Saturday, February 28, 2009

Truthout 2/28

Mark Weisbrot Health Care Reform Is Needed Now More Than Ever
Mark Weisbrot, Truthout: "With the US economy's downward spiral still accelerating and the federal government looking at its largest budget deficits since World War II, some are saying that this is not the time to expand health care coverage to all Americans. But this is exactly the time for the Obama administration to move boldly on its campaign promise to implement a universal health care system. Obama wants spending that stimulates the economy in the short term, but he also wants to reduce the long-term deficit problem after the economy recovers. This is exactly what health care reform will do."

Guard to Pull Out of New Orleans After 3 1/2 Years
Mary Foster, The Associated Press: "Three and a half years after Hurricane Katrina, the National Guard is pulling the last of its troops out of New Orleans this weekend, leaving behind a city still desperate and dangerous. Residents long distrustful of the city's police force are worried they will have to fend for themselves. 'I don't know if crime will go up after these guys leave. But I know a lot more of us will be packing our own pieces now to make sure we're protected,' said Calvin Stewart, owner of a restaurant and store."

Court Rejects Obama Bid to Stop Wiretapping Suit
Devlin Barrett, The Associated Press: "The Obama administration has lost its argument that a potential threat to national security should stop a lawsuit challenging the government's warrantless wiretapping program. A federal appeals court in San Francisco on Friday rejected the Justice Department's request for an emergency stay in a case involving a defunct Islamic charity."

Firms Defraud Government but Get New US Contracts
Larry Margasak: The Associated Press: "Companies that defrauded the United States and jeopardized American lives received new government work despite rulings designed to stop them from receiving federal contracts, government investigators report. Payments went to a company whose president tried to sell nuclear bomb parts to North Korea, a company that jeopardized lives on the aircraft carrier USS John F. Kennedy, and a seller of body armor that the Air Force said was defective."

Unions Try to Heal Wounds of Bitter Split
Sam Hananel, The Associated Press: "Nearly four years after a nasty breakup split organized labor, union leaders are again talking about reuniting under a single, more powerful federation, possibly this year. Leaders from 12 of the nation's largest unions, along with rival federations AFL-CIO and Change to Win, have held three meetings since January aimed at setting aside differences and taking advantage of the most favorable political climate for unions in 15 years."

FOCUS Obama Tells Powerful Lobbies: Bring It On
Charles Babington, The Associated Press: "President Barack Obama challenged the nation's vested interests to a legislative duel Saturday, saying he will fight to change health care, energy and education in dramatic ways that will upset the status quo. 'The system we have now might work for the powerful and well-connected interests that have run Washington for far too long,' Obama said in his weekly radio and video address. 'But I don't. I work for the American people.'"

Joe Galloway Doomed to Repeat History in Afghanistan?
Joe Galloway, McClatchy Newspapers: "If the new American team has some new ideas about how to succeed in Afghanistan, now would be the time to lay them out. Nothing that Alexander the Great, Queen Victoria or Leonid Brezhnev tried in their attempts to subdue the quarrelsome Afghan tribes worked, and nothing we've tried in the last eight years has, either. While we're waiting for a new strategy, perhaps we should break out some old Kipling: 'When wounded and left on Afghanistan's plain.' 'And the women come out to cut up your remains ....' Etc., etc."

Friday, February 27, 2009

Where to now, Repubs?

Don Wheeler

We're just back from our annual visit with my Mom in Mexico and I see we've had another turkey celebration.

I re-post many of David Brooks' columns here, and many of my lefty friends don't understand why. Maybe it's time that I explain. In my opinion, Mr. Brooks is a very smart man who thinks hard about things. He's a student of sociology and history which he blends in with his political analysis. He has a higher regard for Barack Obama than I do. The fact that he and I disagree about political issues from time to time just makes him that much more valuable (to me).

Recently, after President Obama addressed Congress and Governor Jindal of Louisiana provided the Republic response, Jim Lehrer of PBS turned to Mr. Brooks (for a conservative viewpoint) and asked him how he thought Mr. Jindal did. Mr. Brooks started his response with "Not so well" . The next sixty seconds were characterized with words like "disaster" and "insane". He was incredibly upset, stunned and (in my opinion) appeared to feel betrayed.

I don't blame him. In Illinois, where I grew up, the Republicans were conservative, but they were the intellectuals. The Democratic Machine of Cook County was pretty much that. It could easily be argued that the Republicans were more progressive than the Democrats there and then.

So after eight years of disastrous leadership, thoughtful conservatives are being offered leadership which looks like it could be even worse.

Sarah Palin felt it necessary to be evasive about what she reads - among other things. And she had that clever photo shoot (pun intended) in front of turkeys being slaughtered. Bobby J spoke to the country in a way my six year old daughter might reasonably feel was juvenile. These are the spokespeople of the loyal opposition?

I hear many lefties crowing about this turn of events, but I don't see any good news here. Over the past several years many Republicans made the idea of governing as a sports contest try to fly. I'd have hoped we would have made note of that outcome. Many on the left didn't, I fear.

Democracy doesn't work that way. When times are good, conservative approaches challenged by thoughtful Progressives have served us well. When times are challenged, progressive approaches challenged by thoughtful Conservatives is what's called for. I'll go out on a limb and say that we are in a challenged time now.

Thoughtful Conservatives are needed immediately. Anyone ready to join the few, the proud...?

I sure hope so.

Truthout 2/27

Maya Schenwar The Push to Downsize Defense
Maya Schenwar, Truthout: "As President Obama released his budget outline for fiscal year 2010 on Thursday, recommending about $664 billion in defense funding, a determined group of progressive Congress members and activists pushed for a marked change in the way the US spends those dollars. Led by Rep. Barney Frank, the group advocates a 25 percent cut in military spending, to be accomplished by eliminating wasteful and obsolete programs, reducing active nuclear warheads and withdrawing from Iraq in an efficient and timely manner."

J. Sri Raman Did India Win an Oscar?
J. Sri Raman, Truthout: "For hours last Monday morning, India stayed glued to television sets. No, it was not a minute-by-minute account of a Mumbai-like terrorist attack that held the nation of one billion spellbound. Nor was the whole country watching a cricket match, which can often keep it away from all other occupations."

Benjamin Dangl Mexico Unconquered: Reviewing a People's History
Benjamin Dangl, Truthout: "Carlos Slim, the richest man in the world, calls Mexico home, as do millions of impoverished citizens. From Spanish colonization to today's state and corporate repression, 'Mexico Unconquered: Chronicles of Power and Revolt,' by John Gibler, is written from the street barricades, against the Slims of the world, and alongside 'the underdogs and rebels' of an unconquered country. The book offers a gripping account of the ongoing attempts to colonize Mexico, and the hopeful grassroots movements that have resisted this conquest."

Joseph R. Biden Jr. Green Jobs Are a Way to Aid the Middle Class
Joseph R. Biden Jr., The Philadelphia Inquirer: "Today, in Philadelphia, the White House Task Force on Middle Class Families is holding its inaugural meeting. Our charge is to assess current polices and develop new ones aimed at helping the middle class, the economic engine of this country."

Obama Announces Iraq Withdrawal Plan
Anne E. Kornblut and William Branigin, The Washington Post: "President Obama announced plans Friday to withdraw the bulk of U.S. forces from Iraq by Aug. 31, 2010, and to pull out all remaining troops by the end of 2011, ending the war in Iraq and launching 'a new era of American leadership and engagement in the Middle East.'"

Claire Gatinois After the Financial Crisis, Civil War?
Clair Gatinois, Le Monde: "Will the economic and financial crisis degenerate into violent social explosions? Tomorrow, will there be civil war in Europe, the United States and Japan? That's the rather alarming conclusion that the experts of European think tank LEAP/Europe 2020 lay out in their latest bulletin dated mid-February."

Senate to Investigate CIA's Actions Under Bush
Greg Miller, The Los Angeles Times: "The Senate Intelligence Committee is preparing to launch an investigation of the CIA's detention and interrogation programs under President Bush, setting the stage for a sweeping examination of some of most secretive and controversial operations in recent agency history."

Ruling Plunges Nuclear-Armed Pakistan Deeper Into Chaos
Saeed Shah, McClatchy Newspapers: "America's key ally in the fight against al Qaida and the Taliban plunged deeper into turmoil Wednesday after its Supreme Court disqualified popular opposition leader Nawaz Sharif from running for parliament."

Britain Admits Handing Over Terrorism Suspects to US
Julie Sell, McClatchy Newspapers: "Contradicting previous denials about Britain's participation in the Bush administration's global war on terrorism, Defense Minister John Hutton said Thursday that Britain had handed over two terrorism suspects it captured in Iraq to the US, which sent them to Afghanistan, where they're still being held after more than four years."

Rocky Mountain News Closing After Friday Edition
Catherine Tsai, The Associated Press: "Questions about the future of the Rocky Mountain News had become so common, the newspaper's staff put up a handwritten paper sign on the news desk that said, 'We don't know.' On Thursday, someone wrote over it in heavy black marker: 'Now we know.' Colorado's oldest newspaper, which launched in Denver in 1859, printed its last edition Friday, leaving The Denver Post as the only daily newspaper in town."

Iraq Museum Reopens Six Years After Looting
The Associated Press: "Iraq's restored National Museum reopened yesterday with a red-carpet gala in the heart of Baghdad nearly six years after looters carried away priceless antiquities as American troops largely stood by in the chaos of the city's fall. The ransacking of the museum became a symbol for critics of Washington's post-invasion strategy and its inability to maintain order as Saddam Hussein's security network disintegrated."

FP morning brief 2/27

Top Story

President Obama will announce a plan today to end U.S. combat operations in Iraq by August 2010. He will make the official announcement at North Carolina's Camp Lejeune later today. After 2010, according to the plan, a "transition force" of 35,000 troops will remain in Iraq for another year to train Iraqi security forces and protect U.S. contractors.

As he rolls out the plan, Obama has an unlikely supporter in his former election rival John Mccain. The New York Times reports that McCain was among a group of Republicans who met with Obama at the White House last night and expressed cautious support for the withdrawal plan.

If the plan succeeds, all U.S. troops will be out of Iraq by the end of 2011. "The path is not towards any sort of a Korea model,” a senior administration official told reporters.

The Bangladeshi military successfully put down a mutiny by border guards, but a mass grave thought to contain the bodies of soldiers killed by the mutineers has been discovered.
The U.S, Pakistan, and Afghanistan have agreed to hold regular three-nation talks.
China fired back at a critical U.S. State Department report on its human rights record, accusing the U.S. of hypocrisy.

Middle East
Iran's envoy sharply criticized the Obama administration at the United Nations.
Iran is planning a ten-fold expansion of its nuclear enrichment capacity within the next five years.
EU foreign-policy chief Javier Solana is touring Gaza. He is the highest ranking European official to visit since the Israeli invasion.

Five once high-ranking Serbian politicians were convicted of war crimes at the Hague.
Bishop Richard Williamson has apologized for any offense caused by his comments on the Holocaust.
Multilateral lending institutions have pledged over $30 billion to help Eastern Europe's struggling banks.

While his country asks neighbors for aid, Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe is raising hundreds of thousands of dollars for his own birthday party.
French authorities have frozen the accounts of Gabon's President Omar Bongo.
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the U.N. may consider sending a peacekeeping force to Somalia this summer.

The U.S. is expected to file charges soon against an al Qaeda suspect who has been held at a military prison in South Carolina for over five years.
Mexico's Felipe Calderon told the AP that Barack Obama should focus on the economy over immigration reform.
Paralyzing strikes continue for a sixth week in Guadeloupe.

Climate of change

New York Times

Elections have consequences. President Obama’s new budget represents a huge break, not just with the policies of the past eight years, but with policy trends over the past 30 years. If he can get anything like the plan he announced on Thursday through Congress, he will set America on a fundamentally new course.

The budget will, among other things, come as a huge relief to Democrats who were starting to feel a bit of postpartisan depression. The stimulus bill that Congress passed may have been too weak and too focused on tax cuts. The administration’s refusal to get tough on the banks may be deeply disappointing. But fears that Mr. Obama would sacrifice progressive priorities in his budget plans, and satisfy himself with fiddling around the edges of the tax system, have now been banished.

For this budget allocates $634 billion over the next decade for health reform. That’s not enough to pay for universal coverage, but it’s an impressive start. And Mr. Obama plans to pay for health reform, not just with higher taxes on the affluent, but by putting a halt to the creeping privatization of Medicare, eliminating overpayments to insurance companies.

On another front, it’s also heartening to see that the budget projects $645 billion in revenues from the sale of emission allowances. After years of denial and delay by its predecessor, the Obama administration is signaling that it’s ready to take on climate change.

And these new priorities are laid out in a document whose clarity and plausibility seem almost incredible to those of us who grew accustomed to reading Bush-era budgets, which insulted our intelligence on every page. This is budgeting we can believe in.

Many will ask whether Mr. Obama can actually pull off the deficit reduction he promises. Can he actually reduce the red ink from $1.75 trillion this year to less than a third as much in 2013? Yes, he can.

Right now the deficit is huge thanks to temporary factors (at least we hope they’re temporary): a severe economic slump is depressing revenues and large sums have to be allocated both to fiscal stimulus and to financial rescues.

But if and when the crisis passes, the budget picture should improve dramatically. Bear in mind that from 2005 to 2007, that is, in the three years before the crisis, the federal deficit averaged only $243 billion a year. Now, during those years, revenues were inflated, to some degree, by the housing bubble. But it’s also true that we were spending more than $100 billion a year in Iraq.

So if Mr. Obama gets us out of Iraq (without bogging us down in an equally expensive Afghan quagmire) and manages to engineer a solid economic recovery — two big ifs, to be sure — getting the deficit down to around $500 billion by 2013 shouldn’t be at all difficult.

But won’t the deficit be swollen by interest on the debt run-up over the next few years? Not as much as you might think. Interest rates on long-term government debt are less than 4 percent, so even a trillion dollars of additional debt adds less than $40 billion a year to future deficits. And those interest costs are fully reflected in the budget documents.

So we have good priorities and plausible projections. What’s not to like about this budget? Basically, the long run outlook remains worrying.

According to the Obama administration’s budget projections, the ratio of federal debt to G.D.P., a widely used measure of the government’s financial position, will soar over the next few years, then more or less stabilize. But this stability will be achieved at a debt-to-G.D.P. ratio of around 60 percent. That wouldn’t be an extremely high debt level by international standards, but it would be the deepest in debt America has been since the years immediately following World War II. And it would leave us with considerably reduced room for maneuver if another crisis comes along.

Furthermore, the Obama budget only tells us about the next 10 years. That’s an improvement on Bush-era budgets, which looked only 5 years ahead. But America’s really big fiscal problems lurk over that budget horizon: sooner or later we’re going to have to come to grips with the forces driving up long-run spending — above all, the ever-rising cost of health care.

And even if fundamental health care reform brings costs under control, I at least find it hard to see how the federal government can meet its long-term obligations without some tax increases on the middle class. Whatever politicians may say now, there’s probably a value-added tax in our future.

But I don’t blame Mr. Obama for leaving some big questions unanswered in this budget. There’s only so much long-run thinking the political system can handle in the midst of a severe crisis; he has probably taken on all he can, for now. And this budget looks very, very good.

The uncertain trumpet

New York Times

On Tuesday night, President Obama talked about a national culture of irresponsibility. He talked about the way Americans have sacrificed the long term for the short term, spent more than they could afford, and how the country’s leaders have broken promises and delayed reform. Obama described a rot that was ingrained and pervasive.

On Thursday, he offered a budget of his own, and the question arises: Will he really change all that?

The answer is somewhat, but not enough. Obama’s budget is far more honest than the ones that preceded it. It imposes real pay-as-you-go rules on future outlays. Intellectually serious efforts are made to pay for at least half of the cost of health care reform.

But the ingrained habits are still there, and the rot is not expunged. Obama enthusiastically perpetuates the myth that the American people can have everything they want without a dose of shared sacrifice. They can have health care, education reform, even a cure for cancer, and 98 percent of them need pay nothing. The burdens of progress will be borne by the rich while everyone else can enjoy their tax cuts and go shopping.

Obama perpetuates base-line gimmickry. He claims to save hundreds of billions by drawing down forces in Iraq. But even the Bush administration was going to draw down. Obama is claiming bogus savings by not spending money that never would have been spent anyway.

Obama grades himself on a curve. He’s set a target of merely cutting the deficit in half from 2010 to 2013. But the red ink has quadrupled in one year. Cutting the deficit to still unsustainable levels as the economy recovers is about as challenging as riding a sled downhill.

The greatest shortcomings are sins of omission, not commission. If you watched Obama’s magnificent speech Tuesday night, you got the impression that he bestrides Washington like a colossus. He imposes his authority in ways large and small, purging old habits. In reality, the situation is messier. At times, there is a weird passivity emanating from the White House, a deference to the Washington establishment. Almost no sacred cows are cut from this budget. The president is now engaged in an argument with Democratic appropriators about whether to strike earmarks from the omnibus spending bill. He’s apparently getting rolled even on a matter as easy and clear-cut as this.

The bigger problem is health care. This is an issue where everybody wants benefits they don’t pay for, where perverse incentives have created an expensive system that doesn’t deliver results. This is an area where aggressive presidential leadership is mandatory.

Yet in no other area does the administration cede so much authority. The administration has over-learned the lessons of the Clinton-care fiasco. They’re not going to send up a detailed 1,400-page program. Fine. But they’re not pushing a plan at all.

Instead, replicating the model that did such harm to the stimulus package, they are merely outlining eight general principles and then sending the matter up to Capitol Hill. They vow to have a series of “conversations” and then presumably at some point some group of committee chairmen will write a bill or a bunch of bills.

The balance of power will be clear. The White House will have no dominating figure to ride herd day to day now that Tom Daschle is out of the picture. Instead, the same old chairmen habituated by the same old interest groups will dominate everything.

If Hillary Clinton were still in the Senate, at least there would be a focus. If Ted Kennedy were at full strength, the negotiations would be coherent. Instead, there will be a wide array of committee chairmen in the House and Senate scrambling for influence, maneuvering with and against each other through a Machiavellian process of secret negotiations and back-room deals.

Thursday, there was a weird burst of optimism in the halls of the Washington Establishment. Most members of Congress and lobbyists are delighted that the White House has surrendered so much authority to Capitol Hill. Everybody is working on a way to push their own particular vision of reform through the muddle.

There are good plans on offer, but it won’t take long for this to get ugly. We’ll either get an irresponsible bill produced by the Old Order or no bill at all. It could be that even with a thousand “conversations,” no consensus will automatically emerge from the hundreds of players who have produced the gridlock of the past 30 years.

Even though the budget is not all one would have hoped, I’d trust the folks in the Obama administration to craft a decent health care plan before I’d trust the Congressional Old Bulls. Obama blew a mighty trumpet Tuesday night, but after you blow the trumpet, you actually have to charge.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Brooks: Jindal's Response

(To President Obama's speech to the joint session of Congress)

Decide for yourself:

FP morning report 2/26

Top Story

Pakistan finds itself in a fresh political crisis after the country's supreme court barred opposition leader Nawaz Sharif from holding elected office. Sharif was disqualified because of a criminal charge connected to his efforts to prevent a coup by former leader Pervez Musharraf in 1999.

The court also barred Sharif's brother Shahbaz, the chief minister for Punjab. After the decision, Prime Minister Asif Ali Zardari dismissed Punjab's state government and put it under executive rule. The court's decision is widely seen as being carried out at the behest of Zardari.

Thousands of supporters of Sharif's Pakistani Muslim League-Nawaz marched throughout the country today, chanting anti-government slogans and tearing down pictures of Zardari. The government has put paramilitaries and high alert and arrested 30 PML-N politicians.

The ongoing turmoil is likely to distract from efforts to control the Islamist insurgency in Pakistan's frontier regions. Pakistan's foreign minister vowed yesterday that al Qaeda activity in the country's Swat Valley would not be tolerated despite a recent peace agreement with local Taliban militants.

President Barack Obama releases his first budget today. It sets aside $250 billion in additional aid to banks.
Mexico is deploying extra troops to violence-wracked Ciudad Juarez.
Enforcement cuts in Obama's budget will make it easier for Cuban-Americans to get away with illegally traveling to Cuba.

Middle East
Barack Obama's Iraq withdrawal plan would leave some combat units in place past summer 2010.
Rival Palestinian factions Hamas and Fatah have agreed to release each other's loyalists from imprisonment ahead of upcoming peace talks.
Lebanon has released three suspects held for the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in 2005.

Asia and Pacific
Bangladesh has deployed tanks to put down a mutiny by border guards.
A new U.S. State Department report slams China on human rights.
PM Kevin Rudd was forced to defend his government's record on helping Australia's Aborigines.

Zimbabwe has asked regional governments for $2 billion in aid.
Malawi's former president has been arrested for stealing $11 million in foreign aid.
Thousands have fled fighting between rival groups in southern Ethiopia.

Latvia's president chose the country's former finance minister as the new prime minister after the government collapsed last week.
A verdict is expected today in the trial of six Serbian war crimes defendants.
A high-ranking Estonian official was convicted of passing secrets to Russia.

Truthout 2/26

Norman Solomon Where the Money Goes
Norman Solomon, The San Francisco Chronicle: "Early this winter, the PBS 'NewsHour with Jim Lehrer' interviewed the medical director at a community clinic in Northern California. He recalled the sight of military equipment moving along railroad tracks next to his office. 'I've joked with my colleagues,' Dr. David Katz said, 'if we could just get one of those Abrams tanks we could probably fund all the primary care clinics for a year.'"

GOP Turns to Talk of "Spending Freeze"
David Weigel, The Washington Independent: "Between Monday's Fiscal Responsibility Summit and Tuesday's presidential address to Congress, the White House's economic message shifted to new territory: health care. 'To my fellow budget hawks in this room and in the rest of the country, let me be very clear,' said Peter Orszag, the director of the Office of Management and Budget, at the financial summit. 'Health care reform is entitlement reform. The path of fiscal responsibility must run directly through health care.'"

Marvin Kalb The Future of Cuba
Marvin Kalb, GlobalPost: "'Detainees,' 'detention center,' 'enemy combatants,' 'Gitmo' - these words, these days, come tumbling out of our political lexicon as we consider the future of Guantanamo, a 45-square-mile U. S. Navy anachronism on the southeast corner of Cuba. Indeed, one of Barack Obama's first proclamations as president was to announce the closure of the Guantanamo detention center within a year. Good for Obama - he was fulfilling a campaign pledge. But bad for Obama - he was thinking small, when he had (and still has) the opportunity to turn a dusty old page in Cuban-American relations and return Guantanamo to Cuba. That's right - return the entire naval base to Cuba!"

Oregon State Secrets Case Is Bush Leftover for Obama
William McCall, The Associated Press: "For the second time since Attorney General Eric Holder ordered a review of Bush administration state secrets claims, the Obama administration finds itself defending the doctrine used to protect anti-terrorism programs accused of illegal spying."

Democrats Rip Into Hard-Partying Bailed-Out Bank
Silla Brush, The Hill: "Eighteen Democrats on the House Financial Services Committee are lambasting Northern Trust bank, a recipient of more than $1.5 billion in federal bailout money, for spending money on a series of lavish events and perks. Lawmakers want the bank to return money after gossip site TMZ captured photos and video of events last week that coincided with the PGA Northern Trust Open at the Riviera Country Club in Los Angeles."

Le Monde Yes, We Will
Le Monde's editorialist: "Hope versus the crisis, the crisis versus hope. Such were the two terms of the equation Barack Obama had to solve Tuesday, February 24, during his first overall policy speech before a joint session of Congress. Five weeks after his inauguration and still strong with the support of over two-thirds of Americans, the president of the United States met that challenge as he recaptured the most inspired timbres of his electoral campaign."

Dean Baker Housing Price Decline Accelerates
Dean Baker, The Center for Economic and Policy Research: "The data in the December Case-Shiller 20-City index indicate that the rate of housing price decline is continuing to accelerate. The data show that house prices in the 20 cities fell at a rate of 2.0 percent in the month of December and were falling at a 21.3 percent annual rate in the last quarter of 2008."

Obama Seeks $634 Billion Over Ten Years for Health Care
Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar and Andrew Taylor, The Associated Press: "President Barack Obama's first budget will seek $634 billion over 10 years as a down payment on health care reform - a little more than half what it may ultimately cost to provide every American with medical coverage. The budget also proposes a mix of tax cuts for the middle class and tax increases for upper-income households. That includes extending beyond 2010 the $400 annual tax cut in the stimulus plan just signed into law."

Robert Parry The GOP's Anti-Obama Propaganda
Robert Parry, Consortium News: "The official history of what happened during Bill Clinton's difficult first two years - which ended in a sweeping Republican congressional victory in 1994 - focuses on the GOP's united resistance to his economic plan and Hillary Clinton's failed health care reform. But there was a darker side to the political damage inflicted on the early Clinton administration."

US Troops Mount Offensive in Remote Afghan Valley
Jonathan S. Landay, McClatchy Newspapers: "Hundreds of US troops pushed into a key Taliban stronghold Wednesday in a major operation to stop the insurgents from infiltrating the Afghan capital from the south and clear the way for the first sustained international aid effort in this remote valley. Supported by about 200 Afghan soldiers and their French army trainers, 200 soldiers of the 3rd Brigade Combat Team of the 10th Mountain Division, based at Fort Drum, N.Y., encountered no resistance."

FDA Ignored Debris in Syringes
Sarah Avery and Sabine Vollmer, The New Observer: "Months before an Angier company shipped deadly bacteria-tainted drugs, the federal Food and Drug Administration received numerous complaints about sediment and debris in the medicine. The FDA received reports about AM2PAT as early as 2005, but not until December 2007 did the agency issue recall notices to pull the drugs off the market."

San Francisco Chronicle May Shut Down
Robert MacMillan and Janet Kornblum, Reuters: "San Francisco may lose its main newspaper, the San Francisco Chronicle, as owner Hearst Corp cuts a 'significant' number of jobs and decides whether to shut or sell the money-losing daily. The privately held New York-based publisher already is considering shutting a second West Coast paper, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, in the face of a devastating decline in advertising revenue and big losses."

Clean Coal Air Freshener

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Yesterday 28 undocumented immigrants were chained and arrested in a manufacturing plant in Bellingham, Washington. Seventy-five heavily-armed Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents raided their workplace with helicopters, riot gear, and buckets of ankle chains and handcuffs.

Hauling off hardworking men and women in chains in a paramilitary operation sows fear across our country. At a time in which we should focus on making America work for all of us, the Obama Administration is giving us more of the same divisive tactics that have only hurt our businesses and communities. We need REFORM, not RAIDS.

Go to

And tell President Obama:

The raid in Washington state is unacceptable and hurts all of our communities.
President Obama must stop the raids and we must pass comprehensive immigration reform NOW!

Thank you for your help,DennisPS --- It's critical that as many people as possible call the White House now. Please forward this message to 10 friends immediately.

Call The White House
We need comprehensive immigration reform, not raids.

FP morning report 2/25

Top Story

In his first address to a joint session of congress, President Barack Obama put forth a series of ambitious proposals to pull the United States out of its economic crisis. “While our economy may be weakened and our confidence shaken, though we are living through difficult and uncertain times, tonight I want every American to know this. We will rebuild, we will recover, and the United States of America will emerge stronger than before.”

While he offered few specifics, Obama did urge to adoption of a cap and trade plan to reduce global warming, broad health-care reform, and stricter regulation of the financial sector. The speech can probably be seen as a preview for Obama's first full budget, which will be released on Thursday.

While the address was mostly domestic in focus, Obama did reiterate his pledge to close down Guantanamo Bay and end the use of torture, and promised that a comprehensive plan for Iraq and Afghanistan would be coming soon.

Middle East
Officials say Obama may announce a 19-month schedule for withdrawing from Iraq later this week.
Iran says it has successfully carried out a test of its Bushehr nuclear power plant, which will soon be ready for activation.
After being rebuffed by Labor and Kadima, Likud leader Binyamin Netanyahu is turning to other right-wing parties in his attempt to form a coalition.

Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan have agreed to allow the transport of NATO non-military cargo through their territory into Afghanistan.
North Korea's Kim Jong-il has reportedly been touring the site where his country is planning a missile launch.
Pakistani officials say U.S. airstrikes have worsened the terrorist threat to Pakistan.

Fighting in Somalia is the worst it's been in weeks.
After five weeks of fighting, Rwandan troops have begun pulling out of DR Congo.
The International Criminal Court will announce in March 4 whether it will prosecute Sudanse leader Omar al-Bashir.

Employees of disgraced financier Allen Stanford had roles at a regulatory group charged with preventing abuses in the financial sector.
The U.S. House of Representatives is due to vote on a bill to ease travel restrictions between the United States and Cuba for Cuban-Americans.
Gunmen killed the mayor of a town in Western Mexico as the U.N. warned that the country needed help to fight traffickers.

Holocaust-denying bishop Richard Williamson returned to Britain after being expelled by Argentina.
Russia's economy declined by 9 percent in January.

Truthout 2/25

Norman Solomon Freeing Up Resources ... for More War
Norman Solomon, Truthout: "Hours after President Obama's speech to a joint session of Congress, The New York Times printed the news that he plans to gradually withdraw 'American combat forces' from Iraq during the next 18 months. The newspaper reported that the advantages of the pullout will include 'relieving the strain on the armed forces and freeing up resources for Afghanistan.' The president's speech had little to say about the plans for escalation, but the few words will come back to haunt: 'With our friends and allies, we will forge a new and comprehensive strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan to defeat Al Qaida and combat extremism, because I will not allow terrorists to plot against the American people from safe havens halfway around the world. We will not allow it.'"

