Thursday, April 30, 2009

Rebuilding Together 2009 photo gallery - updated

Don Wheeler

On April 25, 2009 many dozens of volunteers gathered in River Park to do work on the homes of needy citizens.

Around 7:00 AM, the House Captains reported and registered, grabbed a quick snack and headed to their assigned home.

"Our" home was located on 26th St. Volunteers would arrive about 8:00AM from Notre Dame, Our Redeemer and First Unitarian Churches.

Before the volunteers arrived, I attempted a rough inventory of supplies. Some things were missing and other needed items were identified as the day went on. My Sector Captain was former Building Commisioner Don Fozo. He made sure we got what we needed.

Some of the landscape crew plot their strategy

Our clever carpenters designing an inovative solution to supporting a sagging shelf and clothes rod for the master bedroom closet.

The garage gutters were completely cleaned.

The garage extension trim was clad in new aluminum, the gutters cleaned and rehung with better support and a new downspout was added.

Painting the support posts completed the project.

The week prior, professional carpenters built a small deck with steps for the rear entry. Our volunteers stained the new structure.

After 2+ coats, rain cut this task short.

The professional carpenters returned to reinforce the header for the overhead garage door.

The new flower bed

Day lilies moved to their new location.

Lunch for the crew.

Inside the home: The basement stairwell was painted. A new dryer vent was installed. Some new door casings were installed. All interior doors and casings were refinished.

And we made peace with a neighbor. Not a bad day's work.

Join the virtual march for community reform


All across the country, thousands of immigrants and their allies will rally for comprehensive immigration reform. We want to know what you'll be doing on May 1st. Take the poll!

America's workers are a part of American prosperity. And on May 1st, we will celebrate the contribution of all workers who have helped to build the foundation of this country, and that includes immigrants. At this critical juncture, we must acknowledge the role of all workers in our economy and recognize that the fate of immigrants and native-born workers are intrinsically linked.

Our broken immigration system and broken economy are tied together. The President knows this (1). Economists know this (2). Labor knows this (3). We know this. Now it's time for us to build the political momentum to make sure just and humane immigration reform happens in 2009.

Watch our powerful new video and join the Fair Immigration Reform Movement's (FIRM) Mobile Action Network by texting "Justice" or "Justicia" to the number 69866 to receive news and action alerts right on your mobile phone.
Help us build a virtual movement for immigration reform by forwarding this message to 5 friends right now.

In solidarity,


PS --- Is the media (and blogosphere) killing the fight for immigration reform? Check out this post by my colleague Sally Kohn.


(1) "Obama to Push Immigration as One Priority," New York Times.
(2) "What Immigration Reform Could Mean for the U.S. Economy," Immigration Policy Center.
(3) "Immigration and the Unions," New York Times.

Truthout 4/30

Matt Renner Obama Confronts Torture Policy in Prime Time
Matt Renner, Truthout: "Under the spotlight of his third prime-time press conference, on his 100th day in office, President Barack Obama was unequivocal in his rejection of torture on moral and ethical grounds and said specifically that waterboarding is an illegal torture technique."

British Forces End Combat Operations in Iraq
The Telegraph UK: "British Forces have formally ended combat operations in Iraq today in a move that means they are finally returning home after more than six years. The drawdown of the bulk of the 3,700 UK troops remaining in Iraq will now speed up in the coming days."
Chrysler to File for Bankruptcy
Brady Dennis, David Cho and Peter Whoriskey, The Washington Post: "Chrysler, one of the three pillars of the American auto industry, will file for bankruptcy today after last-minute negotiations between the government and the automaker's creditors broke down last night, an Obama administration official said."
US House Passes "Hate Crime" Bill That Bush Opposed
Thomas Ferraro, Reuters: "The Democratic-led U.S. House of Representatives Wednesday approved an expansion of federal 'hate crime' laws - an effort that former Republican President George W. Bush had opposed."
Robert S. Becker, Ph.D. Torture Memos Expose Dark, Imperial Presidency
Robert S. Becker, Ph.D., "This was not a happy week for the torture lobby, nor its defenders, derailing months of charm offensive by Bush-Cheney legacy boosters. A wary President Obama backed off attempts to defuse the torture parade - fretting over divisive investigations and hard-to-win court convictions. Public indignation likely surpassed February polling when 65% favored torture investigations, 40% criminal prosecutions."
Pierre Randanne and Guillaume Cantillon Greenback Gaining in the United States
Pierre Randanne and Guillaume Cantillon, Liberation: "After eight years of status quo, American policy has emerged from its environmental desert ... The greenback will never have so well-deserved its name."

Obama: Waterboarding Was Torture
Jennifer Loven, The Associated Press: "President Barack Obama said Wednesday night that waterboarding authorized by former President George W. Bush was torture, and the information gained from terror suspects through its use could have been obtained by other means. 'In some cases it may be harder,' he conceded at a White House news conference marking a whirlwind first 100 days in office."

At Least 41 Dead in Baghdad Bombing
Reuters: "At least 41 people were killed and 68 wounded on Wednesday when two car bombs ripped through a busy market in Baghdad's Sadr City slum, mowing down families as they crowded around a popular ice cream parlor, police said. A third car bomb planted in a taxi in the mainly Shi'ite Muslim area was detonated by security forces. The blasts followed two days of suicide bombings last week in which 150 people died."

Leahy Invites Bybee to Testify
Carrie Johnson, The Washington Post: "Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) yesterday invited federal Judge Jay S. Bybee to testify about his role in preparing two Justice Department memos that allowed interrogators to engage in techniques such as simulating drowning and slamming prisoners against a wall. Bybee, who has been a judge on the US Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit for the past six years, previously headed the department's Office of Legal Counsel (OLC)."

Bank Lobby on Course to Gut Bankruptcy Bill
Ryan Grim, The Huffington Post: "The bankruptcy reform bill that passed the House weeks ago amid much fanfare is on course to be gutted by the Senate Thursday. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) told the Huffington Post Wednesday that he wasn't sure the bill had enough votes to overcome a GOP filibuster and that its key provision -- cramdown -- may have to come out. 'We're going to find out. I don't know,' he said when asked if the bill had enough votes to pass."

Justice Department Urges Equalizing Drug Sentences
Carrie Johnson, The Washington Post: "Justice Department officials this morning endorsed for the first time proposed legislation that would eliminate vast sentencing disparities for possession of powdered versus rock cocaine, an inequality that civil rights groups say has disproportionately affected poor and minority defendants. Newly appointed Criminal Division chief Lanny A. Breuer told a Senate Judiciary Committee panel this morning that the Obama administration would support bills to equalize punishment for offenders accused of possessing the drug in either form."

Supreme Court Conservatives Criticize Voting Rights Law
James Vicini, Reuters: "US Supreme Court conservatives on Wednesday sharply criticized a central part of the 1965 Voting Rights Act that is aimed at more than a dozen states with a history of racial discrimination. It is the second major race case heard by the justices after Barack Obama became the nation's first black president. The justices seemed split along conservative and liberal lines in considering a provision applying to all or parts of 16 states, mostly in the South. It requires them to get federal government approval before changing their voting procedures."

Browse our continually updating front page at

FP Thursday brief 4/30

Top Story

The Mexican government has ordered a shutdown of all nonessential government services and businesses through Tuesday in an effort to contain the H1N1 swine flu virus. Around 2,500 Mexicans have now been infected with 170 deaths suspected. The number of confirmed infections continues to rise but the number of deaths does seem to be tapering off with the new measures.

The World Health Organization has raised the global pandemic threat level to 5 with at least 13 countries around the world now affected. So far, the only confirmed death from the flu outside of Mexico was a 23-month old child in Houston. The WHO has urged countries not to close their borders or restrict travel, saying that containment is no longer feasible and governments should focus on mitigation efforts.

Despite this, U.S. Homeland Security Secretay Janet Napolitano faced calls at a congressional hearing to close the U.S. border with Mexico. President Obama yesterday likened this to “closing the barn door after the horse is out.”

Middle East
Six car bombings in Baghdad yesterday targeting the city's Shia community killed nearly 50 people.
After they were cleared by a U.N. tribunal, Lebanon released the four generals suspected in assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.
Turkish warplanes attacked Kurdish rebel targets in Northern Iraq last night.

Sri Lanka's president rejected international calls for a ceasefire while the Tamil Tiger rebels vowed never to surrender.
After ethnic clashes killed 24 people in Karachi, paramilitaries have been assigned to patrol the city.
Japan had its first good economic news in months as industrial output rose in March. However, the Bank of Japan has still downgraded its forecast for GDP growth.

Britain has ended its combat operations in Iraq. It will be adding 700 additional troops to its force in Afghanistan.
Russia signed an agreement with the breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, giving them the right to guard their border with Georgia.
NATO has expelled two Russian diplomats who are accused of working undercover as intelligence operatives.

In a primetime press conference, President Barack Obama expressed grave concern over the instability in Pakistan and urged Americans to take precautions to stop the spread of flu.
Mexico captured the leader of the brutal Zeta drug trafficking cartel.
Chrysler is rushing to secure a rescue deal from Fiat before a midnight deadline tonight.

Soldiers in the Central African Republic killed over 30 civilians in February to deter rebels, the BBC reports.
An aide to Madagascar's ousted president was taken into custody by the military.
Two foreign aid workers who were kidnapped in Darfur have been freed.

On Assessing Risk, Or, Swine Flu: Is It Time To Panic?

We are going to be talking a lot about swine flu over the next few weeks.

The conversation about the politics of the thing is already well underway, engulfing those who sought to remove funding for infectious disease control out of the “stimulus” bill.

We are lacking, however, an examination of the science of the thing, and that’s the point of today’s conversation.

How dangerous is this infection?
Why is it killing people in Mexico but not here?
Exactly what is a pandemic?
Do those facemasks really serve any purpose?
And what about closing the border?

They’re all good questions; and they are all questions we’ll try to answer today.

"I've always been a hypochondriac.
As a little boy, I'd eat my M & M's one by one with a glass of water."

--Richard Lewis

Why don’t we define a pandemic first, then move on to the “what we knows”?

A pandemic is a global event characterized by the emergence of a new virus that readily spreads from human to human. When humans are exposed to new viruses, the lack of previously developed antibodies means we lack biological defenses, making new viruses the most dangerous to human health.

(Vaccines are designed to safely expose humans to diseases. The body makes antibodies based on that exposure, making it better prepared for the next exposure.)

So here’s what we know: a swine flu outbreak that seems to have begun in Mexico has claimed more than 150 lives and sent more than 2000 to the hospital in that country as of Tuesday morning.

As of Wednesday, there are 91 laboratory-confirmed cases of swine flu in the United States, with 81 of them occurring in New York, California, and Texas. There has been one confirmed death in the US as of Wednesday, a child who had come to the US from Mexico to be treated for this infection.

In an ordinary year, the CDC reports, about 36,000 people die from influenza in the United States (during the 1990s, the number varied from 17,000 to 52,000).

There are a smaller number of infected individuals in numerous other countries.

The World Health Organization had, early this week, declared a Phase 4 alert, meaning that we have:

“…verified human-to-human transmission of an animal or human-animal influenza…virus able to cause “community-level outbreaks.” The ability to cause sustained disease outbreaks in a community marks a significant upwards shift in the risk for a pandemic…Phase 4 indicates a significant increase in risk of a pandemic but does not necessarily mean that a pandemic is a forgone conclusion.”

As of Wednesday that has been raised to a Phase 5 alert, which:

“…is characterized by human-to-human spread of the virus into at least two countries in one WHO region. While most countries will not be affected at this stage, the declaration of Phase 5 is a strong signal that a pandemic is imminent and that the time to finalize the organization, communication, and implementation of the planned mitigation measures is short.”

We also have suspicions about a number of things.

We suspect that a pig farm near La Gloria, Mexico was the source of the outbreak.

We suspect (with very high confidence) that the number of confirmed infections will grow substantially as labs are able to complete the testing that changes probable and suspected cases to confirmed ones.

We suspect there will be additional deaths in the United States from this infection beyond the one that has already been confirmed.

Because at least 45 of the confirmed cases in the US are associated with a group of spring breakers just back from Cancún, we are suspicious that they might be the group responsible for introducing the virus into the country….however…the CDC reports that cases were first seen in San Antonio, Texas, and in Southern California in late March and early April.

Because the health authorities in Mexico might not have been tracking minor infections, it is suspected that the very high death rate currently associated with this infection in that country is overstated.

There is, as you might imagine, an entire list of things we cannot as yet explain.

The question of why young and presumably healthy Mexicans are dying at an alarming rate while citizens of other countries are not is first on that list. There are several possible explanations besides the potential statistical problems we note above, and one of those is the question of air quality in Mexico City.

The amazing level of air pollution in Mexico’s capitol city has created a childhood asthma problem of such long standing that it has now also become an adult asthma problem. It is known that people with compromised respiratory systems are predisposed to become victims of opportunistic respiratory infections, lending credence to this supposition.

It is possible that nutritionally compromised individuals in Mexico are becoming targets for more severe infections than individuals in the US who are getting sick but have more robust overall health due to better nutrition.

There is confusion due to an inability to accurately track the infection in Mexico. It is possible that new infections are still occurring, that the virus is in regression, that it is has mutated in new ways, or that another, as yet unidentified virus is now circulating; but due to a lack of reliable information it is impossible to tell which, if any, of these events are actually taking place.

The US public health authorities seem to be better able to respond to this health event than Mexican authorities have been. For example, there are reports, confirmed by Mexican Health Secretary Jose Angel Cordoba, that people who had close contact with individuals who have died from swine flu have not had access to medical or epidemiological follow-up…or access to antiviral drugs.

There have been questions as to whether border screening should be intensified to prevent infected persons entering from Mexico. In testimony before Congress Tuesday it was pointed out to Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison that infected persons might not show any symptoms while crossing the border, rendering such screening techniques as temperature monitoring ineffective.

Now let’s talk about this virus.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, in the same hearing room, gave us a lot to worry about. He points out that this is an almost unique virus, in that it has, within its structure, genes from bird, pig, and human influenza viruses (the process of these genes combining themselves in new ways is called “reassortment”); and seeing a “triple reassortment” is highly unusual.

The H1N1 virus that is the basis of this new virus is inherently capable of human-to-human transmission, he tells us, which is particularly problematic.

We will talk about what drugs might be effective in a moment…but first, a word or two on uncertainty.

There is no way to know if the virus we are dealing with today will mutate into new forms, nor can we predict if the virus will become relatively more dangerous if and when new populations are exposed. (It is also possible that the virus might mutate into a less harmful form).

We have no way to predict whether this virus will return, even stronger, in the fall, which would not be uncommon.

We cannot predict what other influenza viruses might appear, or if the two other currently circulating “seasonal” viruses might mutate in ways that cause greater concern.

We cannot predict the potential for further reassortment caused by the current seasonal flu viruses that had been circulating before the emergence of swine flu interacting with this new virus.

We cannot predict where the virus (and its antecedents) will crop up.

We cannot say for certain that the virus will not develop resistance to currently effective antiviral drugs.

These are problems associated with influenza management every flu season, and they are not particular to this virus.

“Excessive calm…may be a symptom of swine flu.”

--Stephen Colbert

Because things can change on literally a day-by-day basis, some of our comments on drugs will be correct as of today, but not necessarily correct in the future.

There are four antiviral drugs available, and two of them are rather ineffective in dealing with certain strains of influenza due to the fact that those strains have developed resistance to those drugs.

That leaves two useful drugs, Tamiflu and Relenza.

When deciding what drug to prescribe for someone who shows up at the doctor’s office, the doctor needs to have an idea what kind of flu you have. If you show up with swine flu, today, a doctor might be inclined to offer you Tamiflu…but if you showed up with an infection caused by the “seasonal” Type A H1N1 virus from 2007-2008, Tamiflu would be the wrong choice, as that virus is resistant to Tamiflu.

Why not just dose the entire US population with Tamiflu or Relenza right now, you might ask?

It’s partly a question of side effects and the damage they can cause, multiplied by 300,000,000 patients.

In the case of Relenza, there are significant side effects for those with respiratory diseases, and the drug is not normally recommended for those patients. The FDA recommends that patients who do use this drug have ready access to a fast-acting inhaled bronchodilator at the time it is administered. Some patients have experienced “transient neuropsychiatric events” (specifically self-injury or delirium) after using the drug.

Roughly 10% of Tamiflu users experience vomiting, and there are also patient reports of transient neuropsychiatric events with this drug (“confusion, paranoia, anxiety attack, nightmares” were among the listed symptoms). The use of this drug by children under one year of age is not normally advised, but on Wednesday an Emergency Use Authorization was issued for such use.

It’s also, to some extent, a question of uncertainty about this flu: will this virus turn out to be less harmful than the impact of those side effects? Will it, in other words, “just fade away”?

Beyond that, to try to prevent these viruses from developing resistance, we need to use these drugs as sparingly as possible; with that in mind, if we can avoid mass administration of these drugs it would be to our advantage.

The preferred approach would be to vaccinate…and it is hoped that by this fall a vaccine will be available…and it is hoped that the virus that is in circulation this fall will be roughly the same virus that was “designed into” the vaccine between now and summer.

Now a quick word on facemasks and respirators:

The CDC recommends facemasks for those in crowded settings…but they strongly suggest limiting the time in which you are in those settings more than they do the use of facemasks. They also strongly emphasize handwashing, covering your mouth when you cough, and washing hands after shaking hands.

It is also noted that airborne droplets can get around the edges of facemasks, rendering them fairly ineffective.

Respirators, on the other hand, can be effective, and are currently recommended for people who cannot avoid contact with infected persons. The “all-day” use of these respirators, however, is a challenge simply because of the increased effort involved in breathing while wearing such a device.

An artist asked the gallery owner if there had been any interest in his paintings on display at that time.

"I have good news and bad news” the owner replied. “The good news is that a gentleman inquired about your work and wondered if it would appreciate in value after your death. When I told him it would, he bought all 15 of your paintings.”

"That's wonderful!" the artist exclaimed. "What's the bad news?"

"The man was your doctor."

--From Doctor Jokes at “Resources for Attorneys”

So what good news, if any, is there to tell?

As of right now we have no reason to believe that this flu is more likely to cause fatalities than the seasonal influenzas that we would normally see. (Keep in mind, however, that this could quickly change.)

If the pattern we have seen so far were to continue (and there is no particular reason to say it will or it won’t) we could end up with a virus that is widely transmitted but no more dangerous than what we are used to seeing in normal years.

Ironically, the virus’ wide dissemination would itself be good news; as it would expose more of us to this new virus, enabling us to develop antibodies to the infection even before a vaccine is developed for the fall.

We have covered a lot of ground today, so let’s wrap it up:

An influenza caused by a nearly unique virus is moving through the population of Mexico, that infection has spread to several other countries, and so far the number of fatalities worldwide has not exceeded 200. (We expect more than 35,000 deaths annually from influenza in the United States, by way of comparison.)

Because it is a virus to which humans have not been previously exposed, there is heightened concern among The Experts.

There is no reason, at this moment, to believe this influenza will be more lethal than the seasonal influenzas currently circulating among the US population.

This flu can currently be controlled by administration of either of two readily available antivirals. (By the way, don’t forget all that handwashing, covering your mouth when you cough…and handwashing….is pretty helpful as well.)

This type of virus (H1N1) is generically known for its ability to transmit readily from person to person, and not for its inherent lethality. (It is not yet certain, however, if this specific virus will follow that pattern.)

It is possible that a useful vaccine will be available for fall—and it is also possible that this virus will have morphed into a form that will be resistant to the newly developed vaccine.

Closing the borders isn’t logical, facemasks don’t really work, respirators do, but they’re not the sort of “all-day” accessory that a lot of us will enjoy…and avoiding crowded places is what the CDC today feels will work best.

There are a host of unknowns that could change all of this, and there are no predictive tools that can reliably give us reasons to be either sanguine…or scared to death.

All of this can and will change rapidly—sometimes on a day-to-day basis. In the time I spent putting all this together, the WHO raised the alert to Phase 4, then Phase 5, the number of US cases doubled, and the CDC has changed their recommendations for antiviral drug administration twice.

Put it all together, and at the moment things are nowhere near as bad as they could be, with a whole lot of uncertainty ahead.

Warning—commercial message ahead: I’m competing for a Netroots Nation scholarship, and I could use your support. Just head on over to the Democracy for America website, click on the “Add your support” link under “Grassroots Supporters”, and offer a word or two…and with that, thanks very much, and we return you to your regular programming.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Money for nothing

New York Times

On July 15, 2007, The New York Times published an article with the headline “The Richest of the Rich, Proud of a New Gilded Age.” The most prominently featured of the “new titans” was Sanford Weill, the former chairman of Citigroup, who insisted that he and his peers in the financial sector had earned their immense wealth through their contributions to society.

Soon after that article was printed, the financial edifice Mr. Weill took credit for helping to build collapsed, inflicting immense collateral damage in the process. Even if we manage to avoid a repeat of the Great Depression, the world economy will take years to recover from this crisis.

All of which explains why we should be disturbed by an article in Sunday’s Times reporting that pay at investment banks, after dipping last year, is soaring again — right back up to 2007 levels.

Why is this disturbing? Let me count the ways.

First, there’s no longer any reason to believe that the wizards of Wall Street actually contribute anything positive to society, let alone enough to justify those humongous paychecks.

Remember that the gilded Wall Street of 2007 was a fairly new phenomenon. From the 1930s until around 1980 banking was a staid, rather boring business that paid no better, on average, than other industries, yet kept the economy’s wheels turning.

So why did some bankers suddenly begin making vast fortunes? It was, we were told, a reward for their creativity — for financial innovation. At this point, however, it’s hard to think of any major recent financial innovations that actually aided society, as opposed to being new, improved ways to blow bubbles, evade regulations and implement de facto Ponzi schemes.

Consider a recent speech by Ben Bernanke, the Federal Reserve chairman, in which he tried to defend financial innovation. His examples of “good” financial innovations were (1) credit cards — not exactly a new idea; (2) overdraft protection; and (3) subprime mortgages. (I am not making this up.) These were the things for which bankers got paid the big bucks?

Still, you might argue that we have a free-market economy, and it’s up to the private sector to decide how much its employees are worth. But this brings me to my second point: Wall Street is no longer, in any real sense, part of the private sector. It’s a ward of the state, every bit as dependent on government aid as recipients of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, a k a “welfare.”

I’m not just talking about the $600 billion or so already committed under the TARP. There are also the huge credit lines extended by the Federal Reserve; large-scale lending by Federal Home Loan Banks; the taxpayer-financed payoffs of A.I.G. contracts; the vast expansion of F.D.I.C. guarantees; and, more broadly, the implicit backing provided to every financial firm considered too big, or too strategic, to fail.

One can argue that it’s necessary to rescue Wall Street to protect the economy as a whole — and in fact I agree. But given all that taxpayer money on the line, financial firms should be acting like public utilities, not returning to the practices and paychecks of 2007.

Furthermore, paying vast sums to wheeler-dealers isn’t just outrageous; it’s dangerous. Why, after all, did bankers take such huge risks? Because success — or even the temporary appearance of success — offered such gigantic rewards: even executives who blew up their companies could and did walk away with hundreds of millions. Now we’re seeing similar rewards offered to people who can play their risky games with federal backing.

So what’s going on here? Why are paychecks heading for the stratosphere again? Claims that firms have to pay these salaries to retain their best people aren’t plausible: with employment in the financial sector plunging, where are those people going to go?

No, the real reason financial firms are paying big again is simply because they can. They’re making money again (although not as much as they claim), and why not? After all, they can borrow cheaply, thanks to all those federal guarantees, and lend at much higher rates. So it’s eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow you may be regulated.

Or maybe not. There’s a palpable sense in the financial press that the storm has passed: stocks are up, the economy’s nose-dive may be leveling off, and the Obama administration will probably let the bankers off with nothing more than a few stern speeches. Rightly or wrongly, the bankers seem to believe that a return to business as usual is just around the corner.

We can only hope that our leaders prove them wrong, and carry through with real reform. In 2008, overpaid bankers taking big risks with other people’s money brought the world economy to its knees. The last thing we need is to give them a chance to do it all over again.

FP Morning Brief 4/28

Top Story

The dangerous swine flu virus continues to spread, with infections now confirmed in Israel and New Zealand.The World Health Organization has upgraded its pandemic alert level from 3 to 4 and the organization's deputy director general says that "containment is not a feasible option" at this time.

Seven countries now have confirmed cases, with suspected infections in 11 others. Around the world, countries are now tightening the borders to prevent infection from travelers. In Mexico, the epicenter of the virus, 153 people have now been killed.

While 50 cases have been confirmed in the United States, the most outside of Mexico, the infections have not been as severe. President Obama described the disease as cause for "alert" rather than "alarm."

Pakistan has promised military action if the Taliban does not retreat from the Buner district.
The United Nations is pressing the Sri Lankan government for a ceasefire as commando operations continue against what they say is the last Tamil Tiger holdout.
Afghan president Hamid Karzai has promised to change the internationally condemned law that would have legalized marital rape.
24 people have been killed in a wave of attacks by militants in Southern Thailand.

Middle East
Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak says he thinks Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu come to accept Palestinian statehood.
Iraqi officials are opposed to amending the U.S. withdrawal timetable to keep some troops in troubled Mosul.
Palestinians are preparing for a visit from the Pope by building him a stage right next to an Israeli security barrier.

After Peru granted asylum to one of President Hugo Chavez's political opponents, Venezuela withdrew its ambassador. As it prepares for swine flu, Argentina is also facing a dengue fever outbreak that has infected more than 20,000.
Speaking at the National Science Foundation, President Obama promised major new funding for scientific research.

Suspected supporters of ousted president Marc Ravalomanana are being arrested in Madagascar.
Kidnappers have freed two aid workers held in southern Somalia.
A U.N. envoy to Sudan said that Darfur is now, numerically speaking, a "low-intensity conflict."

The Russian army is downsizing and will fire 35,000 officers in 2009.
An EU court has backed the right of Greek Cypriots to reclaim Turkish-controlled land in Northern Cyprus.
Defeated Sochi mayoral candidate Boris Nemtsov is claiming there was fraud in the election.

Truthout 4/28

Sen. Arlen Specter to Switch Parties
Chris Cillizza, The Washington Post: "Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter will switch his party affiliation from Republican to Democrat and announced today that he will run in 2010 as a Democrat, according to a statement he released this morning. Specter's decision would give Democrats a 60 seat filibuster proof majority in the Senate assuming Democrat Al Franken is eventually sworn in as the next senator from Minnesota."

Tom Loudon V Summit of the Americas: The Morning After
Tom Loudon, Truthout: "Hopes raised at the Summit of the Americas for new approach to US relations with Latin America proved to be short-lived when, on the day after the Summit, the US administration announced that there will be no renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement and that the US will begin to move forward quickly on all three pending FTAs: Panama, Colombia and South Korea."

Shortages Stymie Rebuilding Efforts in Gaza
Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News: "In the four months since Israel launched its offensive against Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip, little reconstruction has taken place in the Palestinian territory. The operation left much of Gaza in ruins, and thousands of Palestinian civilians whose homes were leveled are living in tents or other temporary accommodations. Every day, Israel allows 80 to 100 truckloads of humanitarian aid into Gaza, but that does not include building supplies. The United Nations is calling on Israel to allow vital reconstruction materials like cement into Gaza."

Pakistan Launches Taliban Strikes
BBC News: "Pakistan has launched air strikes against suspected Taleban hideouts in Buner district, less than 100km from the capital, Islamabad. The aerial attack in Buner comes as tens of thousands of people have fled their homes in Lower Dir, another area which is seeing heavy fighting. Hundreds of militants have moved into adjacent regions recently from the Swat Valley, an area they largely control."

New Evidence of Torture Prison in Poland
John Goetz and Britta Sandberg, Spiegel: "The current debate in the US on the 'special interrogation methods' sanctioned by the Bush administration could soon reach Europe. It has long been clear that the CIA used the Szymany military airbase in Poland for extraordinary renditions. Now there is evidence of a secret prison nearby."

Francois Brousseau Torture and Lies
Francois Brousseau, Le Devoir: "In this torture scandal the American government inflicted on its real or presumed enemies after September 11, 2001 - a scandal that has been shaking Washington the last two weeks - it's necessary to see clearly how bare-faced lying and the practice of extreme tortures were two facets of one and the same policy."

Tyler E. Boudreau The Primacy of Healing
Tyler E. Boudreau, Truthout: "I am a veteran of the war in Iraq. Like many, I came home bearing an unexpected skepticism toward our operations there and a fresh perspective on America's use of military power. And also like many, I found myself emotionally and psychologically harried by my experiences on the battlefield. But unlike many, I landed after discharge in a community where criticism for the war was both socially acceptable and, in fact, quite common, leaving me free to process a distress which was directly connected to US foreign policy. I was, literally and figuratively, right at home. So, I couldn't help noticing how the political dissent of my community was facilitating my mental healing. That has given me reason to consider all the ways in which politics has corresponded with and influenced the understanding and acceptance of combat stress. And while combat stress survivors have, in some ways, benefited from this relationship; they have suffered from it as well."

Swine Flu Outbreak Could Be Linked to Smithfield Factory Farms
Tom Philpott, Grist: "One flu east, one flu west. The outbreak of a new flu strain - a nasty mash-up of swine, avian, and human viruses - has infected 1,000 people in Mexico and the US, killing 68. The World Health Organization warned Saturday that the outbreak could reach global pandemic levels. Is Smithfield Foods, the world’s largest pork packer and hog producer, linked to the outbreak? Smithfield operates massive hog-raising operations Perote, Mexico, in the state of Vera Cruz, where the outbreak originated. The operations, grouped under a Smithfield subsidiary called Granjas Carroll, raise 950,000 hogs per year, according to the company Web site."

First Round of US-Russia Arms Treaty Talks in May
Agence France-Presse: "Russian and US officials will meet in Moscow next month for the first round of negotiations to replace a Cold War-era nuclear arms control treaty, the Russian foreign ministry said Monday. The two sides 'agreed to organise the first round of negotiations of the two full delegations between May 18 and May 20,' the ministry said in a statement. Earlier this month US President Barack Obama and his Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev pledged to seek a successor agreement to the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) by the time it expires in December."

Robert Parry Democrats' "Battered Wife Syndrome"
Robert Parry, Consortium News: "In recent years, the Washington political dynamic has often resembled an abusive marriage, in which the bullying husband (the Republicans) slaps the wife and kids around, and the battered wife (the Democrats) makes excuses and hides the ugly bruises from outsiders to keep the family together. So, when the Republicans are in a position of power, they throw their weight around, break the rules, and taunt: 'Whaddya gonna do 'bout it?' Then, when the Republicans do the political equivalent of passing out on the couch, the Democrats use their time in control, tiptoeing around, tidying up the house and cringing at every angry grunt from the snoring figure on the couch."

Obama Plans to Reverse Bush Rule on Mountaintop Removal
Andy Mead, The Lexington Herald-Leader: "The Obama administration is moving to tighten a coal mining rule loosened by his predecessor, but it might not be enough to satisfy environmentalists. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said Monday that the 11th-hour 'stream buffer zone rule' issued by the Bush administration in December is defective. Salazar said he would ask a federal court in Washington to reinstitute a 1983 Reagan-era rule. The 1983 rule prohibited dumping of fill from mountaintop removal mining within 100 feet of a stream. Environmentalists argue, however, that it was not properly enforced, allowing hundreds of miles of Appalachian streams to be buried or diverted."

