fighting in Gaza beginning at 2 a.m. Sunday (7 p.m. ET Saturday), Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said."

FOCUS Paul Krugman: Back to What Obama Must Do
Paul Krugman, Rolling Stone: "A Letter to the new president. What Obama must do."

Gerald Epstein Just Say "No" to the Credit Rating Agencies
Gerald Epstein, Truthout: "The credit rating agencies have got us, coming and going. First they help cause the biggest economic calamity since the 1930's. And now they tell us we can't take the fiscal measures needed to get us out of this mess. Meanwhile, they are laughing all the way to the bank (that is, if they can find one that is still solvent). Why are we still listening to them?"

Michael Winship Inauguration Day Is Time to Move On
Michael Winship, Truthout: "As Barack Obama prepares to be sworn in, I recall an old National Lampoon record album - record albums, remember those? - from the final weeks of the Watergate scandal that comically suggested that President Richard Nixon be given a 'swearing OUT' ceremony. There followed a series of blistering curses and calumnies directed at the soon-to-be departed and disgraced chief executive, delivered by someone impersonating the Rev. Billy Graham."

Friday, January 16, 2009

Commondreams 1/16

Is Israel Using Illegal Weapons on Gaza
The Youth Are Getting Restless
The Worst of Times: Bush's Environmental Legacy Examined
Obama's Justice Pick: Waterboarding Is Torture
Lula Urges Obama to Change US View of Latin America
$50 Million Promised to Soften Border Fence Environmental Impact, Will 'Not Come Close to Fixing Impact'
Sword Mightier Than Pen as Journalist Deaths Rise to Six
and more...

Elizabeth Holtzman Holding Bush Accountable
Caoimhe Butterly Still Breathing, A Report from Gaza
Randall Kuhn When Israel Expelled Palestinians: What if it was San Diego and Tijuana Instead?
Thad Williamson What Peace Activists Can Achieve in the Age of Obama
Ray McGovern What's CIA Director Hayden Hidin'?
Tim Costello/Jeremy Brecher/Brendan Smith Social Movements 2.0
and more...

Human Rights Watch (HRW): Israel: Stop Shelling Crowded Gaza City
Get Afghanistan Right!: Get Afghanistan Right Week Uncovers Significant Dissent on Planned Escalation
The Real News Network: Obama and Gaza
CODEPINK Launches Interactive New Site, and Short Film to Inspire Americans to Push Obama to Keep Peace Promises
and more...

Progress report 1/16

The 43 Who Helped Make Bush The Worst Ever

Next week, "change is coming to America," as President George W. Bush wraps up his tenure as one of the worst American presidents ever. He wasn't able to accomplish such an ignominious feat all by himself, however; he had a great deal of help along the way. The Progress Report heralds the conclusion of the Bush 43 presidency by bringing you our list of the top 43 worst Bush appointees. Did we miss anyone? Who should have been ranked higher? Let us know what you think.

1. Dick Cheney -- The worst Dick since Nixon. The man who shot his friend while in office. The "most powerful and controversial vice president." Until he got the job, people used to actually think it was a bad thing that the vice presidency has historically been a do-nothing position. Asked by PBS's Jim Lehrer about why people hate him, Cheney rejected the premise, saying, "I don't buy that." His top placement in our survey says otherwise.

2. Karl Rove -- There wasn't a scandal in the Bush administration that Rove didn't have his fingerprints all over -- see Plame, Iraq war deception, Gov. Don Siegelman, U.S. Attorney firings, missing e-mails, and more. As senior political adviser and later as deputy chief of staff, "The Architect" was responsible for politicizing nearly every agency of the federal government.

3. Alberto Gonzales -- Fundamentally dishonest and woefully incompetent, Gonzales was involved in a series of scandals, first as White House counsel and then as Attorney General. Some of the most notable: pressuring a "feeble" and "barely articulate" Attorney General Ashcroft at his hospital bedside to sign off on Bush's illegal wiretapping program; approving waterboarding and other torture techniques to be used against detainees; and leading the firing of U.S. Attorneys deemed not sufficiently loyal to Bush.

more at:

Gov Tim Kaine Answers Your Questions

Forgive and forget?

New York Times

Last Sunday President-elect Barack Obama was asked whether he would seek an investigation of possible crimes by the Bush administration. “I don’t believe that anybody is above the law,” he responded, but “we need to look forward as opposed to looking backwards.”

I’m sorry, but if we don’t have an inquest into what happened during the Bush years — and nearly everyone has taken Mr. Obama’s remarks to mean that we won’t — this means that those who hold power are indeed above the law because they don’t face any consequences if they abuse their power.

Let’s be clear what we’re talking about here. It’s not just torture and illegal wiretapping, whose perpetrators claim, however implausibly, that they were patriots acting to defend the nation’s security. The fact is that the Bush administration’s abuses extended from environmental policy to voting rights. And most of the abuses involved using the power of government to reward political friends and punish political enemies.

At the Justice Department, for example, political appointees illegally reserved nonpolitical positions for “right-thinking Americans” — their term, not mine — and there’s strong evidence that officials used their positions both to undermine the protection of minority voting rights and to persecute Democratic politicians.

The hiring process at Justice echoed the hiring process during the occupation of Iraq — an occupation whose success was supposedly essential to national security — in which applicants were judged by their politics, their personal loyalty to President Bush and, according to some reports, by their views on Roe v. Wade, rather than by their ability to do the job.

Speaking of Iraq, let’s also not forget that country’s failed reconstruction: the Bush administration handed billions of dollars in no-bid contracts to politically connected companies, companies that then failed to deliver. And why should they have bothered to do their jobs? Any government official who tried to enforce accountability on, say, Halliburton quickly found his or her career derailed.

There’s much, much more. By my count, at least six important government agencies experienced major scandals over the past eight years — in most cases, scandals that were never properly investigated. And then there was the biggest scandal of all: Does anyone seriously doubt that the Bush administration deliberately misled the nation into invading Iraq?

Why, then, shouldn’t we have an official inquiry into abuses during the Bush years?

One answer you hear is that pursuing the truth would be divisive, that it would exacerbate partisanship. But if partisanship is so terrible, shouldn’t there be some penalty for the Bush administration’s politicization of every aspect of government?

Alternatively, we’re told that we don’t have to dwell on past abuses, because we won’t repeat them. But no important figure in the Bush administration, or among that administration’s political allies, has expressed remorse for breaking the law. What makes anyone think that they or their political heirs won’t do it all over again, given the chance?

In fact, we’ve already seen this movie. During the Reagan years, the Iran-contra conspirators violated the Constitution in the name of national security. But the first President Bush pardoned the major malefactors, and when the White House finally changed hands the political and media establishment gave Bill Clinton the same advice it’s giving Mr. Obama: let sleeping scandals lie. Sure enough, the second Bush administration picked up right where the Iran-contra conspirators left off — which isn’t too surprising when you bear in mind that Mr. Bush actually hired some of those conspirators.

Now, it’s true that a serious investigation of Bush-era abuses would make Washington an uncomfortable place, both for those who abused power and those who acted as their enablers or apologists. And these people have a lot of friends. But the price of protecting their comfort would be high: If we whitewash the abuses of the past eight years, we’ll guarantee that they will happen again.

Meanwhile, about Mr. Obama: while it’s probably in his short-term political interests to forgive and forget, next week he’s going to swear to “preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.” That’s not a conditional oath to be honored only when it’s convenient.

And to protect and defend the Constitution, a president must do more than obey the Constitution himself; he must hold those who violate the Constitution accountable. So Mr. Obama should reconsider his apparent decision to let the previous administration get away with crime. Consequences aside, that’s not a decision he has the right to make.

An economy of faith and trust

New York Times

Once there was just Newtonian physics and the world seemed neat and mechanical. Then quantum physics came along and revealed that deep down things are much weirder than they seem. Something similar is now happening with public policy.

Once, classical economics dominated policy thinking. The classical models presumed a certain sort of orderly human makeup. Inside each person, reason rides the passions the way a rider sits atop a horse. Sometimes people do stupid things, but generally the rider makes deliberative decisions, and the market rewards rational behavior.

Markets tend toward efficiency. People respond in pretty straightforward ways to incentives. The invisible hand forms a spontaneous, dynamic order. Economic behavior can be accurately predicted through elegant models.

This view explains a lot, but not the current financial crisis — how so many people could be so stupid, incompetent and self-destructive all at once. The crisis has delivered a blow to classical economics and taken a body of psychological work that was at the edge of public policy thought and brought it front and center.

In this new body of thought, you get a very different picture of human nature. Reason is not like a rider atop a horse. Instead, each person’s mind contains a panoply of instincts, strategies, intuitions, emotions, memories and habits, which vie for supremacy. An irregular, idiosyncratic and largely unconscious process determines which of these internal players gets to control behavior at any instant. Context — which stimulus triggers which response — matters a lot.

This mental chaos explains how people can respond so quickly and intuitively to so many different circumstances. But it also entails a decision-making process that is more complicated and messy than previously thought.

For example, we don’t perceive circumstances objectively. We pick out those bits of data that make us feel good because they confirm our prejudices. As Andrew Lo of M.I.T. has demonstrated, if stock traders make a series of apparently good picks, the dopamine released into their brains creates a stupor that causes them to underperceive danger ahead.

Biases abound. People who’ve been told to think of a high number will subsequently bid much more for an item than people who’ve been told to think of a low number. As Jonah Lehrer writes in his forthcoming book, “How We Decide,” there are certain circumstances (often when there are many options) in which gut instincts lead to the best decisions, while there are other circumstances (sometimes when there are a few options) when calm deliberation is best.

Most important, people seek relationships more than money. If behaving a certain way helps a stock trader or a regulator fit in with his crowd, he’s likely to keep doing it without too much rigorous self-examination.

A thousand mental shortcomings contributed to the financial meltdown. Republicans have tried to explain it by pointing to irresponsible policies at Fannie Mae. But that only explains a piece of what’s happening.

This crisis represents a flaw in the classical economic model and its belief in efficient markets. Republicans haven’t begun to grapple with the consequences.

For years, Republicans have been trying to create a large investor class with policies like private Social Security accounts, medical savings accounts and education vouchers. These policies were based on the belief that investors are careful, rational actors who make optimal decisions. There was little allowance made for the frailty of the decision-making process, let alone the mass delusions that led to the current crack-up.

Democrats also have an unfaced crisis. Democratic discussions of the stimulus package also rest on a mechanical, dehumanized view of the economy. You pump in a certain amount of money and “the economy” spits out a certain number of jobs. Democratic economists issue highly specific accounts of multiplier effects — whether a dollar of spending creates $1.20 or $1.40 of economic activity.

But an economy is a society of trust and faith. A recession is a mental event, and every recession has its own unique spirit. This recession was caused by deep imbalances and is propelled by a cascade of fundamental insecurities. You can pump hundreds of billions into the banks, but insecure bankers still won’t lend. You can run up gigantic deficits, hire road builders and reduce the unemployment rate from 8 percent to 7 percent, but insecure people will still not spend and invest.

The economic spirit of a people cannot be manipulated in as simple-minded a fashion as the Keynesian mechanists imagine. Right now political and economic confidence levels are running in opposite directions. Politically, we’re in a season of optimism, but despite a trillion spent and a trillion more about to be, the economic spirit cowers.

Mechanistic thinkers on the right and left pose as rigorous empiricists. But empiricism built on an inaccurate view of human nature is just a prison.

Truthout 1/16

Steven Hill Obama's Stimulus Plan Is Only Half a Loaf
Steven Hill, Truthout: "Imagine a place where doctors still do house calls. Or where child care is affordable, professional and widely available. Or where all new parents are paid to stay home and care for their newborns and they receive a monthly stipend to pay for diapers, food and other daily needs."

US Suspends Munitions Delivery to Israel
David Pallister, The Guardian UK: "The Pentagon has suspended the delivery of a shipload of munitions to Israel after international concern that it could be used by Israeli forces in Gaza. The German-owned cargo vessel, Wehr Elbe, under charter by the US Military Sea-lift Command, is currently in Greek waters with its transponder tracking turned off to prevent its location being identified."

Ann Wright Canada Orders US War Resister (and New Mother) Deported
Ann Wright, Truthout: "The Canadian government has ordered the deportation of Kimberly Rivera, the first US woman Iraq war veteran resister to go to Canada, and four other US war resisters. Rivera, her husband and three children, including a newborn daughter, must depart Canada by January 27 or be deported. Rivera now lives in Toronto with her husband Mario, son Christian (six years), daughter Rebecca (four years), and newborn Canadian daughter Katie (six weeks)."

Russia Offers Deal to European Firms to Restart Gas
Oleg Shchedrov, Reuters: "Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said on Friday he believed a deal could be reached soon with European firms to restart gas supplies to Europe cut off in mid-winter over a pricing dispute between Russia and Ukraine. Putin, on a visit to Germany for talks with Chancellor Angela Merkel on the gas crisis, was speaking at the start of a meeting in Berlin with European gas firms seeking to help restore gas deliveries to the continent."

Marie Cocco The Shame Beneath Inaugural Hoopla
Marie Cocco, Truthdig: "Ah, the gowns and the glitter. The spectacular opening concert featuring everyone from Beyonce to The Boss. The historical drama of watching the first African-American take the oath as president of the United States. The quadrennial conundrum over how to pay for it all."

Matthew Rothschild Bush Tarnishes Medal of Freedom by Bestowing It on Uribe
Matthew Rothschild, The Progressive: "Bush keeps outdoing himself on his way out the door. On Tuesday, he gave the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Alvaro Uribe, the head of Colombia. Uribe has had close ties with rightwing paramilitary squads. And his government is a notorious human rights abuser."

William Rivers Pitt The Most Ridiculous Speech of All
William Rivers Pitt, Truthout: "George W. Bush went on television to deliver the last major address of his time in the White House. Like it says in Psalms, this is the Lord's doing; it is marvelous in our eyes. Of course, of course, of course, it was a ridiculous speech. Preposterous. The worst one of all, and boy howdy, that is saying something. This, after all, was the man who gave us 'Bring it on' and 'Mission Accomplished,' and who once was unable to think of any mistakes he might have made. Each of these was a legitimate phenomenon in every respect, to be sure, but the spectacle on Thursday night bent the definition of 'absurd' into bold new shapes."

On Day of Heavy Fighting, Moves Toward Gaza Peace
Griff Witte, The Washington Post: "After one of the most violent days of Israel's nearly three-week-old war against the Hamas movement in Gaza, the conflict appeared late Thursday to be moving toward a diplomatic solution. Just before midnight, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni unexpectedly flew to Washington, where she and US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice were expected to sign an agreement on measures intended to stop Hamas from smuggling weapons into the Gaza Strip from Egypt, a critical Israeli demand. Meanwhile, Israeli officials said they were hopeful that an Egyptian-brokered cease-fire with Hamas was within reach."

Obama's Attorney General Pick Breaks From Bush on Torture, Guantanamo
Devlin Barrett And Larry Margasak, The Associated Press: "With just three words, Attorney General-designate Eric Holder capped years of angry debate over US counterterrorism policy and declared a major break from the Bush administration. 'Waterboarding is torture,' said Holder, President-elect Barack Obama's pick to run the Justice Department. Holder's blunt response to the first question at his confirmation hearing Thursday was one that many on the Senate Judiciary Committee had sought after years of frustrating non-answers on the subject from Attorney General Michael Mukasey and his predecessor, Alberto Gonzales."

Freddie, Fannie Force Borrowers to Waive Legal Rights
Mary Kane, The Washington Independent: "When the government announced in November that it would use mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to streamline loan modifications for possibly hundreds of thousands of borrowers, officials billed the idea as a fast-track program to fight foreclosures. What no one mentioned is that homeowners would have to sign away their rights to sue, if they wanted to get those loans modified. The waiver of legal rights is buried among a long list of requirements in loan modification agreements for delinquent borrowers seeking more affordable loans under the new loan program, which began on Dec. 15."

Congress O.K.s Release of Final $350 Billion of Bailout
David Espo, The Associated Press: "Congress laid the foundation for President-elect Barack Obama's economic recovery plan on Thursday with remarkable speed, clearing the way for a new infusion of bailout cash for the financial industry while majority Democrats proposed spending increases and tax cuts totaling a whopping $825 billion. Two days after Obama personally lobbied for release of $350 billion in bailout funds, the Senate narrowly turned aside a bid to block the money."

Franken Proposes Quicker Trial Than Coleman Seeks
Mike Kaszubastar, Minneapolis Star Tribune: "Democrat Al Franken’s campaign today described a trial schedule proposed by Republican Norm Coleman as 'rather leisurely' and instead proposed starting Coleman’s legal challenge in the U.S. Senate race on Jan. 26 and have it last 15 days. Continuing what has been almost a daily back-and-forth between the two campaigns, Franken attorney Marc Elias said Coleman’s plan to start the trial Feb. 9 was a sign that Coleman would use the contest to try to uncover evidence that might swing more votes his way - as opposed to offering evidence the campaign already has that a recount approved by the state Canvassing Board was flawed. 'They have a theory but they do not have a case,' Elias said in a conference call with reporters today."

FP morning post 1/16

Top Story

"Hopefully we're in the final act," said Israeli PM Ehud Olmert as fighting in Gaza slowed somewhat after a night of intense aerial bombardment and negotiations intensified over bringing the offensive to an end. Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni was dispatched to Washington to help finalize a peace deal. Israel is still objecting to some terms of the proposed deal, including a time limit on the ceasefire and allowing Hamas to police border crossing points.

Speaking at an emergency summit of Arab nations in Doha, Hamas head Khaled Meshal said Hamas would not accept a ceasefire until the Israeli offensive ends, contradicting earlier reports that the group was seeking a truce.

Hamas Interior Minister Said Siyam was killed by an air strike. Israel has apparently also destroyed Hamas's Revolutionary Guard-trained "Iranian Unit."

The UN condemned Israel's use of white phosphorus shells in civilian areas.
Rocket attacks on the southern Israeli city of Sderot continue, but are now less frequent.

U.S. Presidential Transition
Waterboarding is torture, says attorney general nominee Eric Holder.
Janet Napolitano breezed through her "warm and fuzzy" confirmation for homeland security chief.
In preparing his inaugural address, Barack Obama may be gunning for Lincoln.

Bank of America received $20 billion in government aid to help it absorb Merrill Lynch.
President Bush defended his record in a farewell address to the nation.
Hugo Chavez is soliciting bids from multinational oil companies for his country's oil deposits.

Zimbabwe's cholera outbreak is still not under control. The death toll has passed 2,000. The country also introduced $100 trillion banknote.
Islamist militants attacked the Somali presidential palace.
Somali pirates freed a Danish ship that had been held for over two months.

European leaders discussed how to end the ongoing gas crisis with Ukrainian President Viktor Yuschenko.
Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said he hoped Obama would help create a better U.S.-Russian relationship by not pushing for NATO membership for Ukraine and Georgia.
Ireland plans to nationalize the troubled Anglo-Irish Bank.

Civilians are fleeing Sri Lanka's northern war zone.
Philippine troops are searching for kidnapped Red Cross workers.
The growth of China's currency reserves seems to be slowing down.

Middle East
Slumping oil prices have gulf states looking at recession.
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad may be softening his anti-American rhetoric with President Obama on the way.
The fight over where to hold an emergency Gaza summit is exposing rifts between Arab governments.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Starship Cordoba NCC-1975

A bit of a smile to say goodbye

Then there was this wimpy nice guy thing RM did

Farewell R. Montalban

You made one hell of a villain!


Here's the original episode on the TV series, "Space Seed"

Progress report 1/15

Bush's Divided Legacy

While campaigning for president, George W. Bush often repeated that he would seek to change the negative and partisan tone in Washington, D.C. "I'm a uniter, not a divider," Bush would say. "I refuse to play the politics of putting people into groups and pitting one group against another." Similarly, during his campaign for president, Barack Obama stated his desire to end the bitter partisanship of American politics, often saying he would be president, not of "blue" or "red" America, but the United States of America. Indeed, since Nov. 4, President-elect Obama appears to be living up to that promise by reaching out to conservatives and signaling that he is open to conservative ideas. "The monopoly on good ideas does not belong to a single party," Obama said recently. "If it's a good idea, we will consider it." But Obama will arguably have a tougher time uniting the country, toning down partisanship, and creating a more bipartisan atmosphere than Bush did in January 2001. A recent CNN poll found that a whopping 82 percent of Americans believe that Bush did not unite the country. In fact, Bush himself just recently admitted that he had not lived up to his "uniter, not a divider" rhetoric, saying last month that he "didn't do a very good job of it" (though he later blamed others for "needless name-calling"). But over the last eight years, "pitting one group against another" is exactly the kind of politics Bush played. He and his allies exploited national issues, ruthlessly attacked progressives for political gain, and politicized the federal government to serve the interests of the Republican party.


Bush's former press secretary Scott McClellan recently admonished his former boss, saying that the White House took a "permanent campaign approach" to governing. In 2003, Bush's political guru Karl Rove or his top aide, Ken Mehlman, "visited nearly every agency to outline White House campaign priorities, review polling data and, on occasion, call attention to tight House, Senate and gubernatorial races that could be affected by regulatory action." Rove also led an unprecedented campaign to politicize the federal government to serve the interests of the Republican Party. Earlier this year, a Department of Justice report found that agency officials "violated both federal law and Department policy" by hiring, firing and promoting of some Department applicants and officials for political reasons. Another DOJ report released in September found that the firing process of nine U.S. attorneys was "fundamentally flawed" and in some cases governed by politics. For example, Bush appointee and former DOJ official Monica Goodling refused to hire an experienced counterterror official because his wife was a Democrat, and she rejected a DOJ attorney's promotion because of an "inappropriate" gay relationship. But Justice was not the only department tainted by politics under Bush. A DOJ inspector general released a report just this week finding that Bradley Schlozman, a former Justice official "entrusted with enforcing civil rights laws," had refused to hire lawyers whom he labeled as "commies" and transferred another attorney for allegedly writing in "ebonics" and benefiting from "an affirmative action thing." The White House also routinely favored politics over science regarding climate change by muzzling NASA's chief global warming scientist James Hansen's climate change findings, censoring scientific evidence on global warming in an EPA report, and editing all government scientists' testimony to fit its political aims. The Office of Faith Based Initiatives, the General Services Administration, the Interior Department, the Defense Department, Health and Human Services and the Office of National Drug Control Policy were also not spared of politics during the Bush years. DIVIDING ON SOCIAL ISSUES: Shortly after taking office, Rove convinced Bush to issue an executive order that effectively ended federal funding for embryonic stem-cell research. Despite evidence showing the enormous scientific benefits to such research, Rove's move sought to appease the GOP base, rather than promote sound policy. In the run-up to the 2004 election, Rove orchestrated a campaign to significantly boost turnout of the GOP base by placing measures to ban gay marriage on the ballot in numerous battleground states. Patrick Guerriero, executive director of the Log Cabin Republicans -- the GOP's largest gay group -- said at the time that Bush's call for a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage was part of a calculation by Rove that "4 million evangelicals stayed home in 2000. As a result, the 2004 campaign has focused on energizing the far right while ignoring mainstream Republicans."


