Tuesday, March 31, 2009

FP morning brief 3/31

Top Story

As an international conference on the future of Afghanistan kicks off today at The Hague, all the concerned parties are establishing their positions.

In the wake of last week's Af-Pak strategy review, the United States is pledging a major troop build-up, increased funding for Afghanistan's upcoming elections, a ramped-up effort to fight drug trafficking, and an overhaul of foreign aid to the country, which Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says has "very little credibility" after years of mismanagement. Clinton has also not ruled out a direct meeting with the Iranian delegates at the conference.

Iran's representatives vowed to help in the reconstruction of Afghanistan, but predicted that increased U.S. troop levels would "prove ineffective." NATO's Jaap de Hoop Scheffer urged members to contribute more troops in order to prevent the "Americanization" of the war.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who was just granted three more months in office by his country's supreme court, welcomed the involvement of Afghanistan's neighbors and expressed support for Obama's plan.

World Economy
The OECD predicted double-digit unemployment for nearly all the G8 countries.
World Bank president Robert Zoellick says the dollar will remain the world's reserve currency.
Global stocks are set for their best performance in six years this March.

Barack Obama has given General Motors 60 days and Chrysler one month to enact major changes or face bankruptcy.
Mexico's Felipe Calderon said his security forces would share information on drug trafficking with their U.S. counterparts but ruled out joint border patrols.
Haiti is emerging as a poster child for the need to keep international aid flowing despite the financial crisis.

Pakistani Taliban leader Baithullah Mehsud says his group was behind Monday's police academy attack in Lahore.
For the first time, a former member of the Khmer Rouge has expressed remorse for his actions at a trial in Cambodia.
North Korea plans to put the two U.S. journalists it has captured on trial for espionage.

Middle East
Arab leaders have embraced Sudanese president Omar al Bashir at their summit in Doha, Qatar. Marc Lynch has more summit coverage.
Former government officials say no significant information was gained for the torture of al Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida.
A U.S. army sergeant pleaded guilty to the murder of four Iraqi prisoners in 2007.

Barack Obama has left for an eight-day, five-country trip to Europe.
Russia has begun a second trial for imprisoned former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky.
London police are planning one of their most complex operations ever to maintain order at the G20 summit.

More than 300 African migrants are thought to have drowned off the coast of Libya.
A former Somali government minister was killed by gunmen in Mogadishu.
African government are worried about fading into the background at the G20 as rich-country governments address their own troubled economies.

Truthout 3/31

Dean Baker Pay for Play? Tax Credits for Paid Time Off
Dean Baker, The Center for Economic and Policy Research: "Economists are increasingly coming to the recognition that the current downturn is likely to be longer and more severe than they had expected at the time the last stimulus package was approved in February. As a result, there is likely to be interest in additional stimulus in order to boost the economy and lower the unemployment rate. This paper briefly outlines a method for Congress to quickly boost demand in the economy, while at the same time promoting important public ends: an employer tax credit for paid time off."

US Offers Olive Branch to Non-Violent Taliban
Sue Pleming and David Brunnstrom, Reuters: "The United States offered Taliban fighters who renounce violence in Afghanistan an 'honorable form of reconciliation' on Tuesday as part of a revamped strategy to tackle a deepening insurgency. Traditional US foe Iran, attending an international conference on Afghanistan, pledged help in tackling the huge opium trade in its neighbor but stressed it remained opposed to US and other foreign troops there. The conference in the Netherlands is a chance for NATO and other US allies to consult on the Afghan strategy unveiled by President Barack Obama last week, stressing the need to cooperate with regional players such as Iran, Pakistan, Russia and India."

Eric Newhouse Legislation Aims to Improve Veterans' Mental Health Services
Eric Newhouse, Truthout: "Montana's senior US senator, Max Baucus, introduced an important piece of legislation last week that would require stepped-up mental health screenings for all America's combat troops. It would cost an estimated $220 million over five years to implement nationally, but it would ratchet up standards of mental health care for combat vets to a higher level - and one that's uniform across the board. The purpose for the testing - to be done every six months for the first two years after a soldier returns from combat - will be to identify post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), traumatic brain injury (TBI) or major depression resulting from combat, Baucus said."

US, Iran the Offstage Drama at Afghan Meet
Anne Gearan, The Associated Press: "US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton shared a conference table Tuesday with a senior Iranian diplomat at an international session on the future of Afghanistan, but did not react to the Iranian's call for a buildup of Afghan security. Clinton did not mention Iran, which shares a nearly 600-mile border with Afghanistan, at the outset of an international strategy session proposed by Washington. The conference was billed as the sort of 'big tent' session where US and Iranian diplomats might happen to bump into one another."

Israel's Netanyahu Says He Can Work With Obama
Richard Boudreaux, The Los Angeles Times: "In the weeks since he was chosen to form Israel's next government, Benjamin Netanyahu has labored to dispel the perception that he's on a collision course with the country's most powerful ally. Never mind his history of spats with Washington, or that he refuses to embrace the goal of an independent Palestinian state, a cornerstone of American policy reaffirmed by President Obama last week. And never mind that religious parties in his coalition call for expanding the Jewish settlements in the West Bank that Obama has criticized. Or that his foreign minister lives in one."

Baeriswyl, Lema and Hauter Willing Change in Afghanistan
Pascal Baeriswyl, writing for Fribourg's La Liberte, calls Obama's plan for Afghanistan a "band-aid," while Luis Lema in Geneva's Le Temps sees the plan as "the end of a long diversion," and Le Figaro's Francois Hauter, writing from Kabul, reports that Afghans consider the Americans "occupiers."

Matt Renner Merrill Lynch Bonus Payments Dwarf A.I.G.
Matt Renner, Truthout: "Anger over the bonuses at A.I.G. blew back onto members of the Obama administration as it was revealed that Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner and others had been aware of the bonus payments but failed to halt them and did not express 'outrage,' until the bonus checks were already cashed. Further revelations of backroom dealings and million-dollar bonuses threaten to make any kind of assistance to financial institutions politically impossible for Congress. A larger and potentially far more explosive powder keg of bonus payments - this time to top executives at now defunct Merrill Lynch & Co. Inc. - may be about to blow."

Phil Wilayto Marchers Challenge Virginia Killing Verdict
Phil Wilayto, Truthout: "In a scene reminiscent of the 2007 grassroots mobilization around the case of the Jena 6, nearly 700 people marched yesterday from a Baptist church to the courthouse of rural Powhatan County, Virginia, about 30 miles west of Richmond. The majority-black protesters, which included a sizable number of local white youths, were denouncing what they charged was a racially motivated decision by a Powhatan jury."

Brian Katulis A Standoff in Central Baghdad
Brian Katulis, The Center for American Progress: "The standoff between two US 'allies' this weekend in the heart of Baghdad is a harbinger of things to come in Iraq. The showdown between Iraq's central government security forces and members of Sunni militias, known as 'Awakenings,' had nothing to do with the size of the US troop presence in Iraq and almost everything to do with enduring tensions in Iraq - multiple struggles for power between competing Iraqi factions."

Warships Set Sail Ahead of North Korean Rocket Launch
Hyung-Jin Kim, The Associated Press: "Japanese, South Korean and US missile-destroying ships set sail to monitor North Korea's imminent rocket launch, as Pyongyang stoked tensions Monday by detaining a South Korean worker for allegedly denouncing the North's political system. North Korea says it will send a communications satellite into orbit between April 4 and 8. The US, South Korea and Japan suspect the regime is using the launch to test long-range missile technology, and warn it would face UN sanctions under a Security Council resolution banning the country from any ballistic activity."

Obama's Tough Auto Medicine May Include Bankruptcy
Kevin Krolicki and John Crawley, Reuters: "President Barack Obama ordered General Motors and Chrysler to accelerate their turnaround efforts and brace for possible bankruptcy, saying bailout funds will be limited and poor decision-making will not be excused. Obama said neither company had gone far enough in their restructuring plans to warrant substantial further taxpayer investments, but he would give them a little more time to reach concessions with workers, investors and other stakeholders."

Obama Signs Wide-Ranging Conservation Law
Agence France-Presse: "President Barack Obama signed legislation on Monday expanding and protecting US public parks and wilderness areas from oil and gas development, billed as the largest US conservation measure in more than 15 years. 'This legislation guarantees that we will not take our forests, rivers, oceans, national parts, monuments, and wilderness areas for granted,' Obama said while signing the Public Land Management Act. The legislation - backed by members of both parties -- is 'among the most important in decades to protect, preserve and pass down our nation's most treasured landscapes to future generations,' Obama added."

Monday, March 30, 2009

Truthout 3/30

Seymour M. Hersh Syria Calling
Seymour M. Hersh, The New Yorker: "A few days after the Israeli ceasefire in Gaza, Assad said in an e-mail to me that although Israel was 'doing everything possible to undermine the prospects for peace,' he was still very interested in closing the deal. 'We have to wait a little while to see how things will evolve and how the situation will change,' Assad said. 'We still believe that we need to conclude a serious dialogue to lead us to peace.' American and foreign government officials, intelligence officers, diplomats, and politicians said in interviews that renewed Israeli-Syrian negotiations over the Golan Heights are now highly likely, despite Gaza and the elections in Israel in February, which left the Likud Party leader, Benjamin Netanyahu, at the head of a coalition that includes both the far right and Labor. Those talks would depend largely on America's willingness to act as the mediator, a role that could offer Barack Obama his first - and perhaps best - chance for engagement in the Middle East peace process."

Maya Schenwar "Life of Brian" Resurrected in Welsh Town
Maya Schenwar, Truthout: "The historic town of Aberystwyth, Wales, was founded in 1109 on a land grant from King Henry I, conquered by Prince Harry of England in 1408 and razed by Parliamentarian troops in 1649. It erected the first-ever Welsh Evangelical Church in the mid-20th century. But the town didn't become relevant to the international comedy community until 1979, when it banned Monty Python's classic Jesus spoof 'Life of Brian.' The film tells the story of a Jewish man living at the time of Jesus Christ, who is mistaken for the Messiah and crucified. Upon its initial release, it met with a torrent of protest from religious leaders worldwide, and a slew of UK towns prohibited the movie from being screened, according to 'Life of Brian's' director, Terry Jones."

Tom Engelhardt The Great Afghan Bailout: It's Time to Change Names, Switch Analogies
Tom Engelhardt, TomDispatch.com: "Let's start by stopping. It's time, as a start, to stop calling our expanding war in Central and South Asia 'the Afghan War' or 'the Afghanistan War.' If Obama's special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke doesn't want to, why should we? Recently, in a BBC interview, he insisted that 'the "number one problem" in stabilizing Afghanistan was Taliban sanctuaries in western Pakistan, including tribal areas along the Afghan border and cities like Quetta' in the Pakistani province of Baluchistan. And isn't he right? After all, the US seems to be in the process of trading in a limited war in a mountainous, poverty-stricken country of 27 million people for one in an advanced nation of 167 million, with a crumbling economy, rising extremism, advancing corruption, and a large military armed with nuclear weapons. Worse yet, the war in Pakistan seems to be expanding inexorably and in tandem with American war planning from the tribal borderlands ever closer to the heart of the country."

Arrest of Sunni Leaders Raises Fears of Broader Clashes
Leila Fadel, McClatchy Newspapers: "The arrest of two Sunni paramilitary leaders in Baghdad and the violent clashes that followed this weekend have cast a harsh light on a US program on which Iraq's future stability may depend - the integration of US-backed militias into Iraq's security forces and government ministries. The latest violence, coupled with a pattern of arrests of Sunni leaders in other parts of Iraq, raises fears that the integration plan could collapse, and with it the understandings that led to drastically lower levels of violence throughout the country. Tensions were high in Baghdad's Fadhil neighborhood Sunday, where at least 18 people were wounded in hours-long clashes on Saturday and Sunday morning."

GM Chief to Resign at White House's Behest
Peter Whoriskey, The Washington Post: "The Obama administration has forced the longtime head of General Motors to resign and said yesterday that it would withhold additional federal aid to the auto industry unless the ailing companies undertake changes they so far have been unwilling or unable to make. The administration effectively rejected as untenable the business plans that GM and Chrysler had submitted to restructure their companies, saying that neither had fulfilled the terms of the federal loans the companies received in December. The president is expected to announce today that both companies may still win additional federal aid but under stricter terms."

Obama Team Pushes New Role for US in Climate Change Talks
Dina Cappiello, The Associated Press: "At its first negotiations on climate change, the Obama administration is trying to persuade other countries that the United States does care about global warming and wants to shape an international accord. After eight years on the sidelines, the United States says it is ready for a central role in developing a new agreement to slash greenhouse gases. But whether the country, which is the second-largest source of heat-trapping pollution, is ready to sign onto a deal by year's end could depend on Congress."

America the tarnished

The New York Times

Ten years ago the cover of Time magazine featured Robert Rubin, then Treasury secretary, Alan Greenspan, then chairman of the Federal Reserve, and Lawrence Summers, then deputy Treasury secretary. Time dubbed the three “the committee to save the world,” crediting them with leading the global financial system through a crisis that seemed terrifying at the time, although it was a small blip compared with what we’re going through now.

All the men on that cover were Americans, but nobody considered that odd. After all, in 1999 the United States was the unquestioned leader of the global crisis response. That leadership role was only partly based on American wealth; it also, to an important degree, reflected America’s stature as a role model. The United States, everyone thought, was the country that knew how to do finance right.

How times have changed.

Never mind the fact that two members of the committee have since succumbed to the magazine cover curse, the plunge in reputation that so often follows lionization in the media. (Mr. Summers, now the head of the National Economic Council, is still going strong.) Far more important is the extent to which our claims of financial soundness — claims often invoked as we lectured other countries on the need to change their ways — have proved hollow.

Indeed, these days America is looking like the Bernie Madoff of economies: for many years it was held in respect, even awe, but it turns out to have been a fraud all along.

It’s painful now to read a lecture that Mr. Summers gave in early 2000, as the economic crisis of the 1990s was winding down. Discussing the causes of that crisis, Mr. Summers pointed to things that the crisis countries lacked — and that, by implication, the United States had. These things included “well-capitalized and supervised banks” and reliable, transparent corporate accounting. Oh well.

One of the analysts Mr. Summers cited in that lecture, by the way, was the economist Simon Johnson. In an article in the current issue of The Atlantic, Mr. Johnson, who served as the chief economist at the I.M.F. and is now a professor at M.I.T., declares that America’s current difficulties are “shockingly reminiscent” of crises in places like Russia and Argentina — including the key role played by crony capitalists.

In America as in the third world, he writes, “elite business interests — financiers, in the case of the U.S. — played a central role in creating the crisis, making ever-larger gambles, with the implicit backing of the government, until the inevitable collapse. More alarming, they are now using their influence to prevent precisely the sorts of reforms that are needed, and fast, to pull the economy out of its nosedive.”

It’s no wonder, then, that an article in yesterday’s Times about the response President Obama will receive in Europe was titled “English-Speaking Capitalism on Trial.”

Now, in fairness we have to say that the United States was far from being the only nation in which banks ran wild. Many European leaders are still in denial about the continent’s economic and financial troubles, which arguably run as deep as our own — although their nations’ much stronger social safety nets mean that we’re likely to experience far more human suffering. Still, it’s a fact that the crisis has cost America much of its credibility, and with it much of its ability to lead.

And that’s a very bad thing.

Like many other economists, I’ve been revisiting the Great Depression, looking for lessons that might help us avoid a repeat performance. And one thing that stands out from the history of the early 1930s is the extent to which the world’s response to crisis was crippled by the inability of the world’s major economies to cooperate.

The details of our current crisis are very different, but the need for cooperation is no less. President Obama got it exactly right last week when he declared: “All of us are going to have to take steps in order to lift the economy. We don’t want a situation in which some countries are making extraordinary efforts and other countries aren’t.”

Yet that is exactly the situation we’re in. I don’t believe that even America’s economic efforts are adequate, but they’re far more than most other wealthy countries have been willing to undertake. And by rights this week’s G-20 summit ought to be an occasion for Mr. Obama to chide and chivy European leaders, in particular, into pulling their weight.

But these days foreign leaders are in no mood to be lectured by American officials, even when — as in this case — the Americans are right.

The financial crisis has had many costs. And one of those costs is the damage to America’s reputation, an asset we’ve lost just when we, and the world, need it most.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Truthout 3/29

Jason Leopold Tyler E. Boudreau: "The Unmaking of A Marine"
Jason Leopold, Truthout: "These are the conclusions I arrived at after reading Marine Capt. Tyler E. Boudreau's first-person exposé of the time he spent in Iraq and the struggles he and his comrades faced in the aftermath of their deployment."

Canadians Find Vast Computer Spy Network: Report
Reuters: "Canadian researchers have uncovered a vast electronic spying operation that infiltrated computers and stole documents from government and private offices around the world, including those of the Dalai Lama, The New York Times reported on Saturday."

Chris Hedges America Is in Need of a Moral Bailout
Chris Hedges, Truthdig: "In decaying societies, politics become theater. The elite, who have hollowed out the democratic system to serve the corporate state, rule through image and presentation. They express indignation at AIG bonuses and empathy with a working class they have spent the last few decades disenfranchising, and make promises to desperate families that they know will never be fulfilled."

Obama Afghan Strategy Not Just About Bullets, Bombs
Lachlan Carmichael, Agence France-Presse: "The new Afghan war strategy unveiled Friday by US President Barack Obama goes beyond 'bullets and bombs' to a plan to overhaul international aid to Afghanistan and Pakistan."

Mexico's Drug Gangs Drive Film Crew Out of Town
Vittorio Zunno Ceotta, The Independent: "Producers of a film about the murder of a cocaine smuggler, which would have starred Eva Mendes, Josh Hartnett and Sir Ben Kingsley, have been forced to abandon filming on the Mexican coast after the movie-makers received death threats."

Obama Sets New Standard for Managing the News
Margaret Talev, McClatchy Newspapers: "In the past week, President Barack Obama spoke via video to Iranians and, separately, to viewers of a Latin music awards show, appeared on Jay Leno's 'Tonight Show' and on '60 Minutes,' held a prime-time news conference at which he called on several special-audience publications and wrote an opinion column that ran in newspapers around the world."

FOCUS Sydney to Egypt - Lights Dim for Earth Hour
The Associated Press: "From an Antarctic research base to the Great Pyramids of Egypt and beyond, the world switched off the lights on Saturday for Earth Hour, dimming skyscrapers, city streets and some of the world's most recognizable monuments for 60 minutes to highlight the threat of climate change."

FOCUS Spain May Open Torture Probe of Six Bush Officials
Reuters: "A top Spanish court has moved toward starting a probe of six former Bush administration officials including ex-Attorney General Alberto Gonzales in connection with alleged torture of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, The New York Times said on Saturday."

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Truthout 3/28

Michael Winship That's No Angry Mob, It's a Movement
Michael Winship, Truthout: "A college friend of mine, after much quaffing from the keg, so to speak, would start singing a faux hymn that began, 'We are sliding into sin - whee!' I've thought of his bleary tune from time to time as we all watched our financial institutions slide from thoughtless, wretched excess into calamity, aided and abetted by deregulation and bailouts, dragging the rest of us along on their speed bump-free ride."

Obama Sets Qaeda Defeat as Top Goal in Afghanistan
Ross Colvin, Reuters: "President Barack Obama unveiled a new war strategy for Afghanistan on Friday with a key goal -- to crush al Qaeda militants there and in Pakistan who he said were plotting new attacks on the United States."

Robert B. Reich Obamanomics Isn't About Big Government
Robert B. Reich, The Wall Street Journal: "Twenty-eight years ago, Ronald Reagan used the severe economic downturn of 1980-82 to implement an economic philosophy that not only gave force and meaning to a wide range of initiatives but also offered a way back to sustained economic growth. Is there a similarly powerful animating idea behind Obamanomics?"

Senator Seeks to Ratify Nuclear Test Ban Pact
Reuters: "The chairman of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee, John Kerry, said on Friday he had begun laying the groundwork for Senate ratification of a global pact banning nuclear tests."

Obama Monitors Midwest Flooding, Pledges Help
Liz Sidoti, The Associated Press: "Seeking to avoid a Hurricane Katrina-like leadership failure, President Barack Obama assured the nation Saturday he was keeping close watch on the Midwest floods and putting the government's full weight behind efforts to prevent disaster."

Earth Hour Participants to Turn Off PCs, Smartphones
Nathan Eddy, eWeek.com: "This year's Earth Hour event is expected to draw participants from all seven continents, who will turn off their smartphones, PCs and lights for an hour on Saturday. Major technology companies such as RIM, maker of the BlackBerry, are participating, but an Earth Hour spokesman wants businesses of any size to know they can participate."

Joseph Stiglitz Reform Is Needed. Reform Is in the Air.
Joseph Stiglitz, The Guardian: "The financial crisis that began in America's sub-prime mortgage market has now become a global recession - with growth projected to be a negative 1.5%, the worst performance since the Great Depression. Even countries that had done everything right are seeing marked declines in growth rates, and even deep recessions. And much of the most acute pain will be felt by developing countries."

Robert Naiman Afghanistan: The Four Questions
Robert Naiman, Truthout: "It is widely recognized that sending more people - whether soldiers or civilians - is very unlikely in itself to change anything fundamental because the order of magnitude is wrong. The United States has not been, is not, and almost certainly never will be willing and able to commit the resources, which would be necessary to transform Afghanistan into a peaceful 'democracy' according to the present policy. The most that could be plausibly hoped for is that additional resources would help make a new policy work: a new policy based on a fundamental, political shift in US policy, including accommodation with the bulk of the political forces now backing Afghanistan's various insurgencies."

Update: Thousands flee Fargo

From AP

Thousand of residents fled North Dakota's largest city in advance of rising flood waters, which have already hit record levels. The ice-laden Red River is expected to crest on Sunday at 43 feet, almost 3 feet higher than the 112-year-old record.


Friday, March 27, 2009

Breaking: Evacuations begin in Fargo/Moorhead

From NBC News

MOORHEAD, Minn. - As Fargo, N.D., saw the Red River top a 112-year high Friday, its cousin across the river urged a third of its residents, some 2,660 households, to evacuate.

Moorhead spokeswoman Becky Jahnke said the evacuations were sought on the western side of the city, where it borders the river.

In Fargo, the rising Red on Friday caused a dike to leak, but the mayor pledged to "go down swinging" as he called for more evacuations and additional National Guard troops to prevent a devastating flood.

The river swelled to 40.32 feet — more than 22 feet above flood stage and above the previous high water mark of 40.1 feet set in 1897. It was expected to crest as high as 43 feet on Saturday. Fargo's main dike protects the city at the 43-foot level.

Fargo Mayor Dennis Walaker said the city has no plans to build the dike any higher. Officials believe the Red River will crest at between 41.5 and 42 feet, he said, and there's no time to raise the dike again.

"We're not going to proceed to take it to 44. Is that a gamble? We don't think so," Walaker said.

Some 800 members of the National Guard from North Dakota and South Dakota are being added to patrol dikes for breaches, on top of the 900 troops already in place. They toiled in harsh conditions, with scattered flurries and wind chills below zero for most of the morning.

But officials said the cold weather actually helped. The river was rising more slowly because the freezing temperatures prevented snow from melting.

Officials asked people to stay off of roads to keep streets clear for sandbag trucks and avoid traffic jams that have been plaguing the area.

Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., also said that Northwest Airlines was sending two jetliners to move patients from hospitals to safer areas.

President Barack Obama sent the acting head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Nancy Ward, to Fargo.

Authorities in Fargo and across the river in Moorhead, Minn., expanded evacuations Friday across several blocks of their cities. Officials said 400 people had been evacuated in Fargo,

plus more than 100 inmates were taken from the county jail to other lockups in the region.

In one flood-threatened neighborhood of Fargo, residents placed pumps in their soggy yards in hopes of keeping water out of their homes.

"Last time we said we'd never go through this mess again. But here we are," Karen Whieland said as she toiled in her soaked front yard, the hum of levee-making backhoes nearby.

(The area endured devasting flooding in 1997. - DW)

FP morning brief 3/27

Top Story

A suicide attack killed over 50 people at a mosque in Northwest Pakistan in the country's deadliest attack this year. The attack near the Afghanistan-Pakistan border completely demolished the mosque and is thought to have killed many members of Pakistan's paramilitary Frontier Corps.

The Obama administration will release its new strategy for the war in Afghanistan today, which will likely focus more on quelling the insurgency in order to preserve stability in Afghanistan and Pakistan as opposed to the Bush administration's broader nation-building goals for the country.

Middle East
Israel says it has successfully tested a new anti-rocket system.
Police have dropped one of the corruption charges against Israeli PM Ehud Olmert.
Sixteen people were killed in a bombing at a bus stop in Baghdad.

North Korea has positioned a rocket on a launch pad in preparation for April's launch.
The U.S. is still working to keep its airbase in Kyrgyzstan open.
A massive dam collapse caused deadly flash-floods near Jakarta, Indonesia.

Israel attacked a convoy of trucks bringing weapons to Hamas in January, various news outlets are reporting. FP's Laura Rozen has more.
There's still no word from the European tankers taken by Somali pirates yesterday.
Kenyan police are reportedly holding a man wanted for war crimes in former Yugoslavia.

The Czech Republic's opposition Social Democrats are working to form a coalition after the collaprse of Mirek Topolanek's center-right government.
Workers at a French 3M plant have freed their boss after holding him hostage for over 24 hours.
New data shows the British economy declining even faster than previously thought.

The Obama administration has raised eyebrows in Mexico by appointing an expert in failed states as its new ambassador.
The U.S. is cracking down on "parallel exchange" trading between the U.S. and Venezuela.
The U.S. Senate approved the largest expansion of public service programs since the 1960s.

Donnelly opposes assault weapons ban

Irresponsible: Your Representative Opposes an Assault Weapons BanTell Them You Are Outraged at his Letter to US Attorney General Eric Holder

Your Representative recently signed an irresponsible letter to Attorney General Holder opposing reenactment of a Federal law banning military-style assault weapons.

The letter was signed by your Representative even though law enforcement officers and other Americans are being killed and maimed by these deadly guns. Just this past weekend, a criminal in Oakland, CA reportedly used an AK-47 assault weapon and a semiautomatic handgun to kill four police officers and wound another.

Rep. Joe Donnelly (202) 225-3915

Tell your Representative that his letter to Attorney General Holder opposing a ban on federal assault weapons was a mistake for the safety of our families.

--OR--Click here to email a letter to your Representative.

Every major law enforcement organization including the Fraternal Order of Police, International Association of Chiefs of Police, and the National Association of Police Organizations, along with countless law enforcement officials, have supported a ban on these deadly weapons.

Please contact your Representative now and tell them that you stand with law enforcement. When our law enforcement officers, children — all Americans — are being gunned down with military-style semi-automatic firearms, your Representative should be working to keep these dangerous guns out of the wrong hands.

Sarah Brady,
Brady Campaign to end handgun violence

The market mystique

New York Times

On Monday, Lawrence Summers, the head of the National Economic Council, responded to criticisms of the Obama administration’s plan to subsidize private purchases of toxic assets. “I don’t know of any economist,” he declared, “who doesn’t believe that better functioning capital markets in which assets can be traded are a good idea.”

Leave aside for a moment the question of whether a market in which buyers have to be bribed to participate can really be described as “better functioning.” Even so, Mr. Summers needs to get out more. Quite a few economists have reconsidered their favorable opinion of capital markets and asset trading in the light of the current crisis.

But it has become increasingly clear over the past few days that top officials in the Obama administration are still in the grip of the market mystique. They still believe in the magic of the financial marketplace and in the prowess of the wizards who perform that magic.

The market mystique didn’t always rule financial policy. America emerged from the Great Depression with a tightly regulated banking system, which made finance a staid, even boring business. Banks attracted depositors by providing convenient branch locations and maybe a free toaster or two; they used the money thus attracted to make loans, and that was that.

And the financial system wasn’t just boring. It was also, by today’s standards, small. Even during the “go-go years,” the bull market of the 1960s, finance and insurance together accounted for less than 4 percent of G.D.P. The relative unimportance of finance was reflected in the list of stocks making up the Dow Jones Industrial Average, which until 1982 contained not a single financial company.

It all sounds primitive by today’s standards. Yet that boring, primitive financial system serviced an economy that doubled living standards over the course of a generation.

After 1980, of course, a very different financial system emerged. In the deregulation-minded Reagan era, old-fashioned banking was increasingly replaced by wheeling and dealing on a grand scale. The new system was much bigger than the old regime: On the eve of the current crisis, finance and insurance accounted for 8 percent of G.D.P., more than twice their share in the 1960s. By early last year, the Dow contained five financial companies — giants like A.I.G., Citigroup and Bank of America.

And finance became anything but boring. It attracted many of our sharpest minds and made a select few immensely rich.

Underlying the glamorous new world of finance was the process of securitization. Loans no longer stayed with the lender. Instead, they were sold on to others, who sliced, diced and puréed individual debts to synthesize new assets. Subprime mortgages, credit card debts, car loans — all went into the financial system’s juicer. Out the other end, supposedly, came sweet-tasting AAA investments. And financial wizards were lavishly rewarded for overseeing the process.

But the wizards were frauds, whether they knew it or not, and their magic turned out to be no more than a collection of cheap stage tricks. Above all, the key promise of securitization — that it would make the financial system more robust by spreading risk more widely — turned out to be a lie. Banks used securitization to increase their risk, not reduce it, and in the process they made the economy more, not less, vulnerable to financial disruption.

Sooner or later, things were bound to go wrong, and eventually they did. Bear Stearns failed; Lehman failed; but most of all, securitization failed.

Which brings us back to the Obama administration’s approach to the financial crisis.

Much discussion of the toxic-asset plan has focused on the details and the arithmetic, and rightly so. Beyond that, however, what’s striking is the vision expressed both in the content of the financial plan and in statements by administration officials. In essence, the administration seems to believe that once investors calm down, securitization — and the business of finance — can resume where it left off a year or two ago.

To be fair, officials are calling for more regulation. Indeed, on Thursday Tim Geithner, the Treasury secretary, laid out plans for enhanced regulation that would have been considered radical not long ago.

But the underlying vision remains that of a financial system more or less the same as it was two years ago, albeit somewhat tamed by new rules.

As you can guess, I don’t share that vision. I don’t think this is just a financial panic; I believe that it represents the failure of a whole model of banking, of an overgrown financial sector that did more harm than good. I don’t think the Obama administration can bring securitization back to life, and I don’t believe it should try.

Truthout 3/27

David Bacon This May Day
David Bacon, Truthout: "In a little over a month, hundreds of thousands, perhaps even millions, of people will fill the streets in city after city, town after town, across the US. This year these May Day marches of immigrant workers will make an important demand on the Obama administration: End the draconian enforcement policies of the Bush administration. Establish a new immigration policy based on human rights and recognition of the crucial economic and social contributions of immigrants to US society."

Vice President Joe Biden A New Day for Partnership in the Americas
Joe Biden, La Nacion: "Next month, President Obama will travel to Trinidad and Tobago to meet his colleagues from across the Western Hemisphere at the Summit of the Americas. In advance of that historic meeting, I am traveling to Central and South America to consult with Latin American leaders gathered in Chile and Costa Rica about the Summit and the challenges faced by the people of the Americas."

Suicide Bomber Kills at Least 50 in Pakistan Mosque
Haq Nawaz and Pamela Constable, The Washington Post: "A suicide bomber detonated his explosives Friday in a crowded mosque in northwest Pakistan, killing at least 50 people and leaving more bodies buried in the rubble of the building, officials said. The attack came just hours before President Obama in Washington introduced a new strategy to fight terror and extremism in both Pakistan and Afghanistan."

States Consider Drug Tests for Welfare Recipients
Tom Breen, The Associated Press: "Want government assistance? Just say no to drugs. Lawmakers in at least eight states want recipients of food stamps, unemployment benefits or welfare to submit to random drug testing."

Favilla's Chronicle Capitalists Against Capitalism
The authors writing as Favilla for France's premier business paper, Les Echos: "The spectacle of a president of the United States choking with anger over the behavior of one of his country's companies is so unusual that it deserves comment. In fact, Barack Obama's attitude is dictated not only by the fact that AIG executives paid themselves bonuses while their company - bankrupt from an accounting perspective - called on massive public financial assistance. It's their moral obliviousness that has stupefied all America." Bernard Maris and Rabbi Jonathan Sachs also comment on the market's morality failures.

Will Robot Killers Be Allowed to Fire on Their Own?
Robert S. Boyd, McClatchy Newspapers: "The unmanned bombers that frequently cause unintended civilian casualties in Pakistan are a step toward an even more lethal generation of robotic hunters-killers that operate with limited, if any, human control. The Defense Department is financing studies of autonomous, or self-governing, armed robots that could find and destroy targets on their own. On-board computer programs, not flesh-and-blood people, would decide whether to fire their weapons."

Eric Alterman and Danielle Ivory Think Again: Cable News Blues
Eric Alterman and Danielle Ivory, The Center for American Progress: "'Imagine someone about to begin physical therapy following a stroke, suddenly contracting a debilitating secondary illness.' This is how the Pew Project for Excellence in Journalism describes the 'State of the Media' in its 2009 report. It gets worse from there."

William Rivers Pitt Enduring Freedom
William Rivers Pitt, Truthout: "Our war in Afghanistan began almost 3,000 days ago, on October 7, 2001. Our war in Afghanistan has lasted longer than World War I, World War II, the Civil War, the Korean War, the first Gulf War in Iraq and the second Gulf War in Iraq. If we are still fighting in Afghanistan a year from now, the war will have lasted longer than the American Revolution. Children who were born on the day the war began are now halfway through grammar school. All the bad economic news and the turmoil in the financial and housing markets have America looking inward these days. We rarely hear anything about Iraq anymore, and even less about Afghanistan. For the record, and to bring everyone up to speed, the following events have taken place in Afghanistan during the last 72 hours."