Socialist Rafael Correa Re-Elected in Ecuador
Tyler Bridges and Stephan Kueffner, McClatchy Newspapers: "Socialist President Rafael Correa tightened his grip on power in politically volatile Ecuador by winning re-election Sunday, exit polls showed. Correa, a close ally of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, has butted heads with the United States, but he praised President Barack Obama at the recent Summit of the Americas in Trinidad . Correa won about 55 percent of the vote against seven challengers, exit polls showed." Browse our continually updating front page at

Monday, April 27, 2009

Margins At The Center

For the overachievers - the real secret to sucess. Or perhaps, the secret to real success

FP morning brief 4/27

Top Story

Though its effects have so far been mild outside of Mexico, anxious officials around the world are working to contain the spread of a dangerous strain of swine flu. Over 100 people are suspected to have died of the disease in Mexico with over 1,000 infections. Mexican authorities have closed schools and banned large public gatherings in response.

Outside of Mexico, the picture is till evolving. 20 cases -- most mild -- have been declared in the United States, where authorities have declared a public health emergency. Other infections have been reported in Australia, Brazil, Canada, Britain, New Zealand, Israel and Spain, though not all have been confirmed. Though no cases have yet been reported in East Asia, places like Hong Kong, mindful of the SARS outbreak six years ago, are enacting extensive precautions.

The outbreak is already having a chilling effect on global financial markets.

The peace deal between the Pakistani government and the Taliban has all but collapsed as government forces and paramilitaries have stepped up their attacks on militants who continue to operate outside the Swat valley.
The Sri Lankan government has agreed to stop using airstrikes and artillery against Tamil Tiger rebels. Over the last three months 6,500 people have been killed in the fighting, according to the U.N.
Japan has revised its yearly growth forecast down to -3 percent.

Diplomats from China and India are meeting at the State Department today for global warming talks.
Ecuador's Rafael Correa appears to have handily won reelection.
The U.S. is quietly planning more informal meetings and cultural exchanges with Cuba.

Middle East
The U.S. and Iraq will begin negotiating exceptions to the planned troop withdrawal. Troops may stay longer in Mosul and parts of Baghdad.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas says there's no way he'll resume talks with Israel without a settlement freeze.
The U.S. military says it killed seven suspected al Qaeda militants in Iraq on Sunday.

Iceland's center-left party, led by Prime Minister Johanna Sigurdardottir won in a landslide in this weekend's election. Sigurdardottir aims to start membership negotiations with the European Union.
The world's most entertaining mayor's race in Sochi, Russia has ended in less entertaining fashion with the pro-Putin candidate winning 77 percent of the vote.
The U.S. and Switzerland have begun talks on a new tax treaty, as the Swiss government seeks to stop a U.S. investigation of bank UBS.

South Africa's ANC failed to win a two-thirds majority in last week's parliamentary election, making it more difficult to pass legislation unchallenged.
Prime minister Raila Odinga is calling for new elections if the parties in Kenya's power-sharing government can't overcome a political impasse.
The level of violence is on the rise in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.

Truthout 4/27

Henry A. Giroux Youth and the Myth of Post-Racial Society
Henry A. Giroux, Truthout: "With the election of Barack Obama, it has been argued that not only will the social state be renewed in the spirit and legacy of the New Deal, but that the punishing racial state and its vast complex of disciplinary institutions will, if not come to an end, at least be significantly reformed. From this perspective, Obama's presidency not only represents a post-racial victory, but also signals a new space of post-racial harmony. While 'post-racial' may mean less overt racism, the idea that we have moved into a post-racial period in American history is not merely premature - it is an act of willful denial and ignorance."

Dean Baker Can Health Insurers Whine Louder Than Bankers?
Dean Baker, Truthout: "The Wall Street bankers have impressed the world with their ability to take or borrow trillions of taxpayer dollars and then complain about excessive government intervention into their business. This display of audacity is extraordinary even by the standards of US politics. However, the health insurance industry is gearing to give the bankers a serious contest for top spot as the biggest whiners on the national stage."

GM to Cut 21,000 Jobs, Eliminate Pontiac
Peter Whoriskey and Kendra Marr, The Washington Post: "The U.S. Treasury would own at least a 50 percent stake in General Motors under a plan the company released today to avoid bankruptcy. The strategy would essentially formalize the government's control over one of the icons of corporate America. The announcement came as the company said it would further shrink the number of workers, dealers and types of cars in an attempt to prepare it for a United States shrunken by the recession."

Obama Promises Major Investment in Science
Randolph E. Schmid, The Associated Press: "President Barack Obama on Monday promised a major investment in research and development for scientific innovation, saying the United States has fallen behind others. 'I believe it is not in our character, American character, to follow - but to lead. And it is time for us to lead once again. I am here today to set this goal: we will devote more than 3 percent of our GDP to research and development,' Obama said in a speech at the annual meeting of the National Academy of Sciences."

All-Electric Cars About to Be Resurrected
Michael Taylor, The San Francisco Chronicle: "The all-electric car, which had a brief heyday less than a decade ago and then went the way of the dodo, killed off by the car companies, is about to make a comeback. These silent electric autos will be plugged into home outlets at night and during the day will be able to travel 100 miles or more without stopping for a charge. Nissan said recently it has developed a mass-market electric car, due out by the end of next year, that will seat five and can have its battery charged to 80 percent of capacity in 26 minutes."

Jason Leopold Reagan's DOJ Prosecuted Waterboarding Case
Jason Leopold, Truthout: "George W. Bush's Justice Department said subjecting a person to the near drowning of waterboarding was not a crime and didn't even cause pain, but Ronald Reagan's Justice Department thought otherwise, prosecuting a Texas sheriff and three deputies for using the practice to get confessions."

Iraq Says US Raid "a Crime," Violated Security Pact
Aref Mohammed, Reuters: "Iraq considers a US military raid that killed two people a crime and wants US forces to hand over those responsible to the courts, an Iraqi official said on Sunday. Hundreds of Iraqis protested in the southern city of Kut against US forces and the provincial governor also condemned the military operation."

Nick Turse A Tsunami of Hunger: Is New York City About to Be Overwhelmed?
Nick Turse, "A crisis is brewing and Carlos Rodriguez sees it in ever longer lines. 'More work boots with plaster or paint on them,' he says. 'Guys clearly coming in from the work site.' A spokesperson for the Food Bank for New York City, Rodriguez has experienced tough times before, but not like this. 'It takes a lot of pride for a New York construction worker to stand on the soup kitchen line. That's something I never saw, even during 9/11, during that recession.'"

CIA Reportedly Declined to Closely Evaluate Harsh Interrogations
Greg Miller, The Los Angeles Times: "The CIA used an arsenal of severe interrogation techniques on imprisoned Al Qaeda suspects for nearly seven years without seeking a rigorous assessment of whether the methods were effective or necessary, according to current and former US officials familiar with the matter. The failure to conduct a comprehensive examination occurred despite calls to do so as early as 2003."

US Acts Swiftly to Contain Swine Flu Outbreak
Ross Colvin, Reuters: "Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said the declaration of the public health emergency was necessary to free federal, state and local agencies' resources and authorize the release of funds to buy more antivirals. 'This is standard operating procedure,' Napolitano stressed, adding that similar declarations had been issued in the past to help states cope with flooding or hurricanes."

Expulsion of Aid Workers Drives Darfur to Brink of Catastrophe
Tu Thanh Ha, The Globe and Mail: "Clean water is running out. Fewer doctors and nurses are around to deliver babies or treat hungry children beset by malaria or diarrhea. Already, there is an outbreak of meningitis. And it could get worse with the rainy season, flooding supply lines and bringing cholera or dengue fever. By next month, a million people could go hungry, the United Nations warns."

Browse our continually updating front page at

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Truthout 4/25

Steve Weissman How Torture Worked to Sell the Iraq War
Steve Weissman, Truthout: "If not the Justice Department lawyers, who gave the earlier go-ahead? The Senate report puts the onus directly on the decider-in-chief, President George W. Bush. He issued a written determination on February 7, 2002, 'that Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, which would have afforded minimum standards for humane treatment, did not apply to al-Qaeda or Taliban detainees.'"

CIA Official: No Proof Harsh Techniques Stopped Terror Attacks
Mark Seibel and Warren P. Strobel, McClatchy Newspapers: "The CIA inspector general in 2004 found that there was no conclusive proof that waterboarding or other harsh interrogation techniques helped the Bush administration thwart any 'specific imminent attacks,' according to recently declassified Justice Department memos."

Budget Deal Includes Fast-Track for Health Reform
Walter Alarkon, The Hill: "Democrats in Congress and the White House have struck a tentative budget deal that includes reconciliation instructions that will make it easier to push through healthcare reform this year. The deal, which still needs approval from the full House and Senate, would allow Democrats to pass healthcare reform with just a simple majority in the Senate, instead of the 60 votes needed to pass most controversial legislation, according to a congressional aide."

Obama Administration Working on Bankruptcy Plan for Chrysler
Peter Whoriskey and David Cho, The Washington Post: "The Obama administration's autos task force is working to complete a bankruptcy plan for Chrysler by Monday because some of its creditors have so far refused to agree to the financial sacrifices required to keep the company alive and the matter out of court. The automaker owes $6.9 billion to a collection of 45 banks and other financial firms."

Regulators Shut Banks in Georgia, Michigan, California, Idaho
Margaret Chadbourn and Ari Levy, Bloomberg News: "Regulators seized banks in Georgia, Michigan, California and Idaho with total assets of $2.3 billion, bringing the tally of failures in the US this year to 29, exceeding the total for all of 2008. The seizures will cost the FDIC’s insurance fund a total of $698.4 million, with more than half of that tied to the failure of the California bank."

FOCUS Military Questioned Use of "Torture" in 2002
Peter Finn and Joby Warrick, The Washington Post: "The military agency that provided advice on harsh interrogation techniques for use against terrorism suspects referred to the application of extreme duress as 'torture' in a July 2002 document sent to the Pentagon's chief lawyer and warned that it would produce 'unreliable information.' 'The unintended consequence of a US policy that provides for the torture of prisoners is that it could be used by our adversaries as justification for the torture of captured US personnel,' says the document, an unsigned two-page attachment to a memo by the military's Joint Personnel Recovery Agency. Parts of the attachment, obtained in full by The Washington Post, were quoted in a Senate report on harsh interrogation released this week."

FOCUS National Guard May Be Sent to US-Mexico Border
Mary Beth Sheridan, Spencer S. Hsu and Steve Fainaru, The Washington Post: "The Pentagon and Homeland Security Department are developing contingency plans to send National Guard troops to the US-Mexican border under a $350 million initiative that would expand the US military's role in the war on drugs, according to Obama administration officials. The circumstances under which the troops could be deployed have not been determined, the officials said. They said the proposal was designed to give President Obama additional flexibility to respond to drug-related violence that has threatened to spill into the United States from Mexico and to curb southbound smuggling of cash and weapons."

On Netroots Nation Nominations, Or, Uncle Consultant Wants You!

It has not been my practice to engage in a great deal of self-promotion in this space, but I’m going to make an exception today...which means you are hereby warned that a commercial lies ahead.

I promise I won’t be asking for your money, only for a couple of minutes of your time.

What are we selling?

Your friendly fake consultant is competing for a scholarship to the Netroots Nation Convention this August in Pittsburgh…and I’m looking for your support.

"Things are more like they are now than they have ever been."

--President Gerald Ford

What is Netroots Nation?

To put it simply, it’s the annual gathering of Progressive bloggers…and those who seek to reach them…and those who help make the Progressive movement happen. The meetings were originally incarnated as YearlyKos in ’06, but by the ’08 event in Austin, the name had changed to Netroots Nation; the Nation having grown into a partnership that now includes the Democracy for America community among its members.

Attendees last year heard from General Wesley Clark, some guy named Howard Dean (who I understand had been registering voters in Crawford, Texas, earlier that same day…which I assume was why they invited him to speak), and Al Gore and Nancy Pelosi, who shared the stage for their presentation.

Panels included “Growing the American Dream Movement” with David Bonior, Markos Moulitas and Harold Ford’s “Keynote Discussion on Party Infrastructure”, and “Energizing America: Setting an Agenda for Progress”, which featured former mayor, and now Alaska Senator, Mark Begich, former Speaker of the Oregon House, and now Oregon Senator, Jeff Merkley, and one of my favorite bloggers, A Siegel, who publishes the “Get Energy Smart! NOW!!!” blog.

As they did last year, the Netroots Nation community is awarding 30 scholarships to bloggers and Progressive activists—and I would like to convince them to award one to me.

And that’s where you come in.

The fine folks at Democracy for America have posted pages with information about all the candidates for scholarships, along with pages that allow you to see the information about each candidate (and where you can, for the first time ever, see my actual picture), and also allow you to “voice your support”.

I would very much appreciate it if you would swing by the site and say a few nice words about the blog, or whatever other supportive words might come to mind.

You need to be registered at Democracy for America to offer support, and this is a great time to get involved over there if you’re not already…so, register, already (and yes, it’s free…).

“One word sums up probably the responsibility of any vice president, and that one word is ‘to be prepared'.”

--Vice President Dan Quayle; December 6, 1989

So what’s in it for you?

For starters, we hope to make these conversations better by reaching out more directly to the people who are the source of our news…and with any luck, we can make contacts at the Convention that help make that possible.

Beyond that, signing up at Democracy for America will get you access to the most excellent “DFA Night School” archive, which is created from an ongoing series of practical political training classes, the most recent of which was “Building a Better County Party”, held just a day or so ago…which, if you watch the videos, will make you a smarter activist.

Finally, you’ll get a chance to find out about what happens at Netroots Nation not just from the inside…but from your very own fake consultant’s “just slightly skewed” inside view of the thing.

So there it is: I’m a candidate for one of the Netroots Nation scholarships, you can offer your support at the Democracy for America website (and it won’t cost you a dime), and by signing up at Democracy for America you can get access to lots of practical, professional, political education…that also won’t cost you a dime.

And with that, we thank you for your time and attention…and we return you to your regular programming, already in progress.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Truthout 4/24

John Cory Torture
John Cory, Truthout: "Harsh interrogation techniques, coercive tactics, enhanced techniques - These are the rebranding tools for torture. In order to avoid turning our eyes away or burying our heads in the sand, we grab politically acceptable words and terms to diminish the sting and shame of actual torture, so we can brag about being a moral society open to the discussion of stressful questioning of enemy combatants. Sterile words remove us from the very real sins of torturing human beings."

Holder Won't Selectively Release Terror Memos
Devlin Barrett, The Associated Press: "Attorney General Eric Holder told Congress on Thursday he won't play 'hide and seek' with secret memos about harsh interrogations of terror suspects and their effectiveness. In testimony before the House Appropriations Committee, Holder said he's willing to release as much information as possible about the interrogations."

Taliban Militants Edge Closer to Pakistan Capital
Mark Magnier and Mubashir Zaidi, The Los Angeles Times: "Emboldened militants made their presence felt closer to Islamabad today, raising fears throughout Pakistan and around the world that the capital and the nation were increasingly vulnerable."

Katrina vanden Heuvel 100 Down, 900 to Go
Katrina vanden Heuvel, The Nation: "As we mark the first 100 days of his presidency, it is staggering to consider the enormous challenges President Obama inherited from his predecessor, arguably the worst President ever. Can the devastation wrought by an eight-year nightmare be sorted out in 100 Days? Of course it can't. That's why Obama himself talked about needing to measure his accomplishments not by the first 100 days, but by the first 1,000."

Bernie Horn Obama Moving Against Abusive Credit Card Practices
Bernie Horn, Campaign For America's Future: "President Obama called 14 bank executives to a White House meeting today to talk about questionable practices in the credit card industry. The question is how strong will curbs on these practices be and how soon will they take effect - especially when banks are using federal bailout money to lobby against commonsense credit card reforms."

California: Three Charged in Death of Pregnant Teen Farmworker
Garance Burke, The Associated Press: "Three top officials for a now-defunct farm labor contractor have been charged with involuntary manslaughter in the death of a pregnant teenager who collapsed from heat stroke after working in a sweltering vineyard last year." Browse our continually updating front page at

FP morning brief 4/24

Top Story

The UN believes that 6,500 civilians have been killed in the recent fighting in Sri Lanka. More than 100,000 people have now fled the war zone, but around 50,000 are still trapped behind Tamil Tiger barricades.

India has dispatched a delegation to Colombo to try to press the government for a ceasefire. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has also demanded that international monitors be let in. The military believes that Tiger leader Velupillai Prabhakaran is trapped in a small patch of jungle with the last of his forces and the Sri Lankan government is unlikely to halt the offensive until he is killed or captured.

The Sri Lankan government is still blocking reporters' access to the front lines but the BBC's Charles Haviland got close and filed a chilling video report.

Middle East
In a second day of major bloodshed in Iraq, sixty people were killed in a bombing outside a Shi'ite shrine in Baghdad.
Lebanon has charged a former general and his family with spying for Israel.
Israeli foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman said Iran is the main obstacle to Middle East peace.

Pakistani Taliban leaders have agreed to pull back to their Swat valley stronghold after occupying the neighboring Buner district. Some hardliners are vowing to stay though.
A landmine blast killed five people during India's elections yesterday. Communist rebels are suspected.
The U.S. journalists arrested in North Korea last month will face criminal charges.

With victory all but assured in this week's national elections, South Africa's ANC is now just aiming to beat its results from the last election.
At an international conference, countries pledged more than $200 million to fight Somali piracy.
Two army officers in Guinea were arrested on suspicion of plotting a coup.

Congressional Democrats are split over establishing a commission to investigate the use of torture during Bush era interrogations. FP's Annie Lowrey has written a useful timeline of events surrounding the interrogations.
President Rafael Correa is likely to win reelection in when Ecuadoreans head to the polls this weekend.
Mexico is debating expanding the power of the military to fight drug cartels.

U.S. and Russian negotiators have opened talks on replacing the about-to-expire START treaty with a new arms reduction deal.
President Dmitry Medvedev dismissed the head of Russia's military intelligence service. It's unclear why.
Despite the dire forecasts, German business confidence continues to rebound.

Reclaiming America's soul

New York Times

“Nothing will be gained by spending our time and energy laying blame for the past.” So declared President Obama, after his commendable decision to release the legal memos that his predecessor used to justify torture. Some people in the political and media establishments have echoed his position. We need to look forward, not backward, they say. No prosecutions, please; no investigations; we’re just too busy.

And there are indeed immense challenges out there: an economic crisis, a health care crisis, an environmental crisis. Isn’t revisiting the abuses of the last eight years, no matter how bad they were, a luxury we can’t afford?

No, it isn’t, because America is more than a collection of policies. We are, or at least we used to be, a nation of moral ideals. In the past, our government has sometimes done an imperfect job of upholding those ideals. But never before have our leaders so utterly betrayed everything our nation stands for. “This government does not torture people,” declared former President Bush, but it did, and all the world knows it.

And the only way we can regain our moral compass, not just for the sake of our position in the world, but for the sake of our own national conscience, is to investigate how that happened, and, if necessary, to prosecute those responsible.

What about the argument that investigating the Bush administration’s abuses will impede efforts to deal with the crises of today? Even if that were true — even if truth and justice came at a high price — that would arguably be a price we must pay: laws aren’t supposed to be enforced only when convenient. But is there any real reason to believe that the nation would pay a high price for accountability?

For example, would investigating the crimes of the Bush era really divert time and energy needed elsewhere? Let’s be concrete: whose time and energy are we talking about?

Tim Geithner, the Treasury secretary, wouldn’t be called away from his efforts to rescue the economy. Peter Orszag, the budget director, wouldn’t be called away from his efforts to reform health care. Steven Chu, the energy secretary, wouldn’t be called away from his efforts to limit climate change. Even the president needn’t, and indeed shouldn’t, be involved. All he would have to do is let the Justice Department do its job — which he’s supposed to do in any case — and not get in the way of any Congressional investigations.

I don’t know about you, but I think America is capable of uncovering the truth and enforcing the law even while it goes about its other business.

Still, you might argue — and many do — that revisiting the abuses of the Bush years would undermine the political consensus the president needs to pursue his agenda.

But the answer to that is, what political consensus? There are still, alas, a significant number of people in our political life who stand on the side of the torturers. But these are the same people who have been relentless in their efforts to block President Obama’s attempt to deal with our economic crisis and will be equally relentless in their opposition when he endeavors to deal with health care and climate change. The president cannot lose their good will, because they never offered any.

That said, there are a lot of people in Washington who weren’t allied with the torturers but would nonetheless rather not revisit what happened in the Bush years.

Some of them probably just don’t want an ugly scene; my guess is that the president, who clearly prefers visions of uplift to confrontation, is in that group. But the ugliness is already there, and pretending it isn’t won’t make it go away.

Others, I suspect, would rather not revisit those years because they don’t want to be reminded of their own sins of omission.

For the fact is that officials in the Bush administration instituted torture as a policy, misled the nation into a war they wanted to fight and, probably, tortured people in the attempt to extract “confessions” that would justify that war. And during the march to war, most of the political and media establishment looked the other way.

It’s hard, then, not to be cynical when some of the people who should have spoken out against what was happening, but didn’t, now declare that we should forget the whole era — for the sake of the country, of course.

Sorry, but what we really should do for the sake of the country is have investigations both of torture and of the march to war. These investigations should, where appropriate, be followed by prosecutions — not out of vindictiveness, but because this is a nation of laws.

We need to do this for the sake of our future. For this isn’t about looking backward, it’s about looking forward — because it’s about reclaiming America’s soul.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

FP Thursday brief

Top Story

So much for "green shoots." The IMF poured cold water on springtime optimism yesterday with a "substantial downward revision" of its January forecast for the world economy. The Fund now predicts a 1.4 percent contraction in the world economy in 2009 with only 1.9 percent growth the year after.

The predictions were especially dire for the EU, which contract 4 percent this year, according to the forecasts. FT's Lex noted the wide disparity between the IMF's numbers and forecasts by other central banks and economists. Passport's Annie Lowrey has more details.

Japan reported its first trade deficit since 1980 yesterday. However, the fall in the country's exports does show signs of slowing. Positive signs also include an uptick in exports to China and the U.S.

With the world's finance minister meeting in Washington this weekend to build on agreements made at last month's G-20 meeting, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said that it's critical that "governments keep providing support for demand," even with some signs of stabilization. The U.S. government will begin briefing banks on the results of its "stress tests" tomorrow.

Early results from South Africa's election are showing a landslide victory from Jacob Zuma's ANC.
The U.N. special envoy in al Qaeda was freed by al Qaeda's North African wing.
The French Navy turned 11 piracy suspects over to Kenya for prosecution.

More than 100,000 people have fled the fighting in northern Sri Lanka. Military operations are continuing.
Pakistan has sent troops to protect government buildings in an area infiltrated by the Taliban.
After the second of five rounds of voting in India's parliamentary elections, polls show neither the ruling Congress Party nor the opposition BJP with enough votes to rule on their own.

Middle East
A suicide bombing killed 22 people who were collecting humanitarian aid in Baghdad.
Lebanon's election this summer may be its most corrupt ever, with money flowing in from abroad to help buy votes.
The Egyptian government has invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for a visit.

Europe and Caucasus
U.S. and Russian negotiators will begin talks on a new nuclear arms reduction treaty on Friday.
Turkey and Armenia agreed on a framework for normalizing relations.
Gunfire was reported on the Georgia-Ossetia border.

The U.S. Congress is debating whether to establish a panel to investigate Bus-era interrogations.
On Earth Day, President Obama called for congress to pass a cap-and-trade bill to reduce carbon emissions.
A Venezuelan court issued an international arrest warrant for a political opponent of Hugo Chavez who is seeking asylum in Peru.

Truthout 4/23

William Rivers Pitt The Rift
William Rivers Pitt, Truthout: "As if McCain didn't take enough of a beating last November at the polls, and from his own party's base, here comes Simcox to clout him about the head and shoulders, again, with immigration. This is nothing new; the issue of immigration has been shredding the Republican Party for three straight years now, was an integral part in two consecutive national drubbings at the polls, and has the potential to leave not just John McCain's Senate sinecure, but the entire GOP, in ashes."

Pelosi Said She Knew Harman Was Wiretapped
Edward Epstein, Congressional Quarterly: "Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Wednesday that she was first informed in a confidential briefing a few years ago that Rep. Jane Harman had been recorded by spy agencies, but that she couldn't tell Harman or anyone else about it."

Trade Associations at Odds Over "Cram Down"
Silla Brush, The Hill: "Washington's two main trade associations representing credit unions are at odds over a controversial bill under tense negotiations in the Senate. The Credit Union National Association (CUNA) and National Association of Federal Credit Unions (NAFCU) have taken different positions on a bill that would empower judges to rewrite the principal and interest rate payments of home mortgages."

Sources: GM to Shut Most US Plants Up to Nine Weeks
Tom Krisher, The Associated Press: "General Motors Corp. is planning to temporarily close most of its US factories for up to nine weeks this summer because of slumping sales and growing inventories of unsold vehicles, two people briefed on the plan said Wednesday."

Overcharged for Medicare's Prescription Drug Program? You're Out of Luck
David Goldstein, McClatchy Newspapers: "If you've been overcharged by Medicare's prescription drug program, don't count on getting your money back any time soon, if at all. And don't count on Medicare to help you, either."

Robert Borosage Arm the COP on the Bank Beat
Robert Borosage, Campaign for America's Future: "'The decisions that are made in the next six months or so are likely to set the economic course of this country for the next 50 years,' says Elizabeth Warren, who chairs the COP, the Congressional Oversight Panel charged with reviewing the banking bailout. 'That's what happened coming out of the Great Depression, and I think that will happen now.' So Warren is pushing for Treasury to show us the money."

Rice Gave Early "Waterboarding Green Light"
Agence France-Presse: "The CIA first sought in May 2002 to use harsh interrogation techniques including waterboarding on terror suspects, and was given key early approval by then-national security adviser Condoleezza Rice, a US Senate intelligence document said."

Two Suicide Bomb Attacks Kill Dozens in Iraq
Aseel Kami, Reuters: "Two suicide bombers wearing vests stuffed with explosives blew themselves up in separate attacks in Iraq on Thursday, killing almost 70 people, many of them Iranian pilgrims, police said."

Congress Debates Fresh Investigation of Interrogations
Dan Balz and Perry Bacon Jr., The Washington Post: "The legacy of George W. Bush continued to dog President Obama and his administration yesterday, as Congress divided over creating a panel to investigate the harsh interrogation techniques employed under Bush's authorization and the White House tried to contain the controversy over the president's decision to release Justice Department memos justifying and outlining those procedures."

Norman Solomon Obama: Beyond Savior or Trickster
Norman Solomon, Truthout: "As President Obama enters his fourth month in office, two tendencies among progressive-minded Americans seem most hazardous to the political health of the country. The gist of one approach is that Obama can't do anything seriously wrong; the other is that he can't do anything seriously right."

Katrina Trial: New Orleans's Truth Commission
Patrik Jonsson, The Christian Science Monitor: "Lorraine Washington left her still-wrecked house in New Orleans East on Tuesday to seek the answer to a question that has plagued her every day since hurricane Katrina sank the Crescent City under a wall of water: Why?"

Bernard Guetta Obama vs. Netanyahu
Bernard Guetta, Liberation: "These are phrases, two phrases that will weigh heavily on the international scene. In Ramallah, then Cairo, last week, the new White House special representative for the Middle East not only hammered home that Barack Obama wanted to achieve settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian question based on 'the coexistence of two states,' but added in the same breath that that was a matter of United States 'national interest.'"

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

It's Christmas this Saturday

Don Wheeler

At least for twenty homeowners

On Saturday April 25, South Bend's Rebuilding Together Work Day will be held in the River Park neighborhood on the east-central side of town. Our effort will be part of a nation-wide program involving approximately 250,000 volunteers rehabbing almost 8,000 houses and community centers.

Several years ago the Christmas In April program affiliated itself with a nationwide event - Rebuilding Together. Here's a bit of background from the House Captain Handbook:

Rebuilding Together is devoted to the repair and rehabilitation of the homes of low-income, elderly, or disabled homeowners. The approach is simple: months of planning and preparation culminate in a National Rebuilding Day - when volunteers, both skilled and unskilled, in communities across America come together to repair and rehabilitate the houses of needy residents in their community.

Rebuilding Together performs most types of work on the homes of its beneficiaries, including carpentry, painting, plumbing, electrical, roofing, weather stripping, trash removal, and cleaning. Our goal is to leave each home safe, warm and dry. The program aids to add a bit of joy and dignity into the lives of the homeowners.

Volunteers do not need to be skilled in home repair, but any skills will be well utilized. Numerous community-minded organizations participate in Rebuilding Together, donating skilled help, as well as trucks and tools. Without such skilled workers, many of the repairs could not be undertaken.

All repairs are paid for by Rebuilding Together.Homeowners are not expected to pay for services provided. They are asked, if able, to work with us on Rebuilding Together Day. Rebuilding Together receives money from churches, business, corporations, foundations, associations, and individuals. All donations are tax deductible. Rebuilding Together has affiliates in hundreds of communities across America.

Here's the national website:

The local angle:

Christmas In April - St. Joseph County began in 1989. In August of 2002, its Board of Directors voted to change the organizations name to Rebuilding Together, St. Joseph County. The name change aligned the local effort with the national program and better reflects its mission of a community working together to rebuild neighborhoods.

In its history, the Rebuilding Together with Christmas in April program has had over 34,000 volunteers donating their time and skills, worth millions of dollars in market value, to rehabilitate 721 homes in South Bend. Rebuilding Together has worked in neighborhoods across the city.

The Rebuilding Together program succeeds based on its partnerships. Program funding and donations, in terms of volunteer hours, materials, and money, come from the City of South Bend; the St. Joseph Valley Building and Construction Trades Council; other trade contractors; the Home Builders Association; local businesses, churches, and synagogues; students from The University of Notre Dame, St. Mary's College, Holy Cross College, Bethel College, and Indiana University - South Bend; and from the community at large.

This is a nice story about us.

And it's a really big deal -judging from how many people keep it going.

Locally, skilled contractors will have already completed major work like roofing, furnace replacement, window and door installation, etc - this weekend will be a massive effort towards the many needed smaller tasks.

Many years ago, while living on the south side of town, I noticed the sudden appearance of port-a-potties in scattered locations in the neighborhood. The following Saturday, the neighborhood was suddenly swarming with people cleaning, painting, fixing things, etc. This was my introduction to what was then called "Christmas In April".

Two years ago I joined the program as a community workday volunteer, and helped out on a home a bit south of Lincoln Primary Center.

Last year was my first as a House Captain. We worked on a home on the near northwest side. Below are links to stories about that project.

This is a really nice thing we do for us. We should be quite proud of it.

FP morning brief 4/22

Top Story

South Africans are voting in what is being billed as the most competitive election of the post-apartheid era. The African National Congress party's Jacob Zuma is almost guaranteed to win the presidency, but the party could lose seats in parliament, loosening the grip on power it has held since 1994.

"It is no longer a sort of foregone thing," said Archbishop Demond Tutu, who would not say who he was voting for. South Africans are largely frustrated with the corruption and persistent inequality under the ANC's rule (Raenette Taljaard has more in her FP piece, "Think Again: South Africa") but one Johannesburg voter likely spoke for many when he told the New York Times, "We know the A.N.C. We don’t know anybody else."