Michael T. Klare A Planet at the Brink
Michael T. Klare, "The global economic meltdown has already caused bank failures, bankruptcies, plant closings, and foreclosures and will, in the coming year, leave as many as tens of millions unemployed across the planet. But another perilous consequence of the crash of 2008 has only recently made its appearance: increased civil unrest and ethnic strife. Someday, perhaps, war may follow. As people lose confidence in the ability of markets and governments to solve the global crisis, they are likely to erupt into violent protests or to assault others they deem responsible for their plight, including government officials, plant managers, landlords, immigrants, and ethnic minorities."

Doomsday Clock May Finally Stop Ticking
Haider Rizvi, Inter Press Service: "The Barack Obama administration's apparent resolve to take U.S. foreign policy in a new direction is creating ripples of hope for an enhanced U.N. agenda on nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament. Observers and diplomats who are due to take part in a major meeting to discuss progress on the implementation of the 1970 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) told IPS they had never before so optimistic about the UN-led negotiation process. 'I think he [Obama] is sincere about what he is saying,' said David Krieger, president of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, an advocacy group that works closely with the UN 'I think he is willing to stand up against the vested interests.'"

Spain May Take Guantanamo Inmates
BBC News: "Spain's foreign minister has said his country is prepared 'in principle' to take in some inmates released from the Guantanamo Bay US military camp. Miguel Angel Moratinos was speaking after a meeting with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Washington. He said Spain would consider taking prisoners on a case by case basis and only under acceptable legal conditions."

GOP Hates Earmarks - Except the Ones Its Members Sponsor
David Lightman, McClatchy Newspapers: "Republicans are expected to deliver a daylong rant Wednesday against Democratic spending legislation, yet the bill is loaded with thousands of pet projects that Republican lawmakers inserted. Rep. Ralph Hall, R-Texas, included $142,500 for emergency repairs to the Sam Rayburn Library and Museum in Austin, Texas. Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., joined state colleagues to include $1.425 million for Nevada 'statewide bus facilities.' The top two Republicans on Congress' money committees also inserted local projects."

Bernard Maris Organic, Organic, Organic; It's Beautiful; It's Bourgeois!
Bernard Maris, Marianne2: "The Agriculture Show is opening in Paris, and organic farming is the star.... Well, the star, let's not exaggerate anything. Only 44 percent of French people eat at least one organic product in a month. Organic agriculture still remains marginal, despised as limited to Parisians and the Yuppie Bourgeoisie, to those who can afford it...."

Obama Said Ready to Withdraw Combat Troops From Iraq
Andrew Gray and David Morgan, Reuters: "US President Barack Obama is likely to decide to withdraw US combat troops from Iraq over a period of about 19 months with a formal announcement expected by the end of the week, officials said Tuesday. The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly on the subject, said Obama has not yet made a formal decision on withdrawal options. But they said he was likely to favour a timetable of around 19 months to get combat troops out of Iraq."

President Barack Obama Address to Joint Session of Congress
President Barack Obama: "I know that for many Americans watching right now, the state of our economy is a concern that rises above all others. And rightly so. If you haven't been personally affected by this recession, you probably know someone who has - a friend; a neighbor; a member of your family. You don't need to hear another list of statistics to know that our economy is in crisis, because you live it every day. It's the worry you wake up with and the source of sleepless nights. It's the job you thought you'd retire from but now have lost; the business you built your dreams upon that's now hanging by a thread; the college acceptance letter your child had to put back in the envelope. The impact of this recession is real, and it is everywhere. But while our economy may be weakened and our confidence shaken; though we are living through difficult and uncertain times, tonight I want every American to know this: We will rebuild, we will recover, and the United States of America will emerge stronger than before."

Ann Wright Can Gaza Be Rebuilt Through Tunnels?
Ann Wright, Truthout: "How do you rebuild 5,000 homes, businesses and government buildings when the only way supplies come into the prison called Gaza is through tunnels? Will the steel I-beams for roofs bend 90 degrees to go through the tunnels from Egypt? Will the tons of cement, lumber, roofing materials, nails, dry wall and paint be hauled by hand, load after load, 70 feet underground, through a tunnel 500 to 900 feet long and then be pulled up a 70-foot hole and put into a waiting truck in Gaza? The gates to Gaza slammed shut again on Thursday, February 5, the day our three-person group departed Gaza, having been allowed in for only 48 hours. The Egyptian government closed the border crossing into Gaza, continuing the sixteen-month international blockade and siege."

Senate Confirms Solis as Labor Secretary
Sam Hananel, The Associated Press: "California Rep. Hilda Solis won confirmation Tuesday as President Barack Obama's labor secretary, giving the agency a decidedly pro-worker tilt after years of business-friendly leadership under the Bush administration. The 80-17 vote ended more than a month of delays prompted by GOP concerns over Solis' work for a pro-union organization, and later, revelations about her husband's unpaid taxes. But Democrats said Solis had put to rest any questions and called her a powerful advocate for working families."

Iran Sought Turkey's Help to Mend Links With US
Robert Tait, The Guardian UK: "Iran has asked Turkey to help it resolve its 30-year dispute with the US as a possible prelude to re-establishing ties, the Turkish prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has told the Guardian. Iranian officials made the request while George Bush was in office, Erdogan said, adding that he had passed the message to the White House at the time. He said he was considering raising the matter with Barack Obama, who has said he wants to engage with Iran at a G20 summit in London in April."

House Democrats Offer Mortgage "Cramdown" Bill
Silla Brush, The Hill: "House Democrats unveiled a wide-ranging bill on Monday evening to prop up the housing market and most contentiously, empower bankruptcy judges to modify mortgages. The bill includes a 'cramdown' provision that allows judges to write down the principal and interest payments for a homeower's primary residence, something strongly opposed by the financial services industry and mortgage lenders."

The big test

New York Times

“We cannot successfully address any of our problems without addressing all of them.”
-Barack Obama, Feb. 21, 2009

When I was a freshman in college, I was assigned “Reflections on the Revolution in France” by Edmund Burke. I loathed the book. Burke argued that each individual’s private stock of reason is small and that political decisions should be guided by the accumulated wisdom of the ages. Change is necessary, Burke continued, but it should be gradual, not disruptive. For a young democratic socialist, hoping to help begin the world anew, this seemed like a reactionary retreat into passivity.

Over the years, I have come to see that Burke had a point. The political history of the 20th century is the history of social-engineering projects executed by well-intentioned people that began well and ended badly. There were big errors like communism, but also lesser ones, like a Vietnam War designed by the best and the brightest, urban renewal efforts that decimated neighborhoods, welfare policies that had the unintended effect of weakening families and development programs that left a string of white elephant projects across the world.

These experiences drove me toward the crooked timber school of public philosophy: Michael Oakeshott, Isaiah Berlin, Edward Banfield, Reinhold Niebuhr, Friedrich Hayek, Clinton Rossiter and George Orwell. These writers — some left, some right — had a sense of epistemological modesty. They knew how little we can know. They understood that we are strangers to ourselves and society is an immeasurably complex organism. They tended to be skeptical of technocratic, rationalist planning and suspicious of schemes to reorganize society from the top down.

Before long, I was no longer a liberal. Liberals are more optimistic about the capacity of individual reason and the government’s ability to execute transformational change. They have more faith in the power of social science, macroeconomic models and 10-point programs.

Readers of this column know that I am a great admirer of Barack Obama and those around him. And yet the gap between my epistemological modesty and their liberal worldviews has been evident over the past few weeks. The people in the administration are surrounded by a galaxy of unknowns, and yet they see this economic crisis as an opportunity to expand their reach, to take bigger risks and, as Obama said on Saturday, to tackle every major problem at once.

President Obama has concentrated enormous power on a few aides in the West Wing of the White House. These aides are unrolling a rapid string of plans: to create three million jobs, to redesign the health care system, to save the auto industry, to revive the housing industry, to reinvent the energy sector, to revitalize the banks, to reform the schools — and to do it all while cutting the deficit in half.

If ever this kind of domestic revolution were possible, this is the time and these are the people to do it. The crisis demands a large response. The people around Obama are smart and sober. Their plans are bold but seem supple and chastened by a realistic sensibility.

Yet they set off my Burkean alarm bells. I fear that in trying to do everything at once, they will do nothing well. I fear that we have a group of people who haven’t even learned to use their new phone system trying to redesign half the U.S. economy. I fear they are going to try to undertake the biggest administrative challenge in American history while refusing to hire the people who can help the most: agency veterans who are registered lobbyists.

I worry that we’re operating far beyond our economic knowledge. Every time the administration releases an initiative, I read 20 different economists with 20 different opinions. I worry that we lack the political structures to regain fiscal control. Deficits are exploding, and the president clearly wants to restrain them. But there’s no evidence that Democrats and Republicans in Congress have the courage or the mutual trust required to share the blame when taxes have to rise and benefits have to be cut.

All in all, I can see why the markets are nervous and dropping. And it’s also clear that we’re on the cusp of the biggest political experiment of our lifetimes. If Obama is mostly successful, then the epistemological skepticism natural to conservatives will have been discredited. We will know that highly trained government experts are capable of quickly designing and executing top-down transformational change. If they mostly fail, then liberalism will suffer a grievous blow, and conservatives will be called upon to restore order and sanity.

It’ll be interesting to see who’s right. But I can’t even root for my own vindication. The costs are too high. I have to go to the keyboard each morning hoping Barack Obama is going to prove me wrong.

Banking on the brink

New York Times

Comrade Greenspan wants us to seize the economy’s commanding heights.

O.K., not exactly. What Alan Greenspan, the former Federal Reserve chairman — and a staunch defender of free markets — actually said was, “It may be necessary to temporarily nationalize some banks in order to facilitate a swift and orderly restructuring.” I agree.

The case for nationalization rests on three observations.

First, some major banks are dangerously close to the edge — in fact, they would have failed already if investors didn’t expect the government to rescue them if necessary.

Second, banks must be rescued. The collapse of Lehman Brothers almost destroyed the world financial system, and we can’t risk letting much bigger institutions like Citigroup or Bank of America implode.

Third, while banks must be rescued, the U.S. government can’t afford, fiscally or politically, to bestow huge gifts on bank shareholders.

Let’s be concrete here. There’s a reasonable chance — not a certainty — that Citi and BofA, together, will lose hundreds of billions over the next few years. And their capital, the excess of their assets over their liabilities, isn’t remotely large enough to cover those potential losses.

Arguably, the only reason they haven’t already failed is that the government is acting as a backstop, implicitly guaranteeing their obligations. But they’re zombie banks, unable to supply the credit the economy needs.

To end their zombiehood the banks need more capital. But they can’t raise more capital from private investors. So the government has to supply the necessary funds.

But here’s the thing: the funds needed to bring these banks fully back to life would greatly exceed what they’re currently worth. Citi and BofA have a combined market value of less than $30 billion, and even that value is mainly if not entirely based on the hope that stockholders will get a piece of a government handout. And if it’s basically putting up all the money, the government should get ownership in return.

Still, isn’t nationalization un-American? No, it’s as American as apple pie.

Lately the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation has been seizing banks it deems insolvent at the rate of about two a week. When the F.D.I.C. seizes a bank, it takes over the bank’s bad assets, pays off some of its debt, and resells the cleaned-up institution to private investors. And that’s exactly what advocates of temporary nationalization want to see happen, not just to the small banks the F.D.I.C. has been seizing, but to major banks that are similarly insolvent.

The real question is why the Obama administration keeps coming up with proposals that sound like possible alternatives to nationalization, but turn out to involve huge handouts to bank stockholders.

For example, the administration initially floated the idea of offering banks guarantees against losses on troubled assets. This would have been a great deal for bank stockholders, not so much for the rest of us: heads they win, tails taxpayers lose.

Now the administration is talking about a “public-private partnership” to buy troubled assets from the banks, with the government lending money to private investors for that purpose. This would offer investors a one-way bet: if the assets rise in price, investors win; if they fall substantially, investors walk away and leave the government holding the bag. Again, heads they win, tails we lose.

Why not just go ahead and nationalize? Remember, the longer we live with zombie banks, the harder it will be to end the economic crisis.

How would nationalization take place? All the administration has to do is take its own planned “stress test” for major banks seriously, and not hide the results when a bank fails the test, making a takeover necessary. Yes, the whole thing would have a Claude Rains feel to it, as a government that has been propping up banks for months declares itself shocked, shocked at the miserable state of their balance sheets. But that’s O.K.

And once again, long-term government ownership isn’t the goal: like the small banks seized by the F.D.I.C. every week, major banks would be returned to private control as soon as possible. The finance blog Calculated Risk suggests that instead of calling the process nationalization, we should call it “preprivatization.”

The Obama administration, says Robert Gibbs, the White House spokesman, believes “that a privately held banking system is the correct way to go.” So do we all. But what we have now isn’t private enterprise, it’s lemon socialism: banks get the upside but taxpayers bear the risks. And it’s perpetuating zombie banks, blocking economic recovery.

What we want is a system in which banks own the downs as well as the ups. And the road to that system runs through nationalization.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

FP morning report 2/24

Top Story

Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso arrived in the United States today to meet with President Barack Obama. He is the first foreign leader Obama has hosted at the White House. On the agenda will be North Korea, which appears to be pressing ahead with a new missile test (see below) and Afghanistan, where Japan has just pledged to pay the salaries of 80,000 police officers.

But the main item on the agenda is likely to be the economy. The yen has fallen to a 12-week low against the dollar as international investors flee the country. Aso's popularity is tanking as well. Seven out of 10 Japanese disapprove of his government and his own popularity is below 15 percent, making him one of the least popular prime ministers in postwar Japanese history.

Aso may be hoping for a bit of Obama's popularity to rub off on him. Despite a recent dip, an overwhelming major of Americans are still supportive of the president. Obama might still be a bit preoccupied today. He makes his first address to congress tonight.

North Korea is likely dressing up a planned missile test as a communications satellite launch.
Taliban militants agreed to an open-ended ceasefire with Pakistani security forces in the Swat valley.
Protesters loyal to former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra are demanding that Thailand's parliament dissolve and hold new elections.

Middle East
Iraq's national museum will reopen today, six years after it was looted during the initial U.S. invasion.
The U.S. will likely spend more than $900 million for reconstruction aid to Gaza.
Israel's Labor Party rejected an invitation from Likud leader Binyamin Netanyahu to join a coalition government.

Navy investigators found that the prison at Guantanamo Bay currently complies with Geneva Convention standards as British resident Binyam Mohamed, who says he was tortured at the facility, was released.
Gunmen attempted to assassinate the governor of the violence-wracked Mexican border state of Chihuahua.
The U.S. coast guard turned away a ship carrying 200 Haitian refugees.

UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown's Labour Party is 12 points behind Conservative rivals in a new poll.
Greece is conducting a criminal negligence investigation after yesterday's Hollywood-esque prison break.
Young Irish are leaving the country in droves as the one-time Celtic Tiger's job market dries up.

Insurgents fired mortars at the Somali presidential palace as Mogadishu's brutal violence continued.
More than a dozen African migrants are presumed dead after smugglers forced them overboard in the Gulf of Aden.
Zimbabwe's vice president has been accused of attempting a gold sale in violation of international sanctions.

Truthout 2/24

Matt Renner Financiers Used "Hotline" to SEC Examiners
Matt Renner, Truthout: "In a hearing which exposed failures by the government's financial police, Congressman Stephen Lynch (D-Massachusetts) highlighted the existence of a 'hotline,' which he said could be used by Wall Street firms to call off government inspectors. The existence of a 'hotline' has been confirmed by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), though its purpose has been disputed."

Three US Soldiers, Interpreter Killed in Iraq
Kim Gamel, The Associated Press: "Three US soldiers and an interpreter were killed Monday during fighting north of Baghdad, the military announced. The combat took place in Diyala province, an area northeast of Baghdad that remains volatile despite an overall drop in violence nationwide."

Detainee Alleges "Years of Medieval Torture" by US
Kevin Sullivan, The Washington Post: "A former British resident released after seven years in detention, more than four of them at the US military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, arrived back in London on Monday and issued a statement alleging that the United States government had subjected him to years of 'medieval' torture."

Treat US-Held Prisoners Like Guantanamo Detainees, Afghans
Graeme Smith, The Globe and Urge
Mail: "The word 'Guantanamo' serves as shorthand among some Afghans for all the reasons they hate foreign troops, but the impending closing of the notorious prison has gotten surprisingly little attention in this country. Nothing changed with last month's US presidential order to close Guantanamo, many people here say, because another prison inspires even greater fear: Bagram."

Robert Kuttner The Deficit Hawks' Attack on Our Entitlements
Robert Kuttner, The Washington Post: "With the enactment of a large economic stimulus package, fiscal conservatives are using the temporary deficit increase to attack a perennial target - Social Security and Medicare. The private-equity investor Peter G. Peterson, who launched a billion-dollar foundation last year to warn that America faces $56.4 trillion in 'unfunded liabilities,' is a case in point. Supposedly, these costs will depress economic growth and crowd out other needed outlays, such as investments in the young. The remedy: big cuts in programs for the elderly."

Bill Scher Irresponsible, Thy Name Is Peterson
Bill Scher, The Campaign For America's Future: "In advance of Monday's 'Fiscal Responsibility Summit' at the White House, summit participant Pete Peterson and his foundation launched a $1 million ad campaign, irresponsibly peddling false information about the nation's budget. The ad begins: 'Everyone's focused on the obstacles now facing our economy. But there's a much larger threat: 56 trillion dollars in unfunded retirement and health care obligations.'"

Monday, February 23, 2009

FP morning report 2/23

Top Story

European Union leaders met in Berlin on Sunday to discuss a common strategy for addressing the financial crisis. The leaders backed a series of sweeping regulations of financial markets and hedge funds. In a statement on behalf of the other members, German Chancellor Angela Merkel promised greater oversight of all financial instruments "which may pose a systematic risk." The leaders also promised to double the funding of the International Monetary Fund.

In a newspaper op-ed promising new banking regulations, struggling British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said that while he understands consumers' anger, "anger on its own does not offer us a solution. Instead, Britain needs to lead the world in reforming and restructuring our banking system."

On the other sides of the pond, the Obama administration will begin to review the status of the country's top banks in a series of "stress tests" designed to determine their long-term viability.

The review comes as reports emerged that the government is in talks to take a greater stake -- as much 40 percent -- in ailing financial giant Citibank.

Obama is planning an address to Congress on Tuesday in which he hopes to explain how recent legislative actions will eventually resolve the crisis.

Middle East
Isreali Prime Minister Ehud Olmert fired his lead Gaza negotiator.
A French tourist was killed by a bombing at a popular outdoor market in Cairo.
Al Qaeda's Ayman al-Zawahiri released a tape urging Islamist militants in Yemen, Afghanistan, Somalia, and Palestine to continue fighting.

Sri Lanka's Tamil Tiger rebels indicated they may be willing to accept a ceasefire.
While visiting China, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton described both countries' economic fates as intertwined.
The Pakistani Taliban says it will have to review and already agreed-upon truce with government forces in the Swat Valley.

Companies owned by accused billionaire con artist Allen Stanford were seized in Antigua.
U.S. Republican governors were sharply divided over how to respond to the economic crisis during an annual meeting.
Venezuela's Hugo Chavez made a surprise visit to Cuba where he met with both Castro brothers.
British citizen Binyam Mohammed, who claims to have been abused during his imprisonment, will be released from Guantanamo.
Greece's law-enforcement officials were embarrassed after a pair of criminals escaped from a maximum-security prison for the second time.
The main office of the Basque socialist party was bombed, likely by separatist group ETA.

Madagascar's president and his political rival reached an agreement to try to resolve the country's political turmoil.
DR Congo is launching a new round of strikes against Rwandan rebels in its eastern provinces.
During a meeting in Cairo, Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak expressed his support for possibly soon to be indicted Sudanese leader Omar al-Bashir.

Truthout 2/23

Army Charity Hoards Millions
Jeff Donn, The Associated Press: "As soldiers stream home from Iraq and Afghanistan, the biggest charity inside the US military has been stockpiling tens of millions of dollars meant to help put returning fighters back on their feet, an Associated Press investigation shows. Between 2003 and 2007 - as many military families dealt with long war deployments and increased numbers of home foreclosures - Army Emergency Relief grew into a $345 million behemoth. During those years, the charity packed away $117 million into its own reserves while spending just $64 million on direct aid, according to an AP analysis of its tax records."

President Obama's Budget Will Seek to Cut Deficit in Half
Christi Parsons, The Los Angeles Times: "President Obama will offer a plan this week to cut the federal deficit in half by the end of his first term in office, largely by winding down the war in Iraq and raising taxes on people making more than $250,000 a year, an administration official said Saturday. His federal budget blueprint also proposes to help reduce the deficit by eliminating waste and inefficiency in government, even as the administration launches ambitious and costly policy initiatives such as increasing access to healthcare and reducing greenhouse gas emissions."

Israeli Rivals Split on Future of Mideast Peace Process
Jean-Luc Renaudie, Agence France-Presse: "Israeli hawk Benjamin Netanyahu failed to convince centrist rival Tzipi Livni to join him in a broad governing coalition on Sunday because of their divergent views on the Middle East peace process. 'We didn't reach any agreement,' Livni told reporters after their meeting in Jerusalem. 'There is an essential divergence and we have to clarify if there is a possible common path. We didn't make progress on any essential subjects.' 'On the essential subject for arriving at a (coalition) agreement - that there should be two states for two peoples and a final accord with the Palestinians - there is no agreement.'"

Benjamin R. Barber Which Capitalism Will It Be?
Benjamin R. Barber, Newsday: "As America, recession-mired, enters the hope-inspired age of Barack Obama, a struggle for the soul of capitalism is being waged. Can the market system finally be made to serve us? Or will we continue to serve it? George W. Bush argued that the crisis is 'not a failure of the free-market system, and the answer is not to try to reinvent that system.' But while it is going too far to declare that capitalism is dead, the philanthropist George Soros is right when he says that 'there is something fundamentally wrong' with market theory. The issue is not the death of capitalism but what kind of capitalism - standing in which relationship to culture, to democracy and to life?"

Amnesty Citing Phosphorus Shells Urges Israeli Weapons Ban
Rory McCarthy, The Guardian UK: "Detailed evidence has emerged of Israel's extensive use of US-made weaponry during its war in Gaza last month, including white phosphorus artillery shells, 500lb bombs and Hellfire missiles. In a report released today, Amnesty International detailed the weapons used and called for an immediate arms embargo on Israel and all Palestinian armed groups. It called on the Obama administration to suspend military aid to Israel. The human rights group said that those arming both sides in the conflict 'will have been well aware of a pattern of repeated misuse of weapons by both parties and must therefore take responsibility for the violations perpetrated'"

Lugar: "Time to Rethink US Sanctions on Cuba"
Agence France-Presse: "The time is right for reevaluating US sanctions on Cuba, the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee says in a new report, calling for allowing Cuba to buy US goods on credit, US media reported Sunday. Republican Senator Richard Lugar of Indiana's opinions are attached to a report due to be released Monday that could add fuel to momentum toward change in almost five decades of US policy seeking to isolate Cuba, the Americas' only communist country."

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Truthout 2/22

Susan G. Kerbel Now What?
Susan G. Kerbel, Truthout: "Now that progressives have attained their goal of electing Barack Obama president and established the presence of a political mandate for change and, putatively, progressive ideas, what can we expect will happen next? What do we now need to learn to maximize our momentum in the wake of this exceptional, momentous reaffirmation of the democratic tradition in America?"

J. Sri Raman Terrorism Versus South Asian Trio
J. Sri Raman, Truthout: "A South Asian task force against terrorism - is this an idea whose time has come? Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wajed of Bangladesh seems to think it has. The task force was one of her election promises and, after winning a tidal vote to power, she has opened talks on it with two important visitors, India's External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee and US Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher."

NAACP Wants NY Post Editor and Cartoonist Fired
The Associated Press: "The head of the NAACP on Saturday urged readers to boycott the New York Post, calling a cartoon that the newspaper published an invitation to assassinate President Barack Obama. Benjamin Todd Jealous, president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, called on the tabloid to remove editor-in-chief Col Allan, as well as longtime cartoonist Sean Delonas."

Khushal Arsala and Stephen Zunes The US and Afghan Tragedy
Khushal Arsala and Stephen Zunes, Foreign Policy in Focus: "One of the first difficult foreign policy decisions of the Obama administration will be what the United States should do about Afghanistan. Escalating the war, as National Security Advisor Jim Jones has been encouraging, will likely make matters worse. At the same time, simply abandoning the country - as the United States did after the overthrow of Afghanistan's Communist government soon after the Soviet withdrawal 20 years ago - would lead to another set of serious problems."

Fighting for the Right to Fish
Patrick Burnett, Inter Press Service/International Federation of Environmental Journalists: "'When my belly is crying I must fill it. I can sit on the side of the road and beg for bread, but there is the bread right there,' says Hahn Goliath, a fisherman in the small village of Doring Bay on South Africa's West Coast, as he points furiously at the Atlantic Ocean. Goliath's frustration is common amongst the estimated 30,000 subsistence fishermen in 148 fishing communities along South Africa's 3,000 kilometres of coastline."

VIDEO Loren Lankford: Watch Amazing Oscar-Nominated Short "I Met the Walrus"
Loren Lankford, Paste Magazine: "In 1969, 14-year-old Beatles fan Jerry Levitan tracked his idol, John Lennon, from a Toronto airport to his room at the King Edward Hotel. Inside, he convinced Lennon to do an impromptu interview. Thirty-eight years later, Levitan teamed with director Josh Raskin to VIDEO Obama: Tax Cuts Will becreate and edit a five-minute short film entitled I Met the Walrus based on the interview. Amazing, right?"

FOCUS Drought to Cut Off Federal Water to California Farms
Garance Burke, The Associated Press: "Federal water managers said Friday that they plan to cut off water, at least temporarily, to thousands of California farms as a result of the deepening drought gripping the state. U.S. Bureau of Reclamation officials said parched reservoirs and patchy rainfall this year were forcing them to completely stop surface water deliveries for at least a three-week period beginning March 1. Authorities said they haven't had to take such a drastic move for more than 15 years."

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Truthout 2/21

US: 13 Civilians Killed in Afghan Operation
Jason Straziuso, The Associated Press: "US military airstrikes in western Afghanistan killed 13 Afghan civilians and only three militants, the US said Saturday, three days after an American general traveled to the site to investigate. Civilian casualties have been a huge source of friction between the US and Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who has stepped up demands that US and NATO operations kill no civilians and that Afghan soldiers take part in the missions to help prevent unwanted deaths."

Michael Hirsh Holbrooke's Dayton II?
Michael Hirsh, Newsweek: "In his heyday as a negotiator in the 1990s, Richard Holbrooke was known as 'the bulldozer.' When Bosnia's civil war looked intractable, Holbrooke brought all the parties to Dayton, Ohio, where he essentially locked them up until they arrived at a deal. Later, as United Nations ambassador, Holbrooke managed to patch things up between two groups almost as hostile to each other as the former Yugoslav factions were: Republicans in Washington and UN bureaucrats in New York. In each case, stagecraft was a big part of his strategy: orchestrating grand meetings that would force hostile factions to talk at length in the same room."

Louisiana Congressional Recall: A Symbol of Disapproval
Kevin McGill, The Associated Press: "Legal roadblocks will likely doom an effort launched this week to recall US Rep. Ahn 'Joseph' Cao, the Vietnamese Republican who scored a surprise December victory in a predominantly black, mostly Democratic New Orleans congressional district. Still, the petition drive, started by two black ministers only weeks after Cao took office, demonstrates the challenges he'll face if he seeks a second term in 2010."

Dissidents Held During Clinton Beijing Visit
Christopher Bodeen, The Associated Press: "More than a dozen Chinese dissidents have been questioned, followed or detained during US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's weekend visit to Beijing, fellow activists said Saturday. The stepped-up controls come as international human rights groups expressed outrage over a statement by Clinton ahead of her Friday arrival that issues such as climate change, the world financial crisis and North Korea would likely take precedence over traditional US concerns about human rights in her discussions."

Le Monde Lives on the Net
Le Monde's editorialist examines the evolving world of social networking.

Access Denied
Kevin Sieff, The Texas Observer: "When sexual-assault counselor Elia Alvarado first met Maria in 2007, Maria was wearing a blue prison uniform, sitting in a doctor's office at the Port Isabel Detention Center. She was in her early 30s, but looked haggard, Alvarado recalls, older than her age. Two months and more than 1,500 miles after leaving Honduras, she had been detained at the border and taken to the immigration holding facility north of Brownsville."

FOCUS Winship: Money Is the Root of All Hypocrisy
Michael Winship, Truthout: "The great movie comic and professional curmudgeon W.C. Fields once said, 'You can fool some of the people some of the time - and that's enough to make a decent living.' Watching the news from Washington unfold this week, the truth of the late comedian's words never seemed more right."

FOCUS No Rights for Detainees in Afghanistan
Nedra Pickler and Matt Apuzzo, The Associated Press: "The Obama administration, siding with the Bush White House, contended Friday that detainees in Afghanistan have no constitutional rights. In a two-sentence court filing, the Justice Department said it agreed that detainees at Bagram Airfield cannot use US courts to challenge their detention. The filing shocked human rights attorneys."

Friday, February 20, 2009

Who'll stop the pain?

New York Times

Earlier this week, the Federal Reserve released the minutes of the most recent meeting of its open market committee — the group that sets interest rates. Most press reports focused either on the Fed’s downgrade of the near-term outlook or on its adoption of a long-run 2 percent inflation target.

But my eye was caught by the following chilling passage (yes, things are so bad that the summarized musings of central bankers can keep you up at night): “All participants anticipated that unemployment would remain substantially above its longer-run sustainable rate at the end of 2011, even absent further economic shocks; a few indicated that more than five to six years would be needed for the economy to converge to a longer-run path characterized by sustainable rates of output growth and unemployment and by an appropriate rate of inflation.”

So people at the Fed are troubled by the same question I’ve been obsessing on lately: What’s supposed to end this slump? No doubt this, too, shall pass — but how, and when?