The Bush White House political approach to foreign policy was perhaps its most divisive. Bush and other administration officials regularly painted Democrats and progressives as "weak" on national security and suggested that electing Democrats would make Americans less safe. During the 2004 campaign, Rove famously said that "conservatives saw the savagery of 9/11 and the attacks and prepared for war. Liberals saw the savagery of the 9/11 attacks and wanted to prepare indictments and offer therapy and understanding for our attackers." Bush painted challenger Sen. John Kerry (D-MA), a Vietnam war veteran, "as a man who would undercut American defenses, surrender its military decisions to other nations and treat terrorism as a disease in need of treatment rather than an enemy force in need of evisceration." Vice President Cheney was explicitly saying that if Americans elected Kerry, "the danger is that we'll get hit again" by terrorists. During the 2006 mid-term election campaign, Bush tried to bring back the divisive rhetoric. "I want you all to remember when you got to the polls...what political party supported the president to make sure we have the tools necessary to protect the American people, and which political party didn't," he said. Even after the 2006 elections, Bush continued to beat the partisan drum. Last September in his address to the Republican National Convention, Bush attacked Sen. John McCain's (R-AZ) critics, invoking McCain's time as a POW in a North Vietnamese prison and comparing his torturers to the "angry left."

much more at:

Stimulus for All?

by Sally Kohn
Common Dreams

The staggering gulf between the rich in America and everyone else is the root cause of our financial crisis. We can only stimulate the economy if we solve inequality.

There would have been no sub-prime mortgage crisis had there not been poor families with unstable jobs to trick with bad loans. There would not be outlandish interest rates and record consumer debt had credit schemes not been invented to sucker those with limited cash. Healthcare costs would not be bankrupting families if we had established health as public benefit not a private privilege.

More to the point, these and other structural inequalities were allowed to spiral out of control because our government got out of the financial regulation business at the behest of big corporations and the super-rich who wanted their profit - and thus, inequality - to grow.

Trying to revive our stalled and stumbling economy without addressing the fundamental problem of inequality that got us here is like trying to fix the flat tire on your car just by adding air. It's no solution at all: there's still a hole in your tire.

There is a giant hole at the bottom of the American economy that has been engulfing poor families for decades but which many others are noticing for the first time as they too are falling through it.

The Congressional Budget Office recently forewarned that, if there is no government action, the nationwide unemployment rate could approach 9% by 2010. In the Bronx borough of New York, where there has been little government action for years, unemployment is already at 8.3%. The same in Detroit. President-Elect Obama recently suggested that in the absence of a stimulus package, unemployment could hit double digits. But in parts of Appalachia, unemployment has been over 13% for years. In Youngstown, Ohio, the unemployment rate is over 14%.

Meanwhile, we're finally acknowledging the national crisis that 47 million Americans lack health coverage and 79 million more have significant healthcare debt. But poor families and low-wage workers have been without adequate health coverage for decades. Inner-city African Americans and Latino immigrants have long received substandard care through unequal services.

In our increasingly interconnected and complex world, it's naïve to think something isn't a problem until it affects us directly. If compassion for others wasn't a sufficient wake up call, hopefully the low balance in your retirement account now is. Lani Guinier and Gerald Torres suggest that the canary in the coalmine, whose premature suffering warns the miners of impending danger, is a fitting metaphor for communities of color and poor people whose experience at the margins of our society illuminates crises threatening us all. We're in this financial crisis now because we failed to heed the signs of danger as noxious inequality rose all around us.

Few have talked about the financial crisis in terms of rich and poor. Most of the focus is on the "disappearing middle class." But where do you think the middle class is disappearing to? They're not sailing their yachts to Hawai'i. The middle class is rapidly joining the ranks of the poor, reeling from the inevitable, gravitational, polarizing pull of inequity.

Barack Obama himself said that, in addition to providing "a jump-start to the economy" we should use the stimulus package to "put a down payment on some of the structural problems that we have in our economy." What might that look like?

Well, while construction jobs are valuable and important, those jobs don't usually go to those at the bottom of our economy. And communities like Detroit and Youngstown have infrastructure needs that go far beyond buildings alone. They need early childhood education programs and health clinics and better schools - which happen to be areas more likely to employ women and people of color and low-income communities. In addition to physical infrastructure, the stimulus package should invest in community and human infrastructure - and related jobs - as well.

And similarly, we should not only be helping those who have lost their healthcare recently but make a down payment on affordable, quality healthcare for all. Many children and families haven't had any health coverage for some time, many others are receiving unequal care due to racial disparities, others are finding the hardships of the financial crisis multiplied by mounting healthcare debt. Reinvesting in Medicaid and the State Children's Health Insurance Program and removing the barriers to participation in these programs would not only lift the financial burden on families and state governments but be a significant down payment toward ultimately universal care.

The Campaign for Community Values, a national alliance of more than 150 community organizing groups organized by the Center for Community Change, is bringing grassroots leaders to Washington everyday to press this agenda on Capitol Hill. You can help by visiting and joining our list.

In his inaugural address, President Kennedy said, "If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich." For the economic stimulus package to work, it has to get everyone working - and make our economy work for all of us. And that means finally addressing the inequality that got us into this mess.

FP morning post 1/15

Top Story

The Israel Defense Forces continued their push deep into Gaza City, exchanging gunfire with Hamas militants. A UN compound in the center of the city was hit by Israeli shelling, setting the building on fire. In Jerusalem, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon expressed his “strong protest and outrage” to the Israeli government. More than 70 targets were shelled last night including a mosque that the IDF says was being used to store weapons.

Meanwhile, diplomats in the region say they are closer to reaching an agreement to end the conflict. Hamas negotiators in Egypt have agreed in principle to a cease-fire, though the Israeli side was more cautions, stressing that they would, "not accept a situation where Hamas gets a temporary period of quiet just to rearm and regroup and that ends with further rocket barrages on Israel."

Haaretz sees the Egyptian deal as essentially a "surrender" for Hamas which "doesn't let the organization bring the Palestinian public any political achievement that would justify the blood that has been spilled."

The EU may take legal action against Russian and Ukrainian gas companies if the gas doesn't start to flow soon.
British Foreign Minister David Miliband said that the war on terror was a "mistaken" notion.
The European Central Bank cut its main policy interest rate by half a percentage point.

Middle East
Arab nationals are squabbling over the location of a proposed emergency summit on Gaza.
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad criticized the king of Saudi Arabia for his "silence" on Israel.
Iran is interested in ordering Boeing passenger jets if U.S sanctions were lifted.

Venezuelan lawmakers approved bill to eliminate presidential term limits.
Jailed narcotrafficker Manuel Noriega may be extradited to France rather than his native Panama.
Apple CEO Steve Jobs is taking a medical leave of absence from the company.

Twenty-four nations agreed to coordinate their anti-piracy efforts at the UN.
The UN will take over peacekeeping in Chad from the European Union.
Sudan's government admitted carrying out a wave of bombing attacks on Darfur.

China's economy overtook Germany's to become the world's third largest in 2008.
Sri Lankan troops captured another strategically important region from the Tamil Tiger rebels.
Pakistan arrested more than 100 people suspected of links to the Mumbai attacks.

U.S. Presidential Transition
The Obama family will move into Blair House -- the White House guest residence -- today.
Congressional Democrats are almost done with a massive new stimulus package that the president-elect will promote on a trip to the midwest.
Treasury nominee Tim Geithner's tax violations were no big deal say GOP leaders.

Truthout 1/15

Justice Dept.: Missing White House Emails Found
R. Jeffrey Smith, The Washington Post: "A Justice Department lawyer told a federal judge yesterday that the Bush administration will meet its legal requirement to transfer e-mails to the National Archives after spending more than $10 million to locate 14 million e-mails reported missing four years ago from White House computer files.... She said the department plans to argue in a court filing this week that the administration's successful recent search renders the lawsuit moot."

Leslie Thatcher Lemmings? Courting Disaster
Leslie Thatcher, Truthout, reviews "Flirting with Disaster," a book by Marc Gerstein with Michael Ellsberg: "I consider the book to be as essential as it is troubling: one reading really does suggest that humanity is doomed, given the disasters we are living through - such as the present economic meltdown and the planetary crisis due to greenhouse gas emissions - and the degree to which we are apparently hard-wired to misperceive, to bystand and to choose leaders who are of the go-along-to-get along ilk, but that is certainly not Dr. Gerstein's own outlook."

Israeli Forces Shell UN Headquarters in Gaza
Ibrahim Barzak and Amy Teibel, The Associated Press: "Israeli forces shelled the United Nations headquarters in the Gaza Strip on Thursday, setting fire to the compound filled with hundreds of refugees as U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon was in the region on a mission to end Israel's devastating offensive against the territory's Hamas rulers."

David Miliband "War on Terror" Was Wrong
David Miliband, The Guardian UK: "The idea of a 'war on terror' gave the impression of a unified, transnational enemy, embodied in the figure of Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida. The reality is that the motivations and identities of terrorist groups are disparate.... The more we lump terrorist groups together and draw the battle lines as a simple binary struggle between moderates and extremists, or good and evil, the more we play into the hands of those seeking to unify groups with little in common."

Nick Turse Future Shock at the Army Science Conference
Nick Turse, "On paper, every session looked like gold to me. 'Technology and the Warfighter.' 'Neuroscience and Its Potential Applications.' 'Lethality Technologies.' 'Autonomous/Unmanned Systems.' (Robots!) But when I got to the luxury hotel in sunny Orlando, Florida, for the 26th Army Science Conference, all that potentially glittered, it often seemed, was nowhere to be found -- except, perhaps, in the threads of the unlikeliest of military uniforms."

Agriculture Nominee Vilsack: Supporter of Genetic Engineering and Corporate Farming
Environmental News Service: "Agriculture Secretary nominee Tom Vilsack had no problem winning over both Democrat and Republican members of the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee during his confirmation hearing today, but he has not done as well with the growers and consumers of organic foods."

William Rivers Pitt Re-Writing the First Draft of History
William Rivers Pitt, Truthout: "The mainstream American news media is just as responsible for what has happened in Iraq as the Bush administration; they are as responsible for the lies they repeated as the ones who first told them, and are as guilty for what happened in Iraq as the Bush administration officials they enabled and covered for."

Hamas Nods to Egyptian Peace Proposal
Barak Ravid, Amos Harel and Avi Issacharoff, Haaretz: "Hamas has agreed in principle to the Egyptian proposal for a cease-fire but is still demanding clarifications on a number of issues, senior officials for the group said in Cairo on Wednesday. The Hamas announcement was followed by a further statement by group official Salah al-Bardawil that the group was working toward achieving the following goals: an end to Israeli aggression in Gaza; the lifting of the siege on Gaza; the reopening of Gaza's border crossings; the rehabilitation of the Strip; and a compensation for Gaza residents."

Dems Near $850B Stimulus Deal
Paul Kane, The Washington Post: "Congressional Democrats are putting the final touches on an economic stimulus package worth almost $850 billion, hoping to have the details ready in time for President-elect Barack Obama to promote it during a trip to Ohio tomorrow aimed at building public support for the recovery plan. With its cost estimate almost tripling since shortly after Obama's November election victory, the stimulus package is expected to include at least $300 billion in tax cuts and nearly $550 billion in domestic spending, making the price tag of his first major legislative initiative almost equal to the annual cost of funding all federal agencies."

Shinseki Vows to Clean Up VA
Chris Adams, McClatchy Newspapers: "The retired general selected to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs pledged Wednesday to modernize and overhaul the veterans' disability and health-care system, which is straining to serve soldiers back from Iraq and Afghanistan as well as those who served in previous wars. Before a friendly audience at the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee, retired Gen. Eric Shinseki told lawmakers that he'd transform the department by making it more efficient and better able to serve veterans."

Ex-Cop Charged With Murder in California Shooting
Terry Collins, The Associated Press: "A former transit officer has been charged with murder in the shooting death of an unarmed black man that set off violent protests, officials said Wednesday. Johannes Mehserle, 27, was arrested Tuesday in Nevada and on Wednesday appeared briefly in court, where he waived extradition to California. He was expected to be returned to California later Wednesday. Witnesses said Mehserle, who is white, fired a shot into the back of 22-year-old Oscar Grant while the man was lying face down on a train platform at a station in Oakland."

Sally Kohn Stimulus for All?
Sally Kohn, Common Dreams: "The staggering gulf between the rich in America and everyone else is the root cause of our financial crisis. We can only stimulate the economy if we solve inequality. There would have been no sub-prime mortgage crisis had there not been poor families with unstable jobs to trick with bad loans. There would not be outlandish interest rates and record consumer debt had credit schemes not been invented to sucker those with limited cash. Healthcare costs would not be bankrupting families if we had established health as public benefit not a private privilege."

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

What's an Environmentally and Socially Conscious Person Supposed to Do?

In 1900 the American BGS company produced a vehicle that set a distance record of 180 miles on a single charge. Detroit’s GM offered the all-electric EV1 in 1996, which could go at least 80 mph with a range of about 55 miles. Despite rave reviews by EV1’s lease-holders and growing waiting lists for the car, GM repossessed the entire fleet of EV1’s and summarily had them destroyed. Soon afterwards, US car industry chiefs and the Bush administration, with billions of taxpayer dollars, opted to chase after hydrogen fuel cell technology, a costly fuel source still many years away from feasibility and affordability. This begs the question, why would the Bush administration deliberately waste taxpayer money on unproven technology when clean, efficient electric technology was readily available for at least 100 years? Would chasing after hydrogen fuel cell technology feed Americans' addiction to our gasoline-burning, carbon-spewing internal combustion habit while ensuring continued profits for all the players in a fossil-fuel-based economy for a few more years?

Worse, our "representatives" in Congress approved billions in “bailout” money for auto industrialists who keep offering Americans their re-treaded, who-knows-where-the-oil-it-burns-comes-from, lame-mpg cars, even though they could, if they wanted to, make an environmentally friendly electric car.

When I’m not able to walk, ride my bike or take the bus, I drive a rusted 18-year-old Isuzu, holding out for an all-electric car I can plug into the solar panels on the roof of my garage. Ideally I’d like that car to be made by autoworkers treated decently and paid a fair wage for their labors. That would mean my electric car would most likely have been made in a democracy, like the US, Canada, the UK or the European Union. Unfortunately, the only electric cars on the market fitting these criterion and available to me in the middle US top 25 mph with a range of 30 miles. The carmakers are going backwards with their electric car technology!

Enter a Chinese company that makes most of the world’s laptop and cell phone batteries that recently released the F3 DM, an electric car whose ferrous battery technology powers a sedan that goes 80 mph for about 60 miles. But this car is made in a single-party communist country with apparently non-existent environmental regulations and a dismal human-rights record. If the F3 DM is released in the US, what’s an environmentally and socially conscious person supposed to do if she needs a car to visit her parents who live 50 miles away?

From American Progress 1/14


As Bush and Cheney dig in their heels, the right wing has helped cement Bush's legacy of torture by joining in stridently defending it. Last month, Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA) insisted that torture "saved American lives." MSNBC host Joe Scarborough waged a six-minute screed in defense of torture this week, mocking a critic who said torture doesn't yield reliable information as "the silliest thing [he has] ever heard." With this week's debut of a new season of the Fox TV drama "24," conservatives have new fodder with which to fan the flames of their love of torture. As The Progress Report documented, conservatives cited the show as proof that torture is effective and hailed the main character, torture extraordinaire Jack Bauer, as a national hero. "They're trying to put Jack Bauer in jail! I'm not going to stand for it!" shouted Bill O'Reilly. "You ask the average person, is it okay to do something, rough somebody up, to save lives. You ask the person on the street, they say, 'yeah, why not?'" insisted Fox's Steve Doocy. "Here's the guy who has done everything possible to keep his country safe...and these people want to throw him in jail forever for torture and so forth," moaned Rush Limbaugh.

On Dec. 16, 2005, the New York Times published an article by James Risen and Eric Lichtblau,revealing that President Bush had secretly authorized the National Security Agency to "eavesdrop on Americans and others inside the United States...without the court-approved warrants ordinarily required for domestic spying." The blockbuster article, which exposed one of the Bush administration's biggest secrets, won the Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting in 2006. Discussing the wiretapping program on Bill Bennett’s radio show yesterday, Vice President Cheney defended the program as "important" and said that it "always aggravated" him that the Times was rewarded for its reporting: "The New York Times broke the story I think in December of '05, won the Pulitzer for it, which always aggravated me." Cheney joins the list of conservatives who have attacked the decision to reward those who revealed the secret program. "They win Pulitzer Prizes -- I don't think what they did was worthy of an award - I think what they did was worthy of jail," said Bennett in 2006. In December, former Justice Department official Thomas Tamm explained to Newsweek why he blew the whistle on the program, saying that it "was something the other branches of the government --and the public -- ought to know about."

Much more at:

FP morning post 1/14

Top Story

In nearly five hours of testimony yesterday, secretary of state nominee Hillary Clinton promised to seek “real security for Israel, normal and positive relations with its neighbors,” acknowledged that she was "open to looking to a positive, effective way of engaging with Iran," and vowed a "very aggressive effort" to stop North Korea's nuclear program.

The hearings were generally cordial, though Clinton was questioned about the donations of foreign entities to her husband's foundation. Clinton denied these would pose any conflict of interest problems saying, "It will not be in the atmosphere."

For more FP coverage of the hearings, be sure to read Laura Rozen's coverage at The Cable, and live-blogging from Jezebel's Megan Carpentier at Madam Secretary.

Middle East
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon arrived in Israel as troops moved in on Gaza City and the death count neared 1000. More rockets from Lebanon have hit Israel.
Saudi Arabia unilaterally cut oil production beyond the level agreed to by OPEC.

61 former Guantanamo inmates have returned to terrorism, says the Pentagon. The Bush administration's top official on military commissions told the Washington Post's Bob Woodward that the military engaged in torture at Guantanamo.
The state department has denied that the United State's changed its vote on the Gaza ceasefire at the request of Israeli PM Ehud Olmert, as he has suggested.
A U.S. appeals court will today hear arguments from jailed Panamanian general Manuel Noriega, who wants to be repatriated to his home country.

The prime ministers of Bulgaria and Slovakia are headed to Moscow to try to resolve the ongoing Ukraine gas crisis.
Latvia's capital, Riga, was hit by antigovernment rioting.
Ireland's government warned it may be forced to seek help from the IMF.

The number of Chinese Internet users increased by nearly 42 percent in 2008.
Japan's long-ruling Liberal Democratic Party is crashing in the polls.
A U.S. plan to arm villagers to defend against the Taliban is making some Afghans very nervous.

Ethiopian troops have pulled out of Mogadishu.
A severe food crisis threatens Mozambique.
Niger delta militants are accusing Nigerian troops of breaking a ceasefire.

2008 U.S. Presidential Transition
Treasury secretary nominee Timothy Geithner's confirmation process has been complicated by his failure to pay $34,000 in federal income taxes.
Republicans are preparing witnesses to delay or derail the confirmation of Eric Holder as attorney general.
President Bush declared Barack Obama's inauguration a state of emergency in order to get more federal funds to help D.C. cope with crowds.

Truthout 1/14

Israel Hit by Second Round of Rockets From Lebanon
Jeffrey Fleishman and Sebastian Rotella, The Los Angeles Times: "Rockets from Lebanon smashed into northern Israel today, provoking a counterattack by Israeli artillery units and sending civilians running for bomb shelters. It was the second such attack in less than a week. Although the Israeli military said the rockets injured no one and damaged nothing, they revived concerns that militants might try to open a new front to distract Israel from its war on Gaza."

Detainee Tortured, Says US Official
Bob Woodward, The Washington Post: "The top Bush administration official in charge of deciding whether to bring Guantanamo Bay detainees to trial has concluded that the U.S. military tortured a Saudi national who allegedly planned to participate in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, interrogating him with techniques that included sustained isolation, sleep deprivation, nudity and prolonged exposure to cold, leaving him in a 'life-threatening condition.' 'We tortured [Mohammed al-]Qahtani,' said Susan J. Crawford, in her first interview since being named convening authority of military commissions by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates in February 2007."

Obama Will End "Don't Ask" Policy, Aide Says
Matthew B. Stannard, The San Francisco Chronicle: "President Obama will end the 15-year-old 'don't ask, don't tell' policy that has prevented homosexual and bisexual men and women from serving openly within the U.S. military, a spokesman for the president-elect said."

Israel, Gaza and Iran: Trapping Obama in Imagined Fault Lines
Trita Parsi, The Huffington Post: "In talking about the assault on Gaza, neo-conservative pundits and Israeli hardliners have relied on a familiar frame. The fighting in Gaza, they say, is a struggle between Israel and so-called 'moderate' Arab states (namely, Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia) on the one hand, and Iran, Syria, Hezbollah and Hamas on the other. In reality, Israel is fighting Iran in Gaza, the argument reads. These imagined Manichean fault lines defy logic and reality. This conflict is the last thing Tehran would have wished for in the last few weeks of the Bush administration. It increases the risk of a US-Iran confrontation now, and reduces the prospects for US-Iran diplomacy once President elect Obama takes over - neither of which is in Iran's national interest."

Steven Chu Impresses Energy Committee
Jim Tankersley, The Los Angeles Times: "Senators celebrated Steven Chu today as a scientist, administrator and Nobel Prize winner. But in the hearing on his nomination as President-elect Barack Obama's Energy secretary, Chu was cast in a new role: politician. Chu told Republicans that he would help fast-track a resurgence of domestic nuclear power and accept oil and gas drilling as part of a broad energy package. He told Democrats that he would champion solar plants and a 'smart grid' that could help bring more wind power to market."

Maya Schenwar Congress Aims to Take Back Constitutional War Powers
Maya Schenwar, Truthout: "As America anticipates the official arrival of the Obama presidency on January 20, the power grabs and ballooning executive privileges of the Bush administration may seem far behind us. However, staving off the normalization of those abuses has remained at the forefront of several Congress members' legislative agendas. Congress took little initiative to rein in Bush's excesses throughout his administration, and now, some members worry that his vast expansion of executive powers could set a dangerous precedent for generations to come. Unless Congress formally rejects Bush's generous interpretation of the role of the president, they say, the system of checks and balances could be permanently disrupted."

Democrats Seek Criminal Probe of Bush "Abuses"
Larry Margasak, The Associated Press: "The incoming Obama administration should launch a criminal investigation of Bush administration officials to see whether they broke the law in the name of national security, a House Democratic report said Tuesday. President-elect Barack Obama has been more cautious on the issue and has not endorsed such a recommendation. Along with the criminal probe, the report called for a Sept. 11-style commission with subpoena power, to gather facts and make recommendations on preventing misuse of power, according to the report by the Democratic staff of the House Judiciary Committee."