President Obama said he would not necessarily oppose further investigation of Bush-era interrogation programs, perhaps opening the door to prosecutions. New reports indicate that the military's harsh treatment of detainees followed directly from tactics used by the CIA.
A Venezuelan mayor being prosecucted by Hugo Chavez on what he says are trumped up corruption charges is seeking asylum in Peru.
Colombia's Indians are among the worst victims of the country's drug war.

Thousands more civilians fled the fighting in northern Sri Lanka as government troops continued their assault of the Tamil Tigers' last holdout.
As diplomatic talks ended without progress, North Korea accused South Korea of tampering with the border.
As India prepares for the second round of its general election, Maoist rebels hijacked a train.

Middle East
President Obama on Tuesday reiterated his support for a two-state solution. He pressed both the Israeli and Palestinian leadership to "step back from the abyss" and invited both leaders to the White House.
Turkey recalled its ambassador to Canada after Canadian government ministers attended an event commemorating the WWI Armenian genocide.
Diplomat Christopher Hill was confirmed as U.S. ambassador to Iraq.

Euro zone governments will tell the G7 meeting on Friday that they believe the economic crisis has bottomed out.
A recount has confirmed a communist victory in the Moldovan election.
The UK has once again cut its growth forecast. The Exchequer now sees the economy shrinking by 3.5 percent.

Violent clashes between rival ethnic groups are increasing in Southern Sudan.
Somalia has asked for U.S. help in establishing a coast guard to fight pirates.
Sectarian violence in central Kenya has claimed 24 lives.

Truthout 4/22

Matt Renner Democratic Disunity Jeopardizes Foreclosure Relief
Matt Renner, Truthout: "On Tuesday, the White House reiterated the Obama administration's support of a tool which consumer advocates say is essential to fixing the economy. A handful of Democratic senators have joined with Republicans and industry lobbyists to oppose the measure, stalling the bill's progress. The judicial loan modification, or 'cram down' provision of S. 61- the Helping Families Save Their Homes in Bankruptcy Act of 2009 - would empower bankruptcy judges to adjust a borrower's mortgage during bankruptcy proceedings. Currently, a bankruptcy judge can change the terms of other debts such as vacation homes, boats and credit cards, but cannot touch primary residence mortgages."

Bush-Era Rule Grants FBI Unprecedented Investigative Powers
Daphne Eviatar, The Washington Independent: "Veterans groups and conservatives roared last week when news broke that the FBI was targeting veterans in a broad probe of extremist groups. But little noise was made in December, when the Bush administration quietly granted the FBI wide-ranging authority to investigate individuals or groups, regardless of whether they are suspected of criminal activity. The Attorney General Guidelines, proposed last summer and adopted by Attorney General Michael Mukasey, appear to be particularly problematic."

Federal Judge Hears Challenge to Iraq War
David Porter, The Associated Press: "The lawsuit filed last May claims that, despite being authorized by Congress in fall 2002 to deploy armed forces against Iraq as he deemed necessary, President George W. Bush overstepped his constitutional authority by invading the country six months later without formally declaring war. The suit does not seek to influence current policy in Iraq but instead aims to set a precedent for future conflicts. Tuesday's arguments in front of US District Judge Jose L. Linares were in response to the US government's motion to dismiss the lawsuit on the grounds that the courts do not have jurisdiction to rule on what is essentially a political matter."

Obama Nudges Israel on Palestinian Statehood
Matt Spetalnick, Reuters: "President Barack Obama nudged Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday to accept the goal of a Palestinian state, as he pressed Israel and the Palestinians to 'step back from the abyss.' Deepening his direct role in reviving stalled peace efforts, Obama met Jordan's King Abdullah and invited Netanyahu, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak for separate talks by early June."

Red Cross Says Thousands of Sri Lankans Face "Catastrophic" Hardship
Stephanie Nebehay, Reuters: "Up to 50,000 civilians trapped on a tiny strip in northern Sri Lanka are enduring dire hardship, suffering from a lack of food, water and medical care, the International Committee of the Red Cross said on Tuesday. Hundreds of civilians have been killed or injured in the past 48 hours and more than 1,000 wounded people needing urgent treatment will be evacuated by boat Wednesday, it said. 'I honestly cannot recall a situation as painful and extreme as the one affecting civilians in the Vanni currently,' Pierre Kraehenbuehl, director of ICRC's operations worldwide since 2002, told a news briefing in Geneva."

Strip-Searching Students Illegal? Supreme Court Not So Sure
David G. Savage, The Los Angeles Times: "The Supreme Court gave a skeptical hearing today to lawyers who were urging a rule against strip searching students at school. Instead, most of the justices voiced concern that students could hide dangerous drugs such as crack cocaine or heroin in their clothes. The case before the court concerns a 13-year-old Arizona girl who was strip searched in a nurse's office after a school friend said the girl, Savana Redding, had brought white pills to school. The pills were extra-strength ibuprofen, which is commonly taken for headaches and cramps."

Jason Leopold Senate Report Details Torture Policy Origins
Jason Leopold, Truthout: "The seeds for the Bush administration's policy of torture were planted in December 2001, nearly a year before the Justice Department issued its first legal opinion that authorized CIA interrogators to torture 'war on terror' prisoners, and the creation of the policy involved senior White House officials, according to a newly declassified report released late Tuesday by the Senate Armed Services Committee. By December 2001, the Department of Defense (DoD)had already begun to solicit information on 'detainee exploitation' from the Joint Personnel Recovery Agency (JPRA), a DoD agency that trained the military to withstand interrogation methods considered illegal under the Geneva Conventions."

Steven Chu and Hilda Solis Building the American Clean Energy Economy
Steven Chu and Hilda Solis: "On April 22, people across the country and around the world will celebrate Earth Day, a day dedicated to raising awareness about the plight of our natural resources and taking real action to make a difference. For decades, while Americans in towns and cities across the country have worked to make a difference in their communities, politicians in both parties in Washington have ignored the energy crisis, imperiling our economy, our security and our planet. Now, we have a unique and critical opportunity to attack the energy crisis head on and create a comprehensive energy policy that will bolster our economy, end our dependence on foreign oil and reduce the threat of deadly pollution that is devastating our planet."

Robert Scheer Thievery Under the TARP
Robert Scheer, Truthdig: "We are being robbed big-time, but you can't say we haven't been warned. Not after the release Tuesday of a scathing report by the Treasury Department's special inspector general, who charged that the aptly named Troubled Asset Relief Fund bailout program is rife with mismanagement and potential for fraud. The IG's office already has opened 20 criminal fraud investigations into the $700 billion program, which is now well on its way to a $3 trillion obligation, and the IG predicts many more are coming. Special Inspector General Neil M. Barofsky charged that the TARP program from its inception was designed to trust the Wall Street recipients of the bailout funds to act responsibly on their own, without accountability to the government that gave them the money."

In Iraq, "Everybody Knows Somebody Killed by the War"
Corinne Reilly, McClatchy Newspapers: "Amir Jabbar doesn't know how many of his friends have been murdered since the Iraq war started six years ago. He stopped counting sometime back in 2007. The numbers just got too high, he said. 'Maybe 10. Maybe more,' the 31-year-old parking lot attendant said, shrugging. 'It's too many.' Most of them were blown up in bomb attacks, he explained. A few just disappeared. They've been gone so long that he figures they aren't coming back."

Conyers to Hold Hearings on Torture Memos
Jared Allen, The Hill: "House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers (D-Mich.) on Tuesday announced that he will soon hold hearings on the Bush administration's legal memos justifying the use of numerous enhanced interrogation techniques. Conyers and other Democrats have labeled as torture the techniques explained in the memos, which provide a legal framework for the use of controversial interrogation practices such as waterboarding. President Obama recently declassified the memos written by Bush administration lawyers, which also detail for the first time a number of additional interrogation techniques approved for use by the Central Intelligence Agency."

US Might Not Try Pro-Israel Lobbyists
R. Jeffrey Smith, Walter Pincus and Jerry Markon, The Washington Post: "The US government may abandon espionage-law charges against two former lobbyists for a pro-Israel advocacy group, officials said yesterday, as a prominent House lawmaker denied new allegations that she offered to use her influence in their behalf. Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.) accused the government of an 'abuse of power' in wiretapping her conversations, following news reports that she had been recorded in 2006 on FBI wiretaps that officials at the time said raised questions of possible illegal conduct."

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Common dreams 4/21


Cheney Demands Release of CIA Memos Proving Torture 'Success'

Analyst: End 'War of Annihilation' Position for Afghanistan

Obama Leaves Door Open to Bush Officials' Prosecution

Gore: 2009 Turning Point in Environment Battle

In Iraq, 'Everybody Knows Somebody Killed by the War'

Civil Lawsuit Over Katrina Begins

Truthout 4/21

Nick Mottern On Prosecuting War Crimes
Nick Mottern, Truthout: "Barack Obama is not given the right by our Constitution to be the judge and jury for torturers. I include Bush and Cheney in this category although they committed other war crimes. Mr. Obama and our Congress took oaths to uphold the Constitution and the laws of the land. They must be reminded that they must do this job regardless of whether they think it is divisive or not. If President Obama and the Congress do their jobs of enforcing the law with respect to torture and other Bush and Cheney war crimes, they will begin unraveling the web of deceit that has supported the Iraq and Afghanistan wars."

Robert Reich Why It's Necessary to Fast-Track Universal Health Care
Robert Reich, Robert Reich's Blog: "Obama should fast-track health care and stop trying to court Republicans. Every House Republican and all but three Senate Republicans voted against the stimulus; all Republicans in both houses voted against the budget. During the recess they hosted 'tea parties' claiming that Americans are over-taxed. Over the weekend, House minority leader John Boehner called the idea of carbon-induced climate change 'almost comical.' Republicans are already off and running toward the midterm elections of 2010, even starting to run ads against House Democrats in close districts. They seem hell bent on becoming a tiny, whacky minority - the party that denies evolution, denies global warming, denies Americans need a major overhaul of health care, and denies the economy needs anything more than a major tax cut to get it moving again."

Harman Denies Allegations, Questions Wiretap
Mike Sorghan, The Hill: "Rep. Jane Harman is denying that she tried to interfere with a Justice Department prosecution of alleged spying for Israel and is questioning whether a federal agency was improperly spying on a member of Congress. Harman (D-Calif.) responded angrily Monday to a story in CQ Politics reporting that the National Security Agency monitored a conversation in which she told a suspected Israeli agent that she would press prosecutors to reduce charges against two former officials of the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee."

Iran Orders Appeal for US Reporter in Spying Case
Thomas Penny and Henry Meyer, Bloomberg: "Iran's judiciary ordered an immediate appeal for American-Iranian journalist Roxana Saberi, who was jailed for eight years for espionage. Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi-Shahrudi, head of the judiciary, issued the order today in a statement cited by the state-run Iranian Students News Agency. The appeal must be heard 'fairly and quickly,' he was quoted as saying. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad intervened yesterday in the case, saying in a letter to Tehran's prosecutor that the 31- year-old reporter should be given 'justice,' including the right to defend herself."

Blackwater Out of Iraq? No, Not Yet
Matthew Lee And Mike Baker, The Associated Press: "Armed guards from the security firm once known as Blackwater Worldwide are still protecting US diplomats in Iraq, even though the company has no license to operate there and has been told by the State Department its contracts will not be renewed two years after a lethal firefight that stirred outrage in Baghdad. Private security guards employed by the company, now known as Xe, are slated to continue ground operations in parts of Iraq long into the summer, far longer than had previously been acknowledged, government officials told The Associated Press."

As Multiple-Death Shootings Surge, Congress Looks Away
Mike Lillis, The Washington Independent: "Last month in Southern Alabama, an unemployed twenty-something sheet-metal worker armed himself with two semi-automatic rifles, a shotgun and a pistol. He shot his mother and the four family dogs, and then drove to a neighboring town where he killed four more relatives, four passersby, and then himself. All in all, he sprayed more than 200 bullets across two Alabama counties. The ages of the victims ranged from 74 years to 18 months. It was the worst killing spree in state history. Since then other parts of the country have suffered similar nightmares. Indeed, in recent weeks more than 60 people - including seven police officers - have been killed in multiple-death shootings from coast to coast. It's just the type of headline-grabbing trend that might usually get congressional lawmakers screaming from the rafters for policy reforms, like banning military-style assault weapons and forcing gun-show vendors to do background checks on prospective buyers."

Dahr Jamail Attacks Commence
Dahr Jamail, Truthout: "Everyone knows the analogy of the beehive. When it is goaded, countless bees emerge, attacking the tormentor. Right now in Iraq, the formerly US-backed al-Sahwa (Sons of Iraq) Sunni militia, ripe with broken promises from both the occupiers of their country and the Iraqi government that they would be given respect and jobs, have gone into attack mode."

Peter Phillips A Black President Doesn't Mean Racism Is Gone in America
Peter Phillips, Truthout: "Racial inequality remains problematic in the US. People of color continue to experience disproportionately high rates of poverty, unemployment, police profiling, repressive incarceration and school segregation. According to a new civil rights report, 'Reviving the Goal of an Integrated Society: A 21st Century Challenge,' by Gary Orfield, schools in the US are currently 44 percent nonwhite, and minorities are rapidly emerging as the majority of public school students. Latinos and blacks are the two largest minority groups. However, black and Latino students attend schools more segregated today than during the civil rights era."

John A. Graham Pirates and Poverty
John A. Graham, Truthout: "Piracy off the Somali coast has become a major growth industry for this failed state. While the pirates are hardly al-Qaeda, they've learned from al-Qaeda's example the enormous power of the clever use of simple weapons. But there's a more important parallel here than tactics. Piracy in Somalia, like terrorism, is an act of violence fed not just by ideology or greed, but by the indifference of the developed world to the fate of poor, distant, lawless places where desperation grows unchecked."

Sources: Chrysler Turned Down Government Loan Over Limits on Executive Pay
David Cho, Peter Whoriskey and Amit R. Paley, The Washington Post: "Top officials at Chrysler Financial turned away a government loan because executives didn't want to abide by new federal limits on pay, according to new findings by a federal watchdog agency. The government had offered a $750 million loan earlier this month as part of its efforts to prop up the ailing auto industry, including Chrysler, which is racing to avoid bankruptcy. Chrysler Financial is a major lender to Chrysler dealerships and customers. In forgoing the loan, Chrysler Financial opted to use more expensive financing from private banks, adding to the burden on the already fragile automaker and its financing company."

CIA Waterboarded al-Qaeda Suspects 266 Times
Matthew Weaver and Agencies, The Guardian UK: "The CIA waterboarded two al-Qaida terror suspects a total of 266 times, according to a report that suggests the use of the torture technique was much more extensive than previously thought. The documents showed waterboarding was used 183 times on Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who admitted planning the 9/11 attacks, the New York Times reported today. The US Justice Department memos released last Thursday showed that waterboarding, which the US now admits is torture, was used 83 times on the alleged al-Qaida senior commander Abu Zubaydah, the paper said. A former CIA officer claimed in 2007 that Zubaydah was subjected to the simulated drowning technique for only 35 seconds."

Herve Kempf Losing the North
Herve Kempf for Le Monde suggests that developed countries need to consciously reject projects for growth, specifically citing the example of Quebec's new plans for its northern region.

Impeach Judge Bybee


Last week, President Obama released four Bush-era Office of Legal Counsel memos that had authorized torture. "In dozens of pages of dispassionate legal prose, the methods approved by the Bush administration for extracting information from senior operatives of Al Qaeda are spelled out in careful detail -- like keeping detainees awake for up to 11 straight days, placing them in a dark, cramped box or putting insects into the box to exploit their fears," The New York Times writes. The earliest memo, from 2002, was signed by Jay Bybee, then an Assistant Attorney General and now a federal judge on the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. Bybee's memo provided "a legal authorization for a laundry list of proposed C.I.A. interrogation techniques," including waterboarding. The techniques Bybee approved are illegal by U.S. statute and an international treaty to which the U.S. is a signatory. Bybee attempted to give legal cover to illegal acts, and thus broke the ethical, professional, and legal standards that govern lawyers. For this, Judge Jay Bybee should be impeached.

The Progress Report has launched a campaign to persuade the House Judiciary Committee to initiate impeachment hearings against Bybee. Already, more than 3,000 of you have taken action. Join our effort to convince the committee to launch hearings.WHAT BYBEE APPROVED: "[I]n the finest legalese" and with "grotesque, lawyerly logic," Bybee wrote 40 pages of justification for treatment that clearly constituted "cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment." He approved a method called "walling," which entailed slamming a detainee against a wall. Bybee claimed that "any pain experienced is not of the intensity associated with serious physical injury." He also gave a thumbs up to slapping a detainee's face as long as the interrogator took off any rings. "The facial slap does not produce pain that is difficult to endure," he insisted. And feel free to place detainees in stress positions, Bybee said: these "simply involve forcing the subject to remain in uncomfortable positions." Most notoriously, Bybee declared that waterboarding -- a technique perfected during the Spanish Inquisition that the United States later prosecuted Japanese officers for conducting against U.S. POWs -- was both legal and safe. "The waterboard…inflicts no pain or actual harm whatsoever," Bybee claimed. He said that U.S. law bans only techniques that cause "pain and suffering," a phrase "best understood as a single concept, not distinct concepts of 'pain' as distinguished from 'suffering.'" Since waterboarding causes no "pain," Bybee declares it legal. In fact, he wrote, even one separates "pain" from "suffering," waterboarding would still be acceptable: "The waterboard is simply a controlled acute episode, lacking the connotation of a protracted period of time generally given to suffering."

HOW TO IMPEACH BYBEE: The Progress Report is asking readers to sign a petition to be sent to the House Judiciary Committee, urging it to hold hearings on Bybee. After the hearings, the Committee would draw up articles of impeachment, and pass them with a simple majority vote. From there, the articles move to the full House, which can also approve them with a simple majority. The House sends two "managers" to serve as prosecutors in the impeachment trial, conducted in the Senate if a majority agrees to move forward. It takes 67 Senators to convict -- and a conviction would remove Bybee from the bench. Calling for his impeachment in January, Yale Law professor Bruce Ackerman wrote, "[Bybee's] impeachment is not a prelude to a sweeping political vendetta. It focuses on a very particular problem: Jay Bybee may serve for decades on one of the highest courts in the land. Is his continued service consistent with his role in the systematic perpetration of war crimes?" The New York Times called for Bybee's impeachment this weekend, writing that the "memos make it clear that Mr. Bybee is unfit for a job that requires legal judgment and a respect for the Constitution." "His flagrant contempt for the rule of law is utterly inconsistent with his judicial position and speaks directly to his competency to function in that office," stated the Center for Constitutional Rights. "He ought to be impeached," House Judiciary Committee member Jerry Nadler (D-NY) told the Huffington Post yesterday. "It was not an honest legal memo. It was an instruction manual on how to break the law. "Senate Judiciary Committee member Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) agreed that impeachment is "certainly possible." "The idea of the author of one of these memos sitting on the federal bench makes a farce of the whole legal system," wrote the Center for American Progress Action Fund's Matthew Yglesias.

A PATH TO ACCOUNTABILITY: In 2003, Bybee was nominated by President Bush and approved by the Senate to sit on the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. During his confirmation hearing, Bybee refused to answer questions, citing executive privilege at least 20 separate times. "If the Senate had known the truth, it would have rejected him," Ackerman wrote. Launching the impeachment process would force Bybee to finally answer questions. And with the Obama administration hesitant to launch prosecutions of any kind, an impeachment hearing might be the closest thing Americans get to a full accounting of Bush's torture program. Indeed, when pressed yesterday on why Obama was refusing to hold Bush administration lawyers who authored the torture memos "accountable," White House press secretary Robert Gibbs stated simply, "The president is focused on looking forward. That's why." Looking forward, however, "it is simply obvious that, if there is no accountability when wrongdoing is exposed, future violations will not be deterred," House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers (D-MI) said yesterday.

Sign our petition here

Monday, April 20, 2009

Erin go broke

New York Times

“What,” asked my interlocutor, “is the worst-case outlook for the world economy?” It wasn’t until the next day that I came up with the right answer: America could turn Irish.

What’s so bad about that? Well, the Irish government now predicts that this year G.D.P. will fall more than 10 percent from its peak, crossing the line that is sometimes used to distinguish between a recession and a depression.

But there’s more to it than that: to satisfy nervous lenders, Ireland is being forced to raise taxes and slash government spending in the face of an economic slump — policies that will further deepen the slump.

And it’s that closing off of policy options that I’m afraid might happen to the rest of us. The slogan “Erin go bragh,” usually translated as “Ireland forever,” is traditionally used as a declaration of Irish identity. But it could also, I fear, be read as a prediction for the world economy.

How did Ireland get into its current bind? By being just like us, only more so. Like its near-namesake Iceland, Ireland jumped with both feet into the brave new world of unsupervised global markets. Last year the Heritage Foundation declared Ireland the third freest economy in the world, behind only Hong Kong and Singapore.

One part of the Irish economy that became especially free was the banking sector, which used its freedom to finance a monstrous housing bubble. Ireland became in effect a cool, snake-free version of coastal Florida.

Then the bubble burst. The collapse of construction sent the economy into a tailspin, while plunging home prices left many people owing more than their houses were worth. The result, as in the United States, has been a rising tide of defaults and heavy losses for the banks.

And the troubles of the banks are largely responsible for putting the Irish government in a policy straitjacket.

On the eve of the crisis Ireland seemed to be in good shape, fiscally speaking, with a balanced budget and a low level of public debt. But the government’s revenue — which had become strongly dependent on the housing boom — collapsed along with the bubble.

Even more important, the Irish government found itself having to take responsibility for the mistakes of private bankers. Last September Ireland moved to shore up confidence in its banks by offering a government guarantee on their liabilities — thereby putting taxpayers on the hook for potential losses of more than twice the country’s G.D.P., equivalent to $30 trillion for the United States.

The combination of deficits and exposure to bank losses raised doubts about Ireland’s long-run solvency, reflected in a rising risk premium on Irish debt and warnings about possible downgrades from ratings agencies.

Hence the harsh new policies. Earlier this month the Irish government simultaneously announced a plan to purchase many of the banks’ bad assets — putting taxpayers even further on the hook — while raising taxes and cutting spending, to reassure lenders.

Is Ireland’s government doing the right thing? As I read the debate among Irish experts, there’s widespread criticism of the bank plan, with many of the country’s leading economists calling for temporary nationalization instead. (Ireland has already nationalized one major bank.) The arguments of these Irish economists are very similar to those of a number of American economists, myself included, about how to deal with our own banking mess.

But there isn’t much disagreement about the need for fiscal austerity. As far as responding to the recession goes, Ireland appears to be really, truly without options, other than to hope for an export-led recovery if and when the rest of the world bounces back.

So what does all this say about those of us who aren’t Irish?

For now, the United States isn’t confined by an Irish-type fiscal straitjacket: the financial markets still consider U.S. government debt safer than anything else.

But we can’t assume that this will always be true. Unfortunately, we didn’t save for a rainy day: thanks to tax cuts and the war in Iraq, America came out of the “Bush boom” with a higher ratio of government debt to G.D.P. than it had going in. And if we push that ratio another 30 or 40 points higher — not out of the question if economic policy is mishandled over the next few years — we might start facing our own problems with the bond market.

Not to put too fine a point on it, that’s one reason I’m so concerned about the Obama administration’s bank plan. If, as some of us fear, taxpayer funds end up providing windfalls to financial operators instead of fixing what needs to be fixed, we might not have the money to go back and do it right.

And the lesson of Ireland is that you really, really don’t want to put yourself in a position where you have to punish your economy in order to save your banks.

FP morning brief

Top Story

Millions of Latin Americans may be falling into poverty this year as a result of the financial crisis but it was politics, not economics, that dominated the stage at this weekend's Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago, with two friendly meetings between Hugo Chavez and Barack Obama stealing the spotlight.

Obama is defending his cordial treatment of the Venezuelan leader from critics in the U.S., though the exchange seems to have gone over well with other Latin American leaders. Chavez also approached Secretary of State Hillary Clinton about the possibility of returning ambassadors to their posts in Caracas and Washington.

Obama finished the summit with a news conference in which called for U.S. relations with Latin America to address areas other than drug interdiction. "If our only interaction is military, then we may not be developing the connections that can, over time, increase our influence," he said.

Obama acknowledged that the U.S. embargo on Cuba has not been effective at bringing democracy to that country, though economic advisor Larry Summers cautioned that an end to the embargo is "way down the road."

The New York Times reports that al Qaeda leader Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded 183 times in March, 2003.
Bank of America beat analysts expectations by tripling profits in the first three months of 2009.
Mexican authorities foiled an attempt by gunmen to free drug cartel leaders from custody, though eight police officers were killed in the attack.

Middle East
Iranian-American journalist Roxana Saberi is appealing her conviction after being sentenced to eight years in prison for espionage.
Iraq's parliament has chosen a new speaker after weeks of sectarian infighting.
A suicide bomber attacked a U.S. military delegation in Iraq, injuring eight soldiers.

Sri Lanka has given the Tamil Tiger rebels a 24-hour ultimatum to surrender or face a final assault aimed at crushing the insurgency.
Government officials from North and South Korea plan to meet for the first time in a year tomorrow to attempt to defuse recent tensions.
Pakistanis are furious at a decision by the International Cricket Council to take away the country's hosting of the 2011 Cricked World Cup due to security concerns.

A UN anti-racism conference began in Geneva. Israel, the U.S. and several other countries are boycotting the event to protest an address by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
The suspected leader of Basque separatist group ETA was arrested in France.
The European Commission is investigating seven European airlines for anti-competitive cooperation.

Former South African president Nelson Mandela appeared at a rally for African National Congress leader Jacob Zuma, giving a political boost to the likely future president.
Gunmen in Mogadishu, Somalia are demanding a $1 million ransom for the release of three kidnapped foreign aid workers.
Ousted Madagascarian leader Marc Ravalomanana claims he is still president and may be planning a return to the country.

Truthout 4/20

Jason Leopold The Bush Administration's Stunning Geneva Hypocrisy
Jason Leopold, Truthout: "Newly released US government documents, detailing how Bush administration officials punched legalistic holes in the Geneva Conventions' protections of war captives, stand in stark contrast to the outrage some of the same officials expressed in the first week of the Iraq war when Iraqi TV interviewed several captured American soldiers. 'If there is somebody captured,' President George W. Bush told reporters on March 23, 2003, 'I expect those people to be treated humanely. If not, the people who mistreat the prisoners will be treated as war criminals.'"

Tons of Released Drugs Taint US Water
Jeff Donn, Martha Mendoza and Justin Pritchard, The Associated Press: "US manufacturers, including major drugmakers, have legally released at least 271 million pounds of pharmaceuticals into waterways that often provide drinking water - contamination the federal government has consistently overlooked, according to an Associated Press investigation. Hundreds of active pharmaceutical ingredients are used in a variety of manufacturing, including drugmaking: For example, lithium is used to make ceramics and treat bipolar disorder; nitroglycerin is a heart drug and also used in explosives; copper shows up in everything from pipes to contraceptives."

Obama's New Cuba Policy
Carol E. Lee, The Politico: "President Barack Obama said Sunday that America's 48-year economic embargo of Cuba had failed to bring change to the island, and that he hoped the country would move towards embracing democratic values, including freedom of speech and religion, on the path towards launching better relations with the United States. 'The policy we've had in place for 50 years hasn't worked the way we wanted it to - the Cuban people are not free,' Obama said. But after the recent actions taken by his administration - including lifting travel restrictions and remittances for Cuban-Americans - Obama said he was looking for reciprocal moves by the Cuban government before taking additional steps."

Gates Tailors Defense Plan to Win Battles With Congress
David Lightman and William Douglas, McClatchy Newspapers: "Defense Secretary Robert Gates' plan to overhaul military spending practices and strategy signals a new Pentagon willingness to play hardball politics with lawmakers in Congress. Gates presented his changes April 6 as though they were another piece of President Barack Obama's economic stimulus package. 'I am concerned for the possibility that these decisions will have an impact on individual companies and workers around the country,' Gates said at a media briefing."

Tamil Civilians Slaughtered as Army Shells "No-Fire Zone"
Gethin Chamberlain, The Observer UK: "Hundreds of civilians are being killed or seriously injured in artillery and gun attacks as the Sri Lankan army attempts to finish off the last Tamil Tiger rebels trapped in a shrinking pocket of land. Injured civilians lucky enough to get out have told of carnage in this so-called 'no-fire zone' - a 17 sq km strip of coast where the Tigers are penned in with their backs to the sea."

Administration to Take Aim at Credit Card Abuses
Caren Bohan, Reuters: "President Barack Obama plans to crack down on deceptive credit-card industry practices that have saddled US consumers with huge debts and soaring interest rates, US officials said on Sunday. Top White House economic adviser Lawrence Summers said Obama would be 'very focused in the very near term on a whole set of issues having to do with credit card abuses. We need to do things to stop the marketing of credit in ways that addict people to it,' Summers said in an interview on the NBC television talk show 'Meet the Press.'"

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Truthout 4/19

US Drone Bombs Pakistan, Killing at Least Three
Agency France-Presse: "At least three suspected militants were killed on Sunday in Pakistan's tribal area, thought to have been by a US missile aimed at Taliban and Al-Qaeda rebels, officials said."

Wilmer J. Leon III President Obama's New Approach to a New World Order?
Wilmer J. Leon III, Ph.D., Truthout: "In the 20th and early 21st centuries, a number of world leaders, such as Woodrow Wilson, Winston Churchill, Mikhail Gorbachev, Henry Kissinger and Gordon Brown, have used the term 'new world order' to refer to a new period of history evidencing a dramatic change in world political thought and the balance of power. When President Bush 41 used the term, his phrasing sent shock waves through the Christian and secular hard-right world, since for decades the phrase has been used to represent a collectivist One World Government."

Seth Sandronsky California Caravans for Justice
Seth Sandronsky, Truthout: "Janice Keller of Sacramento joined hundreds of people in the Caravan for Justice II at the state Capitol on April 8. This action was part of a movement to change the criminal justice system in California."

CIA Objections Slowed Torture Memos Release
Pamela Hess, The Associated Press: "Four former CIA directors opposed releasing classified Bush-era interrogation memos, officials say, describing objections that went all the way to the White House and slowed release of the records."
US-Latin America: We Can't Be Trapped by History
Peter Richards, Inter Press Service: "President Barack Obama had promised that his administration would be different. His, he said, would be a listening, caring one, even though like previous United States leaders, he came to the Fifth Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago bearing gifts - no doubt hoping for support for his new initiatives."

Colorado Transgender Woman's Slaying Tried as Hate Crime
DeeDee Correll, The Los Angeles Times: "To her sister, Angie Zapata was a teenage girl in every sense but the biological one... 'I worried about her all the time,' said Monica, 33, of Brighton, Colo. In July, her fears proved valid. Concerned when she had not heard from Angie for several days, Monica went to her Greeley apartment and found her battered body on the floor."

Scott Ritter Up, Up and Away: The West's Hysterical Reaction to North Korea
Scott Ritter, Truthdig: "Six minutes before 1 o'clock in the afternoon, on Jan. 23, a 173-foot-tall, two-stage rocket lifted off from Northeast Asia... The United Nations Security Council did not meet in an emergency session to denounce the launch, nor did it craft a package of punitive economic sanctions in response. The reason? The rocket in question, the H-2A, was launched by Japan, at its Tanegashima Space Launch Facility."