To appreciate the problem, you need to know that this isn’t your father’s recession. It’s your grandfather’s, or maybe even (as I’ll explain) your great-great-grandfather’s.

Your father’s recession was something like the severe downturn of 1981-1982. That recession was, in effect, a deliberate creation of the Federal Reserve, which raised interest rates to as much as 17 percent in an effort to control runaway inflation. Once the Fed decided that we had suffered enough, it relented, and the economy quickly bounced back.

Your grandfather’s recession, on the other hand, was something like the Great Depression, which happened in spite of the Fed’s efforts, not because of them. When a stock market bubble and a credit boom collapsed, bringing down much of the banking system with them, the Fed tried to revive the economy with low interest rates — but even rates barely above zero weren’t low enough to end a prolonged era of high unemployment.

Now we’re in the midst of a crisis that bears an eerie, troubling resemblance to the onset of the Depression; interest rates are already near zero, and still the economy plunges. How and when will it all end?

To be sure, the Obama administration is taking action to help the economy, but it’s trying to mitigate the slump, not end it. The stimulus bill, on the administration’s own estimates, will limit the rise in unemployment but fall far short of restoring full employment. The housing plan announced this week looks good in the sense that it will help many homeowners, but it won’t spur a new housing boom.

What, then, will actually end the slump?

Well, the Great Depression did eventually come to an end, but that was thanks to an enormous war, something we’d rather not emulate. The slump that followed Japan’s “bubble economy” also eventually ended, but only after a lost decade. And when Japan finally did start to experience some solid growth, it was thanks to an export boom, which was in turn made possible by vigorous growth in the rest of the world — not an experience anyone can repeat when the whole world is in a slump.

So will our slump go on forever? No. In fact, the seeds of eventual recovery are already being planted.

Consider housing starts, which have fallen to their lowest level in 50 years. That’s bad news for the near term. It means that spending on construction will fall even more. But it also means that the supply of houses is lagging behind population growth, which will eventually prompt a housing revival.

Or consider the plunge in auto sales. Again, that’s bad news for the near term. But at current sales rates, as the finance blog Calculated Risk points out, it would take about 27 years to replace the existing stock of vehicles. Most cars will be junked long before that, either because they’ve worn out or because they’ve become obsolete, so we’re building up a pent-up demand for cars.

The same story can be told for durable goods and assets throughout the economy: given time, the current slump will end itself, the way slumps did in the 19th century. As I said, this may be your great-great-grandfather’s recession. But recovery may be a long time coming.

The closest 19th-century parallel I can find to the current slump is the recession that followed the Panic of 1873. That recession did eventually end without any government intervention, but it lasted more than five years, and another prolonged recession followed just three years later.

You can see, then, why some Fed officials are so pessimistic.

Let’s be clear: the Obama administration’s policy initiatives will help in this difficult period — especially if the administration bites the bullet and takes over weak banks. But still I wonder: Who’ll stop the pain?

Money for idiots

New York Times

Our moral and economic system is based on individual responsibility. It’s based on the idea that people have to live with the consequences of their decisions. This makes them more careful deciders. This means that society tends toward justice — people get what they deserve as much as possible

Over the last few months, we’ve made a hash of all that. The Bush and Obama administrations have compensated foolishness and irresponsibility. The financial bailouts reward bankers who took insane risks. The auto bailouts subsidize companies and unions that made self-indulgent decisions a few decades ago that drove their industry into the ground.

The stimulus package handed tens of billions of dollars to states that spent profligately during the prosperity years. The Obama housing plan will force people who bought sensible homes to subsidize the mortgages of people who bought houses they could not afford. It will almost certainly force people who were honest on their loan forms to subsidize people who were dishonest on theirs.

These injustices are stoking anger across the country, lustily expressed by Rick Santelli on CNBC Thursday morning. “The government is promoting bad behavior!” Santelli cried as Chicago traders cheered him on. “The president ... should put up a Web site ... to have people vote ... to see if they want to subsidize losers’ mortgages!”

Well, in some cases we probably do. That’s because government isn’t fundamentally in the Last Judgment business, making sure everybody serves penance for their sins. In times like these, government is fundamentally in the business of stabilizing the economic system as a whole.

Let me put it this way: Psychologists have a saying that when a couple comes in for marriage therapy, there are three patients in the room — the husband, the wife and the marriage itself. The marriage is the living history of all the things that have happened between husband and wife. Once the patterns are set, the marriage itself begins to shape their individual behavior. Though it exists in the space between them, it has an influence all its own.

In the same way, an economy has an economic culture. Out of billions of individual decisions, a common economic landscape emerges, which frames and influences the decisions everybody makes.

Right now, the economic landscape looks like that movie of the swaying Tacoma Narrows Bridge you might have seen in a high school science class. It started swinging in small ways and then the oscillations built on one another until the whole thing was freakishly alive and the pavement looked like liquid.

A few years ago, the global economic culture began swaying. The government enabled people to buy homes they couldn’t afford. The Fed provided easy money. The Chinese sloshed in oceans of capital. The giddy upward sway produced a crushing ride down.

These oscillations are the real moral hazard. Individual responsibility doesn’t mean much in an economy like this one. We all know people who have been laid off through no fault of their own. The responsible have been punished along with the profligate.

It makes sense for the government to intervene to try to reduce the oscillation. It makes sense for government to try to restore some communal order. And the sad reality is that in these circumstances government has to spend money on precisely those sectors that have been swinging most wildly — housing, finance, etc. It has to help stabilize people who have been idiots.

Actually executing this is a near-impossible task. Looking at the auto, housing and banking bailouts, we’re getting a sense of how the propeller heads around Obama operate. They try to put together programs that are bold, but without the huge interventions in the market implied by, say, nationalization. They’re balancing so many cross-pressures, they often come up with technocratic Rube Goldberg schemes that alter incentives in lots of medium and small ways. Some economists argue that the plans are too ineffectual, others that they are too opaque (estimates for the mortgage plan range from $75 billion to $275 billion and up). Personally, I hate the idea of 10 guys sitting around in the White House trying to redesign huge swaths of the U.S. economy on legal pads.

But at least they seem to be driven by a spirit of moderation and restraint. They seem to be trying to keep as many market structures in place as possible so things can return to normal relatively smoothly.

And they seem to understand the big thing. The nation’s economy is not just the sum of its individuals. It is an interwoven context that we all share. To stabilize that communal landscape, sometimes you have to shower money upon those who have been foolish or self-indulgent. The greedy idiots may be greedy idiots, but they are our countrymen. And at some level, we’re all in this together. If their lives don’t stabilize, then our lives don’t stabilize.

FP morning report 2/20

Top Story

The government of Kyrgyzatan has issued an eviction notice to U.S. troops based in the country, ordering the Manas air base closed within six months. The closure is a possible complication in the U.S. effort to increase its military presence in Afghanistan with Pakistani supply routes into the country becoming increasingly unreliable and dangerous. 15,000 troops and 500 tons of cargo are shipped into Afghanistan via Manas each month.

U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said the matter was "not a closed issue" and that negotiations with the Kyrgyz government over fees for using the base would continue. However, Gates described Manas as "not irreplaceable."

The U.S. has also secured the rights to transport non-lethal cargo into Afghanistan via Uzbekistan, an agreement that may raise human rights concerns.

Middle East
Israeli President Shimon Peres has asked Likud candidate Binyamin Netanyahu to form a government. Kadima's Tzipi Livni has indicated she would rather remain in opposition than join a government led by Netanyahu.
IAEA inspectors found the Iran has far more enriched uranium than previously though. They found evidence of uranium enrichment in Syria as well.
The BBC reports that Iran offered to stop attacks on British troops in Iraq in exchange for concessions on its nuclear program.

Texas billionaire Allen Stanford was served fraud charges in Virginia. Venezuela seized one of his banks yesterday.
Meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Steven Harper, Barack Obama tried to allay fears about protectionism measures in the U.S. stimulus package.
President Felipe Calderon gave a speech defending Mexico's military operation against drug trafficking.

A suicide bombing killed 28 in Pakistan's tribal areas.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton issued a stern warning to North Korea during her visit to Seoul.
As an emergency measure, the Bank of Japan will buy $10 billion in corporate bonds.

The military has retaken ministries that were seized by opposition protesters in Madagascar's capital.
While attention has focused on Somalia, pirate attacks have been on the rise in West Africa as well.
Robert Mugabe has packed his cabinet with 61 ministers.

The Eurozone is plunging headlong into a deep recession, new data shows.
After three suspects were acquitted yesterday, a judge ordered a new investigation into the murder of Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya.
The British cricket world has been badly shaken by the prosecution of Allen Stanford, one of its primary financiers.

Truthout 2/20

Marjorie Cohn Prosecute War Criminals and Their Lawyers
Marjorie Cohn, Truthout: "Since he took office, President Obama has instituted many changes that break with the policies of the Bush administration. The new president has ordered that no government agency will be allowed to torture, that the US prison at Guantanamo will be shuttered, and that the CIA's secret black sites will be closed down. But Obama is noncommittal when asked whether he will seek investigation and prosecution of Bush officials who broke the law."

Livni Will Oppose Far-Right Israeli Government
CBC News: "Tzipi Livni, whose centrist Kadima party holds the most seats in a divided Israeli parliament, has told her followers they are headed for opposition status as hardliner Benjamin Netanyahu solidifies his claim to govern, Israeli newspapers reported Thursday. Livni's chances of leading the country faded Thursday when Avigdor Lieberman, leader of the far-right Yisrael Beiteinu party, endorsed Netanyahu, who was prime minister from 1996 to 1999."

FBI Finds Allen Stanford in Virginia
Reuters: "Texas billionaire Allen Stanford, accused of an $8 billion fraud that spooked investors around the world, was found in Virginia on Thursday and FBI agents served him with a complaint from US regulators. FBI spokesman Richard Kolko said the Federal Bureau of Investigation had acted at the request of the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), and that Stanford had not been arrested. A law enforcement official said Stanford was making arrangements to surrender his passport."

Mark Weisbrot Will Obama Change US Policy Toward Latin America?
Mark Weisbrot, The Guardian UK: "US-Latin American relations fell to record lows during the Bush years, and there have been hopes - both North and South of the border - that President Obama would bring a fresh approach. So far, however, most signals are pointing to continuity rather than change. President Obama started off with an unprovoked verbal assault on Venezuela. In an interview broadcast by the Spanish language television station Univision on the Sunday before his inauguration, he accused President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela of having 'impeded progress in the region' and 'exporting terrorist activities.'"

Iraqi Defends Shoe-Throwing Incident
Ernesto Londono and Zaid Sabah, The Washington Post: "Wearing leather shoes, a pressed beige suit and a scarf emblazoned with the Iraq flag, the Iraqi journalist who became a folk hero in the Arab world by slinging shoes at President George W. Bush defended his conduct on Thursday in court. 'I did not mean to kill the leader of the occupation forces,' Muntadar al-Zaidi said, speaking clearly and forcefully from a wooden cage before a packed courtroom. 'I was expressing what's inside of me and what's inside the Iraqi people from north to south and from west to east.'"

New Yorkers to Boycott NY Post Over "Racist" Cartoon
Edith Honan, Reuters: "Hundreds of demonstrators rallied to boycott the New York Post on Thursday, branding the newspaper as racist for publishing a cartoon that appeared to compare President Barack Obama to a chimpanzee. Demonstrators led by civil rights activist Al Sharpton chanted 'End racism now!' outside the parent company's skyscraper in midtown Manhattan and called for the jailing of Rupert Murdoch, whose international media conglomerate News Corp owns the Post. The newspaper has defended the cartoon as a parody of Washington politics, but Sharpton said it exploited a potent image in the history of racism toward blacks."

Thursday, February 19, 2009

FP morning report 2/19

Top Story

Binyamin Netanyahu's bid to become Israel's prime minister received a major boost after far-right leader Avigdor Lieberman pledged his support. Lieberman crucially conditioned his support on Netanyahu's Kadima rival Tzipi Livni being brought into a governing coalition.

Livni responded to the news by saying she would not participate in a government that did not advance the peace process. "Kadima won't provide cover for a government of paralysis," she said.

President Shimon Peres is expected to meet with both leaders on Friday to discuss which one will be tasked with forming a government. A Netanyahu-Livni meeting is expected to take place soon as well.

Former U.S. ambassador to Israel Daniel Kurtzer told Haaretz that a government including Netanyahu and Lieberman would be a "bad combination" for U.S. interests and that advancing the peace process would now be "not impossible, but very difficult."

Middle East
Egyptian political dissident and former presidential candidate Ayman Nour was unexpectedly released from prison. FP's Blake Hounshell and Marc Lynch comment.
Israel's cabinet has made the lifting of the Gaza blockade contingent upon the release of imprisoned IDF soldier Gilad Shalit.
A senior al Qaeda leader released a tape urging Yemenis to rise up against their government.

Kyrgyzstan's parliament voted to close the U.S. military base in the country. The law must now be signed by the president.
While visiting Indonesia, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke of the need for closer ties with the Islamic world.
As Clinton headed to Seoul, North Korea warned of war.

Barack Obama will address the topic of protectionism when he travels to Canada today.
A U.S. court ruled that 17 Chinese Uighurs, currently held in Guantanamo Bay, could not be released on U.S. soil.
Kansas governor Kathleen Sebelius is reportedly the new favorite to take over the department of health and human services.

Russia and Georgia agreed on a legal framework intended to prevent future violence between the two countries.
In an historic break with past practice, Swiss bank UBS will cooperate with a U.S. justice department investigation be revealing the names of some clients.
Under pressure from labor unions, French President Nicolas Sarkozy agreed to a package of welfare payments and tax cuts for the poor.

Despite still being held in prison, opposition politician Roy Bennett is due to be sworn in as a junior minister in Zimbabwe.
Zimbabwe's stock market resumed trading after a three-month hiatus but is now using U.S. dollars.
Two Italian nuns who were captured in Kenya four month ago and held in Somalia have been freed.

Truthout 2/19

Amy Goodman Jailing Kids for Cash
Amy Goodman, "As many as 5,000 children in Pennsylvania have been found guilty, and up to 2,000 of them jailed, by two corrupt judges who received kickbacks from the builders and owners of private prison facilities that benefited. The two judges pleaded guilty in a stunning case of greed and corruption that is still unfolding. Judges Mark A. Ciavarella Jr. and Michael T. Conahan received $2.6 million in kickbacks while imprisoning children who often had no access to a lawyer. The case offers an extraordinary glimpse into the shameful private prison industry that is flourishing in the United States."

Sebelius Top Choice for Health Secretary
Steve Kraske, The Kansas City Star: "Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius remains a finalist for secretary of health and human services, although President Barack Obama has not selected his nominee. A new round of speculation about Sebelius' prospects arose Wednesday with a report in The New York Times that Obama had already 'settled' on Sebelius. But a White House spokesman told The Kansas City Star that 'no decision has been made.' Sebelius, 60, has been mentioned for weeks as a leading candidate for a Cabinet job that would be closely involved in an expected attempt to enact sweeping reforms in health coverage."

UBS to Pay $780 Million, Open Secret Swiss Bank Records
Devlin Barrett, The Associated Press: "Banking giant UBS has agreed to pay $780 million and turn over once-secret Swiss banking records to settle allegations it conspired to defraud the US government of taxes owed by big clients. As part of the deal struck in federal court in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., UBS has made the unprecedented step of agreeing to immediately turn over to the US government account information for US customers of the bank's cross-border business. In doing so, federal authorities have struck a big crack in Switzerland's vaunted bank secrecy laws."

Robert Scheer Good Money After Bad
Robert Scheer, "The Republican-engineered controversy around the stimulus is a phony. The stimulus package that President Obama signed into law Tuesday is a modest effort, actually too modest, at arresting the free fall of the American economy. It's just not that expensive in light of the dimensions of the economic crisis, most of it is quite conservatively aimed at tax cuts for a suffering public and bailouts for beleaguered state programs, and it pales in comparison with the trillions wasted on the bloated military budget during the Bush years."

Greenspan Backs Bank Nationalization
Krishna Guha and Edward Luce, The Financial Times: "The US government may have to nationalise some banks on a temporary basis to fix the financial system and restore the flow of credit, Alan Greenspan, the former Federal Reserve chairman, has told the Financial Times. In an interview, Mr Greenspan, who for decades was regarded as the high priest of laisser-faire capitalism, said nationalisation could be the least bad option left for policymakers. 'It may be necessary to temporarily nationalise some banks in order to facilitate a swift and orderly restructuring,' he said. 'I understand that once in a hundred years this is what you do.'"

US Increases Militarization at Canadian Border
Patrick White, The Globe and Mail: "Famed for prowling the battlefields of Afghanistan and Iraq, a remote-control Predator aircraft took flight over the wheat fields of South Dakota yesterday, the first in a network of surveillance drones that could soon patrol the American border with Canada from Maine to Washington state. While security-conscious politicians applauded the start of Predator flight operations along the largely unmonitored northern border, some border experts regard it as a mere public-relations exercise."

Teen sexual harrassment on the job

by: NOW, t r u t h o u t Programming Note

A shocking "NOW" on PBS investigation.

Here's a special sneak preview of a very important "NOW" on PBS, airing this Friday (check local listings), on the subject of teen sexual harassment in the workplace. It's a very underreported issue, yet something that needs to be known by all families, especially those with teenage children looking at their first jobs. In the program, young female victims speak out on national television for the first time.

The special preview excerpt can be seen at:

A surprising statistic: teenagers are in more danger from sexual predators at their part-time jobs than through the Internet. It's a vastly underreported phenomenon, but some brave young women are stepping up publicly to tell their stories.

On Friday, February 20, at 8:30 PM (check local listings), "NOW" collaborates with the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism at Brandeis University to bring you an unprecedented broadcast investigation of teen sexual harassment in the workplace.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Love's tribunal

Forrest Church
Beacon Broadside

I'm agnostic about life after death, but believe deeply in love after death. Not only do I believe in it, I experience it. We can arrange the pictures on the walls of our mind in any way we choose. As I slowly die of terminal cancer, blessed with the opportunity to rearrange those pictures more thoughtfully I fill my memory wall with images of love. The pictures that adorn my mind illuminate my life. Past and future disappear. Eternity, for me, is not a length of time extending on forever, but depth in time. In the time's eternal depth, through love's portals we enter heaven on earth. One with God, self and neighbor, we are saved.

This lesson lies at the heart of my final book, Love & Death. As I reflect upon it further, it grows in both clarity and power. I know how deeply love can hurt and how sensible it seems sometimes to rip its recurring promise from the tapestries of our lives. I also know how tempting it can be to armor our hearts from the pain of being broken, not only the pain of betrayal but also the abiding pain of loss. Grief, you see, is love's measure. The courage to die is nothing when compared to the courage of those who live on after us, their hearts broken by their loss.

Yet it is precisely at these moments when we are invited to stand before love's tribunal to be judged. Are you guilty of love or not guilty? That is life's ultimate question. Again and again over the course of a lifetime we are brought before the Tribunal of Love, where the innocent are damned and the guilty are saved.

Continues on the Broadside

FP morning report 2/18

Top Story

In his first major change to U.S. strategy in Afghanistan, President Barack Obama approved the deployment of 17,000 additional troops to the conflict. "This increase is necessary to stabilize a deteriorating situation in Afghanistan, which has not received the strategic attention, direction and resources it urgently requires," said Obama in a clear dig at his predecessor's handling of the war.

The new deployment will double the current number of combat brigades ahead of this summer's critical presidential elections. Fighting in Afghanistan tends to be fiercest in warmer months.

Military planners have been careful not to label the latest increase a "surge," nothing that high troop levels could be needed for years as the U.S. works to build Afghanistan's own security capabilities.

Obama signed the $787 billion stimulus package.
Ahead of a trip to Canada, Obama seems to be backing off of campaign promises to alter NAFTA.Violent unrest has broken out on the French island of Guadeloupe.

In a major victory for the EU, the Czech Republic's parliament approved the Lisbon Treaty.
Italy convicted a British lawyer of accepting a bribe for his testimony in a corruption trial involving Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.
France's highest tribunal ruled that the French government is legally responsible for the deportation of Jews during World War II.

Middle East
The United Arab Emirates will bail out Dubai's largest state-run bank.
Iran has arrested eight leaders of the Bahai religion for espionage.
In an interview with the Guardian, Syria's Bashar al-Assaid welcomed dialogue with the Obama administration.

To counteract inflation, Zimbabwe will begin paying teachers and police officers in U.S. dollars.
Madagascar's military warned protesters that it is ready to "fulfill its duties" if unrest continues.
Hundreds of Mali's Tuareg rebels have surrendered their arms.

Hillary Clinton will leave Japan for Indonesia today as her Asian tour continues.
Taiwan's economy shrank by 8 percent last quarter.
Revising its figures from last month, the International Labor Organization predicted Asia would lose 23.3 million jobs in 2009.

World Economy
The price of oil fell below $35 per barrel yesterday.

Truthout 2/18

Eric Newhouse Montana Model for Assessing Returning Vets for PTSD and TBI
Eric Newhouse, Truthout: "Following the suicide two years ago of a recently deployed combat vet, Montana has become a model for accessing and assisting veterans who show symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injury (TBI). While the plan doesn't go nearly far enough, it's one that I understand the Obama administration is seriously considering for nationwide implementation - and it would be an excellent first step."

Obama Plan Seeks to Save Millions From Foreclosure
Mark S. Smith, The Associated Press: "His massive stimulus plan now signed into law, President Barack Obama is turning to attack the home foreclosure crisis at the heart of the nation's deepening economic woes. His goal is to prevent millions of American families from losing their houses because they can't make mortgage payments."

Manhunt: Accused Financier Scammer Stanford Missing
Brian Ross, Joseph Rhee and Justin Rood, ABC News: "Texas financier R. Allen Stanford is accused of cheating 50,000 customers out of $8 billion dollars but despite raids Tuesday of his financial empire in Houston, Memphis, and Tupelo, Miss., federal authorities say they do not know the current whereabouts of the CEO. The Securities Exchange Commission alleges Stanford ran a fraud promising investors impossible returns, much like Bernard Madoff's $50 billion alleged Ponzi scheme."

Pentagon Rethinks Photo Ban on Coffins Bearing War Dead
Ann Scott Tyson and Mark Berman, The Washington Post: "Every week, Air Force cargo jets land and taxi down the runway at Dover Air Force Base, Del., carrying the remains of fallen US troops. After a chaplain says a simple prayer, an eight-man military honor guard removes the metal 'transfer cases' from the planes and carries them to a mortuary van. The flag-draped coffins are a testament to the toll of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as to the sacrifice borne by those who serve in the military and their families. But this ceremony, known as the 'dignified transfer of remains' and performed nearly 5,000 times since the start of the wars, is hidden from the American public view by the Pentagon."

Robert Reich The Perils of Confusing American Companies With American Jobs
Robert Reich, Robert Reich Blog: "Do not confuse American companies with American jobs. The new stimulus bill, for example, requires that the money be used for production in the United States. Foreign governments, along with large US multinationals concerned about possible foreign retaliation, charge this favors American-based companies. That's not quite true. Foreign companies are eligible to receive stimulus money for things they make here."

Ariane Krol Bosses' Pay
Ariane Krol, La Presse: "CEOs who give up their compensation to act as an example, others who do so only after their arms have been twisted ... Beyond image or morality, these spectacular gestures speak to us from a very concrete reality. If they want their company to get through the crisis, senior managers must know how to unite and mobilize. And they're not going to succeed at that by showing themselves insensitive to the difficulties the rest of the population is experiencing."
Joe Brewer Ending the Hidden Agenda Behind Tax Cuts
Joe Brewer for Truthout: "It's time to tell the truth about tax cuts. This phrase dominates political discourse and is coughed out every time a conservative public figure opens his mouth. It is treated like the basis of sound reasoning, yet no one points out what should be obvious - that 'tax relief' and 'tax cuts' are just code words for destroying the capacity of government to serve the public."

Gareth Porter Commanders in Iraq Challenge Petraeus on Pullout Risk
Gareth Porter, Inter Press Service: "Although Oates did not explicitly address the issue of drawdown plans, he has been known to favour a more rapid withdrawal from Iraq than Petraeus and Odierno for some time, according to a military officer who served under Odierno and is familiar with Oates's views. 'His belief is that we need to get out of the country and let the Iraqis take responsibility for their areas.'"

Schwarzenegger Ready to Cut 20,000 Jobs
CNN: "California lawmakers were told to bring their toothbrushes and prepare for a long day Tuesday, with the goal of passing a budget as the state faces a $42 billion deficit and 20,000 layoff notices were set to go out to state workers Tuesday."

Tom Engelhardt Burning Questions
Tom Engelhardt, TomDispatch: "As anyone who has turned on the prime-time TV news these last weeks knows, southeastern Australia has been burning up. It's already dry climate has been growing ever hotter. In fact, everything's been burning there. Huge sheets of flame, possibly aided and abetted by arsonists, tore through whole towns. More than 180 people are dead and thousands homeless."

Dan Bacher Delta Pumping Behind Salmon and Killer Whale Declines
Dan Bacher, Truthout: "Increases in freshwater exports out of the California Delta, the operation of Shasta Dam and other inland habitat problems have not only led to the collapse of Central Valley salmon populations, but also threaten the southern resident killer whale population."

Laid-Off Lawyer in Predicament She Never Imagined
Steve Lopez, The Los Angeles Times: "'I can't get a job anywhere.' I've been getting a lot of e-mails that start like that."

Mahin Hassibi Ending the Male Patina in Biology
Mahin Hassibi, On The Issues Magazine: "For the past century and a half, every new discovery of biology has left intact, and even crystallized, the myth of women's inferiority. Now, galloping developments in biotechnology may alter this age-old script."

Obama Cancer Plan Must Prioritize Prevention, Says Cancer Prevention Coalition
World Wire: "President Barack Obama is the first president to develop a comprehensive cancer plan. While the plan reflects strong emphasis on oncology, the diagnosis and treatment of cancer, no reference is made to prevention. Yet, the more cancer that can be prevented, the less there is to treat."

Sara Mead The Case for Building Schools
Sara Mead, The Washington Independent: "New investments in school construction and modernization are a natural fit for the stimulus package."

Bill for DC Voting Member Advances
Josh White, The Washington Post: "Legislation that would grant the District a representative in Congress with full voting rights is scheduled to go before the US Senate next week, a potential milestone in the long battle to secure a seat for the District in the House of Representatives."

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

FP morning report

Top Story

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton began her first trip abroad by visiting Japan today, describing relations with the country as a "cornerstone" of U.S. foreign policy. Clinton also emphatically (if somewhat euphemistically) criticized North Korea's planned long-range nuclear missile launch as "very unhelpful."

Clinton also announced that Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso would be the first foreign leader to visit President Barack Obama at the White House on Feb. 24. The two leaders will discuss coordinating responses to the financial crisis.

Aso will likely relish the opportunity to get away for a few days. His approval ratings are below 10 percent according to some polls and his government suffered yet another setback today as Finance Minister Shoichi Nakagawa announced his resignation after he appeared visibly intoxicated at a G7 press conference.

The number of civilians killed in the Afghanistan conflict jumped 39 percent last year.
Cambodia began its first trial for perpetrators of the Khmer Rouge genocide.
Pakistan agreed to restore sharia law in the Swat Valley region in order to pacify a Taliban revolt.

Middle East
A Hamas official says the group may be planning to release captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.
Egypt is cracking down hard on smuggling through the Gaza tunnels.
Germany's foreign minister is visiting Iraq.

Sudan's largest rebel group signed a peace accord with the central government.
15,000 Congolese have fled to Southern Sudan to escape the Lord's Resistance Army, says the U.N.
Gunmen have attacked two oil facilities in Southern Nigeria.

European stock markets fell after a negative report from rating agency Moody's.
Russia's industrial output fell 20 percent in January.
Slovenia may act to prevent Croatia from joining NATO.

Bolivia's Evo Morales is in Moscow where he secured a deal to receive Russian helicopters.
Barack Obama has been cultivating support from Republican governors.
The justice department is preparing a critique of the Bush administration's interrogation practices.

Truthout 2/17

William Rivers Pitt Getting Well
William Rivers Pitt, Truthout, discusses the importance of stem cell research and its impact on individuals struggling with degenerative diseases. Individuals affected by such conditions, along with the scientific community, eagerly await an executive order expected from President Barack Obama, which will repeal the ban on embryonic stem cell research.

Jeff Cohen Coming to NBC: "To Catch a Cheney"
Jeff Cohen, Truthout: "I have a plan to get NBC out of last place in the ratings. I'm promising blockbuster audience and international buzz. As a once disgruntled ex-employee, I now just want to be positive and help NBC, which needs all the free advice it can get. Here's my idea: A series of NBC News prime-time specials featuring spectacular ambushes of big-time criminals lured into what they expect to be pleasurable surroundings. But, with hidden cameras whirring, the startled villain is dramatically confronted with the evidence of his massive crimes as millions of viewers look on in scorn and righteous amusement. Coming to NBC next week: 'To Catch a Cheney.' Next month: 'To Catch a Kissinger.'"

Republicans Try to Block Guantanamo Detainees From State Prisons
Daniel Nasaw, The Guardian UK: "Republicans in at least six states are seeking to block the White House from transferring Guantanamo Bay detainees to their districts, in what critics call an effort to stymie Barack Obama's efforts to close the prison. Congressional Republicans have introduced bills that would bar the government from moving any of the 250 inmates to some of the most prominent military and civilian detention centres in the US, including a 'supermax' high-security federal prison in Florence, Colorado, which holds at least 16 convicted international terrorists, and a South Carolina naval brig that holds the only enemy combatant jailed in America."