4,000 More US Troops to Be Sent to Afghanistan as Trainers
Karen DeYoung and Greg Jaffe, The Washington Post: "President Obama will deploy as many as 4,000 additional US troops to Afghanistan, beyond the 17,000 he authorized last month, as trainers and advisers to the Afghan Army, according to a senior Pentagon official who has seen the new Afghanistan-Pakistan strategy Obama will unveil Friday. Obama briefed House and Senate leaders at the White House this afternoon on the strategy, while special envoy Richard Holbrooke outlined the plan to other lawmakers on Capitol Hill. The president also telephoned Afghan President Hamid Karzai and his Pakistani counterpart, President Asif Ali Zardari. The result of military, intelligence and diplomat reviews that began the day Obama took office, the strategy is expected to include major increases in US military and development assistance to both countries."

Roger Cohen The Fierce Urgency of Peace
Roger Cohen, The New York Times: "Pressure on President Obama to recast the failed American approach to Israel-Palestine is building from former senior officials whose counsel he respects. Following up on a letter dated Nov. 6, 2008, that was handed to Obama late last year by Paul Volcker, now a senior economic adviser to the president, these foreign policy mandarins have concluded a 'Bipartisan Statement on US Middle East Peacemaking' that should become an essential template. Deploring 'seven years of absenteeism' under the Bush administration, they call for intense American mediation in pursuit of a two-state solution, 'a more pragmatic approach toward Hamas,' and eventual US leadership of a multinational force to police transitional security between Israel and Palestine."

Iran, NATO in First Talks in 30 Years
Agence France-Presse: "Iran and NATO have held their first talks since the Iranian revolution 30 years ago, officials at the military alliance said Thursday, in a new sign of a thaw in Tehran's ties with the West. At allied headquarters in Brussels last week, an Iranian diplomat and a senior NATO official had an 'informal contact' focused on Iran's neighbour Afghanistan, where the alliance is battling a stiff Taliban-led insurgency. 'The diplomat met with Assistant Secretary General for Political Affairs and Security Policy Martin Erdmann,' chief NATO spokesman James Appathurai said."

Geithner Outlines Sweeping Increase in Financial Regulation
Kevin G. Hall, McClatchy Newspapers: "Facing an angry public at home and restless allies abroad, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner on Thursday outlined the broad brushstrokes of one of the most sweeping overhauls of financial regulation in the nation's history. Geithner presented to the House Financial Services Committee the Obama administration's six-point regulatory blueprint for beefing up financial regulation. The plan doesn't create sweeping new programs; instead, it seeks to build on existing structures and fill in the gaping regulatory holes exposed by the current global crisis. It would subject lightly regulated segments of the financial sector such as hedge funds and private-equity funds to greater scrutiny."

Frida Berrigan Progress on Cluster Bombs
Frida Berrigan, Foreign Policy In Focus: "Good news is in short supply. The economy remains bleak. The war in Iraq entered its seventh year last week, and violence reaches new pinnacles in Afghanistan. But there is one bright light amid all this gloom. Real progress is being made to ban cluster munitions. These are canisters of different sizes that release hundreds of bomblets on detonation, scattering deadly devices over an area as large as several football fields. On the international front, representatives of 75 nations gathered at the United Nations last week to celebrate the Cluster Munitions Convention and call on nations to ratify the treaty."

Thursday, March 26, 2009

FP morning brief 3/26

Top Story

The latest U.S. drone attack killed four people in Northwest Pakistan as the U.S. offered a $5 million reward for two al Qaeda leaders believed to be in the area. A well-known radical cleric in the area proclaimed that the widening U.S. drone operation in the region would justify jihad against U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

The Wall Street Journal reports that the U.S. is drawing up a list of drone targets along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border with the help of Pakistani intelligence. The situation is somewhat delicate since U.S. officials also believe that Pakistan's military intelligence agency, the ISI, is providing support for Taliban militants in Afghanistan.

The results of a major U.S. policy review on Afghanistan are expected tomorrow. President Barack Obama said yesterday that the review would call for better coordination between NATO allies. The U.S. will be hosting an international conference on the future of Afghanistan at The Hague next Tuesday. Iran has accepted the United States' invitation to attend.

Visiting Mexico City, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton acknowledged that the U.S. was to blame for much of Mexico's drug violence.
U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner will announce sweeping new regulations for the financial sector on Thursday.
Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega is asking the U.S. for a bailout for Latin America.

54 people were killed by shelling in northern Sri Lanka. Thousands more are trapped between government forces and the Tamil Tiger rebels.
China criticized a U.S. report on its growing military.
20,000 protesters marched in Bangkok to demand the resignation of Thai PM Abhisit Vejjajiva.

Middle East
An Egyptian government official says his government is moderating a prisoner exchange between Israel and Hamas that involves captured IDF soldier Gilad Shalit.
A technically illegal West Bank settlement appears to be receiving Israeli government funding, the BBC reports.
A car bombing killed 16 at a bus stop in Baghdad.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy is visiting DR Congo to meet with President Joseph Kabila.
Indicted Sudanese leader Omar al Bashir traveled to Libya to meet with Muammar al Qadaffi.
Somalia's new interior minister was wounded by a roadside bomb.

A third man has been charged in Northern Ireland's recent police shooting.
The collapse of the Czech Republic's government could put the nail in the coffin of the EU's Lisbon treaty.
The leader of Chechnya says separatist rebels have been nearly wiped out and the Russian region will soon be able to stop anti-rebel operations soon.

Truthout 3/26

Abukar Arman Jihad Against the Abuse of Jihad
Abukar Arman, Truthout: "In light of the rampant extremism and militarism around the world, nothing proves more dangerous than the manipulation of truth for political ends. This tactic facilitates the demonization process that blurs ideologies and beliefs in both the West and the Islamic world. And, no concept is more abused by both sides than the concept of Jihad."

Suicide Numbers on Rise With Combat Stress
Alan Gomez, USA Today: "In Maj. Thomas Jarrett’s stress management class, troops are urged not to accept post-traumatic stress disorder as an inevitable consequence of war. Instead, Jarrett tells them to strive for 'post-traumatic growth.'... The class is part of an urgent initiative aimed at halting an epidemic of suicides, which has killed almost as many American troops this year as combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan combined."

Strained Immigrant Detention System a Virtual Black Hole
Marina Litvinsky, Inter Press Service: "The U.S. government has failed to uphold international human rights standards in its detention of immigrants and asylum seekers, Amnesty International USA (AIUSA) said in a report released Wednesday."

Corina Knoll Thanking Her for Opening My Eyes
Corina Knoll, The Los Angeles Times: "Jane Elliott has blue eyes. The years have turned her once-brown hair a bright snowy white, and at 75 years old she's rounder, maybe shorter, than she used to be. But eye color doesn't change. Elliott, an Iowa teacher, made deliberate use of that in 1968 when she created a now-famous exercise for her classroom of white third-graders. It was the day after the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., and she was struggling to explain the concept of racism."

Clinton Admits US Blame on Drugs
BBC News: "US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says the US must take part of the blame for drug-related violence in Mexico. Speaking as she arrived in Mexico, she said America's appetite for drugs and its inability to stop arms crossing the border were helping fuel the violence. Her two-day visit comes a day after the Obama administration announced new measures to boost border security."

Jacques Delpla Who Should, Who Must, Pay to Save the Banks?
Jacques Delpla, a member of France's Economic Analysis Council, writing for France's premier business paper, Les Echos: "... government's prohibition of bank failure de facto guarantees [senior and junior] bank debts. In this case, capitalism is perverted: creditors earn higher interest rates for taking a bank risk to which they are never exposed! How can creditors be made to pay without unleashing systemic risk?"

In Fargo, a Race Against the River
Matt McKinney, Allie Shah and Bill McAuliffe, Minneapolis Star Tribune: "Flood-fighters in and around Fargo, N.D., continued to fill sandbags, build dikes and plan for evacuations this morning after a dire new forecast called for the Red River to swell to its highest level ever by Saturday."

Robert Naiman Ban Cluster Bombs? Yes, We Can!
Robert Naiman, Truthout: "President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton are getting big praise around the world for their new Charm Offensive. As far as I'm concerned, the praise is justified. I heard our secretary of state interviewed on BBC a few weeks ago about our diplomatic outreach to Iran on Afghanistan. And BBC was all, what makes you think Iran is going to help you on Afghanistan? And Hillary was all, you know, actually Iran helped us tremendously in Afghanistan after 2001. Our ambassador in Afghanistan and the Iranian ambassador were meeting practically every day. I just about fell off my chair. You'd have thought Hillary was applying for a job at the National Iranian American Council."

Suspected US Drone Kills Four in Northwest Pakistan
Alamgir Bitani, Reuters: "Missiles believed to have been fired by a US drone aircraft killed four people in Pakistan's North Waziristan region on Thursday, hours after a similar strike killed seven in neighboring South Waziristan."

Naomi Wolf Constitutional Scholar Calls Bush Torture Memos Treason
Naomi Wolf, AlterNet: "In early March, more shocking details emerged about George W. Bush legal counsel John Yoo's memos outlining the destruction of the republic. The memos lay the legal groundwork for the president to send the military to wage war against US citizens; take them from their homes to Navy brigs without trial and keep them forever; close down the First Amendment; and invade whatever country he chooses without regard to any treaty or objection by Congress."

Mark Weisbrot G-20 Should Think Twice About Increasing IMF
Mark Weisbrot, The Center for Economic and Policy Research: "The G-20 summit meeting in London on April 2nd will have a lot on its plate and will certainly fall short of expectations... There is a world recession, the worst for more than 60 years, and the immediate problem of how to get out of it through fiscal and monetary stimulus, as well as possible coordinated action to fix the global financial system. Then there is regulatory reform. And sadly, last on the agenda is aid for the poorest countries - who through the drying up of credit, shrinking exports, and falling commodity prices - pay the biggest price in human terms for a disaster caused mainly by the richest people in the richest countries."

Why Secretly Funded DEA Surveillance Planes Aren't Flying
Marisa Taylor, McClatchy Newspapers: "The first sign of trouble with the Drug Enforcement Administration's new surveillance planes surfaced almost immediately. On the way from the manufacturer to the agency's aviation headquarters, one of them veered off a runway during a fuel stop. The malfunction last spring was only the beginning."

Wilderness Protection Bill Gets Congress's O.K.
Richard Simon and Bettina Boxall, The Los Angeles Times: "Congress on Wednesday approved the largest expansion of the wilderness system in 15 years, bestowing the highest level of federal protection on 2 million acres in nine states and launching one of the most ambitious river restoration efforts in the West."

On Winning The Mexican Drug War, Or, "Fighting For Peace Is Like..."

The AIG Bonus Scandal having been disposed of for the moment, Congress is all a-flitter, all of a sudden, about the new “Greatest Threat To The American Way Of Life In All Of World History Of The Week”...and this week the threat is The Mexican Drug War.

The Mexican Drug Cartels, Senator Joe Lieberman told us in a March 25th hearing, are the number one organized crime threat we face in America today.

The violence, we are told, is beginning to affect America’s National Security...and unless I’m mistaken, Congress is looking to spin up for some sort of action that might range from sending thousands of troops to the US Southwest—and beyond—to going after users in the US “by any means necessary” to perhaps even getting all “Jack Bauer” on some Mexicans who would, presumably, have some useful information.

Although no one’s discussed it yet, we will probably hear someone even propose sending cartel leaders to Guantanamo (Michelle Bachman...I’m thinking of you...).

However, there is another way to disarm these dangerous cartels...and history tells us it works.

So Congress, before you go passing some “warrantless wiretapping for drugs” 4th Amendment exception, allow me to suggest that instead of a drug war, what we really need...is a drug peace.

I certainly do not drink all the time.
I have to sleep you know.

--W.C. Fields

If you really want to understand today’s War On Drugs from the mind of a Mexican Drug Cartel “senior manager”, imagine the America of about 1929.

Alcohol was only available from you and your friends—or it was available from your enemies, who you were trying to kill with all the ingenuity you could muster.

Your enemies were, of course, also trying to kill you; so every day at work you needed to be looking over your shoulder...and to be willing to shoot first and ask questions later.

The police, the Courts, and the various elected officials were, at worst, a “business expense”.

Corporate America had embraced the concept of “vertical integration”; and in Detroit Henry Ford’s River Rouge Complex combined all of the elements of car manufacture, all in one place: a steel mill, a glass factory, a tire plant...and all of it ending in an assembly line.

Criminal America had seen the same light, which was why The Purple Gang, also based in Detroit, was engaged in liquor smuggling, liquor distribution (they were reported to be Al Capone’s largest supplier), and, naturally, the extortion of money from the speakeasies—not to mention robbing or kidnapping the occasional high-roller speakeasy customer.

The Purple Gang even allied themselves with the Sugar House Gang to ensure vertical integration was more efficient. Because of Prohibition, the availability of products used to make alcohol was suddenly restricted; meaning whoever controlled the distribution of corn sugar controlled who would be manufacturing liquor.

The Sugar House Gang (named after the product they controlled and the place they sold it) would tell The Purple Gang who had been buying corn syrup. Once the customer had distilled the liquor, The Purple Gang would rob them...and then sell the goods to Capone, or another customer...and then vertical integration was complete!

The Purple Gang was so tied in to the bootlegger-on-bootlegger violence of the era that they even have a tangential connection with the Valentine’s Day Massacre; which seems to have been related to a dispute among rival liquor distributors “Bugs” Moran and Al Capone (who, as everyone knows, was in Florida at the time...so he couldn’t possibly have anything to do with it).

It was estimated The Purple Gang might have been responsible for as many as 500 murders before they were targeted by Federal officials.

Murders, kidnapping, bootlegging, extortion, public corruption, rotgut liquor that could cause blindness--or even death--the invention of the “drive-by” shooting...all of it was part and parcel of daily life in 1920s Prohibition America.

In fact, Prohibition had created “drug cartels” so dangerous to National Security that President Herbert Hoover had named Al Capone “Public Enemy Number One”.

(Of course, some might argue that Hoover’s real Public Enemy Number One was the Great Depression...but we’ll address that question another day.)

Under great public pressure, Prohibition ended in 1933, having lasted roughly 14 years.

This discussion began with an examination of the question of how you might reduce the power of the Mexican Drug Cartels, you’ll recall; so let’s end this conversation by posing some questions that tie the whole thing together:

--When’s the last time you heard of three carfuls of guys from Jack Daniels using their Tommy guns to first shoot up, and then burn, Jim Beam’s distillery so that they could take over their turf?

--Mexican Drug Cartels make billions of dollars annually importing virtually every drug you might want: they import the reefer, I’m told, and the cocaine, the heroin, the meth, the ecstasy...and probably Viagra, to boot.

You know what the one drug is that Mexican Drug Cartels don’t import?


--So if liquor has become a legal business...and Jack Daniel’s sees no business imperative in a raid on Jim Beam...and Mexican Drug Cartels aren’t making money smuggling tequila (at least not since the 1930s, anyway)...and the last drive-by shooting that involved the liquor business was sometime in 1932 or early 1933...and every single “Mafia Liquor Cartel” was basically out of business the moment Prohibition ended...you think maybe it’s time that we thought about making some of the other drugs a legal business, too?

I’m pretty sure I know who won’t like the idea...and I’m pretty sure it’s going to be the suddenly much less powerful Mexican Drug Cartels.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

FP morning brief 3/25

Top Story

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is visiting Mexico today in what many see as a critical juncture in U.S.-Mexican relations. The Obama administration announced yesterday that it is sending addtional federal agents and equipment to the United States' border to prevent spillover from Mexico's drug violence and keep cash and guns from heading south.“I think if one U.S. citizen is killed because of foreign nationals who are engaging in violent crime, that’s enough of a concern to do something about it,” Obama said.

Mexicans, for the most part, reacted positively to the plan, though senior Mexican military officers expressed concern about the possibility of U.S. national guard troops being sent to the border, as Texas Governor Rick Perry has requested. Obama has, so far, made no mention of sending troops.

The visit also come at a time when the 15-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement seems in danger from a growing climate of protectionism. The U.S. recently passed restrictions on Mexican trucks crossing the border and Mexico as responded by slapping tariffs on U.S. goods.

In a primetime press conference, President Barack Obama said he was beginning to see "signs of progress" in the U.S. economic recovery.
Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke said that the AIG situation highlighted the need for more comprehensive financial regulation.
Four soldiers were killed in a rebel attack in Colombia.

A former Sinn Fein politician was charged with killing a police officer in Northern Ireland.
Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek lost a no-confidence vote in parliament but says he has no plans to resign.
The IMF agreed to a $27 billion loan for Romania.

Sudanese President Omar al Bashir visited Egypt where he was hosted by President Hosni Mubarak, despite the international warrant for his arrest.
The IMF says Zimbabwe must pay its debt before it receives more aid.
Madagascar's new leader offered to start talks with allies of the president he ousted in a military coup.

Middle East
Israel's Benjamin Netanyahu promised that his government would puruse peace but made no mention of Palestinian statehood.
Gulf states have been delayed in their plan to introduce a single currency for the region.
The U.S. military says attacks in Iraq are at their lowest level since 2003.

Japanese exports fell by half in February.
India is seeking to play a greater role in stabilizing Afghanistan.
North Korea has charged the two U.S. reporters it has detained with espionage.

Truthout 3/25

Phil Wilayto Did Iran Reject Obama's Overture?
Phil Wilayto, Truthout: "Iran's response to a supposedly conciliatory address March 20 by President Barack Obama has been met with a torrent of 'we-told-you-so's' by the US media. The Los Angeles Times reported that Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, had simply 'dismissed President Obama's extraordinary Persian New Year greeting ...' And an Associated Press report carried by, among others, The New York Times, called Khamenei's response a 'rebuff' that 'was swift and sweeping.' Was it?"

Obama Ties Hope for Economic Recovery to Passage of Budget
Margaret Talev and Steven Thomma, McClatchy Newspapers: "Two months into his term, President Barack Obama went before the American people on Tuesday evening to say that he's enacted the broad plans needed to lift the country out of an economic crisis and urged the adoption of his $3.55 trillion budget as another critical step toward recovery. 'We've put in place a comprehensive strategy designed to attack this crisis on all fronts,' he said a White House prime-time news conference, the second of his presidency. 'It's a strategy to create jobs, to help responsible homeowners, to re-start lending, and to grow our economy over the long-term. And we are beginning to see signs of progress.'"

Pepe Escobar Liquid War: Postcard From Pipelineistan
Pepe Escobar, TomDispatch.com: "What happens on the immense battlefield for the control of Eurasia will provide the ultimate plot line in the tumultuous rush towards a new, polycentric world order, also known as the New Great Game. Our good ol' friend the nonsensical 'Global War on Terror,' which the Pentagon has slyly rebranded 'the Long War,' sports a far more important, if half-hidden, twin -- a global energy war. I like to think of it as the Liquid War, because its bloodstream is the pipelines that crisscross the potential imperial battlefields of the planet. Put another way, if its crucial embattled frontier these days is the Caspian Basin, the whole of Eurasia is its chessboard. Think of it, geographically, as Pipelineistan."

Former Taliban See Opening for Talks
Jean MacKenzie, GlobalPost: "Talking to the Taliban is all the rage. Whether for or against, upbeat or down, everyone seems to be weighing in on the wisdom or folly of negotiating with the black-turbaned crowd. President Barack Obama has even suggested that his administration may reach out to moderate elements of the Taliban. GlobalPost has gained unique access here in Kabul to two former high-ranking officials of the now-deposed Taliban government to hear their view of the possibility of an opening for dialogue."

UN: One Million in Sudan Won't Get Food Aid
The Associated Press: "More than one million people in Darfur will not get their food rations starting in May if Sudan and the United Nations can't fill gaps left by the expulsion of more than a dozen foreign aid groups, a joint U.N.-Sudanese assessment team said Tuesday. Even if other relief organizations in the region help, those are 'Band-Aid solutions, not long-term solutions,' John Holmes, the U.N.'s top humanitarian official, said. Sudan expelled 13 foreign aid organizations and closed three local ones this month after the International Criminal Court in the Netherlands issued an arrest warrant for President Omar al-Bashir for war crimes and crimes against humanity in the western region of Darfur."

Le Monde A Divided G20?
Le Monde's editorialist is concerned about the fractures remaining among the G20 countries in approach and priorities a scant ten days before their scheduled Summit.

Jason Leopold Bradbury Torture Memos to Be Released
Jason Leopold, Truthout: "The Obama administration intends to declassify and publicly release three Justice Department memorandums drafted in May 2005 that gave CIA interrogators the legal authorization to torture 'high-value' detainees as well as a list of techniques to use against the prisoners, according to a report in Newsweek. According to a list of still-secret documents related to the Bush administration's 'enhanced interrogation techniques' obtained from the ACLU, the May 2005 memos were signed by Steven Bradbury, former head of the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel (OLC). However, one of the memos Bradbury signed, dated May 10, 2005, was largely one in which he reinstated elements of an August 2002 torture memo drafted by Jay Bybee and John Yoo, former deputy assistant attorney generals at OLC, which spelled out exactly what techniques interrogators could use against prisoners and was written for the CIA."

Obama Administration Seeks Power to Shut Firms Like A.I.G.
Glenn Somerville and David Alexander, Reuters: "The Obama administration on Tuesday mounted a full-scale push for government authority to shut down troubled institutions like insurer AIG to avoid the need for future bailouts. US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, testifying before lawmakers still fuming about big bonuses for executives at bailout recipient AIG, called on Congress for new powers to take over big non-bank financial firms that run amok. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke strongly backed Geithner in testimony before the same committee, and President Barack Obama took the case public in remarks to reporters."

Right-Wing March Incites Protest in Israeli Town
Patrick Martin, The Globe and Mail: "In a scene reminiscent of earlier intifadas, hundreds of Palestinian youths hurling stones and epithets battled hundreds of Israeli special police wielding shields and tear gas on the outskirts of this Arab town Tuesday. This time, however, the clash occurred not in the West Bank or Gaza, but inside Israel. The Arab-Israelis of Um al-Fahm were infuriated by a march on their town of about 80 right-wing Israeli nationalists. The Jewish Israeli marchers, led by the outspoken Baruch Marzel, former leader of the banned Kach party, were determined to wave the Israeli flags in the face of the town's residents."

EPA Delays Hundreds of Mountaintop Mining Permits
Dina Cappiello, The Associated Press: "The Environmental Protection Agency put hundreds of mountaintop coal-mining permits on hold Tuesday to evaluate the projects' impact on streams and wetlands. The decision by EPA administrator Lisa Jackson targets a controversial practice that allows coal mining companies to dump waste from mountaintop mining into streams and wetlands. Between 150 and 200 applications for new or expanded surface coal mines, many mountaintop removal operations, are pending before the federal government."

Agent Orange-like Chemical to Be Used at US-Mexico Border
Dane Schiller, The Houston Chronicle: "The US Border Patrol plans to poison the plant life along a 1.1-mile stretch of the Rio Grande riverbank as soon as Wednesday to get rid of the hiding places used by smugglers, robbers and illegal immigrants. If successful, the $2.1 million pilot project could later be duplicated along as many as 130 miles of river in the patrol's Laredo Sector, as well as other parts of the US-Mexico border. Although Border Patrol and US Environmental Protection Agency officials say the chemical is safe for animals, detractors say the experiment is reminiscent of the Vietnam War-era Agent Orange chemical program and raises questions about long-term effects."

Insurers Offer to Stop Charging Sick People More
Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar, The Associated Press: "The health insurance industry offered Tuesday for the first time to curb its controversial practice of charging higher premiums to people with a history of medical problems. The offer from America's Health Insurance Plans and the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association is a potentially significant shift in the debate over reforming the nation's health care system to rein in costs and cover an estimated 48 million uninsured people. It was contained in a letter to key senators. In the letter, the two insurance industry groups said their members are willing to 'phase out the practice of varying premiums based on health status in the individual market' if all Americans are required to get coverage. Although the letter left open some loopholes, it was still seen as a major development."

On Catching Up, Or, Good News Told, And The Bush Book Reviewed

So many times when we get together you have to put up with me complaining about something...and there are lots of other times when it’s me warning about events that are looming in our future.

Even though they’re conversations we need to have, they’re often not very emotionally satisfying.

Today we depart from that pattern, in a very good way.

It’s “follow-up day”; and the conversation takes us to three “happy places”: two “problem” stories that have recent positive progress to report—and, just because I care about you, Gentle Reader, an exclusive preview of the George W. Bush autobiography, obtained with considerable effort from an unnamed and particularly well-placed source.

There’s a lot to cover, so let’s jump right in and tell you what you need to know.

“Why don’t you like girls?”
“They’re too biased.”
“Yeah...bias this and bias that—until I’m busted.”

--Joke 5997, 10,000 Jokes, Toasts, & Stories, Lewis and Faye Copeland

In June of 2007 we ran the first of a series of stories describing how some school kids who had parents that owed money to the school—in one case, $7.50--were being served “alternate meals”...which meant that if Mom or Dad forget to send the money, the kid gets a cheese sandwich, while everyone else gets the regular hot meal...which meant that, in some cases, the hot meals were literally taken from the hands of children at the cash register...after which the kids are sent to classrooms where we spend about half a billion tax dollars annually to try to teach them healthy life habits—like not using food as a weapon.

We became aware of all of this because parents in Chula Vista, California decided to take on the local Elementary School District; who felt that implementing this policy in the District made so much financial sense that it outweighed the potential harm to the affected students.

Well, lots of parents didn't like it...and sometimes parents win.

A partial victory was achieved in February of 2008, when the parents (led by Will and Cyndi Perno, and Alice Coronado) were able to influence first the California Food Policy Advocates...and then, even more importantly, Fabian Nuñez, the former Speaker of the California State Assembly.

Pressure was applied...resulting in this:

“Irrespective of a student’s financial ability to pay for a meal, the laws cited above require that all students eligible for free and reduced-price meals receive a reimbursable meal during each school day. The reimbursable meal shall be the same meal choice offered to students who do not qualify for free or reduced-price meals [EC 49557(c)]. Therefore, school districts/county offices of education (COEs) cannot serve an alternate meal to a student eligible for a free or reduced-price meal who does not have the ability to pay or provide a medium of exchange for his/her meal on a given day.

School districts/COEs need to formulate a plan to ensure that children eligible to receive free or reduced-price meals are not treated differently from other children with respect to meal service.”

--From the Nutrition Services Division Management Bulletin, California Department of Education, February 2008 (emphasis is from the original document).

It took another year of pressure, but Will Perno sent an email to let me know that the new policy the Chula Vista Elementary School District adopted just this month ends the practice of serving these lunches altogether:

“...Our research has shown that the alternate meal program is no longer an effective intervention tool for managing unpaid balances. Thus, we are eliminating the alternative meal.”

--Letter to parents, March 2, 2009, from Superintendent Lowell J. Billings

(Victory in California is not, however, victory nationwide...and just last month Albuquerque Public Schools started a “cheese sandwich policy” of their own—which is already causing trouble.

Does your District have this sort of policy?
Take a few minutes this week and find out...)

New Butler: “At what time, Sir, would you wish to dine as a rule?”
Profiteer: “What time do the best people dine?”
New Butler: “At different times, Sir.”
Profiteer: “Very well. Then, I, too, will dine at different times.”

--Joke 6767, 10,000 Jokes, Toasts, & Stories, Lewis and Faye Copeland

Regular readers are likely to have also noticed a series of four stories in this space on aspects of Egyptian politics.

We have discussed the fact that opposing the ruling National Democratic Party, represented by President Hosni Mubarak, can be construed as unconstitutional—and criminal to boot—and we described how running against Mr. Mubarak for President of Egypt in 2005 was the reason Ayman Nour of the El-Ghad Party had been spending the past several years in prison.

The imprisonment of Nour had not marked the end of violent State harassment against the El-Ghad party...so it was quite a surprise to hear that Ayman Nour had been unexpectedly released about four weeks ago.

Wa’el Nawara, who leads El-Ghad today, sent me these comments regarding Nour’s release:

“Ayman Nour was released today around 6pm where he just walked into his home at Zamalek, Cairo, unexpectedly. A media frenzy broke out and in a few minutes, his home was packed with reporters from local and international news agencies.

His release came as a result from the Egyptian Attorney General, on medical grounds! Nour was first arrested on 29th January 2005, 90 days after El Ghad Party was given legal status in October 2004. Ayman Nour was first released on 12th March 2005 and he ran against Mubarak in Egypt's first multi-candidate presidential election Egypt witnessed where he came first runner up after Mubarak.

Nour was then re-arrested on 5th December 2005 - merely 90 days (again) after his participation in Presidential Elections, sentenced to 5 years in Jail on 25th December 2005. Appeal was turned down in May 2006.

Upon his release 2 days ago, Ayman Nour announced that he seeks no revenge, that he is calmer and more patient than ever and that he will focus his efforts to rebuild El Ghad party to advance the cause of reform, liberty and democracy in Egypt.

We hope that this may be the start of a new era in Egypt's political scene, where a new social contract can be drafted through a package of comprehensive reform...

...We shall strive to create a national dialogue with opposition leaders to reach some consensus on an Agenda of Reform. We have no reservations to even engage reformist wing from NDP in such an agenda. But we need to agree that the outcome of such dialogue must be some sort of a meaningful political process built on the principles of pluralism, real democracy and freedom.”

(It has been hazardous to be a blogger in Egypt as well, and the recent release of Mohamed Adel, combined with the news of Nour’s release, means we need to take a fifth look at the view from Egypt. Stay tuned.)

And finally...we review the preview chapters of the George W. Bush autobiography.

To give you an idea of what the book is about, a few words from the Random House press release:

“Tentatively titled “Decision Points,” the book will not be a conventional memoir, but instead will focus exclusively on approximately a dozen of the most interesting and important decisions in the former President’s personal and political life. Mr. Bush will write candidly about, among other topics, his decision to run for the presidency; how he chose his closest advisors, including Dick Cheney, Karl Rove, and Condoleezza Rice; the terrorist attacks of 9/11; the decisions to send American troops to Afghanistan and Iraq; the response to Hurricane Katrina; his commitment to fight AIDS around the world; the formation of his stem cell research policy; his relationships with his father, mother, siblings, and wife; his decision to quit drinking; and how he found faith. The former President will write the book himself, with the assistance of researchers, and has already commenced the writing process.

“My goal is to bring the reader inside the Oval Office for the most consequential moments of my personal and political life. I look forward to painting a vivid picture of the information I had, the principles I followed, and the decisions I made. I am spending time on the book every day, and I am thrilled to be working with the team at Crown,” said the former President.”

As I said, I’ve seen some of the advance pages of the book, and here are a few impressions:

--We are fortunate that this book was written after 1998, because before then it would not have been possible to really do the subject justice.

Of course, that was the year 24 new colors were added to the Crayola palette...and as far as I’m concerned, Jungle Green, which is what I would have used in the past to color in Dubya’s flight suit on the “Iraq and Afghanistan” page, is just not as authentic as Mountain Meadow Green.

The same was true on the “Katrina” page. To simulate the color of the water coming into New Orleans from the Gulf of Mexico I combined Caribbean Green and Fuzzy Wuzzy Brown...and mixing Macaroni and Cheese and Olive Green captures the exterior of the Superdome so, so, nicely.

None of this would have been possible without those 24 extra colors...and as so often happens, better tools make the telling of history ever more engaging and accurate—enriching our understanding of events in the process.

--I was worried that I would have trouble sharpening my crayon enough to make Bin Laden Determined To Attack Inside The U.S. legible...but lucky for me, that page was missing from the preview copy.

--What I’ve seen of the book prompts a quick—and admittedly snarky--question: when Mr. Bush says that he’ll be “working with the assistance of researchers”...isn’t that kind of like OJ Simpson telling reporters that he’s busy “looking for the real killers?”

(I was disappointed, I must admit, that the advance copy did not include the “Orange Jumpsuit” page, either: choosing between Atomic Tangerine, Burnt Orange, Neon Carrot, and Mango Tango had taken nearly an hour and two replays of a Ted Nugent song...and with the page missing all that time was expended, with no tangible result produced.

I had also picked out Burnt Orange, by the way, for the fiber optic cables in the AT&T network switching center in San Francisco, but, again, the regret of a missing page...)

So there we are: for today we have three great stories...and two of them don’t even require you to stay within the lines, which is always nice.

Ayman Nour is out of jail, which may be part of a bigger story, school lunches are no longer punishment in California...and we had a spot of fun with Mr. Bush and his impending book, for which I hope Laura Bush will forgive us.

And as for me?
Time to get online and see if I can order another Macaroni And Cheese to replace the one I used up on the Superdome.

Ah, the troubles of a writer...

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Daniels thinks we're all morons

Don Wheeler

From the Associated Press:

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Gov. Mitch Daniels has signed into law a bill he says will save Indiana's natural gas users billions of dollars in the coming years.

The law allows the Indiana Finance Authority to negotiate 30-year contracts to buy and sell synthetic natural gas from a coal-gasification plant that is planned for construction along the Ohio River.

State officials hope to open up bids for the estimated $2 billion plant by the end of the week.

Daniels says the plant near the town of Rockport will lead to about 1,000 temporary construction jobs and 500 permanent jobs. He says the law will ensure a steady supply of synthetic natural gas free from the price fluctuations of traditional natural gas markets.

As Dora the Explorer might suggest... Let's stop and think.

We will mine coal to make gas?! Coal mining is dirty and dangerous. Coal extraction is far more injurious to the land. Natural gas extraction - not so much. Converting coal to gas will reduce the energy potential of the coal through processing - plus add in the energy used to convert it. Demand for coal will increase - thus increasing the cost of it.

The savings are where?

I think if we are to use both resources it is rather obvious that the best efficiencies (and therefor the lowest cost) will be using coal as coal and natural gas as natural gas.

Mitch Daniels thinks we are morons.