FOCUS Shells Hit Baghdad's Green Zone After Three Month Lull
Brian Murphy, The Associated Press: "Suspected militants shelled Baghdad's protected Green Zone on Saturday in the first such bombardment in more than three months. The back-to-back strikes reverberated across the Tigris River to a popular promenade, sending families packing up from fish restaurants and abruptly halting a party at a club."

FOCUS Iran's Sentencing of Journalist Challenges US Diplomacy
Ramin Mostaghim and Jeffrey Fleishman, The Los Angeles Times: "An Iranian American journalist accused of spying for the US was sentenced by an Iranian court Saturday to eight years in prison, a move likely to strain the Obama administration's recent overtures to improve relations with Tehran. Roxana Saberi, 31, who had reported for the BBC and National Public Radio, had faced espionage charges during a trial Monday before Iran's Revolutionary Court."

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Truthout 4/18

Michael Winship The Shipping News
Michael Winship, Truthout: "If you're looking for signs of the Apocalypse - and who isn't? - here's a good one. There's an uptick in ark building. You heard me. According to The Wall Street Journal, that Bible of the Financially Bilious, Hong Kong's billionaire Kwok brothers are in the final stages of constructing the world's first full-size replica of Noah's Ark - 450 feet long, 75 feet wide and 45 feet high. 'Just the answer,' the Journal reports, 'for the rising waters threatening the global economy.'"

General Taguba: Accountability for Torture Does Not Stop at White House Door
Andrew Kalloch, Harvard Law Record: "Major General Antonio Taguba called for an independent commission to investigate war crimes committed by senior members of the Bush Administration in remarks in Ames Courtroom on Tuesday, April 14. The event was sponsored by Physicians for Human Rights and the Human Rights Program at Harvard Law School."

Andrew Glikson Toward Climate Geoengineering?
Andrew Glickson, Truthout: "That global climate change has reached an impasse whereby the 'powers-to-be' are entertaining climate geoengineering mitigation, instead of the urgent deep reduction of carbon emissions required by science, represents the ultimate moral bankruptcy of institutions and a failure of democracy."

California Jobless Rate Tops 11 Percent
Dale Kasler, The Sacramento Bee: "Unemployment broke the 11 percent mark in California last month, rising to a level not seen since the tail end of the Great Depression, state officials said today... That was the highest since January 1941, when it reached 11.7 percent."

Pakistan Warlord Threatens to Launch Attack on Washington
Saeed Shah, McClatchy Newspapers: "Pakistani warlord Baitullah Mehsud threatened to attack Washington and the White House, as he claimed responsibility on Tuesday for this week's assault on the police training academy in Lahore. Mehsud leads the biggest faction of the Pakistani Taliban, an Islamic militia, operating in the lawless South Waziristan tribal region that borders Afghanistan. Mehsud's violent faction is the biggest challenge to the very existence of the Pakistani state, which has been under sustained attack by the Taliban and other extremists for months."

Injured War Zone Contractors Fight to Get Care
T. Christian Miller and Doug Smith, The Los Angeles Times: "Civilian workers who suffered devastating injuries while supporting the U.S. war effort in Iraq and Afghanistan have come home to a grinding battle for basic medical care, artificial limbs, psychological counseling and other services. The insurance companies responsible for their treatment under taxpayer-funded policies have routinely denied the most serious medical claims. Those insurers - primarily American International Group (AIG) - recorded hundreds of millions of dollars in profits on this business."

Chechnya: Russia Declares "Mission Accomplished" in Strong-Man State
Fred Weir, The Christian Science Monitor: "After nearly a decade of harsh 'antiterrorist' operations that frequently targeted civilians in Chechnya, the Kremlin has declared the mission accomplished and pledged to withdraw at least half its troops from the now pacified, mainly Muslim republic... It is also seen as a victory for former President Vladimir Putin's strategy of 'Chechenizing' the conflict by turning power over to Moscow's local allies, led by Chechnya's current strongman Ramzan Kadyrov."

FOCUS: Olbermann Torture Accountability and Our Future
Keith Olbermann, MSNBC Countdown: "As promised, a Special Comment now on the president's revelation of the remainder of this nightmare of Bush Administration torture memos. This President has gone where few before him, dared. The dirty laundry - illegal, un-American, self-defeating, self-destroying - is out for all to see."

VIDEO Keith Olbermann: US Must "Move Forward" with Torture Accountability Now
Keith Olbermann's Special Comment on why a better future for the United States must begin with a criminal investigation into who is responsible for the Bush administration torture memos.

FOCUS Obama Calls for "New Beginning with Cuba"
Paul Richter and Peter Nicholas, The Los Angeles Times: "The US and Cuba built sudden momentum Friday toward easing half a century of hostility as President Obama met Havana's willingness to discuss sensitive topics, including human rights, with a declaration that he was ready for a 'new beginning' in relations."

Friday, April 17, 2009

Another Laura Slashandburn, or, the King of the false choice

Don Wheeler

If it looks like a quack, and sounds like a quack... it most likely is a quack.

The popularity of truly nasty, judgemental "advice gurus" is really fascinating to me. People like Dr. Laura, Ann Coulter and the like construct imagined benches of omniscience from which they dispense their absolute truth - often reflecting on serious matters in the 5 - 30 second range. Each typically identifies some theme which will connect with a popular reflexive (rather than reflective) notion of people and builds a following by methodically throwing raw meat to the that group.

Though members of the advice group I'm thinking of deal with different topics, their pronouncements have commonality. They don't stand up well to critical thinking. And they have this curious similarity in demeaning the profession they work in, as well.

The South Bend Tribune carries a column by John Rosemond, who is identified as a family psychologist. Nosing through his website I found this which make one think perhaps he only intends to be an entertainer.

John is the most popular parenting speaker in the United States! Each year he speaks to nearly 200 parent and professional audiences. His talks and workshops are informative, thought-provoking, and always entertaining! Visit John's speaking schedule page to see when he'll be in your area in upcoming months.

John is also one of America’s most in-demand speakers on parenting and family issues. He gives more than 200 presentations a year to parent and professional groups all over the USA, and is known as an entertaining and engaging speaker. Above all else, however, John is a husband of 40 years to Willie. They have two grown children and seven grandchildren, all of whom are well-behaved.

If you are interested in bringing John to your church, school, organization, or community, contact us for information about dates, topics, and fees.

I guess from this, he talks a lot. He's not only popular - he's in demand. And entertaining! Also, no problem with modesty. As for me, I'll stick with Dr. T. Berry Brazelton.

Let's have a look at a recent column the Tribune titled: Nothing humble about self-esteem.

His claim:

People with high self regard, says the evidence, possess low regard for others. Instead of seeking opportunities to serve others, they seek to manipulate others. Furthermore, people with high self regard tend to antisocial behavior. People incarcerated in maximum security prisons have very high self regard, for example.

Hmmm... Sounds as though the speaker thinks pretty well of his own views. Mightn't that be considered high self regard? And who is this person he refers to as "the evidence"?

Here's the false choice (or maybe straw man) setup. He sort of combines the two techniques. Let's call it the straw choice method.

Pre-psychological parenting emphasized respect for others. People with high other-regard seek opportunities to serve; therefore, they pay attention to other people. People with high self esteem want to be served and paid attention to. It’s the simple difference between wanting to do for others and wanting others to do for you—obligation versus entitlement. So, to the question, “Isn’t it possible for a child to have high self-esteem and a high level respect for others?” the answer is an unequivocal no.

This is a rather large ball of twine to untangle, but I'll take a stab at it.

The underlying problem is that that Mr. Rosemond substitutes the term self-esteem for what most of us would use as selfishness. He attempts to finesse this by using the transitional term "high self regard" - as though that means the same thing. Notice his claim that convicted felons have high self regard. Since that's his term, it could be true. But I think most people would agree they tend to have poor self-esteem.

People with good self esteem (which is the actual desired result) have learned that all people have inherent worth and are deserving of dignity - and that includes them. The strategy was to counteract unwarranted feelings of inferiority, not to create a feeling of superiority. Mr. Rosemond apparently chooses to misrepresent the strategy to find favor with people who enjoy finding fault with other people's parenting. That's annoying, but little more.

More concerning, is that he may persuade other people to return to doctrinaire practices of the past - where children were seen and not heard, spare the rod - spoil the child, etc. The fallout of that created the good self-esteem approach.

Let's face it - good parenting is complicated, challenging, but tremendously rewarding. Anyone who tells you they have some sort of magic shortcut is a huckster. It's hard for people like me who have only one child, a dedicated spouse and time to do it. It's even tougher for everyone else.

The way I see it, it's continual balancing act of limits and freedoms, recognizing achievement, reviewing setbacks and preparing for the next step. Every single day - over and over again. There is no substitute for attention and tenacity.

Kind of like most things in life. But this one matters most.

Green shoots and glimmers

New York Times

Ben Bernanke, the Federal Reserve chairman, sees “green shoots.” President Obama sees “glimmers of hope.” And the stock market has been on a tear. So is it time to sound the all clear? Here are four reasons to be cautious about the economic outlook.

1. Things are still getting worse. Industrial production just hit a 10-year low. Housing starts remain incredibly weak. Foreclosures, which dipped as mortgage companies waited for details of the Obama administration’s housing plans, are surging again.

The most you can say is that there are scattered signs that things are getting worse more slowly — that the economy isn’t plunging quite as fast as it was. And I do mean scattered: the latest edition of the Beige Book, the Fed’s periodic survey of business conditions, reports that “five of the twelve Districts noted a moderation in the pace of decline.” Whoopee.

2. Some of the good news isn’t convincing. The biggest positive news in recent days has come from banks, which have been announcing surprisingly good earnings. But some of those earnings reports look a little ... funny.

Wells Fargo, for example, announced its best quarterly earnings ever. But a bank’s reported earnings aren’t a hard number, like sales; for example, they depend a lot on the amount the bank sets aside to cover expected future losses on its loans. And some analysts expressed considerable doubt about Wells Fargo’s assumptions, as well as other accounting issues.

Meanwhile, Goldman Sachs announced a huge jump in profits from fourth-quarter 2008 to first-quarter 2009. But as analysts quickly noticed, Goldman changed its definition of “quarter” (in response to a change in its legal status), so that — I kid you not — the month of December, which happened to be a bad one for the bank, disappeared from this comparison.

I don’t want to go overboard here. Maybe the banks really have swung from deep losses to hefty profits in record time. But skepticism comes naturally in this age of Madoff.

Oh, and for those expecting the Treasury Department’s “stress tests” to make everything clear: the White House spokesman, Robert Gibbs, says that “you will see in a systematic and coordinated way the transparency of determining and showing to all involved some of the results of these stress tests.” No, I don’t know what that means, either.

3. There may be other shoes yet to drop. Even in the Great Depression, things didn’t head straight down. There was, in particular, a pause in the plunge about a year and a half in — roughly where we are now. But then came a series of bank failures on both sides of the Atlantic, combined with some disastrous policy moves as countries tried to defend the dying gold standard, and the world economy fell off another cliff.

Can this happen again? Well, commercial real estate is coming apart at the seams, credit card losses are surging and nobody knows yet just how bad things will get in Japan or Eastern Europe. We probably won’t repeat the disaster of 1931, but it’s far from certain that the worst is over.

4. Even when it’s over, it won’t be over. The 2001 recession officially lasted only eight months, ending in November of that year. But unemployment kept rising for another year and a half. The same thing happened after the 1990-91 recession. And there’s every reason to believe that it will happen this time too. Don’t be surprised if unemployment keeps rising right through 2010.

Why? “V-shaped” recoveries, in which employment comes roaring back, take place only when there’s a lot of pent-up demand. In 1982, for example, housing was crushed by high interest rates, so when the Fed eased up, home sales surged. That’s not what’s going on this time: today, the economy is depressed, loosely speaking, because we ran up too much debt and built too many shopping malls, and nobody is in the mood for a new burst of spending.

Employment will eventually recover — it always does. But it probably won’t happen fast.

So now that I’ve got everyone depressed, what’s the answer? Persistence.

History shows that one of the great policy dangers, in the face of a severe economic slump, is premature optimism. F.D.R. responded to signs of recovery by cutting the Works Progress Administration in half and raising taxes; the Great Depression promptly returned in full force. Japan slackened its efforts halfway through its lost decade, ensuring another five years of stagnation.

The Obama administration’s economists understand this. They say all the right things about staying the course. But there’s a real risk that all the talk of green shoots and glimmers will breed a dangerous complacency.

So here’s my advice, to the public and policy makers alike: Don’t count your recoveries before they’re hatched.

Truthout 4/17

Administration Releases Torture Memos, Will Not Act
Jennifer Loven and Devlin Barrett, The Associated Press: "President Barack Obama absolved CIA officers from prosecution for harsh, painful interrogation of terror suspects Thursday, even as his administration released Bush-era memos graphically detailing - and authorizing - such grim tactics as slamming detainees against walls, waterboarding them and keeping them naked and cold for long periods. Human rights groups and many Obama officials have condemned such methods as torture. Bush officials have vigorously disagreed. In releasing the documents, the most comprehensive accounting yet of interrogation methods that were among the Bush administrations most closely guarded secrets, Obama said he wanted to move beyond 'a dark and painful chapter in our history.'"

William Astore Mary McCarthy in Vietnam, Barack Obama in Afghanistan
William Astore, "Mary McCarthy brought a novelist's keen eye to America's activities and its rhetoric in Vietnam. By no means a military expert, not even an expert on Vietnam -- she only made a conscious decision to study the war in Vietnam after she returned from her trip to Saigon -- her impressionistic writings were nevertheless insightful precisely because she had long been a critical thinker beholden to no authority. Her insights into our approach to war-fighting and to foreign cultures are as telling today as they were 40 years ago, so much so that President Obama and his advisors might do well to add her unconventional lessons to their all-too-conventional thinking on our spreading war in Afghanistan and Pakistan."

Report: Iraq Air Raids Hit Mostly Women and Children
Kim Sengupta, The Independent UK: "Air strikes and artillery barrages have taken a heavy toll among the most vulnerable of the Iraqi people, with children and women forming a disproportionate number of the dead. Analysis carried out for the research group Iraq Body Count (IBC) found that 39 per cent of those killed in air raids by the US-led coalition were children and 46 per cent were women. Fatalities caused by mortars, used by American and Iraqi government forces as well as insurgents, were 42 percent children and 44 percent women. Twelve percent of those killed by suicide bombings, mainly the tool of militant Sunni groups, were children and 16 percent were females."

Plan for Palestinian State Is "Dead End," Israel Tells US
Dion Nissenbaum, McClatchy Newspapers: "In a direct challenge to President Barack Obama's commitment to rejuvenate moribund Mideast peace talks, Israel on Thursday dismissed American-led efforts to establish a Palestinian state and laid out new conditions for renewed negotiations. Leaders of Israel's hawkish new government told former Maine Sen. George Mitchell, the special U.S. envoy, that they aren't going to rush into peace talks with their Palestinian neighbors. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that he'd require Palestinians to accept Israel as a Jewish state in any future negotiations - a demand that Palestinians have up to now rejected - Israeli government officials said."

Dean Baker The Need to Tax the Wealthy
Dean Baker, The Economist UK: "The quest to increase taxes on the wealthy is not a gratuitous attack on upper income households; it is driven by the need to raise more revenue to run the government. While many deficit hawks been irresponsible in raising fears of an impending collapse of the American government, the projected deficits for years following the recovery are in fact larger than is desirable. There are areas of American spending at the federal government level that could be reasonably cut, but even after we have zeroed out the 'waste, fraud, and abuse' category of federal spending we will still likely need additional revenue of between 1-2% of GDP to keep budget deficits in an acceptable range. That leaves a choice between increasing taxes on the wealthy or imposing more taxes on the middle class."

Will Bunch Journalism's Confession: Playing Twister ... to the Right
Will Bunch, The Philadelphia Daily News: "It's so true that freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose -- and so our brush here with terminal illness is occasionally truly liberating for America's newsrooms. This week, in fact, it seems that journalists are rushing to admit something -- openly in one case, tacitly in another -- something that's been true ever since the Nixon-Agnew era, but was rarely talked about. This uncomfortable truth? That to accommodate the perceived notion that the news media warps things so far to the left, journalists have been playing Twister to bend over backwards to accommodate conservatives -- and tying ourselves in knots."

FP morning brief

Top Story

President Obama heads to the Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago today, where he will meet with leaders from 33 Latin American and Caribbean nations. The conference is likely to be dominated by calls for the U.S. to lift the embargo on Cuba. Obama says the U.S. has gone as far as it plans to go in lifting sanctions for now and the ball is now in Raul Castro's court.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez plans to protest U.S. policy by voting against the summit declaration.There is no one-on-one meeting planned between Chavez and Obama but the White House says the president will not avoid a conversation with his Venezuelan counterpart if approached.

On The Argument, Joseph Tulchin explains what Obama can do to keep Chavez under control at the summit.

The U.S. Justice Department released Bush administration memos detailing interrogation techniques used by the CIA on suspected terrorists. Attorney General Eric Holder said that some of the techniques used constitute illegal torture, but the department has no plans to prosecute any of the officials involved.
Meeting the President Calderon in Mexico City, Obama pledged to stop the flow of arms into Mexico from the United States.
Citigroup reported a net profit in the first quarter of 2009, it's best quarterly performance since early 2007.

Spanish prosecutors recommended against investigating Bush administration officials for torture.
The founders of the popular filesharing site Pirate Bay were convicted of breaking copyright law in Sweden.
Eurozone industrial production is down nearly 20 percent and the continental economy shows few signs of recovery.

The leader of Thailand's previous "yellow-shirt" protest movement was attacked by gunmen.
Pakistan secured $5 billion in new aid at an international donor's conference in Tokyo.
Dozens may have been killed in an earthquake in Eastern Afghanistan.

Kenya is emerging as the international consensus choice for hosting piracy trials. However, the surviving member of the group that hijacked the Maersk Alabama last week will be tried in New York.
West Africa may soon face a cycle of devastating droughts, scientists say.
As Senator John Kerry visits Sudan, the country says it will allow some aid back into Darfur. Aid was suspended after the International Criminal Court indictment of President Omar al Bashir.

Middle East
U.S. envoy George Mitchell met with senior Palestinian leaders.
A suicide bomber attacked an Iraqi military base in Anbar province.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Under current circumstances, electing judges is a bad idea

Don Wheeler

There are reasonable arguments about whether political elections of judges - as opposed to our current system of peer reviewed appointment, with the option to vote out of office - is better. And I'll admit to some squeamishness about forcing people who (hopefully) have real skills in evaluating questions of law to learn a new one - political campaigning.

The siren song of democracy at work is compelling and not completely without merit. But how would a voter properly evaluate people aspiring to hold an expert level job, when the vast majority of us lack that expertise? How would we evaluate how that person would perform?

I realize that to a lesser extent, we face these questions every time we vote in any contest. But I wonder how many people realize that there are no limits (except on corporations) on contributions to local campaigns. That doesn't seem good to me. It's hard for me to see what check there would be on potential corruption issues.

I believe our current system, though not perfect, is the better choice.

Truthout 4/16

J. Sri Raman India's Polls and South Asian Peace
J. Sri Raman, Truthout: "The general election - in which some 714 million people are scheduled to cast their votes in 543 constituencies across 35 States and smaller Union Territories in five phases until May 13 - cannot but have giant consequences. The epic event will lead to far more than the formation of a new Lok Sabha (the Lower House of India's Parliament) and a new government (by the first week of June). The election can unleash winds of change across not only India, but South Asia as well."

Spain Rejects US "Torture" Probe
BBC News: "Spain's attorney general has rejected an attempt to bring a criminal case against six former US officials over torture allegations at Guantanamo Bay. The officials, including former US attorney general Alberto Gonzalez, were accused of giving a legal justification for torture at the US detention centre. But Candido Conde-Pumpido said the case had 'no merit' as they were not present when the alleged abuse took place."

Robert Naiman Forget "Accountability" for Somali Pirates
Robert Naiman, Truthout: "Americans are very happy that the American captain was successfully freed, and grateful to the Americans who successfully freed him. The Americans had their orders, which they executed faithfully, cautiously and patiently, which included instructions to fire if they believed the captain's life was in imminent danger; they made that determination, and based on the available information, I wouldn't second-guess that. But this shouldn't blind us to the probability that every opportunity for a nonviolent resolution of the standoff was not exhausted by the Obama administration."

UN Nuclear Inspectors Quit North Korea
Agence France-Presse: "UN nuclear inspectors left North Korea Thursday after the hardline communist state ordered them out and announced plans to restart production of weapons-grade plutonium."

Obama Targets Mexican Cartels
Spencer S. Hsu, The Washington Post: "President Obama yesterday ratcheted up efforts to curb the flow of drugs and guns across the southern border, imposing financial sanctions against three of the most violent Mexican drug cartels and threatening to prosecute Americans who do business with them."

Officials Say US Wiretaps Exceeded Law
Eric Lichtblau and James Risen, The New York Times: "The National Security Agency intercepted private e-mail messages and phone calls of Americans in recent months on a scale that went beyond the broad legal limits established by Congress last year, government officials said in recent interviews."

Jacques Attali The Geithner Bubble
Jacques Attali, L'Express: "In some people's eyes, a miraculous emergence from the crisis is brewing: Through the combined play of the Geithner plan, (which allows investment funds and banks to buy other banks' toxic assets, borrowing most of what they need to do so from the Federal budget) and accounting changes (which allow banks to carry those assets at an inflated value), we see a derivatives market take hold in which some will sell these assets at a very high price to others in order to buy more of those assets at a still higher price: so that an asset value bubble will form, entirely financed by the taxpayer."

Matt Renner A Fight Rages Over a Tool Called "Cram Down"
Matt Renner, Truthout: "A fight on Capitol Hill rages over a tool called 'cram down.' Proponents say is essential to fixing the foreclosure crisis and empowering homeowners to negotiate with the banks that hold their mortgages. Opponents say it will make lending riskier and raise interest rates. The battle lines are drawn, pitting Democrats against Democrats. At the heart of the meltdown on Wall Street are piles and piles of mortgage loans for houses, which have been losing value for years as the housing bubble deflates. Many of these mortgages are 'underwater,' meaning the house is worth less than the amount owed on the mortgage."

Richard Armitage: Waterboarding Is Torture
Pamela Hess, The Associated Press: "A former No. 2 State Department official in the Bush administration says he would have resigned if he had known the CIA was subjecting terrorism suspects to waterboarding, an interrogation technique that simulates drowning. Richard Armitage, the former deputy secretary of state, told Al Jazeera English television in an interview airing Wednesday that waterboarding is torture. However, he said he does not believe CIA officials who engaged in waterboarding and other forms of harsh interrogation should be prosecuted. The CIA has acknowledged using waterboarding on three high-level terror detainees in 2002 and 2003, with the permission of the White House and the Justice Department."

Lehman Brothers Sitting on a Stockpile of Uranium "Yellowcake"
Andrew Clark, The Guardian UK: "The rump of the bankrupt bank Lehman Brothers is sitting on a stockpile of 450,000 lb of uranium 'yellowcake' which could be used to power a nuclear reactor or, theoretically, to make a bomb. Lehman's potentially explosive asset is a hangover from a commodities trading contract undertaken before the Wall Street bank went bust in September. The substance, yellowcake, is a solid form of mined uranium which is yet to be enriched. Liquidators have been trying to offload the stuff for months. But the price of uranium has been dropping steadily, leaving Lehman's yellowcake languishing in a variety of secure storage facilities, some of which are in Canada."

Fouad Pervez A Better Alliance With Pakistan
Fouad Pervez, Foreign Policy in Focus: "Pakistan has quickly risen in geopolitical importance over the past few years, arguably becoming the most important country in the world when it comes to international security. It has been moving towards major instability, however, and threatens to explode into violence at any given moment considering the domestic, regional, and international dynamics at play. Domestically, Pakistan has problems with hyper-inflation, food and electricity shortages, disappeared persons, and unpopular political leadership. Increased regional political tension, primarily with Afghanistan and India, flared up following the Mumbai attacks in November. Internationally, Pakistan has been a trusted ally and untrustworthy friend to the United States in the War on Terror, a tension that seems likely to continue."

Drug Traffickers Move Underwater
John Otis, "Only a few years ago tales of traffickers plying the underseas world aboard cocaine-laden submarines struck anti-drug agents as a Jules Verne fantasy. Not anymore. Today, smugglers are moving tons of drugs towards the United States in so-called 'semi-submersibles,' homemade vessels that travel just below the ocean's surface and cover distances of up to 2,000 miles."

Iraq Study: Executions Are Leading Cause of Death
Kim Gamel, The Associated Press: "Execution-style killings, not headline-grabbing bombings, have been the leading cause of death among civilians in the Iraq war, a study released Wednesday shows. The findings, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, point to the brutal sectarian nature of the conflict, where death squads once roamed the streets hunting down members of the rival Muslim sect. Estimates of the number of civilians killed in Iraq vary widely. The study was based on the database maintained by Iraq Body Count, a private group that among other sources uses media reports including those of The Associated Press. The authors concede the data is not comprehensive but maintain that the study provides a reliable gauge of how Iraqis have died in the six-year conflict."

On Angst, Or, We Meet A Tea Party Protester

So if you’re like me, you have been wondering just exactly what all this “tea party” stuff is about. There’s going to be some sort of protest, that we know; but beyond that the whole thing seems a little...vague.

Alternatively, it’s possible that you were unaware that “tea party” has recently become a word reborn in conservative political circles.

Well, whether you knew it or not, April 15th was indeed a day of protest, with citizens gathering for what were reported to be a series of grassroots events across the nation that was intended to invoke the spirit of the Boston Tea Party.

In an effort to find out exactly what is motivating these folks, and to find out what they are trying to accomplish, I took my handy recorder and captured a conversation with a “tea bag” protester.

We will review that conversation, and we will follow it up with a few thoughts about how this group of voters might impact electoral politics going forward.

Let’s begin by setting the stage: the city of Issaquah, Washington (population about 17,000) is more or less 15 miles east of downtown Seattle, in eastern King County. It’s a bedroom community, for the most part, with some light industrial and stores like Home Depot. The Costco corporate headquarters is located over where the old skydiving airport used to be, and I-90 bisects the city.

Seattle’s eastern suburbs have been a good source of reliable Republican voters, and the Representative from the District (WA-08) is former Sheriff Dave Reichert (R-Ineffectual), who defeated Darcy Burner in one of the more closely watched Congressional races of both the ’06 and ’08 cycles.

It was a lovely not raining afternoon (this time of the year, that’s a real treat), and the steps of the Issaquah City Hall create a nice backdrop for a gathering. At noon on a Wednesday about 120 people are gathered, holding signs, and reacting to the honks of passing traffic. A “patriot”, in blue coat and tricorner hat, was present.

After a period of standing out in front of City Hall, most of the group left to march up and down the street; and it was at this point that I approached a woman who had chosen to remain behind to see if I might ask her a few questions about the event.

Where you see quotations, they are exact transcripts from the recording.
Her comments are in boldface.
Ellipses (...) are used only to indicate pauses in the conversation, not to indicate “trimming” of the quotes.

One of the first things we addressed was her concern that her rights to gather and speak freely might be threatened:

“...You bet they are” she answered, “Obama is about, he’s more like, a, a he wants to be a leader himself, he’s the leader, OK, but he doesn’t speak for America...and he is not really, really, the President of the United States.”

I asked her how she had reached that conclusion:

“He hasn’t proven that he’s a citizen, he hasn’t proven that he’s a citizen, he’s a liar...he, he, says one thing and he does another all the, you know...he is not a patriot. I was born and raised in America, even people I grew up, with, that became Americans, love America. People come to America to be free. You know what I feel he’s taking away from us? Our freedom.”

I asked her what laws are being proposed that would make her feel that way, to which she replied:

“Taking all that money and doing with it as he pleases, without confer--, letting people take a vote on it on the right to do this that’s the Constitution, the 9th and the...”

“So Congress didn’t vote on any of that...”

“He is getting them to do what he wants, people are doing what he wants, because, he has people like Farrakhan, he has a lot of people behind him that are not for America. OK, and he’s a Muslim, let’s just remember that, OK, he’s not an American patriot, he’s a Muslim—“

“He’s a Muslim?”

“Yes, he claims to be a Muslim—“

“So you’re not worried about that Reverend Wright thing, then?”

“Oh, no no no no, Reverend Wright is a radical in his own way, too...”

“But he doesn’t have any influence on Obama, apparently, because...he’s a Muslim—“

“Well, he does, you know all about it, don’t you...”

At this point she began to ask a series of questions designed to determine my organizational affiliation, to which I had to again explain that I am but a humble blogger, and not really affiliated with any organization, and that my purpose in coming was to try to gather an idea as to what was going on so that I could explain it to others.

To which she offered this reply:

“Mr. Obama’s a liar...But we’re here today...just as Americans to say we want, we don’t wanna pay for what he wants us to pay for with taking all that money away from America.”

She reports that she went to Washington, DC, “and even called the President” to express her displeasure about the growing deficits during the Bush Administration; and we found a point of agreement when she noted that not voting can be a political statement, just as voting is.

She then went on to say:

“...the people, according to our Constitution and what I’ve always known is the Government was for the people, by the people, and of the people. We the people have the right to make those decisions at State levels, each State...”

At this point I asked her if that wasn’t the function of Congress, who are our elected Representatives, and that if that was true then how is that taxation without representation? (And no, I did not mention the whole Gettysburg Address “thing”. Sometimes you just have to let someone say what they want to say, and not get in the way...)

“...well, we have voted in a lot of people who are liars; that get in there for the wrong reasons. We have to start paying attention...and learn about these politicians...”

(A point with which I wholeheartedly agree—but to be honest, I don’t think she has a desire to learn that Mr. Obama is actually a real live, no-kidding, American citizen.)

I then asked her about the 2007 Federal Budget.

My understanding of that budget is that about $2.4 trillion was spent, and more or less $2.1 trillion of that was spent on Social Security, Medicare/Medicaid, and Defense, leaving roughly $300 billion for all other spending.

Since the deficit for that year was above $300 billion, my question to her was which of the three choices above was she ready to start cutting?

“They’re not gonna go anywhere, they’re never gonna be used for those things, hardly...”

I explained to her that this is not a matter of conjecture, but that this was how the money was actually spent that year:

“Obama does what he wants with it—“

“Well, what I’m saying is that—“

“That’s the way it looks—“

“That’s how the money was spent—“

“Don’t you know—“

“In 2007, that’s how the money was spent—“

“Are you a Republican?”


“Are you a Democrat?”

“Not really...”

“Are you a libertarian?”

“I don’t think the idea of having no government works very well, no ma’am--”

“So you don’t vote at all?”

“I do vote, and I don’t vote based on any party...”

“You don’t?”

“No ma’am, I don’t think Democrats or Republicans have a monopoly on ideas.”

Eventually, as I tried to get an answer from her about the Budget, it came to this:

“That’s not the true issue. The true issue is we don’t want our taxes going up because they’ve taken so much money and bankrupted America...we don’t wanna pay for that, we want him to leave that money alone, not bail out AIG, and let America resolve its issues...amongst the people.

They think everybody’s stupid. They think everyone’s stupid except them.
What’s your opinion?”

At this point I tried to explain that stimulus seems to make sense, and that the Great Depression offered an historical example of why.

“You don’t mind if I spend your money then, can I take all your money and spend it the way I want to?”

“Well, I don’t think I’m going to let you take all my money—“

“But that’s what Obama did. I don’t mind paying some taxes—“

“So you don’t have any money at this point?”