Israelis "Push on Into Gaza City"
BBC News: "Witnesses said Israeli special forces had advanced several hundred metres into several neighbourhoods and that intense gunfire could be heard. Earlier, Israeli planes attacked more targets in Gaza as Israel's offensive against Hamas entered an 18th day. A UN watchdog meanwhile accused Israel of showing a 'manifest disrespect' for the protection of children in Gaza."

Obama on Track to Win Bailout Funds
Steven Thomma and David Lightman, McClatchy Newspapers: "A week before taking office, President-elect Barack Obama worked Tuesday to ensure that he'll have more than a trillion dollars at his disposal within weeks to shore up the still-sinking economy. He appeared on track to win a quick $350 billion down payment from Congress, with more to come later. 'Thank you, guys,' Obama said as he emerged from a closed-door lunch with Senate Democrats at the Capitol, seven days before he'd return there to take the oath of office."

Army Suicides Rise as Time Spent in Combat Increases
Gregg Zoroya, USA Today: "Josh Barber, former combat soldier, parked outside the Army hospital here one morning last August armed for war. A cook at the dining facility, Barber sat in his truck wearing battle fatigues, earplugs and a camouflage hood on his head. He had an arsenal: seven loaded guns, nearly 1,000 rounds of ammunition, knives in his pockets. On the front seat, an AK-47 had a bullet in the chamber."

Justice Dept. Official Lied to Congress, Internal Probe Finds
Greg Gordon, McClatchy Newspapers: "A former acting Justice Department civil rights chief illegally favored conservative job applicants as 'real Americans,' kept liberal lawyers off key cases and lied in Senate testimony to conceal his misconduct, internal investigators say in a report made public Tuesday. Bradley Schlozman privately dubbed liberal department lawyers 'commies' and 'pinkos' and told a subordinate that the Civil Rights Division shouldn't be limited to hiring 'politburo members' who belong to some 'psychopathic left-wing organization designed to overthrow the government,' the department's inspector general and Office of Professional Responsibility found."

On Saying Goodbye, Or, A Few Words About Molly Ivins

We can now actually see the signs that the end has come.

There are bleachers being built, there are rehearsals under way, and Senators are gathering to consider whether they’ll offer advice and give consent.

There will be millions of words written about the past eight years and what has been wrought upon the world, but for today I have a simple thought to put upon the table:

I wish Molly Ivins was writing about 600 of them.

“It's time to give thanks, and I want to start off with a great, big thank you for the top American movement conservatives and all the fun we've had since Election Day. I know I promised not to gloat after this election was over, but I'm not talking unseemly gloating -- I'm talking about moments so brilliantly hilarious the only option is to put your head down on the desk and howl.”

--Thanks—No, Seriously, by Molly Ivins, November 23, 2006

It was because of Molly that I knew about Dubya, even before he was a serious candidate. She warned us back in 1999 (when writing about a stay of execution granted by the Supreme Court for a Canadian citizen based on treaty violations by Texas courts) that the then-Governor didn’t really care about our friends and allies…even as she reminded us about Texas and its odd fascination with the death penalty:

“Our governor replied to concerned Canadians with something of a swagger, "If you're a Canadian and you come to our state, don't murder anybody." Sound advice. But our own U.S. government, you may recall, raised Cain with the government of Singapore for caning a delinquent American teenager, and we also raised some when Turkey decided to amputate the feet of two Americans held in prison there…”

--From the Molly Ivins column of January 14th, 1999

She warned us that he was not going to be much on protecting the environment, either…and she did it long before Kyoto was a part of the Presidential capitulation lexicon:

“Good times! Protests, arrests, people raising Cain in the halls of power. Well, actually, it was the sidewalk in front of the Governor's Mansion.

As one who admires a succinctly made political case, I can do no better than to quote the full-page ad run by the protesters in this instance: "Texas Needs to Quit Coddling Polluters. Call Governor Bush and ask him why polluter profits are more important than children's health."”

--From the Molly Ivins column of April 20th, 1999

And speaking of children’s health: were you surprised that Mr. Bush and elements of the Republic Party are so adamantly against SCHIP?

Molly wasn’t.
Consider these comments from a June 1st, 2000, story about the struggles of a woman with spinal bifida to graduate from high school (coincidentally, Kristy Renya, the woman in question, graduated the same night as the Bush daughters from the same high school…Austin High):

“Governor, I think you should know there is not one single thing you have ever done in public office that has helped the Reyna family. If you've ever wondered why I seem a little sour about your record, chalk it up to the Reynas.

I know you've helped the oil industry, and the insurance industry, and the funeral industry, and the herbal-diet industry, and the utility industry, and all those air polluters with your new voluntary clean-up program — all those people who have given so generously to your campaigns. But everything you have ever done that touched the life of the Reynas has made it harder for them.

When Big Rudy [Kristy’s father] wasn't working, the other kids had no health insurance. Kristy got Medicaid and SSI from the federal government. (The Republicans in Congress wanted the SSI taken away on the grounds that poor parents like Hope might have coached their children into "faking disability." You should come and see Kristy's "fake disability" some time.)

You wanted to keep 200,000 Texas children like the Reynas off the new federal children's health insurance program, even though it would hardly cost the state. But then, maybe you agree with your Health Commissioner Reyn Archer that health insurance isn't important.”

And here we are, eight years later, and Molly’s concerns have come home to roost--but it’s not surprising that she would have been so prescient…after all, she actually knew Mr. Bush personally from all the way back when they attended prep schools in Houston.

“…I think one of the most attractive things about Texans is that they really don't give a shit what you think of them.”

--From a Salon interview, February 18, 2003

So I guess I can say that Molly warned me, long in advance, that this President would be about as useful as spit on a biscuit…and even more than that, she made a large part of my education about the never-too-clear nature of practical politics—and the meanness it can sometimes bring out in otherwise nice people—a lot more fun than it might have been otherwise.

“…Always reminds me of any guy I ever had dinner with at the Midland Petroleum Club. You come away saying, gosh what a swell bunch of fellows. Thank God they aren’t running the world.”

--From a Democracy Now interview, July 13, 2004

“…not to mention, of course, that reality is usually a 17-sided affair to begin with.”

--From a May 2001 interview with the Special Libraries Association

And I wanted her to see the end of this Presidency—badly—but as we all know, it was not to be.

I think about Molly when I write nowadays—and when I do I try to remember that we’re writing, in the end, about people and their lives. I try to do it with a sense of fairness, and I try to avoid demonizing even those I think are fools or worse…and I even slip a hello to Molly, Carol Burnett style, into my stories (watch for the word “numbnuttery”) from time to time.

So as this Presidency comes to an end, I’ll be enjoying the moment for two, as it were; and I hope you have a chance to do the same.

Don’t gloat too much—and go easy on the bourbon—and by this time next week we’ll be seeing the dawn of a new day.

I think Molly would have liked that.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

School Board expresses skepticism about trimester plan

Don Wheeler

First things first - I got a couple of things wrong. The meeting on 1/12 was not a business meeting - it was a working meeting. If you're confused, so was I. The working meeting was preceded by a organizational meeting. More on that later. (Jeesh! I thought meetings were meetings).

The working meeting was dedicated to discussion of (not action on) the proposed trimester scheduling for our High Schools. Several administrators were on hand - as well as a consultant who specializes in scheduling strategies. No presentation was made - this was a question and answer session. Or, sometimes, a statement and response session.

With the exception of Dawn Jones, who seems sold on the concept, the trustees asked a lot of pointed questions. I wasn't able to attend this meeting, but listened to it on 91.7 FM. I'm not sure if it's easier or harder to judge people's reactions without seeing them, but I had the impression that, for the most part, the Trustees were not highly impressed with what they heard.

Their questions were good and wide ranging. For the most part, each Trustee had his or her own focus - though many expressed budget related concerns.

There was implicit in the proponents' arguments that instruction would improve under their model. The administrators and the consultant depended heavily on the claim that merely changing the system would motivate teachers to become more effective. Later on, they agreed that better instruction could happen regardless of the scheduling system.

This led new Trustee, Roger Parent, to ask if perhaps it would be better to concentrate on improving instruction to improve instruction - or something close to that. His skepticism seems justified to me. Here is an excerpt of my note to him:

I also appreciated your summary comments near the end of the working session. I wasn't at the meeting, but via the audio broadcast I had the feeling that the consultant was more interested in working the Board, than in giving clear, supportable answers.

Any time major changes are made to an organization a variety of stresses occur. This doesn't mean we should never consider them, but it seems to me that there should be good evidence of a strong upside if we make that choice. The advocates admit they don't have that, and I didn't hear anything else which I found persuasive enough to overcome that deficit. And as you clearly pointed out, critical analysis of their major claim of instructional improvement finds that claim wanting.

I think Mr. Kapsa was wrong when he stated parents don't care much about scheduling - at least in a way. Parents want the administration and the Board to do things that make sense and offer hope for success.

There were parent information meetings scheduled for this week at Washington and Adams. Next week (Tuesday, Jan 20) this item will be on the agenda for a vote.


How strange was the organizational meeting? Apparently it is required by state law that officers be elected the same day new Trustees are seated. That seems strange to me.

Sheila Bergeron and Roger Parent were each nominated for President, but instead of having an election Ms. Bergeron instructed the Trustees to vote yes or no in separate motions for each candidate. This procedure offered the obvious disadvantage of a member voting yes or no for both. Luckily, no one availed themselves of the opportunity. Ms. Bergeron prevailed in a 4-3-0 vote vs. a 3-4-0 vote.

After the VP (Ms. Jones) and Secretary (Stephanie Spivey) were elected, Ms. Bergeron moved on to committee assignments. From the South Bend Tribune:

Then, as the president normally does, Bergeron assigned fellow board members to several boards, from the historical society to a policy advisory committee.

Bergeron said she makes those decisions by calling board members to see about their interests. Parent said he was never called. He moved that the action be tabled until the next board meeting on Jan. 20 to give time to think about it. But the board voted against that, including Sniadecki who said that would be a "waste of time."

Parent, who was appointed to the art center board, said he's willing to work in whatever position he was given, but he added, "It would have been nice to be contacted."

"I think this is symptomatic of the lack of cooperation between board members. ... I feel strongly there needs to be more discussion among board members, more collaboration."

Clearly, should Ms. Bergeron not have been re-elected, there would have been no choice. And it's hard to understand how, two months removed from the election, Mr. Parent, Ms Hummel (and one assumes, Ms. Spivey) would not have been contacted about this.

Stay tuned.

from South Bend Journal 1/11

The city of South Bend announced the upcoming ground breaking of the new Ignition Park in the 83 acre lot just South of Sample Street and West of Chapin St. This is potentially some great news for the "Westside." I mean, multinational bio and electronic companies relocating to the old Studebaker site could mean a revamping of property values, job opportumities, tax bases, etc.

So, is this just "smoke in mirrors" or could this really help to spelll economic recovery for our fair city?

Experts from across the nation are saying yes.

In the Journal's conversation with international development planner Abe Farkas, we find out why this may transform South Bend's economic landscape forever. According to Mr. Farkas, the best way to grow jobs in a region is to first partner up with a particular industry by offering unbeatable incentives. In our case, the Federal government has provided more incentive than could be imagined. Technology parks such as this are being bankrolled by the feds in only four areas of the country. The four technology parks in the U.S. are as follows: Westcoast= Los Angeles, South= Austin, TX, Northwest= Albany,NY, Midwest= South Bend, IN.

WOW! Talk about exclusive!

The nanotechnology sector in the U.S. is currently (even in the midst of this recession) a 1 trillion dollar a year industry. This type of money is sure to have an effect similar to the one that (if not greater) the Eli Lilly Corp had in Indianapolis. "Federal programs such as these turn out to be gold mines not just for [the cities they are in], but for the entire region as well," said Farkas " I am confident that this will be the cause for some major long term revitilization efforts for the City of South Bend."

Could this be the "Studebaker" that leads us into the next century? The Journal hopes so, and we will keep our readers up-to-date on any new developments concerning this issue.

-stay classy South Bend
South Bend Journal

Reduced CO2, reduced energy bills, reduced mercury...

The Environmental Working Group recently issued an excellent guide on compact fluorescent bulbs, noting in part that a number of bulbs currently on the market contain only 1 to 2.7 mg of mercury, less than half of the Energy Star 5 mg cap that is slated to go into effect this July. The report -- available at the following link -- provides legislative and purchasing guidance in a number of different areas.

Lighten Up in '09: Shoppers Guide to Compact Fluorescent Light Bulbs - Environmental Working Group

Joseph Miller
Associate Professor of Psychology
Saint Mary's College
Notre Dame, IN 46556

The Progress Report 1/13


According to a new report by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), 17 of 24 former Bush Cabinet members have taken positions with at least 119 companies, including 65 firms that lobby the government and 40 that lobby those officials' former agencies. These include former Homeland Security secretary Tom Ridge, who "accepted director's fees and consulting work from several firms seeking contracts with his old agency," and former energy secretary Spencer Abraham, who took a post as a director of Occidental Petroleum, "which soon became the first firm in 20 years to ship oil to the U.S. from Libya." Melanie Sloan, CREW's Executive Director, said the report "has shown that most of these former Bush administration officials have cannily leveraged their time spent in the public sector." "By using their government positions as springboards to new lucrative opportunities, [these officials] have successfully made a mint on the backs of American taxpayers," Sloan said. "It may be legal, but it is certainly not honorable."

Much more at

FP morning post 1/13

Top Story

Vladimir Putin ordered the resumption of gas deliveries to Europe, but little to no gas is actually flowing to countries that have been without it for a week. Russia's Gazprom monopoly blames Ukraine for blocking gas shipments meant for Europe -- the company is still refusing to provide gasto Ukraine until a pricing dispute is resolved -- while Ukraine accuses Gazprom of switching the gas's transit route. The EU gets a quarter of its gas from Russia, 80 percent of which travels through Ukraine.

According to Putin, the dispute has already cost Gazprom $800 million. The millions who've been living without heat throughout Eastern and Central Europe are probably unlikely to sympathize.

Middle East
There was no let-up in the fighting in Gaza as Israeli forces moved closer to Gaza City. Both sides continue to reject international cease-fire proposals.
Vice President-elect Joe Biden is visiting Iraq.
Iran is trying four unidentified people for allegedly plotting a coup with U.S. backing.

U.S. Presidential Transition
Hillary Clinton faces confirmation hearings today.
Barack Obama will order the closing of the Guantanamo Bay prison during his first week in office, an advisor tells Reuters.
Obama is lobbying Congress to release the second half of the $700 billion bailout fund.

The trial of former Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori for human rights abuses is entering its final stages.
Rod Blagojevich appointee Roland Burris was approved to take over Barack Obama's senate seat.
"Haiti fatigue" among international donors is threatening to deepen that country's misery, the Miami Herald reports.

Germany has drafted a second stimulus package worth $66.8 billion.
Swedish car brands Volvo and Saab are looking for new owners.
The European Parliament backed new controls on pesticides.

Chinese exports fell again in December.
North Korea wants to send its chief nuclear envoy to Obama's inauguration.
Amnesty International accused Thailand of using torture to fight its southern insurgency.

Ethiopia handed over responsibility for security in Somalia to a joint force including Somali government troops and Islamic militants.
Meanwhile, at least 10 were killed in gunfights on the streets of Mogadishu.
Uganda will not allow a conference of African traditional rulers and kings led by "king of kings" Muammar al-Qaddafi.

Truthout 1/13

Israelis Strike 60 Gaza Targets
BBC News: "Israeli planes have attacked more than 60 targets in Gaza as its offensive against Hamas entered its 18th day. The strikes came as Israeli troops advanced into the suburbs of Gaza City. The head of the Red Cross accompanied a convoy of aid into Gaza during a three-hour ceasefire, during which witnesses said there was increased shelling. Palestinians say more than 90,000 people have left their homes to escape the bombing. Militants, however, have kept up rocket attacks on Israel."

Helen Thomas History Cannot Save Him
Helen Thomas, Hearst Newspapers: "As he leaves office, President Bush is passing on to his successor two wars and a growing economic debacle. What a way to go! Not to worry, Bush says he isn't concerned about how history will view his militant eight years in the White House, telling ABC News that he 'won't be around to read it.' Well, they say that journalism is the first draft of history. So I am going to predict that those future historians will not deal kindly with the Bush presidency."

Clinton Vows "Smart Mix" of Diplomacy and Defense
Robert Burns and Anne Flaherty, The Associated Press: "At the threshold of the world stage as America's next top diplomat, Hillary Rodham Clinton is vowing to renew U.S. leadership through a 'smart power' mix of diplomacy and defense. In remarks prepared for delivery at her Senate confirmation hearing Tuesday, President-elect Barack Obama's choice to be secretary of state also promised to push for stronger U.S. partnerships around the globe."

EU Still Without Gas After Russia and Ukraine Reignite Pipeline Row
Luke Harding and Jenny Percival, The Guardian UK: "Russia and Ukraine today traded bitter accusations after gas deliveries to Europe were abruptly halted, hours after Russia's state energy company, Gazprom, said it had restarted supplies supposed to end the European Union's fuel crisis. The EU said 'little or no gas' was flowing to countries suffering urgent energy shortages and urged both Russia and Ukraine to release as much gas as possible."

Gregoire Allix A Floating Island to Welcome Climate Refugees
Gregoire Allix, Le Monde, describes architect Vincent Callebaut's "dreamlike response" to climate change-induced loss of dry land: a floating city for 50,000 dubbed the Lilypad.

Obama Preparing Order to Close Guantanamo
Lara Jakes, The Associated Press: "President-elect Barack Obama is preparing to issue an executive order his first week in office - and perhaps his first day - to close the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, according to two presidential transition team advisers."

Obama Vows to Focus on Gaza and Iran From Start
Daniel Dombey, The Financial Times: "Barack Obama, the US president-elect, yesterday promised to focus on Middle East peace from the start of his administration and to treat Iran with 'respect' as he set out his foreign policy thinking in greater detail."

Ben-Ami Obama Must Seize Opportunity From Crisis
Jeremy Ben-Ami, The Jewish Week: "Whatever faint hope President-elect Barack Obama's national security team may have held of pushing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to the back burner went up in smoke in recent days. As ever, 'the conflict,' now focused on Gaza, is squarely front and center on a new American president's plate. My hope is that the president-elect will seize this crisis and its aftermath as an opportunity to set a bold new course for America in the Middle East."

Senate Democrats to Seat Roland Burris This Week
Shailagh Murray, The Washington Post: "The Senate will swear in Roland W. Burris as the junior senator from Illinois later this week, ending a legal showdown that had become an embarrassment for Democratic leaders and for President-elect Barack Obama. 'The Secretary of the Senate has determined that the new credentials presented today on behalf of Mr. Burris now satisfy Senate rules and validate his appointment to the vacant Illinois Senate seat,' read a joint statement from Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) and Democratic Whip Richard J. Durbin (Ill.)."

Guerrilla Tactics at Oil-Lease Auction
Karl Vick, The Washington Post: "Instead of joining his protester friends on the snowy sidewalk outside the Bureau of Land Management office in Salt Lake City, Tim DeChristopher took a seat inside. In a room milling with oil and gas men who knew one another by sight, he was the unknown in a red parka, registering as a bidder in an auction for the rights to drill on 149,000 acres of federal land. DeChristopher was handed a red paddle bearing the number 70. Half an hour later, he was raising it."

As Judges Named, Minnesota Senate Legal Fight Grows
Brian Bakst, The Associated Press: "Three judges put on the bench by governors of three political parties will hear the highly charged election lawsuit that stands between Minnesota and its second U.S. senator. The panel named Monday by the state's highest court will preside over a Republican Norm Coleman's court case that seeks to overturn Democrat Al Franken's 225-vote advantage following a long recount."

Monday, January 12, 2009

Indiana Supreme Court denies gun manufacturers' appeal



Washington, D.C. * In a landmark ruling today, the Indiana Supreme Court ruled that the City of Gary’s lawsuit against gun manufacturers may proceed to trial. The Court refused to hear a challenge to the Indiana Court of Appeals’ October 2007 ruling rejecting gun industry claims that the federal Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act shields the gun industry from liability for irresponsible sales practices that funnel guns to the criminal market.

In a major setback to the gun industry, the Indiana Supreme Court refused the gun manufacturers’ petition to transfer the case, instead allowing the Court of Appeals ruling to stand. The Court of Appeals held on October 29, 2007, that the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act does not shield gun manufacturers from liability for sales practices that knowingly violate Indiana’s public nuisance statute. The ruling by the Supreme Court today allows Gary, Indiana’s lawsuit against sixteen gun manufacturers and six northern Indiana gun dealers to proceed to trial. Lawyers from the Brady Center’s Legal Action Project represent the City of Gary in the case.

“The Indiana Supreme Court’s ruling is an important victory for the people of Gary and particularly those who have suffered from the gun industry’s supply of guns to criminals and gun traffickers,” said Paul Helmke, President of the Brady Center and former Mayor of Fort Wayne, Indiana. “When the gun industry violates the law and allows dangerous people easy access to illegal firearms, it should be held accountable.”

Brian J. Siebel, Senior Attorney with the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence and co-counsel representing the City of Gary, stated: “After years of delay caused by numerous rejected gun industry appeals, the citizens of Gary may finally have their day in court and help put an end to the unlawful practices of gun makers that funnel guns into the criminal market.”

This is the second ruling by the Indiana Supreme Court in this case. It unanimously ruled in Gary v. Smith & Wesson Corp. in December 2003 that the City stated valid claims alleging “that the Manufacturers knowingly participated in a distribution system that unnecessarily and sometimes even intentionally provided guns to criminals, juveniles, and others who may not lawfully purchase them.”

Gary’s case began with a sting conducted by Gary police of northern Indiana gun dealers that, between them, supplied more than 60 percent of the crime guns recovered in the city. The dealers’ sales to undercover officers posing as “straw purchasers” was captured on videotape before the suit was filed, and confirmed the dealers’ gross misconduct in supplying the underground market. Gary also sued the major gun manufacturers who sold handguns through these dealerships and profited from the diversion of guns to criminals.

Tony Walker and Lukas Cohen, of the Walker Law Group in Indiana, and Robert S. Peck of the Center for Constitutional Litigation, serve as co-counsel with the Brady Center in the case.

As the nation’s largest national, non-partisan, grassroots organizations leading the fight to prevent gun violence, the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence is dedicated to creating an America free from gun violence, where all Americans are safe at home, at school, at work, and in their communities.

Expect High School scheduling decision tonight

Don Wheeler

In all likelihood, the South Bend Community School Corporation Board of Trustees will vote to change the school year and class length at their business meeting tonight. The change will be to a trimester program (rather than the current quarter/semester format). Classes will be organized into seventy-five minute blocks, five per day. I'm not clear how lunch fits into this scheme - is it also an hour and fifteen minutes? A split period?

I think everyone agrees that students would be able to take more classes (throughout their matriculation) than under the current arrangement and that total instruction time in each class would be reduced. This is a summary prepared by Toni Fein of the Adams High parent group:

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.