FP mornng brief 3/24

Top Story

More than 30 people were killed in a series of bombings throughout Iraq on Monday. In the most deadly attack, a suicide bomber blew himself up at the crowded wake of the brother of a Kurdish official in Diyala province killing 25 and wounding 45. An earlier blast killed in nine in a house in Fallujah. Yet another attack in Abu Ghraib killed at least eight including the commander of one of the Sunni "Awakening Councils" which were critical to the U.S. surge.

The violence comes Turkish President Abdullah Gul visits Iraq, the first Turkish head of state to do so in over three decades. The Kurdish rebel group PKK has rejected a call by Iraqi President Jalal Talabani to stop fighting Turkey and leave Iraqi territory.

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner will defend his bank rescue plan before the House of Representatives Financial Services Committee today.
New York's attorney general says most of the AIG executives have agreed to repay their bonuses.
Mexico is offering a $2 million reward for information leading the arrest of the country's top 24 drug lords.

The head of China's central bank suggested the creation of a new international currency reserve system. FP's Blake Hounshell comments.
Hundreds of Tibetan protesters attacked a police station in Northwestern China.
The American journalists detained in North Korea are being questioned on espionage charges.

Europe and Caucasus
Nine members of a leading opposition party were arrested on gun charges in Georgia.
French Prime Minister Francois Fillon will travel to the U.S. this weekend to try to convince the Obama team of the need for more banking regulation ahead of the G20 summit.
The Swedish government is refusing a bailout to carmaker Saab.

Middle East
Israeli Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu has won the support of the Labor party leader Ehud Barak for his coalition. Israeli police dispersed a riot in an Israeli Arab town after a march by Jewish extremists.

A peace conference in South Africa has been cancelled after the government denied a visa to the Dalai Lama.
A Sudanese aid worker was killed by gunmen in Darfur.
The World Health Organization says Zimbabwe's cholera epidemic has passed its peak.

Truthout 3/24

Court Says US Asked Detainee to Drop Torture Claim
David Stringer, The Associated Press: "US authorities asked a Guantanamo Bay detainee to drop allegations of torture and agree not to speak publicly about his ordeal in exchange for his freedom, according to British court documents. A ruling by two British High Court judges, issued in October but released only on Monday, said the U.S. offered former detainee Binyam Mohamed a plea bargain last year - six years after he was first detained as an enemy combatant."

Matt Renner Week in Review: SEC, "Cram-Down" and Torture Prosecutions
Matt Renner, Truthout, examines the significance of this week's economic and international news - focusing on financial news regarding the Stanford Group as well as the ongoing investigation of US torture of detainees during the Bush administration.

Karzai, Opponents Clash Over Afghan Election
Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, NPR News: "Throughout Afghanistan's history, the handover of power has been anything but peaceful - and many observers worry this year will be no different. At issue is the confrontation between President Hamid Karzai and his opponents over whether he should step down in May as mandated by Afghanistan's Constitution. Karzai says he should remain in office to ensure stability during a time of war until presidential elections... are held in August. But his opponents say Karzai's real motive is to manipulate the polls so he can win a second term."

Barack Obama A Time for Global Action
Barack Obama, The Chicago Tribune: "We are living through a time of global economic challenges that cannot be met by half measures or the isolated efforts of any nation. Now, the leaders of the G-20 have a responsibility to take bold, comprehensive and coordinated action that not only jump-starts recovery, but launches a new era of economic engagement to prevent a crisis like this from ever happening again. No one can deny the urgency of action. A crisis in credit and confidence has swept across borders, with consequences for every corner of the world. We have learned that the success of the American economy is inextricably linked to the global economy."

Eugene Robinson The Repairman's Burden
Eugene Robinson, The Washington Post: "Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner is a repairman, not a revolutionary. Contrary to the impression he sometimes gives, he does understand why the Sun King excesses of Wall Street's pampered executives make people so angry. Essentially, though, he blames the players, not the game."

Herve Kempf A Friendly Smack for Mr. Sarkozy
Herve Kempf, Le Monde's environmental columnist, describes a misunderstanding between the environmentally and socially conscious couple, Blic and Blork.

Greg Palast Stick Your Damn Hand in It
Greg Palast, OpEdNews: "She stuck it in, under the gravel of the beach at Sleepy Bay, her village's fishing ground. Gail's hand came up dripping with black, sickening goo. It could make you vomit. Oil from the Exxon Valdez. It was already two years after the spill and Exxon had crowed that Mother Nature had happily cleaned up their stinking oil mess for them. It was a lie. But the media wouldn't question the bald-faced bullshit. And who the hell was going to investigate Exxon's claim way out in some godforsaken Native village in the Prince William Sound?"

White House to Seek Power to Seize Non-Bank Financial Companies
Binyamin Appelbaum and David Cho, The Washington Post: "The Obama administration plans to send legislation to Congress this week granting the government new powers to seize troubled non-bank financial companies whose collapse would threaten the broader economy, according to three sources familiar with the matter. Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner is expected to argue for the new powers at a hearing on Capitol Hill tomorrow about the furor over bonuses paid to executives at American International Group, which the government has propped up with $170 billion in federal aid. Administration officials have said that the proposed authority would have allowed them to seize AIG last fall and wind down its operations at less cost to taxpayers."

US Housing Rescue Threatened by Banks
Patrick Rucker and David Lawder, Reuters: "The US Treasury Department's effort to help 5 million homeowners win reworked mortgages, part of a plan to stabilize housing, could fall flat if Wall Street does not relax its interest in the properties. While the initiative empowers Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to refinance borrowers whose homes have lost value in recent years, big banks own a small stake in many of those loans and could effectively block the plan."

Israeli Soldiers' Shirts Joke About Killing Arabs
The Associated Press: "Israel's military condemned its soldiers for wearing T-shirts of a pregnant woman in a rifle's cross-hairs with the slogan '1 Shot 2 Kills,' and another of a gun-toting child with the words, 'The smaller they are, the harder it is.' The T-shirts were worn by Israeli Defense Force soldiers to mark the end of basic training and other military courses, the newspaper Haaretz said."

Geithner's Last Shot: If This Doesn't Work, Is Nationalization Next?
Kevin G. Hall, McClatchy Newspapers: "The Obama administration's long-awaited plan to help banks dispose of so-called 'toxic assets' so they can resume lending was greeted Monday with a huge rally on Wall Street, but its longer-term success remains far from certain. The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed up 497.48 points, or 6.8 percent, at 7775.86. The S&P 500 finished up 54.38 points, or 7.1 percent, at 822.92. The Nasdaq rallied 98.50 points, or 6.8 percent, to close at 1555.77. As the past 14 months of recession have made painfully clear, however, a one-day stock rally doesn't mean the worst is over. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner's plan remains fraught with uncertainty over whether it'll work."

EPA Says Global Warming a Public Danger
H. Josef Hebert, The Associated Press: "The White House is reviewing a proposed finding by the Environmental Protection Agency that global warming is a threat to public health and welfare. Such a declaration would be the first step to regulating carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act and could have broad economic and environmental ramifications. It also would likely spur action by Congress to address climate change more broadly."

Finacial policy despair

New York Times

Over the weekend The Times and other newspapers reported leaked details about the Obama administration’s bank rescue plan, which is to be officially released this week. If the reports are correct, Tim Geithner, the Treasury secretary, has persuaded President Obama to recycle Bush administration policy — specifically, the “cash for trash” plan proposed, then abandoned, six months ago by then-Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson.

This is more than disappointing. In fact, it fills me with a sense of despair.

After all, we’ve just been through the firestorm over the A.I.G. bonuses, during which administration officials claimed that they knew nothing, couldn’t do anything, and anyway it was someone else’s fault. Meanwhile, the administration has failed to quell the public’s doubts about what banks are doing with taxpayer money.

And now Mr. Obama has apparently settled on a financial plan that, in essence, assumes that banks are fundamentally sound and that bankers know what they’re doing.

It’s as if the president were determined to confirm the growing perception that he and his economic team are out of touch, that their economic vision is clouded by excessively close ties to Wall Street. And by the time Mr. Obama realizes that he needs to change course, his political capital may be gone.

Let’s talk for a moment about the economics of the situation.

Right now, our economy is being dragged down by our dysfunctional financial system, which has been crippled by huge losses on mortgage-backed securities and other assets.

As economic historians can tell you, this is an old story, not that different from dozens of similar crises over the centuries. And there’s a time-honored procedure for dealing with the aftermath of widespread financial failure. It goes like this: the government secures confidence in the system by guaranteeing many (though not necessarily all) bank debts. At the same time, it takes temporary control of truly insolvent banks, in order to clean up their books.

That’s what Sweden did in the early 1990s. It’s also what we ourselves did after the savings and loan debacle of the Reagan years. And there’s no reason we can’t do the same thing now.

But the Obama administration, like the Bush administration, apparently wants an easier way out. The common element to the Paulson and Geithner plans is the insistence that the bad assets on banks’ books are really worth much, much more than anyone is currently willing to pay for them. In fact, their true value is so high that if they were properly priced, banks wouldn’t be in trouble.

And so the plan is to use taxpayer funds to drive the prices of bad assets up to “fair” levels. Mr. Paulson proposed having the government buy the assets directly. Mr. Geithner instead proposes a complicated scheme in which the government lends money to private investors, who then use the money to buy the stuff. The idea, says Mr. Obama’s top economic adviser, is to use “the expertise of the market” to set the value of toxic assets.

But the Geithner scheme would offer a one-way bet: if asset values go up, the investors profit, but if they go down, the investors can walk away from their debt. So this isn’t really about letting markets work. It’s just an indirect, disguised way to subsidize purchases of bad assets.

The likely cost to taxpayers aside, there’s something strange going on here. By my count, this is the third time Obama administration officials have floated a scheme that is essentially a rehash of the Paulson plan, each time adding a new set of bells and whistles and claiming that they’re doing something completely different. This is starting to look obsessive.

But the real problem with this plan is that it won’t work. Yes, troubled assets may be somewhat undervalued. But the fact is that financial executives literally bet their banks on the belief that there was no housing bubble, and the related belief that unprecedented levels of household debt were no problem. They lost that bet. And no amount of financial hocus-pocus — for that is what the Geithner plan amounts to — will change that fact.

You might say, why not try the plan and see what happens? One answer is that time is wasting: every month that we fail to come to grips with the economic crisis another 600,000 jobs are lost.

Even more important, however, is the way Mr. Obama is squandering his credibility. If this plan fails — as it almost surely will — it’s unlikely that he’ll be able to persuade Congress to come up with more funds to do what he should have done in the first place.

All is not lost: the public wants Mr. Obama to succeed, which means that he can still rescue his bank rescue plan. But time is running out.

Monday, March 23, 2009

FP morning brief 3/23

Top Story

The U.S. Treasury has unveiled its plan to relieve banks of their toxic assets. Under the plan, the government, along with subsidized private investors will spend between $500 billion and $1 trillion to purchase what they are euphemistically calling "legacy assets." The hope is that banks will be able to resume lending with the assets off their books.

In today's Wall Street Journal, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner wrote that the program "is better for the taxpayer than having the government alone directly purchase the assets from banks that are still operating and assume a larger share of the losses...Simply hoping for banks to work these assets off over time risks prolonging the crisis in a repeat of the Japanese experience."

World markets rose on news of the plan, though one European trader cautioned, "Each time Timothy Geithner comes up with a plan to save the banks, the markets rise in anticipation. But when the actual details come out, the markets have fallen."

Pakistani Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudry is back at work.
The trial of the lone surviving gunman from the Mumbai attacks began.
Despite Wen Jiabao's worries, China says it will continue to buy U.S. treasuries.

Without conferring with its allies, Spain announced that it will soon withdraw its peacekeeping troops from Kosovo.
Hungary's prime minister became the latest national leader to fall to the financial crisis.
Macedonia's Conservative party leads after the first round of presidential voting.

Middle East
A senior Fatah official was killed in a bombing in Lebanon.
The ultra-Orthodox Shas party joined Benjamin Netanyahu's coalition government.
Turkish President Abdullah Gul became the first Turkish head of state to visit Iraq in over three decades.

South Africa has barred the Dalai Lama from attending a peace conference in Johannesburg this week.
Despite the ICC warrant for his arrest, Sudan's Omar al-Bashir traveled to Eritrea for an official visit.
The pope concluded his controversial tour of Africa with a mass in Angola.

Hugo Chavez referred to Barack Obama as "ignorant" and said he has a lot to learn about Latin America before an upcoming summit. The Venezuelan president also plans to cut spending and raise taxes.
The U.S. military has suggested it may reestablish its controversial presence on the Puerto Rican island of Vieques.

Truthout 3/23

Jason Leopold CIA Has 3,000 Documents on Torture Tapes
Jason Leopold, Truthout: "The CIA has about 3,000 documents related to the 92 destroyed videotapes that showed 'war on terror' detainees being subjected to harsh interrogations, the Justice Department has disclosed, suggesting an extensive back-and-forth between CIA field operatives and officials of the Bush administration."

US Wants Afghanistan Exit Strategy
Reuters: "The United States met NATO allies on Monday to outline its policy review for Afghanistan after President Barack Obama said it would contain an exit strategy and greater emphasis on economic development. With violence rising ahead of elections in August, Obama has already committed an extra 17,000 troops to Afghanistan, but on Sunday he said military force alone would not end the war."

Toxic Assets Cleanup Plan Unveiled by Obama Administration
Jim Puzzanghera, The Los Angeles Times: "The Obama administration today formally unveiled details of its long-awaited plan to help cleanse banks and financial institutions of bad home loans and toxic securities... The plan, introduced by Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner at an early morning news conference, would use between $75 billion and $100 billion in federal financial rescue money to lure private investors to join with the government to buy up to $1 trillion in bad sub-prime mortgages, mortgage-backed securities and other troubled assets that are dragging down the balance sheets of financial institutions."

US Will Appoint Afghan "Prime Minister" to Bypass Hamid Karzai
Julian Borger and Ewen MacAskill, The Guardian UK: "The US and its European allies are preparing to plant a high-profile figure in the heart of the Kabul government in a direct challenge to the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, the Guardian has learned. The creation of a new chief executive or prime ministerial role is aimed at bypassing Karzai. In a further dilution of his power, it is proposed that money be diverted from the Kabul government to the provinces."

A Tale of Two Laredos
Todd Bensman, GlobalPost: "Violence and kidnappings have become almost commonplace in Mexico, as the country's civil drug war rages. Often, the murder and kidnap victims are American residents of border cities like Laredo, who are involved in the drug trade."

Jean-Claude Peclet Obama and the Equality Issue
Jean-Claude Peclet, Geneva's Le Temps: "Barack Obama is in the process of accomplishing something rare - even stupefying - one Anglo-Saxon editorialist marveled: Here's a politician who, once elected, effects the policies he had promised!"

Dean Baker A.I.G. Bonuses: Class War in the Media
Dean Baker, Truthout: "The debate over the A.I.G. bonuses is class war in its full naked glory. On the surface, everyone agreed that paying multi-million bonuses to the folks who bankrupted their company and handed the taxpayers a bill for $170 billion ($2,300 for a family of four) was outrageous. The difference is between the angry masses, who actually want to take back the bonuses, and the elites who insist that there is nothing that can be done. In spite of the superior education of the elites, the masses have the much better argument. As a result, the elites have been desperately cooking up excuse after excuse as to why their well-heeled friends at A.I.G. and the bankrupt banks shouldn't lose their bonuses."

As Credit Markets Froze, Banks Loaned Millions to Insiders
Stella M. Hopkins, The Charlotte Observer: "Banks nationwide hold $41 billion in loans to directors, top executives and other insiders, a portfolio that experts say should be stripped of secrecy. Insider lending to directors is particularly troublesome because it could cloud the judgment of people charged with protecting shareholders and overseeing bank management, the experts say. At Charlotte-based Bank of America, those loans more than doubled last year, to $624.2 million - the biggest dollar jump in the country. The largest of them likely went to three directors or their companies."

Tom Engelhardt Economic Dirty Bomb Goes Off in New York
Tom Engelhardt, TomDispatch.com: "In my neighborhood, back in those fateful September days in 2001, you could hear the sirens, see the jets streak overhead, catch the acrid smell of the towers and everything chemical in them burning, and like the rest of America, watch those apocalyptic-looking scenes of the towers collapsing in clouds of ash and smoke again and again. But if the look then was apocalyptic, the damage, however grim, was limited. This time around there's no dust, no ash, no acrid smell, no sirens, no jets, and no brave rescuers either. And yet the effect might, sooner or later, be far more apocalyptic and the lives swallowed up far greater. This time, of course, the fanatical extremists were homegrown. Their 'caves' were on Wall Street. They hijacked our economy and did their level best to take down our world."

Matt Taibbi The Big Takeover
Matt Taibbi, The Rolling Stone: "It's over, no empire can survive being rendered a permanent laughingstock, which is what happened as of a few weeks ago, when the buffoons who have been running things in this country finally went one step too far. It happened when Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner was forced to admit that he was once again going to have to stuff billions of taxpayer dollars into a dying insurance giant called AIG, itself a profound symbol of our national decline - a corporation that got rich insuring the concrete and steel of American industry in the country's heyday, only to destroy itself chasing phantom fortunes at the Wall Street card tables, like a dissolute nobleman gambling away the family estate in the waning days of the British Empire."

Obama's Campaign Army on Road Again
Peter Slevin and Michael Laris, The Washington Post: "As she headed into the morning sunshine to talk up President Obama's $3.6 trillion budget proposal, Althea Thomas counted herself a citizen and a partisan picking up where she left off Nov. 4, backing the president she helped elect. 'It's the change we all voted on,' said Thomas, one of about 40 volunteers who fanned out from the Democratic Party headquarters here with clipboards, pledge cards and a sense of mission that flowed from their support of Obama when he was a candidate. The Obama administration and the Democratic National Committee opened a new chapter Saturday in their ambitious project to convert the energy from last year's campaign into a force for legislative reform on health care, climate change, education and taxes."

Anti-War Protesters March on Pentagon
Donna St. George, The Washington Post: "Thousands of demonstrators marked the sixth anniversary of the war in Iraq with an impassioned protest of the nation's military policies yesterday, demanding that President Obama bring US troops home. The demonstration was the first in Washington of the Obama presidency, replete with many of the same messages of protests during the Bush era. Placards read 'War Is Not the Answer,' 'Troops Out Now' and 'We Need Jobs and Schools, Not War.' As marchers made their way from the Mall toward the Pentagon and a hub of defense contractors in Crystal City, they chanted: 'Hey, Obama, yes, we can. Troops out of Afghanistan.'"

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Truthout 3/22

Iran Sets Terms for US Ties
Fredrik Dahl, Reuters: "Iran has responded to US President Barack Obama's offer of better relations by demanding policy changes from Washington, but the Islamic state is not closing the door to a possible thaw in ties with its old foe."
Shoshana Zuboff Wall Street's Economic Crimes Against Humanity
Shoshana Zuboff, Business Week: "The financiers at AIG were awarded millions in bonuses because their contracts were based on the transactions they completed, not the consequences of those transactions. A 32-year-old mortgage broker told me: 'I figured my job was to get the transaction done... Whatever came after the transaction - that was on him, not me.' A long list of business executives have reaped sumptuous rewards even though they fractured the world's economy, destroyed trillions of dollars in value, and disfigured millions of lives."

North Korea Says Holding Two Americans
Miyoung Kim, Reuters: "North Korea reopened a military hotline with the South on Saturday, a day after Washington and Seoul ended annual defense drills Pyongyang had called preparations for an invasion. The North also confirmed it had detained two Americans on Tuesday for 'illegally' crossing its border from China and said they were being investigated."

Protests in Washington, California Call for War's End
Nafeesa Syeed, The Associated Press: "Before war protesters ended their demonstration Saturday afternoon, several placed cardboard coffins in front of the offices of northern Virginia defense contractors such as KBR Inc. and Lockheed Martin Corp. as riot police stood by."

Jeremy Brecher, Tim Costello and Brendan Smith How to Pay for a Global Climate Deal
Jeremy Brecher, Tim Costello and Brendan Smith, SolveCimate.com: "The G-20 summit convening in London on April 2 is preparing to create a quarter trillion dollars of brand new stimulus money to help poor countries battle the global recession... If leaders at the G-20 summit can create 'paper gold' to jump-start the global economy, they can also turn it in a green direction to jump-start protection of the global climate."

Vermont Senate Panel Approves Gay Marriage Bill
Dave Gram, The Associated Press: "A state Senate committee unanimously approved a gay marriage bill on Friday, moving Vermont one step closer to allowing same-sex couples to legally wed."

VIDEO President Barack Obama on the Federal Budget: Four Principles
During his weekly address to the nation, the President reflects on lessons from his time spent outside Washington this week, which only reinforced the four core principles in his budget.

FOCUS Treasury Presses Ahead With Plan for Toxic Assets
David Cho, The Washington Post: "The Treasury Department will unveil the next step in its financial rescue efforts tomorrow, announcing that it intends to create a government body, called the Public Investment Corp., to finance the purchase of as much as $1 trillion in soured loans and toxic assets from ailing banks, according to sources."

FOCUS Diplomat Testifies About Legality of Iraq Invasion
David Hencke, The Guardian UK: "A former diplomat at the centre of events in the run-up to the Iraq war revealed yesterday that the government has a 'paper trail' that could reveal new information about the legality of the invasion.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Special Comment - Countdown

Triuthout 3/21

Lawrence Wilkerson Some Truths About Guantanamo Bay
Lawrence Wilkerson, The Washington Note: "There are several dimensions to the debate over the U.S. prison facilities at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba that the media have largely missed and, thus, of which the American people are almost completely unaware. For that matter, few within the government who were not directly involved are aware either."

Iraqi Widow Sues Former Blackwater Employee and Company Over Shooting
Tony Perry, The Los Angeles Times: "Lawyers for the widow and young sons of an Iraqi man allegedly killed by a drunken employee of the former Blackwater Worldwide security firm after a Christmas Eve party in Baghdad have filed a damage suit in federal court in San Diego."

Seth Sandronsky Labor Secretary Says Improvement Ahead for Workers
Seth Sandronsky, Truthout: "Hilda Solis, the new US labor secretary and former Democratic congresswoman representing a Southern California district, gave the keynote speech at an annual two-day legislative conference of 700 California union leaders in Sacramento on March 16. She vowed to turn the tide on eight years of GOP misrule, economically and politically, and return to an era in which labor and government worked together to protect workers."

Does Policy Endanger Female Soldiers?
Katie Couric, CBS News: "It's a potent environment, with female soldiers working - and living - under hostile conditions with their male counterparts. One soldier, who asked us to call him Robert, spent three tours in Iraq as a signal unit leader out of Ft. Lewis in Washington state. 'For the female soldiers, it was far harder to adjust,' Robert told CBS News anchor Katie Couric. 'Because not only did they have to deal with combat - mortar rounds, rockets, bullets - they also had to put up with male soldiers who were away from their families for a year.'"

"Abuse" Raises Question About Law for Disabled Workers
Christina Jewett, ProPublica: "A scandal rocking an Iowa town of barely 250 has ballooned into a statewide story. But it has national implications. Last month, FBI agents, social services and health department officials in Iowa converged on a 106-year-old bunkhouse. It's where dozens of mentally retarded men lived when they were not working for as little as 37 cents per hour gutting turkeys in a processing plant, according to news reports and documents released by state officials."

Venezuelans Protest Bid to Arrest Opposition Leader
Reuters: "Thousands of Venezuelans protested on Friday against an attempt to arrest opposition leader Manuel Rosales on corruption charges, in a march that swelled a main avenue of the oil city of Maracaibo."

FOCUS: Barbara Koeppel Indentured Servants, Circa 2009
Barbara Koeppel, ConsortiumNews.com: "Feeding on this and last years' gigantic job losses and fear of more to come, anti-immigrant anger is exploding across the U.S. Thus, Nativists like Arizona's Sheriff Joe Arpaio are nudged to over-the-top nastiness: Just a month ago, he proudly paraded his villains (aka illegals) through the streets of Phoenix before deporting them."

FOCUS UN Panel Says World Should Ditch Dollar
Jeremy Gaunt, Reuters: "A UN panel will next week recommend that the world ditch the dollar as its reserve currency in favor of a shared basket of currencies, a member of the panel said on Wednesday, adding to pressure on the dollar."

VIDEO Keith Olbermann's "Special Comment" on Bank Bailout
Keith Olbermann presents a special comment on the bank bailouts and the excesses of the CEOs of bailed-out mega multinational corporations.

VIDEO President Barack Obama: In Celebration of Nowruz
President Barack Obama speaks to both the people and leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran on the New Year holiday of Nowruz, offering a new beginning for US-Iranian relations based on honesty and mutual respect.

Friday, March 20, 2009


Don Wheeler

One of my supporters in the most recent school board elections, Fern Hamlin, used this word in a letter of endorsement. Here's what she said:
"I have had children in the South Bend schools for the last 20 years, and I continue to be appalled by the school board's inability to address the problems that plague our schools and hamper our children's achievement and success. We need school board members who can move beyond internecine squabbles and imagined personal slights. We need school board members who can identify and focus on the most important problems our schools face, investigate these problems thoroughly and rationally, work together to solve them, plan creatively for the future, and work in harmony with the school corporation administration."

I was intrigued by the word "internecine" - it was totally unfamiliar to me. So I consulted Webster's New Twentieth Century Dictionary - Unabridged, for some help.

I quickly dismissed the first definition. The reference to "great slaughter" seemed off her point. But the second one looked to be a better fit: deadly to both sides; mutually destructive.

I thought of this when a new squabble surfaced regarding school security advisory committees. From Joseph Dits and the South Bend Tribune:

School board President Sheila Bergeron is setting up a committee to look at security issues in the South Bend Community School Corp. She said it will include principals, teachers, students, parents, community members and school resource officers, along with board trustees Stephanie Spivey, Ralph Pieniazkiewicz and Bill Sniadecki.

She announced it at Monday's board meeting. Bergeron said the idea is to balance out the perspectives of a safety committee that Superintendent James Kapsa had just announced last Friday. Kapsa's committee includes the corporation's security director, Bill Bernhardt, board trustee Roger Parent, and four community members with experience in police work, education and Latino affairs: Michael Carrington, Charles Hurley, Carlis Phillips Sr. and Federico Thon. They said Friday they'll be talking with teachers, parents, students, juvenile court judges and anyone with a stake in school safety.

Trustee Bill Sniadecki said Monday he was disappointed, having learned about Kapsa's committee via an article in The Tribune. Sniadecki said he's shown an interest in security and was surprised to see Parent on Kapsa's committee. Parent explained that he'd shown an interest in security during last fall's elections. Kapsa said he was following through on goals and priorities he'd discussed with the board March 4, which include reaching outside the corporation for help.

It sounds like we're going to have rival groups addressing the same issues. Does this sound nuts to anyone else?

I don't know how this situation arose, but someone or some people made a mistake in communication. We should agree on that, figure out a way to blend these groups that is acceptable to all concerned, and concentrate on the important task.

People make mistakes. Grownups should be able to accept responsibility, accept good faith efforts of remediation when they feel wronged, and move on to the work.

Episodes like this cause a great deal of impatience in the community - and a deadly attitude of fatalism. And we just can't afford it.

FP morning brief

Top Story

In an unusual diplomatic gambit, Barack Obama recorded a videotaped message to Iran, in honor of the Nowruz holiday, offering a "new day" for diplomatic relations between the two countries.

“The United States wants the Islamic Republic of Iran to take its rightful place in the community of nations," Obama said. "You have that right — but it comes with real responsibilities, and that place cannot be reached through terror or arms, but rather through peaceful actions that demonstrate the true greatness of the Iranian people and civilization. And the measure of that greatness is not the capacity to destroy, it is your demonstrated ability to build and create.”

A spokesman for Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad welcomed the message but said the U.S. must begin "by fundamentally changing its behavior" such as its support for Israel.

Middle East
Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu is asking for two more weeks to form a coalition government so he can bring in more moderate parties.
Egypt briefly reopened its border with Gaza for two days.
Reconciliation talks between rival Palestinian political factions ended without a deal.

U.S. Politics
The U.S. House of Representatives quickly passed a bill to recoup AIG's controversial bonuses with taxes..
The Obama administration pledged $5 billion in assistance to the U.S. auto industry.
In a first for a sitting president, Barack Obama sat down with Jay Leno on the Tonight Show last night.

The African Union decided to suspend Madagascar rather than recognize its post-coup government.
Pirates seized a Greek cargo ship off the coast of Somalia.
Somalia's Islamist leaders say Osama bin Laden should mind his own business.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai says new U.S. troop deployments are seven years too late.
Aaaand...North Korea closed its border again.
China has detained a soldier who expressed regret online about his role in the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown..

U.S. and Mexican officials will meet next month to discuss how to restrict the illegal gun trade between the two countries.
An arrest warrant has been issued for one of Hugo Chavez's top political rivals.
Mexican tariffs on 89 U.S. products took effect.

3 million people marched against President Sarkozy's planned economic reforms in France yesterday.
The EU is considering doubling the amount of emergency cash it has on hand to lend to struggling members.
Three former U.S. secretaries of state are in Russia to attempt to restart diplomacy.

Truthout 3/20

Ann Wright A Colonel, a Diplomat and a Peace Activist
Ann Wright, Truthout: "It was six years ago today that I resigned from the Bush administration and the US diplomatic corps in opposition to the war on Iraq. I remember the day so well. I woke up about 2 in the morning. Like so many mornings in the past months, I could not sleep through the night. I was very worried and upset hearing the comments out of Washington, that we, the US government, were being forced into taking military action against Saddam Hussein and his Iraqi government."

Trita Parsi Will Tehran Tango? Obama's Historic Norooz Greeting
Trita Parsi, The Huffington Post: "In an unprecedented - if not historic - New Year's message to the Iranian people and the government of Iran, President Barack Obama used the ancient Iranian New Year - Norooz - holiday to usher in a new beginning for US-Iran relations. The video message, aired around 0800am in the morning in Iran, will be the topic of conversation at every Norooz gathering - in Iran as well as in America."

Republicans Vow to Slow Bonus Bill
Phil Mattingly and Richard Rubin, Congressional Quarterly: "Despite congressional fury, the House-passed bill that would slap a 90 percent tax on employee bonuses paid this year by companies receiving substantial bailout money faces an uncertain future in the Senate, where a group of senior Republicans has vowed to slow its progress."

French Workers Return to Streets in Protest
Edward Cody, The Washington Post: "More than a million French workers staged a general strike and marched in demonstrations across the country Thursday in a second round of protests against the government's response to the world economic crisis."

Paul Waldman So Long, Alex P. Keaton
Paul Waldman, The American Prospect: "A quarter-century ago, political observers marveled at a new phenomenon: an enormous wave of conservative young people. Instead of tuning in, turning on, and dropping out, they were donning polo shirts, keeping their hair cut short, and waxing eloquent on the wonders of the free market. Their exemplar was Alex P. Keaton, the hero of the television show Family Ties, whose ex-hippie parents shook their heads at their son's affection for Ronald Reagan. The series ran from 1982 to 1989; in its finale, Alex leaves home to take a job on Wall Street."

Pierre-Yves Dugua Obama Weakened by His Treasury Secretary
Pierre-Yves Dugua, Le Figaro: "Is Tim Geithner still an asset in Barack Obama's cabinet? In the middle of a full-blown economic crisis, the American president needs a Treasury secretary who inspires more confidence."

VIDEO: Remarks by the President in Celebration of Nowruz
President Barack Obama speaks to both the people and leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran on the New Year holiday of Nowruz, offering a new beginning for US-Iranian relations based on honesty and mutual respect.

William Rivers Pitt Remember
William Rivers Pitt, Truthout: "Six years ago, the United States of America began the invasion and occupation of Iraq. Since then, 4,259 American soldiers have been killed and tens of thousands more have been wounded. There is no accurate accounting of Iraqi dead and wounded, because as we were told, we do not do body counts. Because the Bush administration left its Iraq expenditures off the budget, and because of the tremendous amount of war-profiteering, graft and theft that has been involved, we do not know exactly how much we have spent. For the record, 2,192 days later, this is how we got here."

Many Iraqis Held by US to Go Free
Lara Jakes, The Associated Press: "Thousands of Iraqis held without charge by the United States on suspicion of links to insurgents or militants are being freed by this summer because there is little or no evidence against them.. Their release comes as the US prepares to turn over its detention system to the fledgling Iraqi government by early 2010. In the six years since the war began, the military ultimately detained some 100,000 suspects, many of whom were picked up in US-led raids during a raging, bloody insurgency that has since died down."

Soldiers' Accounts of Gaza Killings Raise Furor in Israel
Ethan Bronner, The New York Times: "In the two months since Israel ended its military assault on Gaza, Palestinians and international rights groups have accused it of excessive force and wanton killing in that operation, but the Israeli military has said it followed high ethical standards and took great care to avoid civilian casualties. Now testimony is emerging from within the ranks of soldiers and officers alleging a permissive attitude toward the killing of civilians and reckless destruction of property that is sure to inflame the domestic and international debate about the army's conduct in Gaza.."

Obama Puts Up $2.4 Billion for Electric Vehicles
Agence France-Presse: "President Barack Obama Thursday unveiled a 2.4 billion dollar boost for electric vehicle development, vowing to compete with foreign nations in the race to be world leader on renewable energy. 'We can let the jobs of tomorrow be created abroad or we can create them here in America and lay the foundation for lasting prosperity,' Obama said on the second day of a campaign-style swing in California."

Several US Bird Populations Plummet Due to Habitat Loss
Juliet Eilperin, The Washington Post: "Several major bird populations have plummeted over the past four decades across the United States as development transformed the nation's landscape, according to a comprehensive survey released today by the Interior Department and outside experts, but conservation efforts have managed to stave off potential extinctions of others. 'The State of the Birds' report, a sweeping analysis of data compiled through scientific and citizen surveys over the past 40 years, shows that some species have made significant gains even as others have suffered. Hunted waterfowl and iconic species such as the bald eagle have expanded in number, the report found, as birds along the nation's coasts and in its arid areas and grasslands have declined sharply."