"Killing Fields" Torturer on Trial in Cambodia
Darren Schuettler and Ek Madra, Reuters: "The chief Khmer Rouge torturer went on trial for crimes against humanity on Tuesday, the first senior Pol Pot cadre to be tried by the 'Killing Fields' court three decades after the deaths of 1.7 million Cambodians. Kaing Guek Eav, alias Duch and ex-commandant of the notorious S-21 prison, did not address the court, but sat impassively as lawyers haggled over procedural matters. Hundreds of victims, including saffron-robed Buddhist monks who were persecuted during the 1975-79 Khmer Rouge era, packed the public gallery, reacting with anger and relief at the sight of 66-year-old Duch in the dock."

US Stocks Tumble on Recession Concern; Citigroup, GM Fall
Elizabeth Stanton, Bloomberg: "U.S. stocks tumbled to a three-month low, extending a global slump, as a record contraction in New York manufacturing spurred concern the government's stimulus package won't be enough to curb the deepening recession. Bank of America Corp., Citigroup Inc. and JPMorgan Chase & Co. lost at least 8 percent. General Motors Corp., the biggest U.S. carmaker, retreated 15 percent before taking its case for more government support to the Treasury today. Financial shares led declines in Europe and Asia on concern banks may face ratings downgrades and further losses."

Serge Truffaut Iran, 30 Years Later - Adrift
Serge Truffaut, Le Devoir: "Almost exactly 30 years ago, the Ayatollah Khomeini took power and immediately tackled the composition of a constitution consecrating the regime's theocratic nature, which a majority of Iranians adopted in a referendum 11 months later. Today, of all the sociological facts and political variables, the most salient is ... youth! A youth confronted by not one, but several economic disasters."

Henry A. Giroux Locked Out and Locked Up
Henry A. Giroux, Truthout: "Already imperiled before the recent economic meltdown, the quality of life for many young people appears even more fragile in the United States in this time of political, economic and social crisis. A great deal has been written critically about both the conditions that enabled the free market to operate without accountability in the interests of the rich and how it has produced a theater of cruelty that has created enormous suffering for millions of hard-working, decent human beings."

Citi, Morgan Stanley May Pay $3 Billion "Retention Awards"
Reuters: "Morgan Stanley and Citigroup Inc are preparing to pay $3 billion of retention awards to brokers to keep them from fleeing a brokerage joint venture, the Wall Street Journal said on Friday, citing people familiar with the matter. Terms are not expected until later this month, but the issue could grow politically sensitive because the government has injected money into both companies, the newspaper said."

Peter Navarro Undervalued Currency Helps, Hurts US Economy
Peter Navarro, The San Francisco Chronicle: "Now that we have an economic stimulus and a bank bailout plan, the next important step in America's economic recovery is to fix its mutually destructive trade imbalance with China. That should be Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton's primary mission as she visits Beijing this week. Any such fix must begin with the realization that China is far too dependent on selling exports to the United States, while America has lost too much of its industrial and job base."

Obama Seeks Delay in Deciding on Rove Subpoena
Marisa Taylor And Margaret Talev, McClatchy Newspapers: "The Obama administration is asking for two more weeks to weigh in on whether former Bush White House officials must testify before Congress about the firings of nine US attorneys. The request comes after an attorney for former Bush political adviser Karl Rove asked the White House to referee his clash with the House of Representatives over Bush's claim of executive privilege in the matter."

Obama Returns to Washington, Afghan Decision Near
Philip Elliott, The Associated Press: "President Barack Obama plans to make a decision soon about sending additional troops to Afghanistan, his chief spokesman said Monday. White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said the administration continues to review its policy toward Afghanistan, some seven years after US-led forces toppled the Taliban-led government. Gibbs cautioned that no firm timetable had been set, nor had administration officials settled on how many - if any - new troops would be involved."

Whitehall Devised Torture Policy for Terror Detainees
Ian Cobain and Richard Norton-Taylor, The Guardian UK: "A policy governing the interrogation of terrorism suspects in Pakistan that led to British citizens and residents being tortured was devised by MI5 lawyers and figures in government, according to evidence heard in court. A number of British terrorism suspects who have been detained without trial in Pakistan say they were tortured by Pakistani intelligence agents before being questioned by MI5. In some cases their accusations are supported by medical evidence."

Monday, February 16, 2009

Why we fail

Don Wheeler

I have only been closely following the actions of the South Bend Community School Corporation for about a year, but I’ve gotten quite a bit of help. People with a great deal of history (one way or another) have been eager to give me their takes on what is going on and what has gone on. Naturally, they don’t all agree. But in combination with what I’ve observed personally – some things seem pretty clear.

First, let’s dispense with the notion that changing the Board of Trustees membership, or replacing high ranking administrators will solve our problems. I was always suspicious of this claim (it’s awfully convenient), but now knowing or knowing about many of these folks – I think it is plain wrong. There may be exceptions, but the people I’ve met and observed are highly dedicated (some desperately so) to the success of our children.

Our problems lie in a more mundane area. The good news is that (in my opinion) the type of corrective action needed is clear. The bad news is that it will be challenging to implement it.

Our problems lie chiefly in the way that we do things – not who does them. Bad process leads to bad policy. Bad process (unchecked) outlives the actors involved. New people step into roles already defined. Though many can, will and have fought their constrictions, it’s not easy for one person to alter a system.

Our Board seems to have its time and talents used either “putting out fires” or giving a thumbs up or down to (for lack of a better term) pet projects. The latter tend to be small stand alone programs, often promising sounding approaches. Then they are either rejected or tacked on to the ones approved in the past. Either way, this is an ad hoc, rather than systematic approach.

We do this (and the other things we do) because we all agree improving High School graduation rates is of the utmost importance. But does it seem likely we can achieve that objective piecemeal? If we can, it’s likely the most difficult way possible.

Two fundamental areas exist to make serious change happen and both need systematic strategies. First, improving High School graduations rates on an ongoing basis will be best achieved by creating the best possible outcomes for our youngest children and using the momentum (hopefully, accelerating it) as those children grow and age. We shouldn’t write off the older children, by any means – but the long term success will come here.

Secondly, our budget work has to be spectacular – and that’s what I want to focus on.

Someone once said that a budget is the clearest statement of values any organization or community can make. When one chooses to spend or not spend – that is a statement. When you spend, there is policy made. Obviously, great care is needed. So it seems best to use strategies to improve your odds of making good decisions. I have some thoughts about that.

I don’t have a sense that the Board has worked to a consensus outlining priorities for expenditures. Ranking categories of expenditures would be a helpful budget tool, because (at least in any budget I’ve worked on) cuts from a proposed budget are inevitable. If certain things are labeled “mandatory”, and others are labeled “only if there is money left over”, then the only debate needed would be on the items in between. If they are ranked, even that is easier.

Next, major program implementation should be considered on something more like an annual basis. It is important to consider these changes as a group and examine carefully how they will integrate with existing strategies. This simply cannot be accomplished in an ad hoc way.

One approach could be to have a major program session shortly ahead of annual budget consideration. The Board could ask for rough numbers from the administration for the policy session. When the precise numbers are available, adjustments will be needed – but much of the work will have been done.

Finally, if I were a Board member, I’d like it better if my Superintendent came to me with his recommendation accompanied by an alternative he thought was also workable – his second choice. This may not always be feasible, but there is a recent case in which this approach could have been quite helpful.

Mr. Kapsa was recently unable to persuade the Board of the merits of a corporation wide trimester scheduling system. It seems likely he was aware he would lose that vote narrowly. Considering the Board had recently elevated him, I suspect they were loath to send him away empty-handed, but he had no back-up proposal. So the Board came up with one of their own – a terrible five year “pilot’ trimester program in one High School. This idea seems to please few people beyond that school’s Principal, and may turn out to be completely unworkable.

I think strategy should be laid out carefully, all at once and revisited at scheduled times. Tactics may need adjustment in between those times. It makes sense that the Board will have to solve problems and seize opportunities during the year.

When I see the faces of these good people, I see fatigue. Their jobs have been made too difficult. Let’s change the conversation to how to help them to succeed so that we will succeed as a community.

FP morning report 2/16

Top Story

In what he called a "clear victory for the revolution," Venezuela's Hugo Chavez won a referendum yesterday to scrap presidential term limits. Chavez won 54.3 percent of the national vote, making up a 17-point deficit in the last six weeks according to polling.

Chavez has suggested the he might now stay in the presidency until 2049, when he'll be 95 and described the victory as a mandate for socialism. Chavez's critics worry that the president now has virtually unchecked power. "Effectively this will become a dictatorship," opposition leader Omar Barboza told The Associated Press.

But Chavez must still run for reelection in 2013 and declining oil profits and rampant inflation mean that Chavez may have difficulty maintaining the level of generous social spending that underpins his popularity with Venezuela's poor. As Lucy Conger writes for FP, the falling oil prices may have already doomed his dream of a united, socialist Latin America.

The Obama administration has dropped the idea of appointing a "car czar" to oversee the auto industry.
President Obama is taking his time in deciding to deploy more troops to Afghanistan.
Mexico's former drug czar has been charged with taking bribes from the Sinaloa cartel.

Kyrgyzstan took another political step toward closing the U.S.'s Manas airbase.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrived in Tokyo and issued a warning about North Korea's nuclear program.
Japan's economy suffered its worst quarterly drop in 35 years.

Middle East
Israeli jets bombed the tunnels on Gaza's border in retaliation for rocket attacks on Southern Israel.
Israel has seized a large swathe of territory in the West Bank with the intention of constructing new settlements.
Fraud was committed in virtually every province during Iraq's recent election.

British and French nuclear submarines collided in the Atlantic.
Kosovo celebrated its first year of independence.
Spain became the latest European country to bail out its auto industry with a $5 billion assistance package.

China's Hu Jintao is visiting Tanzania where he promised a $22 million aid package.
A U.N. investigator is looking into Kenya's 2007 election violence.
Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe has bought a $6 million home in Hong Kong. Exit strategy?

Truthout 2/16

Dean Baker Stop Baby Boomer Bashing: Protect Social Security and Medicare
Dean Baker, Truthout: "Remember all those headlines about how the baby boom cohorts just lost several trillion dollars in home equity due to the collapse of the housing bubble and how they lost trillions more in their retirement accounts as a result of the stock market crash? Most people probably don't remember those articles because most of the media have failed to notice the stories. This should have been an easy one for the media to see. The people who take the biggest loss when home prices plummet will be the people who have equity to lose. This will mean mostly older workers or people who are already retired, since these are the people who will most likely have paid off much or all of their mortgage."

Dahr Jamail Boys With Toys
Dahr Jamail, Truthout: "It is not the threat of violence that weighs on the people of Iraq. It is the omnipresent occurrence of violence that has resulted in the desperate nation wide chant, 'We are tired. All we want is for normal life to return.'"

Anti-Terror Tactics "Weaken Law"
BBC News: "Anti-terror measures worldwide have seriously undermined international human rights law, a report by legal experts says. After a three-year global study, the International Commission of Jurists said many states used the public's fear of terrorism to introduce measures. These included detention without trial, illegal disappearance and torture. It also said that the UK and the US have 'actively undermined' international law by their actions."

Obama Slows Down Troop Boost Decision
David S. Cloud, The Politico: "President Barack Obama is refusing to be rushed into his first decision to send troops into combat, an early sign he may be more independent-minded than U.S. military leaders expected. The new president's methodical decision-making offers an early insight into how the new commander in chief will approach the war in Afghanistan and has surprised some Pentagon officials, who had predicted repeatedly in the past two weeks that Obama would decide within days on additional forces, only to find the White House taking more time."

Clinton Criticizes Bush on North Korea
Glenn Kessler, The Washington Post: "Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton cast doubt Sunday on a claim by the Bush administration that North Korea had a clandestine program to enrich uranium, and she said she will focus on getting the Pyongyang government to give up its stock of weapons-grade plutonium. 'There is a debate within the intelligence community as to exactly the extent of the highly-enriched-uranium program,' Clinton told reporters traveling with her to Asia on her first voyage as the chief U.S. diplomat. In a slap at her predecessors, Clinton made it clear she believes that the Bush administration's decision to walk away from an agreement negotiated during her husband's administration -- the 1994 Agreed Framework -- helped create the current crisis over North Korea's stash of nuclear weapons."

Talks Fail to End California Budget Impasse
Matthew Yi and Wyatt Buchanan, The San Francisco Chronicle: "A long-awaited plan in the state Legislature to solve a record budget deficit was thwarted for a second night Sunday as legislative leaders and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger anxiously searched to find one more Republican senator to support the budget vote... After finally reaching a breakthrough in talks last week, they entered the weekend confident that the Legislature would approve the budget bills that the governor was supposed to sign by today. But their confidence - and prospects for a budget - unraveled Saturday when it was apparent that Senate Republican leader Dave Cogdill could deliver just one - his own - of three GOP votes needed in the upper house to clear the two-thirds majority required for passage."

Bill Moyers High Noon: Geithner v. the American Oligarchs
Bill Moyers, The Bill Moyers Journal: "The battle is joined as they say - and here's the headline that framed it: 'High Noon: Geithner v. The American Oligarchs.' The headline is in one of the most informative new sites in the blogosphere called: Here's the quote that grabbed me: 'There comes a time in every economic crisis, or more specifically, in every struggle to recover from a crisis, when someone steps up to the podium to promise the policies that - they say - will deliver you back to growth. The person has political support, a strong track record, and every incentive to enter the history books. But one nagging question remains. Can this person, your new economic strategist, really break with the vested elites that got you into this much trouble?'"

William Astore An American Foreign Legion: Is the US Military Now an Imperial Police Force?
William Astore, TomDispatch: "A leaner, meaner, higher tech force - that was what George W. Bush and his Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld promised to transform the American military into. Instead, they came close to turning it into a foreign legion. Foreign as in being constantly deployed overseas on imperial errands; foreign as in being ever more reliant on private military contractors; foreign as in being increasingly segregated from the elites that profit most from its actions, yet serve the least in its ranks. Now would be a good time for President Barack Obama and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates to begin to reclaim that military for its proper purpose: to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic. Now would be a good time to ask exactly why, and for whom, our troops are currently fighting and dying in the urban jungles of Iraq and the hostile hills of Afghanistan."

Former Guantanamo Guard Tells All
Scott Horton, Harper's Magazine: "Army Private Brandon Neely served as a prison guard at Guantanamo in the first years the facility was in operation. With the Bush Administration, and thus the threat of retaliation against him, now gone, Neely decided to step forward and tell his story. 'The stuff I did and the stuff I saw was just wrong,' he told the Associated Press. Neely describes the arrival of detainees in full sensory-deprivation garb, he details their sexual abuse by medical personnel, torture by other medical personnel, brutal beatings out of frustration, fear, and retribution, the first hunger strike and its causes, torturous shackling, positional torture, interference with religious practices and beliefs, verbal abuse, restriction of recreation, the behavior of mentally ill detainees, an isolation regime that was put in place for child-detainees, and his conversations with prisoners David Hicks and Rhuhel Ahmed."

Scientists: Pace of Climate Change Exceeds Estimates
Kari Lydersen, The Washington Post: "The pace of global warming is likely to be much faster than recent predictions, because industrial greenhouse gas emissions have increased more quickly than expected and higher temperatures are triggering self-reinforcing feedback mechanisms in global ecosystems, scientists said Saturday. 'We are basically looking now at a future climate that's beyond anything we've considered seriously in climate model simulations,' Christopher Field, founding director of the Carnegie Institution's Department of Global Ecology at Stanford University, said at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science."

Iraq's Young Jobless Threaten Stability, Report Says
Tina Susman, The Los Angeles Times: "More than one-fourth of Iraq's young men are out of work, a situation that is likely to worsen and that threatens the country's long-term stability, according to a dismal economic forecast Sunday from U.N. and nongovernmental agencies. Overall, the country's unemployment rate is 18%, but an additional 10% of the labor force is employed part time and wanting to work more, said the first Iraq Labor Force Analysis, which cited falling oil prices and a weak public sector as major problems facing the nation. Among its findings: 28% of males age 15 to 29 are unemployed; 17% of women have jobs; and most of the 450,000 Iraqis entering the job market this year won't find work 'without a concerted effort to boost the private sector.'"

Is the US Repeating Soviet Mistakes in Afghanistan?
Jonathan S. Landay, McClatchy Newspapers: "Twenty years to the day after the last Soviet soldier left Afghanistan, Dastagir Arizad ticked off grievances against President Hamid Karzai and the United States that are disturbingly reminiscent of Moscow's humiliating defeat. 'Day by day, we see the Karzai government failing. The Americans are also failing,' said Arizad, 40, as he huddled against the cold in the stall where he sells ropes and plastic hoses. 'People are not feeling safe. Their lives are not secure. Their daughters are not safe. Their land is not secure. The Karzai government is corrupt.'"

VIDEO Bill Moyers Interviews Simon Johnson
Bill Moyers interviews former chief economist of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), MIT Sloan School of Management professor and senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Your wife is dying...


One moment everything was fine. You were in your stateroom on the cruise ship -- it was to be an anniversary cruise -- unpacking your things. The kids were in the adjoining stateroom playing with your wife. Suddenly, they banged on the door crying that mom was hurt.

So now you're in the hospital -- Ryder Trauma Center at Jackson Memorial Hospital -- waiting for word, and it's not coming. They tell you, Joe (we'll call you Joe), you can't be with her. You plead with them, to no avail. No, Joe, sorry, Joe, we can't tell you anything.

One hour turns to two, two to four, four to six. Your wife is dying, and no one she loves is there.

Finally, in the eighth hour, you reach her bedside. You are just in time to stand beside the priest as he administers last rites.

Your wife is dead. Her name was Lisa Marie Pond. She was 39.

It happened, Feb. 18-19, 2007, except that Pond's spouse was not a man named Joe, but a woman named Janice. And there's one other detail. Janice Langbehn who, as it happens, is an emergency room social worker from Lacey, Wash., says the first hospital employee she spoke with was an emergency room social worker. She thought, given their professional connection, they might speak a common language.

Instead, she says, he told her, ''I need you to know you are in an anti-gay city and state, and you won't get to know about Lisa's condition or see her'' -- then turned and walked away.

For the record, this is an increasingly anti-gay nation, to judge from all the mean-spirited amendments and legislation that have made scapegoats and boogie men of them in recent years, including Florida's Marriage Protection Amendment, which passed last November.

Langbehn is suing the hospital for negligence and intentional infliction of emotional distress. In a hearing last week, Jackson asked a judge to dismiss the suit. A ruling is pending. Attorney Andrew Boese, who represents Jackson, says the hospital ''absolutely'' disputes Langbehn's characterization of her encounter with the social worker. And as for visiting Pond's bedside: ``Our first duty should be to patients, particularly in an emergency room. The decision to allow someone into a trauma bay should be a medical decision. It shouldn't be a question for a jury . . . ''

All that notwithstanding, it strains credulity to believe that Joe would have spent eight hours barred from his wife's bedside as Janice was from hers.

Politicians and alleged religious leaders have routinely invited us to hate gay people and call it morality. They have taught us to frame gay lives in cloudy abstracts of tradition and values. But this isn't abstract, is it?

No, it is Janice and Lisa, meeting in college and falling in love, 20 years ago. It is a ''holy union'' service in a local church, friends serving as maid of honor and ''best man.'' ''We were dirt poor,'' says Langbehn, ``but we pulled it off.''

It is taking in foster kids no one else wants, drug babies, HIV babies, babies with fetal alcohol syndrome. It is adopting four of them and Lisa deciding she wants to be a stay-at-home mom and Janice saying OK, and wondering how the six of them will manage on a social worker's salary. It is Janice, diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, and Lisa, bashful Lisa, becoming the family extrovert, cheering the kids at ''toddler tumbling time'' shepherding them to swimming lessons and story time at the library.

It is Lisa, who loved pecan sandies, the movie Beaches and Mitch Albom's book Tuesdays With Morrie, stricken by an aneurysm. It is Lisa, for eight hours, dying alone.

It would be good if someone remembered her next time we are invited to hate an abstract. And remember Janice, who could not ache more deeply even if her name were Joe.

House bill focuses on yard signs

South Bend Journal

HB 1085 authored by Indiana State Representative Craig Fry (D-Mishawaka) seeks to limit the restrictions enacted by homeowners associations on political yard sign placement. Many subdivisions in the Greater South Bend area have enacted ordinances against yard signs. Some neighborhoods in Granger have placed penalties of up to $500 per day in some cases for residents who choose to place a political sign in their yard. Rep. Fry believes that the situation has gotten out of hand.

Full post

Truthout 2/15

Gerald Epstein What's So Bad About a Banker Brain Drain?
Gerald Epstein, Truthout: "Let's take bankers at their word. Let's say many of the 'best minds in banking' will go elsewhere if serious pay restrictions are imposed. The question we have to ask is: so what? The answer is: this may be a blessing in not that much of a disguise."

Obama Ready to Tap Offshore Oil, Wind Power
Barbara Barrett, McClatchy Newspapers: "With the lifting of the moratorium against offshore drilling last year, some offshore drilling almost certainly will occur. But now the conversation has changed. Democrats in power talk about a more complex set of energy programs, which could include wind farms or ways to capture wind currents."

Burris Now Discloses Blagojevich Fundraising Requests
Peter Slevin, The Washington Post: "Senator. Roland W. Burris, appointed to fill President Obama's seat in the US Senate, has informed Illinois lawmakers that he did not tell them the complete story about his contacts with close associates of former Gov. Rod Blagojevich before he got the job."

GM Considering Chapter 11 Filing, New Company: Report
Reuters: "General Motors Corp., nearing a Tuesday deadline to present a viability plan to the US government, is considering as one option a Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing that would create a new company, the Wall Street Journal said in its Saturday edition."

Scientists Celebrate Dawn of Barack Obama's Age of Reason
Mark Henderson, The Times: "There was indeed a palpable buzz yesterday in the subterranean conference rooms of the two downtown Chicago hotels where the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) is holding its annual meeting. The real excitement, however, has had much less to do with Darwin than with the most famous former resident of America's second city - Barack Obama."

Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel, Rahm's Brother, Tapped for White House Health Care Policy Advisor Spot Lynn Sweet, The Chicago Sun-Times: "While the Obama White House is searching for a replacement for health czar Tom Daschle, policy work on health care reform - a priority for the administration - is ongoing with one key advisor especially well connected. The brother of White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, Dr. Ezekiel J. Emanuel, a noted bioethicist, is advising the Obama administration on health care reform."

FOCUS Obama Scores Early Victory of Historic Proportions
Michael D. Shear and Alec MacGillis, The Washington Post: "Twenty-four days into his presidency, Barack Obama recorded last night a legislative achievement of the sort that few of his predecessors achieved at any point in their tenure."

FOCUS A Torture Report Could Spell Big Trouble for Bush Lawyers
Michael Isikoff, Newsweek: "An internal Justice Department report on the conduct of senior lawyers who approved waterboarding and other harsh interrogation tactics is causing anxiety among former Bush administration officials."

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Truthout 2/14

President Barack Obama Address on Lincoln's 200th Birthday
On the occasion of Abraham Lincoln's 200th birthday, President Obama speaks in Springfield, Illinois, Thursday, February 12, 2009.

Blackwater Changes Name, Keeps on Ticking
The Associated Press: "Blackwater Worldwide is still protecting US diplomats in Iraq, but executives at the beleaguered security firm are taking their biggest step yet to put that work and the ugly reputation it earned the company behind them. Blackwater said Friday it will no longer operate under the name that came to be known worldwide as a caustic moniker for private security, dropping the tarnished brand for a disarming and simple identity: Xe, which is pronounced like the letter 'z.'"

Stimulus Plan Sets Strict New Limits on CEO Bonuses
Tomoeh Murakami Tse, The Washington Post: "The stimulus package Congress passed last night imposes new limits on executive compensation that could significantly curb multimillion dollar pay packages on Wall Street and goes much further than restrictions proposed by the Obama administration last week."

Tim Costello and Brendan Smith WSF: Is Another World Possible?
Tim Costello and Brendan Smith, The Nation: "The recently concluded World Social Forum is a good gauge for assessing the state of the world's alternative social, economic and political movements. Organized in 2001 as a counterpoint to the World Economic Forum, the annual meeting of global and corporate elites held in Davos, Switzerland, the WSF brings social movement organizations and activists from around the world together around the idea that 'another world is possible.'"

Clinton to Find China's Economic Troubles Curb Its Leadership
Indira A.R. Lakshmanan, Bloomberg: "When Hillary Clinton arrives in East Asia next week on her first trip as secretary of state, she will discover there are limits to what the US can expect of China, the region’s rising power."

Minnesota Senate Trial Judges Deliver Blow to Coleman
Eizabeth Dunbar and Patrick Condon, The Associated Press: "The judges in Minnesota's US Senate trial said in a preliminary ruling Friday that Republican Norm Coleman has not yet shown a widespread problem with absentee voters being denied the right to vote."

Video Part I and II: President Barack Obama Address on Lincoln's 200th Birthday Springfield, Illinois
On the occasion of Abraham Lincoln's 200th birthday, President Obama speaks in Springfield, Illinois, Thursday, February 12, 2009.

FOCUS: Michael Winship The Oligarchy's Bailout Ball
Michael Winship, Truthout: "You know what they say - half a million dollars just doesn't go as far as it used to. News from the White House that $500,000 was the cap the government wants to put on executive salaries at banks receiving bailout cash had some on Wall Street and along the plush corridors of Manhattan's swank Upper East Side hollering 'Unfair!' (But without those unsightly street demonstrations and picket lines, of course.)"

FOCUS Congress Sends $787 Billion Stimulus to Obama
Richard Cowan and Jeremy Pelofsky, Reuters: "The US Congress, handing President Barack Obama a major legislative victory, approved on Friday a $787 billion stimulus bill that aims to rush emergency government spending and tax cuts to a nation in the grip of a severe recession."

Friday, February 13, 2009

To the SBCSC: What's the plan?

Don Wheeler

I recently wrote in favor (with caveats) of the SBCSC going forward with the New Tech High School proposal. My direct concerns had to do with the scope of the program (tiny) and selection process for students (not defined). It turned out that I didn't make it to the Board meeting, and the press coverage didn't provide any new information along those lines. I also mentioned that some elements of this process led me to more systemic concerns.

(I was pretty dismayed to learn later that the South Bend Common Council had not been consulted regarding use of TIF moneys - touted as a key funding source of the New Tech program. The was quite an oversight, and I don't blame the council members a bit for getting hot about it).

The pattern I see is a continually expanding roster of small stand-alone programs. Magnet programs, Wilson LiPS reading programs (in only four Primary Centers), one tri-mester scheduled High School, One New Tech High School, a potential Early College program and a potential Career Center are some that come to mind. There may well be others I've missed. Add in decisions and implementation of transportation programs (where applicable) and these elements add significant layers of complication to a school corporation which will necessarily be complicated to run to begin with.

It all has the appearance of an ad-hoc approach - rather than having an overarching strategy guiding the decisions and coordinating these programs - to maximize their effect and minimize potential conflicts. This will almost certainly create conflicts - detracting from the greater mission. Simplifying, whenever possible, should be an objective.

One recent example - Superintendent Kapsa was asked by the Board about the wisdom of switching one high school to tri-mesters, but not the others. He and his staff made it tactfully clear that they did not recommend that approach. His reaction was perfectly understandable. They recommended the approach system wide, but to have one school alone use the new system (while the other three did not) would likely introduce needless complexity. (And it wouldn't address the Adams scheduling problem either way). The Board felt it possessed greater wisdom, I guess, judging by its 5-2 vote to implement.

This example seems symbolic (or symptomatic, if you prefer). The problem is not the people who make the decisions, the problem is the process(es) by which these decisions are made.

To Mr. Kapsa - Your actions indicate you are aware of this phenomenon, and are trying to address it. I wish you well.

To the Board - Trust the people who elected you in a more unconventional way. Listen to them, but take them at their word that they felt you were equipped to make sound policy decisions when they elected you. Then use your judgement (that they were confident of) and make them. Look at the big picture, rather than the next election.

FP morning report

Top Story

The final results have been released, but its still not exactly clear who won this week's Israeli elections. Tzipi Livni's Kadima party holds 28 seats while Binyamin Netanyahu's Likud holds 27. This has opened the possibility of the two rivals joining in a unity government, a scenario that Livni herself proposed on election night. It now falls to President Simon Peres to charge one of the two with forming a government.

Far-right leader Avigdor Lieberman, whose fifteen seats make him a potential kingmaker in the gridlock, is under investigation by Israel's tax authorities. This development could potentially undermine Netanyahu's attempt to form a right-wing coalition.

Meanwhile, a long-term truce with Israel may be announced within days, says a senior Hamas official in Cairo. The group may now be willing to sign a deal for the release of captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who has been held since 2006. Strangely, the electoral gridlock may offer a unique opportunity for outgoing PM Ehud Olmert to negotiate without political constraints.

Middle East
A female suicide bomber killed at least 30 in an attack on a Shiite pilgrimage south of Baghdad.
Dubai has begun making arrests in a nationwide corruption and bribery investigation.

Asia and Oceania
The U.S. failed to keep track of 22,000 weapons entering Afghanistan, leaving them vulnerable to theft.
China's economic growth projections for next quarter are encouraging.
Australia has charged a man for causing the country's deadly brushfires.

Germany's economy shrank more than it has in 22 years in the fourth quarter of 2008.
One of Britain's top bank regulators resigned after tough questioning by parliament.
The G7 Finance ministers will meet in Rome to discuss the financial crisis today.

Darfur peace talks have been overshadowed by the International Criminal Court's possibly imminent arrest warrant against leader Omar al-Bashir. FP's Elizabeth Allen spoke with the ICC's lead prosecutor about the case yesterday.
A senior opposition politician was arrested in Zimbabwe just as he was about to be sworn in to the country's new unity government.
The Ukrainian weapons ship freed by pirates arrived in Kenya. The Kenyan government is investigating where the weapons are headed.

Republican Senator Judd Gregg has withdrawn his name as Obama's Commerce Secretary nominee.
With a referendum on term limits coming this Sunday, Hugo Chavez's supporters are demonstrating in the thousands.
Chilean President Michelle Bachelet is in Cuba where she met briefly with Fidel Castro and described him as "in very good shape."