At least some of the impetus for a scheduling redo came from the situation that it was not possible to satisfy the requirements of Adams' International Baccalaureate Program and the State of Indiana graduation requirements. But as Ms. Fein points out, there are still challenges for IB students under this setup. And a bigger question is, what does this do to improve prospects for enhanced graduation rates? At best, it seems to allow for more class failures without jeopardizing (completely) prospects of graduating (for a given student).

I'll be interested to hear what new trustee Roger Parent thinks of this. I take him at his word that he wants policy to create world class schools and this action seems to set the bar a bit low. The Board (with the exception of Ralph Pieniazkewicz (opposed) and Bill Sniadecki (favoring) seemed pretty noncommittal so far, but I have to wonder if the administration would steam forward in the face of strong opposition from the incoming newbies Mr. Parent and Ms. Spivey.

I don't have strong views of my own about all this, and Lord knows the SBCSC will radically change High School scheduling at least twice before our daughter gets that far, but a lot of this just doesn't make sense to me.

For one thing, why did Elkhart Central decide this concept didn't work? This question is typically brushed off as not applicable, for some reason.

As mentioned earlier, this concept will cause problems for any student leaving the district - since few others use it.

This format is inconsistent with that of the Primary and Intermediate Centers. That could make personnel transfers more challenging mid-year.

An hour and fifteen minutes for every class a High School Freshman takes is a very long time. Unless the teacher is awfully good, a great deal of the time will be filled with daydreaming (oops, visualization). And the format assumes that every class requires the same amount of time to successfully master. That's very unlikely to be true.

Sadly, the most persuasive argument I've heard is that this will be easy and relatively cheap for the implementers.

I'll end this by making the same entreaty I seem to have to make over and over again to this group: Give us reason to support your decision.

That's all most of us want.

Enabling more convenient weaponization of Hoosiers

Legislation is being introduced in Indiana this session that would force guns into workplaces (HB 1113, SB 11) and onto college campuses (Senate Bill 12). At the very least, it denies businesses and other institutions the right to bar them. Disney is a notable organization who fought similar legislation in Florida.

The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence thinks forcing guns into these places would be exceedingly dangerous, which is why we are opposed to guns-at-work laws and guns-on-campus laws.

Check out our in-depth webpages and reports -- "Forced Entry" and "No Gun Left Behind" -- for detailed explanations why these gun-lobby campaigns threaten our safety.

Write your state representatives and senators if you oppose this legislation. Please also sign up for our e-alerts and become a Brady Campaign activist.

FP morning post 1/12

Top Story

Haaretz reports that the Israeli leadership is divided over whether to continue the fighting in Gaza, with Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Defense Minister Ehud Barak arguing for ending the operation and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert arguing for continuing. Hamas's leaders also say the group will continue fighting, rejecting a French-Egyptian truce proposal.

Israel has eased up somewhat in its air assault on the territory, though the ground operation continues in full force as some reservists have been called up and troops moved closer to Gaza City.

Officials now put the Palestinian death toll over 900, including 380 civilians. Ten Israeli soldiers have been killed in the fighting along with three civilians killed in Hamas rocket attacks.

Japan and South Korea signed an economic and security cooperation pact.
Dozens of insurgents were killed in a battle with government troops in northwest Pakistan.
More than 200 were killed when a ferry sunk in Indonesia.

Venezuela took control of a Chinese-made communications satellite.
According to Hugo Chavez, it's unlikely that ailing Cuban leader Fidel Castro will ever appear in public again.
Mexican President Felipe Calderon will discuss his country's war on drugs with President-elect Barack Obama today.

A deal has been signed to resume Gazprom gas shipments to Europe and, as agreed, the EU has sent monitors to Ukraine's pipelines, but still no gas is flowing.
A prominent shipping magnate was kidnapped in Greece.
Petrol bombs werethrown at a synagogue north of Paris.

Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army has appealed for a ceasefire after an offensive by government forces.
The corruption trial of African National Congress leader Jacob Zuma will resume in South Africa. Mauritania's military junta is promising elections by this summer.

Middle East
Iraq's parliamentfailed to agree on a new speaker.
Osama bin Laden's driver, Salim Hamdan, wasfreed from jail in Yemen.
Iran is using front companies to buy American weapons, the Washington Post reports.

U.S. Presidential Transition
Republican senators don't expect a lengthy or difficult confirmation hearing for Hillary Clinton.
Obama said it's unlikely he willauthorize a wide-scale investigation into Bush administration counterterrorism tactics.
The presidential dog search has been narrowed down to two breeds.

Truthout 1/12

Russia Vows to Restore Gas Flow to Europe
Julia Kollewe, The Guardian UK: "Russia today vowed to fully restore the flow of gas to the European Union as quickly as possible, and blamed Ukraine for the crisis. The two countries have signed a new agreement after a last-minute hitch yesterday, according to the Russian prime minister's office."

Obama Promises to Move Swiftly in Adopting New Approach to Tehran
Ed Pilkington and Julian Borger, The Guardian UK: "The US president-elect, Barack Obama, said yesterday that he would act swiftly once in power to confront Iran, vowing to take a new approach focused on dialogue but warning Tehran that there were limits beyond which it should not go."

Report From Rafah: Doctors Stopped at Borders
Bill Quigley, Truthout: "Dr. Nicolas Doussis-Rassias and many other volunteer doctors have been waiting in Rafah, Egypt, for days. Nicolas and the other physicians came to Rafah to go through the border into Gaza to help the 3,000 people wounded by Israeli bombs and heavy weapons. Rafah is a heavily armed Egyptian border crossing into Gaza, a four-hour drive away from Cairo. Sonic booms of highflying jets cut through the stark blue sky. Military drones hover over the border, as the air smells of burning."

Budget Woes Prompt States to Rethink Prison Policy
David Crary, The Associated Press: "Their budgets in crisis, governors, legislators and prison officials across the nation are making or considering policy changes that will likely remove tens of thousands of offenders from prisons and parole supervision. Collectively, the pending and proposed initiatives could add up to one of biggest shifts ever in corrections policy, putting into place cost-saving reforms that have struggled to win political support in the tough-on-crime climate of recent decades."

Israelis Protest Against Gaza Action
Patrick Martin, The Globe and Mail: "Israel's once-mighty peace camp has been mostly silent during its country's military assault on the Hamas organization in Gaza - at least until Saturday night. Then, as the Jewish Sabbath ended, more than 1,000 Israelis protested against the Gaza attacks in front of the Ministry of Defence offices in Tel Aviv. It was the first and only public outburst in Israel against the conflict in the 15 days since it began."

Bernard Maris Regulating Capitalism: Keynes Already Said It All
Bernard Maris, Marianne2, puts us briefly "into the skin of the great apostle of regulation, John Maynard Keynes."

Battered by Israel, Hamas Faces Tough Choice
Jeffrey Fleishman and Rushdi abu Alouf, The Los Angeles Times: "But although Hamas' militant wing had been preparing for an Israeli assault for years, the enemy's firepower has been devastating and some analysts say Gaza can't endure much more destruction. Government buildings have been razed and more than 1 million residents in the seaside enclave are without electricity. The Israel Defense Forces say that at least 300 militants have been killed, others are defecting and the number of rockets launched into Israel in recent days has declined significantly."

Were Oil Prices Manipulated by Enron-Style Scheme?
60 Minutes: "About the only economic break most Americans have gotten in the last six months has been the drastic drop in the price of oil, which has fallen even more precipitously than it rose. In a year's time, a commodity that was theoretically priced according to supply and demand doubled from $69 a barrel to nearly $150, and then, in a period of just three months, crashed along with the stock market. So what happened? It's a complicated question, and there are lots of theories."

Rights Group: Israel Uses Incendiary Bombs in Gaza
Jason Keyser, The Associated Press: "Human Rights Watch said Sunday that Israel's military has fired artillery shells with the incendiary agent white phosphorus into Gaza and a doctor there said the chemical was suspected in the case of 10 burn victims who had skin peeling off their faces and bodies. Researchers in Israel from the rights group witnessed hours of artillery bombardments that sent trails of burning smoke indicating white phosphorus over the Jebaliya refugee camp in northern Gaza. But they could not confirm injuries on the ground because they have been barred from entering the territory."

Geithner Preparing Overhaul of Bailout
David Cho, The Washington Post: "Confronted with intense skepticism on Capitol Hill over the $700 billion financial rescue program, Treasury Secretary nominee Timothy F. Geithner and President-elect Barack Obama's economic team are urgently overhauling the embattled initiative and broadening its scope well beyond Wall Street, sources familiar with the discussions said. Geithner has been working night and day on the eighth floor of the transition team office in downtown Washington with Lawrence H. Summers and other senior economic advisers to hash out a new approach that would expand the program's aid to municipalities, small businesses, homeowners and other consumers."

Senate Boosts Wilderness Protection Across US
Matthew Daly, The Associated Press: "In a rare Sunday session, the Senate advanced legislation that would set aside more than 2 million acres in nine states as wilderness. Majority Democrats assembled more than enough votes to overcome GOP stalling tactics in an early showdown for the new Congress. Republicans complained that Democrats did not allow amendments on the massive bill, which calls for the largest expansion of wilderness protection in 25 years. But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and other Democrats said the bill - a holdover from last year - was carefully written and included measures sponsored by both Republicans and Democrats."

Obama: We Are Going to Close Guantanamo
CBS News: "On the seventh anniversary of the opening of the American military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where hundreds of detainees have been held for years without trial or even being charged with a crime, President-elect Barack Obama reiterated his promise to close the facility, although he could not promise it would be done quickly. Obama, who has been receiving daily national security briefings since his election in November, acknowledged that his campaign pledge to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay will be more of a challenge than he anticipated."

Ideas for Obama

New York Times

Last week President-elect Barack Obama was asked to respond to critics who say that his stimulus plan won’t do enough to help the economy. Mr. Obama answered that he wants to hear ideas about “how to spend money efficiently and effectively to jump-start the economy.”

O.K., I’ll bite — although as I’ll explain shortly, the “jump-start” metaphor is part of the problem.

First, Mr. Obama should scrap his proposal for $150 billion in business tax cuts, which would do little to help the economy. Ideally he’d scrap the proposed $150 billion payroll tax cut as well, though I’m aware that it was a campaign promise.

Money not squandered on ineffective tax cuts could be used to provide further relief to Americans in distress — enhanced unemployment benefits, expanded Medicaid and more. And why not get an early start on the insurance subsidies — probably running at $100 billion or more per year — that will be essential if we’re going to achieve universal health care?

Mainly, though, Mr. Obama needs to make his plan bigger. To see why, consider a new report from his own economic team.

On Saturday, Christina Romer, the future head of the Council of Economic Advisers, and Jared Bernstein, who will be the vice president’s chief economist, released estimates of what the Obama economic plan would accomplish. Their report is reasonable and intellectually honest, which is a welcome change from the fuzzy math of the last eight years.

But the report also makes it clear that the plan falls well short of what the economy needs.

According to Ms. Romer and Mr. Bernstein, the Obama plan would have its maximum impact in the fourth quarter of 2010. Without the plan, they project, the unemployment rate in that quarter would be a disastrous 8.8 percent. Yet even with the plan, unemployment would be 7 percent — roughly as high as it is now.

After 2010, the report says, the effects of the economic plan would rapidly fade away. The job of promoting full recovery would, however, remain undone: the unemployment rate would still be a painful 6.3 percent in the last quarter of 2011.

Now, economic forecasting is an inexact science, to say the least, and things could turn out better than the report predicts. But they could also turn out worse. The report itself acknowledges that “some private forecasters anticipate unemployment rates as high as 11 percent in the absence of action.” And I’m with Lawrence Summers, another member of the Obama economic team, who recently declared, “In this crisis, doing too little poses a greater threat than doing too much.” Unfortunately, that principle isn’t reflected in the current plan.

So how can Mr. Obama do more? By including a lot more public investment in his plan — which will be possible if he takes a longer view.

The Romer-Bernstein report acknowledges that “a dollar of infrastructure spending is more effective in creating jobs than a dollar of tax cuts.” It argues, however, that “there is a limit on how much government investment can be carried out efficiently in a short time frame.” But why does the time frame have to be short?

As far as I can tell, Mr. Obama’s planners have focused on investment projects that will deliver their main jobs boost over the next two years. But since unemployment is likely to remain high well beyond that two-year window, the plan should also include longer-term investment projects.

And bear in mind that even a project that delivers its main punch in, say, 2011 can provide significant economic support in earlier years. If Mr. Obama drops the “jump-start” metaphor, if he accepts the reality that we need a multi-year program rather than a short burst of activity, he can create a lot more jobs through government investment, even in the near term.

Still, shouldn’t Mr. Obama wait for proof that a bigger, longer-term plan is needed? No. Right now the investment portion of the Obama plan is limited by a shortage of “shovel ready” projects, projects ready to go on short notice. A lot more investment can be under way by late 2010 or 2011 if Mr. Obama gives the go-ahead now — but if he waits too long before deciding, that window of opportunity will be gone.

One more thing: even with the Obama plan, the Romer-Bernstein report predicts an average unemployment rate of 7.3 percent over the next three years. That’s a scary number, big enough to pose a real risk that the U.S. economy will get stuck in a Japan-type deflationary trap.

So my advice to the Obama team is to scrap the business tax cuts, and, more important, to deal with the threat of doing too little by doing more. And the way to do more is to stop talking about jump-starts and look more broadly at the possibilities for government investment.

On Wild Weather, Or, A Note To California

In our last conversation there was some mention of snow in my part of the world (the western slope of Washington’s Cascade Mountains); but all that water has instead been falling as rain the past few days...washing away all the snow that had accumulated in the lowlands...and much of the several feet of snow that has fallen in the mountains over the past two weeks.

The result of all that water, all at once (many areas saw more than 10 inches of rain in 48 hours), has been a flood event unlike any I’ve seen in decades of living in this area.

The Girlfriend’s Mother lives in San Diego (where she has had her own series of exciting emergency events); and to keep her reassured I sent along a note describing how it went—and for quite a few of us, how it’s still going.

By the time I was done I realized I’d written a story—and that’s what I have for you today, Gentle Reader...a few words about Big Weather and how we deal with it.

Well, anyway, they come over to help us celebrate the Golden
Wedding and it was pretty crimpy weather and the furnace don't seem
to heat up no more like it used to and Mother made the remark that
she hoped this winter wouldn't be as cold as the last, referring to
the winter previous. So Edie said if she was us, and nothing to keep
us home, she certainly wouldn't spend no more winters up here and why
didn't we just shut off the water and close up the house and go down
to Tampa, Florida?

--From “The Golden Honeymoon”, Ring Lardner, Jr.

A few comments before we get to the letter, if I may:

--First, some of the names have been changed to protect the innocent...and some haven’t.

--Additionally, you should know that this is the follow on to other notes on the same topic. I will add context as needed.

--The original note did not contain links...which means you, Gentle Reader, are getting extra “value added” content for your reading dollar.

With all that said, let’s get to the note I sent to San Diego:

When I talked to you the other day Seattle was cut off from every other major city on the West Coast, but things are almost back to normal now.

It was impossible to even get from Seattle to Tacoma, but I-5 is now open all the way south to Portland and north to Vancouver, BC.

Some of the area near where [The Girlfriend] might have to transfer if [her place of employment] were to ever close (the town of Pacific) is still flooded because they are releasing water on the town to relieve strain on a dam upriver. They will be under water for at least a few more days because it will rain again tomorrow, and that means they will have to keep releasing water from the dam onto the town.

Snoqualmie Pass (I-90) has finally opened...which means trucks can now go from Seattle to the Midwest and East Coast...but the State Department of Transportation traffic advisory radio says that driving, stopping, and parking are prohibited on the shoulders of I-90 from North Bend to Easton (about 70 miles) because the flooding might have undermined the roadway--which means if you stop your car on the side of the road it might collapse under you. The unspoken message? Don't get a flat tire.

We have never heard that kind of message from the DOT radio before.

(It is reported that the DOT had to clear 1 million cubic feet of snow in one day to keep Snoqualmie Pass open. Of course, avalanche control makes the opening an intermittent thing, and new snow piling up over old snow makes the problem worse.)

It is not possible to do the loop that we took with Diana from Seattle to Roslyn (where "Northern Exposure" was filmed...we went there with [The Girlfriend’s Sister]) and then on to Leavenworth (the Bavarian town up north in the mountains) because the road going north is both flooded and subject to landslides...or it's already covered by landslides.

That's about 100 miles of road closed, and there is no known date for reopening the road. (As of this writing only 40 miles of the road remains closed...still with no known date for reopening.)

Most towns are now no longer cut off around here...and my friend Sadie put a note up on her MySpace page to tell people that she had 6 feet of water around her house. She lives in Snoqualmie, which was one of the towns completely cut off from everywhere else during the flood. Most houses in Snoqualmie are elevated because it floods so often, and she basically lives on the second floor, which many other people there also do. She has horses, and she said they were also safe. (Sadly, we just learned that her dog, Mia, has now gone if you happen to see a pit bull/English bulldog mix wandering around looking lost...)

She did not leave even though Snoqualmie residents were told to evacuate.
Because she had no way to evacuate the horses, she stayed.

I called her to check up on her during the flooding. She said she was sick of being housebound by herself and wanted to go out. The Girlfriend was sitting next to me in the car while we were talking, and suggested Sadie could use a rowboat. What pat did not know is that Sadie does have a rowboat, and the problem was that her property is surrounded by blackberries that are more than 6 feel tall...and a locked gate.

She was telling me that in order to get out, in the boat, she would either have to somehow get it over the blackberries (they have sharp thorns, so you do not want to mess with them) or row up to the gate, try to find the lock that's on a chain in the water somewhere, get it unlocked, get the gate open (while floating in a rowboat), and row somewhere.

My suggestion? Float some sheets of plywood over to the berries and make a sort of bridge out of them, then drag the boat across.

She was thinking about it when we ended the call, and I still don't know what she did. The advantage of the plywood was that it wouldn't weigh anything to get it over to the berries, so she could float several sheets over in one trip.

I forget to mention...when we were talking to her there was only 5 feet of water out front instead of 6, so it was going down.
She had also just got her power back after about 24 hours of being dark.

In Carnation, today, (about 15 miles down the valley from us) and also in Duvall (about 20 miles downstream), they were still using helicopters to make 911 calls because the fire department couldn't get in; but the National Guard was expected to be able to get in with their vehicles tonight. Most people there won't have power until the flooding dies down...probably another day or two.

There are towns like Arlington up north that are still getting lots of water from upriver (every river in western Washington flooded, many to all-time records), so it will be a few more days for them.

We are seeing big potholes, of course, because the ground under the roads is either saturated and muddy...or washed away.

The intersection right next door is still flooding, but it is no longer 2 feet deep on the road, just a few inches.

Our front door is at least 10 feet above the spot that's flooding, so it would have to get at least 12 feet deep there before we would even begin to be concerned...and it only got about 3 feet deep at the height of the "all-time record" flooding, which means we are quite safe--unless Noah moves in and starts a boat building project.

Have a look at the local paper's stories...

...and the CBS News version, from a week ago, reporting on the snowfall that caused much of the flooding when it melted the past couple of days.

So there you go: we did fine, some of my friends are no longer cut off (but they were)...and to make things exciting, we have at least one, maybe two more good soakings on the way before we get a few days of actual dry weather. (I’m guessing, but we probably got somewhere between 10 and 15 inches of rain in two days...along with the snowmelt, which probably added another 3 to 6 inches of water to the rainfall for everyone to deal with.)

I'll let you know if we get any more good stories...but let me tell you, this was some big-time flood.

Hopefully you saw the pictures I pointed you to in my first note. There are about 25 there now, if you did not see them all.

So that’s the note I sent...but I have an update or two for today’s readers:

--Lots of pavement was torn away from important roads all over this half of the state by the flooding, and a substantial number of them will be closed for either days or weeks until they can be rebuilt.

--You know the “lost dog” and “lost cat” signs that occasionally appear in your neighborhood? The Girlfriend reports that she saw a “lost koi” sign today on the way home...which was presumably the result of a pond being overrun by flooding.

Quite a month we’ve had up here—and winter is really just getting started.

Of course, there is a bright side: it’s kept me from having to write about the minutiae of the transition...and it’s allowed me to follow the Gaza story more closely—a subject to which we’ll return next time we get together.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Truthout 1/11

Billions Face Food Shortages, Study Warns
Ian Sample, The Guardian UK: "Half of the world's population could face severe food shortages by the end of the century as rising temperatures take their toll on farmers' crops, scientists have warned... The worst of the food shortages are expected to hit the poor, densely inhabited regions of the equatorial belt, where demand for food is already soaring because of a rapid growth in population."

Canada Expels US Asylum-Seeker
BBC News: "Canada has ordered the deportation of the first woman US soldier to have sought asylum in the country to avoid being deployed to Iraq. Kimberly Rivera, a mother of three, had requested permission to remain in Canada on humanitarian grounds but her appeal was rejected. She could face up to five years in prison when she returns to the US."

In West Bank, There's Anger at Hamas as Well as at Israel
Shashank Bengali, Mcclatchy Newspapers: "Since the war in Gaza began two weeks ago, Rami Hamdan has oscillated between two emotions: sadness at the deaths of Palestinian civilians and anger, not only at Israel but also at its Palestinian foe, the militant Islamist group Hamas. 'Of course I am unhappy about the killings,' said Hamdan, a 30-year-old building inspector in Ramallah , the de facto capital of the West Bank. 'But Hamas is also responsible. They breached the truce. Israel is an aggressive entity at the end of the day, and Hamas knew this could happen.'"

Ukraine Signs Accord on Transit Gas With EU, Russia
Stephen Bierman and Daryna Krasnolutska, Bloomberg: "OAO Gazprom said it's ready to resume supplies of natural gas to Europe from Russia once an EU-brokered accord on monitoring transit via Ukraine is enacted, potentially ending days of disruption amid freezing temperatures. Russia's state-run gas exporter will restart shipments 'when the observers are in place,' Sergei Kupriyanov, Gazprom's spokesman, said by text message today."

Sara Robinson Mythbusting the Obama Recovery Package
Sara Robinson, The Campaign For America's Future: "Here it is: our moment of economic truth. We're standing at that historic fork in the road where the nation decides, now and for the foreseeable future, whether it's going to hang on to the catastrophic assumptions of the free-market fundamentalists and rely once more on the nostrums that have so far failed to fix the mess, or take a bold step down a new, more progressive path that will finally re-empower the American people to build an economy that works for us all."

FOCUS Israel Tells Gazans to Brace for War Escalation
Ibrahim Barzak and Christopher Torchia, The Associated Press: "Israel dropped bombs and leaflets on Gaza on Saturday, pounding suspected rocket sites and tunnels used by Hamas militants and warning of a wider offensive despite frantic diplomacy to end the bloodshed. Egypt hosted talks aimed at defusing the crisis, but war had the momentum on a bloody day on which more than 30 Palestinians, many of them noncombatants, were killed, according to Gaza medics. Hamas fighters launched 15 rockets at southern Israel, injuring three Israelis in the city of Ashkelon, the Israeli military said."