“Ye-, of course I have money—“

“So he didn’t take all your money?”

“I work, OK, I, he, he, if he has taken that money because he has stolen a lot of money from the United States of America—“

“How did he steal it?”

“You know exactly how.”

“Well, I’m confused...”

“Well, if you’re confused go watch him, OK. You’re for Obama, right? Isn’t that who you believe in?”

“Well, I did vote for Obama, but I wouldn’t say I believe in him...”

“Well, good-bye. Yeah, you do believe in him, and if you’re a person who doesn’t vote, and you say you vote, I’m confused, I know who you are—“

“Who am I?”

“You’re trying to deceive, that’s why you’re here. You’re not American, you’re one of these radicals the other way. I believe that this President is not the true President, OK, I believe that he is not an American citizen, he’s a liar, he’s a liar and he’s a thief. He got homes through...all kinds of discrepancies...he has never admitted to anything, he wasn’t a good politician, all he is, is a Socialist, he’s a Socialist, don’t wanna work, just do your own thing, take what you want, do what you want, live off welfare...”

At which point the interview concluded.

So what have we learned here today?

Well, let’s start by presuming that this sort of voter is not a likely “get” for any future Democratic candidate...and with that in mind, let’s have a look at what her impact might be on a Republican candidate seeking office.

Republicans should be aware that there exists a significant community of voters who are clearly upset with Mr. Obama. These voters are upset about issues they can’t (or won’t) exactly articulate, and they are not exactly sure how to fix “what ails them”...but they are genuinely upset, and they seem to feel that they no longer have a sense of control over, or attachment to, their Government.

You might see good news for Republicans when looking at this woman, since she represents, as far as I could tell, a group seeking a leader; but I see instead a substantial group of individuals who have the potential to vote for candidates of third parties—in other words, voters who feel alienated from both major parties, which would not be good news for Republicans.

To “recover” these voters, I suspect, will require Republican candidates to go quite far to the right—and I suspect that if the woman I met today becomes the Republican “target market” Republicans will have even more problems attracting centrist voters than they have now.

If the world does not come to an end, economically or otherwise, by 2010, and there are no huge tax increases, it will be even tougher to make the arguments we heard today, suggesting the woman I interviewed will become a more isolated part of the electorate than she might be today.

If the economy actually improves, it suggests that finding a voter outside of the 15-30% of the electorate these voters might represent who will vote Republican--particularly in statewide and Federal elections--will be tougher and tougher.

What does all that mean?

It means, absent a major economic collapse, that the Republican future, at least for a few cycles to come, might be as a Congressional minority, with several States still available where they can maintain control of Gubernatorial and Legislative positions...but with a declining number of those States over time, and a decreasing chance of electing a President because of the inherent problems they face retaining centrist voters.

Of course, there is also the possibility that these voters will cleave off to support a Bob Barr or a Ron Paul or a Mike Huckabee, who might seek a third party candidacy, which, ironically, could help Republicans gain centrist voters, even as they lose this group of voters. In all probability, this would also cost the Republicans the chance to elect a President until a “centrist/rightist reconciliation” of some sort can occur.

It puts Republicans in a tough spot, and as a political geek I can’t wait to see how they approach working it all out.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

FP morning brief 4/15

Top Story

Saying that "circumstances have changed" since the election of U.S. President Barack Obama, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announced that he is preparing a new set of proposals aimed at breaking the diplomatic deadlock over his country's controversial nuclear program.

Ahmadinejad said in a speech in the southern Iranian city of Kerman that Iran was willing to hold talks with the U.S. so long as the Obama administration did not "speak to them from a position of arrogance." The president did not specify what the new proposals might be.

The U.S. and European allies shifted strategy toward potential talks earlier this week by considering dropping their insistence that the Iranians suspend nuclear enrichment during talks. Iran opened its first nuclear fuel production plant last week.

Ahmadinejad's more conciliatory speech came a day after he announced that Iran plans to launch another satellite into space, a move likely to worry Western monitors.

Middle East
Israel is "very unlikely" to cooperate with a U.N. probe into alleged war crimes committed during the military operation in Gaza.
A secret trial has reportedly begun for U.S. journalist Roxana Saberi in Iran.
A severe drought is threatening Iraq's southern marsh region, which was just recovering from environmental damage done by Saddam Husssein's regime.

Taliban militants in Pakistan's Swat Valley are refusing to give up their weapons, as agreed in a recent peace deal with the Pakistani government.
Afghan women protesting the recently passed law that effectively legalizes rape within marriage were pelted with rocks by onlookers.
The trial of the lone surviving Mumbai attacker has been suspended after his lawyer was accused of speaking with one of his alleged victims.
Thailand has revoked the passport of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who is accused of playing a role in fomenting recent anti-government riots.

Another U.S. freighter carrying food aid was attacked by Somali pirates, but the marauders were repelled by the ship's U.S. Navy escort.
South African expats have begun voting early in the country's presidential election.
Impatient with the rate of progress, an armed mob seized a government land reform project in South Africa.

With a government-imposed deadline approaching, Fiat says it will back out of a deal with Chrysler unless the U.S. carmaker's unions can cut costs.
Italy estimates it will need about $16 billion to rebuild after last week's earthquake.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev gave a rare print interview to a paper critical of the Kremlin in which he defended Russian democracy.

The Obama administration is preparing to release data on the financial health of 19 top banks as government "stress tests" near completion.
Obama will name former Justice Department official Alan Bersin as "border czar," to take on immigration and drug violence.
Ahead of this week's Summit of the Americas, Latin American leaders are blaming the global financial crisis on U.S. policies.

Truthout 4/15

Dahr Jamail Iraq in Fragments
Dahr Jamail, Foreign Policy In Focus: "On Wednesday, March 25, Major General David Perkins of the US military, referring to how often the US military was being attacked in Iraq, told reporters in Baghdad, 'Attacks are at their lowest since August 2003.' Perkins added, 'There were 1,250 attacks a week at the height of the violence; now sometimes there are less than 100 a week.' While his rhetoric made headlines in some US mainstream media outlets, it was little consolation for the families of 28 Iraqis killed in attacks across Iraq the following day. Nor did it bring solace to the relatives of the 27 Iraqis slain in a March 23 suicide attack, or those who survived a bomb attack at a bus terminal in Baghdad on the same day that killed nine Iraqis."

Andy Kroll The Corporatization of Public Education
Andy Kroll, Truthout: "Before an audience of big-city mayors and school superintendents in late March, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan offered an early - and troubling - indication of his vision for the future of public K-12 education in the United States. Duncan told audience members at the Mayors' National Forum on Education in Washington, DC, that more mayors need to take control of low-performing, urban school districts, and that he was prepared to do whatever it takes to shift leadership of urban districts from school boards to City Halls. 'I'll come to your cities. I'll meet with your editorial boards. I'll talk with your business communities,' Duncan said. 'I will be there.' For those familiar with Duncan's controversial legacy in Chicago, one that emphasized the privatization and militarization of that city's mayor-led public schools, Duncan's vow to give more big-city mayors control over their city's schools is a worrying harbinger of reforms to come."

CIA Documents Shine Light on Secretive Air America
Jeff Carlton, The Associated Press: "Former naval aviator Don Boecker isn't too proud to say he was scared out of his wits on that July 1965 day in Laos when he dangled by one arm from a helicopter while enemy soldiers took aim below. Boecker had spent the longest night of his life in the thick jungle, evading capture and certain execution while awaiting rescue. The Navy aviator had ejected after a bomb he intended to drop on the Ho Chi Minh trail exploded prematurely. His rescuers that day, however, weren't from the American military, who couldn't be caught conducting a secret bombing campaign in Laos. They were civilian employees of Air America, an ostensibly private airline essentially owned and operated by the CIA."

Robert Scheer Endgame for Gramm?
Robert Scheer, Truthdig: "One wonders if Phil Gramm has been made just a tad nervous by the news on Tuesday that one of UBS' super-wealthy private clients has pleaded guilty to tax evasion. That's the second case in two weeks involving the bank at which the former senator is a vice chairman, and 100 other clients are under investigation for possible bank-assisted tax fraud. Gramm, the Republican former chair of the Senate Finance Committee, where he authored much of the deregulatory legislation at the heart of the current banking meltdown, has for the six years since he left office helped lead a foreign-owned bank specializing in tax dodges for the wealthy. These schemes by the Swiss-based UBS not only force the rest of us taxpayers to pay more to make up the government revenue shortfall but are blatantly illegal. In February, UBS admitted to having committed fraud and conspiracy and agreed to pay a fine of $780 million. Republican 'Tea Baggers' take note: Offshore tax havens do not equal populist revolt."

Bernie Horn A Mad Tea Party
Bernie Horn, The Campaign For America's Future: "Organizers claim that 'Tea Party' refers to the Boston Tea Party - which was a protest against taxation by the British Parliament without representation from America. But you don't hear them crying out 'no taxation without representation' or calling for D.C. statehood. 'Oh dear! Oh dear! I shall be late!' says the White Rabbit who looks remarkably like Fox News bloviator Glenn Beck."

The Growing Lust for Agricultural Lands
Marie-Beatrice Baudet and Laetitia Clavreul, Le Monde: "Not a day goes by without new acreage being signed over. 'For Sale' ads for agricultural property are now featured in the international financial press. And there's no dearth of clients. 'At the end of 2008,' Jean-Yves Carfantan, author of 'Global Food Shock: What's in Store for Us Tomorrow,' observes, 'five countries stood out for the extent of their foreign arable land acquisitions: China, South Korea, the United Arab Emirates, Japan, and Saudi Arabia. Together, they control over 7.6 million cultivable hectares outside their national territory, or the equivalent of 5.6 times the utilizable agricultural surface of Belgium.'"

Henry A. Giroux The Exploitation of Young Boys
Henry A. Giroux, Truthout: "Casino capitalism may be getting a bad rap in the mainstream media, but the values that nourish it are alive and well in the world of Disney. As reported recently in a front-page article in The New York Times, Disney is in the forefront of finding ways to capitalize on the $50 billion dollars spent worldwide by young boys between the ages of 6 and 14."

ACLU: Mentally Ill Suffer Abuse in Los Angeles County Jails
Richard Winton, The Los Angeles Times: "Civil rights activists today called for the L.A. County Board of Supervisors and sheriff to close the Men's Central Jail, where they say nightmarish conditions and overcrowding have exacerbated the symptoms of thousands of inmates suffering serious mental illness. American Civil Liberties Union leaders made the call as they released a report by an expert on mental health in jails that paints the aging Men's Central Jail in downtown L.A. as a massively overcrowded center where the mentally ill are abused, kept in their cells for much, if not all, of the day, and instead of being treated are subject to discipline."

US Troops "Might Stay in Northern Iraq"
BBC News: "US combat troops may stay in northern Iraq after a deadline for them to pull back by the end of June has passed, the top US commander in the area has said. Col Gary Volesky said his soldiers would stay in Mosul and other nearby cities where al-Qaeda remained a threat if the Iraqi government asked them to. US and Iraqi officials describe Mosul as al-Qaeda in Iraq's last major urban stronghold in the country."

Source: Obama to Create Border Czar Position
Eileen Sullivan, The Associated Press: "A former Justice Department official has been picked to be the Southwest border czar - a new position created by the Obama administration to handle illegal immigration and border issues, according to an administration official. The new Homeland Security post will be responsible for issues related to drug-cartel violence along the US-Mexico border and the hundreds of thousands of people there who try to enter the US illegally. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano is expected to name Alan Bersin to the position on Wednesday during a visit to the Southwest border, the official said. The official would speak only on condition of anonymity ahead of the announcement."

Dr. James J. Zogby The Obamas' European Odyssey
Dr. James J. Zogby, Truthout: "The Obamas' European Odyssey was a success - despite the predictable complaints of some US critics. The president and first lady took the continent by storm, helping to rebuild America's partnerships and restore America's image after several troubled years of decline. The hole dug by the previous administration's neglect, arrogant unilateralism and ideological recklessness was deep. But, by recommitting the US - to international cooperation, to working as a partner with allies and institutions, and to listening - the president took an important step in rebuilding the foundations of trust."

Greg Grandin What Can Obama Do in Latin America?
Greg Grandin, "What if Barack Obama had picked the Nation's Katrina vanden Heuvel or Democracy Now! anchor Amy Goodman to advise him at the upcoming Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago this week? Unlikely, to say the least, but 75 years ago President Franklin Delano Roosevelt did something just like that, tapping a former Nation editor and fierce critic of US militarism to advise his administration on Latin American policy."

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

A message from RePower America

A majority of Americans support a cap on carbon pollution -- but you wouldn't know it from what you read in the papers or see on the news.

Across the country, those who want to keep America addicted to fossil fuel are making gross misstatements about clean energy -- and the media has been playing right along.

In one case, opponents of clean energy misquoted an MIT study so badly that the author wrote to them in protest, saying their claims were "just wrong. It's wrong in so many ways it's hard to begin.

"Of course, they didn't stop, and their misleading statements were repeated on TV and in newspapers across the country.

You know the truth, and right now your voice is the most powerful tool we have to set the record straight on the carbon pollution loophole.

Will you send a message to your local paper using our simple tool?

Your "Letter to the Editor" will make a powerful impact when it is published: These letters are read by millions of people each day. Your letter will show that Americans across the country support a clean energy future and will help news outlets shape their coverage of this issue.

These letters are also a good way to reach your members of Congress since many read the newspaper opinion pages every day.

Our opponents want to scare Americans out of supporting change. Your letter will show that it won't work. That we're not afraid and that the most costly mistake we can make is doing nothing at all.

By using our simple online tool, you can write and send your letter very easily. And we've provided all the talking points you need to make it effective.

We can't let opportunities for a better future be derailed by fear and misinformation.

Stand up for clean energy in your community. Get started now:

Steve Bouchard
Campaign Manager Privacy Policy Donate

Crosby, Stills and Nash return to South Bend

On Monday August 3, 2009 Crosby, Stills and Nash return to our own Morris Performing Arts Center. If you were lucky enough to see last year's show - you know what awaits you. If not, check out my review .

Tickets go on sale to the general public Friday. You can get pre-sale tickets through the Morris with the codeword "Woodstock" as early as 10:00 AM Thursday.

BUT you can get tickets through the CSN website starting at noon tomorrow (Wednesday). Just go here.

See you there.


If you smile at me I will understand
That is something everbody everywhere does
In the same language.

FP morning brief 4/14

Top Story

North Korea vowed to boycott six-party talks and restart nuclear projects, in protest of a United Nations Security Council vote censuring it for attempting to launch a rocket last week. It says it will restore its disabled nuclear reactor.

Police in Turkey detained 12 people in connection with an alleged nationalist plot to overthrow the government in a military coup.
In Tbilisi, Georgia, protests against the government of Mikheil Saakashvili entered their sixth day.
Poland grieved for the more than 20 who died in a fire in a hostel yesterday.

Middle East
The Obama administration said it may drop the condition requiring Iran to shut down its nuclear facilities before any negotiations. On its state television channel, Iran said it welcomed six-party talks on its nuclear program.
Tribesmen in Yemen released unharmed a Dutch couple they had held as political ransom.
Egypt is scouring the Sinai Peninsula for Hezbollah operatives after arresting more than 50. The Lebanese terrorist group says it is not planning attacks in the region, which borders Israel.

Cubans and Cuban-Americans applauded U.S. President Barack Obama's decision to ease sanctions to the communist country.
U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner will hold G-7 and G-20 meetings later this month in Washington.
Mexico's government commenced a three-day debate on whether to legalize marijuana, to raise tax revenues and help control drug cartels.
Goldman Sachs, the U.S. investment bank, earned a higher-than-expected profit in the first quarter, extending its earnings year-on-year.

The president of Pakistan, Ali Asif Zardari, signed into law a controversial deal allowing sharia Islamic law in the Swat Valley in exchange for more cooperation from the Taliban.
Two U.N. agencies spent millions of dollars of U.S. funds on shoddy projects in Afghanistan and now refuses to answer questions about the affair, a report says.
Two died as anti-government protests continued to rage in Thailand. The prime minister, Abhisit Vejjajiva, said all the protests had died down except for one surrounding the seat of government.

The Obama administration was said to be considering an armed attack on land to rout the Somali pirates who held a U.S. boat captain for four days. Pirates hijacked three more ships.
The Islamist rebel group al-Shabab fired mortars at a plane carrying U.S. Congressman Donald Payne as he left Mogadishu, Somalia.
South African prosecutors halted the trial of Jackie Selebi, an associate of former President Thabo Mbeki who is accused of accepting bribes while running the international police organization, Interpol.
Opposition parties in Mauritania say they plan to boycott upcoming elections, because of restrictions imposed by the ruling military junta.

Truthout 4/14

Richard Cohen George W. Bush's Institute of Failure
Richard Cohen, The Washington Post: "Former president George W. Bush and some of his White House aides are gathering in Dallas this week to plan the future George W. Bush Policy Institute. There, I guess, they will ponder grand themes and marble foyers, but I propose they begin by simply renaming the place. I suggest naming it the 'George W. Bush Institute of Management Failure' and dedicating it to studying how this presidency went so wrong -- a task as big as Texas itself. Bush's tenure was truly remarkable. He left office with the lowest presidential poll ratings in 60 years, two wars begun and not ended, and the deepest recession since the Great Depression. If it's true that we learn from our mistakes, Bush's eight years represent a bonanza of lessons."

S.E.C. to Review Whether Bank of America Broke the Law
Sarah O'Connor and Greg Farrell, The Financial Times: "The Securities and Exchange Commission is reviewing whether Bank of America broke the law by not telling shareholders about Merrill Lynch's plan to pay out $3.6bn in bonuses before they voted for a government-backed merger of the two banks. Merrill paid the bonuses in December, days before it was acquired by BofA and a month before bonuses were normally dispensed. BofA has said it was not required to tell its shareholders about the bonuses."

Robert Parry US News Media Fails America, Again
Robert Parry, Consortium News: "Watching Glenn Beck of Fox News rant about 'progressive fascism' - and muse about armed insurrection - or listening to mainstream pundits prattle on about Barack Obama as the 'most polarizing President ever,' it is hard to escape the conclusion that today's U.S. news media represents a danger to the Republic. By and large, the Washington press corps continues to function within a paradigm set in the 1980s, mostly bending to the American Right, especially to its perceived power to destroy mainstream journalistic careers and to grease the way toward lucrative jobs for those who play ball."

HIV/AIDS: South Struggles Against Rising Problem
Dahleen Glanton, The Chicago Tribune: "Sheila Holt moved to this small town from New Jersey two years ago to take care of her ailing mother. But as a former heroin addict with HIV, she found that rebuilding her life in the South was harder than she had imagined. She was shocked that the wealth of services, such as housing, transportation and medications, available to her as an HIV patient in Newark were lacking in Henderson. In the North, she said, people talked openly about the disease without fear of reprisal. In the South, she could not sit at the dinner table with her family or talk to her neighbors about the disease without the risk of being shunned."

Obama Ends Limits on Cuba Travel by Cuban-Americans
Lesley Clark, McClatchy Newspapers: "President Barack Obama on Monday made the first U.S. overture toward Cuba in decades, lifting all travel and gift restrictions for Cuban Americans and sending charter tour companies scrambling for more and bigger jets to meet the expected demand. The formal announcement - expected for months as part of a presidential campaign promise - came at the apparently first-ever bilingual White House briefing, with spokesman Robert Gibbs saying Obama was 'taking some concrete steps today to bring about some much-needed change that will benefit the people of Cuba, to increase the freedom that they have.'"

Gil Courtemanche Where Did Roosevelt Go?
Gil Courtemanche in Quebec's Le Devoir: "We have gone from legitimate enrichment to absolute predation. We don't talk about that except when the predators are fraudsters like Madoff in New York. But all these people who play with our lives and our futures are fraudsters and rip-off artists."

Court Declares Al Franken Winner in Minnesota
Pat Doyle, Minneapolis Star Tribune: "After a trial spanning nearly three months, Norm Coleman's attempt to reverse Al Franken's lead in the recount of the US Senate election was soundly rejected today by a three-judge panel that dismissed the Republican's lawsuit. The judges swept away Coleman's argument that the election and its aftermath were fraught with systemic errors that made the results invalid. 'The overwhelming weight of the evidence indicates that the Nov. 4, 2008, election was conducted fairly, impartially and accurately,' the panel said in its unanimous decision."

Anne Miller Rethinking Afghanistan
Anne Miller, Truthout: "The lack of serious scrutiny of the president's Afghanistan policy is nothing short of stupefying, especially given our recent misadventures in Iraq. Where is the critical debate? The mantra of many Democrats is that military force alone won't solve the problem in Afghanistan. The 'problem' seems to be how to keep the corrupt US-backed central government in Kabul from falling, and what to do about the thousands of al-Qaeda members in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Meanwhile, many conservative members of Congress lament that the president isn't sending additional brigades. Congress and the public should be asking what President Obama realistically thinks the US military can accomplish with an additional 21,000 US forces in Afghanistan. What can they do that soldiers from forty-one countries in seven and a half years have been unable to accomplish? And what the British and the Soviets were unable to accomplish before that?"

Michael N. Nagler The Cassandra Syndrome
Michael N. Nagler, Truthout: "As a colleague of mine in Public Health recently declared, 'We are increasing violence by every means possible.' He was talking about the mass media. The enormously high, and increasing, level of violence in the 'entertainment' industry - including the violent emphasis of the nightly news - makes violence seem normal, unavoidable, sexy and fun - even a source of meaning. The studies documenting this go back for decades, only lapsing for a while in the early eighties when scientists began to realize nobody was listening to them."

Taliban Shoot Dead Afghan Politician Who Championed Women's Rights
Jon Boone, The Guardian UK: "A leading female Afghan politician was shot dead yesterday after leaving a provincial council meeting in Kandahar, southern Afghanistan, which her colleagues had begged her not to attend. Sitara Achakzai was attacked by two gunmen as she arrived at her home in a rickshaw - a vehicle colleagues said she deliberately chose to use to avoid attracting attention. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the murder. The two gunmen were apparently waiting for Achakzai, a 52-year-old women's rights activist who had lived for many years in Germany when the Taliban were in power in Afghanistan."

Pakistan's Move on Islamic Law Widens Influence of Extremists
Saeed Shah, McClatchy Newspapers: "Pakistan's president bowed to Islamists' demands Monday and agreed to impose Islamic law in part of the country's North West Frontier province, and al Qaida-allied militants overran a neighboring district just 60 miles from the capital of Islamabad. The takeover in Buner in the past several days, with almost no resistance from Pakistani security forces, marked a major advance for the militants, and the government's endorsement of Islamic law in Swat further increased their political clout."

Iran Says It's Open to Nuclear Dialogue With Powers
Hossein Jaseb and Fredrik Dahl, Reuters: "Iran said on Monday it would welcome constructive dialogue with six world powers, including the United States, in its clearest signal yet it will accept an invitation for talks on its disputed nuclear work. State television quoted Iran's chief nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili as making the comment in a telephone conversation with European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana. The United States, Russia, China, France, Germany and Britain said on Wednesday they would ask Solana to invite Iran to a meeting to find 'a diplomatic solution to this critical issue,' referring to the long-running nuclear row."

Monday, April 13, 2009

On A May-December Romance, Part One, Or, Las Vegas, Segregated

There may be no more recognizable icon of “Retro-Cool” than that photograph of the Rat Pack standing in front of the marquee at The Sands Hotel in Las Vegas.

They’re right there, lined up in front of their own giant names on the marquee: Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, Jr., Peter Lawford, and Joey Bishop.

Night after night they would gather with friends such as Shirley MacLaine, Angie Dickinson, and Johnny Carson, to deliver some of the greatest nightclub performances in entertainment history.

Today’s story, however, focuses on what happened after the show: when four of those five could leave the showroom, drink at the bar, gamble at the casino, and go upstairs to their rooms.

In a town sometimes known as the “Mississippi of the West”, however, one of those five performers could not do any of those things.

Our Journey In Two Parts literally crosses over to the “wrong side of the tracks”, tells a story of segregation overcome, and recounts the six-month history of a Las Vegas hotel that has a 55-year history: the Moulin Rouge.

“…We boast of the freedom enjoyed by our people above all other peoples. But it is difficult to reconcile that boast with a state of the law which, practically, puts the brand of servitude and degradation upon a large class of our fellow-citizens, our equals before the law. The thin disguise of "equal" accommodations...will not mislead anyone, nor atone for the wrong this day done.”

--Justice John Marshall Harlan, from the dissent in Plessy v. Ferguson, 163 U.S. 537 (1896)

So let’s start with the “literally” part: Las Vegas’ “Westside”, which was the original Vegas townsite, was located across the “Cement Curtain” of railroad tracks from "new" Las Vegas, and it was the only place the black population was allowed to live.

This was not a new situation in Nevada, or unique to Las Vegas: when the Six Companies built what became Hoover Dam in the ‘30s, some say only 30 blacks are estimated to have been employed on the entire project. (Others put the number nearly 50% higher, suggesting 44 out of the workforce of 5000 were black.)

World War II had swollen Las Vegas’ population, and the “new” Vegas—the white Vegas—included the land that would eventually become The Strip. While blacks were allowed to work out of the Westside, beyond that area they could not own property…and they most assuredly could not be guests of the hotels and casinos in which they worked.

In fact, blacks who owned businesses beyond the borders of the Westside were “motivated” to move them there during the ‘40s.

By the early 1950s the Thunderbird, the El Rancho Vegas, and “Bugsy” Siegel’s Flamingo, among others, were drawing big crowds from Los Angeles and points beyond for the floor shows, lounge entertainment, and casino gambling.

With the exception of Josephine Baker’s performance at the El Rancho, blacks were generally not allowed among those crowds; and performers such as Louis Armstrong and Sammy Davis, Jr. were forced to stay in rooming houses or other accommodations on the Westside.

"In Vegas for 20 minutes, our skin had no color. Then the second we stepped off the stage, we were colored again...the other acts could gamble or sit in the lounge and have a drink, but we had to leave through the kitchen with the garbage."

--Sammy Davis, Jr.

At this point, a few words on Rat Pack history (and if you only click on one link in this story, this might be the one…).

Humphrey Bogart was the founder of the first Rat Pack; then called the “Holmby Hills Rat Pack”, after the Los Angeles neighborhood in which he and Lauren Bacall lived following their 1945 marriage. These Rat Packers included Judy Garland, “Swifty” Lazar (still considered one of the most notable agents in Hollywood history), and, eventually, Frank Sinatra.

This members of this group were not “Hollywood Society” types; as a result the Rat Pack spent a lot of its time up in the Holmby Hills…laughing at Hollywood Society over cocktails…making the odd trip to Vegas to spend a night out…and occasionally adjourning to fellow Rat Packers Mike and Gloria Romanoff’s restaurant…where the Hollywood Society types vied to be seen with them.

Upon Bogart’s death in 1957 Sinatra, partly because of his friendship with Bacall, was able to continue the Pack (at one point called “The Clan”; a name that was quickly dropped) with new members (and old friends) Dino, Sammy, Joey Bishop, and Peter Lawford (Not-Yet-President John F. Kennedy’s brother-in-law), while still keeping continuity with Bogart’s Rat Pack. (Some might also describe Sinatra and Bacall’s romantic relationship following Bogart’s death as another part of that continuity.)

We’ve come a long way to get to this point, and we have a long way to go—which makes this a perfect “rest stop” between Parts One and Two.

A Barstow, if you will.

Way back at the beginning, we learned that blacks in Las Vegas really were living on the wrong side of the tracks, that separate was in no way equal; and that even if you were Louis Armstrong, or Lena Horne, or Sammy Davis, Jr., you might be allowed to work in white Las Vegas, but you weren’t going to be allowed to eat there, drink there, or sleep there…and you weren’t going to be allowed to gamble your paycheck away there, either.

In the meantime, Las Vegas was attracting entertainers—black and white—who would chafe at these rules. The group that would become the new Rat Pack was going to be at the heart of that change…and in our next installment, we’ll talk about six months of Las Vegas history that ultimately, despite great resistance, forced that change to happen.

Tea parties forever

New York Times

This is a column about Republicans — and I’m not sure I should even be writing it.

Today’s G.O.P. is, after all, very much a minority party. It retains some limited ability to obstruct the Democrats, but has no ability to make or even significantly shape policy.

Beyond that, Republicans have become embarrassing to watch. And it doesn’t feel right to make fun of crazy people. Better, perhaps, to focus on the real policy debates, which are all among Democrats.

But here’s the thing: the G.O.P. looked as crazy 10 or 15 years ago as it does now. That didn’t stop Republicans from taking control of both Congress and the White House. And they could return to power if the Democrats stumble. So it behooves us to look closely at the state of what is, after all, one of our nation’s two great political parties.

One way to get a good sense of the current state of the G.O.P., and also to see how little has really changed, is to look at the “tea parties” that have been held in a number of places already, and will be held across the country on Wednesday. These parties — antitaxation demonstrations that are supposed to evoke the memory of the Boston Tea Party and the American Revolution — have been the subject of considerable mockery, and rightly so.

But everything that critics mock about these parties has long been standard practice within the Republican Party.

Thus, President Obama is being called a “socialist” who seeks to destroy capitalism. Why? Because he wants to raise the tax rate on the highest-income Americans back to, um, about 10 percentage points less than it was for most of the Reagan administration. Bizarre.

But the charge of socialism is being thrown around only because “liberal” doesn’t seem to carry the punch it used to. And if you go back just a few years, you find top Republican figures making equally bizarre claims about what liberals were up to. Remember when Karl Rove declared that liberals wanted to offer “therapy and understanding” to the 9/11 terrorists?

Then there are the claims made at some recent tea-party events that Mr. Obama wasn’t born in America, which follow on earlier claims that he is a secret Muslim. Crazy stuff — but nowhere near as crazy as the claims, during the last Democratic administration, that the Clintons were murderers, claims that were supported by a campaign of innuendo on the part of big-league conservative media outlets and figures, especially Rush Limbaugh.

Speaking of Mr. Limbaugh: the most impressive thing about his role right now is the fealty he is able to demand from the rest of the right. The abject apologies he has extracted from Republican politicians who briefly dared to criticize him have been right out of Stalinist show trials. But while it’s new to have a talk-radio host in that role, ferocious party discipline has been the norm since the 1990s, when Tom DeLay, the House majority leader, became known as “The Hammer” in part because of the way he took political retribution on opponents.

Going back to those tea parties, Mr. DeLay, a fierce opponent of the theory of evolution — he famously suggested that the teaching of evolution led to the Columbine school massacre — also foreshadowed the denunciations of evolution that have emerged at some of the parties.

Last but not least: it turns out that the tea parties don’t represent a spontaneous outpouring of public sentiment. They’re AstroTurf (fake grass roots) events, manufactured by the usual suspects. In particular, a key role is being played by FreedomWorks, an organization run by Richard Armey, the former House majority leader, and supported by the usual group of right-wing billionaires. And the parties are, of course, being promoted heavily by Fox News.

But that’s nothing new, and AstroTurf has worked well for Republicans in the past. The most notable example was the “spontaneous” riot back in 2000 — actually orchestrated by G.O.P. strategists — that shut down the presidential vote recount in Florida’s Miami-Dade County.

So what’s the implication of the fact that Republicans are refusing to grow up, the fact that they are still behaving the same way they did when history seemed to be on their side? I’d say that it’s good for Democrats, at least in the short run — but it’s bad for the country.