James K. Galbraith No Return to Normal
James K. Galbraith, Washington Monthly: "Barack Obama's presidency began in hope and goodwill, but its test will be its success or failure on the economics. Did the president and his team correctly diagnose the problem? Did they act with sufficient imagination and force? And did they prevail against the political obstacles - and not only that, but also against the procedures and the habits of thought to which official Washington is addicted? The president has an economic program. But there is, so far, no clear statement of the thinking behind that program, and there may not be one, until the first report of the new Council of Economic Advisers appears next year."

Thursday, March 19, 2009

FP morning brief 3/19

Top Story

In what's being called a "shock and awe" strategy to fight the financial crisis, the Federal Reserve announced a series a of measures to inject an additional $1.2 trillion into the economy including purchasing $300 billion in treasury bonds and $750 billion in mortgage backed securities. Having already reduced the key interest rate to zero, the Fed is increasingly turning to more unorthodox methods to pump money into the economy. The stock market rallied with the news but the value of the dollar declined sharply.

Experts worry that the dramatic expansion of the Fed's balance sheet could make it harder to reduce the money supply once the economy starts to recover, causing inflation.

A new audiotape reported to be recorded by Osama bin Laden calls for Somalis to overthrow their new president.
As the Pope continued his tour of Africa, the Vatican defended his stance on condoms.
Madagascar's coup d'etat is not going over well internationally.

Middle East
Israel has detained 10 senior Hamas leaders in the West Bank.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad expressed strong praise for President Obama and said he was hoping for a meeting with him.
The Israeli army is investigating reports of abuses committed during the invasion of Gaza.

Japan is preparing missile interceptors to preparation for North Korea's planned launch.
An Afghan politician who criticized the Taliban was killed by a roadside bomb.
China has blocked Coca-Cola from taking over a local juice-maker over monopoly concerns.

Europe and Caucasus
EU leaders are meeting today to discuss a small energy-focused stimulus plan.
Workers throughout France are striking today, demanding that President Nicolas Sarkozy do more to address the financial crisis.
Azerbaijan voted to scrap term limits, opening the door for indefinite rule by President Ilham Aliyev.

Some AIG executive have agreed to give back their bonuses.
New Mexico governor Bill Richardson signed a law banning the death penalty in his state.
The U.S. is sending federal agents to its southwest border to help fight Mexican drug cartels.

Truthout 3/19

Joe BreThomas D. Williams Gulf War Illnesses Debate Rages On
Thomas D. Williams, Truthout: "Barack Obama is now the fourth president facing the scientific and bureaucratic conundrum gyrating around mostly US created ongoing wartime hazards producing disastrous health complications for soldiers and civilians. Many of those sicknesses are known as the allegedly 'mysterious Gulf War syndrome,' but they carry over to haunt soldiers and civilians in Kuwait and Afghanistan."

What's Another $1 Trillion? Fed Moves to Boost Lending
Kevin G. Hall, McClatchy Newspapers: "The Federal Reserve's surprise announcement Wednesday that it would purchase more than $1 trillion in Treasury securities and mortgage bonds in hopes of sparking greater economic activity shows that Chairman Ben Bernanke is working hard to keep his pledge to do whatever it takes to reverse the nation's deep recession."

How the Fed Failed to Tell Obama About the Bonuses
David Cho and Michael D. Shear, The Washington Post: "Federal Reserve officials knew for months about bonuses at American International Group but failed to tell the Obama administration, according to government and company officials, exposing problems in a relationship that is vital to addressing the financial crisis."

Is Access to Clean Water a Basic Human Right?
Yigal Schleifer, The Christian Science Monitor: "With fresh water resources becoming scarcer worldwide due to population growth and climate change, a growing movement is working to make access to clean water a basic universal human right. But it's a contentious issue, experts say. Especially difficult is how to safely mesh public-sector interests with public ownership of resources - and determine the legal and economic ramifications of enshrining the right to water by law."

Besieged by the Lord's Resistance Army
Finbarr O'Reilly, GlobalPost: "The LRA, led by the self-styled mystic Joseph Kony, has waged a 20-year war in Uganda. Although Kony maintains he is fighting to establish a world based on the Ten Commandments, he has become known for his brutality. The LRA has abducted more than 20,000 children for use as sex slaves and front-line fighters, according to Human Rights Watch. The LRA rebels have a reputation for grisly mutilations, such as hacking off the lips and ears of their victims. Many children were forced to kill their parents, so they would have no family to return to."

Pierre Calame A Structural Crisis Demands a Comprehensive Solution
Pierre Calame, Le Monde: "Some pretend to believe that the present crisis is a passing incident - just more serious than previous such incidents - which an injection of public money will allow us to overcome. The progressive exhaustion of natural resources, climate change, public indebtedness: it's more likely that we are witnessing the rupture with a specific development model and mode of reasoning."

wer How to Destroy the Government in Three Easy Steps
Joe Brewer, Truthout: "In eight short years, conservatives have effectively bankrupted many state governments and left the fed in shambles. And now citizens have to 'make tough decisions' and share the suffering equally across the land (unless of course, you're part of that lucky 1 percent who co-opted the functions of government to serve their own ends ... they'll be cozy with their offshore bank accounts, golden parachutes and permanent tax holidays). Are you a teacher who educates our future citizens? Too bad. You've got to tighten your belt and let that job go. Manual laborer? Sorry, but that job can earn more money for our shareholders if it's done in Micronesia."

US Shares Blame in Mexico Drug Violence, Senators Say
Josh Meyer, The Los Angeles Times: "Efforts by Mexico and the United States to stem the skyrocketing border drug and weapons trade are failing, and both countries are to blame for the rise of violent cartels responsible for more than 6,000 deaths in Mexico last year, lawmakers and experts said in a Senate hearing Tuesday. For years, elected officials in Washington portrayed Mexico as being largely responsible for the problems spawned by the increasingly powerful crime syndicates - and for fixing them. But at an unusual hearing of the Senate judiciary subcommittee on crime and drugs and the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control, lawmakers from both parties said repeatedly that Washington's inattention to decades of drug use by Americans had played a central role in the crisis."

J. Sri Raman Pakistan's Longer March Ahead
J. Sri Raman, Truthout: "Revolution, as Mao Zedong warned, may not be 'a dinner party.' But the rebellion in Pakistan certainly ended in street celebrations across the country from Monday on, complete with drum-beating and dancing. There was no mistaking the mood and the message: people's power had won the day for democracy. Had they, however, won it for the days to come? Not only are skeptics and spoilsports asking this question; prominent supporters and participants of the pro-democracy movement are posing it as well."

Silja J.A. Talvi Mexico's Drug War Bloodbath
Silja J.A. Talvi, AlterNet.org: "A minute is all the time that it takes for an employee in one of almost 7,000 gun shops dotting the U.S./Mexico border to accept a wad of cash from an eager customer, fill out a triplicate sales slip, and slide a nice, new Taurus .45 caliber pistol across the counter. Or two, or three, or twenty, as the case may be. Add those handguns to the countless tens, perhaps hundreds of thousands of pistols, sniper and assault rifles, semi-automatic machine guns, shield-piercing bullets, grenades, plastic explosives, as well as anti-tank weapons outfitted with self-propelling rockets passing illegally through the hands of drug cartel foot soldiers and assassins. Throw in the array of weapons favored by DEA and CIA agents, Mexican federal police and military units, and other 'drug warriors,' of one sort or another. These are all people who are ready, willing, and able to use violence to get what they want."

Attorney General Signals Shift in Marijuana Policy
Devlin Barrett, The Associated Press: "Attorney General Eric Holder signaled a change on medical marijuana policy Wednesday, saying federal agents will target marijuana distributors only when they violate both federal and state law. That would be a departure from the Bush administration, which targeted medical marijuana dispensaries in California even if they complied with that state's law. 'The policy is to go after those people who violate both federal and state law,' Holder said in a question-and-answer session with reporters at the Justice Department."

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Exercising Voice

Last night, the St Joseph County Council held a public hearing and vote on the tax abatement revision bill 90-08. This proposal, which would benefit the community by setting specific environmental and hiring standards before granting tax subsidies to businesses, is good public policy. Taking my place in the line of supporters to voice my support for the bill, I implored the council-members to remember, like the people who may live next door, businesses are also neighbors in a community. We must not give away tax abatements for jobs at any cost. Do we actually want to entice a company that’s going to dump toxic waste into our waterways for the promise of a few jobs? What is the point of prostituting our community to embrace John Doe, Inc who will treat their workers like chattel? Doing so and trying to compete with other communities to see who can give away the most tax breaks is nothing less than a race to the bottom.

As I prepared to leave the podium, Mark Root, District I Councilman asked me “didn’t you run for a seat on the city council in 2007?”

What, I wondered, does this have to do with Bill 90-08, but I answered, “Yes”.

“Wouldn’t you say, then, that this ordinance would not have any affect on the people in your neighborhood?” Root asked.

I was too shocked to answer. Of course what businesses do affects everyone in a community, the state, the country, the planet! Every time China builds another coal-burning power plant without regard for air quality, the winds bring those clouds of cancer-causing soot over the Pacific and onto our western states. When a factory farm in St Joe County dumps millions of gallons of pig sewage into a lagoon that seeps into our groundwater, we all suffer the effects of that contamination; how far that goes out, no one can know for certain. When we accept products made from the sweat of poorly treated workers, how does that make our community, state, country a better place? How could an elected official not see the lines connecting these dots? Does my concern for my neighbors stop at the end of my city block?

It seemed Mr. Root was insinuating that because I lived within the city limits and not in unincorporated county districts, I didn’t have the right to speak for all of us who are adversely affected by poor public policy!

While all this was roiling in my head, someone from the back of the room shouted something in my defense. Then my councilman, Heath Weaver, asked me if I was his constituent. When I answered affirmatively, Mr. Weaver retorted to Mr. Root that the latter’s insinuations were wrong, bringing applause from the audience.

Bill 90-08 passed; Mr. Weaver voted in favor of the measure, Mr. Root, against.

FP morning brief 3/18

Top Story

A new World Bank report finds that despite pledges to the contrary, 17 of the G20 nations have enacted policies aimed at blocking the free flow of imported goods. The report found that 47 trade restricting measures had been enacted around the world since October. According to World Bank President Robert B. Zoellick , "Economic isolationism can lead to a negative spiral of events such as those we saw in the 1930s, which made a bad situation much, much worse."

The report comes one day after Mexico retaliated to restrictions on its truck drivers but slapping punitive tariffs on 90 U.S. products. The heads of state of the G20 nations will meet on April 2 in London. Zoellick urged the leaders to "not heed the siren-song of protectionist fixes."

The World Bank also cut China's 2009 growth forecast by one point to 6.5 percent.
NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said 4,000 extra troops will be needed to provide security for Afghanistan's elections in August.
North Korea is refusing to accept any more food aid.

Barack Obama will appoint retired general J. Scott Gration as special envoy to Sudan.
Madagascar's highest court ruled that coup leader Andry Rajoelina had taken power legally and is now president.
South African prosecutors are considering dropping graft charges against presidential candidate Jacob Zuma.

The French parliament backed president Nicolas Sarkozy's plan for France to fully rejoining Nato.
Russia's Dmitry Medvedev is presiding over talks to resolve the long-running territorial dispute between Moldova and its breakaway province, Transnistria.
Azeris are voting on whether to remove term limits for their president today.

The Obama administration is planning to use taxes to force AIG to pay back bonus money.
The U.S. is finalizing plans to join Mexico's fight against drug traffickers.
Venezuela's Hugo Chavez is pushing a plan to give him more power over regional governments.

Middle East
A suicide bomber attacked a South Korean delegation visiting Yemen.
Egypt's intelligence chief is visiting Washington to urge the administration to take a softer line on Hamas.

Truthout 3/18

William Rivers Pitt The Ballad of Henry Knox
William Rivers Pitt, Truthout: "The moral? Hard times require hard patriots, audacity, courage, strength and endurance ... one step at a time. This country was forged by men and women daunted by the seeming impossibility of their situation, but who never wavered, and who eventually prevailed. I think there are ten zillion folk songs written about this kind of thing, and before we're done overcoming all that confronts us now, they will have written even more."

Outcry Builds in Washington for Recovery of A.I.G. Bonuses
Jackie Calmes And Louise Story, The New York Times: "The American International Group, which has received nearly $200 billion in bailout funds, last week paid bonuses to 418 employees, including $33.6 million to 52 people who have left the failed insurance conglomerate, according to the office of the New York attorney general. The company paid the bonuses, including more than $1 million each to 73 people, to almost all of the employees in the financial products unit responsible for creating the exotic derivatives that caused A.I.G.'s near collapse and started the government rescue to avoid a global financial crisis. The information adds to the firestorm confronting the Obama administration and Congress since the weekend disclosure that A.I.G., almost 80 percent owned by the government, paid out $165 million in bonuses."

Caterpillar to Lay Off 2,454 Workers in Three States
Daniel Lovering, The Associated Press: "Caterpillar Inc. on Tuesday announced plans to lay off more than 2,400 employees at five plants in Illinois, Indiana and Georgia as the heavy equipment maker continues to cut costs amid the global economic downturn. Caterpillar, the world's largest maker of mining and construction equipment, has seen its sales wither as the sluggish world economy and the credit crisis weaken demand for its products, used to build everything from houses to highways. The company had expanded dramatically in recent years, helped by a building boom in developing countries."

Military Rape Reports Rise, Prosecution Still Low
Anne Gearan, The Associated Press: "More people came forward to report sexual assaults in the military last year, but a significant percentage wouldn't give crucial details needed for an investigation. The Pentagon said it received 2,923 reports of sexual assault across the military in the 12 months ending Sept. 30 2008. That's about a 9 percent increase over the totals reported the year before, but only a fraction of the crimes presumably being committed. Among the cases reported, only a small number went to military courts, officials acknowledged."

With Pick of Judge, Obama Begins Reshaping Bench
Larry Margasak, The Associated Press: "President Barack Obama on Tuesday nominated an Indiana judge to serve on a Midwestern federal appeals court, his first act in reshaping the federal judiciary and preparing for a possible Supreme Court opening. The White House chose US District Judge David Hamilton of Indiana for the Chicago-based 7th US Circuit Court of Appeals, contending Hamilton was a mainstream jurist who could overcome the bitter Senate confirmation fights of the past several years. Obama has 15 federal appellate vacancies to fill, including the 7th Circuit court that covers Wisconsin, Indiana and Illinois."

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

CARE of South Bend to sponsor 10K fundraiser

10K Race and 2 Mile Mutt Strut

Get fit. Have fun. Help raise money for the new animal shelter.

Save the date! Get ready and start training today! On April 25, 2009 Christopher B. Burke Engineering, Ltd. and CARE of South Bend will proudly present The First Annual Run Ten Ten, 10K Race and 2 Mile Mutt Strut. The race will take place in South Bend.

The race will start and finish at Howard Park in South Bend. The race course highlights some of the loveliest historic neighborhoods in South Bend as well as the mighty St. Joe River.

The First Annual Run-Ten-Ten, 10 Kilometer Race will be a USATF sanctioned event. For the first annual event it is expected that 150 or more athletes will register for the race. These participants will include: serious competitors, casual athletes and local residents. Hundreds of the participants’ family and friends along with many local residents are expected to volunteer or come to watch the event. This race will be a signature event for CARE of South Bend. The proceeds from this race will support the construction of a new animal shelter for the city of South Bend. Please register today to help make the Run-Ten-Ten the premier 10K Race in northwest Indiana. Please visit www.runtenten.org for more information.

Race awards:
10 K Race Awards:
· 1st place over all male & female winners-$50.00 American Express Gift Certificate.
· 2nd place over all male & female winners-$25.00 American Express Gift Certificate.
· 1st, 2nd, 3rd of all age divisions: male & females—medals.
Race and Walk:
· Goodie bags guaranteed to all pre-registered run and walk participants.

If you would like to learn more about CBBEL or CARE of South Bend please visit their web sites at www.cbbel-in.com or www.careofsouthbend.org ..

Valerie Schey
Founder and President
Community Animal Rescue Effort of South Bend
P.O. Box 1481
South Bend, IN 46624

FP morning brief

Top Story

It appears that a successful coup has been carried out in Madagascar as an aide tells reporters that President Marc Ravalomanana will step down and hand over power to the military. A formal declaration is expected soon.

Soldiers loyal to opposition leader Andry Rajoelina occupied the empty presidential palace in the capital Antananarivo yesterday after Ravalomanana fled the country. Roajoelina will move into the presidential office today. The African Union will hold a meeting in two days to discuss the situation in Madagascar.

FP's Elizabeth Dickinson has background on the turmoil in Madagascar here and here.

Middle East
Israel and Hamas failed to reach a deal for the release of captured IDF soldier Gilad Shalit.
The U.S. says it shot down an Iranian drone over Iraqi territory last month.
U.S. troops accidentally killed a 12-year-old Iraqi girl with a warning shot at a police checkpoint.

Thousands of Pakistanis celebrated after the reinstatement of Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudry. But another crisis could be brewing.
North Korea has reopened a key border crossing to the South.
Sri Lanka is refusing to accept any conditions on a proposed IMF loan.

While visiting Cameroon on his first trip to Africa, Pope Benedict XVI said that distributing condoms is not the answer to fighting the spread of HIV.
Refugee camps in Darfur are struggling after the expulsion of international aid groups.
Political violence is escalating in Sierra Leone.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said Russia is launching a $140 billion military buildup. He has clearly not been reading Travis Sharp.
Finland's Nokia, the world's largest cell phone company, is cutting 1,700 jobs worldwide.
Irish and Northern Irish political leaders will meet with President Obama at the White House in honor of St. Patrick's Day. Northern Ireland's increasing violence is expected to be on the agenda.

Obama vowed to "pursue every legal avenue to block" bailed-out insurance giant AIG from paying executive bonuses.
El Salvador's new leftist president said he is looking forward to working with Washington.
In retaliation for restrictions on Mexican truckers in the United States, the Mexican government is putting tariffs on 90 American products.

Truthout 3/17

Maya Schenwar Winter Soldiers Speak Out in Europe
Maya Schenwar, Truthout: "Saturday, March 14, a third Winter Soldier conference unfolded - this time, overseas. In the leadup to NATO's 60th summit next month in Strasbourg, Germany, Winter Soldier Europe took place in nearby Freiburg. Iraq and Afghanistan veterans from Germany, the UK and the US testified, revealing the impact of the occupations on civilians and service members alike."

Irate Congress Takes Aim at A.I.G.
Phil Mattingly, Congressional Quarterly: "Anger over revelations that bailout recipient American International Group Inc. doled out $165 million in bonuses boiled over Monday, and could result in legislation aimed at the company, top congressional Democrats indicated. AIG, which is now 80 percent owned by the federal government, has been on the receiving end of $170 billion of taxpayer money. President Obama said Monday that he had asked Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner to 'pursue every legal avenue to block these bonuses and make the American taxpayers whole.'"

US Housing Starts Surge, Inflation Slower
Lucia Mutikani, Reuters: "New U.S. housing starts and permits unexpectedly rebounded in February, according to data on Tuesday that provided a rare dose of good news for the recession-hit economy and fractured housing market. The Commerce Department said housing starts jumped 22.2 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 583,000 units from 477,000 units in January. That was the biggest percentage rise since January 1990 and also marked the first increase since last April."

Madagascar President Forced Out
BBC News: "Madagascar's President Marc Ravalomanana has said he is standing down and handing power to the military. But military leaders were reported to favour a transfer direct to opposition leader Andry Rajoelina. Mr Rajoelina, who has led weeks of protests, had earlier installed himself in the president's offices, seized on Monday by pro-opposition troops. Mr Ravalomanana has reportedly left the Iavoloha palace on the fringes of the capital for an undisclosed location. The crisis on the Indian Ocean island has left 100 people dead since January."

Gaetan de Capele G20: Europe Must Hold the Line
Gaetan de Capele, Le Figaro: "One of the fundamental concerns for the future consists of creating a strict framework for banking activity as we measure today what it can cost the world when laxity takes hold. What good is it to spend billions and billions of dollars to save bankrupt establishments - most of them American - if strict oversight and risk-management rules are not immediately enacted?"

Matt Renner A.I.G. Using "Suicide Strategy" to Push Bonuses
Matt Renner, Truthout: "As nationwide populist anger boils after the news that hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars may be given to employees of the insurance-giant-turned-government-liability American Insurance Group (A.I.G.), President Obama promised to try to block what he described as an 'outrage' Monday, but a group of former regulators said the administration must get even tougher in A.I.G. Economics and law Professor William K. Black, a famous figure in the savings and loan crisis of the 1980s for his role as a senior regulator who fingered the then speaker of the House and 'The Keating Five' for doing favors for bankers, has been a vocal critic of the bailout programs, which began during the Bush administration. In an interview with Truthout, Professor Black said that A.I.G. is using a 'suicide strategy' to hold the government hostage and keep the bailout funds flowing."

Senate Stalls on Housing Bankruptcy Bill
Kevin Drawbaugh and Corbett B. Daly, Reuters: "Legislation meant to help distressed US homeowners by allowing bankruptcy courts to adjust the terms of mortgages on primary residences has stalled in the Senate, said congressional aides on Friday. Democrats backing the bill -- known as 'cramdown' and opposed by most of the banking industry -- have been unable to line up the 60 votes needed to clear the way procedurally for it to move ahead, the aides said. 'We're stuck in a place where we don't have 60 votes to pass the House bill as is,' said an aide to a senior Democrat."

Robert Reich The Real Scandal of A.I.G.
Robert Reich, Robert Reich's Blog: "The real scandal of AIG isn't just that American taxpayers have so far committed $170 billion to the giant insurer because it is thought to be too big to fail -- the most money ever funneled to a single company by a government since the dawn of capitalism -- nor even that AIG's notoriously failing executives, at the very unit responsible for the catastrophic credit-default swaps at the very center of the debacle, are planning to give themselves over $100 million in bonuses. The scandal is that even at this late date, even in a new administration dedicated to doing it all differently, Americans still have so little say over what is happening with our money."

Democrats Press Specter to Switch Sides
Aaron Blake, The Hill: "Democrats want Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) in their ranks - and they've been sending in their big guns to lobby him to make the switch. Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell (D) said he, Vice President Biden and Sen. Bob Casey Jr. (D-Pa.) have tried to get the longtime senator and centrist Republican to come to their side of aisle but that so far he won't budge."

Top US Officials Urge Dialogue With Hamas
Bryan Bender and Farah Stockman, The Boston Globe: "Nine former senior US officials and one current adviser are urging the Obama administration to talk with leaders of Hamas to determine whether the militant group can be persuaded to disarm and join a peaceful Palestinian government, a major departure from current US policy. The bipartisan group, which includes economic recovery adviser Paul A. Volcker and former national security advisers Brent Scowcroft and Zbigniew Brzezinski, made the recommendation in a letter handed to Obama days before he took office, according to Scowcroft."

Tuesday to Be Last Issue of Seattle Post-Intelligencer
Phuong Le, The Associated Press: "The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, which has chronicled the news of the city since logs slid down its steep streets to the harbor and miners caroused in its bars before heading north to Alaska's gold fields, will print its final edition Tuesday. Hearst Corp., which owns the 146-year-old P-I, said Monday that it failed to find a buyer for the newspaper, which it put up for a 60-day sale in January after years of losing money. Now the P-I will shift entirely to the Web."

Monday, March 16, 2009

On Ruling The Arctic Frontier, Part Two, Or, There's Stormier Weather Ahead

In order to complete today’s story we return to travelling the seas around the High Arctic...and in telling the first half of the story we were introduced to a sea captain and his parrot, we examined the destruction of a tribal village by United States Marines—and we learned that “tricing up” someone is not some kind of weird dating ritual.

The story has already raised questions of race and culture; and as we move forward it’s going to encompass whaling, an incredible rescue, and more personal trials and tribulations—not to mention the Brewery Worker’s Union—and if all that wasn’t enough, we’ll even bring in a few thousand reindeer to round the whole thing out.

So put on your caribou fur, clean up your sled runners--and let’s head north to Alaska, before the rush is on.

Those of you who were with us last time will recall that we are telling an epic tale of 19th Century Alaska...and for those of you who were not, let’s bring you up to date:

Captain Mike “Hell-Roaring” Healy, possibly the most influential man in the Arctic at the time, had risen from a Georgia plantation birth to become the commander of the most important ship in the Arctic, the Revenue Cutter Bear.

From his Aleutian base at Unalaska, his influence ran from Anchorage to Point Barrow—and even to Siberia...and within that “sphere of influence”, his word was absolutely the way it would be.

In many ways he was the United States in Alaska: his was the only (white man’s) law in a lawless Territory, he carried the mail, and he and his ship were often the first responder in emergencies.

There had been controversy, however—and when Part One of this story ended Captain Healy had just survived an investigation into his methods—and his alleged heavy drinking--while in command.

And with the catching up out of the way, let’s talk reindeer.

Despite what you might think after hearing about Captain Healy’s involvement in the destruction of that tribal village in Part One of our story, he was regarded as a man who cared deeply about life in the tribal communities.

And when American officials worried about those communities, the biggest fear was starvation.

For those not aware, most of the time, most of the interior of Alaska is geographically inaccessible, and to make things worse, what little growing season there might be is too short to allow for any real agricultural production.

That means much of what Alaska natives were eating was gathered from the sea...and since the foreign ships had come to the Arctic, those resources were getting a lot more scarce. (Much of the rest of the local diet was caribou, which is a migratory animal, which means the presence or absence of fresh meat would depend on the location of the herd.)

In the late 1800s, when the whalers had moved from the Pacific to the Arctic as the whale catches began to decline farther south, the walrus and sea lions that were quite abundant in the far north became a natural choice for harvest. At the same time, hunters had begun to work the region with rifles, which was forcing the caribou herds farther inland.

The obvious downside to this new activity was that it was becoming harder and harder for native subsistence hunters to gather enough food for their communities as these animal populations began to decline...which was something the two men who had been sent to Wales, Alaska on the Bear to establish a school had quickly noticed.

(There are those who question whether the new hunting was as serious an issue for the natives as the new educators thought it was; suggesting instead that natural forces were causing the declines in population.)

It was also well known that just a few miles across the Bering Strait, in Siberia, natives were practicing “reindeer capitalism” (the reindeer eat the omnipresent lichen, making them the perfect animal for herding in an Arctic environment).

In 1891, on board the Bear, those two men, their boss (Dr. Sheldon Jackson) and Captain Healy came up with the idea of importing Siberian reindeer to Alaska so that Alaskan natives might have a go at reindeer herding themselves. By the next year, with no official permission from Washington, they brought over the first 16 reindeer.

(It should also be noted that in addition to reducing perceived starvation, the other purpose of encouraging the local population to herd reindeer was to “civilize” the natives through assimilation with the newly arrived Americans; and developing an interest in capitalism was felt to be an effective way to advance that goal.)

By 1900 there were more than 3300 reindeer in Alaska.

The potential future? Sheldon Jackson himself wrote in 1895 that the 400,000 square miles of Alaska’s interior could support 9.2 million head of reindeer, which could employ as many as 287,500 herders.

The actual outcome? More or less 125,000 deer were processed, either for food or clothing, from the 1890s to the 1920s; and more or less 10% of those were owned by the Lomen family of Nome, Alaska.

In the 1930s, the herd grew to 650,000, but declined to as few as 25,000 in the 1950s. A renewed interest in herding began in the 1960s, and to this day there is an active reindeer industry in the State.

At the same time Healy was sailing reindeer around the Bering Sea, he was sailing himself into further trouble back home.

A variety of interest groups had been banding together to express their displeasure with Healy’s ways...including, oddly enough, the San Francisco branches of both the Brewery Worker’s Union and the Women’s Christian Temperance Union; and the problem had been building since the investigation of Healy in 1890 had cleared him of all charges.

When Healy had been accused of cruelty in that investigation, his response had been to say:

“We are empowered by Congress to suppress mutinies. We have no right to exercise magisterial functions. Our functions as such are exercised by policemen. We must suppress mutinies. A policeman does not sit in judgment on a man before he acts. We are not allowed to hold trials . . . If a mutiny occurred at San Francisco, to quell a mutiny or disturbance we would go and arrest the man, and turn him over to the police. But, up there, where there is no jail to bring men to, that is the last resort, to trice men up.”

And the Investigating Board, in that action, had supported him. But times were changing, and in 1895 25 officers of the various Bering Sea cutters jointly signed a new statement of charges against Healy.

The crux of the matter again revolved around his behavior while drinking; among the charges were accusations that he discovered a burial at sea occurring on board his ship without his knowledge—and that he made his entrance to the somber occasion by announcing that “Aboard this ship I am the resurrection and the life.’’

In another incident Healy was accused of literally being “falling-down drunk” on duty: it was alleged that he stumbled right off the dock at Unalaska and into the water at an official social event.

This and the other alleged incidents were investigated back in Washington, DC—and this time, the Investigating Board found him guilty of various forms of bad conduct, “Tyrannous and abusive conduct to inferiors”, and “Placing a vessel in a perilous position while in an intoxicated condition, thereby endangering the lives and property under his command.”

It was recommended that he be dismissed from the Revenue Cutter Service, but the man who had the final word on the matter, Treasury Secretary John G. Carlisle, gave this order instead:

“That Captain Michael A. Healy be dropped to the foot of the list of Captains of the Revenue Service, and that he retain that place hereafter; that he be suspended from rank and command and kept on waiting orders for a term of four years. and that he be publicly reprimanded by reading this order on board all vessels of the Revenue Cutter Service, by the commanding officer of each, at a muster of the commissioned officers, and admonished that if again found guilty of the excessive use of intoxicants during the term of this sentence or thereafter, whether afloat or on shore, he will be summarily dismissed the Service.”

Just as Healy had changed the way the Service operated in Arctic regions in years past, his conviction changed the way the Service operated from that day forward. The excessive use of alcohol was now seen as an offense that demanded serious punishment; and beyond that, the very types of punishment that were allowed had themselves changed as a result of the Healy case.

In a sense, it was almost the end of the “Wild West”—in San Francisco and in Alaska—and as frontier times came to an end so did the tolerance for frontier justice.

At this point, we interrupt the tale of Captain Healy to tell a quick story about the Bear. In 1897 eight whaling ships, with 265 crew aboard, were trapped in winter ice in and around Point Barrow...and the great concern was that they would starve if no relief effort could be effectively mounted.

In November of 1897 the Bear was called upon to take up the task (despite the late date), departing from Port Townsend, Washington, and making its way to Cape Vancouver, Alaska under the command of Captain Francis Tuttle. (There had been an effort to bring Healy out of suspension for the mission, but that was not to be.)

Because of the pack ice, the ship could go no farther north, so the Captain ordered a small party to set out overland roughly 1500 miles, hugging the coast, in order to get rescue supplies to Point Barrow. Remember the reindeer? Along the way, the Overland Expedition was able to locate and purchase from local herders almost 400 head, which were used to pull sleds with supplies...and which would eventually be used for food.

It was now December 15th—which, in Alaska, means nearly 24 hours of darkness, temperatures that can easily plummet below minus 50 degrees F. (-45 C.), and an exceptionally difficult landscape...with no possibility of communications between the ship, the shore party, or those hoping to be rescued.

There were other hazards as well, as reported by Lt. E.P. Bertholf, of the shore party:

“My interpreter, a half-breed Russian, had been listening to the conversation among the natives, and he informed me he drew from their talk that they realized I was unable to obtain other means of transportation in that out-of-the-way place, and thought it was a good time to force me to increase their pay, thus showing a marked similarity to the actions of some of their more enlightened white brethren in civilization. But there was no help for it, as I was obliged to have their teams, so I was forced to listen to their demands.”

The shore party travelled along the coast for about 100 days, finally reaching Point Barrow on March 26, 1898. The Bear reached the same point July 28 of that year, and by August the crews (having suffered no fatalities) were on their way out of the Chukchi Sea and heading south.

At the end of his suspension in 1900 Healy returned to command aboard the Revenue Cutter McCulloch, which had fought in the Battle of Manila Bay—but a series of personal tragedies fell upon him, including the order to turn over command of the ship, leave the Arctic, and assume command of the Revenue Cutter Seminole, out of Boston. In the course of returning to Seattle in July of that year he apparently experienced a psychotic episode that caused junior officers aboard the ship to physically restrain him in his cabin. It is reported that at one point he attempted to cut his wrists with the crystal of his own watch.

Healy was treated at Port Townsend...and, amazingly, in 1902 his case was reviewed; and as a result of that review he was returned to command aboard the Revenue Cutter Thetis. He was able to complete cruises to Alaska in 1902 and 1903, after which he finally retired. He died in San Francisco, August 30, 1904, of a heart attack.

(A few words on the death of the Bear are in order at this point. The ship, as we mentioned, survived to be the flagship of Admiral Byrd’s Antarctic expeditions in the 1930s—and astonishingly enough, it even served in World War II on patrol in Greenland waters. In 1962, it had been renovated to become a restaurant and museum in Philadelphia, but it sank in waters off Boston as it was being towed there...proving that even a ship would “rather be here than in Philadelphia”.)

Way back at the beginning of Part One I promised you a surprise ending that would make this story of Arctic history relevant to today’s times...so here it is:

Captain Mike Healy was born a slave.

His father, an Irish immigrant, had chosen to live with a woman who had been born a slave, and under the Georgia law in force at the time, not only would Mike and all her other children automatically be classified as slaves, their father was prohibited from freeing them.

That’s why they were sent to Boston for their education.

It is reported that the 10 children had varying skin tones, which meant James, who was darker, could not “pass” as white...but Mike could—and apparently he successfully did.