FOCUS The Stimulus
Robert Reich, Robert Reich's Blog: "The stimulus plan will create jobs repairing and upgrading the nation's roads, bridges, ports, levees, water and sewage system, public-transit systems, electricity grid, and schools... But if there aren't enough skilled professionals to do the jobs involving new technologies, the stimulus will just increase the wages of the professionals who already have the right skills rather than generate many new jobs in these fields. And if construction jobs go mainly to white males who already dominate the construction trades, many people who need jobs the most - women, minorities, and the poor and long-term unemployed - will be shut out."

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Truthout 1/10

Michael Winship What Am I Bid for the American Wild?
Michael Winship, Truthout: "We've all seen those sitcoms or movies in which someone stumbles into an art auction and, not knowing how it works, idly scratches his nose or pulls his ear and finds himself the owner of a Rembrandt.... The Friday before Christmas, a college student in Utah who's neither fake nor fool pulled a Cary Grant at a Bureau of Land Management (BLM) auction of oil and gas leases for land between two of the most austerely beautiful national parks in the United States - Canyonlands and Arches."

UN Wants to Know If War Crimes Were Committed in Gaza
Ahmed Abu Hamda and Dion Nissenbaum, McClatchy Newspapers: "The UN high commissioner for human rights Friday called for an investigation of possible Israeli war crimes in Gaza as local residents told more gruesome tales about Israeli troops neglecting wounded civilians and the killing of unarmed Palestinians."

Baltimore Mayor Indicted on Theft, Perjury Charges
Ben Nuckols, The Associated Press: "Mayor Sheila Dixon was indicted Friday on charges that she accepted illegal gifts during her time as mayor and City Council president, including travel, fur coats and gift cards intended for the poor that she allegedly used instead for a holiday shopping spree."

Bush Wants Second $350 Billion
David Cho and Lori Montgomery, The Washington Post: "Senior Bush administration officials, consulting with the Obama transition team, have prepared a plan to ask lawmakers for the second half of the $700 billion financial rescue package despite intense opposition in Congress, sources familiar with the discussions said. The initiative could create an unusual political scenario straddling the Bush and Obama administrations. If Congress were to vote down the measure, either President Bush or Obama would have to exercise a veto to get the money."

CEO Blasted for Lack of Answers at Ash Disaster Hearing
Sue Sturgis, Facing South: "At yesterday's Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing on the spill of more than 1 billion gallons of coal ash from a Tennessee Valley Authority power plant in Eastern Tennessee, CEO Tom Kilgore faced hard questions - and criticism for his lack of responses. 'I feel like Mr. Kilgore didn't really give us answers to much of anything,' Melinda Hillman, one of five affected residents who attended the hearing, said afterwards."

Immigrant Advocates Decry New Rules on Courts, DNA
Amy Taxin, The Associated Press: "Civil liberties and immigrant rights advocates expressed outrage over a Department of Justice rule that took effect Friday, mandating federal agencies to collect DNA samples from anyone who is arrested and foreigners detained by immigration authorities."

FOCUS PTSD Victim Booted from US Army for "Misconduct"
Kelly Kennedy, The Army Times: "After serving two tours in Iraq - tours filled with killing enemy combatants and watching close friends die - Sgt. Adam Boyle, 27, returned home expecting the Army to take care of him. Instead, service member advocates and Boyle's mother say his chain of command in the 3rd Psychological Operations Battalion at Fort Bragg, NC, worked to end his military career at the first sign of weakness."

FOCUS Obama Team, Rep. Frank Eye Bailout Fund Overhaul
Caren Bohan and David Lawder, Reuters: "President-elect Barack Obama and a key Democratic lawmaker revealed plans on Friday to overhaul the government's $700 billion financial rescue fund as a way to aid struggling homeowners and speed the flow of credit. An Obama transition official on Friday confirmed that the new administration planned a broader approach for the second $350 billion of the US Treasury's Troubled Asset Relief Program. Some money would be aimed at stemming record foreclosures and helping cash-strapped local governments, which have been forced to cut staff and services."

Friday, January 9, 2009

Better than SNL, or, poor, poor crippled me

But, then there's this:

Oh...let's not forget this!

The Obama gap

New York Times

I don’t believe it’s too late to change course, but it will be if we don’t take dramatic action as soon as possible. If nothing is done, this recession could linger for years.”

So declared President-elect Barack Obama on Thursday, explaining why the nation needs an extremely aggressive government response to the economic downturn. He’s right. This is the most dangerous economic crisis since the Great Depression, and it could all too easily turn into a prolonged slump.

But Mr. Obama’s prescription doesn’t live up to his diagnosis. The economic plan he’s offering isn’t as strong as his language about the economic threat. In fact, it falls well short of what’s needed.

Bear in mind just how big the U.S. economy is. Given sufficient demand for its output, America would produce more than $30 trillion worth of goods and services over the next two years. But with both consumer spending and business investment plunging, a huge gap is opening up between what the American economy can produce and what it’s able to sell.

And the Obama plan is nowhere near big enough to fill this “output gap.”

Earlier this week, the Congressional Budget Office came out with its latest analysis of the budget and economic outlook. The budget office says that in the absence of a stimulus plan, the unemployment rate would rise above 9 percent by early 2010, and stay high for years to come.

Grim as this projection is, by the way, it’s actually optimistic compared with some independent forecasts. Mr. Obama himself has been saying that without a stimulus plan, the unemployment rate could go into double digits.

Even the C.B.O. says, however, that “economic output over the next two years will average 6.8 percent below its potential.” This translates into $2.1 trillion of lost production. “Our economy could fall $1 trillion short of its full capacity,” declared Mr. Obama on Thursday. Well, he was actually understating things.

To close a gap of more than $2 trillion — possibly a lot more, if the budget office projections turn out to be too optimistic — Mr. Obama offers a $775 billion plan. And that’s not enough.

Now, fiscal stimulus can sometimes have a “multiplier” effect: In addition to the direct effects of, say, investment in infrastructure on demand, there can be a further indirect effect as higher incomes lead to higher consumer spending. Standard estimates suggest that a dollar of public spending raises G.D.P. by around $1.50.

But only about 60 percent of the Obama plan consists of public spending. The rest consists of tax cuts — and many economists are skeptical about how much these tax cuts, especially the tax breaks for business, will actually do to boost spending. (A number of Senate Democrats apparently share these doubts.) Howard Gleckman of the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center summed it up in the title of a recent blog posting: “lots of buck, not much bang.”

The bottom line is that the Obama plan is unlikely to close more than half of the looming output gap, and could easily end up doing less than a third of the job.

Why isn’t Mr. Obama trying to do more?

Is the plan being limited by fear of debt? There are dangers associated with large-scale government borrowing — and this week’s C.B.O. report projected a $1.2 trillion deficit for this year. But it would be even more dangerous to fall short in rescuing the economy. The president-elect spoke eloquently and accurately on Thursday about the consequences of failing to act — there’s a real risk that we’ll slide into a prolonged, Japanese-style deflationary trap — but the consequences of failing to act adequately aren’t much better.

Is the plan being limited by a lack of spending opportunities? There are only a limited number of “shovel-ready” public investment projects — that is, projects that can be started quickly enough to help the economy in the near term. But there are other forms of public spending, especially on health care, that could do good while aiding the economy in its hour of need.

Or is the plan being limited by political caution? Press reports last month indicated that Obama aides were anxious to keep the final price tag on the plan below the politically sensitive trillion-dollar mark. There also have been suggestions that the plan’s inclusion of large business tax cuts, which add to its cost but will do little for the economy, is an attempt to win Republican votes in Congress.

Whatever the explanation, the Obama plan just doesn’t look adequate to the economy’s need. To be sure, a third of a loaf is better than none. But right now we seem to be facing two major economic gaps: the gap between the economy’s potential and its likely performance, and the gap between Mr. Obama’s stern economic rhetoric and his somewhat disappointing economic plan.

The Confidence Surplus

New York Times

Christina Romer is Barack Obama’s choice to lead his Council of Economic Advisers. In 1994, Romer and her husband, David, wrote an essay entitled “What Ends Recessions?” In the first paragraph, the Romers noted that “economists seem strangely unsure about what to tell policy makers to do to end recessions.”

The Romers surveyed the recessions of the previous 50 years to try to reach some conclusions about what works. “Our central conclusion is that monetary policy alone is a sufficiently powerful and flexible tool to end recessions,” they wrote. Automatic spending policies like unemployment insurance have sometimes helped. Discretionary policies, like tax cuts and stimulus plans, have not been of much use. As they put it: “Discretionary fiscal policy, in contrast, does not appear to have had an important role in generating recoveries.”

The Romers briefly described how different administrations responded to recessions. All the administrations, Democratic and Republican, resisted large-scale fiscal stimulus plans. They didn’t believe they could time a stimulus correctly. They didn’t trust Congress to pass the bills quickly or cleanly. They decided they shouldn’t be making policy in what Kennedy administration economists called “an atmosphere of haste and panic brought on by recession.”

The Romers’ essay exemplifies the economic doctrine that reigned up until a few months ago: fiscal stimulus plans that try to time a recession are dangerous, unproven and unnecessary.

That doctrine has suddenly vanished. But not because we suddenly know how to create effective stimulus plans. Last year, the Congress passed a $165 billion plan that seems to have done almost nothing for the economy. The doctrine has vanished because this recession is deeper than the others and we’ve run out of other stuff to do.

Today there is wide support for fiscal stimulus. It’s just that there is no historical experience to tell us how to do it, and there is no agreement on how to make it work. The economists’ prescriptions are all over the map.

Obama is compelled to jump into unchartered territory, with no compass or guide. He could have chosen to spend the big money that is apparently required in cautious ways. He could have chosen to pick out a few easily implemented policies that could be enacted in a way that is targeted, temporary and timely. He could have chosen to merely cut the payroll tax, boost aid to the states and do infrastructure projects.

But the Obama presidency is going to be defined by his audacious self-confidence. In Thursday’s speech, he vowed to do everything at once. He vowed to throw the big things into the stimulus soup — tax cuts, state aid, road and bridge repair — but also the rest of the pantry. He proposes broadband projects, special education programs, a new power grid, new scientific research, teacher training projects and new libraries.

This will be the most complex piece of legislation in American history, and as if the policy content wasn’t complicated enough, Obama also promised to pass it via Immaculate Conception — through a new legislative process that will transform politics. The process, he said, will be totally transparent. There will be no earmarks, no special-interest pleading. In a direct rebuttal to Federalist No. 10, he called on lawmakers to put aside their parochial concerns and pass the measure in weeks.

And as if that isn’t enough, he promised next month to make repairing Social Security and Medicare a “central part” of his budget. “I’m not out to increase the size of government long-term,” he told John Harwood of The Times.

This is daring and impressive stuff. Obama’s team has clearly thought through every piece of this plan. There’s no plank that’s obviously wasteful or that reeks of special-interest pleading. The tax cut is big and bipartisan. Obama is properly worried about runaway deficits, but he’s spending money on things one would want to do anyway. This is not an attempt to use the crisis to build a European-style welfare state.

The problem is overload. Four months ago, no one knew how to put together a stimulus package. Now Obama wants to use it to rush through instant special-ed programs and pre-Ks. Repairing the power grid means clearing complex regulatory hurdles. How is he going to do that in time to employ workers in May?

His staff will be searching for the White House restrooms, and they will have to make billion-dollar decisions by the hour. He is asking Congress to behave and submit in a way it never has. He has picked policies that are phenomenally hard to implement, let alone in weeks. The conventional advice for presidents is: focus your energies on a few big things. Obama just blew the doors off that one.

Maybe Obama can pull this off, but I have my worries. By this time next year, he’ll either be a great president or a broken one.

FP morning post 1/9

Top Story

Israel's two-week-old offensive in Gaza continued after the U.N. Security Council passed a resolution calling for an immidiate cease-fire. "The firing of rockets this morning only goes to show that the U.N. decision is unworkable and will not be adhered to by the murderous Palestinian organizations," said PM Ehud Olmert.

The United Stated had planned to support the U.N. resolution, but decided to abstain from the final vote. Ali Larijani, the speaker of Iran's parliament, attacked the plan as "honey injected with poison."

More than 750 Palestinians have died in the conflict so far.

The rockets fired from Lebanon on Thursday appear, for now, to have been a fluke.

Tensions are growing between Israel and the Vatican since an aide to Pope Benedict on Wednesday described Gaza as a "big concentration camp."

A New Year's Day CIA strike in northern Pakistan killed two senior al Qaeda members.
Pakistan sent India a response to its dossier on Pakistani complicity in the Mumbai attacks.
Malaysia is boycotting U.S. goods over the United States' support for Israel.

Russia will resume gas shipments to Europe. The EU plans to send monitors to Ukraine to ensure that Russian gas keeps flowing. Frace and Germany warned the U.S. not to try to stop them from enacting new financial regulation.

Middle East
The U.S. and Iran share interests in Afghanistan, says Gen. David Petraeus.
Oil rose to over $42 a barrel, perhaps due to fears that the Gaza fighting could spread throughout the Middle East.
Two army convoys have been attacked in northern Iraq in the last two days.

Crowds in Caracas cheered the expulsion of Israel's ambassador to Venezuela.
While Cuba celebrates 50 years of revolution, Fidel Castro is notably absent.
Passing a stimulus package may be harder than Obama realized.

U.S. Presidential Transition
Barack Obama will hold his first meeting with a foreign leader since his election on Monday when he sits down with Mexican President Felipe Calderon.
Obama filled four key defense department vacancies.
Obama named Virginia Governor Tim Kaine to head the Democratic National Committee.

Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai is seeking a meeting with President Robert Mugabe in a last-ditch effort to save Zimbabwe's power-sharing government.
The ANC's Jacob Zuma will run in South Africa's presidential election, whether or not he's charged with graft.
The son of former Liberian President Charles Taylor will be sentenced today in Miami for his crimes during the Liberian civil war.

Correction: Yesterday's Morning Brief inaccurately said that Pakistan's defense minister had been fired. It was the the national security advisor.

Truthout 1/9

Blagojevich Impeached, Will Face Trial
Reid Wilson, The Hill: "Embattled Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D) was impeached Friday by an overwhelming margin in the state House, setting up the first instance in that state's history of a governor facing trial by the state Senate."

FDA Scientists Complain to Obama of "Corruption"
Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar, The Associated Press: "In an unusually blunt letter, a group of federal scientists is complaining to the Obama transition team of widespread managerial misconduct in a division of the Food and Drug Administration. 'The purpose of this letter is to inform you that the scientific review process for medical devices at the FDA has been corrupted and distorted by current FDA managers, thereby placing the American people at risk,' said the letter, dated Wednesday and written on the agency's Center for Devices and Radiological Health letterhead."

J. Sri Raman Sri Lankan Tigers Facing Extinction?
J. Sri Raman, Truthout: "'The Tamil Tigers of Sri Lanka are facing extinction. Like the great beasts they named themselves after, they were fighting tooth and claw this week against the ... soldiers sent to disarm them, but it was a losing fight. They were outnumbered, outgunned, running out of supplies and, with the [soldiers] blocking every exit, had no place to retreat to. Guerrillas are no match for orthodox battalions in a pitched battle, the sort that was taking place in the Tigers stronghold ...' This sounds like an excerpt from one of the many reports in the newspapers of Sri Lanka and India over the past few days. But it is not."

Jobless Rate Jumps to 7.2 Percent in December
Dean Baker, The Center for Economic and Policy Research: "The December employment report showed the economy losing 524,000 jobs in December. It also showed sharp upward revisions to job losses in the prior two months, bringing job loss over the last three months to 1,531,000. This is the highest 3-month total since the months immediately following the end of World War II, although the job losses in the 1958 and 1974-75 recessions were larger relative to the size of the workforce."

Unrest in Oakland Has Deep Roots in City's History of Race Relations
Patrick May, The Mercury News: "Against a cacophony of police choppers overhead, sirens in the distance and jabbering TV reporters, Noah Mitchell sat outside Oakland's Kaiser Center on Thursday at lunchtime, filled with both anger and sorrow for the town he has always called home. 'I love Oakland,' he said, as the streets around him teemed with outrage over the New Year's Day shooting by a BART police officer of an unarmed man. 'But it's a troubled place. And I feel like this city won't change for a long, long time.'"

Michael Hirsh Obama's Peace Offensive
Michael Hirsh, Newsweek: "Barack Obama has put on a good show of focusing his pre-inaugural attention on the economy while largely ignoring the rest of the world - especially the Middle East. On Wednesday the president-elect even trotted out some rather quaint logic as to why he was staying away from foreign policy, harking back to the old idea that politics should stop at the water's edge. 'In domestic policy Democrats and Republicans - we can have our back and forth about tax policies,' Obama said at a news conference, but 'when it comes to international affairs, other countries are looking to see who speaks for America.' On 'foreign policy I think the need to adhere to one president at a time is particularly important.' Challenged by a reporter over what he really thought about Israel's Gaza invasion, Obama said everyone would find out after Inauguration Day. 'On January 20th you will be hearing directly from me and my opinions,' he said. 'Starting at the beginning of the administration we are going to engage effectively and consistently in trying to resolve the conflicts that exist in the Middle East.... Until then my job is to monitor the situation and to put together the best possible national security team to hit the ground running.'"

Mario Roy The Lost Years
Mario Roy, La Presse: "Above all, by his perfect indifference to the way things evolved in that powder keg, Bush demonstrated the character trait that has left its strongest impression on the United States and on the world: total contempt for reality, for pragmatism, and for effectiveness."

Obama Camp "Prepared to Talk to Hamas"
Suzanne Goldenberg, The Guardian UK: "The incoming Obama administration is prepared to abandon President Bush's doctrine of isolating Hamas by establishing a channel to the Islamist organisation, sources close to the transition team say. The move to open contacts with Hamas - which could be initiated through the US intelligence services - would represent a definitive break with the Bush presidency's ostracising of the group."

Richard Clarke President Bush Saved US Lives?
Richard Clarke, The New York Daily News: "George Bush, still President, is engaging in a legacy tour of media outlets. This comes despite his earlier having said he did not know how history would judge the Iraq war 'because we'll all be dead.' Actually, many people are already dead because of Bush, and that is the point to keep in mind when he talks about his legacy. Among the themes Bush is striking are that through action at home and fighting 'them' over there, not over here, his administration stopped terrorist attacks and prevented another 9/11."

Citigroup Reaches Deal With Lawmakers on Home Loans
Renae Merle, The Washington Post: "Senate leaders won the support of Citigroup, one of the nation's largest banks, for legislation allowing bankruptcy judges to modify the terms of troubled mortgages. It was a surprising turnaround from a financial industry leader. The industry has protested Senate Democrats' proposal to allow judges to changes the terms of mortgages for a borrower's primary residence, saying it would make loans more expensive."

Hunger Strikers Surge to 10 Percent at Guantanamo
Carol Rosenberg, McClatchy Newspapers: "Guantanamo captives are staging a fresh wave of hunger strikes ahead of the seventh anniversary of the controversial prison camps -- a campaign a lawyer links to the speedy release of Osama bin Laden's driver from US military detention. As of Thursday, 30 of the 250 war-on-terror detainees were classified as hunger strikers, 25 of whom were being fed through tubes in their noses, said Navy Cmdr. Pauline Storum at Guantanamo."

Democrats Strike Early With Labor Rights Bills
Jim Abrams, The Associated Press: "Congressional Democrats are wasting no time in promoting labor rights issues they argue have been thwarted during eight years of the Bush administration. Two pay discrimination bills on the House floor Friday could be among the first that labor-friendly Barack Obama signs into law when he becomes president later this month."

Mukasey: Aliens Have No Right to Effective Assistance of Counsel
Legal Times: "Attorney General Michael Mukasey ruled Wednesday that aliens have no constitutional right to challenge the outcome of their deportation hearings based on their lawyers' mistakes. Mukasey's 34-page opinion is binding on the nation’s 53 immigration courts and the Board of Immigration Appeals, which are overseen by the Justice Department's Executive Office for Immigration Review."

Thursday, January 8, 2009

FP morning brief 1/8

Top Story

At least three rockets were fired from Lebanon into Israel, possibly suggesting the opening of a second front in the Gaza war. No group has yet claimed responsibility and Hezbollah claims to be investigating the matter. The Lebanese government quickly condemned the attack. Israel responded with five artillery shells but called it an "isolated event."

Israeli aircraft continued to pound Gaza after a three-hour ceasefire ended yesterday. The International Committee of the Red Cross has attacked Israel for neglecting wounded civilians. The killing of 40 at a UN school compound on Tuesday continues to provoke outrage.

The U.S. added its support to the Egyptian-French peace proposal currently on the table.

Talks to resolve the Russian-Ukrainian gas dispute are going nowhere.
The United States is pushing Britain to accept released inmates from Guantanamo Bay.
Computer-maker Dell will cut jobs in Ireland in favor of less expensive Poland.

Pakistan's defense minister was fired after telling reporters that the surviving Mumbai attacker was Pakistani.
A corporate fraud scandal involving a major software manufacturer has schocked India.
A Chinese democracy activist was sentenced to six years in jail.

The U.S. will lead a new international anti-piracy force off Somalia.
Ghana's new president was sworn in.
Nine gay men were sentenced to eight years in jail in Senegal.

Mexico's Felipe Calderon unveiled a $150 million stimulus plan.
Contrary to earlier reports, Hugo Chavez will continue donating fuel to poor people in the United States.
Blagojevich nominee Roland Burris may get his senate seat after all.

Middle East
Turkish police are holding 30 in an alleged coup plot.
Turkish authorities are holding a suspicious package sent from Iran to Venezuela.
A roadside bomb killed six Iraqi soldiers.

U.S. Presidential Transition
George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and the three surviving former presidents met for lunch at the White House.
A partisan showdown may be brewing over attorney general nominee Eric Holder.

Truthout 1/8

Isrealis Arrive in Egypt for Cease-Fire Talks
Omar Sinan, The Associated Press: "Israeli representatives arrived in Cairo Thursday for Egyptian-brokered talks on a cease-fire proposal after the U.N. Security Council failed to agree on action to end the escalating crisis in Gaza. Egypt's top diplomats said Wednesday that talks would be held separately with representatives of Israel, the Palestinian Authority and Hamas on the Egyptian-French cease-fire initiative."

Dean Baker Free Market Myth
Dean Baker, The Boston Review: "The extraordinary financial collapse of recent months has been commonly described as a testament to the failure of deregulation. The events are indeed testament to a failure - a failure of public policy. Blaming deregulation is misleading. In general, political debates over regulation have been wrongly cast as disputes over the extent of regulation, with conservatives assumed to prefer less regulation, while liberals prefer more."

Budget Deficit to Hit $1.2 Trillion in Fiscal 2009
Richard Cowan and Jeremy Pelofsky, Reuters: "The US budget deficit will swell to a record $1.186 trillion in fiscal 2009, congressional forecasters said on Wednesday, the result of an economic recession that has cut tax receipts and caused massive government bailouts of banks and automakers. The out-of-control deficit picture by the Congressional Budget Office illustrates the daunting economic challenges President-elect Barack Obama faces when he takes office on January 20."