Truthout 2/13

William Rivers Pitt Dump the GOP
William Rivers Pitt, Truthout: "Former GOP Congressman Joe Scarborough was doing his MSNBC morning yak-fest on Friday, and made a comment about how President Obama's newly-finalized stimulus package has 'greatly offended Republicans.' His guests all agreed with solemnly nodding heads, yeah, you're right, Joe, Obama offended the Republicans. Greatly and stuff. This grim pronouncement came on the heels of GOP Sen. Judd Gregg's stunning announcement that he was withdrawing as Obama's nominee for commerce secretary. Citing irreconcilable differences between himself and the Obama administration on the stimulus bill as well as the upcoming census, Gregg said, 'The bottom line is, this was simply a bridge too far for me.'"

Suicide Bombing Kills 40 on Iraqi Pilgrimage Route
Hamid Ahmed, The Associated Press: "A female suicide bomber attacked a tent filled with women and children resting from a pilgrimage to a Shiite holy city south of Baghdad on Friday, killing 40 people and injuring 60 others, said officials. It was the deadliest attack in Iraq this year and the third straight day of bombings against Shiite pilgrims."

Senate Confirms Panetta as CIA Director
Ted Barrett and Pam Benson, CNN: "The Senate on Thursday night confirmed Leon Panetta as CIA director by unanimous consent. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, which passed Panetta's nomination on to the full Senate on Wednesday, said at that time that Panetta would mark a 'new beginning' for the CIA."

Report: Public Fears More Job Losses
Pew Research Center for the People & the Press: "For the public, the continuing financial crisis has been overtaken by a jobs crisis. The proportion of Americans citing jobs or unemployment as the nation's most important economic problem has more than quadrupled - from 10% to 42% - since early October and job worries now far surpass concerns over the financial crisis."

Gay Couples Protest at Marriage Bureaus Across US
Lisa Leff and Verena Dobnik, The Associated Press: "Same-sex couples seeking to wed showed up at marriage license counters nationwide Thursday to highlight a right they don't have in 48 states, part of an annual protest that took on renewed urgency given recent election setbacks."

Bernard Guetta The World Redesigns Itself
Bernard Guetta, Liberation, sees huge shifts in the world as we know it already occurring, from new diplomatic opportunities to major ideological overhauls.

FBI Sees Bailout Fraud Cases Coming
Josh Meyer, The Los Angeles Times: "Despite an expected wave of fraud in the trillion-dollar bailout that aims to stop the ongoing financial meltdown, federal law enforcement officials told Congress on Wednesday that they have nowhere near the level of resources to combat it. Top FBI and Justice Department officials said they believed mortgage fraud and other types of corporate criminal behavior has contributed to the economic tailspin. And they said they already have more than 2,300 open investigations into suspected illegal financial activity -- including 38 probes specifically linked to the crisis."

Poll: Most Want Inquiry Into Anti-Terror Tactics
Jill Lawrence, USA TODAY: "Even as Americans struggle with two wars and an economy in tatters, a USA TODAY/Gallup Poll finds majorities in favor of investigating some of the thorniest unfinished business from the Bush administration: Whether its tactics in the 'war on terror' broke the law. Close to two-thirds of those surveyed said there should be investigations into allegations that the Bush team used torture to interrogate terrorism suspects and its program of wiretapping US citizens without getting warrants. Almost four in 10 favor criminal investigations and about a quarter want investigations without criminal charges. One-third said they want nothing to be done."

Media Under Scrutiny for "Talking Up" Financial Crisis
Kathleen Moore, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty: "In September 2007, the BBC broke a huge story: troubled bank Northern Rock was to get an emergency loan from Britain's central bank. The next day, anxious depositors queued up to withdraw their cash in the first run on a bank in Britain in around 150 years. One year later, during perhaps the most intense week in the credit crisis, Britain's Lloyds bank was reported to be in talks to buy its rival, HBOS. Shares in HBOS soared. These were among a series of major scoops that catapulted BBC reporter Robert Peston to national attention, and made financial journalists part of last year's biggest news story."

Intelligence Director: Economic Crisis Top US Security Threat
Warren P. Strobel, McClatchy Newspapers: "The global economic crisis is the largest near-term security threat to the United States, President Obama's national intelligence director told Congress on Thursday, signaling that the new administration is broadening its definition of national security beyond traditional military and homeland security concerns. Retired Navy Adm. Dennis Blair said the worldwide economic downturn could spawn political instability across the globe, hamper US allies and drain support for the American-led international free-trading system."

Army Recruiting Stand-Down Ordered for Friday
Michelle Tan, The Army Times: "A stand-down of the Army's entire recruiting force, ordered by Army Secretary Pete Geren, will take place Friday. Geren ordered the stand-down after a wide-ranging investigation into four suicides in the Houston Recruiting Battalion. Poor command climate, failing personal relationships and long, stressful work days were factors in the suicides, the investigation found."

Ex-Enron CEO Skilling to Seek Supreme Court Sentence Review
Reuters: "Former Enron Corp Chief Executive Jeffrey Skilling will ask for US Supreme Court review of his 2006 felony conviction stemming from the energy trading giant's collapse, his attorney said on Thursday. 'We will seek review by the Supreme Court,' Skilling's attorney, Daniel Petrocelli, said in an email. A federal appeals court ruled last month that Skilling must be resentenced because of a lower court error, but let stand his conviction."

GOOD December: Conversation Sustainability w/ NextEra Energy

Failure to rise

New York Times

By any normal political standards, this week’s Congressional agreement on an economic stimulus package was a great victory for President Obama. He got more or less what he asked for: almost $800 billion to rescue the economy, with most of the money allocated to spending rather than tax cuts. Break out the Champagne!

Or maybe not. These aren’t normal times, so normal political standards don’t apply: Mr. Obama’s victory feels more than a bit like defeat. The stimulus bill looks helpful but inadequate, especially when combined with a disappointing plan for rescuing the banks. And the politics of the stimulus fight have made nonsense of Mr. Obama’s postpartisan dreams.

Let’s start with the politics.

One might have expected Republicans to act at least slightly chastened in these early days of the Obama administration, given both their drubbing in the last two elections and the economic debacle of the past eight years.

But it’s now clear that the party’s commitment to deep voodoo — enforced, in part, by pressure groups that stand ready to run primary challengers against heretics — is as strong as ever. In both the House and the Senate, the vast majority of Republicans rallied behind the idea that the appropriate response to the abject failure of the Bush administration’s tax cuts is more Bush-style tax cuts.

And the rhetorical response of conservatives to the stimulus plan — which will, it’s worth bearing in mind, cost substantially less than either the Bush administration’s $2 trillion in tax cuts or the $1 trillion and counting spent in Iraq — has bordered on the deranged.

It’s “generational theft,” said Senator John McCain, just a few days after voting for tax cuts that would, over the next decade, have cost about four times as much.

It’s “destroying my daughters’ future. It is like sitting there watching my house ransacked by a gang of thugs,” said Arnold Kling of the Cato Institute.

And the ugliness of the political debate matters because it raises doubts about the Obama administration’s ability to come back for more if, as seems likely, the stimulus bill proves inadequate.

For while Mr. Obama got more or less what he asked for, he almost certainly didn’t ask for enough. We’re probably facing the worst slump since the Great Depression. The Congressional Budget Office, not usually given to hyperbole, predicts that over the next three years there will be a $2.9 trillion gap between what the economy could produce and what it will actually produce. And $800 billion, while it sounds like a lot of money, isn’t nearly enough to bridge that chasm.

Officially, the administration insists that the plan is adequate to the economy’s need. But few economists agree. And it’s widely believed that political considerations led to a plan that was weaker and contains more tax cuts than it should have — that Mr. Obama compromised in advance in the hope of gaining broad bipartisan support. We’ve just seen how well that worked.

Now, the chances that the fiscal stimulus will prove adequate would be higher if it were accompanied by an effective financial rescue, one that would unfreeze the credit markets and get money moving again. But the long-awaited announcement of the Obama administration’s plans on that front, which also came this week, landed with a dull thud.

The plan sketched out by Tim Geithner, the Treasury secretary, wasn’t bad, exactly. What it was, instead, was vague. It left everyone trying to figure out where the administration was really going. Will those public-private partnerships end up being a covert way to bail out bankers at taxpayers’ expense? Or will the required “stress test” act as a back-door route to temporary bank nationalization (the solution favored by a growing number of economists, myself included)? Nobody knows.

Over all, the effect was to kick the can down the road. And that’s not good enough. So far the Obama administration’s response to the economic crisis is all too reminiscent of Japan in the 1990s: a fiscal expansion large enough to avert the worst, but not enough to kick-start recovery; support for the banking system, but a reluctance to force banks to face up to their losses. It’s early days yet, but we’re falling behind the curve.

And I don’t know about you, but I’ve got a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach — a feeling that America just isn’t rising to the greatest economic challenge in 70 years. The best may not lack all conviction, but they seem alarmingly willing to settle for half-measures. And the worst are, as ever, full of passionate intensity, oblivious to the grotesque failure of their doctrine in practice.

There’s still time to turn this around. But Mr. Obama has to be stronger looking forward. Otherwise, the verdict on this crisis might be that no, we can’t.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Truthout 2/12

Taliban Stealing War From US
Shahan Mufti, GlobalPost: "Throughout the ages, this ancient Silk Road town near the border of Afghanistan has been the place where the black market thrives and the military spoils of empires are hawked openly. Here in the storefronts you can still buy antique field rifles left over from the British presence of the 19th century and find uniforms and revolvers from the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s. Now the shops in this industrial rim of Peshawar are filling with military equipment and computers looted from the most recent empire to bog down in this hostile and impenetrable terrain: the United States of America."

Next Flash Point Over Terror Detainees: Bagram Prison
Warren Richey, The Christian Science Monitor: "At the height of its operation, the terror detention camp at Guantanamo was viewed as a legal black hole, a place where Al Qaeda suspects could be held and questioned beyond the glare of judicial scrutiny. President Obama has made the closing of the detention facility a priority. But as Guantanamo is being drawn down, large-scale construction is under way at a US military prison in Bagram, Afghanistan."

J. Sri Raman Questions Remain After A.Q. Khan's Release
J. Sri Raman, Truthout: "Many questions have been raised in the wake of the recent release from house detention of Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan, known in Pakistan as the Father of the Islamic Bomb and to the world as a nuclear smuggler. Some questions, however, remain to be asked. They do not figure in the flurry of political and media reactions to the Islamabad High Court's verdict ending his five-year-long effective incarceration."

Immigration Fight Simmered During Stimulus Negotiations
Daphne Eviatar, The Washington Independent: "Among the many provisions of the $800-plus billion stimulus bill hotly debated and horse-traded behind closed doors, one that remained largely under the radar through the negotiations would have forced employers receiving stimulus money to use a controversial federal computer system to verify that all of its employees are legal U.S. workers. Although preliminary indications are that the requirement did not make it into the final version, the battle over E-Verify is far from over."

Rick Arnold Obama's Canada Trip May Spell Change for NAFTA
Rick Arnold, Foreign Policy in Focus: "Canadians are looking forward to Barack Obama's February 19 visit to Ottawa - the president's first trip to a foreign country since he took office. Many of us here dare to hope Obama's 'change' agenda will inspire some fresh thinking among our own politicians. Ironically, Canadians concerned about our country's economic future (along with the well-being of our social programs) may now find a more sympathetic ear in Washington than in Ottawa - particularly when it comes to the subject of renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA)."

Max Gallo The Crisis Is but a Symptom
Max Gallo, Le Figaro: "Crisis: how could this little word, worn-out and imprecise, allow us to define that which has carried us off with accelerating speed since the fall of Lehman Brothers on September 15, 2008? When one specifies - banking, financial, cyclical, economic, social, political - crisis, one better defines one aspect of the reality. But then one masks the connections, the simultaneities, the interactions that create the globality of a phenomenon."

Robert Parry The GOP's Jihad on Obama
Robert Parry, Consortium News: "The Republicans and their right-wing media allies are doing whatever they can to strangle the Obama phenomenon in its cradle; the mainstream media pundits are stressing the negative so they don't get called 'in the tank for Obama'; and the Democrats are shying away from holding the Bush-Cheney administration accountable for its crimes. None of these developments is particularly surprising. Indeed, they track closely to the political-media pattern that took shape the last time a young Democrat won the White House, when Bill Clinton became President in 1993."

Senate Panel Approves Labor Nominee Hilda Solis
Sam Hananel, The Associated Press: "Rep. Hilda Solis edged closer Wednesday to winning confirmation as the nation's next labor secretary, after more than a month of delays over questions about her husband's unpaid taxes and her work for a pro-union group. The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee cleared her nomination in a voice vote with only two Republicans voting against her. The action sends the nomination to the full Senate for a final vote likely this week."

Pennsylvania Judges Accused of Jailing Kids for Cash
Michael Rubinkam and Maryclaire Dale, The Associated Press: "For years, the juvenile court system in Wilkes-Barre operated like a conveyor belt: Youngsters were brought before judges without a lawyer, given hearings that lasted only a minute or two, and then sent off to juvenile prison for months for minor offenses. The explanation, prosecutors say, was corruption on the bench. In one of the most shocking cases of courtroom graft on record, two Pennsylvania judges have been charged with taking millions of dollars in kickbacks to send teenagers to two privately run youth detention centers."

Poll: With 69 Percent Approval, Obama Has Political Firepower
Steven Thomma, McClatchy Newspapers: "Nearly seven in ten Americans approve of the way President Barack Obama is doing his job, giving him enormous political capital as he pushes Congress to give him unprecedented tools to fight economic crisis, according to a new McClatchy-Ipsos poll. Obama outpolls Congress by more than 30 points, and he also can point to an uptick in the number of people who think the country's headed in the right direction even as a majority thinks the worst is yet to come in the economy. The survey found that 69 percent of Americans approve of Obama's performance - with a robust 38 percent 'strongly' approving."

Domenici's Records Subpoenaed in Firings Probe
Pete Yost, The Associated Press: "A federal grand jury has subpoenaed records of former Sen. Pete Domenici, and prosecutors are preparing to interview an ex-aide to former White House political adviser Karl Rove in an investigation of politically tinged firings of US attorneys. The moves are the clearest sign yet that the criminal inquiry, which began in September, is likely to continue for many months. Career federal prosecutor Nora R. Dannehy is looking into whether former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, other Bush administration officials or Republicans in Congress should face criminal charges in the dismissals."

Change? Obama Follows Bush Lead in Early Records Decisions
Marisa Taylor, McClatchy Newspapers: "The Obama administration, which vowed to usher in a 'new era of openness in our country,' either has delayed action on requests for access to government records or refused to disclose them in three early, high-profile tests of the pledge. This week, Justice Department lawyers announced that they'd continue to assert the state secrets argument made by the Bush administration in a lawsuit alleging that five men were tortured abroad in US-run prisons. In a separate case, the Obama Justice Department has agreed with the Bush administration - at least initially - that the news media shouldn't have immediate access to court records in the ongoing Guantanamo detainee litigation."

FP morning report 2/12

Top Story

In the wake of yesterday's Taliban attacks on three government buildings, Afghan troops are attempting to put Kabul on lockdown as U.S. envoy Richard Holbrooke is due to arrive later today. All eight attackers were killed by security forces yesterday bringing the total death count to 28. A suicide bomber blew himself up outside a police station in Eastern Afghanistan earlier today.

Holbrooke is arriving from Pakistan where he visited the violent Afghan-border regions yesterday. In Pakistan, Holbrooke received a litany of requests for money and military aid as well as complaints about U.S. airstrikes in Pakistani territory. Nevertheless, writer Ahmed Rashid, who also met with Holbrooke, described the visit from a prominent U.S. civilian envoy as a "sea change in what Pakistan is used to.”

Afghan intelligence officers are investigating links between Pakistan and yesterday's attacks, Al Jazeera reports.

A senior Pakistani official admitted for the first time that the Mumbai attacks were partly planned in Pakistan as he announced that the ringleader and five other suspects were in custody.
China has arrested 12 people in connection with the CCTV fire.
Sri Lankan troops created a new "safe zone" for civilians and claimed to have killed 28 Tamil Tiger rebels.

U.S. House and Senate leaders reached an agreement on the stimulus package setting the stage for final approval later this week.
A panel led by three Latin American former heads of state condemned the U.S.-led war on drugs and recommended decriminalizing marijuana.
The U.S. Senate approved Leon Panetta as the new head of the CIA.

Middle East
Israel plans to announce the final results of its election today. The military vote could be crucial.
A Netanyahu-Livni coalition is not out of the picture.
Bomb attacks against shiite pilgrims in Iraq killed 20 yesterday.

The New York Times reports that International Criminal Court judges have approved an arrest warrant for Sudanese leader Omar al-Bashir. The ICC denies the report and says they're still deliberating.
After being freed by Somali pirates, the Ukrainian freighter MV Faina is due to unload its military cargo in Kenya today.
Taking power as Zimbabwe's new prime minister, Morgan Tsvangirai promised a "new chapter" for his country.

Spain has officially entered its first recession in 15 years.
The pope met with Jewish leaders and condemned Holocaust denial.
Ireland's government announced an emergency rescue plan for the country's banks.

Outer Space
U.S. and Russian satellites collided in the first reported incident of its kind.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

FP morning brief 2/11

Top Story

Kabul was thrown into panic today as gunmen attacked Afghanistan's Ministry of Justice and another government building in an apparent suicide attack. Nineteen people were killed and over 50 injured in the attack for which the Taliban have claimed responsibility.

Police have managed to kill most of the attackers but one gunman wearing a suicide vest is still apparently holed up inside the justice ministry. Several children are also trapped at a kindergarten inside the building. A number of suicide bombers may still be at large throughout the city, the Taliban has warned.

The attacks come on the eve of U.S. envoy Richard Holbrooke's visit to Afghanistan. A bomb also killed six people including a secular politician in Peshawar as Holbrooke visited Northwest Pakistan.

Middle East
Israel's political drama appears set to continue with the centrist Kadima party winning the most votes in yesterday's election but lacking the support to form a coalition. President Shimon Peres must decide whether to ask Kadima's Tzipi Livni or Likud's Benjamin Netanyahu to form a government. Both parties are claiming victory.
An Iraqi suicide bomber killed four U.S. soldiers near Mosul.

Barack Obama and Timothy Geithner's bailout plan will likely cost as much as than $2.5 trillion.
A shootout between police and drug traffickers in Chihuahua, Mexico left 21 dead.
Venezuela's Hugo Chavez is using massive government resources in his term limit referendum campaign.

Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai was sworn in as Zimbabwe's prime minister.
Ethiopia has arrested a suspect in the murder of a 25-year-old U.S. diplomat.
Five Somali pirates were extradited to the Netherlands for trial.

Asia and Pacific
China's exports fell 17.5 percent in January, the biggest drop in ten years.
Chinese state broadcaster CCTV has accepted responsibility for the deadly fire at their headquarters.
Arsonists have been setting new brushfires in Australia.

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov says Russia might allow the U.S. to ship weapons to Afghanistan across its territory.
The head of Azerbaijan's air force was shot to death.
Czech President Mirek Topolanek, the current president of the European Union, accused member states of protectionism.

World Economy
Stock markets fell around the world today due to skepticism about the U.S. bailout plan.

Truthout 2/11

Marjorie Cohn A Call to End All Renditions
Marjorie Cohn, in an article for Jurist, presents legal background and analysis on the United States's practice of rendition under the Bush administration, and examines the legal opinions offered so far by the Justice Department under President Barack Obama.

Attacks on Afghan Government Buildings Kill 20
Amir Shah and Rahim Faiez, The Associated Press: "Eight Taliban gunmen wearing suicide vests attacked three Afghan government buildings Wednesday in a coordinated assault that killed 20 people in the heart of Kabul just ahead of a planned visit from the new U.S. envoy to the region. The attacks in a city dense with barricades and armed guards underscored the difficulty of fending off the Taliban even with abundant troops and weaponry as the U.S. beefs up its presence."

Police: 16 Dead, 45 Wounded in Twin Baghdad Bombs
Reuters: "Sixteen people were killed and 45 wounded on Wednesday when twin car bombs exploded at a bus terminal and market area in southwestern Baghdad, Iraqi police said. The coordinated explosions at the bus terminal in Baghdad's Bayaa neighborhood took place as hundreds of thousands of Iraqi Shi'ites are making their way toward a holy city for an annual pilgrimage, a ritual often targeted by insurgent attacks."

Geithner's New Bank Bailout: Private Investors Hold the Key
Mark Trumbull, The Christian Science Monitor: "The Obama administration's new strategy to deal with troubled banks relies both on regulation and private-sector intervention in a bid to break a persistent credit logjam. If the strategy, announced Tuesday by Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, succeeds, it would remove a major roadblock to economic recovery. If it fails, the result will be to dull the impact of President Obama's plan to create jobs by cutting taxes and boosting government spending, many economists say."

Bank CEOs: The Men Behind the Billions
Alice Gomstyn and Russell Goldman, ABC News: "The eight bank chief executives who will testify before Congress today will explain how they have used money from the government's Troubled Asset Relief Program, or TARP. The executives have spurred their share of headlines in recent months for everything from defending their banks' spending practices to forgoing their multimillion-dollar bonuses, as at least seven bank CEOs have done so far. Below, a look at the eight men, their compensation and the financial firms they run. Compensation totals, which are courtesy of James F. Reda and Associates, do not include retirement investments and other deferred compensation."

Gaetan de Capele Everything Must Change in the Auto-Industrial Society
Gaetan de Capele in Le Figaro and Emma Rothschild in The New York Review of Books argue for fundamental change in the auto industry.

Maya Schenwar States Push to Take Back National Guard
Maya Schenwar, Truthout: "Going on its seventh year, the Iraq war has taken its toll on not only the US military, but also on the states's National Guard units, which were called up when Congress passed the 2002 Authorization to Use Military Force (AUMF) against Iraq. Now a growing state-level movement is working to keep the Guard at home. Its logic: The AUMF's goals have been fulfilled. The authorization's explicit purposes were to defend the US against the 'threat posed by Iraq' and to enforce UN Security Council resolutions regarding Iraq's alleged ballistic missiles and weapons of mass destruction. Saddam Hussein - along with his supposed threat - is gone, and the UN resolutions are no longer relevant, so there's no longer a mandate to keep troops in Iraq."

Haggling Begins on Final US Stimulus Plan
Jeremy Pelofsky and Richard Cowan, Reuters: "US lawmakers began haggling in earnest over a final package of tax cuts and spending on Tuesday after the Senate passed its $838 billion version of a rescue plan to fight the deepening recession. President Barack Obama wants the Democratic-controlled Congress to deliver a package by this weekend so he can sign it into law. But he must keep together a narrow coalition that wants the price tag lowered to about $800 billion. The House of Representatives passed its own $819 billion measure and the two chambers have appointed a small group of lawmakers to iron out differences in talks that could drag into next week."

Netanyahu, Livni Declare Win in Israeli Election
Steven Gutkin, The Associated Press: "Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and hard-line rival Benjamin Netanyahu both claimed victory in Israel's parliamentary election Tuesday, which early returns suggested was too close to call. With 67 percent of the votes counted, Livni's centrist Kadima Party had 29 seats in the 120-seat parliament while Netanyahu's hawkish Likud Party was right behind with 28, Israel's Channel 1 television said. However, soldiers' votes on bases across the country weren't being tallied until Thursday evening, which could shift the results by a seat or two. Regardless of who gets the most votes, Netanyahu's Likud Party appeared to have the upper hand in forming a ruling coalition thanks to strong showing by other right-wing parties."

More Accuse Britain in Torture of Guantanamo Detainee
Julie Sell, McClatchy Newspapers: "Despite years of denials, new questions are being raised about Britain's possible involvement in the torture of a detainee now on a prolonged hunger strike at the Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba. Both an American military lawyer who's seen classified documents on the case and the head of a special parliamentary committee said Tuesday that the British government might have been complicit in the alleged mistreatment of Binyam Mohamed. The former British resident was seized in 2002 and held in several countries - including Morocco, where he claims he was tortured - before being transferred to Guantanamo in 2004."

Juan Cole Could Khatami Be Iran's Obama?
Juan Cole, Informed Comment: "You have an economy in shambles, increasing international isolation, the danger of further wars, an unpopular millenarian president who thinks God put him in office to reshape the world, and an alarmed public across the board. And you have a liberal challenger to the woeful status quo who is known for an ability to reach out to conservatives and a dislike of social polarization, who is wildly popular with youth, women and liberals, but who might attract even conservative votes. Sound familiar? I am talking about Iran."

Autoworker Families See End of Line
Tim Jones, The Chicago Tribune: "Four generations and 127 years. That's Kurt Surato's direct bloodline to General Motors Corp., starting with his great-grandfather, who swept floors in 1912 for auto pioneer Ransom Olds, to Kurt's current job of fastening front ends to SUVs, 50 every hour. The Surato family's factory lives mirror the soaring arc of the domestic auto industry, spanning the birth of the Oldsmobile, the creation of the speedometer, automatic transmission and front-wheel drive - and now, in its downward trajectory, the demise of General Motors as we know it. The end of the line jobwise, at least for the Surato family, is near."

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Celebrating the not yet completed life of Forrest Church - part 3

In a recent interview with Susan Page of USA Today, Forrest gave his take on what Unitarian/Universalism is about:

We are a deeds, not creeds religion. We're in some ways the most humble of faiths, because we don't have a metaphysic that gives the final answers to what I believe are unanswerable questions. We tend to focus on being saved in this world and for this world, not from this world, and that means that we have lots of people with different specific theologies gathering together.

It's kind of a E pluribus unum religion if you think about it, and many of the early founders were themselves Unitarian, sort of breaking away from the king, and the father church or mother church at the same time, and exercising their freedom of belief, politically, as well as religiously. And we've followed in that tradition, the Emersonian tradition it became. And today we have a thousand churches around the country, very mixed, very open places, where people individually and together carry out their search and then try to serve their neighbors.

Most of the discussion was dedicated to his “familiar themes”, though

I've come to believe that life's purpose is to live in such a way that our lives will prove worth dying for.

The key is to open your heart to love, and there are so many factors that contest this desire. I mean, our hearts are broken. When you open your heart, it's vulnerable, and you are vulnerable. It can be broken by the loss of death of course, broken by another, and our instinct is to say, "That hurt, that really hurt. I'm going to armor myself up. I don't want that to happen to me again."

And the problem is the better we get at protecting ourselves from being hurt, the more invulnerable we become to meaning, which is the meaning that comes when we connect heart to heart, or when we build the empathy and compassion with others, when we grow beyond our own tiny, little self-protected circle.

I've been with lots of people as they've been dying, and they fall into sort of two rough classes; people who
fight it, and are begrudging every minute, and other people who somehow succumb to the embrace.

And I think the difference is between people who have ongoing business, which all of us have, because our lives end in the middle of the story, whenever they end, or people who have unfinished business. If you
have unfinished business and you get a terminal diagnosis, you may not have time to finish. I've seen some great two-minute drills, but you may not have time to finish it, and then regret is a shadow over those last months.

(And it’s important to remember) forgiveness really is something you do for yourself, first and foremost, not for the other person. The other person may have harmed you in a way, but you keep refilling the prescription and taking it again and again to keep that sense of victimhood alive.

Then a bit about his personal situation:

Every minister has -- you have to ace the death test. I mean, you've been spending your whole life giving people advice, helping them through the valley of the shadow themselves, but you don't know how you're going to do, you really don't know. And when I found myself immediately going to acceptance, I felt that my whole theology was locking in.

Then my wife, who was not nearly as delighted to bathe in the calm waters of acceptance as I was, pointed out to me that maybe I didn't have unfinished business, but she had some unfinished business, and our children had some unfinished business, and I realized that I was being spiritually a little bit aloof, and I was reminded that this wasn't my death, it was our death, and that's when the real doors to meaning opened.

My wife was basically saying we don't want you to go, number one, and that is unfinished business for us, because we're going to have to struggle with your absence, and that's going to be very, very painful, and it's going to cast a shadow on this.

And the second thing is that you need to open yourself up and really listen more deeply than you have.

I haven't been a bad father, but I haven't been sort of sitting there on the couch for 45 minutes listening to it all pour out on a regular basis, and I did that better. I didn't do it perfectly, and I'm reminding, I'm preaching to myself again. I have to continue to open -- open and listen and see where each of them -- I've got four kids and they're very different.

…when my wife sees me and I am bubbling along, she also sees my absence. And I have to remind myself of that on a daily basis. The one thing I will say is this. There is a half life to your images; not through your sense of loss, it deepens. Your sense of grief -- the more you love, the more you care, the more you risk to lose and stand to fear. I mean nobody who doesn't love desperately has this problem.

So, you know, it is sort of the good grief problem. But what happens is the half life does pass, and as you get further away from the death, the ghastly images fade into a patina of images going all the way back to the first time that you met your loved one, and it gives a perspective.

And I know even now with, you know, the hundreds of people I have gone through death with but particularly with my closest friend, my father, I can hardly see them during that relatively brief period when they were going through the death throes. That has -- that picture has been sort of digitally restored to them in their fullness and wholeness, and that is just a matter of time. Time simply takes care of it.

FP morning post 2/10

Top Story

Israelis head to the polls today for what looks to be a close-fought election. Binyamin Netanyahu's conservative party had been leading in the polls, but Kadima, led by Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, appears to have closed the gap in recent days. Turnout is higher than expected with more than a third of the electorate having voted by 2 p.m. Haaretz's final projections still show a majority for a right-wing coalition.
Whoever wins is likely to face a fractured coalition government with little room to maneuver.

In a primetime television address, Barack Obama warned that without aggressive action, the U.S. economy could be facing a "lost decade."
The Obama administration has backed the Bush administration's position in a renditions case.
The Houston Chronicle reports that 230 U.S. citizens have been killed in Mexico's drug violence since 2003.