He is today regarded as the first black commanding officer of a United States ship—although there are some who might consider a discussion of the “one-drop rule” to be appropriate before offering the good Captain that distinction.

I promised to answer one other question as well: how did this story never become a movie?

Dr. John Murphy provides that answer in his “Portrait of Captain Michael A. Healy”:

“In the late 1930s representatives of the film industry, planning to make a film on the life of the noted captain, wired to Healy’s daughter-in-law their wish to examine his four-volume diary. When they arrived it was in ashes. Apparently the daughter-in-law, reading the diary for the first time, learned that her husband’s grandmother had been a slave.”

So that’s the epic tale: born a slave in Georgia, but also born to the Arctic, Captain Mike Healy saved lives, changed the Revenue Cutter Service’s way of doing business—twice—and remains a controversial figure to this day, even as the ships that represent his name and his most famous command continue to ply the seas.

And now, as Paul Harvey would have said: you know the rest...of the story.

A decision about our values

Don Wheeler

remarks as prepared for the business meeting of the South Bend Community School Corporation Board of Trustees business meeting of 3/16/09

I strongly favor treating Kindergarten as being of equal value to all other classes taught in the SBCSC, therefore; I urge you to fund universal normal school day length classes for our Kindergartners.

I think that it is unfortunate you are put in the position where a choice is necessary. I believe it is a dereliction of duty of the state that causes this. The State, while claiming the primal importance of public education, still considers Kindergarten optional, won’t fund it properly, and lets our children leave the system (of their own accord) both before they have enough experience to make an informed decision and before their education is anything like complete.

What the state ought to be doing is taking a hard look at programs like the State of Oklahoma has. For ten years, Oklahoma has offered an optional pre-Kindergarten year. The program has a sixty percent participation level at this point, and has paid many dividends to citizens of the state. Universal normal school day length Kindergarten classes are a given there.

Clearly, Indiana has a way to go ... and so here we are. You are the ones left to pick up the pieces.

I’m sensitive to those who voice budget concerns about this measure. But I’d point out that a budget is the clearest statement of values any organization or community can make. By passing this, the Board of Trustees will tell us that they understand a true commitment to successful outcomes for all our children requires maximum effort towards getting our youngest citizens off to the best start possible…even when it’s not easy to do. You will also be making a strategic, proactive decision – rather than a reactive one.

Should the Board fail to take this step – again – the message will be quite different – but equally clear. But I have confidence you won’t do that.

Since I have a daughter in Kindergarten, and some of you may not, I’d like to share some observations about the current program.

Sarah attends Hay Primary Center. Her principal, Craig Haenes championed and pioneered the Wilson LiPS reading program in the corporation. Her teacher, Dixie Eichorst, is one of those people who are both supremely good at what they do and seem to love it as well. And she’s done it quite a while. We have no worries for our daughter.

Sarah’s class only meets for about two and a half hours a day. When there are half days scheduled, her class typically doesn’t meet at all. But the expectations are the same for all Kindergartners - which means that there’s a fair amount of homework. As five-year-olds, Sarah and her classmates need to complete two pages (both sides) every day to keep up. Plus, her mother and I had to figure out how to cover the part of the day she would have been in class. We have the means and the flexibility to pull this stuff off, but what about the children in more challenging situations? Those children’s parents, parent, or guardian may not have the sort of advantages our family has.

Those children may not have the guidance it takes to form this new homework routine. Those children might not have two years of high quality pre-school (ECDC at St. Mary’s) behind them – as Sarah does – which could help them offset these problems. Some of those young citizens may be starting their public education experience at a disadvantage because of our current program. I am aware of no point in our current program designed to address that deficit.

Mr. Kapsa, Board members, let’s take this important step towards getting our children off to the best start possible. Let’s use this decision as a foundation to form a solid early education strategy, where all our students take a trip down Light Bulb Lane and gain the benefits of the Wilson LiPS reading program. And let’s look for other opportunities in the future.

We can’t try to play catch-up with High Schoolers as our main strategy for good outcomes. If we’re ever to break the cycle of too many of our children failing to graduate High School, we have to take every opportunity to get them to High School ready for High School – and to Intermediate Centers before that.

Clearly, the only way we can achieve transformational change in student outcomes is to concentrate on ensuring our children leave Primary Centers ready for the next step. The best way to achieve that is to give our youngest students the best start possible.

I ask that you adopt item 9.04 of tonight’s agenda.

FP morning brief 3/16

Top Story

As a massive convoy of protesters led by ousted opposition leader Nawaz Sharif rolled toward Islamabad, President Asif Ali Zardari bowed to political pressure and agreed to reinstate Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudry. The independent-minded Chaudry's removal was a key event in the downfall of former leader Pervez Musharraf, but his reinstatement had been blocked by Zardari despite campaign pledges to reinstate him.

Sharif has now called off the protest and planned sit-in. Zardari had earlier tried to have Sharif placed under house arrest in Lahore, but he and his supporter managed to break free and reach the center of town with little police resistance. The security breakdown was a major blow to Zardari's authority.

“This is a prelude to a revolution,” the victorious Sharif told reporters.

Middle East
Former President Mohammed Khatami withdrew from Iran's presidential election. It is not yet clear which opposition candidate he will endorse.
Benjamin Netanyahu signed a coalition agreement with the far-right party Yisrael Beitenu making it likely that controversial politician Avigdor Lieberman will become foreign minister.
Lebanon has opened its first ever embassy in Syria.

Madagascar's opposition leader has asked security forces to arrest the country's president. A coup may now be underway.
President Omar al Bashir has ordered international groups to stop delivering aid in Sudan.
Pope Benedict XVI will embark this week on his first trip to Africa, where church attendance is booming.

Former left-wing guerilla party FMLN won El Salvador's presidential election.
Venezuela's Hugo Chavez ordered his navy to take over seaports in petroleum exporting regions.
U.S. Treasury investigators are trying to determine if more bailout funds would help struggling General motors.

North Korea has been opening and closing its southern border, seemingly at random.
Eleven were killed by a suicide bomber in Southern Afghanistan.
Taiwan is reducing the size of its military in response to better relations with mainland China.

European markets continued to rise after a positive earnings report from British bank Barclays.
Police are holding nine IRA dissidents in connection with this month's attacks in Northern Ireland.
Serbia is seeking an emergency IMF loan.

Truthout 3/16

Marc Ash Let the Thing Be Pressed
Marc Ash, Truthout: "Still no end in sight to the corruption in Washington. While the Democrats now control both houses of Congress and the White House, the raging wildfire of corruption continues unabated. A.I.G. bailed out to the tune of 165 billion taxpayer dollars and proceeds to pay executives what is now approaching 300 million in bonuses? The White House and Congress are 'outraged, but can't do anything'? Meanwhile, legislation that could have prevented millions of foreclosures barely passed the House after being watered down to the point of ineffectiveness and now languishes in the Senate, awaiting recrafting that will insure it saves no homeowner."

A.I.G. Says It Spent Some Bailout Money Paying Banks
The Associated Press: "American International Group Inc. on Sunday detailed how it used some of its $170 billion in federal bailout money, after the troubled insurer provoked outrage on Capitol Hill over its payment of tens of millions in executive bonuses. Lawmakers on Capitol Hill have demanded that the identities of banks and other so-called counterparties that do business with bailed-out institutions be made public."

Pakistani Government Relents, Restores Chief Justice
Chris Brummitt, The Associated Press: "Pakistan agreed Monday to reinstate a fired chief justice, a move that will help defuse a political crisis that has sparked street battles and raised fears of instability in the country at a time of surging Islamist violence. Opposition leaders and lawyers had vowed to sit-in at the parliament later Monday until Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, known for his independence and willingness to challenge authority, was reinstated. The capital has been barricaded and scores of extra police brought in amid fears of violence."

Obama's Open to Military Help for Mexico, Experts Urge Caution
Marisa Taylor And Nancy Youssef, McClatchy Newspapers: "As the Pentagon eyes a bigger role in Mexico's drug war, the military's efforts to open the door to a new relationship with its southern neighbor risks alienating the Mexican military, which has long had a strained relationship with its counterpart, experts said. Defense Secretary Robert Gates has called for improved relations with the Mexican military in response to escalating drug violence along the Mexican border and in Mexico."

Immigrants Face Detentions, Few Rights
Michelle Roberts, The Associated Press: "America's detention system for immigrants has mushroomed in the last decade, a costly building boom that was supposed to sweep up criminals and ensure that undocumented immigrants were quickly shown the door. Instead, an Associated Press computer analysis of every person being held on a recent Sunday night shows that most did not have a criminal record and many were not about to leave the country - voluntarily or via deportation."

Sara Jane Olson Free Soon, Supporters Quiet
Steve Karnowski, The Associated Press: "Sara Jane Olson's friends and supporters in Minnesota have stayed loyal over the years, but they've grown increasingly silent as her release from prison approaches. Olson was exposed in 1999 as Kathleen Soliah, a 1970s radical with the Symbionese Liberation Army who became a fugitive after the attempted pipe-bombings of Los Angeles police officers and a fatal bank robbery near Sacramento. Until authorities acting on a tip pulled over her minivan in St. Paul, her friends knew her as a housewife, mother of three daughters, volunteer and actress."

A continent adrift

New York Times

I’m concerned about Europe. Actually, I’m concerned about the whole world — there are no safe havens from the global economic storm. But the situation in Europe worries me even more than the situation in America.

Just to be clear, I’m not about to rehash the standard American complaint that Europe’s taxes are too high and its benefits too generous. Big welfare states aren’t the cause of Europe’s current crisis. In fact, as I’ll explain shortly, they’re actually a mitigating factor.

The clear and present danger to Europe right now comes from a different direction — the continent’s failure to respond effectively to the financial crisis.

Europe has fallen short in terms of both fiscal and monetary policy: it’s facing at least as severe a slump as the United States, yet it’s doing far less to combat the downturn.

On the fiscal side, the comparison with the United States is striking. Many economists, myself included, have argued that the Obama administration’s stimulus plan is too small, given the depth of the crisis. But America’s actions dwarf anything the Europeans are doing.

The difference in monetary policy is equally striking. The European Central Bank has been far less proactive than the Federal Reserve; it has been slow to cut interest rates (it actually raised rates last July), and it has shied away from any strong measures to unfreeze credit markets.

The only thing working in Europe’s favor is the very thing for which it takes the most criticism — the size and generosity of its welfare states, which are cushioning the impact of the economic slump.

This is no small matter. Guaranteed health insurance and generous unemployment benefits ensure that, at least so far, there isn’t as much sheer human suffering in Europe as there is in America. And these programs will also help sustain spending in the slump.

But such “automatic stabilizers” are no substitute for positive action.

Why is Europe falling short? Poor leadership is part of the story. European banking officials, who completely missed the depth of the crisis, still seem weirdly complacent. And to hear anything in America comparable to the know-nothing diatribes of Germany’s finance minister you have to listen to, well, Republicans.

But there’s a deeper problem: Europe’s economic and monetary integration has run too far ahead of its political institutions. The economies of Europe’s many nations are almost as tightly linked as the economies of America’s many states — and most of Europe shares a common currency. But unlike America, Europe doesn’t have the kind of continentwide institutions needed to deal with a continentwide crisis.

This is a major reason for the lack of fiscal action: there’s no government in a position to take responsibility for the European economy as a whole. What Europe has, instead, are national governments, each of which is reluctant to run up large debts to finance a stimulus that will convey many if not most of its benefits to voters in other countries.

You might expect monetary policy to be more forceful. After all, while there isn’t a European government, there is a European Central Bank. But the E.C.B. isn’t like the Fed, which can afford to be adventurous because it’s backed by a unitary national government — a government that has already moved to share the risks of the Fed’s boldness, and will surely cover the Fed’s losses if its efforts to unfreeze financial markets go bad. The E.C.B., which must answer to 16 often-quarreling governments, can’t count on the same level of support.

Europe, in other words, is turning out to be structurally weak in a time of crisis.

The biggest question is what will happen to those European economies that boomed in the easy-money environment of a few years ago, Spain in particular.

For much of the past decade Spain was Europe’s Florida, its economy buoyed by a huge speculative housing boom. As in Florida, boom has now turned to bust. Now Spain needs to find new sources of income and employment to replace the lost jobs in construction.

In the past, Spain would have sought improved competitiveness by devaluing its currency. But now it’s on the euro — and the only way forward seems to be a grinding process of wage cuts. This process would have been difficult in the best of times; it will be almost inconceivably painful if, as seems all too likely, the European economy as a whole is depressed and tending toward deflation for years to come.

Does all this mean that Europe was wrong to let itself become so tightly integrated? Does it mean, in particular, that the creation of the euro was a mistake? Maybe.

But Europe can still prove the skeptics wrong, if its politicians start showing more leadership. Will they?

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Truthout 3/15

Dahr Jamail The Ongoing Occupation of Iraqi Artists
Dahr Jamail, Truthout: "For centuries, artists, writers, and intellectuals have been meeting in Baghdad's teahouses over tulip-shaped glasses of sweet lemon tea, cigarettes, and shisha pipes. A car bomb detonated near one of the oldest teahouses a year-and-a-half ago, causing massive destruction around the area. When it reopened recently, Mohammed Al-Mumain, a 59-year-old biology teacher resumed his visits there. The portly, jovial teacher brought tea for my colleague and I before settling to talk, 'The mind needs art and education. I come here because the lamp needs electricity. The lamp of my mind, like that in all of us, needs to discuss and review life continually. That feeds me. When I come here I feel like a teenager again. All that I need, the old culture along with the new, I find here.'"

Robert Dallek How Not to End Another President's War (L.B.J. Edition)
Robert Dallek, The New York Times: "On November 24, 1963, two days after John F. Kennedy's assassination, President Lyndon B. Johnson met with his principal national security advisers to consider the most volatile issue he had inherited: Vietnam. A coup at the beginning of November - approved by the Kennedy administration - had toppled Ngo Dinh Diem's government and taken his life. Concerns about the ability of his untested successors to withstand Vietcong insurgents backed by Ho Chi Minh's North Vietnamese Communist regime gave Johnson a sense of urgency about an issue that could threaten United States interests abroad and undermine his standing at home."

Women in Congo Speak Out About Rape Despite Taboo
The Associated Press: "Zamuda Sikujuwa shuffles to a bench in the sunshine, pushes apart her thighs with a grimace of pain and pumps her fist up and down in a lewd-looking gesture to show how the militiamen shoved an automatic rifle inside her. The brutish act tore apart her insides after seven of the men had taken turns raping her. She lost consciousness and wishes now that her life also had ended on that day."

Dr. James J. Zogby Clinton Advances Mideast Peace
"Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's recent Middle East trip was striking, by any measure. Despite grumbling by some in the Arab media for what they derided as her "excessive caution," or claiming that she merely echoed the policies of the previous administration - some going so far as to mock her as "Condi Clinton" - her overall performance was significant and substantial. She was constructive on many fronts: chiding Israel for its failure to open the borders of Gaza sufficiently to facilitate the transport of relief assistance and supplies; publicly criticizing Israeli settlements as 'unhelpful, and not in keeping with obligations entered into under the Roadmap'; and expressing concern with the Jerusalem municipality's plans to demolish Palestinian homes, noting that 'the ramifications' of this action go 'far beyond the individuals and families affected.'"

Bolivia Passes Land From Rich to Poor
Reuters: "Emboldened by a new leftist constitution, Bolivia President Evo Morales on Saturday handed over ownership of farmland seized by the state from wealthy estate holders to poor indigenous people. Morales handed out around 94,000 acres of lands recently confiscated from five big ranches in Bolivia's wealthy eastern lowlands, a stronghold of his conservative political opponents. The ranchers have been accused of employing workers in conditions of semi-slavery. 'Private property will always be respected but we want people who are not interested in equality to change their thinking and focus more on country than currency,' said Morales, flanked by military and police personnel."

VIDEO President Obama: Tougher Food Safety Measures
In this week's address, President Barack Obama makes key announcements regarding the safety of our nation's food.

FOCUS Robert Naiman: Election Dirty Tricks Again in Washington and El Salvador http://www.truthout.org/031509Z
Robert Naiman, Truthout: "Last week, more than 30 Members of Congress joined Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Arizona) in asking President Obama to affirm US neutrality in El Salvador's presidential election on Sunday March 15, to stop the recycling in El Salvador of US threats when Salvadorans voted in 2004. But there has been no high-level response from the Obama administration. But right-wing Republicans in Congress have not been quiet. Rep. Trent Franks (R-Arizona) said, 'Should the pro-terrorist FMLN party replace the current government in El Salvador, the United States, in the interests of national security, would be required to reevaluate our policy toward El Salvador, including cash remittance and immigration policies, to compensate for the fact there will no longer be a reliable counterpart in the Salvadoran government.'"

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Texas' Perry rejects stimulus for expanded jobless benefits

AUSTIN — Gov. Rick Perry announced Thursday that he will block Texas from accepting $550 million for expanded unemployment benefits as part of the federal stimulus package.

Framing his decision as a stand for state sovereignty, Perry said Washington politicians are trying to push their values on the Texas government.

Reaction to Perry's announcement came quickly.

Fort Worth State Rep. Marc Veasey charged Perry with putting ideology over the needs of Texans like those recently laid off from Alcon Labs in Fort Worth.

"Our state deserves a governor that recognizes the struggle these families face," Veasey said. "It is time for the Legislature to do the right thing, and circumvent Governor Perry’s obstruction, so that we can provide the relief and stimulus the Texas economy needs.”


Truthout 3/14

US Drops "Enemy Combatant" as Basis for Detention
Randall Mikkelsen, Reuters: "The Obama administration dropped the term 'enemy combatant' and incorporated international law on Friday as its basis for holding terrorism suspects at Guantanamo prison while it works to close the facility. The US Justice Department said it had filed court papers outlining its break from Bush administration detention standards, and said only those who provided 'substantial' support to al-Qaeda or the Taliban would be considered detainable."

Obama Sets New Course at the UN
Haider Rizvi, Inter Press Service: "After nearly a decade of an often tense and estranged relationship with the United Nations, Washington appears to be taking a much more conciliatory and multilateral approach to the world body. US President Barack Obama formally restored funding for the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) Wednesday by signing a major spending bill, prompting UN officials to again welcome the policy shift on women's health-related rights."

Jim Hightower Fighting Back in America's 30-Year Class War
Jim Hightower, Creators Syndicate: "Leaving aside the fact that such things as health-care coverage for every American and a booming green energy economy will benefit the rich as well as the rest of us, Brooks' column was echoing a prevalent theme in all of the right's attacks on Obama's economic proposals: Class War! Indeed, the Times' columnist even suggested (sadly) that Obama's budget was fundamentally un-American: 'The US has never been a society riven by class resentment,' he sniffed. Whoa, professor, get a grip! Better yet, get a good history book (Howard Zinn's 'A People's History of the United States' would be an eye-opening place to start). While our schools, media and politicians rarely mention it, America's history is replete with class rebellions against various moneyed elites who act as though they're the top dogs and ordinary folks are just a bunch of fire hydrants."

Texas's Perry Rejects Stimulus for Expanded Jobless Benefits
Aman Batheja, Fort Worth Star-Telegram: "Gov. Rick Perry announced Thursday that he will block Texas from accepting $550 million for expanded unemployment benefits as part of the federal stimulus package. Several state lawmakers have said they would arrange a vote to override Perry if he didn't accept all the stimulus money due Texas. Democrat James Clyburn, majority whip in the US House of Representatives, placed a clause in the $787 billion stimulus bill that enables state legislatures to bypass governors who reject the money."

In El Salvador Election, Old Battle Lines Have Been Erased
Tracy Wilkinson, The Los Angeles Times: "For nearly three decades, Nestor Bonilla was a loyal soldier in the Salvadoran army. Trained by US military advisors, he rose to the rank of colonel. He fought in the civil war as a commander of El Salvador's elite and feared special forces. Today he is stomping the campaign trail in behalf of the guerrilla movement he once battled. 'It is time for a change,' he says in what can only be called an understatement.. El Salvador elects a new president Sunday, and for the first time in the nation's history, the left has a real chance of victory."

FOCUS Philip Bennett: What We Don't Know About Iraq
Philip Bennett, The Washington Post: "What do Iraqis call the war that is now entering its seventh year? If you can't answer that question, it's not because you haven't been paying attention. In this country, the Iraq war has been an American story. It was born inside the Beltway. Its costs in suffering have been most visible to us at gravesides across the United States, or in the wards of Walter Reed. A growing library of histories of the war chronicles battle after bitter battle between factions of official Washington, skirmishing over ideas, strategy, about how we got in and how to get out. As the war has gone on, Iraqis' stories have been overshadowed by the towering drama of our own experience. The imbalance struck me as I recently read and revisited some of the best books to grow out of American journalism on Iraq since the invasion began on March 19, 2003. They are rich in raw, unblinking dispatches from alongside US troops and investigative digging into the thinking of US leaders - overall, a remarkable record of a continuing conflict. But they also reflect how frustration and isolation, including the isolation of journalists, have reduced Iraqis to a narrow cast of supporting roles: ungrateful partners, untrustworthy supplicants, invisible enemies and unreadable victims."

FOCUS Michael Winship: The Brave, Living and Dead
Michael Winship, Truthout: "Alarmed by the increasing rate of suicide, the Army has begun releasing monthly numbers, in addition to the annual reports produced in the past. 2008 was a record high - 128 confirmed suicides and 15 under investigation. The rate has been increasing steadily since 2004. Last month there were 18 suspected suicides, up from 11 the previous year. In January there were 24, up from five in January 2008. According to The Associated Press, 'Usually the vast majority of suspected suicides are eventually confirmed, and if that holds true it would mean that self-inflicted deaths surpassed the 16 combat deaths [in January] reported in all branches of the armed forces in Iraq, Afghanistan and other nations considered part of the global war on terror.'"

Friday, March 13, 2009

St Joseph County Common Council Must Pass Common Sense Tax Abatement Ordinance

Next to us is an old empty house. When I walk my dog, I pick up any trash that may have blown onto that house’s yard and watch for any activity. It would be nice to have someone living in that house, someone who would wave “hello”, keep up the yard, put a coat of paint on its stucco exterior and a swing on it’s grand front porch. But there’s no guarantee whoever moved in would do those lovely things. An “absentee landlord” could buy that house and rent to nuisance tenants who would sell drugs to the neighbor children, play loud music and leave trash everywhere. I’d like to have neighbors but NOT at any cost.

The same goes with businesses who want to be neighbors in our community. Of course we want businesses set up shop here, but at what cost? Will they be polluting our air and water with impunity? Will they treat their workers poorly? Will the products they produce be something that our community members can safely use?

The St Joseph Count Council must remember jobs at any cost is a race to the bottom; before giving tax abatements to incoming businesses, let’s demand they be good neighbors first.

Groups Protest Health Insurance Heavyweights

FP morning brief 3/13

Top Story

While admittedly the bar for good economic news has been dramatically lowered in recent months, investors have found a bit of it this week. Bank of America's CEO said his company wouldn't need government help, U.S. retail sales haven't fallen by as much as expected, and GE's credited rating was reduced by only one notch! After a 9.5 percent gain in the Dow Jones index over the last three days, Wall Street is feeling uncharacteristically optimistic.

Asian stocks are rising after news of new stimulus measures by Japan and China and things are even looking up in struggling Britain. Overall, world stocks are on track for their largest weekly gain in 20 years.

On the other hand...China expressed concern over the safety to holding U.S. treasuries.
U.S. drones attacked a Pakistani Taliban camp killing 24 near Peshawar, while Pakistani authorities broke up a major anti-government demonstration in Karachi.
Japan warned North Korea that it would shoot down any missile heading toward its territory while South Korea vowed new actions in the U.N. Security Council if the North goes ahead with its planned test.

Middle East
After Barack Obama renewed U.S. sanctions against Iran for another year, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad dismissed the move as "childish."
Former Israeli President Moshe Katsav says his rape conviction was a "lynching" by the media.
Hamas warned Gaza militants not to fire rockets into Israel at this time.

Madagascar's mutinous troops are now deploying tanks.
Thousands have been displaced by flooding in Southern Angola.
Japan and South Korea have joined the fight against Somali pirates.

Seven people were arrested for plotting to set off a bomb in central Amsterdam.
Thirteen Serbs were jailed for a 1991 massacre in Croatia.
President Mikheil Saakashvili says Georgia is open for Russian business.

Bernard Madoff pled guilty to running a $65 billion Ponzi scheme.
President Obama said he was considering sending National Guard troops to quell drug violence on the U.S.-Mexican border.
A party of former left-wing guerillas seems poised to win El Salvador's presidential election this weekend. Bart Beeson explains why there's more to the election than meets the eye for FP.

Truthout 3/13

William Rivers Pitt 50 Days Here, 100 Days There
William Rivers Pitt, Truthout: "Barack Obama is less than 50 days away from becoming the twelfth American president to face the 'First 100 Days' benchmark set by Franklin D. Roosevelt. The eleven presidents before Obama were all kicked in the pants by this highly subjective standard of performance, to varying degrees of severity - Truman got it the worst due to his proximity to the standard-creator, and due to his suddenly being put in charge of the Second World War, of course - and Mr. Obama will be faced with the same comparison come springtime."

Anxious Homeowners Watch and Wait as Congress Debates Foreclosure Bill
Cynthia Dizikes, MinnPost.com: "As a homeowner rescue bill heads to the Senate where it is expected to spark a fiery debate between Democrats and Republicans, Edwina Bruce of Minneapolis and other Minnesotans facing foreclosure hope that a controversial provision remains in the legislation and helps them hang on to their homes."

Seth Sandronsky Employee Free Choice Act as Stimulus for US Economy
Seth Sandronsky, Truthout: "Across the US, indebted businesses and consumers are struggling to make ends meet. The same holds for local and state governments. Fortunately, help is on the horizon. No, the helping hand is not Uncle Sam doling out more tax dollars to giant banks and insurers. Rather, it is about Rep. George Miller (D-California) and Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Massachusetts) introducing the Employee Free Choice Act in the House on March 9."

Army Fired Soldiers in January for Violation of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell"
Anne Flaherty, The Associated Press: "The Army fired 11 soldiers in January for violating the military's policy that gay service members must keep their sexuality hidden, according to a Virginia congressman."

US Gas Drilling Threatens Health of Rural Residents
Jon Hurdle, Reuters: "When her children started missing school because of persistent diarrhea and vomiting, Pat Farnelli began to wonder if she and her family were suffering from more than just a classroom bug. After trying several remedies, she stopped using the water drawn from her well in this rural corner of northeastern Pennsylvania, the forefront of a drilling boom in what may be the biggest US reserve of natural gas."

Obama Takes US Closer to Total Ban on Cluster Bombs
Peter Beaumont, The Guardian UK: "The United States has stepped closer to a total ban on the use and export of cluster bombs with the signing by Barack Obama of a new permanent law that would make it almost impossible for the US to sell the controversial weapons. The decision was hailed by opponents of the weapons as a 'major turnaround in US policy' that overrode Pentagon calls to permit their continued export."

Le Monde Changing European Perspectives on the Atlantic Alliance
Le Monde's editorialist provides an at-best-lukewarm endorsement for Nicolas Sarkozy's decision to reintegrate France into NATO's military command structure, while, in Le Figaro, Pierre Rousselin describes both a new style and new differences between the Atlantic Alliance allies.

Stocks Extend Rally to Third Day
Renae Merle, The Washington Post: "Wall Street extended its rally into a third day on a mixed batch of economic data yesterday and some positive corporate news, sending the Dow Jones industrial average back above 7000."

Bernard Madoff Taken to Jail After Guilty Plea
Walter Hamilton, The Los Angeles Times: "Even with Bernard L. Madoff heading to prison Thursday after confessing to an epic Ponzi scheme, the intrigue over his case deepened as embittered victims pressed the government to find out who may have helped him and where the money went."

Leahy Vows to Name Names if Obama's Nominees Are Delayed
David Ingram, Law.com: "Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., is warning his colleagues that he will shine a light on any of them who try to hold up a nominee of President Barack Obama."

Mark Weisbrot Who Is America to Judge?
Mark Weisbrot, The Guardian UK: "The US state department's annual human rights report got an unusual amount of criticism this year. This time the centre-left coalition government of Chile was notable in joining other countries such as Bolivia, Venezuela and China - who have had more rocky relations with Washington - in questioning the moral authority of the US government's judging other countries' human rights practices."

Report: Obama Mulls Troops on Mexico Border
Agence France-Presse: "President Barack Obama is considering deploying troops along the US-Mexico border to stop any spillover of the carnage from the drug wars in its southern neighbor, US newspapers said Thursday."

Girl sues school over prom tux denial

from Indystar.com

A 17-year-old Boone County girl has sued Lebanon Schools after her high school principal told her she could not wear a tuxedo to the school's April 25 prom but would have to wear a dress.

The Lebanon High School senior, whose name is not revealed in the lawsuit, is a lesbian and does not wear dresses because she sees them as expressing a sexual identity that she does not embrace, court filings said.

Her attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana has asked a federal court to issue an injunction that would require the school to let her wear the same formal attire to the prom as male students at the school.

In the filing, ACLU of Indiana legal director Ken Falk argued that the district's policy violates the stipulations in the U.S. Constitution that the government treat a female student the same as male students and not limit students' freedom to express beliefs.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

FP morning brief 3/12

Top Story

For a second day, anti-government protesters marched throughout Pakistan in a nationwide demonstration aimed at toppling the government of Asif Ali Zardari. Angered by last months barring of opposition leader Nawaz Sharif from government, Zardari's opponents are holding demonstrations in cities throughout the country before converging on Islamabad next Monday.

The government has arresting hundreds of protesters and banning gatherings of more than four people. Cracks are starting to show in Zardari's normally cohesive Pakistan People's Party as well. “I say it with a very heavy heart that the government is following the same policies that were carried out by General Musharraf,” one party loyalist told the New York Times.

Middle East
Journalist Muntadhar al-Zaidi was sentenced to three years in jail for throwing a shoe at George W. Bush back in December.
The U.S. is looking into transporting supplies into Afghanistan through Iran.
The Saudi government hosted a mini-summit of Arab leaders near Riyadh, perhaps hoping to counter Iranian influence in the region.

North Korea plans to launch its controversial missile between in early April, an official announced.
As China's foreign minister visits Washington, Secretary of State Clinton downplayed the tension over last weekend's naval confrontation.
Japan's economy contracted sharply during the last months of 2008.

Three aid workers from Medecins Sans Frontieres were kidnapped in Darfur.
Imprisoned Zimbabwean opposition official Roy Bennett was freed from prison.
The U.S. is investigating several cases of Somali-Americans returning to their homeland to join Somalia's Islamist insurgency.

In an unusual gesture, Pope Benedict XVI acknowledged Vatican "mistakes" in the reappointment of Holocaust-denying bishop Richard Williamson.
Northern Irish authorities are worried that the next move of dissident IRA factions could be a car bomb.
Liechtenstein has eased its strict bank secrecy laws to avoid inclusion on an OECD tax haven "black list."

President Obama signed a $410 billion spending bill but criticized congress for excessive earmarks.
Brazil is preparing to oust foreign NGOs from the Amazon region.
Voters in Antigua and Barbuda head to the polls for a close election today.

Truthout 3/12

Jason Leopold John Yoo: UC Berkeley Is a "Magnet for Hippies, Protesters and Left-Wing Activists"
Jason Leopold, Truthout: "John Yoo doesn't have any regrets about the controversial legal opinions he wrote for the White House - many of which were later withdrawn and repudiated - that gave former President George W. Bush unfettered and unchecked power in the aftermath of 9/11. In a little known interview with the Orange County Register, published March 3, Yoo said he doesn't 'think he would have made the basic decisions differently.'"

Judge Orders Madoff Jailed After Guilty Plea
Tomoeh Murakami Tse and Keith B. Richburg, The Washington Post: "An 'ashamed' Bernard L. Madoff pleaded guilty Thursday morning to bilking investors out of billions of dollars in savings in the biggest fraud in Wall Street history, and a judge ordered him jailed immediately to await a June 16 sentencing date."

Pakistan Protest Begins, Government Looks for Way Out
Imtiaz Shah, Reuters: "Hundreds of black-suited Pakistani lawyers and flag-waving opposition activists launched a cross-country protest on Thursday, as the year-old civilian coalition government scrambled for ways to avert a showdown. The movement for an independent judiciary could destabilise President Asif Ali Zardari's government at a time when the nuclear-armed U.S. ally faces severe problems from Islamist militants and a sinking economy."

Shoe-Throwing Journalist Sentenced to Three Years in Prison
CNN: "Muntadher al-Zaidi, the man seen as a hero in some circles for throwing his shoes at then-U.S. President George W. Bush, was sentenced to three years in prison Thursday in an Iraqi court."

Armenian "Genocide" Debate Reignites
Michael Gleeson, The Hill: "Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) is poised to reintroduce a highly controversial resolution that seeks to condemn the Armenian 'genocide' of 1915-1917. The introduction of the measure, expected to happen within a month, will reignite a fierce debate in Congress... Turkey has lobbied intensely against Schiff's resolution, disputing the characterization of the killings of Armenians more than 90 years ago as a 'genocide.'"

Karen Greenberg Guantanamo's Faceless Victims
Karen Greenberg, The Guardian UK: "When Binyam Mohamed set foot last week onto British soil after seven excruciating years of imprisonment in Pakistan, Morocco and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, he left the airport with his hand shielding his eyes, obscuring the rest of his features as well. The facelessness of Mohamed is but a reminder of the overall facelessness of the detainees in US custody."

Dominique Seux Threat Against the G-20
Dominique Seux, Les Echos: "In the last few days, the climate between the two shores of the Atlantic has suddenly cooled on the question of how to emerge from the economic crisis."