Senate Close to Seating Burris to Replace Obama
Manu Raju, The Politico: "Democratic leaders have backed down in the Roland Burris showdown, saying his seating hinges on action in the courts, the Illinois legislature and a final vote of United States senators. There’s an increasingly strong chance that Burris will prevail on all these fronts and he’ll become a U.S. senator, ending an embarrassing chapter in Democratic politics."

Venezuela Reinstates Free Home Heating Oil for Poor in US
Tyler Bridges, McClatchy Newspapers: "The Venezuelan government reversed course Wednesday, announcing that its U.S. oil subsidiary would continue to provide free home heating oil to poor Americans two days after the government announced that the program had been suspended. Critics of President Hugo Chavez had pummeled him since Monday for suspending a program that he had milked for its maximum publicity as a champion of the poor, even in the U.S."

Obama Taps Spending Watchdog, Eyes Social Security
Jennifer Loven, The Associated Press: "Pointing with concern to 'red ink as far as the eye can see,' President-elect Barack Obama pledged Wednesday to tackle out-of-control Social Security and Medicare spending and named a special watchdog to clamp down on other federal programs - even as he campaigned anew to spend the largest pile of taxpayer money in history to revive the sinking economy. The steepness of the fiscal mountain he'll face beginning Jan. 20 was underscored by stunning new figures: an estimate that the federal budget deficit will reach $1.2 trillion this year, by far the biggest ever, even without the new stimulus spending."

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Green Wish List for 2009

Urging President Obama to Take the Lead on Global Climate Change

WASHINGTON, DC -- Green Party leaders today said that Obama has the chance, when he becomes President, to take the lead on curbing global warming.

In May, 2008, the Green Party's Eco-Action Committee announced a set of recommendations for environmental actions for the first 100 days as a guide for Green presidential candidates.

Greens are now promoting the "First 100 Days: Energy and Environmental Policy" as a plan for the Obama Administration.

"This is the Green Party's holiday gift to the new administration -- a set of policies and actions that would place the US in the lead among nations fighting the advance of catastrophic climate change," said Wes Rolley, co-chair of the EcoAction Committee. "After the inconclusive results of the Poznan talks, President Obama has the opportunity to put the US at the forefront by the time nations meet again in Copenhagen next year."

"Evidence presented by climate experts in Poznan that alternative energy may not be sufficient to solve the crisis. The emphasis must shift more towards conservation, lowered consumption, and drastic reduction in car traffic. The steps taken against global warming and to repair the current economic meltdown must include all three," said Mr. Rolley.

On December 10, the Green Party published six recommendations for economic recovery that included environmentally based public works, expanded public transportation, and other conservation-based measures .

*First 100 Days: Energy and Environmental Policy: summary of major recommendations*

-No new coal fired-power plants; no new nuclear power plants; reduce by 90% the mercury emissions of coal-fired power plants by 2012; protect human health and the environment in the disposal of coal-fired power plant wastes

-Ban mountaintop coal removal; ban the dumping of mountaintop removal wastes in stream beds and valleys

-Reduce CO2 and SO2 emissions by 80% by 2020

-Provide incentives for industry and citizens to reduce energy use through conservation and generate more renewable energy sources; enact a mandatory 25% renewable energy mix in the national grid by 2015; encourage all states to do the same (using oil and nuclear subsidy funds); encouraging local energy generation

-Increase Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards to 60 mpg for cars and 45 mpg for light trucks by 2012

-Set a national phosphorus standard for all US waters that will protect steams from nutrient growth; strengthen bacteria standards to protect human health

-Require labeling of imported foods, foods with growth hormones, and foods produced by Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs)

-Stop export of any technology abroad for projects that involve fossil fuel or deforestation

-Require that all federal agencies continue their policy of direct negotiation with Indian tribes on a government to government basis

-Protect the rights of Environmental Justice communities to be free from new proposals for permits that would potentially increase their burden of toxic contamination, and prioritize these communities for cleanup.

In addition, this writer would have liked to see inclusion of an electric car as an objective for this "wish list". BGS Corporation developed the first electric car in this country in 1900, which set a distance record of 180 miles on a single charge. GM had an electic car in 1996, the EV1, which they leased out in a limited number. Despite their popularity with those who drove them and growing waiting lists for other interested car drivers to obtain one, GM inexplicably re-possessed all of their leased fleet of EV1's and had them summarily destroyed.

It depends what the definition of "different" is

Don Wheeler

I've been a bit bemused to hear so many folks say it is completely unbelievable that Barack Obama won election. Having been in Iowa a year ago (to work on the caucus for John Edwards - that Obama won), it's hard for me to see how anyone paying attention could have thought anything other than Mr. Obama was a seriously formidable candidate at that point.

The Edwards folks knew winning Iowa was a must. They sank the bulk of campaign resources into the effort because - despite his name recognition and highly detailed aggressive, progressive policy proposals - the national media paid much less attention to John Edwards' candidacy than to those of Obama and Hillary Clinton. Finishing significantly behind Mr. Obama and narrowly besting Ms. Clinton meant serious difficulty for Mr. Edwards in subsequent races.

All three campaigns had their themes. Clinton stressed experience, Edwards stressed transformational change, and Obama (also sounding a change theme) stressed he was a different kind of candidate running a different kind of campaign. I guess it depends on what one considers the definition of different is.

I've only been a student of political contests and strategy since 1976, but it seems to me that the campaign Mr. Obama waged was pretty classical. It was also done exceptionally well.

If one can do it, one attempts to follow the old adage "all politics are local" and blend into the latest technology. In recent campaigns, that means (as it always has) building grassroots organizations and using the internet to help do it. Howard Dean pioneered online contributions and Obama, Edwards and Clinton all adopted this strategy too. Blogging was new this time around, but only John Edwards allowed his supporters to dominate his blog.

Through it all, Barack Obama was always the careful guy. He embraced Reagan's leadership style, he had a staffer allay Canada's fears about reopening NAFTA, he avoided mandates in his health care proposal (socialized medicine fears) etc, etc, etc...

John Edwards recognized his endorsement had limited value, still Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton pursued it. John eventually endorsed with the promise from Barack that he would making fighting poverty central to his campaign and to his presidency. Eliminating poverty is the issue that is most important, period , to John Edwards. (Me too, by the way).

It's hard to find any evidence that this promise has been honored - or even attempted to be honored. After a couple weeks beyond the Edwards endorsement, it would be hard to find any mention of poverty, poor people, etc. in an Obama stump speech. More importantly, since Mr. Obama won election I have heard of no mention of any policy or nomination of an advocate for this population. Different or not?

By a nearly forty year old definition, thirty-seven million United States citizens live in poverty (a family of four living on $20,500 or less per year). Thanks to George W. Bush, fully half of that number live in extreme poverty ($10,250 or less). But many organizations feel that current conditions indicate a family of four living on less than $41,000 per year could be considered poor. If we accept that number, then fully 90,000,000 US citizens are poor.

What ever cutoff we choose, there are a lot of people who struggle, and for whom government policy should endeavor to make their lives at least somewhat easier.

Last July (7/25/2008) on the PBS program Now , David Brancaccio asked John Edwards how we'd be able to tell if the commitment to address poverty by the next President was being honored. Mr. Edwards replied that the evidence would be that a Cabinet level position had been created to focus on eradicating poverty in America (at a minimum).

The obvious person to head a program like that would be, of course, Mr. Edwards. But there seems to be no courage for that appointment or that program.

I guess you could call that different. I might pick a different term.

Truthout 1/7

Pressure Grows for Gaza Cease-Fire
BBC News: "Pressure is building on Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas to accept a ceasefire deal backed by the UN and the US to end fighting in Gaza. The plan, proposed by Egypt and France, calls for an immediate ceasefire to allow more aid into the Gaza Strip, and talks with Israel on border security. It follows one of the deadliest days since the offensive began ..."

December Job Losses at 673,000, Worse Than Thought
Reuters: "U.S. private-sector employers shed 693,000 jobs in December, a private employment service said Wednesday in a report that was far worse than expected and pointed to more ugly news from the government's jobs data due later this week."

United States Re-emerges as Leading Arms Supplier to the Developing World
Rachel Stohl, Center for Defense Information: "On Oct. 23, 2008, the Congressional Research Service released the most recent version of its annual arms transfer report, 'Conventional Arms Transfers to Developing Nations, 2000-2007.' According to the report, U.S. arms agreements to both developed and developing countries increased from 2006 levels, re-establishing the U.S. position of top arms supplier to the developing world, a position that Russia claimed in 2006."

Robert Reich Stimulus Plan: The Need and the Size
Robert Reich: "The core problem we face is not access to capital. The Treasury has already flooded Wall Street and the banking system with money, committing nearly $350 billion; the Federal Reserve Board has exchanged Treasury bills for some $2.2 trillion of troubled assets; other agencies, such as the FDIC, have guaranteed trillions more. But there has been no appreciable result. Banks will not lend because they fear borrowers will not repay; businesses will not borrow because they do not have adequate markets for their goods and services; individuals cannot and will not borrow because they do not have enough reliable income to do so."

Why Feinstein Broke With Obama on Panetta
Carla Marinucci, The San Francisco Chronicle: "Sen. Dianne Feinstein's chilly response Tuesday to outreach from President-elect Barack Obama - after stomping on his choice of fellow Californian Leon Panetta as head of the CIA - dealt the incoming administration what is being described as the first "brush-back pitch" from powerful Democrats in Washington. Feinstein - the new chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, who will oversee Panetta's confirmation hearings - raised eyebrows when she expressed surprisingly sharp disapproval of Panetta as nominee for CIA chief on Monday."

Le Monde Banks on a Wire
Le Monde's editorialist: "Gordon Brown is not happy. His rescue plan for British banks, which everyone - including foreigners - admired when he presented it in October 2008, is not producing the hoped-for results. In the absence of credit, shops are closing and real estate is collapsing ..."

William Rivers Pitt The Greatest Greatness of George W. Bush
William Rivers Pitt, Truthout: "Your greatness will be defined by how we rise to overcome and undo what you have done. Your greatness will stand forever if we never, ever forget the hard, bitter lessons you taught us. We are responsible for this republic, for our Constitution, and for each other. We are our brother's keeper. You taught us that by becoming our Cain. You nearly slew us, but here we stand, and we defy the place in history you would relegate us to. We defy you, and by doing so, we rise."

Fears Mount of Gaza Conflict Spillover in Europe
John Leicester, The Associated Press: "Government officials and Jewish leaders are concerned the conflict in Gaza may spill over into violence in Europe, with attacks reported against Jews and synagogues in France, Sweden and Britain. Assailants rammed a burning car into the gates of a synagogue in Toulouse, in southwest France, Monday night. A Jewish congregation in Helsingborg, in southern Sweden, was attacked Monday night by someone who 'broke a window and threw in something that was burning,' said police spokesman Leif Nilsson. And on Sunday slogans, including 'murderers ... You broke the cease-fire,' were daubed on Israel's Embassy in Stockholm."

Former Blackwater Guards Plead Not Guilty
Jesse J. Holland, The Associated Press: "Five former Blackwater Worldwide security guards pleaded not guilty Tuesday to federal manslaughter and gun charges resulting from a 2007 shooting in a crowded Baghdad square that killed 17 Iraqi civilians and injured dozens of others. The five - all decorated military veterans - stood silently in a line behind their lawyers as their not guilty plea on all charges was entered in front of US District Judge Ricardo M. Urbina in federal court."

Nat Hentoff Obama's Black Widow
Nat Hentoff, The Village Voice: "Barack Obama will be in charge of the biggest domestic and international spying operation in history. Its prime engine is the National Security Agency (NSA) - located and guarded at Fort Meade, Maryland, about 10 miles northeast of Washington, D.C. A brief glimpse of its ever-expanding capacity was provided on October 26 by The Baltimore Sun's national security correspondent, David Wood: 'The NSA's colossal Cray supercomputer, code-named the 'Black Widow,' scans millions of domestic and international phone calls and e-mails every hour.... The Black Widow, performing hundreds of trillions of calculations per second, searches through and reassembles key words and patterns, across many languages.'"

Gates Estimates Another $69.7 Billion Needed in Fiscal 2009 for Wars
Josh Rogin, Congressional Quarterly: "Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates has sent a $69.7 billion war cost 'estimate' to congressional leaders and said that the outgoing administration will not formally request more war funding before President-elect Barack Obama takes office. The money would cover military operations related to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, along with activities to battle terrorism around the world, for the remainder of fiscal 2009, which ends Sept. 30. It is not an official request for funding and is subject to change pending new strategic and budgetary decisions by the incoming administration."

Coleman Sues Over Minnesota Senate Recount Result
Brian Bakst and Patrick Condon, The Associated Press: "Republican Norm Coleman said Tuesday he is suing to challenge Democrat Al Franken's apparent recount victory in Minnesota's U.S. Senate race, delaying a resolution of the contest for weeks or months. At a Capitol news conference filled with cheering supporters, Coleman said he won't accept a board's determination a day earlier that Franken won 225 more votes in the November election. He had a seven-day window to file the lawsuit."

FP morning post 1/7

Top Story

Israel halted its military operation in Gaza for three hours in order to allow aid to enter the territory through "humanitarian corridors." This is the first planned daily ceasefire, though the BBC reports that there were at least two airstrikes during the first minutes of the pause.

After an attack on a UN school yesterday killed 30 people, Israel is mulling an Egyptian proposal for an indefininite ceasefire, which has been backed by the United States and Europe. At the same time, Israeli leaders are considering a "final push" into Gaza's urban centers to bring the operation to its conclusion.

Gas supplies continue to fall throughout Europe as Ukraine and Russia failed to resolve their pricing dispute. Twelve European countries are now completely without gas from Russia.
Greece's finance minister was fired in an effort to calm public opinion over the country's economic slump.

U.S. Presidential Transition
Obama is working to assuage congressional concerns over his controversial CIA director pick, Leon Panetta.
After days of silence, Obama finally commented on Gaza, calling the loss of civilian lives a "source of deep concern."
Obama named CNN medical correspondent Sanjay Gupta as surgeon general.

China detected its first bird flu case of 2009.
Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari called for more aid, but not more troops, from allies in the fight against terrorism. Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh said that Pakistan authorities "must have had" a hand in the Mumbai attacks.

Middle East
Al Qaeda deputy commander Ayman al-Zawahiri released a message blasting Barack Obama and the Egyptian government for their silence on Gaza.
Iraqi Shiites have turned the holiday Ashura into a show of force after recent attacks on Shia pilgrims. Women were barred from a major Shia shrine in Baghdad due to security concerns.

Venezuelan expelled its Israeli ambassador to protest the invasion of Gaza.
Blagojevich appointee Roland Burris was blocked in his attempt to be sworn in as Illinois senator.
Gunmen attacked a TV station in Northern Mexico

The UN proposed a "Green Zone" style safe zone for aid workers in Somalia.
Congolese rebels have given a vote of confidence to embattled commander Laurent Nkunda.
The hostages taken by pirates from a French ship off the coast of Nigeria over the weekend were freed.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Truthout 1/6

Dahr Jamail The Monstrosity of War
Dahr Jamail, Truthout: "Agence France-Presse reports that the first person killed when the Israeli military began to enter Gaza on Saturday was a Palestinian child. On Sunday, a Palestinian woman and her four children were blown to pieces when Israeli warplanes bombed their home. They are among the 521 victims (at the time of this writing) of the ongoing air and ground assault on the Gaza Strip by a 9,000 strong force, which the Israeli government has launched on one of the most densely populated tracts of land in the world, home to 1.5 million Palestinians, half of them under 17 years of age."

Medics: Up to 40 Killed in Israeli Strike on Gaza School
Reuters: "Israeli tank fire killed up to 40 Palestinians at a United Nations school in the Gaza Strip on Tuesday, medical sources at two Gaza hospitals said. Two tank shells exploded outside the school, residents said, spraying shrapnel on people inside and outside the building, where hundreds of Palestinians had sought refuge from fighting between Israeli soldiers and Hamas militants."

New DC Tone: Obama Meets Both Democrats, GOP on Stimulus
David Lightman and Kevin G. Hall, McClatchy Newspapers: "Amid a galloping global economic crisis and mounting U.S. job losses, President-elect Barack Obama and congressional leaders agreed Monday on broad aspects of what's sure to be the largest short-term economic stimulus plan the nation has ever seen and promised to pass legislation quickly."

Obama's Choice of Panetta for CIA
Liz Halloran, NPR News: "President-elect Barack Obama will bring former Clinton administration official and federal budget expert Leon Panetta, 70, back to Washington to head the Central Intelligence Agency. And the president-elect plans to fill out the second of the nation's top intelligence posts with a military man, retired Navy Adm. Dennis Blair. He will be director of national intelligence."

Les Echos Japan in the Tempest
Les Echos: "Les Echos summarizes a long editorial from Japan's Asahi Shimbun: 'The great Japanese daily newspaper blames the United States, free markets and the policy conducted over the last decade to bring the country out of the rut it has been stuck in for so many years.'"

Marc Ash Hamas Should Stop
Marc Ash, Truthout: "With multiple diplomatic efforts to stop the violence in Gaza urgently under way, Hamas could greatly speed and aid those efforts by ceasing the rocket attacks on Israeli towns. The international community has long sought reform of Israeli military and social policy towards Palestinian lands. While it is true that some Israelis are resistant to any reform that would empower Palestinian residents, such reform would become inexorable absent deliberate provocation of Israel's military wrath."

Obama's Justice Nominees Signal End of Bush Terror Tactics
Greg Gordon, McClatchy Newspapers: "In filling four senior Justice Department positions Monday, President-elect Barack Obama signaled that he intends to roll back Bush administration counter-terrorism policies authorizing harsh interrogation techniques, warrantless spying and indefinite detentions of terrorism suspects. The most startling shift was Obama's pick of Indiana University law professor Dawn Johnsen to take charge of the Office of Legal Counsel, the unit that's churned out the legal opinions that provided a foundation for expanding President George W. Bush's national security powers."

India Delivers Diplomatic Ultimatum to Pakistan
Indranil Banerjie, Inter Press Service: "India’s Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee said Monday that his government has delivered a dossier to Pakistan containing evidence of the involvement of Pakistanis in the Mumbai massacre -- an act that strategic experts say amounts to an ultimatum to bring the perpetrators to Indian justice. Signalling that India is not prepared to accept further vacillation by Pakistan on its demand to extradite the terrorist masterminds responsible for the terrorist strike, Mukherjee said: 'We have today handed over to Pakistan evidence of the links with elements in Pakistan of the terrorists who attacked Mumbai on 26 November, 2008.'"

Al Franken: "I Work for You Now"
Curt Brown, The Minneapolis Star Tribune: "Acknowledging the legal wrangling isn't over, Democrat Al Franken said today he was humbled and proud to be 'the next senator from Minnesota.' In a five-minute statement given to two dozen reporters outside his Minneapolis home, Franken said: 'I'm ready to go to Washington and get to work just as soon as possible.'"

US Auto Sales Plunge Whopping 36 Percent in December
Tom Krisher, The Associated Press: "Huge rebates and zero-percent loans couldn't overcome economic uncertainty as US auto sales plunged 36 percent in December, capping a dismal year that saw sales free-fall by 2.9 million vehicles from 2007. The bleak numbers, according to both industry officials and analysts, mean that record high rebates and low-interest financing deals will stick around until at least February. But those deals will likely disappear as the remaining 2008 models are sold and inventories are lowered to match demand."

Congress Demands SEC Speed Madoff Inquiry to Improve Oversight
Jesse Westbrook and David Scheer, Bloomberg: "US lawmakers, critical of the Securities and Exchange Commission's failure to uncover Bernard Madoff's alleged $50 billion fraud, demanded the agency speed up an internal investigation of its missteps to help in their overhaul of market regulations. The SEC must report what happened, 'so we can do our jobs and make sure the laws and authorities are in place to see that this never happens again,' said Paul Kanjorski, chairman the House subcommittee overseeing capital markets, at a hearing in Washington today. 'Our regulatory system has failed miserably and we must rebuild it.'"

FP morning post 1/6

Top Story

Israel continued to push troops into Gaza on the 11th day of the conflict. In talks with French President Nicolas Sarkozy, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said that no truce was possible until Hamas was prevented from re-arming.

Israel claims to have killed 130 Hamas fighters since the conflict began while five Israelis have been killed by Hamas rocket attacks, which are moving dangerously close to Tel Aviv. Medical officials in Gaza say that 550 Palestinians, including civilians, have been killed and that the situation has become a full-blown humanitarian catastrophe
Perhaps, as Anne Applebaum suggests, it's time to stop referring to the Isreali-Palestinian situation as a "peace process."

U.S. Presidential Transition
In a surprise move, President-Elect Obama chose former White House Chief of Staff Leon Panetta as CIA director.
Obama arrived on Capitol Hill to lobby for his $800 billion stimulus package.
Bill Richardson's withdrawal and Roland Burris' nomination are providing the transition with some unwanted drama.

Middle East
The U.S. opened its biggest embassy ever in Baghdad.
Iran is offering "protection" for embattled Nobel Prize-winning human rights activist Shirin Ebadi.
The Iraqi shoe-thrower's trial has been postponed.

Russia is continuing to reduce the flow of gas into Ukraine.
Riot police were attacked by gunmen in Greece.
A Moroccan immigrant was elected mayor of Rotterdam.

A Chinese media report warned of spreading civil unrest throughout the country in 2009.
The Taliban has been doing some creative accounting with its casualty figures.
Sri Lankan authorities are close to bringing Tamil Tiger territory under control.

Hugo Chavez says a referendum to remove his term limits will apply to governors and mayors as well.
The anti-kidnapping expert kidnapped in Mexico last month has vanished without a trace.
Rod Blagojevich's nominee for Obama's senate seat, Roland Burris, is on his way to Washington for tough questioning.

Robert Mugabe plans to form a government in February, without the agreement of opposition parties.
Angola closed its border with the Democratic Republic of Congo to prevent an Ebola outbreak.
Kenya's ruling coalition is fraying.

Fighting off Depression

New York Times

“If we don’t act swiftly and boldly,” declared President-elect Barack Obama in his latest weekly address, “we could see a much deeper economic downturn that could lead to double-digit unemployment.” If you ask me, he was understating the case.

The fact is that recent economic numbers have been terrifying, not just in the United States but around the world. Manufacturing, in particular, is plunging everywhere. Banks aren’t lending; businesses and consumers aren’t spending. Let’s not mince words: This looks an awful lot like the beginning of a second Great Depression.

So will we “act swiftly and boldly” enough to stop that from happening? We’ll soon find out.

We weren’t supposed to find ourselves in this situation. For many years most economists believed that preventing another Great Depression would be easy. In 2003, Robert Lucas of the University of Chicago, in his presidential address to the American Economic Association, declared that the “central problem of depression-prevention has been solved, for all practical purposes, and has in fact been solved for many decades.”