U.S. South Asia envoy Richard Holbrooke arrived in Islamabad, Pakistan.
China's monthly auto sales surpassed the United States for the first time.
The Red Cross began evacuating the wounded from Sri Lanka's war zone.

South Africa set April 22 as the date for its presidential election.
At least 10,000 Somali refugees have crossed into neighboring Ethiopia this year according to the U.N.
A Ugandan offensive against the Lord's Resistance Army has been catastrophic for civilians.

The comatose Italian woman at the center of a political right-to-die debate has died.
EU finance ministers are irritated by a French auto bailout plan.
EU peacekeepers have intensified their search for Serbian war criminal Ratko Mladic.

Middle East
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad gave a speech in which he welcomed dialogue with the United States.
Nicolas Sarkozy became the first ever French head of state to visit Iraq.
An oil tanker has caught fire off the coast of Dubai.

Truthout 2/10

Source: Petraeus Leaked Misleading Story on Pullout Plans
Gareth Porter, Inter Press Service: "The political maneuvering between President Barack Obama and his top field commanders over withdrawal from Iraq has taken a sudden new turn with the leak by CENTCOM commander Gen. David Petraeus - and a firm denial by a White House official - of an account of the Jan. 21 White House meeting suggesting that Obama had requested three different combat troop withdrawal plans with their respective associated risks, including one of 23 months."

Iranian President Says Talks With US Possible
Ali Akbar Dareini, The Associated Press: "Iran's president said Tuesday the world was 'entering an era of dialogue' and that his country would welcome talks with its longtime adversary, the United States, if they are based on mutual respect. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's announcement during a rally celebrating the 30th anniversary of the Iranian Revolution comes a day after President Barack Obama said his administration was looking for opportunities to engage Iran and pledged to rethink United States' relationship with Tehran."

Livni, Netanyahu Neck and Neck
Steve Weizman, The Associated Press: "The two front-runners in the race to rule Israel made last-minute appeals to voters as polls opened Tuesday in a close general election whose outcome could determine the course of Mideast peace negotiations. Opinion polls for months have predicted a decisive victory for the hard-line Likud Party, headed by former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu. But new polls released over the weekend showed the Kadima Party, led by moderate Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, closing the gap."

Judges Tell State to Free Thousands of Inmates
Bob Egelko and Wyatt Buchanan, The San Francisco Chronicle: "California needs to release tens of thousands of California inmates over the next two to three years to relieve overcrowding that has ravaged prison medical and mental health care, a panel of federal judges said Monday. In what it labeled a tentative ruling, the three-judge panel said prison populations must be reduced so health care for inmates can be brought up to constitutional standards."

Jean-Pascal Beaupre The Late Lamented Obama Plan
Jean-Pascal Beaupre, Quebec's La Presse: "At the rate the economic recovery plan is being diluted in Congress, one may wonder whether President Barack Obama will recognize any of its measures when it's adopted in its final form. The mountain is on the way to giving birth to a mouse."

Matt Renner Obama Meets Press, Nation Head On
Matt Renner, Truthout: "In his first press conference, President Barack Obama focused on the disintegrating economy and defended his plan for prompt and expansive spending by the federal government to stem rising unemployment. Obama walked to the podium in the plush East Room of the White House and spoke for ten minutes before taking 50 minutes of questions from the press. He faced the American public in prime time and he faced the global economy. But his message targeted the 535 members of the US Congress who control the government checkbook."

Patrick Leahy Restoring Trust in the Justice System
US Sen. Patrick Leahy: "The President is right that we need to focus on fixing the problems that exist and improving the future for hardworking Americans. I wholeheartedly agree and expect the Judiciary Committee and the Senate to act accordingly. But that does not mean that we should abandon seeking ways to provide accountability for what has been a dangerous and disastrous diversion from American law and values. Many Americans feel we need to get to the bottom of what went wrong. We need to be able to read the page before we turn it. We will work with the Obama administration to fix those parts of our government that went off course."

Four US Troops, Interpreter Killed in Blast in Iraq
Ernesto Londono and Qais Mizher, The Washington Post: "Four American soldiers and an interpreter were killed Monday in a suicide bombing in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, the deadliest attack on US troops in Iraq since May. The military said three of the service members were killed shortly after a person in a vehicle set off explosives. The fourth soldier and the interpreter working with the unit died later from wounds suffered in the blast, according to the military."

Robert Reich Why Republicans Won't Support the Stimulus
Robert Reich, Robert Reich's Blog: "Why are Senate Republicans (all, that is, except the lonely moderates Collins, Snowe, and Specter) nixing the stimulus package, as House Republicans did? Not because Obama failed to compromise - he gave them the tax breaks they wanted, included a whopper for business. Not because Senate Democrats failed to bend - they agreed to trim more than $100 billion out of a previous version of the bill. Not because Senate Republicans are doctrinally opposed to deficit spending - many of them happily voted for Bush spending and tax cuts that doubled the federal debt. The reason has to do with the timing of the economic recovery."

Recovery Package Clears Key Senate Hurdle
Jeremy Pelofsky and Richard Cowan, Reuters: "The US Senate on Monday moved a step closer toward approving President Barack Obama's plan to jolt the US economy out of recession with government spending and tax breaks, setting up a vote to pass the $838 billion emergency package on Tuesday. After a week of contentious debate, senators reached a deal to pare down the stimulus bill by about $100 billion and voted 61-36, with minimal Republican support, that it was time to hold a final ballot at 12:00 p.m. EST Tuesday. If the measure passes as expected, the Senate and House of Representatives will enter final negotiations on a compromise bill, with Obama arbitrating disputes. The cost of the House bill was priced at $819 billion."

As Israelis Vote, It's All About War and Peace
Ilene R. Prusher, The Christian Science Monitor: "When Israelis go to polls Tuesday, the impact of the country's two wars in less than three years will be a deciding factor for many. Gaza still smolders after the 22-day assault on Hamas that killed 1,300 Palestinians but didn't stop rockets from falling on Israel. That operation rekindled many of the painful memories from Israel's 2006 failed war in Lebanon against Hezbollah. The ruling Kadima party, a centrist coalition, oversaw both operations and will probably take the brunt of voter frustration over its performance. The wars have pushed Israelis, many of whom wanted to take a harder line against militants on their borders, further to the right, giving conservative parliamentary candidates the edge."

Monday, February 9, 2009

In support of the New Tech concept, but...

Don Wheeler

Remarks as prepared for the meeting of the Board of Trustees of the South Bend Community School Corporation Feb. 9, 2009.

I’ll start by saying that I think you should take the leap of faith (if you want to call it that), and initiate the New Tech High School program. I think Mr. Parent had it right when he suggested that one can’t wait for every single dollar to be in place, before starting something important. I also think that there is a limit to how many times the school corporation can turn down financial assistance offers from supportive entities, before those offers won’t be made anymore.

The key in these types of decisions is to judge whether the potential upside is worth the risk of the potential downside. Unlike the trimester proposal, this one seems to have a pretty demonstrable upside – and clearly defined costs.

I am sensitive to Mr. Pieniazkiewicz’s concerns about the need for a Career Center Program and his worry that implementing this will make the Career program less likely to happen. I haven’t run into anyone who thinks the Career Center is a bad idea, so hopefully the Board can reach a consensus that this potential approach will not be abandoned. Even a resolution of intent would lay down a marker of commitment.

I do have some concerns, however. Even at full implementation, this program will involve a very small number of students. How will they be selected? Is this a test program, for possible expansion later – or is this as good as it gets?

I know that soon you will be taking up the matter of an Early College Program. Assuming you go forward with that, it will have the same dimensions – a very small student population, and the same questions.

From back here in the cheap seats, after adding the trimester proposal to the two aforementioned programs, this has a bit of a look of a shotgun approach. It’s not clear to me that there is an overall, unifying strategy to these moves. I’m hoping I’m wrong about that impression.

It would make sense to me if what you were doing was to shift emphases and eventually blend in the magnet concept into these new approaches as a system wide strategy. (This would need to include the Career Center component as well.)

For example, the jury is in on the Wilson LiPS Primary Center reading program. It should be the standard for the school corporation, and we should be working on making that happen. So I have some worries if the only thing we’re going to do is create small stand-alone programs that aren’t intended to add (at some point) to every student’s educational experience.

Ideally, you’d want the components of your strategy to complement each other. And you’d want it to be as easy as possible for a student who enrolls in an approach which proved unsuitable to him or her to fairly easily move into another one.

This means, in my opinion, that it is important to simplify rather than to complicate. So having one High School on a different scheduling regime than the others seems acutely unhelpful, in that regard.

I’m hoping through this process, the Board and the Administration can and will lay out their overall strategy for success. I believe that you are all good people trying to a very hard job and I also believe the community will support you – but it needs clear leadership and a clear direction.

Thank you.

Celebrating the not yet completed life of Forrest Church - part 2

Selecting which words of Reverend Church’s to include in this service presented the same problem one runs into with any feast. To get us started though, I’ve taken him at his word. Hopefully, my meaning will be become plain later on.

What follows are excerpts from his “Love and Death” sermon delivered fifty-two Sundays ago at All Souls. Video of the complete sermon part 1 and part 2

“Although I have delivered some thousand sermons on almost as many discrete topics, one way or another each circles back to a single theme. This tendency, I’m told, is not uncommon. Every minister worth his or her salt has one great sermon in them. It’s no wonder that we return time and again to its familiar music and uplifting chords… Whether great or no, my recurring sermon … is rich with mystery. Time and again, I return to the abiding themes of love and death.”

“We are never closer than when we ponder the great mystery that beats at the heart of our shared being.”

“When grandparents, parents, even children died at home, death was an inescapable presence in our lives. Today, shielded from intimacy with death by the cold, mechanically invasive and antiseptic chambers of hospitals, we lose touch with how natural, even sacramental, death can be. If we insulate ourselves from death we lose something precious, a sense of life that does know death, that elevates human to humane, that reconciles human being with human loss.”

“The word human has a telling etymology: human, humane, humility, humus. Dust to dust, the mortar of mortality binds us fast to one another. All true meaning is shared meaning.”

“I’ve often said that I didn’t become a minister until I performed my first funeral. When death or dying comes calling at the door, like a bracing wind it clears our being of pettiness. It connects us to others. More alert to life’s fragility, we reawaken to life’s preciousness. To be fully human is to care, and attending to death prompts the most eloquent form of caring imaginable.”

“At every deathbed, the light that shines is framed by darkness. When those we love die, a part of us dies with them. When those we love are sick, we too feel the pain. Yet all of this is worth it. Especially the pain. Grief and death are sacraments, or can be. A sacrament symbolizes communion, the act of bringing us together. To comfort another is to bring her our strength. To console is to be with him in his aloneness. To commiserate is to share her pain.”

“The act of releasing a loved one from all further obligations as he lies dying — to tell him it’s all right, that he is safe, that we love him and he can go now — is life’s most perfect gift, the final expression of unconditional love.

We let go for dear life…”
“…Yet, how do we respond, when we get a terminal sentence? Far too often with, ‘What did I do to deserve this?’”

“’Nothing.’ The answer is, ‘Nothing.’ Against unimaginable odds, we have been given something that we didn’t deserve at all, the gift of life, with death as our birthright.”

“For us to be here in the first place, for us to earn the privilege of dying, more than a billion billion accidents took place. All our ancestors lived to puberty, coupled, and gave birth. Not just our parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents. Take it all the way back to the beginning, beyond the first Homo sapiens back to the ur-paramecium. Even the one in a million sperm’s connection with the equally unique egg is nothing compared to everything else that happened from the beginning of time until now to make it possible for us to be here.”

“What does this mean? Astoundingly, unbelievably, it means that we have been in utero from the beginning of the creation. We can trace ourselves back, genetically, to the very beginning of time. The universe was pregnant with us when it was born. What a luxury we enjoy, wondering what will happen after we die…”

FP morning post 2/10

Top Story

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden's speech at the Munich Security Conference this weekend appears to have been well-received by European leaders. In particular, his pledge to "press the reset button" on U.S.-Russia relations was welcomed by Russia's deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov.

Unfortunately for the Obama administration's boosters in Europe, as the Financial Times editorializes, "U.S. re-engagement comes at a price: they must be prepared to share more of the burden of troubleshooting around the world. Above all, that means in Afghanistan, where NATO is facing a test of its very existence..."

Gen. David Petraeus and special envoy to Afghanistan Richard Holbrooke also echoed Biden's call for a greater NATO commitment in Afghanistan. Holbrooke predicted the conflict would be “much tougher than Iraq.” NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer backed up his U.S. counterparts by calling on European countries to "share the heavy lifting." How countries like Germany and France will respond to this call is still unclear. Their leaders mostly dodged the issue at the conference.

Middle East
Former President Mohammed Khatami announced that he will challenge Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Iran's presidential elections in June.
U.S. war planners have developed three timelines for pulling out of Iraq.
Israeli aircraft bombed two targets in Gaza in response to ongoing rocket attacks.

Asia and Pacific
Kyrgyzstan's parliament has delayed a decision on closing the United States' Manas airbase, allowing time for more negotiation. A U.S. general said operations in Afghanistan would not be seriously affected by the closure of the base.
South Korea seems unperturbed by the North's recent saber-rattling.
Over 100 people have been killed by brushfires in Australia.

Barack Obama is hitting the road to sell his stimulus plan to the American public.
Mexican drug cartels have begun hijacking police radio frequencies to deliver death threats.
Holocaust-denying bishop Richard Williamson was removed as the head of a seminary in Argentina.

A car bomb believed to be planted by Basque-separatist group ETA exploded near Madrid.
Ukraine's government is asking for emergency loans.
A new German economy minister will be appointed today.

Ongoing rioting in Madagascar has led to the resignation of the country's defense minister.
South Africa's high court ruled that citizens living abroad should be allowed to vote, possibly delaying this spring's presidential elections.
Somalia's new president arrived in the capital, greeted by cheering crowds but also mortar fire.

The destructive Center

New York Times

What do you call someone who eliminates hundreds of thousands of American jobs, deprives millions of adequate health care and nutrition, undermines schools, but offers a $15,000 bonus to affluent people who flip their houses?

A proud centrist. For that is what the senators who ended up calling the tune on the stimulus bill just accomplished.

Even if the original Obama plan — around $800 billion in stimulus, with a substantial fraction of that total given over to ineffective tax cuts — had been enacted, it wouldn’t have been enough to fill the looming hole in the U.S. economy, which the Congressional Budget Office estimates will amount to $2.9 trillion over the next three years.

Yet the centrists did their best to make the plan weaker and worse.

One of the best features of the original plan was aid to cash-strapped state governments, which would have provided a quick boost to the economy while preserving essential services. But the centrists insisted on a $40 billion cut in that spending.

The original plan also included badly needed spending on school construction; $16 billion of that spending was cut. It included aid to the unemployed, especially help in maintaining health care — cut. Food stamps — cut. All in all, more than $80 billion was cut from the plan, with the great bulk of those cuts falling on precisely the measures that would do the most to reduce the depth and pain of this slump.

On the other hand, the centrists were apparently just fine with one of the worst provisions in the Senate bill, a tax credit for home buyers. Dean Baker of the Center for Economic Policy Research calls this the “flip your house to your brother” provision: it will cost a lot of money while doing nothing to help the economy.

All in all, the centrists’ insistence on comforting the comfortable while afflicting the afflicted will, if reflected in the final bill, lead to substantially lower employment and substantially more suffering.

But how did this happen? I blame President Obama’s belief that he can transcend the partisan divide — a belief that warped his economic strategy.

After all, many people expected Mr. Obama to come out with a really strong stimulus plan, reflecting both the economy’s dire straits and his own electoral mandate.

Instead, however, he offered a plan that was clearly both too small and too heavily reliant on tax cuts. Why? Because he wanted the plan to have broad bipartisan support, and believed that it would. Not long ago administration strategists were talking about getting 80 or more votes in the Senate.

Mr. Obama’s postpartisan yearnings may also explain why he didn’t do something crucially important: speak forcefully about how government spending can help support the economy. Instead, he let conservatives define the debate, waiting until late last week before finally saying what needed to be said — that increasing spending is the whole point of the plan.

And Mr. Obama got nothing in return for his bipartisan outreach. Not one Republican voted for the House version of the stimulus plan, which was, by the way, better focused than the original administration proposal.

In the Senate, Republicans inveighed against “pork” — although the wasteful spending they claimed to have identified (much of it was fully justified) was a trivial share of the bill’s total. And they decried the bill’s cost — even as 36 out of 41 Republican senators voted to replace the Obama plan with $3 trillion, that’s right, $3 trillion in tax cuts over 10 years.

So Mr. Obama was reduced to bargaining for the votes of those centrists. And the centrists, predictably, extracted a pound of flesh — not, as far as anyone can tell, based on any coherent economic argument, but simply to demonstrate their centrist mojo. They probably would have demanded that $100 billion or so be cut from anything Mr. Obama proposed; by coming in with such a low initial bid, the president guaranteed that the final deal would be much too small.

Such are the perils of negotiating with yourself.

Now, House and Senate negotiators have to reconcile their versions of the stimulus, and it’s possible that the final bill will undo the centrists’ worst. And Mr. Obama may be able to come back for a second round. But this was his best chance to get decisive action, and it fell short.

So has Mr. Obama learned from this experience? Early indications aren’t good.

For rather than acknowledge the failure of his political strategy and the damage to his economic strategy, the president tried to put a postpartisan happy face on the whole thing. “Democrats and Republicans came together in the Senate and responded appropriately to the urgency this moment demands,” he declared on Saturday, and “the scale and scope of this plan is right.”

No, they didn’t, and no, it isn’t.

Truthout 2/9

President Seeks Grassroots Support for Stimulus
Mark S. Smith, The Associated Press: "Campaigning for action in the most dire terms, President Barack Obama said Monday that if Congress does not quickly pass an economic stimulus package, the nation will slip into a crisis so deep that 'we may be unable to reverse' it. 'We can't afford to wait. We can't wait to see and hope for the best,' Obama said in Elkhart, Indiana, a community reeling in job losses during the recession that has defined Obama's young presidency. 'We can't posture and bicker and resort to the same failed ideas that got us in into this mess in the first place.'"

US Using British Atomic Weapons Factory for Its Nuclear Program
Matthew Taylor and Richard Norton-Taylor, The Guardian UK: "The US military has been using Britain's atomic weapons factory to carry out research into its own nuclear warhead program, according to evidence seen by the Guardian. US defense officials said that 'very valuable' warhead research has taken place at the Atomic Weapons Establishment at Aldermaston in Berkshire as part of an ongoing and secretive deal between the British and American governments. The Ministry of Defence admitted it is working with the US on the UK's 'existing nuclear warhead stockpile and the range of replacement options that might be available' but declined to give any further information."

Ted Kennedy Ready to Cast Key Vote for Economic Stimulus, Senators Say
Alan K. Ota and Kathleen Hunter, Congressional Quarterly: "Ailing Massachusetts Sen. Edward M. Kennedy has returned to the Washington area and is waiting to cast a potentially decisive vote to advance the Democratic majority's economic stimulus package, according to several Democratic senators. Kennedy, 76, arrived on Friday from Florida, where he had been recuperating since suffering a seizure during an Inauguration Day luncheon in the Capitol's Statuary Hall."

Help for the Homeowners?
NOW: "Across the country, cities are in crisis because of the fallout from the mortgage mess - property taxes are way down, and abandoned homes are bringing down property values, inviting crime, and draining government coffers. Neighborhoods are being destroyed. Yet the federal bailout money is not going directly to desperate communities and homeowners, but to local and national banks."

Fires, Floods Pressure Australian Government on Climate
James Grubel, Reuters: "Australia's deadliest wildfires increased pressure on the national government to take firm action on climate change on Monday as scientists said global warming likely contributed to conditions that fuelled the disaster. At least 130 people were killed in wildfires, set off by a record heatwave in southern Victoria state over the past week days, while large areas of Queensland state remain flooded by tropical downpours."

Job Losses Continue at Accelerated Pace
Heather Boushey, The Center for American Progress: "January was a dismal month for U.S. workers: Employers shed 598,000 jobs and the unemployment rate jumped to 7.6 percent. The economy has lost 3.6 million jobs since the recession began in December 2007 and 1.8 million jobs just over the past three months. The United States has not seen job losses of this magnitude over a three-month period since 1945. The spike in unemployment in January brings the total number of people out of work to 11.6 million - 4.1 million more than a year ago."

West Africa: Female Genital Mutilation Knows No Borders
Mercedes Sayagues, Inter Press Service: "Laws against female genital mutilation are driving the practice underground and across borders, says UNIFEM. A study released in 2008 looked at the flow of girls traveling to be excised between Burkina Faso and its neighbours Mali, Niger, Ghana and Cote d' Ivoire. Except Mali, all four countries in the study have laws against female genital mutilation (FGM), although enforcement varies widely."

US Blacks Continue to Bear the Brunt of HIV/AIDS
Reuters: "In the United States, African-American men and women continue to be disproportionately affected by HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases noted in a statement issued to coincide with the 9th annual National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day on February 7. According to Dr. Anthony Fauci, African-Americans make up 12 percent of the U.S. population but account for nearly half of all new HIV infections and almost half of all Americans living with HIV."

Lisa Guernsey Hard Realities for Early Head Start
Lisa Guernsey, The New America Foundation: "As the Senate debates whether to cut some Head Start funding from the stimulus package, let's zoom in on Early Head Start for a minute. Early Head Start has been shown to give children a significant boost in cognitive and social skills, according to solid, scientific research. Yet the program serves only 62,000 children nationwide."

Thomas Elias Case Threatens Voting Rights
Thomas Elias, The Long Beach Press-Telegram: "Check last fall's election results in the contest for a spot on the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors, and you'll see that retired businesswoman Doreen Farr won a seat by just 806 votes over Steve Pappas, president of a local school board in the Santa Ynez Valley near Solvang. That race would normally have remained obscure and inconsequential outside the county, where environmental issues are often the biggest bones of contention in local politics. But Pappas has turned his defeat into a lawsuit that could threaten voting integrity across California."

Dean Baker New Thinking on the Economy
Dean Baker, Truthout: "It does require that government take an active role in the economy, but it is already taking an active role in the economy in these areas. The difference is that, currently, the conservatives have been setting these rules, while progressives have been polite enough not to pay attention. Instead, they have mostly focused their energy on matters that will have far less impact. The economic crisis brought on by the collapse of the housing bubble offers progressives unprecedented opportunities. But we have to be prepared to actually think big, and not just think about big programs."

Tough Math Ahead for Obama, Stimulus Plan
John Hendren, ABC News: "President Obama returned from his first getaway to Camp David on Sunday to face an urgent priority: pressuring Congress to avert a stimulus stalemate. The Senate is poised to pass a compromise $827 billion version as soon as Tuesday. The legislation would have to be reconciled with the very different $819 billion version already approved by the House. Some economists question whether either is enough."

Obama's NSC Will Get New Power
Karen DeYoung, The Washington Post: "President Obama plans to order a sweeping overhaul of the National Security Council, expanding its membership and increasing its authority to set strategy across a wide spectrum of international and domestic issues. The result will be a 'dramatically different' NSC from that of the Bush administration or any of its predecessors since the forum was established after World War II to advise the president on diplomatic and military matters, according to national security adviser James L. Jones, who described the changes in an interview."

Rebecca Solnit The Icelandic Volcano Erupts: Can a Hedge-Fund Island Lose Its Shirt and Gain Its Soul?
Rebecca Solnit, "In December, reports surfaced that Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson pushed his Wall Street bailout package by suggesting that, without it, civil unrest in the United States might grow so dangerous that martial law would have to be declared. Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), warned of the same risk of riots, wherever the global economy was hurting. What really worried them wasn't, I suspect, the possibility of a lot of people thronging the streets with demands for social and political change, but that some of those demands might actually be achieved."

United on Climate Change: Obama's Chinese Revolution
Geoffrey Lean, The Independent UK: "Barack Obama is to invite China to join the United States in an effort by the world's two biggest polluters to stop global warming running out of control. Hillary Clinton, his Secretary of State, is to raise the prospect of a 'strong, constructive partnership' to combat climate change on a visit to Beijing next week, and the President is seriously considering a proposal from many of his most senior advisers to hold a summit with the Chinese leadership to launch the plan."

Who Gets What: Billions to Colleges and Students
Justin Pope, The Associated Press: "The stimulus plan emerging in Washington could offer an unprecedented, multibillion-dollar boost in financial help for college students trying to pursue a degree while they ride out the recession. It could also hand out billions to the states to kick-start idled campus construction projects and help prevent tuition increases at a time when families can least afford them."

Sunday, February 8, 2009

What the centrists have wrought

Paul Krugman
New York Times

I’m still working on the numbers, but I’ve gotten a fair number of requests for comment on the Senate version of the stimulus.

The short answer: to appease the centrists, a plan that was already too small and too focused on ineffective tax cuts has been made significantly smaller, and even more focused on tax cuts.

According to the CBO’s estimates, we’re facing an output shortfall of almost 14% of GDP over the next two years, or around $2 trillion. Others, such as Goldman Sachs, are even more pessimistic. So the original $800 billion plan was too small, especially because a substantial share consisted of tax cuts that probably would have added little to demand. The plan should have been at least 50% larger.

Now the centrists have shaved off $86 billion in spending — much of it among the most effective and most needed parts of the plan. In particular, aid to state governments, which are in desperate straits, is both fast — because it prevents spending cuts rather than having to start up new projects — and effective, because it would in fact be spent; plus state and local governments are cutting back on essentials, so the social value of this spending would be high. But in the name of mighty centrism, $40 billion of that aid has been cut out.

My first cut says that the changes to the Senate bill will ensure that we have at least 600,000 fewer Americans employed over the next two years.

The real question now is whether Obama will be able to come back for more once it’s clear that the plan is way inadequate. My guess is no. This is really, really bad.

The not yet completed life of Forrest Church - part 1

Don Wheeler
This is the first installment in a short series. The service was held at First Unitarian Church of South Bend today.

Who is F.F. Church?

Reverend Forrest Church was born Frank Forrester Church. The name likely surprised no one – as he put it:

“In the naming of children, for instance, the Church family lacks imagination. Those of you who have heard me allude to my father, grandfather, great-grandfather or son will remember that all the males in our family bear the first name Frank. Some of us are called by our middle name. This is usually Forrester but it sometimes is Pharcellus.”

His father, of course, was Senator Frank Church of Idaho – a tireless critic of the Vietnam War and the first candidate for President I advocated for as a person of voting age. Forrest had a role in his father’s abbreviated campaign, and it led him to have to make a crucial life decision. He says:

“I was invited to come back and run the Carter campaign in Nebraska and stay on with the state democratic committee and maybe run for Congress. And I went back and forth between going back to Harvard and finishing my doctorate, which -- and they weren't paying much attention to me back there, and I was getting all kinds of strokes from the political folks. And I talked to my dad, and he said, ‘In my book, you finish what you start, and then you can make your decision.’

It's the best decision I ever made, because in some ways if I had followed in his footsteps, I would have taken the elevator to the 14th floor, and stumbled on the 16th, on the way to the top, whereas I had to do what he did. I had to start in the subbasement, learn my craft…”

So Forrest Church became a Unitarian Minister – and if I’m a betting man, the community of All Souls Church in New York City is rather appreciative of his decision.

Reverend Church gave a sermon last Fall which outlined in great detail the history of All Souls on the occasion of their 189th anniversary. There was much of value for other congregations (like ours), but I realized that I hadn’t known that when Reverend Church was called to All Souls in 1978, he addressed congregations only slightly larger than our own. The professional staff consisted of Forrest and part-time directors of religious education and of music. Today, of course, All Souls is the largest Unitarian/Universalist congregation in the country. And in 2008 he was honored with the Award for Distinguished Service to the Cause of Unitarian Universalism. Here’s a quote from the ceremony:

“It's fair to say that he (Reverend Church) has been a contemporary version of 19th-century ministers such as Channing and Parker, who preached vital sermons to vital congregations while advancing liberal theology. Forrest's address, ‘Our Universalist Mission: Proclaiming a Theology for the 21st Century,’ presented at the 2001 General Assembly in Cleveland, was such an advance that Gary Dorrien of Union Theological Seminary dwelled on it in his definitive work, The Making of American Liberal Theology, 1950-2005.”

If UUs have a rock star – Forrest Church is ours. The author of 14 books, frequent guest on NPR, he is our most visible spokesperson. In fact, it strikes me that he must be THE prototypical UU rock star: humble, generous, calm, and a deep thinker.

But, fifty-two Sundays ago, Forrest Church stood in the pulpit of All Souls Church – a building whose interior is strikingly similar to that of the church I attended as a child – and conveyed some terrible news:

Dear Friends,

After enjoying a year of fine health, this past Thursday I learned that my
cancer had recurred, having spread to my lungs and liver. There is no
way to sugarcoat this news. I shall undergo a regimen of chemotherapy,
more for palliative than curative reasons, but must face the certainty that
my cancer is terminal and the great likelihood that my future will be
measured in months not years.

You have accompanied me on this journey from its beginning. What a
comfort that has been. In matters of mortality, we are all companions
(the word means, “those who break bread together”). From its very
beginning, our repast has been a feast.

Happily, we have not yet lost him. And so we celebrate.

Truthout 2/8

Dahr Jamail Full Circle
Dahr Jamail, Truthout: "Among things that have not changed in Iraq is one that I hope never changes. After a four-year-long absence, each of my meetings here with former friends and fresh acquaintances seems to suggest that adversity has taken its toll on everything except Iraqi hospitality and Iraqi generosity."

Biden Urges Fresh Start With Iran, Russia
Craig Whitlock, The Washington Post: "Vice President Joe Biden held out an olive branch Saturday to Iran and Russia, and reassured European allies that the Obama administration would treat them as equals but emphasized that 'America will ask its partners to do more as well.'"