Seymour Hersh Describes "Executive Assassination Ring"
Eric Black, MinnPost.com: "At a 'Great Conversations' event at the University of Minnesota last night, legendary investigative reporter Seymour Hersh may have made a little more news than he intended by talking about new alleged instances of domestic spying by the CIA, and about an ongoing covert military operation that he called an 'executive assassination ring.'"

Freddie Mac Seeks $30.8 Billion in US Aid After Fourth Quarter Loss
Alan Zibel, The Associated Press: "Freddie Mac, facing mounting damage from the US housing crisis, said Wednesday it will ask the government for nearly $31 billion in additional aid after posting a gargantuan loss of more than $50 billion last year."

Congress Caves on Online Contracts
Daphne Eviatar, The Washington Independent: "Internet junkies and wonks alike may have jumped the gun in looking forward to the new online transparency hyped by House members who vowed to put contracts doled out from the $800 billion stimulus package online. That promise, included in the initial House bill, was hailed by watchdog groups, who pointed to it as real reform in government contracting. However, in a major concession to government contractors, which opposed having the contracts made public, the final bill requires only a 'summary of the contracts' to be posted online; and even the summaries will only be available for contracts worth more than $500,000."

Joe Conason Dumbest Proposal Ever?
Joe Conason, The New York Observer: "If President Barack Obama's response to the economic crisis is imperfect, as he acknowledges, and if the Congressional Democrats leave much to be desired as well, then Americans can at least be thankful that the nation's fate has not been consigned to the frozen minds on the other side of the aisle. Things are bad, and seem very likely to get worse - but the Republicans seem determined to plunge us into a real depression, gambling that catastrophe would return them to power."

"Civil War Looms" in Madagascar
BBC News: "The US ambassador to Madagascar has warned the country is heading for civil war after pro-opposition soldiers forced the army chief to resign. Niels Marquardt said he was concerned and saddened by the Indian Ocean island's six-week political crisis. Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade has now offered to host peace talks. Army chief Edmond Rasolofomahandry had on Tuesday given the country's political rivals 72 hours to end a dispute which has paralysed Madagascar. But dissident soldiers took over the army HQ and forced him to resign."

Obama challenges states to innovate in education programs

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

From The Brady Center

FP morning brief 3/11

Top Story

China fired back in the ongoing war of words over last weekend's bizarre confrontation between U.S. and Chinese ships in the South China sea. After the U.S. accused the Chinese navy of surrounding and harassing its ships, China's foreign ministry claimed the U.S. vessel "broke international and Chinese laws in the South China Sea without China's permission."

China's Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi is due to visit in the United States this week and the controversy could distract from discussion of the financial crisis. The U.S. ship, the Impeccable, was equipped with an underwater listening system as part of the navy's anti-submarine warfare efforts. Hans Kristensen of the Federation of American Scientists describes this incident as the latest development in a "dangerous cat and mouse game between U.S. and Chinese submarines and their hunters."

Ponzi-scheme operator Bernard Madoff will plead guilty tomorrow. He faces life in prison.
The U.S. Congress passed a bill relaxing restrictions on contact with Cuba.
The Mexican army's fight against drug traffickers is being hampered by desertions in its own ranks.

Middle East
Former Saddam Hussein loyalist Tariq Aziz was sentenced to 15 years in jail for murder.
The leaders of Egypt, Syria, and Saudi Arabia are meeting for a summit today to improve relations.
Turkey indicted 56 people for attempting an "ultranationalist" coup.

Pakistani police are cracking down on opposition activists ahead of a massive anti-government protest planned for Thursday.
China's exports continue to decline but its auto sales are increasing.

France's defense minister says his country wants to return to full NATO membership for the first time since the presidency of Charles De Gaulle.
Recent terrorist attacks in Northern Ireland have helped unite Republicans and Unionists.
Ten people were killed in a school shooting in Germany.

Mutinying soldiers have forced Madagascar's army chief to resign.
Barack Obama condemned the expulsion of aid groups from Sudan.
Somalia's parliament is backing a proposal to enforce Sharia law throughout the country.

Truthout 3/11

Michael Winship Oh, What a Lovely Class War!
Michael Winship, Truthout: "My goodness, how they howl when the proverbial shoe is on the proverbial other foot. You'd think the Red Army had just left Moscow and was preparing a frontal assault on the Federal Reserve. So what are conservatives, Wall Street and financial television commentators shouting? Socialists! That's right. Spread the word: Socialists are swarming over our nation's Capitol and making off with the means of production, otherwise known as campaign contributions and the federal budget. You got trouble, my friends."

Tom Engelhardt A Falcon of Peace: Who Wants to Be a Dove? (They Always Lose.)
Tom Engelhardt, TomDispatch.com: "How come they get to be the hawks? And we get to be the doves? A hawk is a noble bird. A dove. Well, basically it's a pigeon. The sort of bird that, in New York City anyway, messes your building's window sills, is always underfoot, and, along with the city's rats, makes a hearty lunch for the red-tailed hawks which now populate our parks."

Mexico and the US: As Guns Go South, Drugs - and Violence - Go North
Dan Glaister, The Guardian UK: "For the Obama White House, pondering how to reshape the Bush administration's war on drugs, the concerns presented by the deepening crisis in Mexico are twofold. The first was highlighted by the chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, talking about US-Mexican counter-narcotics co-operation. 'They want to clearly stop the guns from the United States going south. We want to stop the drugs coming north,' he said."

Robert Scheer Socialism Without a Soul
Robert Scheer, Truthdig: "Newt Gingrich is right: 'It is European socialism transplanted to Washington.' How else to describe an economy in which the government controls the entire financial center and is now supplying life support for the auto industry? That's on top of the existing socialist economy run by the military-industrial complex, which, thanks to George W. Bush, now absorbs upward of 60 percent of the non-entitlement federal budget. Although we still have a way to go to catch up with the good parts of the European system, including universal health care, high-quality public education and decent working conditions, we do have a system that is now as socialist in budget size as Europe's."

Israeli Kids Get Rocket-Proofed Indoor Playground
Aron Heller, The Associated Press: "Brightly painted walls surround a mini-soccer field, video games, a climbing wall and play areas. The converted warehouse also has a new thick concrete roof, a half dozen shelters and an alert system to give a 15-second warning of incoming rockets. The children of Sderot finally have a safe place to play. The fortified indoor playground got a warm welcome Tuesday when it opened in this southern Israeli town that has been battered by missiles fired from the adjacent Gaza Strip by Palestinian militants."

Jean-Marc Vittori Work Less to Earn Less
Jean-Marc Vittori of France's premier business newspaper reviews some of the French responses to unemployment and argues in favor of one form of work sharing.

William Rivers Pitt Idiot Wind
William Rivers Pitt, Truthout: "Perhaps the most resounding cannonade fired at conservatives by a conservative was David Frum's Newsweek article lamenting the sad state of the party, and the ongoing catastrophe represented by the ascendancy of Limbaugh. 'Even before the November 2008 defeat,' wrote Frum, 'even before the financial crisis and the congressional elections of November 2006 - it was already apparent that the Republican Party and the conservative movement were in deep trouble.'"

US Congress Passes Spending Bill, Eases Cuba Curbs
Agence France-Presse: "The US Senate late Tuesday passed a 410-billion-dollar package that pays for government operations until October 1 and eases Cold War-inspired restrictions on Cuba. Senators voted 62-35 to end bitter debate on the measure, then approved the legislation by voice vote two weeks after the House of Representatives passed it, sending it to US President Barack Obama for his signature. The bill's chiefly Democratic supporters beat back a series of amendments on a range of issues, including an effort by foes of Cuba's government to block measures seen as lifting pressure on Havana."

Iran Does Not Have Highly Enriched Uranium
Pamela Hess, The Associated Press: "Iran does not yet have any highly enriched uranium, the fuel needed to make a nuclear warhead, two top US intelligence officials told Congress Tuesday, disputing a claim by an Israeli official. US National Intelligence Director Dennis Blair and Defense Intelligence Agency Director Lt. Gen. Michael Maples said Tuesday that Iran has only low-enriched uranium - which would need to be refined into highly enriched uranium before it can fuel a warhead. Neither officials said there were indications that refining has occurred."

Madoff Faces Life in Prison on 11 Criminal Charges
Grant McCool and Martha Graybow, Reuters: "Bernard Madoff, accused of an 'unprecedented' $50 billion financial swindle, was charged on Tuesday with 11 criminal counts that could put him in prison for the rest of his life. Madoff, 70, a former Nasdaq stock market chairman and money manager, is expected to plead guilty on Thursday, his lawyer said. US prosecutors provided new details of the alleged fraud in court papers, saying Madoff's crime spree lasted from 'at least' the 1980s."

UN Report Says US Rendition Policy Broke International Law
Julie Sell, McClatchy Newspapers: "A UN expert is accusing the United States and some of its allies of breaching international law for the so-called extraordinary renditions and subsequent alleged torture of terrorism suspects during the Bush administration's global war on terrorism, and is launching a probe into the detention of suspects. Martin Scheinin, a UN special rapporteur and expert on international law, issued his annual report to the UN Human Rights Council on Tuesday. While it identifies a US role in masterminding a 'comprehensive system' of rendition and detention of suspects as well as creating 'an international web' of intelligence sharing, his report notes that it was possible only through collaboration with many other countries."

Crowds Protest Around World for Freedom in Tibet
The Associated Press: "Tibetans and their supporters marched through the city and elsewhere Tuesday, saying they wanted to speak up for a silenced people on the 50th anniversary of the failed uprising that forced the Dalai Lama into exile. Carrying a portrait of the Tibetan spiritual leader and chanting such slogans as 'we want free Tibet,' more than 1,000 protesters followed a more than eight-mile route and rallied near the United Nations and the Chinese Consulate."

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

FP morning brief 3/10

Top Story

Tibetans are marking the 50th anniversary of the Tibet's anti-communist uprising and the beginning of the Dalai Lama's exile. Large pro-Tibet demonstrations have already been held in cities throughout Asia and more are planned in West today.

Taking an unusually harsh tone, the Dalai Lama attacked China for making Tibetan lives "hell on Earth" for the last 50 years and said that Tibetan culture was "nearing extinction."

His anger was likely provoked by a security clampdown by Chinese authorities in Tibet and neighboring regions ahead of the anniversary, part of what Chinese President Hu Jintao called a "Great Wall for combating separatism and safeguarding national unity."

The widespread protests that followed last year's anniversary led to nearly 7,000 arrests, but this year, China's harsh security crackdown seems to have scared most Tibetans away from demonstrating.

Middle East
Dozens were killed in a suicide bombing attack on a reconciliation conference in Baghdad.
Opposition leader Mohammed Khatami has lost one of his key allies in the upcoming presidential elections.
Palestinian political leaders are meeting in Cairo for talks to form a unity government.

The U.S. is accusing China of violating international maritime law after a confrontation between ships from the two navies over the weekend.
Fourteen people were killed by a suicide bomber attack in southern Sri Lanka.
Vice President Joe Biden warned that an unstable Afghanistan threatens its entire region.

Northern Ireland's violence continues as splinter group, the Continuity IRA claimed responsibility for the fatal shooting of a policeman on Monday night.
European finance ministers have no plans to add to recent stimulus packages despite U.S. grumbling.
Germany, the world's largest exporter, saw exports fall by a fifth in January.

The IMF warned that Africa is particularly at risk from this year's expected global economic contraction.
A march in protest of police brutality in Nairobi, Kenya turned ugly.
U.S. government officials confirmed that a truck operated by a USAID contractor caused the crash that injured Zimbabwean PM Morgan Tsvangirai and killed his wife.

President Obama is having a hard time winning over top congressional Democrats to his budget.
Cuba's new foreign minister may signal a shift in tone toward the United States.
Bolivia's Evo Morales expelled another U.S. diplomat, accusing him of conspiracy.

Truthout 3/10

Dozens Dead" in Baghdad Bombing
BBC News: "At least 33 people, including a local army chief, have died and 46 have been injured in a suicide attack on the western edge of Baghdad, officials say. The attack took place in the Abu Ghraib municipality, and appeared to target a group of dignitaries as they left a national reconciliation conference."

Sri Lanka Suicide Bomber Kills 14
Mark Magnier, The Los Angeles Times: "A suicide bomber in Sri Lanka attacked a Muslim religious procession today, killing at least 14 people and injuring more than three dozen, including a government minister, officials said. The army blamed the embattled Tamil Tiger separatist group, which for a quarter of a century has been fighting for a Tamil homeland in the northern part of the South Asia island nation."

Obama Seeks to Delay Tanker, Cancel Bomber
Josh Rogin, Congressional Quarterly: "The White House has given the Pentagon guidance to delay procurement of aerial refueling tankers by five years and cancel plans for a new long-range bomber, according to three sources close to the discussions. No final decisions have been made, and the recommendations are part of negotiations between the Office of Management and Budget and the Defense Department over possible budget trade-offs this year, the sources said."

President Barack Obama A Complete and Competitive American Education
President Barack Obama: "Every so often, throughout our history, a generation of Americans bears the responsibility of seeing this country through difficult times and protecting the dream of its founding for posterity. This is a responsibility that has fallen to our generation. Meeting it will require steering our nation's economy through a crisis unlike any we have seen in our time...."

Ethnic Tensions in Kirkuk Turn US Military Into Mediator
Trenton Daniel, McClatchy Newspapers: "As American forces shift their focus from combat operations to peacekeeping efforts because of recent security gains, Col. Ryan Gonsalves and his soldiers from the US Army's 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, are working against the clock to mediate a long-standing dispute over oil and land and federalism and nationalism in the battleground of Kirkuk. The sense of urgency: Washington plans to pull out combat troops in August 2010. If left unresolved, the Kirkuk issue could explode."

The Rebuilder
Gregoire Allix, Le Monde: "This is the story of a sailor who accidentally entered the field of architecture to become, at age 45, a unique figure in the humanitarian world."

Jason Leopold CIA Confirms 12 of 92 Videotapes Destroyed Showed Prisoners Tortured
Jason Leopold, Truthout: "Heavily redacted government documents filed in a New York federal court Friday afternoon say the CIA destroyed 12 videotapes that specifically showed two detainees being tortured. The documents were filed in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union. In December 2007, the ACLU filed a motion to hold the CIA in contempt for its destruction of the tapes in violation of a court order requiring the agency to produce or identify all records requested by the ACLU. That motion is still pending."

Financial Reports Show Five Biggest Banks Face Huge Loss Risk
Greg Gordon and Kevin G. Hall, McClatchy Newspapers: "America's five largest banks, which already have received $145 billion in taxpayer bailout dollars, still face potentially catastrophic losses from exotic investments if economic conditions substantially worsen, their latest financial reports show. Citibank, Bank of America, HSBC Bank USA, Wells Fargo Bank and J.P. Morgan Chase reported that their 'current' net loss risks from derivatives - insurance-like bets tied to a loan or other underlying asset - surged to $587 billion as of December 31. Buried in end-of-the-year regulatory reports that McClatchy has reviewed, the figures reflect a jump of 49 percent in just 90 days.."

Obama Orders Review of Bush's Signing Statements
Philip Elliott, The Associated Press: "President Barack Obama on Monday ordered a review of George W. Bush's guidelines for implementing legislation passed by Congress, at the same time saying that he would employ his own version of how he wants the government to follow the law. In a memo to senior government officials, Obama said they must check with Attorney General Eric Holder before relying on any of Bush's signing statements for guidance. Bush often issued a statement when signing a bill into law, and critics said the statements at times showed government officials how to circumvent the law if Bush disagreed with it on constitutional grounds."

Court Refuses to Expand Minority Voting Rights
Mark Sherman, The Associated Press: "The Supreme Court limited the reach of the Voting Rights Act on Monday, a decision that could make it harder for some minority candidates to win election when voting districts are redrawn. In a 5-4 decision, the justices ruled that the law cannot be used to create voting districts favorable to the election of minority candidates unless at least half the population is minority."

US and Chinese Navies Face Off in South China Sea
Tania Branigan, The Guardian UK: "China and America have been drawn into a rare confrontation on the high seas, it emerged today, when the Pentagon accused Chinese ships of maneuvering dangerously close to a US navy vessel. The US intends to protest to the Chinese military attache in Washington after Sunday's incident, which followed several days of what US defense officials called 'increasingly aggressive' acts by Chinese ships. At one point, the Pentagon said, the US vessel Impeccable sprayed one ship with water from fire hoses to force it away."

Tibetans Rally 50 Years After Uprising
Shaun Tandon, Agence France-Presse: "Tibetan exiles kicked off worldwide rallies Monday outside of the White House with two minutes of silence and cries of 'Free Tibet!' 50 years after an uprising forced the Dalai Lama into exile. As China poured troops into Tibet for the sensitive anniversary, a US lawmaker introduced a non-binding resolution before Congress that would urge China to end its 'repression' of the Himalayan region."

Monday, March 9, 2009

FP morning brief 3/9

Top Story

Tensions are running high on the Korean peninsula as the United States and South Korea begin joint military exercises today. Military officials say the exercises are "not tied in any way to any political or real-world event," but North Korea says it has moved to full military readiness and accuses the U.S. and South Korea of planning an invasion.

North Korea is planning to launch a Taepodong-2 missile in what it calls a civilian communications satellite launch but is widely considered a military test. North Korea has threatened retaliation if its "satellite" is shot down, an action it would consider an act of war. The communist dictatorship has broken off all diplomatic communications with the south.

However, a lack of North Korean naval activity on the Korean sea border seems to indicate indicate the country has no plans to back up its threats. South Korean and U.S. officials dismissed the North's saber-rattling as "political rhetoric" designed to rally the North Korean populace and extract concessions from the U.S.

In a shocking turn of events, Kim Jong-il was unanimously reelected to the North Korea's parliament.

Middle East
The U.S. plans to remove 12,000 troops from Iraq by September. On the same day the withdrawal was announced, a suicide bomber killed 28 Baghdad.
Iran has test-fired a new air-to-surface missile.
Former Israeli President Moshe Katsav will be charged with rape.

Afghan president Hamid Karzai has agreed to delay his country's election until this summer and welcomed Barack Obama's suggestion that the U.S. may reach out to Taliban moderates.
China is stepping up security ahead of the anniversary of the 1959 Tibetan uprising.
Japan has recorded a record-high current account deficit.

Republican splinter group, the Real IRA, killed two British soldiers in Northern Ireland. It is the worst attack the province has seen in over a decade.
EU finance ministers will back a doubling of funds for the IMF tomorrow.
Iceland's last remaining independent bank was taken over by the government.

Zimbabwe's prime minister, Morgan Tsvangirai, says there was no foul play involved in the car crash that injured him and killed his wife last week.
Without explanation, Sudan has freed an Islamist opposition leader.
A military mutiny has broken out in Madagascar.

The White House named three nominees for top jobs at the Treasury Department.
The mayor of Mexico's Ciudad Juarez says troops could continue occupying the city for up to a month as the battle against drug violence continues.
Venezuela's Hugo Chavez called Colombia's defence minister a threat to the region.

Behind the curve

New York Times

President Obama’s plan to stimulate the economy was “massive,” “giant,” “enormous.” So the American people were told, especially by TV news, during the run-up to the stimulus vote. Watching the news, you might have thought that the only question was whether the plan was too big, too ambitious.

Yet many economists, myself included, actually argued that the plan was too small and too cautious. The latest data confirm those worries — and suggest that the Obama administration’s economic policies are already falling behind the curve.

To see how bad the numbers are, consider this: The administration’s budget proposals, released less than two weeks ago, assumed an average unemployment rate of 8.1 percent for the whole of this year. In reality, unemployment hit that level in February — and it’s rising fast.

Employment has already fallen more in this recession than in the 1981-82 slump, considered the worst since the Great Depression. As a result, Mr. Obama’s promise that his plan will create or save 3.5 million jobs by the end of 2010 looks underwhelming, to say the least. It’s a credible promise — his economists used solidly mainstream estimates of the impacts of tax and spending policies. But 3.5 million jobs almost two years from now isn’t enough in the face of an economy that has already lost 4.4 million jobs, and is losing 600,000 more each month.

There are now three big questions about economic policy. First, does the administration realize that it isn’t doing enough? Second, is it prepared to do more? Third, will Congress go along with stronger policies?

On the first two questions, I found Mr. Obama’s latest interview with The Times anything but reassuring.

“Our belief and expectation is that we will get all the pillars in place for recovery this year,” the president declared — a belief and expectation that isn’t backed by any data or model I’m aware of. To be sure, leaders are supposed to sound calm and in control. But in the face of the dismal data, this remark sounded out of touch.

And there was no hint in the interview of readiness to do more.

A real fix for the troubles of the banking system might help make up for the inadequate size of the stimulus plan, so it was good to hear that Mr. Obama spends at least an hour each day with his economic advisors, “talking through how we are approaching the financial markets.” But he went on to dismiss calls for decisive action as coming from “blogs” (actually, they’re coming from many other places, including at least one president of a Federal Reserve bank), and suggested that critics want to “nationalize all the banks” (something nobody is proposing).

As I read it, this dismissal — together with the continuing failure to announce any broad plans for bank restructuring — means that the White House has decided to muddle through on the financial front, relying on economic recovery to rescue the banks rather than the other way around. And with the stimulus plan too small to deliver an economic recovery ... well, you get the picture.

Sooner or later the administration will realize that more must be done. But when it comes back for more money, will Congress go along?

Republicans are now firmly committed to the view that we should do nothing to respond to the economic crisis, except cut taxes — which they always want to do regardless of circumstances. If Mr. Obama comes back for a second round of stimulus, they’ll respond not by being helpful, but by claiming that his policies have failed.

The broader public, by contrast, favors strong action. According to a recent Newsweek poll, a majority of voters supports the stimulus, and, more surprisingly, a plurality believes that additional spending will be necessary. But will that support still be there, say, six months from now?

Also, an overwhelming majority believes that the government is spending too much to help large financial institutions. This suggests that the administration’s money-for-nothing financial policy will eventually deplete its political capital.

So here’s the picture that scares me: It’s September 2009, the unemployment rate has passed 9 percent, and despite the early round of stimulus spending it’s still headed up. Mr. Obama finally concedes that a bigger stimulus is needed.

But he can’t get his new plan through Congress because approval for his economic policies has plummeted, partly because his policies are seen to have failed, partly because job-creation policies are conflated in the public mind with deeply unpopular bank bailouts. And as a result, the recession rages on, unchecked.

O.K., that’s a warning, not a prediction. But economic policy is falling behind the curve, and there’s a real, growing danger that it will never catch up.

Truthout 3/9

US Downturn Dragging World Into Recession
Anthony Faiola, The Washington Post: "The world is falling into the first global recession since World War II as the crisis that started in the United States engulfs once-booming developing nations, confronting them with massive financial shortfalls that could turn back the clock on poverty reduction by years, the World Bank warned yesterday."

Pakistan's Tenuous Gains on Taliban
Ben Arnoldy and Issam Ahmed, The Christian Science Monitor: "A pair of recent cease-fires in Pakistan has drawn many of the same critiques as past deals: They give militants legitimacy as well as an opportunity to regroup or relocate. But this time may be different. In the tribal agency of Bajaur, the military for the first time made significant headway before observing a truce."

North Korea Threatens "War" if Satellite Shot Down
Jae-Soon Chang, The Associated Press: "North Korea put its armed forces on standby for war Monday and threatened retaliation against anyone seeking to stop the regime from launching a satellite into space in the latest barrage of threats from the communist regime."

Robert Pollin Tools for a New Economy
Robert Pollin, The Boston Review: "The collapse of the housing bubble and the speculative market for subprime mortgages demonstrates, yet again, the simple point that financial markets need tight regulation. Since September 2008 a series of massive bailouts by the U.S. Treasury and Federal Reserve have prevented financial markets from experiencing a 1929-style collapse. These extreme measures, however, have not solved the broader problems at hand. As of this writing, we are experiencing the most severe economic downturn since the 1930s."

Favilla The Casino and the Law
The authors writing as Favilla in France's premier business paper, Les Echos, suggest that we'd all be better off if banks were more like casinos ... in some ways.

Dean Baker Competing Views of Government: Universal Medicare or Government-Protected Insurance Companies
Dean Baker, Truthout: "We all know that people have different ideologies about the proper role of government. Some people, who tend to be left of center, think that the government's role is to try to promote the general good, by providing basic services, protecting the poor and the sick, and ensuring a well-working economy. On the other hand, there are others, who usually place themselves right of center, who believe that the proper role of government is to redistribute as much income as possible to the wealthy. These competing views of government are coming to a head in the debate over national health care reform."

Nick Turse Breaking the Banks: The Struggle to Feed America's Nouveau Needy
Nick Turse, TomDispatch.com: "The message is simple. Ever more Americans need food they can't afford. As tough economic times take their toll, increasing numbers of Americans are on tightened budgets and, in some cases, facing outright hunger. As a result, they may be learning a lot more about food banks and soup kitchens than most of them ever wanted to know. In recent interviews with TomDispatch.com, representatives from food banks - the non-profit organizations that distribute groceries to those in need via food pantries, shelters, and soup kitchens - expressed alarm at the recent surge in need all across the country."

Officials: Presidential Memo to Insulate Science From Politics
Rob Stein, The Washington Post: "When President Obama lifts restrictions on funding for human embryonic stem cell research Monday, he will also issue a presidential memorandum aimed at insulating scientific decisions across the federal government from political influence, officials said today. 'The president believes that it's particularly important to sign this memorandum so that we can put science and technology back at the heart of pursuing a broad range of national goals,' said Melody Barnes, director of Obama's Domestic Policy Council."

US to Cut Iraq Troop Strength by 12,000
Tim Cocks, Reuters: "The United States will reduce the number of troops in Iraq by around 12,000 in the next six months, the US military said on Sunday, a step in President Barack Obama's plan to end combat operations in August 2010. Hours earlier, a suicide bomber killed 28 people as recruits gathered at a Baghdad police academy, the first large-scale attack in the capital in almost a month. 'Two brigade combat teams who were scheduled to redeploy in the next six months, along with enabling forces such as logistics, engineers and intelligence, will not be replaced,' the US military said in a statement."

GOP Looks to Escalate Attacks on Obama
Perry Bacon Jr., The Washington Post: "Last month, House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) repeatedly excoriated House Democrats for what he considered flaws in the economic stimulus plan, rarely mentioning President Obama, one of the chief architects of the bill. But as Congress considers a bill to fund federal agencies, legislation largely hashed out last year before Obama was elected, Boehner has shifted his aim from one end of Pennsylvania Avenue to the other."

High-Speed Rail Drives Obama's Transportation Agenda
Dan Eggen, The Washington Post: "The Northern Lights Express is little more than an idea -- a proposal for a 110-mph passenger train between Minneapolis and Duluth, Minn., that has crept along in fits and starts for years. But the slow ride may soon be over. The project is one of dozens nationwide that are likely to benefit from President Obama's initiative to fund high-speed and intercity passenger rail programs, including $8 billion in stimulus money and $5 billion more over the next five years in the administration's proposed transportation budget."

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Truthout 3/8

Treasury Official Quits Amidst Fraud Scandal
Brian Ross, Justin Rood, and Joseph Rhee, ABC News: "The man at the center of a fraud scandal at the Treasury Department has been allowed to quietly quit and retire from his job as a government regulator, despite allegations that he allowed a bank to falsify financial records and amidst outcries from investigators who say the case shows how cozy government regulators have become with the banks and savings and loans they are supposed to be checking on."

Robert Borosage Obama's Next Gauntlet: Reviving the Middle Class
Robert Borosage, The Campaign For America's Future: "We can't go back to the old economy. That economy - marked by booms and busts, Gilded Age inequality, declining wages, growing household debts, and unsustainable trade deficits - didn't work very well for most Americans. President Obama is faced with the difficult task of creating the structure for the new economy even as he works to lift us out of the collapse of the old."

Pentagon's Unwanted Projects in Earmarks
R. Jeffrey Smith and Ellen Nakashima, The Washington Post: "When President Obama promised Wednesday to attack defense spending that he considers wasteful and inefficient, he opened a fight with key lawmakers from his own party. It was Democrats who stuffed an estimated $524 million in defense earmarks that the Pentagon did not request into the 2008 appropriations bill, about $220 million more than Republicans did, according to an independent estimate. Of the 44 senators who implored Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates in January to build more F-22 Raptors - a fighter conceived during the Cold War that senior Pentagon officials say is not suited to probable 21st-century conflicts - most were Democrats."

Minnesota High Court Rejects Franken's Senate Request
Elizabeth Dunbar, The Associated Press: "The Minnesota Supreme Court on Friday blocked Democrat Al Franken's petition for an election certificate that would put him in the U.S. Senate without waiting for a lawsuit to run its course. The decision means the seat will remain empty until the lawsuit and possible appeals in state court are complete. Republican Norm Coleman's lawsuit challenging Franken's recount lead is at the end of its sixth week, and both sides expect it to last at least a few more weeks."

Afghan Road Blocked in Protest Against Deadly Raid
Agence France Presse: "Nearly 150 people on Saturday demonstrated in eastern Afghanistan over the deaths of four people killed in a night raid that US-led coalition forces said was targeted at insurgents. Carrying the coffins of the victims, protesters blocked the road between Gardez and Khost for two hours, according to an AFP correspondent."

Who Got AIG's Bailout Billions?
Tondai Reinhold, Reuters: "Where, oh where, did AIG's bailout billions go? That question may reverberate even louder through the halls of government in the week ahead now that a partial list of beneficiaries has been published. The Wall Street Journal reported on Friday that about $50 billion of more than $173 billion that the US government has poured into American International Group Inc since last fall has been paid to at least two dozen US and foreign financial institutions."

Ex-Detainee Says UK Supplied Torture Questions to CIA
Stefano Ambrogi, Reuters: "A former Guantanamo Bay prisoner has accused British intelligence of feeding questions to the CIA that he says were put to him while he was tortured in Pakistani and Moroccan jails. The allegations by Binyam Mohamed, a British resident, looked set to fuel demands by human rights groups for a full investigation into whether Britain's support for the US 'war on terror' amounted in his case to complicity with torture."

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Truthout 3/7

Supreme Court Puts Off Decision on Indefinite Detention
Robert Barnes and Carrie Johnson, The Washington Post: "The Supreme Court yesterday vacated a lower court's ruling that the president has the right to indefinitely detain a legal U.S. resident as a terrorism suspect, and put off a decision on one of the most expansive legal claims of the Bush administration."

Feds Seek to Drop Lawsuit Over Missouri Voter Rolls
The Associated Press: "Federal lawyers are seeking to dismiss a 2005 lawsuit that accuses the Missouri secretary of state's office of mishandling voter rolls. The U.S. Department of Justice lawsuit contended that Missouri election officials did not follow a federal law that requires reasonable efforts be made to remove ineligible people from the rolls. The suit contends that because that did not happen, people who have moved or died might still be eligible to vote."

Jon Reinsch No Nukes in Northeast Asia
Jon Reinsch, Foreign Policy In Focus: "Efforts to address the North Korean nuclear crisis have followed a 'one step forward, two steps back' pattern. Despite 15 years of threats, negotiations, and occasional breakthroughs, what began with fears of a nuclear weapons research program progressed to an actual test explosion, and has reached the point where North Korean officials now claim to have weaponized enough plutonium for five or six bombs. Failure to resolve the crisis has helped drive up military spending in and out of the region, making resolution only more remote."

Economic Crisis Scrambles Retirement Math
Mark Trumbull, The Christian Science Monitor: "The recession has pushed retirement further out on the horizon for millions of Americans - and is putting severe strain on the 401(k) model of retirement saving. If that wasn't already clear, a bout of stock market selling early this week brought the challenge into sharp relief, as the Standard & Poor's 500 index closed at a level not seen since 1996, down more than 50 percent in 17 months. Coupled with huge losses of home equity in the housing market, the result is a historic decline in net worth for US households."

Kenya Rights Body: Pattern of Official Killings
Katharine Houreld, The Associated Press: "Kenya's top human rights group charged Friday that the slaying of two activists who investigated extrajudicial killings was part of a pattern of assassinations of people who made allegations about police death squads. Oscar Kamau Kingara and John Paul Oulu were shot at close range Thursday night while their car was stuck in traffic near the University of Nairobi."

Nepalese Women Free From War but Not Violence
Rosalie Hughes, Reuters AlertNet: "As Ashmi's belly grew, so did the insults. Eventually they turned violent. A female neighbour spat on her. Two boys she'd grown up with pelted her with rocks on her way home from school one day. She no longer felt safe in her village. Her growing belly reminded her that two lives were in danger. When she was three months pregnant, Ashmi followed the advice of a community-based organisation and left her village for a women's shelter in the capital Kathmandu. Ashmi's story embodies the hundreds of stories represented in a recently released report by the International Rescue Committee, United Nations Populations Fund (UNFPA) and Saathi, a Nepali NGO. The report looks at gender-based violence in two districts of mid-west Nepal, through interviews with over 400 women and focus group discussions with men, women and children."

FOCUS Obama to Sign Stem Cells Order on Monday
Reuters: "President Barack Obama, who opposes limits on federal funding of stem cell research, will sign an executive order about stem cells on Monday, an administration official said on Friday. The official could not confirm the details of what Obama would sign, but advisers had previously said he favored lifting the eight-year limitation on funding of human embryonic stem cell research imposed by his predecessor, President George W. Bush."

CIA Videotapes Depict "Enhanced Interrogation Methods"
Daphne Eviatar, The Washington Independent: "The CIA has reportedly just confirmed - conveniently late on a Friday afternoon - that 12 of the videotapes it destroyed while its interrogation methods were under investigation and the subject of a pending lawsuit depicted the 'enhanced interrogation methods' that detainees' advocates were worried about."

Friday, March 6, 2009

The big dither

New York Times

Last month, in his big speech to Congress, President Obama argued for bold steps to fix America’s dysfunctional banks. “While the cost of action will be great,” he declared, “I can assure you that the cost of inaction will be far greater, for it could result in an economy that sputters along for not months or years, but perhaps a decade.”