Milton Friedman, in particular, persuaded many economists that the Federal Reserve could have stopped the Depression in its tracks simply by providing banks with more liquidity, which would have prevented a sharp fall in the money supply. Ben Bernanke, the Federal Reserve chairman, famously apologized to Friedman on his institution’s behalf: “You’re right. We did it. We’re very sorry. But thanks to you, we won’t do it again.”

It turns out, however, that preventing depressions isn’t that easy after all. Under Mr. Bernanke’s leadership, the Fed has been supplying liquidity like an engine crew trying to put out a five-alarm fire, and the money supply has been rising rapidly. Yet credit remains scarce, and the economy is still in free fall.

Friedman’s claim that monetary policy could have prevented the Great Depression was an attempt to refute the analysis of John Maynard Keynes, who argued that monetary policy is ineffective under depression conditions and that fiscal policy — large-scale deficit spending by the government — is needed to fight mass unemployment. The failure of monetary policy in the current crisis shows that Keynes had it right the first time. And Keynesian thinking lies behind Mr. Obama’s plans to rescue the economy.

But these plans may turn out to be a hard sell.

News reports say that Democrats hope to pass an economic plan with broad bipartisan support. Good luck with that.

In reality, the political posturing has already started, with Republican leaders setting up roadblocks to stimulus legislation while posing as the champions of careful Congressional deliberation — which is pretty rich considering their party’s behavior over the past eight years.

More broadly, after decades of declaring that government is the problem, not the solution, not to mention reviling both Keynesian economics and the New Deal, most Republicans aren’t going to accept the need for a big-spending, F.D.R.-type solution to the economic crisis.

The biggest problem facing the Obama plan, however, is likely to be the demand of many politicians for proof that the benefits of the proposed public spending justify its costs — a burden of proof never imposed on proposals for tax cuts.

This is a problem with which Keynes was familiar: giving money away, he pointed out, tends to be met with fewer objections than plans for public investment “which, because they are not wholly wasteful, tend to be judged on strict ‘business’ principles.” What gets lost in such discussions is the key argument for economic stimulus — namely, that under current conditions, a surge in public spending would employ Americans who would otherwise be unemployed and money that would otherwise be sitting idle, and put both to work producing something useful.

All of this leaves me concerned about the prospects for the Obama plan. I’m sure that Congress will pass a stimulus plan, but I worry that the plan may be delayed and/or downsized. And Mr. Obama is right: We really do need swift, bold action.

Here’s my nightmare scenario: It takes Congress months to pass a stimulus plan, and the legislation that actually emerges is too cautious. As a result, the economy plunges for most of 2009, and when the plan finally starts to kick in, it’s only enough to slow the descent, not stop it. Meanwhile, deflation is setting in, while businesses and consumers start to base their spending plans on the expectation of a permanently depressed economy — well, you can see where this is going.

So this is our moment of truth. Will we in fact do what’s necessary to prevent Great Depression II?

Monday, January 5, 2009

Truthout 1/5

Dean Baker The Anti-Stimulus Crowd: The Fear of Success
Dean Baker, Truthout: "At least some Republicans are starting to muster an anti-stimulus drive, claiming that President-elect Obama's package will not help the economy. Their drive is centered on what they claim is a careful rereading of the history of the New Deal. According to their account, President Roosevelt's policies actually lengthened the Great Depression. In their story, we would have been better off if we just left the market to adjust by itself. New Deal programs that directly employed people, or in other ways supported living standards, created an uncertain investment climate. They claim that this uncertainty slowed the process of market adjustment that was necessary for returning to high levels of employment."

Civilian Casualties Rise as Israel Presses in on Gaza City
Dion Nissenbaum, McClatchy Newspapers: "Israeli forces began to close in on Gaza City Monday, ordering families in outlying towns and neighborhoods to flee, as world leaders launched a renewed push to bring the 10-day-old conflict to a swift end. Medical officials in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip said Monday that 523 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli attacks, including 111 children. That marks a dramatic spike from the early days of Israeli air strikes that primarily targeted Hamas-dominated police stations, government buildings, mosques the Israeli military said were being used to store weapons, and the homes of Hamas leaders."

A Tumultuous Start to the 111th Congress
Gail Russell Chaddock, The Christian Science Monitor: "With more robust majorities in both houses of Congress and a deepening global financial crisis, Democrats aim for a quick start to the 111th Congress, including swift passage of an economic recovery plan expected to cost between $850 billion and $1 trillion. Not since President Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal have public expectations been so high - or so acute - at the start of a new Congress."

Tom Engelhardt The Ponzi Scheme Presidency: Bush's Legacy of Destruction
Tom Engelhardt, "With Bush's 'commander-in-chief' presidency only days from its end, the price tag on his 'war' continues to soar as dollars grow scarce, new investors refuse to pay in, and the scheme crumbles. Unfortunately, the American people, typical suckers in such a con game, will be left with a mile-high stack of IOU's. In any Ponzi scheme comparison with Madoff, however, one difference (other than size) stands out. Sooner or later, Madoff, like Charles Ponzi himself, will end up behind bars, while George, Dick, & Co. will be writing their memoirs and living off the fat of the land."

Franken to Be Declared Senate Victor in Minnesota
Todd Melby, Reuters: "Democrat Al Franken will be declared the winner of the tight U.S. Senate contest in Minnesota, emerging from a ballot recount with a slim margin over Republican Norm Coleman, state officials said on Sunday. But Coleman, the incumbent, has asked Minnesota's supreme court to require that a few hundred additional absentee ballots be included in the recount -- and he could then ask the court to investigate the contest all over again."

Laurent Pinsolle Is Free-Market Fundamentalism Immoral?
Laurent Pinsolle, Marianne2: "Governments save banks, some of the managers of which save themselves with comfortable golden parachutes. American households that have lost their homes weren't so lucky. And they'll keep on paying taxes. To save the banks. Where is morality in this system?"

Gaza City Residents Hunker Down
Richard Boudreaux and Rushdi abu Alouf, The Los Angeles Times: "As Israeli forces closed in on Gaza City, Mohammed Barbari joined the scramble by its most intrepid residents Sunday for dwindling supplies of food they would need while hunkering down at home. The first explosion tore through the central Firas Market at 11:30 a.m. as he approached from adjacent Palestine Square. Unable to turn his yellow Volkswagen Golf around in traffic, he kept driving toward the hail of shrapnel and the screams of scattering shoppers."

Woman Suicide Bomber Kills 35 Near Baghdad Shrine
Agence France-Presse: "A female suicide bomber blew herself up near a Shiite holy shrine in north Baghdad on Sunday, killing at least 35 people including women, children and Iranian pilgrims, a security official said. The woman carried out the attack at a checkpoint as pilgrims participating in Muharram ceremonies converged on the mausoleum of Imam Musa al-Kadhim in Kadhimiyah neighbourhood, the most important religious site in Baghdad for Shiite Muslims, the official said."

Curbs May Be Eased on Paving in Forests
Karl Vick, The Washington Post: "The Bush administration appears poised to push through a change in U.S. Forest Service agreements that would make it far easier for mountain forests to be converted to housing subdivisions. Mark E. Rey, the former timber lobbyist who heads the Forest Service, last week signaled his intent to formalize the controversial change before the Jan. 20 inauguration of President-elect Barack Obama. As a candidate, Obama campaigned against the measure in Montana, where local governments complained of being blindsided by Rey's negotiating the policy shift behind closed doors with the nation's largest private landowner."

Commerce Pick Richardson Withdraws, Citing New Mexico Probe
Michael D. Shear and Carol D. Leonnig, The Washington Post: "New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, chosen by President-elect Barack Obama to be commerce secretary, withdrew from consideration yesterday, citing an ongoing federal 'pay-to-play' investigation involving one of his political donors as a significant obstacle to his confirmation. Richardson, 61, who competed unsuccessfully for the Democratic presidential nomination last year, becomes the first political casualty in Obama's Cabinet, and his withdrawal marked the first visible crack in what had been one of the smoothest presidential transitions in modern history."

US Installed Iraqi Ex-Prime Minister Says Bush "Utter Failure"
Khalid al-Ansary, Reuters: "Former US-installed Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi has denounced the policies of President George W. Bush as an 'utter failure' that gave rise to the sectarian venom that ravaged his country. In an interview published on Saturday in the pan-Arab newspaper Asharq al-Awsat, Allawi found fault with American management of Iraq since the US-led invasion in 2003 as well as the government of present Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki."

Why Obama's Green Jobs Plan Might Work
Marla Dickerson, The Los Angeles Times: "While Detroit's automakers struggle to rebuild their sputtering operations, the key to jump-starting Michigan's economy may lie 80 miles northwest of the Motor City. This is the home of Hemlock Semiconductor Corp. It makes a material crucial for constructing photovoltaic panels. And that has turned this snow-covered hamlet into an unlikely hotbed for solar energy."

FP morning brief 1/5

Top Story

Israeli troops poured into Gaza on Sunday, effectively dividing the territory in two. Despite the capture of what Israel referred to as Hamas launching facilities, rockets continued to fly into Southern Israel. It's possible that Israel's aims now go beyond quieting the attacks, to the complete removal of Hamas from power in the territory, though Israeli officials deny that they intend to occupy Gaza for a significant period of time. More than 500 Palestinians -- a quarter of them civilians, according to the UN -- have died in the fighting so far.

Protests against Israel's actions have swept through Europe and the Middle East. With presidential elections fast approaching, Iranian hardliners might be the biggest winners from the fighting. Meanwhile, the U.S. presidential transition could complicate efforts to seek a peace agreement. French President Nicolas Sarkozy and the Czech foreign minister have been leading the negotiation efforts.

U.S. Presidential Transition
New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson withdrew himself as a nominee for commerce secretary because of an ongoing investigation into his finances.
Virginia Governor Tim Kaine will take over for Howard Dean as chairman of the Democratic National Comittee.
Barack Obama is keeping quiet about the situation in Gaza.

Middle East
The run-up to provincial elections in Northern Iraq has been marred by violence.
Dozens were killed by a suicide bomber at a Shiite pilgrimage site in Baghdad.
Turkish planes bombed Kurdish rebel sites in Northern Iraq.
Iranian authorities are cracking down on opposition leaders ahead of presidential elections.

Opposition candidate John Atta Mills narrowly won Ghana's presidential election.
A ship belonging to a French oil company was seized by gunmen in Nigeria's Niger Delta.
Two foreign journalists were freed by kidnappers in Somalia.

China's industrial output fell for a third consecutive quarter.
Earthquakes in Eastern Indonesia killed several people.
Sri Lanka continues to attack Tamil Tiger rebels after capturing the group's de facto capital.

Russia completely halted gas supplies to Ukraine because of an ongoing pricing dispute. Countries throughout Eastern Europe are feeling the pain.
British PM Gordon Brown defended his handling of the economic crisis.
The New York Times reports that European leaders may be willing to work with Barack Obama on relocating Guantanamo detainees and new sanctions against Iran.

Comedian Al Franken was declared the winner in Minnesota's long-contested senate election. The head of Denver's public school system was named to replace Colorado Sentaor Ken Salazar, who is joining Barack Obama's cabinet.
Don't expect a stimulus package in the next month, says House Majority leader Steny Hoyer.
There's tough work ahead for Puerto Rico's new governor.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Truthout 1/4

Israeli Forces Bisect Gaza, Surround Biggest City
Ibrahim Barzak And Matti Friedman, The Associated Press: "Israeli ground troops and tanks cut swaths through the Gaza Strip early Sunday, cutting the coastal territory into two and surrounding its biggest city as the new phase of a devastating offensive against Hamas militants gained momentum. The military used overwhelming firepower from tanks, artillery and aircraft to protect the advancing soldiers, and Gaza officials said at least 31 civilians were killed in the onslaught. The military said troops killed several dozen militants, but Gaza officials could confirm only four dead - in part because rescue teams could not reach the battle zones."

Chrysler Gets $4 Billion US Government Loan
Reuters: "Chrysler LLC on Friday received an initial $4 billion emergency loan from the US government, two days after the government completed a parallel payout to its larger rival General Motors Corp. 'This initial loan will allow the company to continue an orderly restructuring,' Chrysler Chief Executive Bob Nardelli said in a statement."

J. Sri Raman Vigilance After the Bangladesh Verdict
J. Sri Raman, Truthout: "Voters can defy conventional wisdom, but can they have the last word in the post-election period? The question, being raised in the US of President-elect Barack Obama, is equally if not even more relevant in South Asia. Pundits and ordinary people are posing the question now in and about Bangladesh of Prime Minister-designate Sheikh Hasina Wajed as well."

Obama Sketches Out Recovery Plan
Jeanne Sahadi, CNN: "President-elect Barack Obama on Saturday offered the most detailed statement yet of his economic recovery plan, sketching out broad-based spending proposals and tax incentives aimed at reviving an economy mired in recession. In his weekly radio and video address describing what he called the American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan, Obama spelled out five main goals."

More Groups Than Thought Monitored in Police Spying
Lisa Rein and Josh White, The Washington Post: "The Maryland State Police surveillance of advocacy groups was far more extensive than previously acknowledged, with records showing that troopers monitored - and labeled as terrorists - activists devoted to such wide-ranging causes as promoting human rights and establishing bike lanes. Intelligence officers created a voluminous file on Norfolk-based People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, calling the group a "security threat" because of concerns that members would disrupt the circus. Angry consumers fighting a 72 percent electricity rate increase in 2006 were targeted. The DC Anti-War Network, which opposes the Iraq war, was designated a white supremacist group, without explanation."

FOCUS Franken up 225 With Recount Complete; Focus Turns to Court
Mike Kaszuba and Kevin Duchschere, Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribune: "Norm Coleman's term as a US senator ended at noon Washington time on Saturday, and by evening his hopes of winning a second term had been dealt an expected but serious setback as state officials counted previously rejected absentee ballots in St. Paul. DFLer Al Franken held an unofficial lead of 225 votes over Coleman, according to a newspaper tally of the officials' count of the absentee ballots. Franken had led unofficially by 49 votes going into the day and gained a net 176 votes from the new ballots."

FOCUS US Blocks UN Action on Gaza Conflict
The Associated Press: "The United States late Saturday blocked approval of a UN Security Council statement calling for an immediate cease-fire in the Gaza Strip and southern Israel and expressing concern at the escalation of violence between Israel and Hamas. US deputy ambassador Alejandro Wolff said the United States saw no prospect of Hamas abiding by last week's council call for an immediate end to the violence. Therefore, he said, a new statement at this time 'would not be adhered to and would have no underpinning for success, would not do credit to the council.'"

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Truthout 1/3

Moyers and Winship Making "Duck Soup" Out of 2009
Bill Moyers and Michael Winship, Truthout: "As 2008 ends and this New Year begins, with all its fledgling promise despite turmoil and crisis, it's also that time when the media offers its lists of ten best or worst this and that of the previous year, an exercise that simultaneously entertains and infuriates. Forced at knifepoint to make such lists, at least ours would be a little different. One would be favorite headlines of the year from The Onion, the hilarious weekly that doesn't bill itself as 'America's finest news source' for nothing. If you can read it without laughing, you probably have been paying too much attention to your 401(k)."

Growing Taliban Use of Marksmen Worries US Military
Nancy A. Youssef, McClatchy Newspapers: "Taliban fighters increasingly are deploying precision marksmen to fire on US troops at greater distances throughout opium-producing southern Afghanistan, according to the top two commanders for the southern region. The increased use of marksmen is the latest Taliban shift to asymmetrical warfare and away from confronting US troops in conventional fights, the commanders told McClatchy."

Will Obama "Deimperialize" the Presidency?
Gail Russell Chaddock, The Christian Science Monitor: "As a US senator and presidential candidate, Barack Obama routinely criticized the accretion of presidential power during the Bush years. But in the run-up to assuming the presidency himself, the President-elect has gone silent on whether he would roll back powers claimed during the Bush years - or support congressional efforts to do so."

Nine Muslim Passengers Removed From Jet
Amy Gardner, The Washington Post: "Officials ordered nine Muslim passengers, including three young children, off an AirTran flight headed to Orlando from Reagan National Airport yesterday afternoon after two other passengers overheard what they thought was a suspicious remark. Members of the party, all but one of them US-born citizens who were headed to a religious retreat in Florida, were subsequently cleared for travel by FBI agents who characterized the incident as a misunderstanding, an airport official said. But the passengers said AirTran refused to rebook them, and they had to pay for seats on another carrier secured with help from the FBI."

Michael Bennet Chosen as Colorado's Next Senator
Karen Crummy, The Denver Post: "Denver Public Schools Superintendent Michael Bennet - who has never held elected office and is virtually unknown in most of the state - is Gov. Bill Ritter's pick to fill Colorado's Senate seat, sources said Friday. Ritter's announcement is scheduled for Saturday afternoon. Bennet's appointment will be official after US Sen. Ken Salazar is confirmed as secretary of interior, a move expected later this month."

FOCUS Four Senate Seats Still Up in the Air
Paul Kane, The Washington Post: "In Illinois, Roland W. Burris, the selection of embattled Gov. Rod Blagojevich to succeed President-elect Barack Obama in the Senate, filed another legal motion yesterday to try to force state officials to recognize his appointment, which would allow him to take his fight to the Capitol in time for Tuesday's start of the 111th Congress. Senate Republicans, meanwhile, declared that under no circumstances would they agree to seat Democrat Al Franken of Minnesota, who is clinging to a 49-vote lead in the recount of his race against Sen. Norm Coleman, if Coleman files a legal challenge."

FOCUS Israel Lets Palestinians Flee; UN Warns of Crisis
Aron Heller And Ibrahim Barzak, The Associated Press: "The evacuees told of crippling shortages of water, electricity and medicine, echoing a UN warning of a deepening humanitarian crisis in the besieged Gaza Strip in the seven-day-old Israeli campaign. The UN estimates at least a quarter of the 400 Palestinians killed by Israeli airstrikes on Hamas militants were civilians."

Friday, January 2, 2009

Obama Defuses a Racial Bomb Ignited by Bobby Rush

Jonathan Stein
Mother Jones

It was supposed to be just another absurd day in the absurd life of Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich. Then Bobby Rush showed up.

Blagojevich held a mid-afternoon press conference Tuesday to name former Illinois Comptroller and Attorney General Roland Burris to Illinois' vacant Senate seat, an act that stood in defiance of both the stated wishes of every Democratic senator in Washington and Majority Leader Harry Reid's threat to refuse any Blagojevich appointee entrance into the Senate. The appointment, which the Secretary of State of Illinois stated he would not certify, would likely create weeks of legal wrangling and prolong the sideshow atmosphere surrounding Blago. So far, so bizarre, so good.

Then Congressman Bobby Rush of Illinois' 1st district stepped to the mic in support of Burris, who is black, and said, "I will ask you to not hang and lynch the appointee as you try to castigate the appointer." Lynch. That's crazy even by Blago standards.

Let's have no doubt: In a different world and at a different time, Burris would have legitimate claim to the seat. The first black man to win a major statewide office in Illinois, he served three terms as comptroller (beginning in 1979) and one as attorney general (beginning in 1991). In his era, he was popular throughout the state. He managed to serve for 16 years without scandal, which may be a record in Illinois. But despite his accomplishments, Burris cannot hope to untangle himself from the web of scandals woven by Blagojevich. And even if those scandals were not so all-consuming, few prominent politicians in Illinois would stand up for Burris: half want the seat he has been appointed to fill, and the other half would rather endorse someone who will be a future power player, someone who could repay the favor down the line. Few would see the sense in supporting a man who, though a distinguished public servant, is in his seventies and hasn't held public office in over a decade.

But one of those few is Bobby Rush, a co-founder of the Illinois Black Panther Party who represents one of the most heavily African-American congressional districts in the country. In his 60s, with his run for higher office behind him (he lost a bid for mayor of Chicago against Richard M. Daley in 1999), Rush has no reason to support a young whippersnapper seeking a bright future. He can afford to support a fellow civil rights trailblazer. And he did so in racially charged terms:

Let me just remind you that there presently is no African- American in the U.S. Senate. Let me remind you that the state of Illinois and the people in the state of Illinois and their collective wisdom, have sent two African-Americans to the U.S. Senate....

This is a matter of national importance. There are no African- Americans in the Senate, and I don’t think that anyone — any U.S. senator, who’s sitting in the Senate, right now, wants to go on record to deny one African-American for being seated in the U.S. Senate. I don’t think they want to go on record doing that. And so, I intend to take that argument to the Congressional Black Caucus. I intend to take that argument to the senators.

Rush made an explicit attempt to recast the situation in racial terms. And he added a threat. Any senator who opposed Burris' seating as the junior senator from Illinois — for any reason whatsoever, and there are many — desires an all-white body. That is to say, they are racist or, at the very least, insensitive to the need for diversity and no friend of minorities. Having just supported the first successful African-American presidential candidate in the nation's history, Senate Democrats would feel awfully uneasy exercising an unprecedented power to lock out the man who would be the Senate's only African-American. Especially after the race card had been so publicly played.

But then that first successful African-American presidential candidate stepped in and saved Harry Reid and his compatriots an awful lot of grief. He issued the following statement:

Roland Burris is a good man and a fine public servant, but the Senate Democrats made it clear weeks ago that they cannot accept an appointment made by a governor who is accused of selling this very Senate seat. I agree with their decision, and it is extremely disappointing that Governor Blagojevich has chosen to ignore it. I believe the best resolution would be for the Governor to resign his office and allow a lawful and appropriate process of succession to take place.

Bobby Rush, who defeated Barack Obama years ago in a congressional race early in Obama's career, had his race card very calmly picked up and placed back in his pocket. The Democratic Party, to introduce another metaphor, dodged a bullet. And Barack Obama had the opportunity to play the mediator and to remind everyone that, no, not every Illinois politician is flat-out crazy. It's not clear where this saga will go from here, but because of Obama's actions, opposing Burris won't be considered racism anywhere outside of Bobby Rush's Capitol Hill office.

The Gaza War and Israel's Future

By M.J. Rosenberg
TPM Cafe

These are terrible days for those of us who long to see Israel finally accepted by its neighbors. At a time when all 22 Arab states have offered Israel peace and normalization in exchange for the '67 territories, this war could destroy that possibility once and for all.

No, that does not mean that I question Israel's right to respond to the rocket onslaught from Gaza.

Of course, it has that right.

Any country has the right, even the obligation, to respond militarily to thugs who rain down thousands of rockets on its people, leaving its children quaking in terror. The question is not whether Israel has the right , but whether exercising it this way is right.

For Israel, the only right response is the one that will bring it closer to the security it will only have when it is accepted by its neighbors. Some argue that this attack on Hamas will indeed accomplish that. Eliminate the fanatics, they say, and Israel can make peace with the moderates.

But, Israel is incapable of even dealing with its own crazies. Under conditions infinitely more comfortable than those of Gaza, Israeli lunatics--settlers who attack children and burn down olive groves--have become significant political players. In Israel, it is impossible to form a government without the crazies. How can anyone imagine it possible to bomb Hamas into moderation?