For now, the Obama administration gains a substantial advantage from the fact that it has no credible opposition, especially on economic policy, where the Republicans seem particularly clueless.

But as I said, the G.O.P. remains one of America’s great parties, and events could still put that party back in power. We can only hope that Republicans have moved on by the time that happens.

FP morning brief 4/13

Top Story

A team of U.S. naval officers freed Capt. Richard Phillips, a U.S. citizen, from Somali pirates in a dramatic mission on Easter Sunday. The pirates, who currently hold more than 200 hostages in the Gulf of Aden, had held Phillips ransom for four days in an 18-foot liferaft. U.S. snipers killed at least three Somalis in the maritime conflict.

On Sunday, Moldova's highest court ordered a recount of the ballots from the country's presidential election, held last week, at the request of President Vladimir Voronin. The election sparked a protest by communist dissidents; some protests continue.
An aide to British Prime Minister Gordon Brown quit when emails from Labour Party operatives libeling Tory leaders David Cameron and George Osborne became public. Brown has said he will not apologize.
Swiss architect Peter Zumthor won the Pritzker Prize, the highest honor in architecture.

Middle East
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu contacted Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority, for the first time. Netanyahu told Abbas he hopes to resume talks. President of Iran Mahmoud Ahmedinejad said both that he would not stop the development of nuclear materials and that he is open to six-nation talks.
The U.S. State Department said George Mitchell, special envoy to the Middle East, will travel to Israel this week for the third time to meet with Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman.
Four Lebanese soldiers were killed in an ambush while on patrol duty in the Bekaa Valley, a Hezbollah stronghold.

The United States Treasury Department directed General Motors, the ailing Detroit carmaker, currently surviving on emergency government loans, to prepare to file for bankruptcy.
Leftist Shining Path rebels killed 13 troops in Peru, in a central cocaine-producing area.
Argentinian Angel Cabrera won the Masters golf tournament in Augusta, Georgia, on Sunday, after a play-off.

The goverment of China released an unprecedented "human rights action plan," the first of its kind, promising the right to a fair trial, more protections for the imprisoned, and the right to question government decisions.
Protests in Thailand forced the government to cancel the 16-nation ASEAN talks on economic recovery and declare a state of emergency. The "red shirt" protesters call for the reinstation of the former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in 2006 and currently faces an arrest warrant for corruption.
The U.N. Security Council plans to vote on Monday to santion North Korea for attempting to launch a rocket last month. On Sunday, the Sri Lankan government called for a two-day pause to fighting with the Tamil Tiger separatist group. The pause is intended to allow 100,000 ethnic Tamils, often used by the Tigers as human shields, to move to safer areas.

In Zimbabwe, the power-sharing government of Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai said it would not reinstate the country's currency for at least a year. Hyperinflation has left the currency virtually worthless.
Protests broke out across Antananarivo, the capital of Madagascar, when U.N.-sponsored talks aiming to end the political crisis in the country broke down. President Andry Rajoelina was installed during a military take-over last month; former president Marc Ravalomanana hopes to regain power.
The kidnappers of two western aid workers in Sudan threatened to kill the women unless France retries the "Zoe's Ark" humanitarian workers accused of abducting children in Chad.

Truthout 4/13

Dahr Jamail No Coincidences in Iraq
Dahr Jamail, Truthout: "Following George W. Bush's example of keeping war funding off the books, President Barack Obama is seeking $83.4 billion in additional 'emergency' funding for the American wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which, if approved, would bring the 2009 funding to around $150 billion and the overall costs of the two wars to nearly $1 trillion."

Dean Baker If the Bank Bailout Fails, Will Anyone Get the Boot?
Dean Baker, Truthout: "The prospect of taxpayers losing hundreds of billions on a bank bailout, which doesn't even fix the banks, is not very inspiring. In fact, it is a complete disaster. Even in Washington, $200 billion is real money. This would be enough to pay for almost 70 million kid years of SCHIP. If the government loses this much money on a failed bank bailout effort, it would be a true disaster."

Pentagon Prioritizes Pursuit of Alternative Fuel Sources
Steve Vogel, The Washington Post: "For the Defense Department, the largest consumer of energy in the United States, addiction to fuel has greater costs than the roughly $18 billion the agency spent on it last year. By some estimates, about half of the U.S. military casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan are related to attacks with improvised explosive devices on convoys, many of which are carrying fuel. Spurred by this grim reality, the Pentagon, which traditionally has not made saving energy much of a priority, has launched initiatives to find alternative fuel sources."

Thai Unrest Claims Two Lives
Ambika Ahuja and Grant Peck, The Associated Press: "Thousands of troops pushed anti-government protesters who rampaged throughout the capital into their stronghold Monday night, but the political unrest turned deadly when nearby residents turned against them. The evening gun battle came after a full day of clashes between the protesters - who are pressing Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva to resign - and soldiers across the city. Troops fired warning shots and tear gas at the demonstrators and finally forced most to retreat to their base outside the prime minister's offices."

Sri Lanka Government Urges Civilians to Leave War Zone as Army Begins Truce
Anjana Pasricha, VOA News: "The Sri Lankan army has begun a two-day truce and is urging Tamil Tiger rebels to allow civilians to leave the northern war zone. The government declared the ceasefire in the wake of growing international calls for a halt in the military campaign to crush the guerrillas. A government spokesman says the suspended offensive operations against Tamil Tiger rebels began midnight Sunday. He says troops have been told to fire their weapons only if attacked."

Marc Ash This Isn't Working
Marc Ash, Truthout: "Still well short of the Obama administration's 100th day in office, substantive judgment would normally be premature at best, but these are extraordinary times. The raging inferno of corruption that began in the Bush years burns out of control now, and time is of the essence. Some would argue the corruption was always there, is always there, a flaw in the human spirit that is never gone, but for a time controlled. In either case, the fire is now raging and threatens to consume everything. While the new, and very popular, President Barack Obama appears to mean well, Hillary Clinton's admonishment that he was unprepared for what lays ahead now seems more real than at first imagined."

Roane Carey Don't Flash the Yellow Light: Mixed Messages From Washington Could Lead to Catastrophe in Iran
Roane Carey, "Israel has been steadily ratcheting up pressure on the United States concerning the grave threat allegedly posed by Iran, which seems poised to master the nuclear fuel cycle, and thus the capacity to produce nuclear weapons. The new Israeli prime minister, Likud Party hawk Benjamin Netanyahu, has warned President Barack Obama that if Washington does not quickly find a way to shut down Iran's nuclear program, Israel will. Some analysts argue that this is manufactured hysteria, not so much a reflection of genuine Israeli fears as a purposeful diversion from other looming difficulties. The Netanyahu government is filled with hardliners adamantly opposed to withdrawal from, or even a temporary freeze on, settlements in the occupied territories, not to mention to any acceptance of Palestinian statehood."

Militants Torch Trucks Along US-NATO Supply Line
Riaz Khan, The Associated Press: "About 150 militants armed with rockets and automatic weapons attacked a transport terminal in northwestern Pakistan that lies along a key supply route used by US and NATO troops, wounding three guards and torching eight cement trucks Sunday, police said. Militants in Pakistan frequently attack cargo terminals and other stops used by vehicles taking supplies to Western troops in Afghanistan through the legendary Khyber Pass. Scores of trucks have been damaged and several people have died, adding urgency to US efforts to find safer supply routes."

Kidnapped US Captain Freed; Snipers Kill Three Pirates
Todd Pitman and Lara Jakes, The Associated Press: "Navy snipers on the fantail of a destroyer cut down three Somali pirates in a lifeboat and rescued an American sea captain in a surprise nighttime assault in choppy seas Easter Sunday, ending a five-day standoff between a team of rogue gunmen and the world's most powerful military. It was a stunning ending to an Indian Ocean odyssey that began when 53-year-old freighter Capt. Richard Phillips was taken hostage Wednesday by pirates who tried to hijack the US-flagged Maersk Alabama. The Vermont native was held on a tiny lifeboat that began drifting precariously toward Somalia's anarchic, gun-plagued shores."

Australian Government Urged to Conduct Iraq War Probe
Stephen de Tarczynski, Inter Press Service: "The UK government's recent announcement that it will conduct an inquiry into Britain's involvement in Iraq has led to calls here for Australia to review its own participation in the controversial war. Britain's foreign secretary David Miliband said in late March that the government would undertake a 'comprehensive' inquiry into Britain's decision to join the 2003 United States-led invasion of the Middle Eastern nation. The review will be carried out after July, by which time the majority of British troops will have been withdrawn from Iraq."

Social Security's Surplus Disappearing Fast in Downturn
Justin Fox, "If you count the $17 billion in income taxes expected to be paid on Social Security benefits, the system will still manage to provide a slight surplus for federal coffers in fiscal 2009. But from 2010 through 2012, there are small projected deficits, and after heading back into the black from 2013 to 2015, the program will then become a growing drain on federal finances, projects the CBO. Back in 1983, when Social Security last faced deficits, Congress approved a set of Social Security reforms that included a graduated hike in the payroll tax and an increase in the retirement age. Thanks to those changes, payroll-tax receipts surpassed benefits in 1985, and the system has been operating at a surplus ever since."

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Truthout 4/12

Tom Loudon Expectations for the Fifth Summit of the Americas
Tom Loudon, Truthout: "There are high expectations for the upcoming Summit of the Americas, happening April 17-19 in Trinidad and Tobago. It will be President Obama's first opportunity to dialogue with Latin American and Caribbean presidents. Many hold out hope for a new direction for United States policies towards our neighbors in the hemisphere. We continue to look for signs as to what the administration has in mind."

Kenneth Roth The Power of Horror in Rwanda
Kenneth Roth, The Los Angeles Times: "In the 15 years since the extremist government was ousted, Rwanda has become an island of stability in a volatile region. The economy is booming, the distinction between Hutu and Tutsi is officially downplayed, and ethnic and political violence has been largely eradicated. Kigali, the capital of a country that likes to portray itself as the Switzerland of Africa, is orderly and manicured. But Rwanda has a long way to go."

Is Gates Channeling Cheney on Iraq with "Last Gasp" Remark?
Nancy A. Youssef, McClatchy Newspapers: "Midway through a week of mayhem in Iraq, Defense Secretary Robert Gates raised eyebrows when he said the recent resurgence of violence in Baghdad was 'a last gasp' of Islamic extremists. It was an echo of former Vice President Dick Cheney, who in 2005 said the insurgency was 'in the last throes.' The following two years were the deadliest period of the war."

Thai Ministry Stormed After Government Declares Emergency
Kittipong Soonprasert, Reuters: "Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva declared a state of emergency on Sunday to quell political unrest and vowed to take tough action against protesters after they forced cancellation of an Asia summit."

Hastert Contracted to Lobby for Turkey
Kevin Bogardus, The Hill: "The Turkish government has signed another prominent former congressional leader to join its K Street team. Former House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) and others at his firm, Dickstein Shapiro, are working on a $35,000-per-month contract for Turkey, according to records on file with the Justice Department."

Evaggelos Vallianatos Honeybees in Danger
Evaggelos Vallianatos, Truthout: "When I was teaching at Humboldt State University in northern California 20 years ago, I invited a beekeeper to talk to my students. He said that each time he took his bees to southern California to pollinate other farmers' crops, he would lose a third of his bees to sprays. In 2009, the loss ranges all the way to 60 percent."

FOCUS Michael Hirsh: Wall Street Digs In
Michael Hirsh, Newsweek: "Not long ago, a group of skeptical Democratic senators met at the White House with President Obama, his chief economic adviser, Larry Summers, and Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner. The six senators - most of them centrists, joined by one left-leaning independent, Vermont's Bernie Sanders - said that while they supported Obama, they were worried. The financial reform policies the president was pursuing were not going far enough, they told him, and the people Obama was choosing as his regulators were not going to change things fundamentally enough."

FOCUS US Soldier Killed by Bomb Blast North of Baghdad
Agence France Presse: "A US soldier was killed in a bomb blast that targeted a convoy north of Baghdad on Sunday, a US military statement said, taking the number of American soldiers killed in recent days to six."

Making banking boring

New York Times

Thirty-plus years ago, when I was a graduate student in economics, only the least ambitious of my classmates sought careers in the financial world. Even then, investment banks paid more than teaching or public service — but not that much more, and anyway, everyone knew that banking was, well, boring.

In the years that followed, of course, banking became anything but boring. Wheeling and dealing flourished, and pay scales in finance shot up, drawing in many of the nation’s best and brightest young people (O.K., I’m not so sure about the “best” part). And we were assured that our supersized financial sector was the key to prosperity.

Instead, however, finance turned into the monster that ate the world economy.

Recently, the economists Thomas Philippon and Ariell Reshef circulated a paper that could have been titled “The Rise and Fall of Boring Banking” (it’s actually titled “Wages and Human Capital in the U.S. Financial Industry, 1909-2006”). They show that banking in America has gone through three eras over the past century.

Before 1930, banking was an exciting industry featuring a number of larger-than-life figures, who built giant financial empires (some of which later turned out to have been based on fraud). This highflying finance sector presided over a rapid increase in debt: Household debt as a percentage of G.D.P. almost doubled between World War I and 1929.

During this first era of high finance, bankers were, on average, paid much more than their counterparts in other industries. But finance lost its glamour when the banking system collapsed during the Great Depression.

The banking industry that emerged from that collapse was tightly regulated, far less colorful than it had been before the Depression, and far less lucrative for those who ran it. Banking became boring, partly because bankers were so conservative about lending: Household debt, which had fallen sharply as a percentage of G.D.P. during the Depression and World War II, stayed far below pre-1930s levels.

Strange to say, this era of boring banking was also an era of spectacular economic progress for most Americans.

After 1980, however, as the political winds shifted, many of the regulations on banks were lifted — and banking became exciting again. Debt began rising rapidly, eventually reaching just about the same level relative to G.D.P. as in 1929. And the financial industry exploded in size. By the middle of this decade, it accounted for a third of corporate profits.

As these changes took place, finance again became a high-paying career — spectacularly high-paying for those who built new financial empires. Indeed, soaring incomes in finance played a large role in creating America’s second Gilded Age.

Needless to say, the new superstars believed that they had earned their wealth. “I think that the results our company had, which is where the great majority of my wealth came from, justified what I got,” said Sanford Weill in 2007, a year after he had retired from Citigroup. And many economists agreed.

Only a few people warned that this supercharged financial system might come to a bad end. Perhaps the most notable Cassandra was Raghuram Rajan of the University of Chicago, a former chief economist at the International Monetary Fund, who argued at a 2005 conference that the rapid growth of finance had increased the risk of a “catastrophic meltdown.” But other participants in the conference, including Lawrence Summers, now the head of the National Economic Council, ridiculed Mr. Rajan’s concerns.

And the meltdown came.

Much of the seeming success of the financial industry has now been revealed as an illusion. (Citigroup stock has lost more than 90 percent of its value since Mr. Weill congratulated himself.) Worse yet, the collapse of the financial house of cards has wreaked havoc with the rest of the economy, with world trade and industrial output actually falling faster than they did in the Great Depression. And the catastrophe has led to calls for much more regulation of the financial industry.

But my sense is that policy makers are still thinking mainly about rearranging the boxes on the bank supervisory organization chart. They’re not at all ready to do what needs to be done — which is to make banking boring again.

Part of the problem is that boring banking would mean poorer bankers, and the financial industry still has a lot of friends in high places. But it’s also a matter of ideology: Despite everything that has happened, most people in positions of power still associate fancy finance with economic progress.

Can they be persuaded otherwise? Will we find the will to pursue serious financial reform? If not, the current crisis won’t be a one-time event; it will be the shape of things to come.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Truthout 4/11

David Gespass What Change?
David Gespass, Truthout: "For those of us who were in Durban, South Africa, in 2001 for the World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, the decision of the United States to leave before the conclusion was disheartening, but not surprising... There were two issues in particular the US did not want on the agenda. One was that of reparations for the slave trade and the other was the plight of the Palestinian people. While the US withdrawal was predicated on the latter, it remains an open question how much of a role each played in its decision."

Police Killing Shakes Louisiana Town
Michael Kunzelman and Mary Foster, The Associated Press: "For 73 years before his killing by a white police officer, Bernard Monroe led a life in this northern Louisiana town as peaceful as they come - five kids with his wife of five decades, all raised in the same house, supported by the same job. The black man's shooting death is attracting far more attention than he ever did, raising racial tensions between the black community and Homer's police department."

Seth Sandronsky Why Unions Matter
Seth Sandronsky, Truthout: "Back in the day, my mother took me to a big United Farm Workers rally. Until then, what I knew of large crowds came from sitting with my father at pro baseball games. That thrilled me. By contrast, the protesters and speakers at the lively UFW event totally rocked my world. To be a part of such cohesion changed my vision of what working people could do to improve their lives. This view of human liberation, in which those who toil daily also actively engage with others politically, motivates author Michael D. Yates, a labor economist and educator, and Monthly Review editor."

KBR Granted New Million Dollar Iraq Contract Despite Soldier Deaths
Kimberly Hefling, The Associated Press: "A New Hampshire congresswoman said the Pentagon has failed to justify giving a new, $35 million contract to a company whose electrical work on U.S. facilities in Iraq has been criticized as shoddy and unsafe. At least three service members were electrocuted while showering at U.S. facilities in Iraq. Others have been injured or killed in electrical incidents."

The Bush Six
Jane Mayer, The New Yorker: "About a year ago, a book came out in England that made a fascinating prediction: at some point in the future, the author wrote, six top officials in the Bush Administration would get a tap on the shoulder announcing that they were being arrested on international charges of torture."

Obama to Lift Some Restrictions on Cuba
Ian Swanson, The Hill: "President Obama is expected to lift numerous restrictions on travel to Cuba next week in advance of a summit of Latin American leaders that begins on April 17."

Nicolas Schmitt Healthy Canadian Banks
Writing for Geneva's Le Temps, economics professor Nicolas Schmitt "shows that, thanks to their national regulator, Canadian banks operate in a way that has protected them from the crisis."

William Rivers Pitt Appomattox Again
William Rivers Pitt, Truthout: "Lately, the news has been flooded with reports of citizens arming themselves to the teeth, egged on by right-wing media personalities prophesying doom, the rise of socialism, and that a Marxist dictator now sits in the Oval Office. This frenzy has been spilling from talk radio and television out into the streets for weeks now, and has recently metastasized into acts of outrageous violence. It smells like a new beginning of something this nation has not been forced to endure for nearly a decade."

Rollout for TARP Not Exactly Smooth
Christina Rexrode, The Charlotte Observer: "TARP has struggled to clarify its purpose and organize its logistics, according to the three government groups in charge of overseeing the program. They say the Treasury Department, which administers TARP, is tight-lipped on some important matters, such as how officials decide which banks qualify for it. They complain that TARP doesn't have the staffing to make sure banks are complying with the rules attached to the money. There's even disagreement about how much money is actually left."

Joe Conason Obama: The Extremists' Nightmare
Joe Conason, "In America's struggle against the extremists and terrorists epitomized by al-Qaeda, the strategic imperatives are to divide the enemy and neutralize their base. Fortunately for the United States and its allies, the new American president understands how to do that - and is uniquely suited to accomplish the mission."

State's Secret Deal With Power Plant Sparks Outcry
Warren Cornwall, The Seattle Times: "Gov. Chris Gregoire's administration and owners of the state's only coal-fired power plant have secretly agreed to new air-pollution limits for the facility, sparking objections from a federal official and environmentalists."

Carlton Meyer America's 20 Percent Unemployment Rate
Carlton Meyer, Sanders Research Associates: "Measuring unemployment is an art that can result in widely varied rates. Not surprisingly, the US government uses a method that excludes millions of Americans seeking employment. This lower rate is used to prove that America's economic system is superior to those in Europe. Their higher unemployment rates are blamed on unions and socialism, which guarantee workers health care and paid vacations. The implication is that while many American workers lack such benefits, at least they have jobs. This argument is faulty since unemployment is measured differently."

Aid Expulsion Heavy Blow to Darfur Women, Children
Sarah el Deeb, The Associated Press: "With her health options limited, one woman in this Darfur refugee camp is considering a risky alternative: a traditional healer who promises his potion of holy water, charcoal and glue, touched by verses of the Quran, can cure her uterus inflammation."

Free Clinics Flooded With Newly Uninsured Patients
Marisol Bello, USA Today: "By his analysis, Edward Boyer should be dead. Boyer, who lost his health insurance with his factory job last May, is an insulin-dependent diabetic who says he can't afford his medicine. He has a new job, working part-time in the kitchen of a chain-store restaurant, but can't afford insurance, he says."

Pre-K Enrollment, Funding Up; Worry About Economy
Jennifer C. Kerr, The Associated Press: "The recession could spell trouble for the nation's youngest schoolchildren, despite positive trends in spending and enrollment for state pre-K programs, according to a report released Wednesday."

FOCUS NYC Police Arrest 22 at New School C. Hernandez and Al Baker, The New York Times: "More than 20 people occupied a building on the New School campus in Greenwich Village on Friday, demanding that the school's embattled president, Bob Kerrey, be ousted. But unlike a similar protest in December that was peacefully negotiated to an end after 30 hours, Friday's ordeal was concluded in a few hours after the school asked the police to remove the protesters."

FOCUS Protesters Shut Down Southeast Asian Summit Charles McDermid, The Los Angeles Times: "Thousands of protesters smashed through a glass entrance and stormed a hotel complex today during a key meeting of regional heads of state. Thailand has declared a state of emergency in the summit's host city Pattaya and the annual meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations has been called off."

Friday, April 10, 2009

FP morning post 4/10

Top Story

The battle between pirates in the Gulf of Aden and the U.S. military escalated, with all parties sending in additional boats. Hostage Capt. Richard Phillips attempted to escape from the Somali pirates who had briefly overtaken the Maersk Alabama container ship he commanded, only to be recaptured when he attempted to swim away. The pirates are attempting to return to shore with Phillips in a small lifeboat. Hostage negotiators from the FBI are said to be arriving soon, as are additional warcraft, promised by Gen. David Petraeus.

On Good Friday, Italy held a state funeral for the victims of the earthquake in L'Aquila.
Turkmenistan accused Russia of purposefully causing a blast on the main gas pipeline between the two countries.
European stocks climbed for the fifth straight week, on speculation that the worst of the credit crisis is over.

Middle East
Just after United States announced direct talks with Iran over its nuclear capability, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad declared progress in the country's uranium-enrichment program.
A suicide bombing in Mosul, Iraq, killed seven, including five U.S. soldiers.
U.S. President Barack Obama asked for $83.4 billion additional dollars to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Mexico City officials turned off water pipes, leaving five million residents without water for 36 hours, due to a shortage.
The CIA announced the closure of its overseas "black site" prisons, where enemy combatants were allegedly tortured.
An early-season tornado flattened a small town in Arkansas, killing at least three.

Protesters in Thailand blocked the entrance to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) economic summit.
Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso formally unveiled the country's $150 billion stimulus program, worth around 3 percent of its gross domestic product.
Fijian President Ratu Josefa Iloilo seized control of the country, banishing the judiciary and revoking the constitution.
Partisans of Robert Mugabe, president of Zimbabwe, are accused of torturing their rivals to gain political amnesty.
Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika won a third term, in an election marred by violence and boycotts.

Truthout 4/10

Michael Winship "Let the Railsplitter Awake!"
Michael Winship, Truthout: "A number of years ago, when I was writing a public television series for the Smithsonian Institution, I watched a woman in one of the museum's conservation labs, restoring what appeared to be an old top hat. What's its story?, I asked her. Oh, she replied nonchalantly, this is the hat Lincoln wore to Ford's Theater the night he was assassinated."

Suicide Bomb Kills Five US Soldiers, Two Iraqi Police
Mohammed Abbas, Reuters: "A suicide bomber detonated a truck packed with explosives outside an Iraqi base in the northern city of Mosul Friday, killing five US soldiers and two Iraqi policemen, the US military said."

Robert Naiman ObamaNation Wants Taliban Talks, Not Military Escalation, in Afghanistan
Robert Naiman, Truthout: "Americans elected President Obama in part based on his promise to put diplomacy and international cooperation, rather than the use and threat of military force, at the center of his foreign policy. With respect to Afghanistan and Pakistan, while there have been some encouraging signals in terms of actually implemented policies, the folks who voted for Obama are not yet getting the 'diplomacy first' that they were promised."

US Military Concedes Afghan Civilian Casualties
Kamal Sadat, Reuters: "The US military has conceded that a raid this week by troops under its command in Afghanistan killed a group of civilians who were defending their home, not militants as it had earlier reported."

US Citizens Caught Up in Immigration Sweeps
Andrew Becker and Patrick J. McDonnell, The Los Angeles Times: "Rennison Vern Castillo thought his legal troubles were nearly over at the end of a jail stay for harassing his ex-girlfriend. But then a US immigration hold order blocked his release. 'They think you're here illegally,' a jailhouse guard said to him. Castillo, mystified, insisted it was all a mistake. Though born in Belize, he had come of age in South Los Angeles, spoke fluent English, served a stint in the Army and had become an American citizen about seven years earlier."

More Squatters Are Calling Foreclosures Home
John Leland, The New York Times: "When the woman who calls herself Queen Omega moved into a three-bedroom house here last December, she introduced herself to the neighbors, signed contracts for electricity and water and ordered an Internet connection. What she did not tell anyone was that she had no legal right to be in the home. Ms. Omega, 48, is one of the beneficiaries of the foreclosure crisis. Through a small advocacy group of local volunteers called Take Back the Land, she moved from a friend’s couch into a newly empty house that sold just a few years ago for more than $400,000."

Sylvain Lapoix G-20 Ignored Social "Havens"
Sylvain Lapoix, Marianne2: "While the G-20 has bragged about dismantling tax havens, social 'havens' - where minimal labor costs facilitate factory transfers - persist across the world: Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Mexico.... Some have even been inserted into the European Union with complete impunity!"

Norman Solomon Getting a Death Grip on Memory
Norman Solomon, Truthout: "A headline in The New York Times announced a few days ago: 'Brain Researchers Open Door to Editing Memory.' This news ran above the fold on the front page. 'Suppose scientists could erase certain memories by tinkering with a single substance in the brain,' the article began. Readers quickly learned that it's starting to happen: 'Researchers in Brooklyn have recently accomplished comparable feats, with a single dose of an experimental drug delivered to areas of the brain critical for holding specific types of memory ...' Big deal. American media outlets have been pulling off such feats for a long time."

CIA to Close Secret Overseas Prisons, End Security Contracts
Jonathan S. Landay, McClatchy Newspapers: "The CIA is decommissioning the secret overseas prisons where top al Qaida suspects were subjected to interrogation methods, including simulated drowning, that Attorney General Eric Holder, allied governments, the Red Cross and numerous other experts consider torture, the agency said Thursday. In an e-mail to the agency's work force outlining current interrogation and detention policies, CIA Director Leon Panetta also announced that agreements with the private security firms guarding the so-called black sites will be 'promptly terminated,' and contractors no longer will be used to conduct interrogations."

Obama to Seek $83.4 Billion for Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan
The Associated Press: "US president Barack Obama is seeking $83.4bn ... for US military and diplomatic operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, pressing for special troop funding that he opposed two years ago when he was a senator and George Bush was president. Obama's request, including money to send thousands more troops into Afghanistan, would push the costs of the two wars to almost $1tn since the 9/11 terror attacks against the US in 2001, according to the Congressional Research Service. The additional money would cover operations into the latter months of this year. Obama also is requesting $400m to upgrade security along the US-Mexico border and to combat narcoterrorists."

Returning Troops Getting Tested for Brain Injuries
Kristin M. Hall, The Associated Press: "Every soldier who's gone to war in the past year paused before leaving to take a brain test - basic math, matching numbers and symbols and identifying patterns to measure response time and accuracy. Now that some of these troops have returned, they're taking a fresh round of tests, all part of a broad effort by the military to better treat head injuries. The Department of Defense is also deploying some unusual weapons for treating the injuries, including paint guns and motion-sensitive video games integrated into therapy at new trauma centers around the country. Funding for the treatment of these injuries is expected to increase under President Barack Obama."

Cyber Spying a Threat, and Everyone Is in on It
The Associated Press: "Ghost hackers infiltrating the computers of Tibetan exiles and the US electric grid have pulled the curtain back on 21st-century espionage as nefarious as anything from the Cold War -- and far more difficult to stop. Nowadays, a hacker with a high-speed Internet connection, knowledge of computer security and some luck can pilfer information thought to be safely ensconced in a digital locker. And the threat is growing, with countries - including the US - pointing fingers at each other even as they ramp up their own cyber espionage."

Island DIY: Kauai Residents Don't Wait for State to Repair Road
Mallory Simon, CNN: "Their livelihood was being threatened, and they were tired of waiting for government help, so business owners and residents on Hawaii's Kauai island pulled together and completed a $4 million repair job to a state park - for free. Polihale State Park has been closed since severe flooding destroyed an access road to the park and damaged facilities in December. The state Department of Land and Natural Resources had estimated that the damage would cost $4 million to fix, money the agency doesn't have, according to a news release from department Chairwoman Laura Thielen."

Thursday, April 9, 2009

On Tradition, Or, Same-Sex Marriage, Seen Through A Telescope

Dangerous Things are happening in America these days, we are told, and the once-innocent citizens of Iowa and Vermont have already been exposed to the hazard...and now it looks as though the contagion might spread to States across New England.

But lucky for us, our friends on the Right are here again to save to save us from...(insert horror film music here)...

...The Gay.

The Gay, it turns out, want the opportunity to marry.

Among other complaints, our friends on the Right feel this will destroy religious tradition, which will ultimately destroy first Christianity, then the Nation. Therefore, religious tradition must be protected at all costs.

Well as it turns out, there are some people from our past who know a few things about religious traditions and how they distort reality—and today, we’ll examine the lessons they have to teach us.

The sun also ariseth, and the sun goeth down, and hasteth to his place where he arose.

--“The King James Bible”, Ecclesiastes 1:5

“...I wish, my dear Kepler, that we could have a good laugh together at the extraordinary stupidity of the mob. What do you think of the foremost philosophers of this University? In spite of my oft-repeated efforts and invitations, they have refused, with the obstinacy of a glutted adder, to look at the planets or Moon or my telescope.”

--Through which the satellites of Jupiter were visible, Galileo Galilei

“The proposition that the sun is in the center of the world and immovable from its place is absurd, philosophically false, and formally heretical; because it is expressly contrary to Holy Scriptures.”

--From the Catholic Church’s indictment of Galileo Galilei, 1633

So you get up every day and look up at the sky, and it’s obvious that the sun starts out over here...and at the end of the day it ends up over there.

Aristotle and Ptolemy figured it all out: each planet was placed on its own “sphere”, the earth in the center, and everything rotating around it; each planet (and the sun) inside the other, with the stars on the outside, in a Celestial Sphere”...all of this resembling Russian “Matryoshka” dolls.

And it’s no surprise that this interpretation of the motion of planets and the sun became not just “common sense”, but the official position of the Roman Catholic Church. After all, it was in the Bible, it was something you could see every day, and as the Greeks would have told you, it was logically “beautiful”—and who could want better proof than that?

To make a long story short, a Polish-born Church Canon named Nicolas Copernicus did. In 1543, near the end of his life, he released the book De revolutionibus orbium coelestium ("On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres"), which suggested that all the planets, including the Earth, actually orbit the Sun.