Doctors: Under the Drug Industry's Influence?
Julie Steenhuysen, Reuters: "Reports of undisclosed financial ties between researchers and drugmakers have eroded public confidence, and restoring it will require an end to some 'free' perks, health policy experts said on Tuesday. Doctors may have to give up not just pens and prescription pads, but cozy seminars put on by drug companies in the guise of education, while the companies may need to give up direct-to-consumer ads, the experts wrote in a series of commentaries in the British Medical Journal."

The Credit Crunch According to Soros
Chrystia Freeland, The Financial Times: "On Friday, August 17, 2007, 21 of Wall Street's most influential investors met for lunch at George Soros's Southampton estate on the eastern end of Long Island. The first tremors of what would become the global credit crunch had rippled out a week or so earlier, when the French bank BNP Paribas froze withdrawals from three of its funds, and in response, central bankers made a huge injection of liquidity into the money markets in an effort to keep the world's banks lending to one another."

A Protected Forest's Fast Decline
Joshua Partlow, The Washington Post: "Antonio Elson Portela had already passed acres of charred stumps and rows of corn and coffee plants when he drove up behind a flatbed truck hauling logs out of this Amazonian forest. It was yet another affront to Portela, an environmental official responsible for protecting this rapidly dwindling national forest from settlers and loggers, but both Portela and the truck driver knew where things stood."

FOCUS Regulators Close Three More US Banks
Reuters: "Regulators closed banks on Friday in Georgia and California, bringing the total of US bank failures to nine this year. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp said County Bank of Merced, California, was closed by the California Department of Financial Institutions, and the FDIC was appointed as a receiver."

FOCUS KBR Wins Contract Despite Criminal Probe of Deaths
Kimberly Hefling, The Associated Press: "Defense contractor KBR Inc. has been awarded a $35 million Pentagon contract involving major electrical work, even as it is under criminal investigation in the electrocution deaths of at least two US soldiers in Iraq."

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Truthout 2/7

AP CEO Urges Better Press Access to Military Ops
John Hanna, The Associated Press: "The Bush administration turned the US military into a global propaganda machine while imposing tough restrictions on journalists seeking to give the public truthful reports about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Associated Press chief executive Tom Curley said Friday."

Nuclear Scientist A.Q. Khan Is Freed From House Arrest
Joby Warrick, The Washington Post: "Early yesterday, the Pakistani scientist at the center of one of history's worst nuclear scandals walked out of his Islamabad villa to declare his vindication after five years of house arrest. 'The judgment, by the grace of God, is good,' a smiling Abdul Qadeer Khan told a throng of reporters and TV crews. Moments earlier, a Pakistani court had ordered the release of the metallurgist who had famously admitted selling nuclear secrets to Iran, Libya and North Korea. Through years of legal limbo, Khan, 72, had never been charged, and now he never will be. 'The so-called A.Q. Khan affair is a closed chapter,' a Pakistani government spokesman said."

Obama: US Needs Clear Mission in Afghanistan
Reuters: "US President Barack Obama on Thursday expressed concerns about the difficulty of maintaining a focused military mission in Afghanistan as his administration prepares a troop buildup there, sources at a Democratic meeting said. Obama was addressing House of Representatives Democrats on the first day of a three-day retreat here. Following a speech that focused on the domestic economy, Obama took questions from the lawmakers during a short, private session."

Obama Team Revisits Bush-Era Decisions on Car Exhaust and Mercury Emissions
Suzanne Goldenberg, The Guardian UK: "Barack Obama put the teeth back in America's environmental protection regime today, revisiting two widely criticised decisions from the George Bush era on car exhaust and mercury emissions. Lisa Jackson, the head of the environmental protection agency, told a conference that the Obama administration now would not stand in the way of a decision from a New Jersey court requiring coal and oil-fired power plants to install more stringent mercury controls."

New RNC Chairman's Campaign Spending Questioned
Henri E. Cauvin, The Washington Post: "Michael S. Steele, the newly elected chairman of the Republican National Committee, arranged for his 2006 Senate campaign to pay a defunct company run by his sister for services that were never performed, his finance chairman from that campaign has told federal prosecutors."

David Korten Beyond the Bailout: Agenda for a New Economy
David Korten, YES! Magazine: "The financial crisis has put to rest the myths that our economic institutions are sound and markets work best when deregulated. Our economic institutions have failed, not only financially, but also socially and environmentally. This, combined with the election of a new president with a mandate for change, creates an opportune moment to rethink and redesign."

FOCUS: Michael Winship Get Away From Those Spinning Doors
Michael Winship, Truthout: "Not even three weeks in office and President Barack Obama is discovering that being in charge is no bed of roses, even when you have a garden of them just outside your Oval Office windows. February's frost has bitten a bit of the bloom off the new president's aspirations as the swamp of hypocrisy and partisan inertia that is Beltway Washington took its toll."

FOCUS Senators Reach Deal to Cut Stimulus Bill to $780B
Andrew Taylor, The Associated Press: "With job losses soaring nationwide, Senate Democrats reached agreement with a small group of Republicans Friday night on an economic stimulus measure at the heart of President Barack Obama's plan for combatting the worst recession in decades."

Friday, February 6, 2009

Repower America 2/6

Some of the most effective measures for Repowering America in the economic recovery package are coming under attack. And when the Senate votes as early as later today, we know one of your senators -- among just a handful -- will cast crucial votes.

Will you take a minute and call your senator now? There is no time to waste.Senator Lugar's phone:
(202) 224-4814

Leave a message and let your senator know: "As a constituent, I urge you to champion clean energy and green jobs in the economic recovery bill."

Then, let us know you called here:
Investments in clean energy are some of the most effective ones our country can be making now. But there have been surprising attacks in the national news.One senator questioned a measure in the stimulus that upgrades federal government buildings, even though these upgrades will reduce the energy bill of the biggest energy consumer in the nation (a bill taxpayers pick up).

A different senator recently argued that the recovery should invest more in dirty fossil fuels like oil and gas -- even though investments in renewable energy projects create three to five times as many jobs as ones in fossil fuels.

These attacks are picking up. As an Indiana resident, you -- more than We Campaign members in most other states -- have the ability to defend the measures that will help keep Repower America in the recovery.Take a moment, and make a call today.

Thanks,Cathy Zoi

P.S. Please forward this message to everyone you know who shares your concern for getting our country back on track.

FP morning report 2/6

Top Story

Foreign-policy watchers have been told to expect a major address from U.S. Vice President Joseph Biden at this weekend's Munich Security Conference.

"Stay tuned," a senior administration official told the New York Times' Helene Cooper. "It will be dramatic."
The key issue to watch? How the Obama administration will handle a potential brewing spat with Russia over U.S. basing rights in Kyrgyzstan, a key link in the U.S. logistical chain for Afghanistan. U.S. officials are scrambling for alternatives amid a rapidly deteriorating security situation in South Asia. More on that here.

Craig Whitlock previews another possible flashpoint at the conference: between the United States and its European allies over their contributions to the fight in Afghanistan.

Also attending: national security advisor Gen. James L. Jones, South Asia envoy Richard Holbrooke; Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg, and Centcom commander Gen. David H. Petraeus. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will be departing for her own trip abroad, to Asia, on Feb. 15.

Senate Democrats hope to pass the economic stimulus bill today.
U.S. President Barack Obama meets with victims of the 9/11 attacks.
The last politician thought to be held by the FARC has been released.
Iran is "pouring millions of dollars into Bolivia," according to the Miami Herald.

Middle East
"Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's strong performance in Iraq's provincial elections was also a victory for American goals," according to the Washington Post.
But others, including FP's own Marc Lynch, have a few concerns. "The elections have created new problems that need to be recognized and dealt with," Lynch writes.
With four days to go before the Israeli elections, the Kadima and Likud parties are virtually tied in the latest Haaretz poll.

Civilians are fleeing a battle zone where the Sri Lankan government claims it has encircled the Tamil Tiger rebels.
A.Q. Khan, Pakistan's "rogue" nuclear scientist, says he's been granted more freedom. The FT has more.
ABC News reports that U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates "has deferred a much-anticipated decision on sending additional troops into Afghanistan until President Obama decides what force levels he wants."
Japan's infrastructure spending in the 1990s, intended to stimulate a stagnating economy, offers a cautionary tale for the Obama administration.

Britain's central bank cut interest rates Thursday to 1 percent.
The trial for the sensational murder of Meredith Kercher, an English student living in Italy before her death in November 2007, began Thursday.

Truthout 2/6

Panetta: Obama Won't O.K. "Extraordinary Rendition"
Pamela Hess, The Associated Press: "CIA Director nominee Leon Panetta assured senators Thursday that the Obama administration will not send prisoners to countries for torture or other treatment that violates US values as he contended had occurred during the Bush presidency. Panetta said that President Barack Obama forbids what Panetta called 'that kind of extraordinary rendition - when we send someone for the purpose of torture or actions by another country that violate our human values.'"

Watchdogs: Government Overpaid for Wall Street Assets
Kevin G. Hall and Greg Gordon, McClatchy Newspapers: "The federal government overpaid by about $78 billion for stock and other troubled assets when it bailed out big banks last year, and it lacks sufficient internal controls to police and protect taxpayers' investment in the institutions, government watchdogs said Thursday. The new special inspector general for the bailout effort, formally called the Troubled Asset Relief Program, issued his first report Thursday and said that the Treasury Department needs to put more safeguards in place to protect taxpayers."

Army Reports Alarming Spike in Suicides Last Month
Pauline Jelinek, The Associated Press: "The Army is investigating an unexplained and stunning spike in suicides in January. The count is likely to surpass the number of combat deaths reported last month by all branches of the armed forces in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere in the fight against terrorism. 'In January, we lost more soldiers to suicide than to al-Qaida,' said Paul Rieckhoff, director of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. He urged 'bold and immediate action' by the departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs."

Philip Brenner and Saul Landau Farewell, Monroe Doctrine
Philip Brenner and Saul Landau, Foreign Policy in Focus: "President Barack Obama could swiftly improve US relations with Latin America by announcing the death of the Monroe Doctrine and then presiding over its funeral. Such a statement would cost him little domestically, and win him praise and appreciation throughout Latin America and much of the world. Most Americans don't know the details of this 185-year-old policy and could care less about it. Latin Americans, in contrast, not only can describe the Monroe Doctrine, but they revile it. In effect, it has become nothing more than hollow rhetoric that offends the very people it purports to defend."

Last Guantanamo Trial Is Halted
BBC News: "The judge in charge of the Guantanamo Bay hearings has ordered an end to the last trial there, the Pentagon says. Judge Susan Crawford made the decision days after Judge James Pohl had refused a request from President Barack Obama to suspend all hearings."

Obama Administration Moves to Heal Rift With Europe
Ross Colvin, Reuters: "US Vice President Joe Biden will seek to break with the unilateralist tilt of the Bush years by emphasizing cooperation and diplomacy in a major weekend foreign policy speech in Germany, US officials said. His remarks on Saturday to the Munich Security Conference, a gathering of defense and security experts, will be scrutinized for more details on the new administration's policies on Russia, Afghanistan, the Middle East and NATO expansion."

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Rod must have trouble walkin'...

FP morning post 2/5

Top Story

Official results from Iraq's provincial election are due to be released today, but the initial optimism they brought on is already beginning to fade. Fifteen people were killed by a suicide bomber in northeastern Iraq today, one of the worst attacks in recent days.

Claims of widespread fraud in the Iraqi election are being investigated, as Sunni tribal leaders claim they have hundreds of documents proving irregularities. In Anbar province, Sunni leaders are promising violent reprisals if they do not win at the ballot box.

Allies of prime minister Nuri al-Maliki and secularist are parties are still expected to win big.

Middle East
FP's Laura Rozen has reaction from Gen. Anthony Zinni on being passed over for the Iraq ambassador's job.
Israel has seized a ship carrying aid to Gaza.

The U.S. senate has agreed to water down the "Buy American" provisions in the stimulus bill after pressure from the White House.
The recently enacted U.S.-Peru trade pact has gone into effect.
Cancun's top antidrug official was killed after less than one day on the job.

British judges say they've been pressured by the U.S. to suppress evidence about the torture of a prisoner at Guantanamo Bay.
Pope Benedict XVI now says excommunicated bishop Richard Williamson must recant his beliefs about the Holocaust is he is to be reinstated.
Croatia's planned entry into the E.U. this year may be threatened by an ongoing border dispute with Croatia.

The Kyrgyz parliament will vote next week on whether to shut down a U.S. airbase.
A drought in northern China has been declared an emergency.
Sri Lanka's president says the country's military is poised to "decisively defeat" the Tamil Tiger rebels.

The Ukrainian ship carrying weapons which was captured by Somali pirates in September has been released.
Five Sudanese men were charged with murdering a U.S. aid worker and his driver.
New African Union chair Muammar al-Qaddafi said that African democracy inevitably leads to bloodshed.

Truthout 2/5

Ginsburg Has Pancreatic Cancer
The Associated Press: "Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg had surgery Thursday after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, the court said."

Barack Obama The Action Americans Need
Barack Obama, The Washington Post: "By now, it's clear to everyone that we have inherited an economic crisis as deep and dire as any since the days of the Great Depression. Millions of jobs that Americans relied on just a year ago are gone; millions more of the nest eggs families worked so hard to build have vanished. People everywhere are worried about what tomorrow will bring. What Americans expect from Washington is action that matches the urgency they feel in their daily lives - action that's swift, bold and wise enough for us to climb out of this crisis."

Dr. Wilmer J. Leon III RNC Chairman Michael Steele: Old Republican Wine in New Bottles?
Dr. Wilmer J. Leon III, Truthout: "RNC Chairman Steele's failure to articulate any substantive policy changes, his dishonesty during his failed 2006 Senate race, and his failure to condemn obvious sophomoric, ignorant if not bigoted actions and statements by fellow powerful Republicans indicate that going forward it will be the same ole' GOP. You can laugh at the Republican political minstrelsy if you like, but there's not a damn thing funny; the joke's on you. Again, it's just old wine in new bottles."

Evidence of Torture "Buried by Ministers"
Richard Norton-Taylor, The Guardian UK: "The government was accused last night of hiding behind claims of a threat to national security to suppress evidence of torture by the CIA on a prisoner still held in Guantanamo Bay. An unprecedented high court ruling yesterday blamed the US, with British connivance, for keeping the 'powerful evidence' secret, sparking criticism from lawyers, campaigners and MPs, who claimed the government had capitulated to American bullying."

Deluge Is Holding Up Benefits to Unemployed
Chris L. Jenkins, The Washington Post: "Thousands of people in the Washington area and hundreds of thousands more across the country are waiting longer than they should for unemployment benefits at a time when they need the money the most because rising joblessness is overwhelming claims offices, records show. The problem is compounded by a simultaneous decrease in federal funding, which has reduced staffing at some local government offices. The result is that the District and many states, including Maryland and Virginia, are failing to meet federal guidelines that require timely processing of unemployment claims, appeals and benefit payments, the records show."

Deadly Bombing at Iraq Restaurant
BBC News: "At least 12 people have been killed in a suicide bomb attack on a restaurant in north-eastern Iraq. The attack took place in Khanaqin, Diyala province, a town close to the semi-autonomous Kurdish region and near the border with Iran."

The Chronicles of Favilla At the End of One America
Authors writing as the Chronicles of Favilla for France's premier business paper, Les Echos: "The world still only has eyes for Obama. This fascination may irritate, but it is understandable ... it's a question of the immense challenge posed by the crisis and the ruins his predecessor left him. In other words, people are fixated on whether the United States will be able to continue to play the role it has held for decades. And, in all likelihood, the answer is no."

Steve Weissman Afghanistan: Losing a No-Win War
Steve Weissman, Truthout: "I could go on, but it all boils down to the one lesson of Vietnam that Robert Gates and his Pentagon brass do not want to accept - that Afghans, Pakistanis, Iraqis and other people in Asia, Africa and Latin America will no longer accept the United States and Europe occupying and running their countries. Counter-insurgency can prolong the pain, but it will never overcome the anti-colonial dynamic, as the British Empire, the French Empire and others all learned before us."

Dispute Mounts Over Key US Base in Kyrgyzstan
Ellen Barry and Michael Schwirtz, The New York Times: "The Kyrgyz Parliament will vote Friday on a measure that will close a key United States military base, potentially jeopardizing NATO supply lines to Afghanistan, the Kyrgyz government said Wednesday. But American diplomats and military officials in the region said negotiations on the base's future were continuing. A Kyrgyz statement released Wednesday argued that the American mission in Afghanistan had outlasted its original goals, saying that the terrorist threat had 'been removed,' and that NATO airstrikes in Afghanistan had caused an unacceptable rise in civilian casualties."

Salazar Scraps Sale of Oil and Gas Leases in Utah
Paul Foy, The Associated Press: "In a high-profile reversal of the Bush administration, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said Wednesday the government is scrapping the lease of 77 parcels of federal land for oil and gas drilling in Utah's redrock country. 'In the last weeks in office, the Bush administration rushed ahead to sell oil and gas leases near some of our nation's most precious landscapes in Utah,' Salazar said from Washington in a teleconference call with reporters. He ordered the Bureau of Land Management, which is part of the Interior Department, to not cash checks from winning bidders for parcels at issue in a lawsuit filed by environmental groups."

Robert Scheer Runaway Wall Street
Robert Scheer, Truthdig: "It is instructional that only one of the three tax-challenged Obama appointees has survived public scorn to claim a high position in the new administration. Oddly enough, it is Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, the man who will collect our taxes, whose career has not been stunted by his failure to pay them. What makes Geithner so special? The answer, provided by everyone from the president to the media pundits, is that his services are indispensable because he has the expertise in regulating markets needed to preside over the most massive government intervention in the economy. Are they kidding?"

Gary J. Aguirre SEC's Madoff Miss Fits Pattern Set With Pequot
Gary J. Aguirre, Bloomberg: "Errant Wall Street elite, such as Madoff, go up against the US Securities and Exchange Commission. Congress created the SEC in 1934 after Wall Street titans -- the Madoffs of 1929 --took the capital markets over a cliff with the economy in tow. The SEC was supposed to keep a watchful eye on Wall Street, especially its elite. So far, the SEC's six investigations of Madoff read more like Keystone Cops than Sherlock Holmes. The SEC didn't merely fail to spot and connect the clues. Someone else -- Harry Markopolos, a former money manager - did that work for it."

UN Says Cluster Bombs Being Used in Sri Lanka
Ravi Nessman, The Associated Press: "Unrelenting battles between Tamil rebels and Sri Lankan troops killed at least 52 civilians over the past day and cluster munitions were fired Wednesday just outside a hospital that has been battered by artillery strikes, the UN said. After days of shelling sent patients fleeing the Puthukkudiyiruppu hospital, the Red Cross evacuated the staff and wounded Wednesday, effectively closing the last remaining medical facility in the war zone, the aid group said."

Obama Views Children's Health Bill as Step One
Kevin Freking, The Associated Press: "President Barack Obama signed a bill Wednesday extending health coverage to 4 million uninsured children, a much-needed win a day after he lost his nominee to lead his drive for sweeping health care reform. 'This is good. This is good,' a smiling Obama said as he entered the East Room for the packed, ebullient signing ceremony. The bill went to the White House fresh from passage in the Democratic-controlled House, on a vote of 290-135. Forty Republicans joined in approval."

Struggle for gay civil rights continues despite oppression

Rick Leers
South Bend Tribune

Why do heterosexuals have lives and gays have lifestyles?

Why do heterosexuals have moral visions and gays have agendas?

Why do heterosexuals have relationships and gays have only sex?

Why is it that if gays have the right to marry, heterosexual men are going to want to have lots of wives or marry their pets?

During my lifetime it has been against the law for whites to marry blacks. Rape was rarely prosecuted, and when it was, the victim was put on trial and basically told that she was asking for it or that she should be ashamed because she was raped.

Girls who got pregnant were vilified and the boys who got them pregnant were patted on the back for sowing their wild oats, even after they refused to take responsibility. I could name names on that subject just from what I know from when I was in high school in the '70s.

It took some doing, but thinking on these issues changed. The silence has been shattered on many things once locked away behind closed doors.

It is obvious from the letters to this paper that nothing is going to suit some people unless gay people simply cease being gay. It doesn't even matter if they don't have sex.

It seems to be expected that gays are to live their lives in silent misery or try to change their entire being to suit others. Evidently they are supposed to be confirmed bachelors and spinsters so that the heterosexuals can get free baby-sitting.

The religious right keeps saying that being gay is some kind of choice, even though there is not one heterosexual who ever woke up one day and said he or she decided to be straight. There seems to be some kind of vested interest in making sure nobody believes gays are born gay. There is not one bit of evidence that gays are anything but born gay, despite what James Dobson and his Focus on the Family claims. Not one bit of their so-called scientific evidence is valid despite what they claim.

They skew the facts to suit their agenda and there are many real researchers and scientists who decry the use of their studies by the religious right when they are twisted to suit the right-wing Christian agenda to condemn gays. It was the Christian right that came up with the term "gay agenda."

Is it really moral to tell people whom you don't know that they are going to hell just because they are gay?

Is it right for you to teach your children it is OK to bully the child whom they might think is gay, or to think they have the right to hit or murder someone they perceive as being gay?

Are you doing the Lord's work by trying to deny employment or housing to gay people or the benefits to which you think you have some sort of entitlement?

The answer is a resounding no. Just as attitudes about miscegenation and misogynist attitudes have changed, so too should the unjustified vilification of gays, especially since the reasons for the first two are in the same book of the Bible used against gays.

(As for the Apostle Paul, he wasn't too fond of women, either, and most of what he wrote was to condemn sects with opposing views. Paul thought the second coming was going to arrive in his lifetime and didn't think anyone should have sex.)

Maybe we should start stoning people who eat shellfish and wear cotton and polyester blends or don't burn an animal to God in the correct way to please him. Maybe we should stone David Copperfield since magic is real according to the Bible and Copperfield is making money using it.

People like Patrick Mangan and his group, Citizens for Community Values, go on and on about the gays all the while ignoring the fact that the gays, if they have a business with employees, or own housing and rent, can't use the same biblical rules against heterosexual sinners.

The last time I looked, gays pay taxes. They are subsidizing heterosexuals without equal rights and representation and that is not the American way. With their taxes, gays are paying for your kids.

It is time to divorce religion from government and human rights. The supernatural has no place in human affairs. The arguments against gays are the same ones used to advocate slavery. Just like the slaves, gays are expected to accept that they are lesser humans and just sit back and take it.

As for those activist judges, they were the ones who said whites had the right to marry blacks and that heterosexual couples had the right to use birth control. All civil rights have been won in the courts.

Rick Leers lives in Niles.

Passing the Employee Free Choice Act

Across the nation, 1.5 million people have responded to our call, and thousands of workers are gathering on Capitol Hill today to deliver their message to Congress: Pass the Employee Free Choice Act so our economy works for everyone.

Joined by allies in Congress, workers are delivering dozens of boxes full of petitions collected by our affiliates and allies. We’ve never been stronger as a movement, and victory is in our sights. Big Business and their lobbyists in Washington are well aware of our growing strength, and they are fighting back with everything they’ve got.

They might have money and connections, but we have you. To help show our strength publicly across the Internet, we’re delivering our petitions online as well as offline with a new scrolling display of names. We began scrolling names of our supporters at noon today, and it will take more than 11 days to scroll through everyone’s name who signed the petition.

That’s a lot of names, but we need the list to grow even longer. Help grow our grassroots strength:
Join 1.5 million people, sign our petition today and help rebuild the middle class.

We all know the Employee Free Choice Act is critical to our economic recovery. Good union jobs helped build America’s middle class, and this legislation will rekindle the American Dream by leveling the playing field and empowering workers to form unions and bargain for a better life.

That’s why greedy CEOs are terrified of this bill, and they’re fighting it with every dirty tactic in the book, including misleading ads and shady front groups—all the more powerful due to their big budgets.

But we can win if enough of us get involved. In the coming months, we will join together and make calls to Congress, write letters and even participate in meetings at the home offices of members of Congress. If millions of people collectively declare their support for the Employee Free Choice Act, no amount of corporate money can silence us.
Sign our petition today, add your name to our list and help rebuild the middle class.

We’ll keep you posted on how you can help once the bill is introduced and as the vote gets closer. Thank you once again for being part of this fight.

In solidarity,
Working America, AFL-CIO

My little addition:


Wednesday, February 4, 2009

"Love Is The Spirit Of This Church"

All Souls Unitarian Church Sermon delivered Rev. Marlin Lavanhar, Senior Minister

Truthout 2/4

Obama Seeks Russia Deal to Slash Nuclear Weapons
Tim Reid, The Times UK: "President Obama will convene the most ambitious arms reduction talks with Russia for a generation, aiming to slash each country's stockpile of nuclear weapons by 80 per cent. The radical treaty would cut the number of nuclear warheads to 1,000 each, The Times has learnt. Key to the initiative is a review of the Bush Administration's plan for a US missile defence shield in Eastern Europe, a project fiercely opposed by Moscow."

Rights Groups Say Laws of War Violated in Gaza
Ben Hubbard and Alfred de Montesquiou, The Associated Press: "Human rights groups are seeking to build a case that Israel and Hamas violated the laws of war during the fighting last month in this tiny coastal territory - a charge both combatants reject. On Tuesday, the International Criminal Court said the Palestinian Authority had recognized the court's jurisdiction in a move aimed at allowing a war crimes investigation. Given the clarity of Hamas' violations, such as firing rockets at Israeli cities, organizations are focusing more on Israeli actions, the facts of which they say are harder to establish."

Boxer Pushes Clean Energy Bill as Another Kind of Stimulus
Renee Schoof, McClatchy Newspapers: "Sen. Barbara Boxer on Tuesday announced that the Environment and Public Works Committee would draft a new climate bill that would help consumers avoid higher prices and create new jobs in clean energy, but also suggested it's unlikely Congress will pass climate legislation this year. Boxer outlined principles for the new bill, including provisions to set emissions reduction targets at levels scientists say will be needed to avoid dangerous climate disruption and to set up a 'transparent and accountable' market for tradable emissions permits."

Bailout Includes Executive Pay Limits for Some Firms
David Cho, Binyamin Appelbaum and Howard Schneider, The Washington Post: "The Obama administration plans to slap a $500,000 limit on annual salaries of top executives at some of the financial firms at the heart of a government bailout program, part on effort to curb public anger over the continued flow of bonuses and perks to the heads of Wall Street firms that have relied on taxpayer money to stay afloat."

State High Court to Hear Prop. 8 Case March 5
Bob Egelko, The San Francisco Chronicle: "The state Supreme Court will hear arguments March 5 on the validity of California's ban on same-sex marriage, which voters approved in November after an emotionally charged and expensive campaign. The court said Tuesday that it would hold a three-hour hearing on Proposition 8, from 9 a.m. to noon, at its chambers in San Francisco . The proceedings will also be televised statewide on the California Channel, the court said. A ruling is due within 90 days of the hearing."

Le Monde Self-Protection
Le Monde's editorialist: "Workers on strike on the other side of the Channel demand 'British jobs for British workers'; an American House of Representatives that, under AFL-CIO pressure, tries to reserve its aid to businesses that use American steel; a Russian prime minister who denounces protectionism, but increases customs duty on foreign cars; the French minister of finance, known for his support of free trade, who - before he retracted the comment - deemed 'protectionism may be a necessary evil' ..."

Kyrgyzstan May Close Key US-Afghan Airbase
Mike Eckel, The Associated Press: "Kyrgyzstan's president said Tuesday that his country is ending US use of a key airbase that supports military operations in Afghanistan. A US military official in Afghanistan called President Kurmanbek Bakiyev's statement 'political positioning' and denied the US presence at the Manas airbase would end anytime soon."

Pentagon Study: US Should Pare Afghanistan Goals
Robert Burns and Pauline Jelinek, The Associated Press: "A classified Pentagon report urges President Barack Obama to shift US military strategy in Afghanistan, de-emphasizing democracy-building and concentrating more on targeting Taliban and al-Qaida sanctuaries inside Pakistan with the aid of Pakistani military forces. Defense Secretary Robert Gates has seen the report prepared by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, but it has not yet been presented to the White House, officials said Tuesday."

Pictures Show Human Toll of Sri Lankan Offensive
Andrew Buncombe, The Independent UK: "The mounting civilian cost of Sri Lanka's military operation to crush rebel fighters has been revealed by a series of gruesome photographs taken inside the war zone, where up to 250,000 people are trapped. The pictures and video footage show scores of people dead or wounded. Some of the images were taken inside a hospital that has been struck repeatedly by artillery shells, killing at least 11 people. Others show civilians, killed along with their young children, inside a supposed 'safe zone' that was struck by shells, apparently fired by both government troops and rebels."

Joseph E. Stiglitz How to Rescue the Bank Bailout
Joseph E. Stiglitz, CNN: "America's recession is moving into its second year, with the situation only worsening. The hope that President Obama will be able to get us out of the mess is tempered by the reality that throwing hundreds of billions of dollars at the banks has failed to restore them to health, or even to resuscitate the flow of lending. Every day brings further evidence that the losses are greater than had been expected and more and more money will be required."

Clinton Calls for "Viable" Palestinian State
Agence France-Presse: "US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton promised a sustained US diplomatic effort aimed at creating 'an independent and viable' Palestinian state but renewed calls on Hamas to stop rocket fire. Clinton, who stood next to her special envoy George Mitchell after his return from his first trip to the Middle East, said he would return to the region before 'the end of the month.' 'We are looking to work with all parties to try to help them make progress toward a negotiated agreement that would end the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians,' Clinton told a press conference."

Tomas Ayuso and Guy Hursthouse Latin America in the Era of Obama
Tomas Ayuso and Guy Hursthouse, Council on Hemispheric Affairs: "Now that Barack Obama is several weeks into being the 44th President of the United States, expectations are running high in Latin America, where two terms of George Bush’s widely noted indifference to regional affairs have strained hemispheric relations. Obama now must address a hemisphere that has developed a substantially different profile than existed eight years before when Bush first assumed office."