Many analysts agree. But among people I talk to there’s a growing sense of frustration, even panic, over Mr. Obama’s failure to match his words with deeds. The reality is that when it comes to dealing with the banks, the Obama administration is dithering. Policy is stuck in a holding pattern.

Here’s how the pattern works: first, administration officials, usually speaking off the record, float a plan for rescuing the banks in the press. This trial balloon is quickly shot down by informed commentators.

Then, a few weeks later, the administration floats a new plan. This plan is, however, just a thinly disguised version of the previous plan, a fact quickly realized by all concerned. And the cycle starts again.

Why do officials keep offering plans that nobody else finds credible? Because somehow, top officials in the Obama administration and at the Federal Reserve have convinced themselves that troubled assets, often referred to these days as “toxic waste,” are really worth much more than anyone is actually willing to pay for them — and that if these assets were properly priced, all our troubles would go away.

Thus, in a recent interview Tim Geithner, the Treasury secretary, tried to make a distinction between the “basic inherent economic value” of troubled assets and the “artificially depressed value” that those assets command right now. In recent transactions, even AAA-rated mortgage-backed securities have sold for less than 40 cents on the dollar, but Mr. Geithner seems to think they’re worth much, much more.

And the government’s job, he declared, is to “provide the financing to help get those markets working,” pushing the price of toxic waste up to where it ought to be.

What’s more, officials seem to believe that getting toxic waste properly priced would cure the ills of all our major financial institutions. Earlier this week, Ben Bernanke, the Federal Reserve chairman, was asked about the problem of “zombies” — financial institutions that are effectively bankrupt but are being kept alive by government aid. “I don’t know of any large zombie institutions in the U.S. financial system,” he declared, and went on to specifically deny that A.I.G. — A.I.G.! — is a zombie.

This is the same A.I.G. that, unable to honor its promises to pay off other financial institutions when bonds default, has already received $150 billion in aid and just got a commitment for $30 billion more.

The truth is that the Bernanke-Geithner plan — the plan the administration keeps floating, in slightly different versions — isn’t going to fly.

Take the plan’s latest incarnation: a proposal to make low-interest loans to private investors willing to buy up troubled assets. This would certainly drive up the price of toxic waste because it would offer a heads-you-win, tails-we-lose proposition. As described, the plan would let investors profit if asset prices went up but just walk away if prices fell substantially.

But would it be enough to make the banking system healthy? No.

Think of it this way: by using taxpayer funds to subsidize the prices of toxic waste, the administration would shower benefits on everyone who made the mistake of buying the stuff. Some of those benefits would trickle down to where they’re needed, shoring up the balance sheets of key financial institutions. But most of the benefit would go to people who don’t need or deserve to be rescued.

And this means that the government would have to lay out trillions of dollars to bring the financial system back to health, which would, in turn, both ensure a fierce public outcry and add to already serious concerns about the deficit. (Yes, even strong advocates of fiscal stimulus like yours truly worry about red ink.) Realistically, it’s just not going to happen.

So why has this zombie idea — it keeps being killed, but it keeps coming back — taken such a powerful grip? The answer, I fear, is that officials still aren’t willing to face the facts. They don’t want to face up to the dire state of major financial institutions because it’s very hard to rescue an essentially insolvent bank without, at least temporarily, taking it over. And temporary nationalization is still, apparently, considered unthinkable.

But this refusal to face the facts means, in practice, an absence of action. And I share the president’s fears: inaction could result in an economy that sputters along, not for months or years, but for a decade or more.

The Obamans respond

New York Times

On Tuesday, I wrote that the Obama budget is a liberal, big government document that should make moderates nervous. The column generated a large positive response from moderate Obama supporters who are anxious about where the administration is headed. It was not so popular inside the White House. Within a day, I had conversations with four senior members of the administration and in the interest of fairness, I thought I’d share their arguments with you today.

In the first place, they do not see themselves as a group of liberal crusaders. They see themselves as pragmatists who inherited a government and an economy that have been thrown out of whack. They’re not engaged in an ideological project to overturn the Reagan Revolution, a fight that was over long ago. They’re trying to restore balance: nurture an economy so that productivity gains are shared by the middle class and correct the irresponsible habits that developed during the Bush era.

The budget, they continue, isn’t some grand transformation of America. It raises taxes on energy and offsets them with tax cuts for the middle class. It raises taxes on the rich to a level slightly above where they were in the Clinton years and then uses the money as a down payment on health care reform. That’s what the budget does. It’s not the Russian Revolution.

Second, they argue, the Obama administration will not usher in an era of big government. Federal spending over the last generation has been about 20 percent of G.D.P. This year, it has surged to about 27 percent. But they aim to bring spending down to 22 percent of G.D.P. in a few years. And most of the increase, they insist, is caused by the aging of the population and the rise of mandatory entitlement spending. It’s not caused by big increases in the welfare state.

The White House has produced a chart showing nondefense discretionary spending as a share of G.D.P. That’s spending for education, welfare and all the stuff that Democrats love. Since 1985, this spending has hovered around 3.7 percent of G.D.P. This year, it’s about 4.6 percent. The White House claims that it is going to reduce this spending to 3.1 percent by 2019, lower than at any time in any recent Republican administration. I was invited to hang this chart on my wall and judge them by how well they meet these targets. (I have.)

Third, they say, Republicans should welcome the budget’s health care ideas. The Medicare reform represents a big cut in entitlement spending. It amounts to means-testing the system. It introduces more competition and cuts corporate welfare. These are all Republican ideas.

Over the long run, Obama has insisted that health care reform will be deficit-neutral. Many experts believe this will force Democrats to reduce the tax exemption for employee insurance benefits in order to raise revenue. This idea is at the core of most conservative reform proposals.

Fourth, the White House claims the budget will not produce a sea of red ink. Deficits are now at a gargantuan 12 percent of G.D.P., but the White House aims to bring this down to 3.5 percent in 2012. Besides, the long-range debt is what matters, and on this subject President Obama is hawkish.

He is extremely committed to entitlement reform and is plotting politically feasible ways to reduce Social Security as well as health spending. The White House folks didn’t say this, but I got the impression they’d be willing to raise taxes on the bottom 95 percent of earners as part of an overall package.

Fifth, the Obama folks feel they spend as much time resisting liberal ideas as enacting them. The president resisted union pressure and capped pay increases for government workers. He resisted efforts to create mandatory veterans’ health benefits. The administration plans to tackle the suspiciously large increase in the number of people claiming disability benefits.

I didn’t finish these conversations feeling chastened exactly. The fact is, after years of economic growth, the White House still projects perpetual deficits of more than $500 billion a year. That’s way too much, especially with the boomers’ retirements looming. Moreover, Congress will likely pass the spending parts of the budget and kill the revenue parts, like the cap-and-trade energy tax and the limits on itemized deductions, thus producing much, much bigger deficits.

Plus, I’m still convinced the administration is trying to do too much too fast and that the hasty planning and execution of these complex policies will lead to untold problems down the road.

Nonetheless, the White House made a case that was sophisticated and fact-based. These people know how to lead a discussion and set a tone of friendly cooperation. I’m more optimistic that if Senate moderates can get their act together and come up with their own proactive plan, they can help shape a budget that allays their anxieties while meeting the president’s goals.

The Costs of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell

By Lawrence J. Korb

Since 1994, the military’s “Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy has resulted in the discharge of more than 13,000 military personnel across the services[1] including approximately 800 with skills deemed “mission critical,” such as pilots, combat engineers, and linguists. These are the very specialties for which the military has faced personnel shortfalls in recent years.

In 2005, the Government Accountability Office found that the cost of discharging and replacing service members fired because of their sexual orientation during the policy’s first 10 years totaled at least $190.5 million. This amounts to roughly $20,000 per discharged service member.

Analysis of GAO’s methodology, however, shows that the $190 million figure may be wildly off the mark. A recent study by the Palm Center, a think tank at the University of California, Santa Barbara, found that GAO’s analysis total left out several important factors, such as the high cost of training officers—commissioned soldiers, sailors, Marines, airmen, and Coast Guardsmen with several years of service experience—who were discharged due to their sexual orientation. When these costs were factored in, the cost to the American taxpayer jumped to $363.8 million—
$173.3 million, or 91 percent, more than originally reported by GAO.

Even putting aside the human and financial costs of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” the policy is no longer supported within the military nor in civilian society. A December 2006 Zogby International poll found that 73 percent of military personnel said that they were comfortable interacting with gay people. More importantly, of those who responded to the question, “Do you agree or disagree with allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military,” roughly 63 percent of respondents either agreed or were neutral.
Full story

Expressing Faith Through Marriage Equality

By Sarah Dreier

This week, religious leaders across the country are joining policymakers, lawyers, and gay rights activists in pushing for marriage equality from Washington, D.C. to California. The timing is no accident: Three different efforts to support equal rights in marriage are happening this week, and it is equally propitious as last Sunday Dustin Lance Black—the gay screenwriter of the film Milk—accepted his Oscar with a message of hope.

As millions in America and around the world watched, Black encouraged lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth to look past their churches, governments, and families that discriminate against them and reminded them—and all of us— “God does love you.” Lauding the courage of Harvey Milk, one of the first openly gay American elected to substantial public office, Black held out the hope that the LGBT community would soon enjoy equal rights nationwide. This week could be a pivotal step toward that promise. Three discriminatory initiatives—California’s Proposition 8, the federal Defense of Marriage Act, and the U.S. military’s "Don’t Ask Don’t Tell" policy—all face legal and legislative challenges.

On Monday Congresswoman Ellen Tauscher (D-CA) re-introduced a federal bill that would repeal the "Don’t Ask Don’t Tell" policy. Rep. Tauscher, speaking at a Center for American Progress Action Fund event, said that the repeal reflects her values as an American and a practicing Catholic. Like Black, she too was critical of church failures to support LGBT equality. Full story

Benefits denied

By Ben Furnas, Josh Rosenthal

Read more: Actions Religious Leaders Are Taking

In the United States today, tens of thousands of same-sex couples who are legally married in their state of residence are denied spousal Social Security benefits because the federal government does not acknowledge their marriage.

Today, 15 Massachusetts residents represented by Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders filed suit against the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration and other federal agencies, challenging the constitutionality of the federal government's decision not to recognize their marriages. After paying a lifetime of payroll taxes into a system that is supposed to provide retirement benefits for married couples, same-sex couples who marry are denied thousands of dollars in retirement benefits, survivor benefits, and lump-sum death benefits, simply because they are married to a person of the same sex.

This paper illustrates the cost of denied benefits to three typical couples, as well as one hypothetical couple with average characteristics of same-sex couples in Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, and California, where same-sex marriages are officially acknowledged under state law.

full story

FP morning brief 3/6

Top Story

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will attempt to "press the reset button" on U.S.-Russian relations when she meets her Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov in Brussels. Items on the agenda include nuclear proliferation and energy as well as American missile defense plans, on which President Barack Obama recently signaled a willingness to compromise in exchange for Russian cooperation on Iran.

Russia's foreign ministry says they are awaiting the talks with "cautious optimism." In an interview with the BBC, Clinton vowed to "seek areas of cooperation" but said that improved U.S.-Russian relations would not affect U.S. support for NATO allies.

Clinton also announced an overture to an even more hostile rival on Thursday when she revealed that Iran had been invited to participate in an upcoming summit on Afghanistan.

Ukrainian investigators were thwarted in their attempt to raid the offices of state energy company Naftogaz by supporters of Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko.
U.S. President Barack Obama will make his first trip abroad to Europe at the end of the month. He will visit England, France, Germany and the Czech Republic.
A war between drug gangs has disturbed the peace in Copenhagen, one of the world's safest cities.

Middle East
Amnesty International condemned Israel's destruction of Palestinian property during the invasion of Gaza as a violation of international law.
Iran has promised to free imprisoned American journalist Roxana Saberi soon.Britain is reestablishing diplomatic contact with the political wing of Hezbollah.

The United Nations has condemned Sudanese President Omar al Bashir's decision to expel aid groups in retaliation for his indictment by the ICC.
Two prominent Kenyan human rights activists were murdered in Nairobi on Thursday night.
Mauritania is expelling the staff of Israel's embassy in protest of the invasion of Gaza.

The U.S. is finalizing a deal to use Tajikistan for the transport of cargo into Afghanistan.
An Indian CEO made the winning bid in a controversial auction of Mahatma Gandhi's personal items.
South Korean airlines were forced to reroute flights after North Korea declared it could not guarantee their safety.

Another top Cuban official has been ousted in Raul Castro's leadership shakeup.
Venezuela's Hugo Chavez nationalized a U.S.-owned rice mill.
The Colombian supreme court has recently blocked the extradition to the U.S. of several FARC guerillas involved in the kidnapping of American citizens.

truthout 3/6

Ferguson State Court Hears Challenge to Proposition 8
Sam Ferguson, Truthout: "The issue of same-sex marriage was once again in the California Supreme Court Thursday. For three hours, the seven justices of the California Supreme Court grilled attorneys on the constitutionality of Proposition 8, a constitutional amendment restricting marriage to heterosexual couples, passed by voters last November. Though the court held last May that marriage must be extended to same-sex couples under the state's equal protection clause, it now seems reluctant to overturn a constitutional amendment from the voters rebuking the May decision."

Benjamin Dangl Grassroots Beer Brewers Score a Victory in Utah
Benjamin Dangl, Truthout: "Just three companies control approximately 80 percent of the beer industry in the US. Brewing beer at home is one way to counter this corporate monopoly. However, Mississippi, Kentucky, Alabama and Oklahoma still outlaw the craft. Recently, a victory for home brewers was scored in Utah, when on February 19, the State Senate legalized home brewing, bringing the state out of the shadows of Prohibition."

Dean Baker Unemployment Jumps to 8.1 Percent as Job Loss Accelerates
Dean Baker, Truthout: "The February employment report showed the labor market deteriorating at an even faster rate, with the unemployment rate rising from 7.6 percent to 8.1 in February. The economy lost 651,000 jobs in the month, but job loss for the prior two months was revised up as well. Job loss for the last three months is now reported at 2,013,000, an average of 671,000 per month."

Senate Panel Reaches Terms for Probe of CIA Detentions
Joby Warrick, The Washington Post: "The Senate intelligence committee reached an agreement yesterday on the framework of a wide-ranging review of the CIA's past treatment of terrorism detainees, even as members acknowledged that the bulk of the panel's work will be conducted in secret."

Defense Contractors Gird for Fight
Spencer Ackerman, The Washington Independent: "With President Obama's announcement Wednesday that he intends to attack wasteful Pentagon spending, one of the most powerful and entrenched interests in Washington - the multi-billion dollar defense lobby - is sure to retaliate. Obama aides insist that they're prepared for the fight ahead. Defense reformers and lobbyists aren't yet convinced that they are."

Felipe Calderon: The "American Consumer" Is Responsible for Narcotrafficking
In a wide-ranging interview with two journalists from Le Monde, Mexico's President Felipe Calderon avers that the first cause of drug trafficking: "... is the American consumer. If the United States were not the biggest drug market in the world, we wouldn't have this problem. And there's also the arms trade. In two years, we've seized 33,000 weapons, 18,000 of them high caliber, rocket launchers, thousands of grenades, devices able to pierce armor plating. Now, the overwhelming majority of this materiel had been purchased in the United States, including materiel which is the exclusive property of the American Army. In 2004, (the Bush administration) lifted the prohibition that had previously been in place against the sale of these very dangerous weapons."

Mark Weisbrot Challenging Economic Dogma
Mark Weisbrot, Truthout: "A serious economic crisis can force some rethinking of economic and political dogma. The current crisis is serious for most of the world: the IMF is projecting world economic growth of just 0.5 percent this year – the worst since the second world war – and this number could easily be revised downward. In the United States, one of the first casualties of the current recession was the extreme fiscal conservatism that has plagued the country for decades."

House Approves Mortgage Bankruptcy Overhaul
Kevin Drawbaugh, Reuters: "Bankruptcy judges could cut the mortgage debt of homeowners in bankruptcy court as a last resort to avert foreclosure, under a bill approved by a 234-191 vote on Thursday in the US House of Representatives. Seen by Democratic supporters as vital to stabilizing the crumbling US real estate market, the so-called 'cramdown' bill has been opposed by bankers, despite amendments made this week to limit its scope, including one restricting it to existing primary residence mortgages, not future loans."

Tens of Thousands Have TBI, Officials Say
Kelly Kennedy, Army Times: "As Army officials announced the beginning of Brain Injury Awareness Month, they offered up a figure that makes it hard to believe anyone in the military could be unaware of the problem: Between 45,000 and 90,000 troops have been treated for traumatic brain injury symptoms ranging from headaches to vision problems to an inability to function beyond a coma state."

NATO to Resume Ties With Russia
BBC News: "Nato has agreed to resume high-level contacts with Russia, working with what US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called a 'greater unity of purpose.' Russia welcomed the move, six months after Nato froze contacts over the conflict between Russia and Georgia. Mrs Clinton stressed Afghanistan, which she called 'Nato's biggest military challenge,' was a mutual concern."

US Hints at Inviting Iran to Afghan Meeting
The Associated Press: "US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton proposed on Thursday a high-level international conference on Afghanistan to be sponsored by the United Nations and attended by a wide range of countries including Pakistan and possibly Iran. Clinton presented the proposal at a NATO foreign ministers meeting where she said the session could be held March 31 and led by the U.N.'s special representative for Afghanistan, Kai Eide of Norway, who was appointed to improve coordination of international civilian assistance to Kabul."

Job Forecast for College Seniors: Grimmer Than Ever
Laura Fitzpatrick, Time Magazine: "Smith College's career office sent its jittery job-hunting seniors a letter last month with a reassuring message: 'There ARE jobs, and you can find employment.' Unfortunately, there are far fewer jobs than anticipated, according to a report out today from the National Association for Colleges and Employers (NACE). The companies surveyed for the group's spring update are planning to hire 22 percent fewer grads from the class of 2009 than they hired from the class of 2008, a big letdown from the group's projections in October that hiring would hold steady."

On Ruling The Arctic Frontier, Or, Polly Want A Reindeer?

We have an epic tale of history to tell today, and it has everything you’d want in your standard-issue epic tale: the vast expanse of ocean, exploration on the shores of an unknown land, questions of race and slavery and opportunity and torture…and in the center of it all, a real larger-than-life sea captain (and his parrot) who some say was more powerful in Alaska than the Territorial Governor and Circuit Judges who were his frequent shipboard guests.

Such was his influence on the Revenue Cutter Service (later to become the United States Coast Guard) that two Coast Guard Cutters operating today are named with him in mind: the USCGC Bear, named after the most famous ship our sea captain commanded, and the USCGC Healy, the newest icebreaker in the Coast Guard’s fleet.

And with that, Gentle Reader, allow me to introduce you to Captain Mike “Hell-Roaring” Healy—and the Arctic which was his domain.

"Captain Mike Healy is a good deal more distinguished person in the waters of the far Northwest than any president of the United States or any potentate of Europe has become. He stands for law and order in many thousand square miles of land and water, and if you should ask in the Arctic Sea, “Who is the greatest man in America?” the instant answer would be, “Why, Mike Healy.” When an innocent citizen of the Atlantic coast once asked on the Pacific who Mike Healy was, the answer came, “Why, he’s the United States. He holds in these parts a power of attorney for the whole country.”

--The New York Sun, January 28, 1894

Mike Healy, oddly enough, was born on a Georgia plantation in 1839. His father sent him (and his nine brothers and sisters, as they came to age) to Boston for their educations. Fate found them among the very first enrollees of Holy Cross College. Several of his brothers and sisters became notable persons in America’s Catholic history (one became a Bishop, one a Rector, three sisters became nuns, and his brother Patrick became President of Georgetown University during the 1870s and early 1880s), but such a path was not to be Mike’s.

He ran away from several academic placements in the United States and in Europe, eventually finding himself (at age 15) serving as a cabin boy on the clipper Jumna out of London (which he reports his parents helped to arrange, although this is disputed). In less than 10 years he had risen through the ranks to “…have been three times second officer and once first officer of a brig…", as he wrote in his 1863 application for a commission in the Revenue Cutter Service. Two of his brothers were now in a position to offer influential assistance, and by January 1865 he found himself a Third Lieutenant of the Service.

By 1868 he had been dispatched to his first Alaska assignment, and by 1877 he was in command of his first ship, the Revenue Cutter Chandler. In 1880 he began one of the first of the two most significant commands of his career aboard the Revenue Cutter Thomas Corwin.

At this point we need to step back and talk about exactly what it meant to be in command of a revenue cutter in late 19th Century Alaska…and to do that, we need to start with a bit of geography.

The Aleutian Islands form an arc roughly 1500 miles long from roughly Anchorage to roughly Vladivostok, separating the Pacific Ocean from the Bering Sea. North of that is the site of the “land bridge” that once connected North America and Asia (near what is Wales, Alaska today), and north of that are the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas. Unalaska is a city located about halfway down the Aleutian chain, and Point Barrow is the northernmost point in the United States.

Within that space the revenue cutter commanders were the most visible official symbols of the United States. They were responsible for preventing smuggling, enforcing the laws among the whaling and sealing fleets and against liquor smuggling and distilling, and rescuing the various explorers, miners, traders, mappers, and other sailors that required their assistance.

Their responsibility also extended to maintaining positive relations with “the natives”—or putting down disquiet by force when relations weren’t so positive. Beyond that, before there were sheriffs and courts and jails the cutter commanders were the law on land as well. They also provided the visible face of the United States at public ceremonies.

The revenue cutters would transport the Territorial Governor on inspection tours, as well as the Circuit Judges who would occasionally visit the region (not to mention the mail), they would provide medical services to anyone they came across who might be in need; and they would often return to bases at Port Townsend, Washington or San Francisco bearing prisoners, or those that had been rescued—or both.

To survive in this environment, with that mission, requires an individual who can not only manage the administrative and diplomatic requirements of the job, but also a leader who can command the respect of a crew of fairly tough sailors…and Healy was more than up for the task.

It is reported that over the next decade his expertise in seamanship and Arctic operations grew to the point where he was involved in not just captaining a ship, but helping to design the ships that were subsequently built for Arctic service—and the way operations were conducted on board those ships.

Although much of the “Wild West” was becoming a lot more civilized than had been the case even 20 years before, in 1880 Alaska was still very much an untamed frontier territory. This meant that “frontier justice” was often the rule, and the ship’s Captain would often be required to take action.

In October of 1882 a whaling party near Angoon, Alaska experienced an accidental explosion of a “whale bomb”, killing a tribal shaman who was employed by the trading company conducting the whaling. Following the custom of the time, the two white members of the whaling party were taken hostage, along with the company’s equipment, and a demand was made for compensation (due to the importance of the decedent, the demand was for 200 blankets).

(A quick word on tribal traditions: it is likely that the large number of blankets were related to the Potlatch custom. In an interesting form of reverse capitalism practiced throughout the Pacific Northwest at the time, status is bestowed by an individual’s ability to give lavish gifts; and blankets might be turned into “button blankets”, which are worn at feasts and other ceremonial occasions.)

The Collector of Customs and the Commander of a US Navy ship, the Adams, responded by sending a force of Marines on a steamer owned by the Company, and coming in person aboard Healy’s ship the Corwin (the Adams being too large to navigate the waterways close to the village).

As soon as both vessels had arrived on the scene, the hostages and property were recovered. Healy’s report on the events describes what happened next:

“…as a punishment and as a guarantee for future good behavior, Captain Merriman [the Naval Captain] demanded twice the number of blankets demanded by the Indians, and threatened, in case of refusal, to destroy their canoes and villages. Refusing to pay the amount and remaining defiant, their canoes, to the number of forty, were taken and destroyed, after having selected those which belonged to the Indians who had remained friendly to the white men. Remaining unsubdued, their summer camp at this place was burned. Weighing anchor we steamed out of the lagoon, and at two o'clock hove to off the village of Hootsnoo and proceeded to shell the town. After shelling the village the marines were landed under cover of the guns, and they, setting fire to the houses, destroyed the entire village, with the exception of the friendly Indians."

Although there was a considerable outcry over the events of that day, it did not prevent Lieutenant Healy from becoming Captain Healy the next year.

The most famous ship in early Arctic history is undoubtedly the Revenue Cutter Bear. The ship’s first work was in the sealing trade and after it was rebuilt for the US Government as a rescue vessel, it helped recover the few survivors of the Greely Expedition. In 1886, after modifications, Captain Healy took command and it became the flagship of the Bering Sea Force. (Fun Fact: the Bear, beginning in 1933, also became Admiral Byrd’s command ship on his Antarctic missions.)

In 1890, more controversy over Healy’s “frontier justice” form of dealing with problems and his hard-drinking ways came in the form of an investigation of charges of “cruelty and intoxication”. The long and the short of the thing is that certain sailors of the merchant ship Estrella acted in a manner that, on the scene, was felt to be mutinous. Captain Healy, as the only law enforcement official available, was called upon to punish the offenders.

“…The three sailors were then taken on board the Bear and triced up. The master at arms of the Bear, who performed this interesting ceremony, explained his method on the stand. The arms of the sailors were bent behind their backs, with their hands manacled together. Ropes were then fastened to the handcuffs, passed through ring bolts overhead, and hauled up. Master at Arms Hughes testified that after he had hauled the men up as high as he thought they ought to go, Lieut. Buhner ordered him to trice them up higher. They were then hoisted up so high that their toes barely touched the deck and they could be spun around like tops.

After remaining in this position five to seven minutes each, suffering intense agony, they were taken down and seated with their backs against stanchions, around which their arms were stretched and fettered behind. They were kept in this position for four hours, and then triced up again, after which Commander Healy seems to have thought their crimes sufficiently punished…”

--The New York Times, March 12, 1890

Healy was exonerated of all charges. The Investigating Board placed no credence in the charge of drunkenness, and they felt:

“…that there were no courts or peace officers within reach, and that, therefore, the punishment of the crew as a last resort to suppress the mutiny was justifiable.”

--The New York Times, April 5, 1890

I have had to apologize on too many occasions for stories that are too long, so let’s take a break here and finish up in Part Two…but before we do, let’s recap where we’ve been.

Alaska in the second half of the 19th Century was all the frontier anybody could want, Captain Mike Healy had risen from a Georgia plantation background to become perhaps the most recognized man in the Arctic, commanding one of the Nation’s most historically renowned ships…and while he was enjoying his successes, there had already been questions about his methods—and his drinking.

In Part Two we tell the story of an amazing overland rescue, we learn about international reindeer transplantation, we examine Healy’s troubled life and times—and just as if we were Paul Harvey, we end with a “rest of the story” that makes everything you’ve heard so far become an even more unlikely narrative…and one that will end with a controversy unresolved to this day.

It’s an epic tale indeed—and for those of you who wonder “why hasn’t anyone ever made a movie out of this story?”…well, we’ll answer that question too.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

FP morning brief 3/5

Top Story

China's National People's Congress opened today with Premier Wen Jiabao promising aggressive stimulus measures to help the country through the global recession. Wen set a target growth rate of 8 percent for the year, down from 9 percent last year and 13 percent in 2007. Wen did not specify exactly how the additional $586 billion in stimulus would be spent, though Wen did promise measures to boost domestic demand and stimulate consumer spending.

Asian markets gained on news of China's new spending.

Wen also said his country is willing to open negotiations with Taiwan on political and military matters due to recent "major breakthroughs" in cross-strait relations. Again, Wen did not go into the specifics of when or how these talks would be conducted.

A defiant Sudanese President Omar al Bashir vowed to resist the International Criminal Court's warrant for his arrest on war crimes charges. Sudan has ordered several international aid agencies to leave the country in retaliation.
The U.S. navy is close to handing suspected pirates over to Kenya for prosecution.
Barack Obama renewed U.S. sanctions against Zimbabwe.

Middle East
Israeli police recommended bringing corruption charges against Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.
Iraqi Kurds have been expanding their territory, setting up a potential flashpoint for conflict after U.S. withdrawal.
A car bombing at a market in Baghdad killed 14.

Kyrgyzstan now says they're willing to negotiate a deal to keep U.S. troops in the country.
Pakistan's opposition says this week's attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team is evidence that the country's security has broken down.
Chinese officials have imposed unofficial martial law in Tibet, writes the New York Times' Edward Wong.

General Motors warned it may soon be facing bankruptcy.
The two officials ousted in President Raul Castro's cabinet shakeup have apologized for their "mistakes."
The Mexican government is concerned about getting less U.S. funding for its war on drugs.

Eurozone interest rates were slashed to a record low 1.5 percent.
NATO is moving toward reestablishing ties with Russia.
Speaking before the U.S. Congress, British PM Gordon Brown asked for international unity in fighting the global "economic hurricane." All in all, he seemed to get a much better reception on the hill than he did at the White House.

Correction: Yesterday's morning brief inaccurately stated that Sudan's Omar al Bashir had been charged with genocide. He has been charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity but not genocide. Apologies for the error.

Truthout 3/5

Renner Truth Commission May Not Lead to Prosecutions
Matt Renner, Truthout: "The Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing Wednesday to explore setting up a commission to investigate and report on potentially criminal policies of the Bush administration. Critics of this approach charge that it could interfere with high-level criminal prosecutions, which are ready for immediate action by an independent or special prosecutor."

Obama Takes Aim at Costly Defense Contracts
Ross Colvin, Reuters: "President Barack Obama said on Wednesday the U.S. government was paying too much for things it did not need and ordered a crackdown on spending 'plagued by massive cost overruns and outright fraud.'"

J. Sri Raman Common Threat, Conflicting Theories
J. Sri Raman, Truthout: "Terrorism in South Asia may take a long time to prompt formation of a regional task force against the threat, as officially proposed by Bangladesh. But it has already yielded many mystery thrillers. The Mumbai outrage of November 26-29, 2008, which claimed 173 lives, still remains unsolved on many scores. Even while cooperation on the case between the rulers of India and Pakistan stays in the realm of remote possibilities, the subcontinent has suffered two more major strikes of terrorism."

16,000 Unopened Claims Letters Hidden at VA Offices
Rick Maze, Army Times: "A new report about Veterans Affairs Department employees squirreling away tens of thousands of unopened letters related to benefits claims is sparking fresh concerns that veterans and their survivors are being cheated out of money."

California High Court Reviews Gay Marriage Ban
Peter Henderson, Reuters: "Gay marriage advocates on Thursday will ask the California Supreme Court to overturn a second voter-approved same-sex marriage ban, in a cultural battle that has divided the United States."

White House Taps Experienced Emergency Manager to Lead FEMA
Katherine McIntire Peters, Government Executive: "President Barack Obama on Wednesday said he would nominate Craig Fugate, an experienced first responder who now leads Florida's division of emergency management, to lead the Federal Emergency Management Agency."

Bruno Marzloff Whither, the Car?
Three guest editorialists writing for Le Monde expound three different perspectives on the problematic past and murky future of the global automobile industry.

Jason Leopold Conyers Cuts a Deal With Rove, Miers
Jason Leopold, Truthout: "The House Judiciary Committee cut a deal with lawyers for George W. Bush that will see his former aides Karl Rove and Harriet Miers testify in Congress's long-running investigation into the firings of nine US attorneys in December 2006. But their testimony, at least for the time being, will not be conducted publicly. Democrats in Congress have been seeking testimony from Miers and Rove about the Bush administration's firing of nine US attorneys in 2006. To stymie the investigation, Bush barred the witnesses from cooperating and asserted a broad claim of executive privilege."

US Launches $75 Billion Mortgage Plan to Aid Homeowners
David Lawder and Lynn Adler, Reuters: "The Obama administration on Wednesday launched a $75 billion foreclosure relief plan, as new data showed one in five US homeowners with mortgages owe more than their house is worth. The mortgage plan, part of a $275 billion housing stimulus program announced last month, enables struggling homeowners to modify loans even if they are 'under water.' Homeowners with mortgages on about 8.3 million properties were under water at the end of 2008 and the distress is likely to grow as home values drop, First American CoreLogic said."

Dean Baker Staving Off Another Great Depression
Dean Baker, Truthout: "The Washington policy debates of the last week would almost make a casual observer believe that the nation's political leadership is in fact nostalgic for the good old days of the Great Depression when the country suffered double-digit unemployment for a decade. The two big news items last week were a batch of absolutely horrible economic reports and the release of President Barack Obama's budget. The media almost completely ignored the former and focused its attention primarily on the latter. So, let's start with the bad news."

Bush Memos on Presidential Power Shock Legal Experts
David G. Savage, The Chicago Tribune: "Legal experts said Tuesday they were taken aback by the claim in the latest batch of secret Bush-era memos that the president alone had the power to set the rules during the war on terrorism. Yale law professor Jack Balkin called this a 'theory of presidential dictatorship. They say the battlefield is everywhere. And the president can do anything he wants, so long as it involves the military and the enemy.' The criticism was not limited to liberals. 'I agree with the left on this one,' said Orin Kerr, a law professor at George Washington University. The approach in the memos 'was simply not a plausible reading of the case law. The Bush [Office of Legal Counsel] eventually rejected [the] memos because they were wrong on the law, and they were right to do so.'"

Robert Parry How Close the Bush Bullet
Robert Parry, Consortium News: "Earlier this decade when some of us warned that George W. Bush was behaving more like an incipient dictator than the leader of a constitutional republic, we were dismissed as alarmists, left-wingers, traitors and a host of less printable epithets. But it is now increasingly clear that President Bush and his top advisers viewed the 9/11 attacks as an opportunity to implement a series of right-wing legal theories that secretly granted Bush unlimited power to act lawlessly and outside the traditional parameters of the US Constitution."

David Plouffe Minority Leader Limbaugh
David Plouffe, The Washington Post: "The 2008 election sent many messages. At the top: Americans wanted to turn the page on the politics of division and partisan pettiness, and they wanted a government - and country - that would put the middle class first. Watching the Republicans operate this past month, it would appear that they missed that unmistakable signal. Instead, Rush Limbaugh has become their leader."