It took another 40 years before someone would challenge Dogma on this point in a “threatening” way, but by 1584 Giordano Bruno’s The Ash Wednesday Supper was considered challenging enough to earn him the Heretic’s Fork...just before he was burned alive on the order of the Church.

By 1616 Galileo Galilei was being warned by the Catholic Church to stop talking about what he was seeing through his telescopes; a moon that was not a perfect sphere and the viewing of the phases of Venus being just two of his problematic observations.

Of course, the real reason all this was so problematic was because there were those in the Church who felt that the Word of God was to be interpreted literally...which meant that anyone who challenged either the text of the Bible or Church Dogma in any way had to be both factually wrong...and an enemy of the Faith.

Who are you going to believe, me or your own eyes?

--Groucho Marx, from the movie Duck Soup

Despite the warning, Galileo wouldn’t let it go. He kept observing, and he kept writing, which led to his attempt, in 1632, to obtain a license to publish the Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems...which led to his being hauled before the Inquisition...which led, in June of 1633, to him forswearing any of his previous beliefs, presumably to avoid the Heretic’s Fork himself.

The Church was able to hold all this together for another half-century—but Isaac Newton essentially “won the argument” with the publication of his three editions of the Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica from 1686 to 1742.

Many of you will recall that the Catholic Church was in fact destroyed by this chink in the armor of Biblical literalism, with the Church actually ceasing operations in 1802.

Obviously, I’m kidding—but the fact that nothing terrible happened hasn’t stopped any number of religious leaders in this country (and their followers, for that matter) from claiming that allowing same-sex marriages will have the same impact on faith in America today.

Which brings us to the moral of today’s story: the next time someone tells you that same-sex marriages will destroy religious traditions...that the world as we know it will come to a horrible end...and that anyone with any “common sense” can see that for themselves...tell ‘em to go get a telescope and get over it.

Truthout 4/9

J. Sri Raman The Scream and the Drone
J. Sri Raman, Truthout: "The scream of 17-year-old Chand Bibi of the Swat Valley has been heard across Pakistan for over a week now. The drone of remotely operated US gunships over the country's mountainous western frontier has been heard for months. What the world needs to hear now is the voice of Pakistan in response to both the scream and the drone. Much of the world has by now heard the scream, too, and watched the merciless flogging of the teenage girl as Taliban punishment for alleged transgression of a misogynist code of morality: she had been caught coming out of her house with a male 'stranger.' The date of the incident was not clear and versions of it differed in minor detail. The local Taliban leader, however, proudly owned up to the punishment meted out for the insinuated, 'anti-Islam' offense."

US to Attend Group Nuclear Talks With Iran
Matthew Lee, The Associated Press: "The Obama administration said Wednesday it will participate directly in group talks with Iran over its suspect nuclear program, another significant shift from President George W. Bush's policy toward a nation he labeled part of an axis of evil. The State Department said the United States would be at the table 'from now on' when senior diplomats from the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany meet with Iranian officials to discuss the nuclear issue. The Bush administration had generally shunned such meetings, although it attended one last year. 'We believe that pursuing very careful engagement on a range of issues that affect our interests and the interests of the world with Iran makes sense,' Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton told reporters."

Justice Official Who Probed US Attorney Firings Will Now Lead US Attorney's Office
Zachary Roth, Talking Points Memo: "The Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility -- which has lately been in a number of internal DOJ investigations into high-profile issues -- will soon have a new chief. The Washington Post reports that Attorney General Eric Holder will name as the head of the office Mary Patrice Brown, a respected career prosecutor who currently leads the criminal division at the US Attorney's office for Washington DC. Brown will replace Marshall Jarrett, who has been there since 1998, and will shift over to lead the executive office of the US Attorneys."

Eric Boehlert Glenn Beck and the Rise of Fox News's Militia Media
Eric Boehlert, Media Matters: "After a night of drinking, followed by an early-morning argument with his mother, with whom he shared a Pittsburgh apartment, 22-year-old Richard Poplawski put on a bulletproof vest, grabbed his guns, including an AK-47 rifle, and waited for the police to respond to the domestic disturbance call his mother had placed. When two officers arrived at the front door, Poplawski shot them both in the head, and then killed another officer who tried to rescue his colleagues. In the wake of the bloodbath, we learned that Poplawski was something of a conspiracy nut who embraced dark, radical rhetoric about America."

Amy Goodman US Muslims Still Under Siege
Amy Goodman, Truthdig: "As President Barack Obama made his public appearance with Turkish President Abdullah Gul on Monday as part of his first trip to a Muslim country, US federal agents were preparing to arrest Youssef Megahed in Tampa, Fla. Just three days earlier, on Friday, a jury in a US federal district court had acquitted him of charges of illegally transporting explosives and possession of an explosive device. Obama promised, when meeting with Gul, to 'shape a set of strategies that can bridge the divide between the Muslim world and the West that can make us more prosperous and more secure.'"

FP morning brief 4/9

Top Story

The crew of the Maersk Alabama, the U.S. cargo vessel that was hijacked by pirates near Somalia yesterday, managed to retake control of their ship, but the pirates are holding the ship's captain on a nearby lifeboat. A U.S. navy destroyer Bainbridge (right) has been dispatched to the scene and negotiations for the release of Captain Richard Phillips are ongoing. Though dead-in-the-water after running out of fuel, the lifeboat has enough provisions for a week so negotiations could last for some time. Philips and his first mate were trained in anti-piracy tactics.

The World Food Program has confirmed that the ship was carrying food aid meant for Somalia, Uganda and Kenya.

40,000 Georgians marched to demand the resignation of president Mikheil Saakashvili.
Moldova's government has accused neighboring Romania of stirring up this week's post-election riots and has expelled the Romanian ambassador.
The death toll continues to rise from Italy's recent earthquake.

Middle East
Iran said it will consider an offer of nuclear talks with the United States.
Followers of Moqtada al-Sadr marched to commemorate the sixth anniversary of the fall of Baghdad and demand the withdrawal of U.S. troops.
A group of Israeli settlers attacked a neighboring Palestinian village in the West Bank.

President Barack Obama is moving ahead with an overhaul of the U.S. immigration system this summer.
Obama will not meet one-on-one with Hugo Chavez at next week's Summit of the Americas.
As federal examiners investigate U.S. banks, it appears likely they will need more bailout money.

Thailand is moving ahead in hosting the 10-nation East Asian summit despite massive anti-government protests.
Corruption is undermining efforts to train and equip the Afghan police.
Kim Jong Il's leadership was renewed by North Korea's parliament.

Algerians vote in presidential elections today. Incumbent Abdelaziz Bouteflika is heavily favored to win.
Human Rights Watch has released new data on atrocities committed in Eastern Congo.
A Ugandan spy was charged with embezzling thousands of dollars meant for AIDS patients.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

FP morning brief 4/8

Top Story

The recent pirate hijacking spree continued today with the seizure of a U.S. cargo ship off the coast of Somalia. The Maersk Alabama is a U.S. flagged vessel operated by a Danish shipping company with 21 crewmembers aboard, reportedly all Americans. The Alabama's seizure follows five hijackings last weekend, a dramatic increase after only eight ships were seized in the first three months of 2009.

Many of the pirates are based in the semi-autonomous Somali region of Puntland which today requested more international funding to fight the problem. "It's better for the international community to give us $1 million to clear out the pirates on the ground, instead of paying millions of dollars to keep the warships at sea," said the region's security minister.

Middle East
Barack Obama finished his trip abroad with a surprise visit to Iraq where he met with U.S. troops and urged reconciliation of the country's warring factions.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is expected to announce that his country has mastered the final stage of nuclear enrichment. Ahmadinejad said today that he would welcome "honest" talks with the United States.
Deadly attacks against gays are on the rise in Iraq.

Moldovan police have wrested control of the parliament away from the students protesting last weekend's election. FP's newest blogger Evgeny Morozov comments on the role Twitter played in the demonstrations.
Ireland unveiled an emergency budget including higher taxes and drastically reduced spending.
Aftershocks are complicating the rescue effort for Italy's deadly earthquake.

President Hamid Karzai said he will change Afghanistan's controversial new women's rights law if it is found to be unconstitutional.
Poland has agreed to increase the number of troops it has in Afghanistan by 20 percent.
Pakistan's foreign minister questioned whether the United States could be trusted in light of recent drone attacks.

Vermont became the second U.S. state in a week to legalize same-sex marriage.
Russian and Chinese cyberspies have reportedly penetrated the U.S. electrical grid.
Former Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori was sentenced to 25 years in jail for human rights violations during his presidency. Elizabeth Dickinson comments for Passport.

The government of Niger has reportedly signed a peace deal with its Tuareg rebels.
Four men accused of playing a role in Rwanda's 1994 genocide have won the right to remain in Britain.
Human Rights Watch accused Uganda's anti-terrorist forces of torturing detainess.

Truthout 4/8

Bill Moyers and Michael Winship Changing the Rules
Bill Moyers and Michael Winship, Truthout: "A cartoon in the Sunday comics shows that mustachioed fellow with monocle and top hat from the Monopoly game - 'Rich Uncle Pennybags,' he used to be called - standing along the roadside, destitute, holding a sign: 'Will blame poor people for food.' Time to move the blame to where it really belongs. That means no more coddling banks with bailout billions marked 'secret.' No more allowing their executives lavish bonuses and new corporate jets as if they've won the mega-lottery and not sent the economy down the tubes. And no more apostles of Wall Street calling the shots."

US Crew Reportedly Takes Over Ship From Pirates
Katharine Houreld, The Associated Press: "Somali pirates on Wednesday hijacked a US-flagged cargo ship with 20 American crew members onboard, the shipping company said. The 17,000-ton Maersk Alabama was carrying emergency relief to Mombasa, Kenya, when it was hijacked, said Peter Beck-Bang, spokesman for the Copenhagen-based container shipping group AP Moller-Maersk. In a statement, the company confirmed that the US-flagged vessel has 20 US nationals onboard."

Safety Team Warns of "Catastrophic" Wiring in Iraq
Kimberly Hefling, The Associated Press: "A military team sent to evaluate electrical problems at US facilities in Iraq determined there was a high risk that flawed wiring could cause further 'catastrophic results' - namely, the electrocutions of US soldiers. The team said the use of a required device, commonly found in American houses to prevent electrical shocks, was 'patchy at best' near showers and latrines in US military facilities. There also was widespread use of uncertified electrical devices and 'incomplete application' of US electrical codes in buildings throughout the war-torn country, the team found. At least three US service members have been electrocuted in Iraq while taking showers in the six years since the US-led invasion of the country."

Democrat Wins Rahm Emanuel's Illinois Congress Seat
Deanna Bellandi, The Associated Press: "A reform-minded Democrat on Tuesday claimed the high-profile Illinois congressional seat that Rahm Emanuel gave up to be President Barack Obama's chief of staff. Cook County Commissioner Mike Quigley, 50, trounced GOP nominee Rosanna Pulido and Green Party candidate Matt Reichel for the 5th Congressional District seat that Emanuel first won in 2002. With 98 percent of precincts reporting, Quigley had 29,634, or nearly 70 percent of the vote. Pulido had 10,360 or 24 percent, and Reichel had 2,839 or nearly 7 percent."

Biden to Shepherd Test Ban Treaty Vote
Walter Pincus, The Washington Post: "President Obama is planning to put Vice President Biden in charge of what is expected to be the difficult job of getting the Senate to ratify the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, administration sources said. Deputy Secretary of State James B. Steinberg spoke of the pending assignment at a Monday luncheon sponsored by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, but Biden aides said yesterday that they could not confirm when it will be officially announced. In 1999, as ranking minority member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Biden led the Clinton administration's unsuccessful attempt at ratification."

Sophie Wahnich After 1789, 2009?
Sophie Wahnich, Le Monde: "Twenty years after its bicentenary, the French Revolution is once again breaking through the surface of public speech. The President of the Republic acknowledges that it's not easy to govern a 'regicide country.' Alain Minc warns his 'friends in the ruling class' by reminding them that 1789 began in 1788 and that they must no doubt learn to renounce certain privileges. Jean-Francois Cope deplores the 'natural temptation to permanently redo 1793.'"

Dean Baker Hands Off Social Security
Dean Baker, USA TODAY: "What do our elites, ranging from editorial boards to former Commerce secretary Pete Peterson, plan in response to this situation? At the same time that they are handing trillions of dollars to the bankers who wrecked the economy, they are proposing to cut Social Security in the name of fiscal responsibility. This plan is even more outrageous because workers have already paid for their Social Security benefits. The Congressional Budget Office projects that Social Security, by drawing down its trust fund, will be able to pay benefits until the year 2049 with no changes whatsoever."

Tom Engelhardt Terminator Planet: Launching the Drone Wars
Tom Engelhardt, "Now, keep our present drones, those MQ-1 Predators and more advanced MQ-9 Reapers, in mind for a moment. Remember that, as you read, they're cruising Iraqi, Afghan, and Pakistani skies looking for potential 'targets,' and in Pakistan's tribal borderlands, are employing what Centcom commander General David Petraeus calls 'the right of last resort' to take out 'threats' (as well as tribespeople who just happen to be in the vicinity.) And bear with me while I offer you a little potted history of the modern arms race."

Ballot Review Seals Franken Court Victory in Minnesota
Emily Cadei, Congressional Quarterly: "Democrat Al Franken's lead in Minnesota's long-disputed Senate race increased to 312 votes Tuesday, making it mathematically impossible for Norm Coleman to win his state trial challenging the election outcome. A three-judge panel appointed by the state Supreme Court is expected to rule this week that Franken won the race. Franken's slim advantage expanded after election officials, acting under court order, opened and counted 351 previously rejected absentee ballots."

Can US Courts Free Innocent Guantanamo Prisoners?
Daphne Eviatar, The Washington Independent: "In what's being called the first major challenge of the Obama administration's detention policy, lawyers on Monday filed a petition with the US Supreme Court to review the case of Kiyemba v. Obama, in which a Court of Appeals ruled that federal courts do not have the power to order innocent Guantanamo detainees released into the United States. The significance of that ruling goes far beyond the now-notorious case of the 17 Chinese Muslim Uighurs directly involved. At its core, the petition asks the Supreme Court more broadly: does a federal court have any power at all over innocent prisoners of the 'war on terror'?"

On Defense Cuts, Obama Holds Cards
Roxana Tiron, The Hill: "Congress has little chance of stopping President Obama's sweeping changes to the military budget, which would scrap several high-profile weapons programs. Obama and Defense Secretary Robert Gates have stirred a hornet's nest in targeting six major programs for the chopping block. But congressional and defense-industry sources said it will be difficult to oppose the popular Obama, who will argue his proposed cuts will benefit soldiers fighting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and better use limited resources during a recession."

Stephen Zunes The War on Yugoslavia, Ten Years Later
Stephen Zunes, Foreign Policy in Focus: "It has been 10 years since the US-led war on Yugoslavia. For many leading Democrats, including some in top positions in the Obama administration, it was a 'good' war, in contrast to the Bush administration's 'bad' war on Iraq. And though the suffering and instability unleashed by the 1999 NATO military campaign wasn't as horrific as the US invasion of Iraq four years later, the war was nevertheless unnecessary and illegal, and its political consequences are far from settled."

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

FP morning brief 4/7

Top Story

Under a new budget proposed by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates yesterday, the United States would cut funding of missile defense, cancel a number of pricey weapons programs including the F-22 fighter and the new presidential helicopter and focus spending on preparing for counterinsurgency programs in places like Iraq and Afghanistan.

Gates's changes are widely seen as a frontal assault on the existing defense department procurement process as he called for "a dramatic change in the way we acquire military equipment."

Within minutes of the budget's release, Republican Senators were speaking out against the missile defense cuts as irresponsible in the wake of North Korea's missile test last weekend. There are also concerns about the loss of jobs that could result from the cuts. While congress is likely to push back against some of Gates's plan, he did win the support of longtime procurement-reform advocate John McCain.

On, the Center for Defense Information's Winslow Wheeler says there's less change in Gates's plan than meets that eye and Shadow Government's Kori Schake argues that Gates is fighting the last war.

Middle East
Speaking in Turkey, Barack Obama addressed the Muslim world saying the United States "is not and never will be at war with Islam."
Israeli police shot and killed a Palestinian man who drove at them during the demolition of a house in East Jerusalem. Israel says it has successfully tested an anti-ballistic missile shield.

Hopes of finding more survivors from yesterday's earthquake in Italy are fading. There's been major damage the region's historic architecture and artwork.
Protesters stormed Moldova's parliament building after yesterday's Communist presidential victory.
Russia's new stimulus plan heavily emphasizes boosting consumer demand.

Japan continues to call for a strong response to North Korea's missile test in the UN Security Council but is encountering resistance from China and Russia.
Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva's car was attacked as protests against his government grow more violent.
U.S. envoy Richard Holbrooke met with President Asif Ali Zardari in Pakistan.

Americans have grown more optimistic about the economy since Barack Obama's inauguration, according to a New York Times poll.
Cuban President Raul Castro hosted a delegation of U.S. congressmen.
The final verdict in former Peruvian president Alberto Fujimori's human rights abuse trial is due today.

Somali pirates have seized five ships in 48 hours.
After corruption charges against him were dropped, African National Congress leader Jacob Zuma said he was the "victim of a systematic abuse of power."
Kenya's justice minister resigned, saying her efforts at reform were being undermined.

Truthout 4/7

Report Calls CIA Detainee Treatment "Inhuman"
Joby Warrick and Julie Tate, The Washington Post: "Medical officers who oversaw interrogations of terrorism suspects in CIA secret prisons committed gross violations of medical ethics and in some cases essentially participated in torture, the International Committee of the Red Cross concluded in a confidential report that labeled the CIA program 'inhuman.' Health personnel offered supervision and even assistance as suspected al-Qaeda operatives were beaten, deprived of food, exposed to temperature extremes and subjected to waterboarding, the relief agency said in the 2007 report, a copy of which was posted on a magazine Web site yesterday. The report quoted one medical official as telling a detainee: 'I look after your body only because we need you for information.'"

Matt Renner Week in Review
Matt Renner, Truthout: "The Securities and Exchange Commission (S.E.C.) has been under fire for failing to protect shareholders from fraud in the wake of the $50 billion Bernard Madoff Ponzi scheme. Revelations stemming from the Madoff debacle showed the S.E.C. failed to properly examine Madoff's dealings and ignored warnings about Madoff for years." On another front, "The left wing of the Democratic Party, which coalesced around opposition to the war policy of the Bush administration, is holding a six-part forum for the public and for Congressional staffers on President Obama's plan for the occupation of Afghanistan."

Obama Makes Unannounced First Visit to Iraq
Jennifer Loven, The Associated Press: "On a trip shrouded in secrecy, President Barack Obama flew into Iraq on Tuesday for a brief look at a war he opposed as a candidate and now vows to end as commander in chief. Obama flew into the country hours after a car bomb exploded in a Shiite neighborhood of the capital city, a deadly reminder of the violence that has claimed the lives at least 4,266 members of the U.S. military and thousands more Iraqis since March 2003. The visit came at the conclusion of a long overseas trip that included economic and NATO summits in Europe and two days in Turkey."

Norman Solomon Democrats and War Escalation
Norman Solomon, Truthout: "Top Democrats and many prominent supporters - with vocal agreement, tactical quibbles or total silence - are assisting the escalation of the US war effort in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The predictable results will include much more killing and destruction. Back home, on the political front, the escalation will drive deep wedges into the Democratic Party. The party has a large antiwar base, and that base will grow wider and stronger among voters as the realities of the Obama war program become more evident. The current backing or acceptance of the escalation from liberal think tanks and some online activist groups will not be able to prevent the growth of opposition among key voting blocs."

Dr. James J. Zogby Bush's Tortured Legacy
Dr. James J. Zogby, Truthout: "Two major stories, prominently featured in The Washington Post and The New York Times last Sunday, dealt with the Bush administration's use of torture. When combined, they raised several important issues. The front page banner headline in The Washington Post read 'Detainee's Harsh Treatment Foiled No Plots,' with the subhead continuing 'Waterboarding, Rough Treatment of Abu Zubaidah Produced False Leads, Officials Say.' Based on extensive interviews with former CIA and administration officials, the piece examined how the Bush administration dealt with Abu Zubaidah, a prisoner captured in 2002 in Pakistan. After a four-year stay at a 'secret CIA site', he was moved to Guantanamo. While, early on, President Bush heralded the capture of Abu Zubaidah (calling him 'a senior terrorist leader and a trusted associate of Osama bin Laden'), the story notes how, within weeks of his imprisonment, analysts concluded that he was not an official member of al-Qaeda."

Le Monde The Obama Manner
Le Monde's editorialist: "... something has changed in the relations with the United States. Something about Mr. Obama, that could be sensed, but which this trip has confirmed ..."

Marjorie Cohn Spain Investigates What America Should
Marjorie Cohn, The San Francisco Chronicle: "A Spanish court has initiated criminal proceedings against six former officials of the Bush administration. John Yoo, Jay Bybee, David Addington, Alberto Gonzales, William Haynes and Douglas Feith may face charges in Spain for authorizing torture at Guantanamo Bay. If arrest warrants are issued, Spain and any of the other 24 countries that are parties to European extradition conventions could arrest these six men when they travel abroad."

Marcia Mitchell Katharine Gun: The Spy Who Tried to Stop a War
Marcia Mitchell, Truthout: "Pigeons are coming home to roost in the prestigious halls of the United Kingdom's Parliament building. Whether they make it across the Atlantic to the US Capitol is a matter that should be of interest to all Americans. On March 19, Katharine Gun testified before British lawmakers, asking them to commit to a full public inquiry into the decision to invade Iraq. Gun is well-known to Members of Parliament. She was the young British secret service officer who was arrested for leaking an illegal US spy operation against members of the UN Security Council debating the decision for war. The operation, mounted by the NSA, targeted six nations whose vote for a preemptive strike was considered essential to winning broad international support for war."

Gates Calls for Shift in Defense Spending Priorities
Mary Louise Kelly, NPR News: "Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Monday that he wants to 'profoundly reform' the way the Pentagon does business, calling for more money for unmanned spy planes, helicopters and other items for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. His new budget would eliminate a multibillion dollar satellite program and end production of the F-22 fighter jet. Gates' announcement marks a shift in priorities - steering more resources toward the wars the US military is fighting today as opposed to conventional wars the US might fight in the future. 'This is a reform budget, reflecting lessons learned in Iraq and Afghanistan,' Gates said."

Obama Administration Steps Up Anti-Fraud Efforts
Phil Mattingly, Congressional Quarterly: "First the government had to do something about the runaway problem of mortgage foreclosures. Now there's an offshoot - the mortgage scam - and the Obama administration says it's going to get aggressive about finding and stopping the scammers."

Pat Williams Our Common Purpose
Pat Williams, Truthout: "For almost fifty years, we Americans held common purpose with our government. From the early 1930's and Franklin D. Roosevelt through seven presidents, people believed that aggressive government made a positive difference in their lives. That belief was shared by both Republican and Democratic administrations. Eisenhower created the massive, job-producing interstate highway system; Nixon enacted vigorous federal wage and price controls to slow near-rampant inflation, encouraged the National Environmental Policy Act, Endangered Species Act, and clean air and water; Ford, in his shortened term, vigorously negotiated the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty - SALT II. Under Democratic Presidents Roosevelt, Truman, Kennedy, Johnson and Carter, Americans embraced federal efforts from The New Deal through The New Frontier."

Why Big US, Foreign Banks Got Billions From A.I.G. Bailout
Greg Gordon and Kevin G. Hall, McClatchy Newspapers: "The Federal Reserve Bank of New York opted in November not to pursue tough negotiations with large foreign and domestic banks and instead paid them 100 cents on the dollar in government funds to settle tens of billions of dollars of exotic financial bets guaranteed by insurer American International group. At the time, Timothy Geithner, who later would become Treasury secretary, headed the powerful New York Fed. Under his watch, the decision was made to forgo a reduced payout - called a 'haircut' in industry parlance - to certain creditors of AIG to prevent financial chaos around the world, the officials told McClatchy."

Monday, April 6, 2009

Look what you just bought!

From The South Bend Tribune:

The Redevelopment Commission approved an agreement to buy the former Studebaker Foundry at 1100 Prairie Ave., from its owners, The 1100 Corp. The commission also will help with relocation costs for Underground Pipe & Valve, which is a tenant in the building.

The purchase price is $1.6 million with a credit of $129,560 for 6.32 acres in the Oliver Industrial Park, where a new $2 million facility will be built for Underground Pipe & Valve. The company, which is a wholesale distributor of plumbing and sewer materials, will receive $205,000 in relocation payments after it moves. Construction is expected to begin later this year. The 1100 Corp. has agreed not to request a tax abatement for the new building.

Ann Kolata, economic development specialist, said the purchase price also covers ground compacting at the Oliver site and asphalt for the storage yard area. She said a Section 108 loan from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and money from HUD’s Economic Development Initiative will be used for the project. The former foundry will be demolished in 2010.
Full story

There is some possibility that this makes sense. But I think it is a bit insulting to think that there isn't a need to make a case for that.

The casual observer might think this building should have been condemned years ago. It's pretty hard to see how any legitimate business could operate out of it. Assuming the owners would choose not to bring the property up to acceptable conditions (which seems likely), the city would own it already.

It's safe to assume that there will be serious remediation costs in the building and on the property - considering this housed a foundry from the early twentieth century on. Yet, this transaction only merited a tiny article buried deep within the South Bend Tribune.

The City Administration has been challenged by citizens over and over again about the seemingly exorbitant sums paid for properties which appear to have no value other than being where the city wants to do something else. All manner of accusations have been made, but I've yet to hear any clear explanation from the City about these decisions and how they fit into a larger picture.

And I found this paragraph intriguing:
The city has now finished its acquisition of former Studebaker Corp. buildings south of Sample Street. The area is being redeveloped as Ignition Park, which is one part of the city’s state certified technology

What about the large building to the east of the recently departed South Bend Lathe? It hardly looks suitable for a rehab.

To most of us, 1.6 million dollars counts as real money. Remediation costs will be substantial. The City government owes citizens an explanation.

Don Wheeler

FP morning brief 4/6

Top Story

This weekend's North Korean missile launch may have been expected for weeks and may have been a complete dud, but it has still managed to grab the world's attention. Despite the fact that the rocket failed to reach orbit, Kim Jong Il is still calling it a "striking demonstration of the might of our Juche-oriented science and technology."

The UN Security Council failed to agree on a resolution condemning the launch yesterday because of resistance from China and Russia. North Korea's neighbors are planning to institute new sanctions against the regime and South Korea may upgrade its own missile arsenal.

Speaking in Prague yesterday, Barack Obama seized on the test in promising to “reduce the role of nuclear weapons” in U.S. national security policy and urging other countries to do the same.
Obama arrived in Turkey today where he is emphasizing deepening U.S. ties with the country.

Middle East
Six car bomb explosions killed 34 people around Baghdad.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is visiting Baghdad.
At his first cabinet meeting, new Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promised to produce a peace plan soon.

A powerful earthquake in central Italy killed at least 50 people. Thousands have been left homeless.
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin defended his government's handling of the economy in a speech before parliament.
Macedonia elected a new president.

A controversial Afghan law that critics say would legalize marital rape is being held for review, says the country's justice ministry. David Rothkopf comments.
Two explosions ripped through crowded markets in Northeast India. Separatist militants are suspected.
China has pledged to achieve universal healthcare by 2020.

South African prosecutors have dropped corruption charges against African National Congress President Jacob Zuma.
Meeting in Zambia, Western donors pledged $1 billion in aid for infrastructure project in Southern Africa.
Somali pirates hijacked a Taiwanese fishing boat and a British cargo ship.

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said the U.S. government would consider forcing out bank CEOs as a condition for future assistance.
Speaking from Iran, Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez said over the weekend that he wants to "press the reset button" on relations with the United States.
Fidel Castro is protesting Cuba's exclusion from next week's Summit of the Americas.

Truthout 4/6

Jason Leopold Doug Feith a "Major Player" in Torture Policies
Jason Leopold, Truthout: "Doug Feith, former undersecretary of defense for policy, is best known for cooking up bogus prewar Iraq intelligence linking Iraq, al-Qaeda and 9/11. But in addition to his duties to his duties stove piping phony intelligence directly to former Vice President Dick Cheney, Feith was also a key member of a small working group of Defense Department officials who oversaw the implementation of 'enhanced interrogation techniques' at Guantanamo Bay that has been widely regarded as torture."

Series of Baghdad Car Bombs Kills at Least 32
Anthony Shadid, The Washington Post: "A series of six car bombs struck markets, a police convoy and a gaggle of workers in Shiite Muslim neighborhoods Monday, killing 32 people and wounding more than 120 in one of the most violent days in the capital in months."

At Least 90 Dead, 1,500 Injured in Central Italy Quake
Marta Falconi, The Associated Press: "A powerful earthquake in mountainous central Italy knocked down whole blocks of buildings early Monday as residents slept, killing more than 90 people in the country's deadliest quake in nearly three decades. Tens of thousands were homeless and 1,500 were injured. Ambulances screamed through the medieval city L'Aquila as firefighters with dogs and a crane worked feverishly to reach people trapped in fallen buildings, including a dormitory where half a dozen university students were believed still inside."

US, Allies Condemn Launch by North Korea
Bryan Bender, The Boston Globe: "The United States and its key Asian allies yesterday condemned North Korea's launching of a multistage rocket, saying it was a test of a long-range missile in violation of United Nations resolutions and calling for tougher international sanctions against the reclusive regime, which is suspected to have enough material for several nuclear bombs."

Obama Facing Diplomatic Test in Turkey
Steven Thomma, McClatchy Newspapers: "Navigating between U.S. politics and diplomacy, President Barack Obama said Monday he hasn't changed his mind about what he once called a Turkish genocide against the Armenians, but carefully avoided repeating the word. 'My views are on the record and I have not changed views,' he said when asked about his stance with Turkish President Abdullah Gul standing beside him."

VIDEO Obama: US Ready to Lead on Nuclear Disarmament
President Barack Obama set out his vision for ridding the world of nuclear arms on Sunday, declaring the United States ready to lead steps by all states with atomic weapons to reduce their arsenals.

Dean Baker How About a Second Opinion?
Dean Baker, Truthout: "Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner wants to have the government lend up to a trillion dollars to hedge funds, private equity, funds and the banks themselves to clear their books of toxic assets. The plan implies a substantial subsidy to the banks. It is likely to result in the disposal of these assets at far above market value, with the government picking up the losses. As much as we all want to help out the Wall Street bankers in their hour of need, taxpayers may reasonably ask whether this is the best use of our money. After all, the $1 trillion that is being set aside for this latest TARP variation is equal to 300 million SCHIP kid years. Congress has had heated debates over sums that were a small fraction of this size. To give another useful measuring stick, the Geithner plan could fund 1 million of the Woodstock museums that were the main prop of Senator McCain's presidential campaign."

The 52 Minutes of Obama Magic That Changed the Nuclear Rules
Ian Traynor, The Guardian UK: "In his whirlwind debut European tour of summits in Britain, France, Germany and the Czech Republic, Barack Obama has delivered two speeches, both exactly 26 minutes long. On Friday, in Strasbourg, he was rapturously applauded by French and German students when he said he wanted to rid the world of nuclear weapons. In Prague yesterday, he spelled out his hopes, outlining a host of means to that end and denouncing fatalism in the face of the nuclear threat as a 'deadly adversary'."