Have We No Shame?

Gaza is a tiny strip of land about 25 miles long and about 6 miles wide. This tiny strip houses about one and a half million Palestinians. The median age is 16 years, and 47% of the population are under 14. This is the civilian population we Americans have encouraged Israel to attack with missiles, tanks, phosphorous, bunker busters, and cluster bombs all supplied by us Americans. But everyone knows we Americans are a generous people. We will come to the rescue of our Muslim brothers. Hell, Our President has just authorized aid of about 12 bucks per Palestinian.

UN appeals for $613 million to help Gaza recover after Israeli offensive

On 29th January the United Nations launched an appeal for $613 million to help people affected by Israel’s three-week military offensive in the Gaza Strip, which killed some 1,300 Palestinians, injured more than 5,300, 34 per cent of them children, and caused widespread damage and destruction.

Obama sends $US 20 million to Gaza U.S. President Barack Obama has ordered $20 million in aid to Gaza. The move comes a day after the UN launched an appeal for $613 million to help Palestinians recover from Israel's recently completed military operation.

In 2007, the United States increased its military aid to Israel by over 25%, to an average of $3 billion per year for the following ten year period (starting at $2.550 billion for 2008, growing by $150 million each year).[

WASHINGTON, September 9, 2008 – The Defense Security Cooperation Agency notified Congress of a possible Foreign Military Sale to Israel of GBU-39 Small Diameter Bombs as well as associated equipment and services. The total value, if all options are exercised, could be as high as $77 million.

Dec 29, 2008 1:18 Updated Dec 29, 2008 9:15
IAF uses new US-supplied smart bomb
The Israel Air Force used a new bunker-buster missile that it received recently from the United States in strikes against Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip on Saturday

AP: U.S. Sold Phosphorus Shells Used in Gaza to Israel

Published: February 02, 2009 6:40 AM ET

LITTLE ROCK The United States sold phosphorus artillery shells made at the Pine Bluff Arsenal to Israel...
A State Department official told The Associated Press that the rounds — typically used to light up darkened battlefields or provide smoke cover for combat troops — were most recently shipped to Israel in 2007. .

International law allows for the use of the phosphorus shells, but not in areas where civilians could be harmed by the burning rounds.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

FP morning post 2/3

Top Story

The two remaining members of George W. Bush's "axis of evil" both grabbed headlines this morning. North Korea is reportedly preparing to test-launch a ballistic missile as tensions with the South rise. North Korea has notably escalated its rhetoric in since South Korean president Lee Myung-bak cut aid last year. Analysts suspected the move was also an attempt to grab the attention of U.S. president Barack Obama. Obama spoke with Lee, pledging further cooperation.

Iran, meanwhile, launched its first domestically produced space satellite. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said the launch was meant to spread "monotheism, peace and justice." The launch is a sign that Iranian missile technology is slowly but surely advancing.

Middle East
Veteran negotiator Christopher Hill has been nominated ambassador to Iraq.
Hamas leader Khaled Meshal visited Tehran to thank Iran for its support.
The timing of the Gaza withdrawal has emerged as a central issue in the Israeli elections.

The European Union criticized the "Buy American" clause in Obama's stimulus package.
A prominent cardinal came very close to criticizing Pope Benedict for rehabilitating a holocaust-denying bishop.
Iceland's new prime minister asked the country's central bankers to resign.

Asia and Pacific
An American U.N. official was captured by gunmen in southern Pakistan.
The IMF cut Asia's growth prospects in half.
Australia rolled out an economic stimulus package that includes an interest rate cut and US$27 billion in new government spending.

Barack Obama will name Republican Senator Judd Gregg as Commerce Secretary.
Hundreds of police are occupying one of Sao Paulo's biggest slums after a night of deadly rioting.
Hugo Chavez celebrated 10 years in power with a summit of Latin American leftists.

After taking over as chaiman of the African Union, Muammar Qadaffi promised to push for a "United States of Africa." An AU convoy was bombed in Somalia, killing 18.
Zimbabwe cut 12 zeroes off its currency.

Truthout 2/3

Dahr Jamail Security in Iraq: Relatively Speaking
Dahr Jamail, Truthout: "I myself was lulled into a false sense of security upon my arrival a week ago. Indeed, security is 'better,' compared to my last trip here, when the number of attacks per month against the occupation forces and Iraqi collaborators used to be around 6,000. Today, we barely have one American soldier being killed every other day and only a score injured weekly. Casualties among Iraqi security forces are just ten times that number. But yes, one could say security is better if one is clear that it is better in comparison not to downtown Houston but to Fallujah 2004."

Sri Lanka Needs Truce to Save Civilians, Caritas Says
Paul Tighe, Bloomberg: "Sri Lanka's army and Tamil Tiger rebels must declare a cease-fire to allow aid agencies to help more than 250,000 civilians trapped by fighting in the north, the aid group Caritas Australia said. 'Unless we can get access soon, this could quickly become a massive humanitarian catastrophe,' Jack de Groot, the group's chief executive officer, said in an e-mailed statement today. 'Civilians are living in fear.'"

Despite Federal Aid, Many Banks Fail to Revive Lending
Binyamin Appelbaum, The Washington Post: "The federal government has invested almost $200 billion in U.S. banks over the last three months to spark new lending to consumers and businesses. So far, it hasn't worked. Lending has declined, and banks that got government money on average have reduced lending more sharply than banks that didn't."

Water - Another Global "Crisis"?
Richard Black, BBC News: "If you look at the numbers, it is hard to see how many East African communities made it through the long drought of 2005 and 2006. Among people who study human development, it is a widely-held view that each person needs about 20 litres of water each day for the basics - to drink, cook and wash sufficiently to avoid disease transmission. Yet at the height of the East African drought, people were getting by on less than five litres a day - in some cases, less than one litre a day, enough for just three glasses of drinking water and nothing left over."

Gerard Courtois You Said Civilization?
Gerard Courtois, Le Monde: "It was December 31, 2007. Nicolas Sarkozy was presenting his seasonal greetings to the French: 'For too long, politics has reduced itself to management, remaining cut off from the real causes of our evils, which are frequently deeper than that. I'm convinced that at the present time, we need a policy of civilization.'"

Holder Confirmed as Attorney General
Carrie Johnson, The Washington Post: "The Senate confirmed Eric H. Holder Jr. as the nation's first African American Attorney General in a vote of 75 to 21, opening a new chapter for a Justice Department that had suffered under allegations of improper political influence and controversial policy decisions on wiretapping and harsh interrogation practices. Holder, 58, will arrive at the Justice Department headquarters in Washington tomorrow for a swearing in ceremony and to greet some of the department's 110,000 employees."

Obama to Nominate Republican Gregg for Commerce
Laurie Kellman, The Associated Press: "President Barack Obama plans to nominate Sen. Judd Gregg as commerce secretary on Tuesday, the White House confirmed on the eve of the announcement as the New Hampshire Republican disclosed an apparent deal that would keep his seat out of Democratic hands. 'I have made it clear to the Senate leadership on both sides of the aisle and to the governor that I would not leave the Senate if I felt my departure would cause a change in the makeup of the Senate,' Gregg said Monday in a statement. The White House confirmed the Gregg choice on the condition of anonymity because the announcement had not yet been made."

Chalmers Johnson The Looming Crisis at the Pentagon: How Taxpayers Finance Fantasy Wars
Chalmers Johnson, "Like much of the rest of the world, Americans know that the US automotive industry is in the grips of what may be a fatal decline. Unless it receives emergency financing undergoes significant reform, it is undoubtedly headed for the graveyard in which many American industries are already buried, including those that made televisions and other consumer electronics, many types of scientific and medical equipment, machine tools, textiles, and much earth-moving equipment -- and that's to name only the most obvious candidates. They all lost their competitiveness to newly emerging economies that were able to outpace them in innovative design, price, quality, service, and fuel economy, among other things. A similar, if far less well known, crisis exists when it comes to the military-industrial complex."

Gazans Say Israeli Troops Forced Them Into Battle Zones
Dion Nissenbaum, McClatchy Newspapers: "The Israeli soldiers outside Majdi Abed Rabbo's home were after the three Hamas fighters holed up next door, and they wanted Abed Rabbo to be their point man. For the next 24 hours, Abed Rabbo said, the soldiers repeatedly forced him to walk through the battle zone to see whether the militants were dead or alive. Abed Rabbo wasn't alone. Eight other residents in this northern Gaza Strip neighborhood told McClatchy in separate interviews that Israeli soldiers had conscripted them to check homes for booby traps, to smash holes in the walls of houses so that soldiers could use them as escape routes or to try to pull dead Palestinian militants from the rubble."

Robert Reich The Real Fight Starts After the Stimulus Is Enacted
Robert Reich, Robert Reich's Blog: "Those who support the stimulus as a desperate measure to arrest the downward plunge in the business cycle might be called cyclists. Others, including me, see the stimulus as the first step toward addressing deep structural flaws in the economy. We are the structuralists. These two camps are united behind the current stimulus, but may not be for long. Cyclists blame the current crisis on a speculative bubble that threw the economy's self-regulating mechanisms out of whack. They say that we can avoid future downturns if the Fed pops bubbles earlier by raising interest rates when speculation heats up. But structuralists see it very differently."

Waste, Fraud in Iraq Being Repeated in Afghanistan
Richard Lardner, The Associated Press: "The US has devoted more than $30 billion to rebuilding Afghanistan. Yet despite the hard lessons learned in Iraq, where the US has spent nearly $51 billion on reconstruction, the effort in Afghanistan is headed down the same path, the watchdogs told a new panel investigating wartime contracts. 'Before we go pouring more money in, we really need to know what we're trying to accomplish (in Afghanistan),' said Ginger Cruz, deputy special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction. 'And at what point do you turn off the spigot so you're not pouring money into a black hole?'"

Monday, February 2, 2009

FP morning post 2/2

Top Story

Turnout was low in Iraq's parliamentary elections on Saturday, but thankfully so was violence with not a single major attack being reported in the country. Security was extraordinarily tight. There was widespread confusion over process and complaints of voters being left off roles, but overall, the election was hailed as a success by Iraqi and international observers, including U.S. President Barack Obama.

Early returns indicate strong support for Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and gains for Iraq's secular parties. The International Crisis Group's Joost Hiltermann warned on FP last week that observers should avoid reading too much significance into the election results.

Even with sporadic pre-election violence, January was Iraq's most peaceful month since the 2003 U.S. invasion.

Middle East
Israel responded to Hamas mortar attacks with airstrikes after promising a "disproportionate" response to violations of the ceasefire.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is in Egypt for talks.
Iran seems to be clamping down on dissidents ahead of this summer's elections.

Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi has been chosen as head of the African Union, a spokesman says.
Somalia's de facto parliament selected a new president.
A series of deadly fires has Kenyans questioning their government's ability to respond to a crisis.

China has scheduled a trial for a critic of the government's earthquake response.
Nine were killed in the shelling of a hospital in Sri Lanka.
South Asian officials are concerned about envoy Richard Holbrooke's "bulldozer" style, the L.A. Times reports.

Iceland formed a new center-left government with hopes of recovering from economic collapse.
Greek farmers rioted to protest economic conditions in the country.
Massive factory closings in Russia have the Kremlin fearing unrest.

Four hostages were freed by Colombian FARC rebels.
Anti-Semitic vandals ransacked a synagogue in Caracas as Israeli-Venezuelan relations worsened.
Cuba and Russia signed a new cooperation pact.

South Bend Airport expansion gets national attention

South Bend Journal

The expansion of a new two-story tall terminal at the South Bend Regional Airport is all the buzz in the travel world and even in the mainstream media. The trendy travel website,, did a story questioning South Bend's need for such an ambitious project. The story said that the city was just a small college town with its nearest tourist attraction being Shipshewanna. HA!

Jaunted says that South Bend has no need for the $12 million in federal funds for this project. The USA Today newspaper even picked up on the story pointing out that the airport has only "two small concourses with no food service beyond the security checkpoint" (USA Today). In fact, that's not the only issue with the airport as it is right now. Allegiant is planning international flights to Cancun, MX and South Bend's current terminal does not yet meet TSA regulations for international flights.


Truthout 2/2

Dean Baker Fannie Mae's Overpaid Board: Can President Obama Turn Words Into Action?
Dean Baker, Truthout: "Last week, President Obama called it 'shameful' that the bank executives, who took taxpayer money through the bailout last fall, paid themselves large bonuses. While the vast majority of the public agrees with this view, there is little that President Obama can directly do about these bonuses at this point. However, with more bailout money on the way (probably much more), President Obama will be in a position to seriously constrain executive compensation in the future at the banks that are subsisting on government largess."

Hamas to Meet Egypt Mediators on Truce With Israel
Omar Sinan, The Associated Press: "A Hamas delegation will hold what a spokesman called Monday a final round of talks with Egyptian mediators aimed at reaching a long-term cease-fire with Israel. The militant group, which wants a one-year cease-fire in Gaza, says it will base its final decision on the talks in Cairo, which will take place Monday or Tuesday, senior Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said."

Bomber Kills 21 Police in Southern Afghanistan
Barry Newhouse, Voice of America News: "Officials in southern Afghanistan say a suicide bomber has attacked a police training center, killing at least 21 officers and wounding 20 others. A Taliban spokesman claims responsibility for the blast. Officials in Tirin Kot, the provincial capital of Uruzgan province, say the bomber entered the city's police training compound while a group of officers was exercising."

Hospital Shelled in Sri Lanka Fighting, Nine Killed
Agence France-Presse: "Shells hit a crowded hospital in northeast Sri Lanka, killing at least nine people and raising fears Monday for thousands of civilians caught in a final military push against cornered Tamil Tiger rebels. The hospital, which is in rebel-held-territory and houses around 500 patients, took direct hits in two separate shelling incidents on Sunday, aid agencies and medical workers said. At least nine patients were killed and 15 injured."

Senate to Demand Big Changes in Stimulus Bill
Zachary Coile, The San Francisco Chronicle: "The nearly $900 billion economic stimulus package that the Senate will debate this week faces a treacherous path as lawmakers of both parties warned that big changes will be needed - including dumping controversial spending items - to avoid a humiliating defeat of President Obama's first major legislative initiative. All sides agree the anemic U.S. economy needs a jolt, and senators appear intent on reaching a deal to get a bill passed quickly. But even Democrats are now criticizing some of the proposed spending. Key Republican moderates, whose votes could decide the bill's fate, suggest they won't back it in its current form."

Pierre Rousselin Risk of a Social Conflagration in Europe
Pierre Rousselin, Le Figaro, warns of social conflagration in Europe if governments fail to communicate and to equalize the sacrifices borne as a result of the crisis, while Laurent Joffrin finds that Nicolas Sarkozy's "princely caprice" in the transfer of a prefect and police chief, after he was booed in a city under their authority, does not bode well for such communication.

William Luers, Thomas R. Pickering and Jim Walsh How to Deal With Iran
William Luers, Thomas R. Pickering and Jim Walsh, The New York Review of Books: "Three of the most pressing national security issues facing the Obama administration - nuclear proliferation, the war in Iraq, and the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan - have one element in common: Iran.... Of course the United States has other important concerns about Iran, including Iranian support for Hezbollah and Hamas, and the threat it poses to Israel - particularly in view of the recent conflict in Gaza. But the paramount issues of Iran's nuclear enrichment and its influence in Iraq and Afghanistan, we argue, are closely interrelated, and the way they are dealt with could determine the US's ability to address other problems in the US-Iranian relationship."

Banks Sought Foreign Workers
Frank Bass and Rita Beamish, The Associated Press: "Major US banks sought government permission to bring thousands of foreign workers into the country for high-paying jobs even as the system was melting down last year and Americans were getting laid off, according to an Associated Press review of visa applications. The dozen banks now receiving the biggest rescue packages, totaling more than $150 billion, requested visas for more than 21,800 foreign workers over the past six years for positions that included senior vice presidents, corporate lawyers, junior investment analysts and human resources specialists."

Israel Bombs Gaza in Response to Mortar Attacks
Mark Lavie, The Associated Press: "Israel's prime minister threatened 'harsh and disproportionate' retaliation after Gaza militants fired at least 10 rockets and mortar shells into southern Israel on Sunday, wounding three and raising the risk of fresh violence days ahead of elections. Israel hit back late Sunday, bombing the Egypt-Gaza border area where Hamas smuggles in weapons through tunnels, Palestinians said. No casualties were reported."

Obama Says Most US Troops in Iraq Home Within a Year
Ross Colvin, Reuters: "President Barack Obama told Americans on Sunday a substantial number of the 140,000 US troops in Iraq would be home within a year, saying Iraqis were now ready to take more responsibility for their own security. Obama, who inherited two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, pledged during his presidential campaign to withdraw all US troops from Iraq within 16 months, at a rate of one or two brigades a month."

Weight of Combat Gear Is Taking Toll
Ann Scott Tyson, The Washington Post: "Carrying heavy combat loads is taking a quiet but serious toll on troops deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, contributing to injuries that are sidelining them in growing numbers, according to senior military and defense officials."

Bailouts for bunglers

New York Times

Question: what happens if you lose vast amounts of other people’s money? Answer: you get a big gift from the federal government — but the president says some very harsh things about you before forking over the cash.

Am I being unfair? I hope so. But right now that’s what seems to be happening.

Just to be clear, I’m not talking about the Obama administration’s plan to support jobs and output with a large, temporary rise in federal spending, which is very much the right thing to do. I’m talking, instead, about the administration’s plans for a banking system rescue — plans that are shaping up as a classic exercise in “lemon socialism”: taxpayers bear the cost if things go wrong, but stockholders and executives get the benefits if things go right.

When I read recent remarks on financial policy by top Obama administration officials, I feel as if I’ve entered a time warp — as if it’s still 2005, Alan Greenspan is still the Maestro, and bankers are still heroes of capitalism.

“We have a financial system that is run by private shareholders, managed by private institutions, and we’d like to do our best to preserve that system,” says Timothy Geithner, the Treasury secretary — as he prepares to put taxpayers on the hook for that system’s immense losses.

Meanwhile, a Washington Post report based on administration sources says that Mr. Geithner and Lawrence Summers, President Obama’s top economic adviser, “think governments make poor bank managers” — as opposed, presumably, to the private-sector geniuses who managed to lose more than a trillion dollars in the space of a few years.

And this prejudice in favor of private control, even when the government is putting up all the money, seems to be warping the administration’s response to the financial crisis.

Now, something must be done to shore up the financial system. The chaos after Lehman Brothers failed showed that letting major financial institutions collapse can be very bad for the economy’s health. And a number of major institutions are dangerously close to the edge.

So banks need more capital. In normal times, banks raise capital by selling stock to private investors, who receive a share in the bank’s ownership in return. You might think, then, that if banks currently can’t or won’t raise enough capital from private investors, the government should do what a private investor would: provide capital in return for partial ownership.

But bank stocks are worth so little these days — Citigroup and Bank of America have a combined market value of only $52 billion — that the ownership wouldn’t be partial: pumping in enough taxpayer money to make the banks sound would, in effect, turn them into publicly owned enterprises.

My response to this prospect is: so? If taxpayers are footing the bill for rescuing the banks, why shouldn’t they get ownership, at least until private buyers can be found? But the Obama administration appears to be tying itself in knots to avoid this outcome.

If news reports are right, the bank rescue plan will contain two main elements: government purchases of some troubled bank assets and guarantees against losses on other assets. The guarantees would represent a big gift to bank stockholders; the purchases might not, if the price was fair — but prices would, The Financial Times reports, probably be based on “valuation models” rather than market prices, suggesting that the government would be making a big gift here, too.

And in return for what is likely to be a huge subsidy to stockholders, taxpayers will get, well, nothing.

Will there at least be limits on executive compensation, to prevent more of the rip-offs that have enraged the public? President Obama denounced Wall Street bonuses in his latest weekly address — but according to The Washington Post, “the administration is likely to refrain from imposing tougher restrictions on executive compensation at most firms receiving government aid” because “harsh limits could discourage some firms from asking for aid.” This suggests that Mr. Obama’s tough talk is just for show.

Meanwhile, Wall Street’s culture of excess seems to have been barely dented by the crisis. “Say I’m a banker and I created $30 million. I should get a part of that,” one banker told The New York Times. And if you’re a banker and you destroyed $30 billion? Uncle Sam to the rescue!

There’s more at stake here than fairness, although that matters too. Saving the economy is going to be very expensive: that $800 billion stimulus plan is probably just a down payment, and rescuing the financial system, even if it’s done right, is going to cost hundreds of billions more. We can’t afford to squander money giving huge windfalls to banks and their executives, merely to preserve the illusion of private ownership.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

On Making the Sale, Or, Hidden Advertising Messages Considered

So it’s Super Bowl time once again…and if you’re like me, you really don’t care all that much about the game—but you might actually pay attention to the commercials.

They’re significant productions unto themselves, and they set the stage for a full year’s worth of advertising as they migrate to the “small” TV market after the last whistle of the game has been blown.

Since lots of other commentators will analyze and dissect those commercials—and I’m one of those who likes to travel where others don’t—we will, instead, talk about the ordinary commercials, the ones you see every day of the year…the ones you might see 20 or 30 times a day, every day of the year, if you watch enough TV.

There are three in particular we’ll talk about today…and two of the three send a unique and particular message to the viewer. It may not be the message the advertiser intended—or maybe it is, secretly—but whichever it is, it’s a pretty fair bet that you’ll see each differently after we’re through.

The third? Well, we’ll get to it later.

"Of late I have found myself almost incapable of enjoying any poetry whose inspiration is not despair or melancholy…The subject of any European government to-day feels all the sensations of Gulliver in the paws of the Queen of Brobdingnag’s monkey—the sensations of some small and helpless being at the mercy of something monstrous and irresponsible and idiotic."

--From How the Days Draw In!, Aldous Huxley

You gotta have education to land a job these days, and one of the largest providers of that education is Corinthian Colleges, who operate a chain of “career schools” that include Everest College, who trains those who aspire to careers in the medical field, among others.

Their ads are a constant presence on daytime television, with the recurring theme being that the lives of those in the commercials were...lost…adrift…maybe even depressing…and that the experience at Everest was so great that now, thanks to the school, life is much, much, better.

Although I could not locate her on Internet video, another constant presence in the ads is the woman who comes on after the ads are through. “Hi, I’m Mary” she informs us in her perky voice, headset at the ready, “and I hope this commercial inspires you to call…”

And that’s when the hidden message appears.

Mary, the perky operator, has appeared on this commercial—and lots of others like it—for at least three years now…and never once has she been tempted to give up her operator job by a single one of the commercials in which she has appeared.

Medical assistant, massage therapist, fashion coordinator, video game designer, chef…not a single one of these schools is getting Mary’s money—and I assume that’s because Mary knows something about these schools that we don’t.

"Advertising is the rattling of a stick inside a swill bucket."

--George Orwell

If you watch enough television, you quickly become aware that there are a lot of people who are looking for other people…and to be blunt, it appears from the advertising that about 90% of them are men seeking “hot, sexy, single ladies” or something similar. (what would MySpace be without them?) apparently understands the mating drive of men much better than other providers of these services (or they understand perfectly that men are dogs)…but whomever you turn to for this sort of assistance, the message that gets sent is that thanks to their heroic efforts men can get women they would never get in real life…with virtually no effort at all…and that these women are just hanging around various telecommunications devices waiting for you to pick up your phone and…well, initiate a booty call.

There is one exception.

eHarmony has come to the plate with ads that are clearly not targeted at men. Instead, their ads focus on romance and marriage—and in them is a hidden message as well.

It’s the women.

Unlike the “I just came off the stripper pole” women that appear in the ads directed at men, the women in eHarmony are more on the…regular human…side. They’re not exactly mingers, but at the same time they are not the twins you might see in certain beer ads.

The men of these commercials are, of course, thrilled to give up their bachelor lives for the opportunity to be in the exciting relationships with the women who appear to be--again, to be blunt—trading up…or at least trading sideways.

The unspoken message is subtly different for the women than it is for the men. For the men, the message is: “pick up the phone and get a hookup”…but for the potential woman customer, the message seems to be: “even you could find love at our site…”

“Advertising may be described as the science of arresting the human intelligence long enough to get money from it.”

--Stephen Butler Leacock

Our final commercial of the day did not make the list because of any hidden message, but instead because of the amazingly awful performance of the actress involved.

I nearly get heartburn every time I see it…which is ironic, considering that the product involved is Prilosec, a heartburn drug.

If you haven’t yet seen the ad, let’s just say that the woman who is the product’s spokesperson is in no danger of lasting longer than Tucker Carlson should she ever find herself on Dancing With The Stars.

Just so you know, I looked it up: the number of comics who have stood in front of the brick wall and uttered that old line “have you seen how white people dance?” is exactly three less than the number of grains of sand on the beach at low tide.

Here’s something else I looked up: “Katie”, the character in the Prilosec ad, is actually in the picture next to that joke in the Comedian’s Brick Wall Reference.

Her bio reports that she was an instructor at the Elaine Benes School of Dance, and her performance is clearly influenced by that experience. The same ability to ignore rhythm and tempo is excruciatingly evident, she has the same “finger-point” move that Elaine so effectively deployed, and she and Elaine seem to share the same blithe ignorance of how unusual their portrayals are to the rest of us.

The really odd thing is, even if you watch the commercial with no sound at all she still seems out of tempo.

OK, so that’s about enough for one column, but before we go, a quick Super Bowl preview: see if Anheuser-Busch runs the ad featuring Conan O’Brien and Sweden or the one where the Clydesdale horse reflects on his life and times…or both.

If the experts are to be believed, that may be the only real mystery of the game.

Truthout 2/1

Secret Renditions Still an Option for CIA
Greg Miller, The Los Angeles Times: "The CIA's secret prisons are being shuttered. Harsh interrogation techniques are off-limits. And Guantanamo Bay will eventually go back to being a wind-swept naval base on the southeastern corner of Cuba. But even while dismantling these programs, President Obama left intact an equally controversial counter-terrorism tool. Under executive orders issued by Obama recently, the CIA still has authority to carry out what are known as renditions, secret abductions and transfers of prisoners to countries that cooperate with the United States."

Israel Threatens Retaliation Over Rocket Attacks
Matti Friedman, The Associated Press: "Gaza militants launched two rockets into southern Israel Sunday, drawing a threat of 'harsh and disproportionate' retaliation from Israel's prime minister and further straining a cease-fire that ended a devastating offensive in the territory two weeks ago. There were no casualties or damage reported, though one of the rockets landed near a kindergarten in a community near Gaza, police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said. Warning sirens sent residents scrambling for shelter."

Calm Iraqi Election Marred as Thousands Were Denied Vote
Leila Fadel, McClatchy Newspapers: "Iraqis cast ballots in 14 of the country's 18 provinces Saturday, selecting among 14,500 candidates for 440 seats on new provincial councils. The day was free of election-related violence, but thousands of Iraqis were unable to vote because their names were inexplicably missing from voter lists. Some confused Iraqis even wandered neighborhoods looking for a polling place that would accept their vote."

GOP Governors Press Congress to Pass Stimulus Bill
Beth Fouhy, The Associated Press: "Most Republican governors have broken with their GOP colleagues in Congress and are pushing for passage of President Barack Obama's economic aid plan that would send billions to states for education, public works and health care. Their state treasuries drained by the financial crisis, governors would welcome the money from Capitol Hill, where GOP lawmakers are more skeptical of Obama's spending priorities."

GOP's Gregg Appears to Be Commerce Pick
Anne E. Kornblut, The Washington Post: "President Obama appears set to nominate Republican Sen. Judd Gregg as commerce secretary, a move that could happen in the next day or two, Democratic officials said yesterday. Gregg acknowledged Friday that he was under consideration. But administration officials took it a step further yesterday, saying he is atop the list to fill the job, and other officials said they thought he was all but certain to be tapped. His nomination and confirmation would give a leading economic role in the Obama Cabinet to a fiscal conservative, while bolstering the president's argument that he has built a truly bipartisan administration."

FOCUS Atul Gawande: How Should Obama Reform Health Care?
Atul Gawande, The New Yorker: "The stories become unconscionable in any society that purports to serve the needs of ordinary people, and, at some alchemical point, they combine with opportunity and leadership to produce change. Britain reached this point and enacted universal health-care coverage in 1945, Canada in 1966, Australia in 1974. The United States may finally be there now. In 2007, fifty-seven million Americans had difficulty paying their medical bills, up fourteen million from 2003. On average, they had two thousand dollars in medical debt and had been contacted by a collection agency at least once. Because, in part, of underpayment, half of American hospitals operated at a loss in 2007. Today, large numbers of employers are limiting or dropping insurance coverage in order to stay afloat, or simply going under - even hospitals themselves."

FOCUS Robert Pollin: Doing the Recovery Right
Robert Pollin, The Nation: "For most of the past generation, the aims of environmental sustainability and social justice were seen as equally worthy, yet painfully and unavoidably in conflict. Tree huggers and spotted owls were pitted against loggers and hard hats. Fighting global warming was held to inevitably worsen global poverty and vice versa. Indeed, the competing demands of the environmental and social justice agendas were frequently cited as a classic example of how public policy choices were fraught with trade-offs and unintended consequences - how you could end up doing harm while seeking only to do good."

Committe to look at new tax option

from South Bend Journal

It looks like the LOIT (local option income tax) may not be the only tool in the belt for resolving deficit issues in St Joseph County. Rep. David Wolkins (R-La Grange) has authored a bill (HB 1031) that would allow certain local governments in the state to enact a 1% LOGRT (local option gross retail tax). The bill is being sent to committee next week, and would give municipalities designated by the Indiana Office of Tourism as "outstanding Indiana tourist destinations", the ability to levy up to a 1% excise tax on all products currently paying a retail tax.

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