Truth and reconciliation in America

A USA Today/Gallup poll shows that nearly two-thirds of Americans want an investigation of potential wrongdoing by the Bush administration. But Republican Senators and some Democrats are preparing to stop the creation of a Congressional Truth Commission that will get the job started.

At a hearing held by Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont yesterday, Leahy called for Congressional action now. While Republican Sen. Arlen Specter from Pennsylvania called it a "fishing expedition."

The Washington Post says Republicans are "confident of victory." That's because they haven't heard from you.

Call your Senator today and make sure they know America Demands the Truth.

Senator Evan Bayh(202) 224-5623
Senator Richard Lugar(202) 224-4814

Here's a suggested script:
"I'm calling because I want my Senator to know that I support a Congressional Truth Commission to investigate constitutional abuses by the Bush administration. Congress must make sure torture, warrentless wiretapping, and other serious abuses never happen again. Can you tell me where the Senator stands on this issue?"

Be polite no matter what. Be sure to thank your Senators if they already support a Commission.
Keep your statement short. The more the lines are free, the more DFA calls they will receive.

Don't go on a rant. Congressional staff pass on the number of calls and gist, but rarely specifics. A rant is more likely to get your message lost or anger a tired staffer who could choose to not pass on your call.


DFA and Sen. Leahy have gathered over 100,000 signatures on a petition calling for the truth already, but this fight will take more than a petition to win. We need to fire on all cylinders to keep the past from being swept under the rug. Congress needs to know that America Demands the Truth.

Take action today. Please make your call now.

Thank you for everything you do,


Charles Chamberlain,
Political Director
Democracy for America

P.S. If you haven't signed the petition yet, now's the time:

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

94.4% of Fortune 500 companies prohibit workplace sexual orientation discrimination

from equalityforum.com

For more information:
Chip Alfred(215) 732-3378, ext. 116
Original release ­- August 27, 2008

PHILADELPHIA—Equality Forum, a national and international gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) civil rights organization, reported that 472 (94.4%) of the 2008 FORTUNE 500 companies voluntarily include sexual orientation in their employment nondiscrimination policies. This year marks the fifth anniversary of Equality Forum’s FORTUNE 500 project, which is a collaboration with Professor Louis Thomas, Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, and Ian Ayres, William K. Townsend Professor, Yale Law School.

“The FORTUNE 500 have overwhelmingly decided that including sexual orientation is in the best corporate interest and helps communicate corporate values to the estimated $660 billion annual domestic GLBT consumer market,” stated Malcolm Lazin, Executive Director, Equality Forum.

According to Gallup’s May 2008 Values and Beliefs Poll, 89% of U.S. citizens believe gays and lesbians should have equal rights in job opportunities. There is currently no federal workplace protection based on sexual orientation. Twenty states include sexual orientation nondiscrimination in their workplace statutes.

Senator Obama favors and Senator McCain opposes including sexual orientation in the federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA). In 2007, the House of Representatives voted 235 to 184 to amend ENDA to add sexual orientation. Thirty-five Republicans voted for the amendment.

In fall 2003, when Equality Forum began contacting the FORTUNE 500 companies, 323 (64.6%) companies explicitly provided sexual orientation protection in their workplace policies. Equality Forum reached out to the CEOs, Human Resource Directors and all members of the Boards of Directors of the 177 (35.4%) companies without this protection. By fall 2004, 405 (81%) FORTUNE 500 companies included sexual orientation in workplace nondiscrimination policies.

Equality Forum and Professors Thomas and Ayres communicated with 25 large institutional investors to solicit their support on proxy statements requesting sexual orientation nondiscrimination at companies not providing that protection. In response, Vanguard was among the large institutional shareholders that determined that it was in the best shareholder interest to support sexual orientation workplace protection.

Exxon Mobil is the largest of the FORTUNE 500 that does not specifically provide sexual orientation protection. At the 2006, 2007 and 2008 annual Exxon Mobil shareholders meetings, Vanguard voted its proxy of 194 million shares for including sexual orientation workplace equality and against Exxon Mobil management’s opposition.

For more information on the FORTUNE 500 Project, visit www.equalityforum.com/fortune500. The names of the FORTUNE 500 Companies that are compliant and noncompliant are listed alphabetically and by revenue size, industry and the state in which they are headquartered.

Equality Forum is a national and international GLBT civil rights organization with an educational focus. Equality Forum undertakes high impact national initiatives, coordinates GLBT History Month, produces documentary films and presents the largest annual national and international GLBT civil rights forum. For more information about Equality Forum, please visit www.equalityforum.com.

Noncompliant Companies

Company, Rank, revenues (In Millions)

Exxon Mobil 2 $372,824
Plains All American Pipeline 121 $20,394
CHS 145 $17,216
TRW Automotive Holdings 174 $14,702
AES 183 $13,896
D.R. Horton 235 $11,297
DISH Network 240 $11,090
Huntsman 249 $10,713
KBR 284 $9,194
Commercial Metals 303 $8,751
Virgin Media 313 $8,153
Pilgrim's Pride 327 $7,599
Western Refining 342 $7,305
Targa Resources 344 $7,270
Energy Transfer Equity 361 $6,792
Celanese 367 $6,641
Aleris International 376 $6,529
Fidelity National Financial 435 $5,524
Leggett & Platt 456 $5,249
Expeditors International of Washington 458 $5,235
Frontier Oil 462 $5,189
Auto-Owners Insurance 465 $5,129
BJ Services 482 $4,802
Holly 484 $4,792
Universal Health Services 485 $4,751
Cameron International 490 $4,666
Jarden 492 $4,660
Perini 499 $4,628

FP morning brief 3/4

Top Story

The International Criminal Court has issued an arrest warrant for Sudanese President Omar al Bashir, who is charged with orchestrating genocide in Darfur. It is the ICC's first warrant issued for a sitting head of state. The court plans to submit plans to Sudan for Bashir's surrender in the coming days. 300,000 have been killed in Darfur with millions more displaced, according to the U.N.

The warrant won't come as much of a surprise for Bashir who yesterday told the court they could "eat it." The president is certain to resist the charges and his top allies seem committed to sticking with him.

There are fears that the agreement could jeopardize ongoing talks between the government and Darfur rebels and even undo the fragile peace agreement between North and South Sudan. In an interview with the L.A. Times, Southern Sudanese leader Salva Kiir called for calm but said that in the event of renewed violence, "I'm a soldier. I'm prepared."

The ICC's senior prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo spoke about the case in a recent interview with FP.

Middle East
Hillary Clinton traveled to the West Bank to meet with Palestinian Authority leaders.
Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamanei says Barack Obama is on the "wrong path" in the Middle East.
The U.S. is sending two senior diplomats to open negotiations with Syria this week. David Kenner comments on Passport.

Afghanistan's electoral commission ruled that Presidential Elections cannot be moved up to April, as President Hamid Karzai had wanted.
Sri Lanka's cricket team returned home from Pakistan after yesterday's deadly attack. Pakistan has already made arrests in the case.
China will boost its defense spending by 15 percent in 2009

Obama denied making a quid pro quo offer to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev over missile defense and Iran. Medvedev said he would be willing to discuss the two issues separately.
Ukrainian authorities raided the offices of the country's natural gas monopoly.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy and eight of his top aides have been receiving mysterious death threats.

The New York Times' David Leonhardt crunches the data on how the recession is affecting different regions of the U.S.
Cuban-American New Jersey Senator Robert Menendez is holding up two key Obama appointments over a bill that would ease restrictions on Cuba.
Concerns are growing over newly elected GOP Chairman Michael Steele.

Guinea-Bissau's new president is asking for international help to stabilize his country after the assassination of his predecessor.
Jeffrey Gettleman reports on the new calm in rebel-free parts of Eastern Congo.

Truthout 3/4

Marjorie Cohn Memos Provide Blueprint for Police State
Marjorie Cohn, Truthout: "Seven newly released memos from the Bush Justice Department reveal a concerted strategy to cloak the president with power to override the Constitution. The memos provide 'legal' rationales for the president to suspend freedom of speech and press; order warrantless searches and seizures, including wiretaps of US citizens; lock up US citizens indefinitely in the United States without criminal charges; send suspected terrorists to other countries where they will likely be tortured; and unilaterally abrogate treaties."

Michael Hiltzik Obama Skews Battle Lines in "Class War"
Michael Hiltzik, The Los Angeles Times: "'Class warfare' comes in many flavors. There's the variety practiced by feudal overlords upon their serfs, and the variety waged by the Jacobins of the French Revolution against the monarchists. Then there's the variety that Republicans claim to find in President Obama's proposed budget - a taking from the rich to reward the undeserving poor. The rhetoric has spread quickly, moving from the libertarian Heritage Foundation to the ranks of GOP presidential hopefuls like flames leaping from tree to tree in the Angeles National Forest."

Bill Would Create New Oversight of Pentagon Costs
Ellen Nakashima, The Washington Post: "A bill to end cost overruns in major weapons systems would create a powerful new Pentagon position -- director of independent cost assessments -- to review cost analyses and estimates, separately from the military branch requesting the program. Those reviews, unlike in the current process, would take place at key points in the acquisition process before a weapons program can proceed, according to legislation sponsored by Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). Last year, the Government Accountability Office reported that cost overruns on the Pentagon's 95 largest weapons acquisitions system totaled $300 billion even though the government cut quantities and reduced performance expectations."

David Sirota "Swinging for the Fences": The Major League Moment in American Politics
David Sirota, The Campaign For America's Future: "Remember, the benefits of 'swinging for the fences' far outweigh the risks right now. To use the baseball metaphor - with Democrats controlling the government and with the economic crisis creating the political climate for radical action, we're Major League's Pedro Cerrano up at the plate 'swinging for the fences' at a straightball, not a curveball. And as anyone who saw that movie knows, Cerrano may strike out when thrown a curveball, but he hits straightballs 'very much.' If (and when) we are successful - if and when we hit this straightball out of the park in this, a Major League moment of American politics - we will not only pass immediate-term policy or aid a single president. We will finally close the roots gap and realign the very terms of the political debate with the center of American public opinion, thus setting the stage for an entire generation of 'real change.'"

Obama Picks Net Neutrality Backer as FCC Chief
Declan McCullagh, CNET: "President Obama on Tuesday nominated Julius Genachowski as the nation's top telecommunications regulator, picking a campaign advisor who has divided his career between Washington, D.C., political jobs and working as an Internet executive. Genachowski had been mentioned as a likely candidate for the Federal Communications Commission post, in part because he participated in the Obama campaign's Internet efforts and previously worked as chief counsel to Democratic FCC Chairman Reed Hundt."

Francois Vidal The AIG Bomb
Francois Vidal, Les Echos: "Tick-tock, tick-tock. In spite of the efforts of Washington's pyrotechnicians, the AIG bomb is still live."

William Rivers Pitt The Laugher Curve
William Rivers Pitt, Truthout: "Today, the Democratic Party controls both the Legislative and Executive Branches. President Obama, through masterfully delivered public addresses and carefully articulated policy initiatives, now dominates the high ground of American politics. Meanwhile, the GOP has been defending policies only popular within its base to hold what it still has, which marginalizes the party even further. The entire Republican Party, it seems, has spent the last week bending a knee to Rush Limbaugh, whose far-right grandstanding is leading the GOP even further into darkness. Sooner or later the party will re-emerge, for that is the way of things in American politics. In the meantime, however ... hoo, boy, what a glorious mess this is."

Robert Pallitto Prosecuting the Bush Team?
Robert Pallitto, Foreign Policy In Focus: "In the months following September 11, 2001, lawyers in the White House and the Justice Department interpreted US and international law to provide legal support for the administration in its 'war on terror.' With regard to interrogation of terror suspects, John Yoo, David Addington, Jay Bybee, and others justified the use of such harsh and dangerous tactics as waterboarding and stress positions. In a 2002 memo, they advised that only actions causing severe pain equivalent to 'organ failure' would violate the US torture law. Moreover, the memo stated that only if they acted with the specific intention to cause such pain - rather than acting with the primary goal of obtaining information - would the interrogators violate the law. Finally, the memo argued that these interrogations were rooted in an inherent executive power to protect the nation. As such, other branches of government could not review or limit such policies."

Declassified Memos Provide Look Into Bush Policies
Ari Shapiro, NPR News: "The Obama administration declassified nine Justice Department legal memos on Monday that asserted a sweeping view of presidential power, including authorizing the military to search Americans' homes without a warrant and sending detainees to other countries regardless of congressional statutes that might dictate otherwise. Now civil liberties groups are pushing for the release of dozens of similar memos that remain classified. About a month ago, the American Civil Liberties Union sent the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel a letter and a chart. The chart listed 55 classified Bush administration legal memos on national security issues. The letter basically said, 'release these memos.'"

Jill Andresky Fraser What, Me Worry? Making Sense of Polling on Job Insecurity
Jill Andresky Fraser, TomDispatch.com: "Today, few industries and careers can be considered 'safe.' After all, technology giants like National Semiconductor and Dell have already begun laying people off; so has that symbol-of-all-symbols Microsoft, which recently announced the first major layoff in the company's history. Tiny branches of local libraries are laying people off too, despite the fact that, in many communities, libraries have emerged as communal gathering spots for unemployed people of all ages and at all stages in their careers."

Quigley Claims Democratic Nomination in Race to Replace Rahm Emanuel
John McCormick and Dan Mihalopoulos, The Chicago Tribune: "Cook County Commissioner Mike Quigley is poised for a promotion to Congress after claiming the Democratic nomination Tuesday in the race to replace Rahm Emanuel, overcoming disadvantages in campaign cash and union support. The special primary in the 5th Congressional District yielded low voter turnout at the end of a two-month campaign - potentially a plus for Quigley, who started the race as the best-known of the dozen Democrats following years of public battles with two Stroger administrations. With 95 percent of precincts counted, Quigley had 22 percent in the crowded field."

Obama's Plan to Hike Taxes Meets Fierce Opposition
Stephen Ohlemacher, The Associated Press: "President Barack Obama's call to raise taxes on high earners and greenhouse gas polluters met fierce opposition Tuesday from congressional Republicans and also a few Democrats. 'I would never want to adversely affect anything that is charitable or good,' Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., chairman of the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee, said of Obama's call to limit high-income taxpayers' itemized deductions for charitable donations and mortgage interest. Republicans said the president's plan to charge fees to industries that spew greenhouse gases amounts to a stealthy tax increase for all Americans that will far exceed the new $400 annual tax cut for workers that he wants to extend beyond 2010."

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

FP morning brief 3/3

Top Story

Barack Obama wrote a secret letter to his Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev in February, indicating a willingness to compromise on the proposed missile defense shield in Eastern Europe in exchange for cooperation on Iran, the New York Times reports. Senior U.S. officials have confirmed that "The letter touched on a range of subjects, including missile defense and how it relates to the Iranian threat."

The letter, which was hand delivered to Medvedev by Obama administration officials, reportedly states that the missile defense system will not be needed if the Iranian nuclear threat can be neutralized with Russian help. The letter also suggests areas for cooperation on Afghanistan, the Middle East and arms control. Russia has not yet responded to the offer, but the two leaders are scheduled to meet in person for the first time in early April.

Middle East
While visiting Israel, Secretary of State Hilary Clinton reaffirmed the United States' commitment to a two-state solution. Nathan Brown thinks it's time for Plan B.
Clinton told an Arab foreign minister that it's "doubtful" that Iran will respond to U.S. offers of negotiations.
International donors have pledged $4.48 billion to rebuild Gaza.

Sri Lanka's cricket team was attacked by gunmen in Lahore, Pakistan.
The United States' new North Korea envoy Stephen Bosworth arrived in Beijing to being work reviving the stalled six-party talks.
An aide to Japanese opposition leader Ichiro Ozawa has been convicted of bribery.

Congressional Democrats are cracking down on tax havens.
U.S. stocks hit a 12-year low on Monday.
Raul Castro has ousted two top officials who were loyal to his brother Fidel.

The head of Guinea-Bissau's parliament will become interim president after Monday's presidential assassination.
Tanzania has launched a campaign to prevent the widespread murder of albinos.
A prominent Rwandan minister has been convicted of genocide.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown is in Washington to meet with Barack Obama.
Vladimir Putin's United Russia party dominated local elections in Russia.
Poland has renewed its commitment to early entry into the Eurozone.

Truthout 3/3

Michael Isikoff Extraordinary Measures
Michael Isikoff, Newsweek: "In the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, the Justice Department secretly gave the green light for the U.S. military to attack apartment buildings and office complexes inside the United States, deploy high-tech surveillance against U.S. citizens and potentially suspend First Amendment freedom-of-the-press rights in order to combat the terror threat, according to a memo released Monday."

Dr. James J. Zogby "Arabesque"
Dr. James J. Zogby, Truthout: "Last Friday, the 'Weekend' section of The Washington Post featured a cover story on 'Arabesque: Art of the Arab World,' the Kennedy Center's three-week-long festival of Arab arts and culture. There is no better way to begin a reflection on the program than to quote the opening lines of the marvelous 'Weekend' review by Ellen McCarthy. She wrote: 'The residents of Washington might now know it yet, but something extraordinary is about to take place on the banks of the Potomac. Something that has never happened here - or anywhere, really.'"

Clinton Pledges to Press for Palestinian State
Sue Pleming, Reuters: "U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton pledged on Tuesday to press hard for Palestinian statehood, putting Washington on a possible collision course with Israeli Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu. 'We happen to believe that moving toward a two-state solution is in Israel's best interests,' Clinton told a news conference with Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni."

Obama Hints Missile Shield Flexibility to Moscow
Steven R. Hurst, The Associated Press: "President Barack Obama has written to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev suggesting U.S. plans for a missile defense system in Eastern Europe might be unnecessary if Moscow helped in blocking Iran's progress toward building long-range missiles, senior administration officials said on Tuesday."

Clinton: Two US Officials to Visit Syria
CNN: "The U.S. government will dispatch two officials to the Syrian capital to explore Washington's relationship with Damascus, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced Tuesday. 'There are a number of issues that we have between Syria and the United States, as well as the larger regional issues that Syria obviously poses,' she said. She said the officials -- a representative from the White House and one from the State Department -- would explore 'some of these bilateral issues.'"

Herve Kempf Obama and the End of the Party
Herve Kempf, Le Monde: "Barack Obama, the United States's new president, gave a speech before Congress on February 24 that concretely defined the policy he intends to conduct, which was further detailed February 26 in the presentation of his budget plan. Is that policy ecological? Does it respond to the question that will dominate the next few decades?"

Elizabeth de la Vega The Supreme Court Confronts a Mystery
Elizabeth de la Vega, Truthout: "In one sense, the matter of District Attorney's Office for the Third Judicial District v. William G. Osborne - which was argued before the US Supreme Court on March 2 - is a whodunit. Both before and after his conviction, William Osborne has maintained he is not the man who participated with Dexter Jackson in a brutal rape and kidnapping that occurred sixteen years ago on a secluded Anchorage, Alaska, road. He is, he says, the wrong guy."

Secret Anti-Terror Bush Memos Made Public by Obama
Devlin Barrett, The Associated Press: "The Justice Department on Monday released a long-secret legal document from 2001 in which the Bush administration claimed the military could search and seize terror suspects in the United States without warrants. The legal memo was written about a month after the Sept. 11 terror attacks. It says constitutional protections against unlawful search and seizure would not apply to terror suspects in the US, as long as the president or another high official authorized the action."

E.J. Dionne Jr. The Re-Redistributor
E.J. Dionne Jr., The Washington Post: "Our political system adjusts badly when the familiar landmarks erected during controversies of the past are swept away and prepackaged arguments become obsolete. Starting with this week's congressional budget hearings, it will be imperative to recognize the extent to which President Obama's fiscal plan and the direction he set in his foreign policy speech on Friday have transformed the terms of the nation's debate. The central issue in American politics now is whether the country should reverse a three-decade-long trend of rising inequality in incomes and wealth."

Undaunted by the Economy, Obama Presses Ahead on Health Care Reform
Linda Feldmann, The Christian Science Monitor: "President Barack Obama is pressing forward this week with plans to recast American healthcare despite the nation's worsening economic condition, ignoring criticism that he is taking on too much. On Monday, President Obama introduced his new nominee for secretary of health and human services, Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius (D), who will play a central role in the reform effort."

Xe Tries to Leave History of Blackwater Behind
Mike Baker, The Associated Press: "The Blackwater name is gone. So is the focus on the security business that made it famous. Now the founder who built the private company into one of the world's most respected - and reviled - defense contractors is stepping aside as its chief executive. Erik Prince's decision Monday to relinquish his role as chief executive officer underscored how hard the company now called Xe - pronounced like the letter 'z' - is working to bury the Blackwater brand and move its focus further away from the security contracting that severely tarnished its reputation."

Pew Study: Cost of Locking Up Americans Too High
Reuters: "One in every 31 US adults is in the corrections system, which includes jail, prison, probation and supervision, more than double the rate of a quarter century ago, according to a report released on Monday by the Pew Center on the States. The study, which said the current rate compares to one in 77 in 1982, concluded that with declining resources, more emphasis should be put on community supervision, not jail or prison."

VIDEO: Rethink Afghanistan
With 17,000 more troops headed for Afghanistan, this mini-documentary by Robert Greenwald's Brave New Foundation calls the Afghanistan "surge" into question.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Indiana: Say thank-you to Senator Lugar

Our Senators split on vote that would protect public safety and homeland security

Last Thursday, Senator Lugar stood with us when he voted against an amendment to repeal D.C. gun laws that would endanger public safety and threaten homeland security. This vote showed Senator Lugar's political courage, as he was the only Republican to vote this way.

Unfortunately, he was also the only Indiana Senator to vote this way.

Tell Him: "Thank you for opposing the Ensign amendment to the D.C. House Voting Rights Act and voting to protect public safety and homeland security."

-- AND --PLEASE CALL SENATOR BAYH: (202) 224-5623 Tell Him: "As a Hoosier, I am disappointed that you voted in favor of the Ensign amendment to the D.C. House Voting Rights Act and voted against the protection of public safety and homeland security."

The Ensign amendment would undermine federal anti-trafficking laws, repeal D.C.'s ban on dangerous military-style weapons, allow teenagers to possess semiautomatic assault rifles, and prohibit D.C. from passing laws that could "discourage" gun possession or use, even by felons, children or other dangerous persons. At a time when terrorists continue to look for ways to attack our nation, this amendment is reckless and irresponsible.

It's important to let our Senators know that we’re paying attention to how they vote on issues involving gun violence prevention. Please make the calls today.

I also encourage you to write a letter to the editor of your local paper with your thoughts on these — and other — gun issues. (You can click here to send a letter to the editor. Choose United States and Indiana, and you will see a list of our state's papers.) Feel free to borrow text from this email to write your letter to the editor.

Thanks for all you do to keep Indiana safe from gun violence. Let's make sure our Senators hear from people who support sensible gun laws!

Paul Helmke, President
Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence

FP morning report 3/2

Top Story

Opponents and international observers are crying foul over President Hamid Karzai's deicision on Saturday to move Afghanistan's presidential election up to April from its original date in August. Karzai's opponent Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai says he will not participate in "sham elections" that will lead to a "Zimbabwe-type arrangement."

NATO has warned of greatly increased security risks for the earlier poll and the U.S. says it still prefers the original timetable.

Karzai's presidential term ends on May 21, so the president is on solid ground constitutionally, but none of the other candidates are remotely ready to campaign by April and the move is widely seen as a bid to hold onto power.

Middle East
Only a third of the U.S.'s pledged $900 million Palestinian aid will go to Gaza.
Iran is "not close" to a nuclear weapon, says Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. Adm. Mike Mullen feels differently.
Abu Dhabi may be thinking twice about its investment in Citibank.

The president of Guinea-Bissau has been assassinated. It is suspected that soldiers blamed him for the killing of the country's army chief on Sunday night.
The U.N. says Hutu rebels are retaking positions abandoned by retreating Rwandan troops in eastern Congo.
Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe threw a party to celebrate his 85th birthday. His nemesis, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, did not attend.

Struggling U.S. insurance giant AIG has broken records with a $61.7 billion fourth-quarter loss. More government money is on the way.
Barack Obama will announce Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius as his pick for secretary of health and human services today.
Two thousand Mexican troops entered Ciudad Juarez to help contain out-of-control drug violence in the city near the U.S. border.

North Korea and the U.N. command held talks in the demilitarized zone as nuclear tensions on the peninsula continued to build.
A suspected U.S. drone attack killed 8 in Pakistan's Waziristan region.

The EU rejected a plan for a coordinated financial aid package for Central Europe.
Russian President Dmitry Medevedev wants specifics from Obama on missile defense.
The New York Times reports that Ukraine's government is teetering under the pressure of the financial crisis.

Truthout 3/2

Dean Baker The Santelli Screed Hits Wrong Target on Mortgage Bailout
Dean Baker, Truthout: "Commodity trader Rick Santelli made himself into a national hero of sorts with his televised diatribe about being forced to pay the mortgages of 'losers' who could not afford, or would not pay, the full cost of their mortgage. Santelli apparently hit a chord among those who want to blame deadbeat homeowners for the country's economic woes. At the risk of spoiling a promising artistic and commercial venture, people should know that Mr. Santelli is firing at the wrong target. The big gainers from the latest plan to help homeowners are not 'loser' homeowners, but rather banks and investors, who will earn far more on their loser loans than would otherwise have been possible."

Government Takes Further Action to Shore Up AIG
The Associated Press: "The government on Monday unveiled a revamped rescue package to insurance giant American International Group and will provide the troubled company another $30 billion on an 'as needed' basis. The new package comes as the company has burned through cash and has been unable to find buyers for pieces of its company that it hoped to sell to repay the government on its existing aid package, which totals some $150 billion."

High-Speed Rail on Faster Track
Bruce Siceloff and Steve Harrison, McClatchy Newspapers: "As President Barack Obama prepares to spend billions on new high-speed train service across the country, North Carolina is positioning itself to be among the first states to get rolling. If it wins a healthy share of new federal money, the state will open the throttle on a program of rail upgrades that have already paid dividends in faster travel times and some of the nation's most impressive growth in train ridership."

Tom Engelhardt The Imperial Unconscious
Tom Engelhardt, TomDispatch.com, discusses statements made by Defense Secretary Robert Gates regarding the war in Afghanistan and the imperialistic mindset that has become far too common in the framing of US foreign policy.

Researchers Welcome Obama's Emphasis on Science
Malcolm Garcia, The Kansas City Star: "Valentino Stella had not expected President Barack Obama to mention science in his inaugural address. But when he promised to 'restore science to its rightful place, and wield technology's wonders to raise health-care's quality and lower its cost,' Stella, like other area researchers, took notice. Weeks into his presidency, Obama has moved on several fronts emphasizing scientific research. But it remains to be seen whether the boost to science lives past campaign promises and the $787 billion stimulus bill signed into law."

Andre Pratte Capitalism in Ruins
Andre Pratte, La Presse: "The capitalists were bad winners. They pushed their system to the extreme, that is to say, to excess. Outrageous risks, gargantuan appetites, crass incompetence and arrogance, brazen frauds have marked the last decade - until the temple's columns collapsed."

Gates: Iran "Not Close" to Nuclear Weapon
Deborah Zabarenko, Reuters: "Iran is not close to having a nuclear weapon, which gives the United States and others time to try to persuade Tehran to abandon its suspected atomic arms program, US Defense Secretary Robert Gates said on Sunday. 'They're not close to a stockpile, they're not close to a weapon at this point, and so there is some time,' Gates said on NBC television's 'Meet The Press.' Gates' comments followed a televised interview with Adm. Mike Mullen, head of the US military Joint Chiefs of Staff, who told CNN's 'State of the Union' that he believed Iran has enough fissile material to make a nuclear bomb."

Afghan-Border Missile Attack Kills Eight, Pakistan Says
Laura King, The Los Angeles Times: "A missile attack near Pakistan's border with Afghanistan, believed to have been carried out by a US drone aircraft, killed at least eight people Sunday, Pakistani officials said. The strike, the first of its kind since a high-level Pakistani military delegation visited the United States last week, suggested the Obama administration intends to press ahead with a campaign of targeting militants in Pakistan's tribal areas."

Problems Face Sebelius if She Is Next Health Chief
Ricardo Alonzo-Zaldivar, The Associated Press: "A health care system overhaul, weak finances in Medicare, lapses in food safety. Those challenges and more await Kathleen Sebelius as President Barack Obama's health secretary. Gaining confirmation from the Senate would be the Kansas governor's first hurdle. She has clashed with abortion opponents in the state, and they may try to carry the fight to Washington."

Clinton Dives Into Arab-Israeli Peacemaking
Sue Pleming, Reuters: "US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrived in the Middle East on Sunday, delving into Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking for the first time at an international donors conference for Gaza. The United States is expected to pledge more than $900 million at Monday's one-day conference in the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh. The funds are aimed at post-conflict recovery in Gaza after Israel's military offensive in December."

Soldiers Kill Guinea-Bissau President
Assimo Balde, The Associated Press: "Renegade soldiers killed Guinea-Bissau President Joao Bernardo Vieira in his palace on Monday, hours after a bomb blast took the life of his rival, the fragile West African nation's armed forces chief. The military said in a statement broadcast on state radio that no coup was in progress. The armed forces statement said the military would respect the constitutional order, in which the head of the parliament succeeds the president in the event of his death."

Scientists' Stem Cell Breakthrough Could End Ethical Dilemma
Ian Sample, The Guardian UK: "Scientists have found a way to make an almost limitless supply of stem cells that could safely be used in patients while avoiding the ethical dilemma of destroying embryos. In a breakthrough that could have huge implications, British and Canadian scientists have found a way of reprogramming skin cells taken from adults, effectively winding the clock back on the cells until they were in an embryonic form. The work has been hailed as a major step forward by scientists and welcomed by pro-life organisations, who called on researchers to halt other experiments which use stem cells collected from embryos made at IVF clinics."

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Truthout 3/1

Obama Budget Marks Large Ideological Swing
Lori Montgomery, The Washington Post: "Battle lines are rapidly hardening over the broad policy shifts, massive deficits and tax increases President Obama unveiled last week in his first budget request, a 10-year spending plan thick with political friction points. Yesterday, the president used his weekly radio and Internet address to declare his budget plan a fundamental reordering of federal priorities that would deliver 'the sweeping change that this country demanded when it went to the polls in November.'"

Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius Tapped to Lead HHS
Charles Babington and John Hanna, The Associated Press: "Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius is President Barack Obama's choice for secretary of health and human services, a White House source said Saturday. The source, who was not authorized to speak on the record, said Obama will formally announce the nomination on Monday. The Sebelius pick caps a week in which Obama underscored his resolve to pass a major health care overhaul this year. He issued a challenge to Congress in his speech Tuesday, and followed up Thursday with a budget that requested an eye-popping $634 billion over 10 years, which the administration called a "down payment" on coverage for all. This week, Obama will host lawmakers of both parties and representatives of major interest groups, from insurers to drug companies to consumers, at a White House summit on health care reform."

US, China End Talks With Plans for More
Maureen Fan, The Washington Post: "China and the Obama administration concluded their first military consultations Saturday without setting a timetable for high-level exchanges while agreeing to begin working-level talks Monday. The discussions reflected the Chinese military's greater international role and followed Beijing's suspension of most military contacts in October after the United States announced a $6.5 billion arms sale to Taiwan, which China considers a wayward province. Factors including the new US administration, the depth of the American financial crisis, China's increased confidence, and growing instability in Afghanistan and Pakistan have combined to produce the most frank and open talks in years, experts and participants said.

Robert Reich Finally a Progressive Budget
Robert Reich, Robert Reich's Blog: "President Obama's new budget is, well, audacious - not just because it includes several big, audacious initiatives (universally affordable health care, and a cap-and-trade system for coping with global warming, for starters) but also because it represents the biggest redistribution of income from the wealthy to the middle class and poor this nation has seen in more than forty years. In order to see the whole, you need to look both at where revenues will come from and at where they'll go."

Netanyahu Fails Again to Sway Livni
Linda Gradstein, The Washington Post: "Prime Minister-designate Binyamin Netanyahu on Friday failed a second time to win Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni's agreement to join a government of national unity, increasing the likelihood that Israel will be led by a narrow coalition of parties opposed to or skeptical of talks with the Palestinians. After meeting with Livni, Netanyahu told reporters that he had offered her centrist Kadima party full partnership in the government and two of the three top cabinet posts - foreign minister, defense minister and finance minister - but that she turned him down."

VIDEO Obama Challenges Lobbyists on Budget
In his weekly address, President Obama outlines his budget proposal and gives warning to lobbyists and deep-pocket interests. Obama: "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."

FOCUS Robert Parry: Obama's War with the Right (& Media)
Robert Parry, Consortium News: "Though Obama lays the bulk of what he calls 'a legacy of mismanagement and misplaced priorities' at the feet of the Bush administration, there is no mistaking his larger message - that the problems which were 'exacerbated' by Bush's tax cuts and other pro-rich policies have been building since Reagan's 1981 inaugural declaration that 'government is the problem.' Obama even made a glancing reference to that formulation in his preamble to the budget message. 'We need to put tired ideologies aside, and ask not whether our government is too big or too small, or whether it is the problem or the solution, but whether it is working for the American people,' Obama said."

FOCUS Michael Winship: So Much Depends ...
Michael Winship, Truthout: "'so much depends upon - a red wheel barrow - glazed with rain water - beside the white chickens' - Beyond its bucolic and haiku-like simplicity, the poem always makes me think of chance and circumstance, of moments and things, animate and other, brought together in seeming random fashion, often to unintended, unexpected effect. The words came to mind two weeks ago when that Continental Airlines commuter plane fell from the sky outside Buffalo, New York, not far from where my father was born and less than 70 miles west of the upstate town where I grew up."