Of course, it would be sufficient if this war could eliminate Hamas' ability to attack Israel. Even that is a long shot with few Israelis predicting this assault will accomplish that for long.

But one thing is certain--this war is unlikely to bring peace any closer. In fact, I believe that the pictures Arabs and Muslims worldwide are seeing of the attacks on Gaza may push that day so far into the future that none of us will see it.

The other day The Washington Post put a photo of the family of five young sisters killed in a single attack on its front page. Imagine how that played in the Arab world or in the world at large. Imagine how long it will take for the memory, the stain, of those five little girls to fade.

And, no, it's not relevant that Hamas kills children too or that it does it intentionally and Israel does it by accident. Hamas is a terror organization. The standard that applies to Hamas is not the one to apply to a civilized state, a member of the United Nations, and an ally of the United States and the West. Israel is not Libya, but the state created by Jewish idealists and humanists seeking not regional domination but a Jewish refuge. It is that refuge that is now compromised.

In The New York Times the other day, the conservative Israeli historian, Benny Morris, wrote that Israelis feel that "the walls--and history--are closing in on their 60-year-old state."

He specifically refers to Iran's nuclear program, the growing power of Hezbollah and Hamas, and the disaffection of Israeli Arabs.

"Public opinion in the West (and in democracies, governments can't be far behind) is gradually reducing its support for Israel as the West looks askance at the Jewish state's treatment of its Palestinian neighbors and wards. The Holocaust is increasingly becoming a faint and ineffectual memory and the Arab states are increasingly powerful and assertive," he writes.

Just a few years ago, Israel's situation was entirely different. It was close to achieving virtually universal acceptance.

Some of Israel's most vocal supporters want us to forget that. They cling to the idea that "the world has always hated Israel" (and the Jews), rejecting as irrelevant the idea that Palestinian statelessness is at the root of the problem.

They reject that fact because it suggests that Israel is in charge of its own destiny. It can determine where it stands in the eyes of the world, and especially the Arab world, by changing its relationship with the Palestinians.

How do I know that? Because it happened once before.

Following Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin's decision to recognize both the PLO and the Palestinians' right to a state in the West Bank and Gaza, nine non-Arab Muslim states and 32 of the 43 Sub-Saharan African states established relations with Israel. India and China, the two largest markets in the world, opened trade relations. Jordan signed a peace treaty and several of the emirates began quiet dealings with Israel.

The Arab boycott ended. Foreign investment soared. Israel's isolation appeared to be over.

The most graphic demonstration of Israel's changed international standing occurred at Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin's funeral in 1995, which rivaled President Kennedy's in terms of international representation.

Leaders from virtually every nation on earth came to pay homage to Rabin. From President Clinton and Prince Charles to President Hosni Mubarak, King Hussein, and the leaders of every country in Europe, most of Africa and Asia (including India and China), Latin America, Turkey, Morocco, Mauritania, Oman, Qatar, and Tunisia. Yasir Arafat wept at Leah Rabin's apartment in Tel Aviv.

The world mourned Rabin because under him, Israel had embraced the cause of peace with the Palestinians. The homage to Rabin was a clear demonstration--as was the opening of trade and diplomatic relations with formerly hostile states--that Israel was not being isolated because it is a Jewish state, but because of its conflict with the Palestinians.

Once Rabin moved to end the conflict, he ended Israel's isolation as well. (If the problem was undying Jew-hatred, Rabin's opening to the Palestinians would not have affected Israel's standing).

We need to remember this as the hard-liners insist that anti-Israel sentiment is unconnected with anything Israel does. That is simply not true. Even Ariel Sharon, hated more than any Israeli by most Arabs and Muslims, saw his image transformed overnight when he moved to relinquish Gaza. He actually received an ovation at the United Nations, leaving the old man in shock.

But that was then, this is now. I agree with Morris who seems to believe that, at this rate, Israel's days may be numbered.

So the questions have to be asked. Does the Gaza war improve Israel's long-term (or even short-term) situation? Might it not have been better to induce Hamas to stop the shelling by ending the blockade Israel imposed back when Hamas won the Palestinian election?

Was it right to insist that Hamas accept Israel in advance of negotiations rather than simply push for a total and absolute cessation of violence and blockade, followed by negotiations? Could Israel realistically expect the cease-fire to hold while Gaza remained under siege, rife with hunger, illness, and joblessness? And freezing cold. (Even during the cease-fire, Israel was turning on Gaza's heat and electricity only a few hours a day).

Again, I am not questioning Israel's right to respond. But that is the wrong question. The right question to ask is why it came to this. And to ask ourselves if supporting the continuation of this war--rather than an immediate cease-fire--will do Israel more harm than good.

A tip of my cap to Ann Rosen

Don Wheeler

My decision to run for school board significantly predated the dismissal of Robert Zimmerman as Superintendent of Schools. That decision; however, certainly broadened the field of candidates. It also stirred a hornet's nest of public indignation.

I've looked into this matter about as deeply as one can - who wasn't directly involved - and I can't say with any certainty whether that decision was proper. I will once again say, though, that the School Board gave the community little cause to have confidence in their decision.

That result caused a level of outrage which seemed to overwhelm sober reflection for a lot of people. This "throw the bums out" mentality made campaigns seriously challenging for two incumbents - Kim Barnbrook and Ann Rosen, and they each reacted in very different ways.

Ms. Barnbrook maintained a low profile and didn't appear at any of the sponsored events I attended. Ms. Rosen, on the other hand, was at most of them, sought endorsements and ran a very active campaign. Picture someone power walking upstream, making steady progress.

On top of that, Ms. Rosen's presence at these events was quite valuable in and of itself. Several times she gently reminded everyone of the boring, mechanical, yet critical aspects which burn up time and resources for the school corporation and its leadership. She didn't try to discourage anyone from vision strategy, but I think she knew from her own experience that it could be quite discouraging for someone unfamiliar with the day to day drudgery involved in just making the machine run.

In fact, Ms. Rosen had and has a vision of her own. And thanks to Joe Dits and the South Bend Tribune more people know about it:

SOUTH BEND -- As the minutes closed on her last school board meeting last week, Ann Rosen spoke of "the elephant in the room that we don't talk about."

Over several years, she said, the students of the South Bend Community School Corp. have changed. More of them are poorer and are minorities. As a result, the needs of students have changed. The schools must do a good job of educating both the kids with these needs and the kids who excel, said Rosen, whose term on the board is ending. Rosen pointed to research from 1998 that found that children in welfare families heard one-half to one-third as many spoken words as children in more affluent households. And the kids' vocabulary reflected that.

"This language gap deeply affects children's ability to read," said Rosen, a consultant with a local group called the Family Connection.

Indeed, numbers from the Indiana Department of Education show that minorities have grown steadily in the school corporation since 1990, from 35 percent of the student body to 59 percent. During the same time, minorities grew from almost 14 percent of students across Indiana to 24 percent.

Hispanic youth grew from 7 percent of the school corporation's student body to 15.5 percent.

And the percent of South Bend students on free lunch programs has grown from 42 percent in 1996 to a high of 58 percent this year -- while students with reduced-price lunches have gone from 6.5 percent to a high of 10 percent in that time, according to the DOE.

"If I had one wish for the community," Rosen said, "it's that it would invest in quality early childhood education." She said James Heckman, a Nobel Laureate economist at the University of Chicago, argues that it's wise for communities to invest in good early childhood education to ward off social

I think somebody else has been talking about sort of thing. Hmm...

The editors of the South Bend Tribune put it very nicely:

Outgoing South Bend Community School Corp. Trustee Ann Rosen called the growing privilege gap among students "the elephant in the room that we don't talk about."

It should be a subject South Bend trustees talk about again and again. Nothing is more important. That is because the number of schoolchildren living in impoverished households is growing steadily. So is the number of minority children and the number of children whose first language isn't English.

Rosen's point, that it is important for school systems to invest in quality early childhood education in order to close the education gap, has not gotten nearly enough of the current school board's attention. Much of the board's time has been spent debating the merits of contracts — for buildings, buses or superintendents — instead of talking about kids' educational needs.

We hope that will change, and that those with knowledge of this serious issue — including Rosen — will make themselves heard. As Rosen noted before leaving the trustee stage for the last time, minorities in the South Bend schools have grown from 35 percent to 59 percent since 1990. And just since 1996, the proportion of students receiving free lunches has grown from 42 percent to 58 percent. Poverty is by far the biggest factor in students' failure to learn.

A Dec. 21 interview with Superintendent James Kapsa by Tribune staff writer Alicia Gallegos also touched on the impact that poverty has on achievement. That, in Kapsa's words, is something "we need to keep in mind on a daily basis."

Whether this will be a successful community — with crime under control, a pool of skilled workers able to meet the needs of professional and industrial employers, and a generally high quality of life — will depend very much on how well public education meets the challenges facing it. We are glad Rosen mentioned that fact and hope it will get much more than a mention in the months and years ahead.

Had I known of Ms. Rosen's quality earlier (and thought it would do her any good), I may well have decided to leave the race and publicly endorse her. That ship has sailed.

I salute her hard work, her gentle, determined nature - and hope to be able to work with her in the future on these issues we both feel so strongly about.

Bigger than Bush

New York Times

As the new Democratic majority prepares to take power, Republicans have become, as Phil Gramm might put it, a party of whiners.

Some of the whining almost defies belief. Did Alberto Gonzales, the former attorney general, really say, “I consider myself a casualty, one of the many casualties of the war on terror”? Did Rush Limbaugh really suggest that the financial crisis was the result of a conspiracy, masterminded by that evil genius Chuck Schumer?

But most of the whining takes the form of claims that the Bush administration’s failure was simply a matter of bad luck — either the bad luck of President Bush himself, who just happened to have disasters happen on his watch, or the bad luck of the G.O.P., which just happened to send the wrong man to the White House.

The fault, however, lies not in Republicans’ stars but in themselves. Forty years ago the G.O.P. decided, in effect, to make itself the party of racial backlash. And everything that has happened in recent years, from the choice of Mr. Bush as the party’s champion, to the Bush administration’s pervasive incompetence, to the party’s shrinking base, is a consequence of that decision.

If the Bush administration became a byword for policy bungles, for government by the unqualified, well, it was just following the advice of leading conservative think tanks: after the 2000 election the Heritage Foundation specifically urged the new team to “make appointments based on loyalty first and expertise second.”

Contempt for expertise, in turn, rested on contempt for government in general. “Government is not the solution to our problem,” declared Ronald Reagan. “Government is the problem.” So why worry about governing well?

Where did this hostility to government come from? In 1981 Lee Atwater, the famed Republican political consultant, explained the evolution of the G.O.P.’s “Southern strategy,” which originally focused on opposition to the Voting Rights Act but eventually took a more coded form: “You’re getting so abstract now you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is blacks get hurt worse than whites.” In other words, government is the problem because it takes your money and gives it to Those People.

Oh, and the racial element isn’t all that abstract, even now: Chip Saltsman, currently a candidate for the chairmanship of the Republican National Committee, sent committee members a CD including a song titled “Barack the Magic Negro” — and according to some reports, the controversy over his action has actually helped his chances.

So the reign of George W. Bush, the first true Southern Republican president since Reconstruction, was the culmination of a long process. And despite the claims of some on the right that Mr. Bush betrayed conservatism, the truth is that he faithfully carried out both his party’s divisive tactics — long before Sarah Palin, Mr. Bush declared that he visited his ranch to “stay in touch with real Americans” — and its governing philosophy.

That’s why the soon-to-be-gone administration’s failure is bigger than Mr. Bush himself: it represents the end of the line for a political strategy that dominated the scene for more than a generation.

The reality of this strategy’s collapse has not, I believe, fully sunk in with some observers. Thus, some commentators warning President-elect Barack Obama against bold action have held up Bill Clinton’s political failures in his first two years as a cautionary tale.

But America in 1993 was a very different country — not just a country that had yet to see what happens when conservatives control all three branches of government, but also a country in which Democratic control of Congress depended on the votes of Southern conservatives. Today, Republicans have taken away almost all those Southern votes — and lost the rest of the country. It was a grand ride for a while, but in the end the Southern strategy led the G.O.P. into a cul-de-sac.

Mr. Obama therefore has room to be bold. If Republicans try a 1993-style strategy of attacking him for promoting big government, they’ll learn two things: not only has the financial crisis discredited their economic theories, the racial subtext of anti-government rhetoric doesn’t play the way it used to.

Will the Republicans eventually stage a comeback? Yes, of course. But barring some huge missteps by Mr. Obama, that will not happen until they stop whining and look at what really went wrong. And when they do, they will discover that they need to get in touch with the real “real America,” a country that is more diverse, more tolerant, and more demanding of effective government than is dreamt of in their political philosophy.

Truthout 1/2

Carissa S. Picard The Invisible Injuries of the Invisible Ranks
Carissa S. Picard, Truthout: "I never expected to feel so lonely, so isolated, so out-of-place and out of sorts all the time, always in that in-between place of neither here nor there, neither this nor that. As an Army wife (excuse me, as six percent are male, Army 'spouse'), you are no longer a civilian, but you are not a soldier either."

Israel, US Policies Aided Hamas Rise
Warren P. Strobel, McClatchy Newspapers: "The Gaza Strip wasn't supposed to be like this. In August 2005, when Israel unilaterally withdrew from the narrow coastal territory, then-Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon promised it would make Israel safer. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice hailed the move as 'historic.' Israel had left behind a political vacuum, however. That, along with decisions by Israel, the U.S. and Palestinian rivals inadvertently boosted the militant Islamic group Hamas into power."

Treasury Has Pledged More Rescue Funds Than Authorized
Michael Crittenden, The Wall Street Journal: "The Treasury Department has committed nearly $10 billion more than the $350 billion Congress has authorized to date for the financial-sector rescue package, which could constrain how the incoming Obama administration deploys the rest of the fund. Treasury's announcement Monday that it is directing $6 billion to auto-finance company GMAC LLC brought to $358.4 billion the total funds from the Troubled Asset Relief Program that have been pledged to a variety of programs and guarantees. That suggests Treasury is tapping into the second half of the $700 billion set aside in October before it has been released by Congress."

Michael Kinsley Eight Years Later
Michael Kinsley, TIME Magazine: "The platform on which Bush entered the presidency eight years ago comes from a lost world, in which even the party out of power saw an America of unthreatened prosperity and security .... Even enthusiasts of Bush's foreign policy would not describe it as displaying the humility of true greatness. More like the pugnacity of lost greatness. All that talk of one superpower--us--bestriding a 'unipolar' world seems as dated as Seinfeld reruns."

US Soldiers Will Remain in Green Zone Next 90 Days
Amit R. Paley, The Washington Post: "The United States on Thursday handed the Iraqi government formal control of the Green Zone, the locus of power in the country and symbol of American influence for the past five years, but officials announced that U.S soldiers would continue to help maintain security in the area for at least the next 90 days."

Russia Cuts Gas to Ukraine Over Unpaid Bills
Tom Parfitt and Terry Macalister, The Guardian UK: "Russia cut natural gas deliveries to Ukraine today after negotiations failed to resolve a dispute over unpaid bills and the price for supplies this year."

Obama, Pelosi to Discuss Scope of Economic Package
Michael D. Shear, The Washington Post: "President-elect Barack Obama will meet with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Monday as Congress prepares to reconvene and debate a massive recovery plan for the nation's struggling economy, according to Democratic sources."

Katrina vanden Heuvel A Trillion Dollar Recovery
Katrina vanden Heuvel, The Nation: "We don't need a stimulus, we need a recovery. And that means investing $1 trillion over the next two years."

Obama Faces Legacy of Lawlessness at Justice
Daphne Eviatar, The Washington Independent: "As an inspector general's report revealed, potential new hires during the Bush administration were disqualified for jobs if in the past they'd worked for Democrats or organizations with 'liberal affiliations' - such as civil rights groups. The inspector general concluded that 'political or ideological affiliations were used to deselect candidates' applying for entry-level attorney positions and internships."

No Stamp of Approval for Mexico Bureaucrats
Ken Ellingwood, The Los Angeles Times: "Despite Calderon's call to slim down the government, today there are more than 4,200 federal tramites, nearly double the number in place before his conservative party took over from the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, whose 70-year rule ended in electoral defeat in 2000."

Obama Pledges Schools Upgrade in Stimulus
The Associated Press: "Barack Obama probably cannot fix every leaky roof and busted boiler in the nation's schools. But educators say his sweeping school modernization program - if he spends enough - could jump-start student achievement."

Rhode Island Senator Pell, Creator of Pell Grants, Dead at 90
Eric Tucker, The Associated Press: "Claiborne Pell, the quirky blueblood who represented blue-collar Rhode Island in the US Senate for 36 years and was the force behind a grant program that has helped tens of millions of Americans attend college, died Thursday after a long battle with Parkinson's disease. He was 90."

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Truthout 1/1

Deepak Chopra Nine Steps to Peace
Deepak Chopra, AlterNet: "The following is a memo to Barack Obama from Deepak Chopra ... 'You have been elected by the first anti-war constituency since 1952, when Dwight D. Eisenhower was elected after promising to end the Korean War. But ending a war isn't the same as bringing peace. America has been on a war footing since the day after Pearl Harbor, 67 years ago. We spend more on our military than the next 16 countries combined. If you have a vision of change that goes to the heart of this country's deep problems, ending our dependence on war is far more important than ending our dependency on foreign oil.'"

Hussein Agha and Robert Malley How Not to Make Peace in the Middle East
Hussein Agha and Robert Malley, The New York Review of Books: "Foreign affairs had no more than a small part in Barack Obama's presidential campaign, and the Middle East peace process only a fraction of that. Yet the sorry prospects for peace between Israelis and Palestinians make a break with past US policy on this matter imperative, regardless of the new administration's priorities."

One Group That Still Is Getting a Raise - Congress
Rob Hotakainen, McClatchy Newspapers: "Members of Congress have at least one reason to ring in the new year: They've given themselves a $4,700-a-year pay raise starting Thursday. With the economy in a recession and millions of Americans losing their jobs, however, members are under fire to rescind the pay hike, which will increase their base salaries to $174,000, roughly a 2.8 percent raise."

Fitzgerald Seeks Extension for Indicting Blagojevich
John Chase, The Los Angeles Times: "The US attorney's office in Chicago today asked a federal judge for an extra three months to formally indict Gov. Rod Blagojevich and his former chief of staff. The move by US Atty. Patrick Fitzgerald's office was expected because the deadline for handing up an indictment had been set for January 7. The extension would give prosecutors until April 7."

Idaho Senator Larry Craig Seeks $3 Million for Dams and Reservoirs
Rocky Barker, "Republican Sen. Larry Craig is stepping down from the US Senate, but he will leave one last water bill waiting in the next Congress. Hidden deep among a giant package of nearly 150 public lands bills that the Senate could consider as soon as January is a plan to spend $3 million to study the feasibility of new dam and reservoir projects on the Snake, Boise and Payette Rivers in Idaho."

Louis Ruffieux Hope for Colors
Louis Ruffieux, Fribourg's La Liberte: "Strange feelings at the twilight of 2008. So many arrogant certitudes have fallen along with the stock market! So many hopes have been born with Barack Obama's election to the presidency of the United States. And if this man were to give 2009 less-somber colors than those promised by the devil's painters on the wall?"

FOCUS South African Activist Helen Suzman Dies at 91
Clare Nullis, The Associated Press: "South African anti-apartheid activist Helen Suzman, who won international acclaim as one of the few white lawmakers to fight against the injustices of racist rule, died Thursday. She was 91. Suzman, who was twice nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, fought a long and lonely battle in the South African parliament against government repression of the country's black majority and the imprisonment of Nelson Mandela."
FOCUS UN Fails to Make Progress on Gaza
BBC News: "The UN Security Council has discussed a draft resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire to halt the Israeli-Palestinian violence. But the meeting failed to vote on the Libyan draft after ambassadors from the US and UK said it contained nothing about Palestinian attacks on Israel.... the Palestinian envoy to the UN, Rijad Mansour, demanded a binding resolution to secure an immediate truce. But the Israeli ambassador, Gabriela Shalev, said her country would continue to do whatever necessary to protect itself against what she called terrorism."

For 2009

Want what you have

Do what you can

Be who you are

--- Forrest Church

A candle of joy

Don Wheeler

I was raised to live an abundant life. Abundance (in this case) had nothing to do with material wealth. My parents put it simply that their hopes were that I could fashion a life I enjoyed and find satisfying as an adult.

Living abundantly is definitely a learned skill. Some discipline is needed to form the habit or habits needed. For me, one of the toughest things to do consistently was (and is) to recognize opportunities and to actually act upon them.

Opportunities for growth, satisfaction or plain pleasure are varied. After moving to South Bend some years back, I would note events (music, community organization meetings, etc.) that sounded interesting, make plans to attend - then, at the last minute, come up with some excuse to bail on my plan. I did occasionally actually go - and generally enjoyed myself - but this habit proved very difficult to break. I'm much better at it now, but it takes focused intentionality. It's easy to get lazy.

These memories were brought back to me last week when I happened to serendipitously switch on Public Radio. It used to be a habit to have it on most of the day, but now it is a very occasional thing. To my delight Forrest Church was to be the guest on the Diane Rehm show - guest hosted that day by Susan Page.

(For a more intimate look at Rev. Church's life with cancer check out his Fresh Air interview )

The Reverend F. Forrestor Church is the son of the late Senator Frank Church (D-ID). Frank Church was my favored candidate in the first Presidential Election in which I was eligible to vote (1976) and in my opinion one of the finest Senators we have ever had. I knew nothing of Forrest when I had heard him twelve or so years ago on Public Radio (when I was forming the habit of listening regularly), but he had a huge impact on me. It would take a long time to explain that impact in any detailed way. If you're interested, I cover it slightly in Forrest Church is dying .

Hearing his voice again, alive despite the odds, was powerful. There is a warmth and calm wisdom that is both reassuring and energizing. Much like T. Berry Brazelton - my absolute go to source for child rearing ideas - the confluence of common sense, trusting one's own judgement and acceptance of what is unchangeable makes seemingly complicated issues or situations much clearer for me. It was wonderful.

Now the old me, not recognizing the sheer good luck of this, would have simply listened. The current me pondered briefly. Should I call in? No, I thought. I don't really have a question. Still, I thought I had a contribution to make. So I sent an email - having no way to know if he would even see it.

The producers saved it for last. "Reverend Church is the reason I am a Unitarian. I heard him many years ago on this show and if I were to pick out something that really jumped out at me - it would be his response to people who say they don't believe in God. He said something like: 'Tell me about the God you don't believe in. Chances are, I don't believe in that God either'".

Reverend Church chuckled a bit as this was being read by Ms. Page, then responded "You remember it exactly! How great is that?"

It was a nice day for me.

As 2008 winds down, I wish you all abundance. Seek it, embrace it when you find it. These small joys of giving and receiving are the foundation of a life worth living. Or as Reverend Church would put it - a life worth dying for.



Below is the "Love and Death" sermon delivered by Rev. Forrest Church to All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church in Manhattan.