Treasury Chief Puts Bailed-Out Bank CEOs on Notice
The Associated Press: "The government may require new faces in executive suites at banks requiring 'exceptional assistance' in the future, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said Sunday. Critics of the Obama administration's move last weekend to force out the chairman of General Motors Corp., Rick Wagoner, as a condition for possible additional federal loans say that strong government intervention contrasts with measures placed on the financial industry in return for billions in infusions. Geithner denied there was a double standard and put banks on notice that they may need to change leadership teams in exchange for accepting more money in the future."

At Least 22 Killed in Pakistan Suicide Bombing
Faisal Mehmood, Reuters: "A suicide bomber blew himself up at a gathering of minority Shi'ite Muslims in Pakistan on Sunday killing 22 people a day after a deadly suicide attack in the capital, police said. Pakistan is crucial to US efforts to stabilize neighboring Afghanistan and US President Barack Obama has said the release of additional US aid to the nuclear-armed country depends on how it tackles terrorism. The attack in the central city of Chakwal came a day after a pilotless US drone aircraft killed 13 people including militants in the northwest and a suicide bomber killed eight soldiers in Islamabad."

Johnson and Kwak The Radicalization of Ben Bernanke
Simon Johnson and James Kwak, The Washington Post: "Timothy Geithner and his predecessor Henry Paulson have been the public faces of the US government's battle against the global economic crisis. But even as the secretaries of the Treasury have garnered the headlines -- as well as popular anger surrounding bank bailouts and corporate bonuses -- another official has quickly amassed great influence by committing trillions of dollars to keep markets afloat, radically redefining his institution and taking on serious risks as he seeks to rescue the American economy."

Michael T. Klare Global Crime Wave? A Syndrome of Crime, Violence and Repression on the Way
Michael T. Klare, "In all catastrophes, there are always winners among the host of losers and victims. Bad times, like good ones, generate profits for someone. In the case of the present global economic meltdown, with our world at the brink and up to 50 million people potentially losing their jobs by the end of this year, one winner is likely to be criminal activity and crime syndicates. From Mexico to Africa, Russia to China, the pool of the desperate and the bribable is expanding exponentially, pointing to a sharp upturn in global crime."

VIDEO Obama: US Ready to Lead on Nuclear Disarmament
President Barack Obama set out his vision for ridding the world of nuclear arms on Sunday, declaring the United States ready to lead steps by all states with atomic weapons to reduce their arsenals.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Truthout 4/5

Barack Obama Leads Condemnation as North Korea Launches Rocket
Richard Lloyd Parry, The Times: "President Obama called for North Korea to be punished after the isolated communist state fired an intercontinental rocket this morning, defying weeks of warnings from world leaders and provoking anxiety across north-east Asia."

US Lawmakers Meet With Cuban Foreign Ministers
Esteban Israel, Reuters: "US lawmakers met with Cuba's foreign minister and laid flowers at a Havana memorial to slain US civil rights leader Martin Luther King on Saturday during a visit aimed at improving relations between Washington and the communist-ruled island."

Extra NATO Troops for Afghan Poll
BBC News: "Nato has agreed to boost troop numbers to cover the Afghan presidential election in August, outgoing alliance chief Jaap de Hoop Scheffer has said."

J. Sri Raman After Nuclear War, India's Far Right Wants Cyber War
J. Sri Raman, Truthout: "Less than four months ago, a loud and clear call for a nuclear war emanated from India's far right. From the same quarters comes now the call for preparations for a cyber war."

Larry Birns and Michael Ramirez Time to Debate a Change in Washington's Failed Latin American Drug Policies
Larry Birns and Michael Ramirez, Council on Hemispheric Affairs: "Although there have been some governmental successes, notably in Colombia, drug cartels have proven adaptive and relentless in the pursuit of their interests. These cartels are essentially businesses, and as such, they are determined to meet the enormous and growing demand for their products in order to guarantee the continuation of their immense profits. Unfortunately, governments such as that of the US refuse to acknowledge that as long as the demand for illicit substances persists, there will be businessmen eager to supply the market."

FBI Database Links Long-Haul Truckers, Serial Killings
Scott Glover, The Los Angeles Times: "The FBI suspects that serial killers working as long-haul truckers are responsible for the slayings of hundreds of prostitutes, hitchhikers and stranded motorists whose bodies have been dumped near highways over the last three decades."

FOCUS Chavez Hopes to "Reset" US-Venezuela Relations
Reuters: "Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has said he hopes to "reset" relations with the United States at an Americas summit this month after nearly a decade of tensions between Caracas and Washington."

FOCUS Obama Adviser Paid Millions as Hedge Fund Director
The Associated Press: "Lawrence Summers, President Barack Obama's top economic adviser, earned millions over the past year as managing director of the hedge fund D.E. Shaw Group and through speaking fees, some from financial institutions now at the center of the government's rescue program."

Pitchforks and pistols

Charles M. Blow / New York Times / By the Numbers

Lately I’ve been consuming as much conservative media as possible (interspersed with shots of Pepto-Bismol) to get a better sense of the mind and mood of the right. My read: They’re apocalyptic. They feel isolated, angry, betrayed and besieged. And some of their “leaders” seem to be trying to mold them into militias.

At first, it was entertaining — just harmless, hotheaded expostulation. Of course, there were the garbled facts, twisted logic and veiled hate speech. But what did I expect, fair and balanced? It was like walking through an ideological house of mirrors. The distortions can be mildly amusing at first, but if I stay too long it makes me sick.

But, it’s not all just harmless talk. For some, their disaffection has hardened into something more dark and dangerous. They’re talking about a revolution.

Some simply lace their unscrupulous screeds with loaded language about the fall of the Republic. We have to “rise up” and “take back our country.” Others have been much more explicit.

For example, Chuck Norris, the preeminent black belt and prospective Red Shirt, wrote earlier this month on the conservative blog WorldNetDaily: “How much more will Americans take? When will enough be enough? And, when that time comes, will our leaders finally listen or will history need to record a second American Revolution?”

Representative Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, imagining herself as some sort of Delacroixian Liberty from the Land of the Lakes, urged her fellow Minnesotans to be “armed and dangerous,” ready to bust caps over cap-and-trade, I presume.

And between his tears, Glenn Beck, the self-professed “rodeo clown,” keeps warning of an impending insurrection by saying that he believes that we are heading for “depression” and “revolution” and then gaming out that revolution on his show last month. “Think the unthinkable” he said. Indeed.

All this talk of revolution is revolting, and it hasn’t gone unnoticed.

As the comedian Bill Maher pointed out, strong language can poison weak minds, as it did in the case of Timothy McVeigh. (We sometimes forget that not all dangerous men are trained by Al Qaeda.)

At the same time, the unrelenting meme being pushed by the right that Obama will mount an assault on the Second Amendment has helped fuel the panic buying of firearms. According to the F.B.I., there have been 1.2 million more requests for background checks of potential gun buyers from November to February than there were in the same four months last year. That’s 5.5 million requests altogether over that period; more than the number of people living in Bachmann’s Minnesota.

Coincidence? Maybe. Just posturing? Hopefully. But it all gives me a really bad feeling. (Where’s that Pepto-Bismol?!)

Saturday, April 4, 2009

I've Been To The MountainTop

Today marks the anniversary of the murder of my greatest hero.

Truthout 4/4

James Rucker An Unexpected Voice on Martin Luther King, Jr.'s Death
James Rucker, Truthout: "Yesterday, an unexpected voice emerged to reflect on the 41st anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s death - Mychal Bell's."

Obama to Ease Cuba Restrictions
Reuters: "In a move that could herald better ties between Cold War foes, the Obama administration is planning to abolish limits on family travel and cash remittances between the United States and Cuba, The Wall Street Journal reported on Friday."

Robert Reich It's a Depression
Robert Reich, Robert Reich's Blog: "We should stop worrying about Wall Street. Worry about American workers."

Student Who Prevented Bush Sale of Public Land Faces Ten Years in Prison
Amy Goodman, Democracy Now!: "We speak to University of Utah student Tim DeChristopher, who has just been charged with two felonies for disrupting the auction of over 100,000 acres of federal land for oil and gas drilling."

Defense Secretary Gates to Unveil Pentagon Budget Monday
Julian E. Barnes, The Los Angeles Times: "Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates will announce his plans for a sweeping overhaul of the defense budget on Monday, Pentagon officials said."

Obama Climate Plans Face Long Route for Passage
Ayesha Rascoe, Reuters: "A US Senate vote this week rejected an effort to put climate-change legislation on a fast track, making it harder for Congress to put limits on greenhouse gas emissions this year."

FOCUS Kathy Kelly and Brian Terrell: A Closer Look
Kathy Kelly and Brian Terrell, Truthout: "It's one thing to study online articles describing the MQ-9 Reapers and MQ-1 Predators. It's quite another to identify these drones as they take off from runways at Nevada's Creech Air Force base, where our 'Ground the Drones Lest We Reap the Whirlwind' campaign is holding a ten-day vigil."

FOCUS Michael Winship: Miss Universe's Excellent Adventure
Michael Winship, Truthout: "Just ask Queen Elizabeth II and Michelle Obama. When they briefly touched one another at Buckingham Palace Thursday, a moment of contact that was more gentle pat than hug, you would have thought the First Lady had challenged Her Royal Highness to pistols at 20 paces. What a breach of protocol!"

On Reconsidering Racism, Or, This Ain't Grandpa's America

We have a story today that is a big-time reminder of how things have changed in America...and it’s all inspired by a book of jokes.

I am often prowling thrift shops looking for interesting things, and I came across a 1946 copy of “10,000 Jokes, Toasts, And Stories” (edited by Lewis and Faye Copeland), which contains a section of jokes entitled “Races and Nations”...which contains a subsection entitled “Negro”.

We are going to examine some of those jokes...and the world in which those jokes resided.

I warn you now: it will be highly unpleasant; but as we come out the other side the goal will be to show that what was not only acceptable, but commonplace, not so very long ago, would be considered wildly unacceptable today—and that we are a better people for the change.

“Sambo, suppose you were to receive a letter from the Ku Klux Klan advising you to get out of town, what would you do?”

“I’d read it on the train.”

--Joke 6468

“Is your husband a good provider, Dinah?”

“Yessum, he’s a good providah, all right, but I’m allus skeered dat nigger’s gwine to get caught at it.”

--Joke 6458

So the deal is, if you’re under 50 years old, or a recent immigrant to these shores, you probably have little or no familiarity with the overt racism that was practiced against the Americans who descended from slavery.

Now I’m not talking about the kind of covert racism that means the security guard spends more time following the black customers than the white ones...I’m talking about the kind of overt racism that means the black customers aren’t even allowed to enter “white” stores.

Lunch counters were segregated, there were “white” and “colored” water fountains (before you go look at the picture, see if you can guess which one has the cooling unit installed). Fire hoses weren’t used just to put out fires...they were also used to put out school children who didn’t fit the racial profile.

Rastus shuffled into the employment office down in Savannah one morning and said hopefully:

“Don’ spose you don’ know nobody as don’ want nobody to do nothin’, does you?”

--Joke 6351

Rastus was in trouble again, and the sheriff asked him if he were guilty or not guilty.

“Guilty, suh, I think” replied Rastus, “but I better be tried to make sure of it.”

--Joke 6460

As these jokes demonstrate, black people were portrayed as ignorant, lazy, shiftless and quick to steal. To ensure these “undesirables” didn’t threaten white populations, some locales became “sundown” called because of the signs they posted at their city limits:

“Nigger, don't let the sun set on you in Elwood”

--Sign posted in Elwood, Indiana, 1966

(Fun Fact: did you know that Indiana was such a hotbed of Ku Klux Klan activity in the 1920s that KKK Grand Dragon D.C. Stephenson once said about himself: “I am the law in Indiana”? Of course, that was before he went to prison for rape and murder later in the same decade.)

Racism, as defined in law, was extreme and trivial, both at the same time. It’s reported that Birmingham, Alabama passed a law requiring segregated checkers and dominoes in 1935 (presumably after the Great Checkers Incident of 1934, or some similar affront)...and Oklahoma passed a law making it a misdemeanor for teachers to teach in mixed-race schools.

A darkey was examined in a Harlem court, to prove the identity of a white man.
“Did you see the man?” asked the attorney.
“Yes, sah, I seed him.”
“Was he a white man?”
“Dunno, sah.”
“Do you say you saw the man and can’t say whether he was white or black?”
“Yea, sah, I seed him, but dere’s so many white fellers callin’ derselfs niggers round here I can’t tell one from toder!”

--Joke 6376

The Boys of Summer are hitting the fields of their respective stadia this month, and no conversation about race and baseball would be complete without a mention of Jackie Robinson, who everyone knows broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball...except that he didn’t.

Moses “Fleet” Walker, and his brother, Welday Walker , seem to actually bear that honor: in 1884 they played for the Toledo Blue Stockings of the American Association. Black players continued to play until 1890, when owners seem to have decided amongst themselves that there were to be no more black Major League players; a decision that lasted until Robinson became the first player “in the modern era” (1947, to be exact) to join a Major League club, the Brooklyn Dodgers.

(Another Fun Fact: remember the movie “Bull Durham”? The stadium used by the Durham Bulls--Durham Athletic Park--was at the center of a segregation and boycott battle during the 1950s...a battle the boycotters won.)

Rastus-“Ef yo’ says anything ter me Ah’ll make yo’ eat yo’ words, man.”
Exodus-“Chicken dumplings, hot biscuits, and watermelon.”

--Joke 6511

So about now you may be asking “what is the point of today’s story?”...and it’s pretty simple:

Barack Obama is president.

Jim Clyburn, of South Carolina, where the first battle of the Civil War was fought, is the Democratic House Whip.

Rosa Parks is a national hero for an act of civil disobediance.

David Duke is the Governor of Nothing.

And out of all that change, we’ve become a better people.

Adding insult to injury

Don Wheeler

It's no secret that South Bend has been struggling with a widespread problem of abandoned buildings. Most are private homes, but there is a notable quantity of commercial buildings as well.

The city government has tried several approaches to deal with the problem - the results have been mixed.

The city has purchased some commercial structures and demolished them. Many of us have been surprised at the price paid for these. Many of these buildings look to only have salvage value and the land they are on. And land is very cheap here.

Yet the city has paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to acquire some of these places. Why?

On the residential scene, one approach has been to become more aggressive about demolishing derelict homes. The legal process takes time, but there has been a positive, visible outcome to this program. The city redirected redevelopment funds to accomplish this and looks to be able to use some federal grant money in the future to keep the program going.

Another approach looks to have been a complete failure. The idea was to select certain homes from the stock deemed to have a higher upside and offer them for one dollar - with the proviso that a minimum of $75,000 of improvements be made to them. (There were some other requirements as well).

As I pointed out when this program was announced, it seemed impossible for this program to succeed. The homes offered were located in neighborhoods where it was extremely unlikely the completed homes would have a market value as high as the investment. Of course, none of us knew in advance that housing prices would fall even below those levels. As as result, no bidders (deemed responsible ) indicated any interest.

But hey, at least we're famous. From the New York Times and SUSAN SAULNY

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Mercy James thought she had lost her rental property here to foreclosure. A date for a sheriff’s sale had been set, and notices about the foreclosure process were piling up in her mailbox.

Ms. James had the tenants move out, and soon her white house at the corner of Thomas and Maple Streets fell into the hands of looters and vandals, and then, into disrepair. Dejected and broke, Ms. James said she salvaged but a lesson from her loss.

So imagine her surprise when the City of South Bend contacted her recently, demanding that she resume maintenance on the property. The sheriff’s sale had been canceled at the last minute, leaving the property title — and a world of trouble — in her name.

“I thought, ‘What kind of game is this?’ ” Ms. James, 41, said while picking at trash at the house, now so worthless the city plans to demolish it — another bill for which she will be liable.

To be fair, the article mentions three other cities around the country with similar issues.

So there's a new wrinkle. Financial institutions calculate writing off small losses like this is likely to be cheaper than attempting to sell off their collateral. Clearly these companies aren't focused on being good citizens, and while these decisions adversely effect the owners - they more directly effect the rest of us. Later in the article:

In South Bend, boarded-up houses for whom no one has stepped forward are dotting the landscape, adding a fresh layer of blight to communities that were already scarred from the area’s industrial decline.

The city is hoping to create a new type of legal mediation process that would bring together the homeowners and the mortgage holders to settle their disputes while allowing the owners to remain in the home — considered crucial to any stabilization effort.

“I’d say in the last three or four months, we’ve seen dozens of these cases,” said Chuck Leone, the South Bend city attorney. “We see it one of two ways. One is that the bank will simply dismiss the foreclosure complaint. The other is that the mortgage holder will follow through and take a judgment of foreclosure, but then not schedule the property for sheriff’s sale.”...

Mayor Stephen J. Luecke of South Bend added: “It’s just a crime the way it puts people in limbo. They first off have gone through the grief of losing their house, then they move out and find out that they still own it and have responsibility for it.” full story here

I suggested that these actions effect the rest of us, because in practical terms we pick up the tab for this through our government. In most cases, foreclosure happens because people can't afford to make payments. It's not a reach to believe those folks would lack the funds to reimburse the city for demolition costs, etc. And in any case, they might not be highly motivated to do so.

The process Mr. Leone suggests seems like a good idea. But the proposed city budget I saw cuts funding for the City Attorney's office by more than half. It's hard to see how we can operate a legal mediation process without legal staff available.

Much like when the Common Council passed a measure requiring registration of vacant and abandoned properties - passing on a new duty to an already overburdened Code Enforcement department - it seems unlikely this new initiative can be accomplished without investing in it.

At some point the citizens are going to have to decide what is truly important to them - and agree to invest in those things.

Friday, April 3, 2009

China's dollar trap

New York Times

Back in the early stages of the financial crisis, wags joked that our trade with China had turned out to be fair and balanced after all: They sold us poison toys and tainted seafood; we sold them fraudulent securities.

But these days, both sides of that deal are breaking down. On one side, the world’s appetite for Chinese goods has fallen off sharply. China’s exports have plunged in recent months and are now down 26 percent from a year ago. On the other side, the Chinese are evidently getting anxious about those securities.

But China still seems to have unrealistic expectations. And that’s a problem for all of us.

The big news last week was a speech by Zhou Xiaochuan, the governor of China’s central bank, calling for a new “super-sovereign reserve currency.”

The paranoid wing of the Republican Party promptly warned of a dastardly plot to make America give up the dollar. But Mr. Zhou’s speech was actually an admission of weakness. In effect, he was saying that China had driven itself into a dollar trap, and that it can neither get itself out nor change the policies that put it in that trap in the first place.

Some background: In the early years of this decade, China began running large trade surpluses and also began attracting substantial inflows of foreign capital. If China had had a floating exchange rate — like, say, Canada — this would have led to a rise in the value of its currency, which, in turn, would have slowed the growth of China’s exports.

But China chose instead to keep the value of the yuan in terms of the dollar more or less fixed. To do this, it had to buy up dollars as they came flooding in. As the years went by, those trade surpluses just kept growing — and so did China’s hoard of foreign assets.

Now the joke about fraudulent securities was actually unfair. Aside from a late, ill-considered plunge into equities (at the very top of the market), the Chinese mainly accumulated very safe assets, with U.S. Treasury bills — T-bills, for short — making up a large part of the total. But while T-bills are as safe from default as anything on the planet, they yield a very low rate of return.

Was there a deep strategy behind this vast accumulation of low-yielding assets? Probably not. China acquired its $2 trillion stash — turning the People’s Republic into the T-bills Republic — the same way Britain acquired its empire: in a fit of absence of mind.

And just the other day, it seems, China’s leaders woke up and realized that they had a problem.

The low yield doesn’t seem to bother them much, even now. But they are, apparently, worried about the fact that around 70 percent of those assets are dollar-denominated, so any future fall in the dollar would mean a big capital loss for China. Hence Mr. Zhou’s proposal to move to a new reserve currency along the lines of the S.D.R.’s, or special drawing rights, in which the International Monetary Fund keeps its accounts.

But there’s both less and more here than meets the eye. S.D.R.’s aren’t real money. They’re accounting units whose value is set by a basket of dollars, euros, Japanese yen and British pounds. And there’s nothing to keep China from diversifying its reserves away from the dollar, indeed from holding a reserve basket matching the composition of the S.D.R.’s — nothing, that is, except for the fact that China now owns so many dollars that it can’t sell them off without driving the dollar down and triggering the very capital loss its leaders fear.

So what Mr. Zhou’s proposal actually amounts to is a plea that someone rescue China from the consequences of its own investment mistakes. That’s not going to happen.

And the call for some magical solution to the problem of China’s excess of dollars suggests something else: that China’s leaders haven’t come to grips with the fact that the rules of the game have changed in a fundamental way.

Two years ago, we lived in a world in which China could save much more than it invested and dispose of the excess savings in America. That world is gone.

Yet the day after his new-reserve-currency speech, Mr. Zhou gave another speech in which he seemed to assert that China’s extremely high savings rate is immutable, a result of Confucianism, which values “anti-extravagance.” Meanwhile, “it is not the right time” for the United States to save more. In other words, let’s go on as we were.

That’s also not going to happen.

The bottom line is that China hasn’t yet faced up to the wrenching changes that will be needed to deal with this global crisis. The same could, of course, be said of the Japanese, the Europeans — and us.

And that failure to face up to new realities is the main reason that, despite some glimmers of good news — the G-20 summit accomplished more than I thought it would — this crisis probably still has years to run.

Greed and stupidity

New York Times

What happened to the global economy? We seemed to be chugging along, enjoying moderate business cycles and unprecedented global growth. All of a sudden, all hell broke loose.

There are many theories about what happened, but two general narratives seem to be gaining prominence, which we will call the greed narrative and the stupidity narrative. The two overlap, but they lead to different ways of thinking about where we go from here.

The best single encapsulation of the greed narrative is an essay called “The Quiet Coup,” by Simon Johnson in The Atlantic (available online now).

Johnson begins with a trend. Between 1973 and 1985, the U.S. financial sector accounted for about 16 percent of domestic corporate profits. In the 1990s, it ranged from 21 percent to 30 percent. This decade, it soared to 41 percent.
In other words, Wall Street got huge. As it got huge, its prestige grew. Its compensation packages grew. Its political power grew as well. Wall Street and Washington merged as a flow of investment bankers went down to the White House and the Treasury Department.

The result was a string of legislation designed to further enhance the freedom and power of finance. Regulations separating commercial and investment banking were repealed. There were major increases in the amount of leverage allowed to investment banks.

The U.S. economy got finance-heavy and finance-mad, and finally collapsed. When it did, the elites did what all elites do. They took care of their own: “Money was used to recapitalize banks, buying shares in them on terms that were grossly favorable to the banks themselves,” Johnson writes.

In short, he argues, the U.S. financial crisis is a bigger version of the crises that have afflicted emerging-market nations for decades. An oligarchy takes control of the nation. The oligarchs get carried away and build an empire on mountains of debt. The whole thing comes crashing down. Johnson’s remedy is clear. Smash the oligarchy.

Nationalize the banks. Sell them off in medium-size pieces. Revise antitrust laws so they can’t get back together. Find ways to limit executive compensation. Permanently reduce the size and power of Wall Street.

The second and, to me, more persuasive theory revolves around ignorance and uncertainty. The primary problem is not the greed of a giant oligarchy. It’s that overconfident bankers didn’t know what they were doing. They thought they had these sophisticated tools to reduce risk. But when big events — like the rise of China — fundamentally altered the world economy, their tools were worse than useless.

Many writers have described elements of this intellectual hubris. Amar Bhidé has described the fallacy of diversification. Bankers thought that if they bundled slices of many assets into giant packages then they didn’t have to perform due diligence on each one. In Wired, Felix Salmon described the false lure of the Gaussian copula function, the formula that gave finance whizzes the illusion that they could accurately calculate risks. Benoit Mandelbrot and Nassim Taleb have explained why extreme events are much more likely to disrupt financial markets than most bankers understood.

To me, the most interesting factor is the way instant communications lead to unconscious conformity. You’d think that with thousands of ideas flowing at light speed around the world, you’d get a diversity of viewpoints and expectations that would balance one another out. Instead, global communications seem to have led people in the financial subculture to adopt homogenous viewpoints. They made the same one-way bets at the same time.

Jerry Z. Muller wrote an indispensable version of the stupidity narrative in an essay called “Our Epistemological Depression” in The American magazine. What’s new about this crisis, he writes, is the central role of “opacity and pseudo-objectivity.” Banks got too big to manage. Instruments got too complex to understand. Too many people were good at math but ignorant of history.

The greed narrative leads to the conclusion that government should aggressively restructure the financial sector. The stupidity narrative is suspicious of that sort of radicalism. We’d just be trading the hubris of Wall Street for the hubris of Washington. The stupidity narrative suggests we should preserve the essential market structures, but make them more transparent, straightforward and comprehensible. Instead of rushing off to nationalize the banks, we should nurture and recapitalize what’s left of functioning markets.

Both schools agree on one thing, however. Both believe that banks are too big. Both narratives suggest we should return to the day when banks were focused institutions — when savings banks, insurance companies, brokerages and investment banks lived separate lives.

We can agree on that reform. Still, one has to choose a guiding theory. To my mind, we didn’t get into this crisis because inbred oligarchs grabbed power. We got into it because arrogant traders around the world were playing a high-stakes game they didn’t understand.

FP morning brief 4/3

Top Story

After reaching a deal at the G-20 that pledged $1.1 trillion to help economies struggling with the financial crisis, Barack Obama and his European counterparts head to the NATO summit in Strasbourg, France, where the U.S. president will try to sell U.S. allies on his plan for Afghanistan.

While vocally supportive of the U.S. strategy, NATO members have been reluctant to pledge more troops to the fight.
For now, NATO has only agreed to send a new 300 member corps to train Afghan police.

NATO is celebrating its 60 anniversary this year. French President Nicolas Sarkozy recently announced that his country was returning to full membership in the alliance for the first time since the 1960s. NATO plans to announce a new secretary general at this meeting, though the choice remains unclear.

North Korea is finalizing its preparations to launch a missile, perhaps on Saturday.
A fierce battle near Kabul left 12 militants dead.
Thai and Cambodian soldiers fired on each other in a brief border skirmish.

Middle East
New Israeli foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman was questioned by police in connection with a fraud and bribery investigation.
Fatah and Hamas have once again suspended their reconciliation talks in Cairo.
A South African judge will lead the U.N. investigation into alleged war crimes in Gaza.

The Euro rose on the European Central Bank's decision yesterday to cut interest rates.
France has agreed to accept one whole prisoner from Guantanamo Bay.
Nearly eight months after fighting ended, Russian troops are still in Georgia.

Mexican police captured drug lord Vicente Carrillo Leyva, a leader of Juarez cartel.
663,000 Americans lost their jobs last month.
Former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich has been indicted on corruption charges.

South Africa will issue permits for Zimbabwean refugees to stay in the country for six months.
Sudan's government has pushed general elections back a year to 2010
In other news, a Malawian judge has rejected Madonna's adoption request.

Truthout 4/3

Benjamin Dangl Beyond Elections in the Americas
Benjamin Dangl, Truthout: "The new documentary, 'Beyond Elections: Redefining Democracy in the Americas,' proves that democracy can and should be more than casting a ballot every four years. This empowering film gives hopeful and concrete examples from around the Americas of people taking back the reins of power and governing their own communities. 'Beyond Elections' is a road map for social change, drawing from communal councils in Venezuela and social movements in Bolivia to participatory budgeting in Brazil and worker cooperatives in Argentina."

Dean Baker Unemployment Jumps to 8.5 Percent, Economy Sheds 663,000 Jobs
New Summary: Caren Bohan and Matt Spetalnick, Reuters: "U.S. President Barack Obama told Europe on Friday it must do more to help the United States win the war in Afghanistan, looking to leverage his huge popularity here to wring concessions from NATO allies."

Obama Offers Vision of World Without Nuclear Arms
Caren Bohan and Matt Spetalnick, Reuters: "U.S. President Barack Obama called for a world without nuclear weapons on Friday after arriving in France for a NATO summit, where he won French endorsement of his new Afghanistan strategy."

House, Senate Budget Plans Boost Obama Agenda
Andrew Taylor, The Associated Press: "Passage by both House and Senate of companion budget plans gave President Barack Obama and his allies on Capitol Hill a key victory, but the debates also exposed some of the president's vulnerabilities."

Cambodia Says Four Thai Troops Killed in Border Clash
Sopheng Cheang, The Associated Press: "Thai and Cambodian soldiers traded fire with machine guns and rocket launchers along a disputed border, killing as many as four people Friday in an escalation of tensions in a long-standing feud over an 11th century temple."

Guillaume Malaurie Ecological Emergency
In Le Nouvel Observateur, Guillaume Malaurie interviews European Parliament deputy and Green Party co-president Daniel Cohn-Bendit along with sociologist and philosopher Edgar Morin. Cohn-Bendit says, "The response to the conjunction of economic, financial, social and environmental crises cannot be handled in segments, but must be met with an integrated strategy."

Henry A. Giroux Commodifying Kids: The Forgotten Crisis
Henry A. Giroux, Truthout: "As the United States and the rest of the world enter into an economic free fall, the current crisis offers an opportunity not only to question the politics of free-market fundamentalism, the dominance of economics over politics, and the subordination of justice to the laws of finance and the accumulation of capital, but also the ways in which children's culture has been corrupted by rampant commercialization, commodification and consumption."

Former Illinois Governor Blagojevich Indicted
Aaron Blake, The Hill: "Former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D) was indicted Thursday by the US attorney's office in Chicago, bringing to a head a lengthy federal investigation into the recently deposed governor. The indictment has been expected for months, since federal officials said the governor had been caught trying to auction off President Obama's former Senate seat. Blagojevich was tasked with picking a replacement."

Vulnerable Supply Lines Put US Mission at Risk
Shahan Mufti, GlobalPost: "As President Obama sets in motion a new strategic initiative in Afghanistan and Pakistan, supply lines remain vulnerable to attack and a black market is still thriving in stolen military hardware and computers. As the US begins a surge of 21,000 troops and military advisers in Afghanistan over the summer, the threat to supply lines and the stolen equipment could compromise the mission, military analysts say. More than six weeks after GlobalPost broke the news of American military hardware and software being sold openly in markets in Pakistan's northwest, the trade of American goods robbed from supply trucks and smuggled in from Afghanistan is still going on."

Worrisome Trend: FHA Sees Rise in Defaults on Its Mortgages
Les Blumenthal, McClatchy Newspapers: "As the Federal Housing Administration has stepped in to help stabilize the housing market by underwriting more mortgages, the Depression-era agency is seeing growing default rates that could undermine its health, the Department of Housing and Urban Development inspector general testified Thursday. Kenneth Donohue also told the Senate Appropriations housing subcommittee that unscrupulous lenders who helped precipitate the housing crisis with subprime loans are moving into the FHA loan system, and the number of fraud cases is a growing concern. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., who chairs the subcommittee, said that if the FHA can't pay its debts, Congress may have to cover the shortfall."

As Mexico Battles Cartels, the Army Becomes the Law
Steve Fainaru and William Booth, The Washington Post: "President Felipe Calderon is rapidly escalating the Mexican army's role in the war against drug traffickers, deploying nearly 50 percent of its combat-ready troops along the U.S.-Mexico border and throughout the country, while retired army officers take command of local police forces and the military supplies civilian authorities with automatic weapons and grenades. US and Mexican officials describe the drug cartels as a widening narco-insurgency."

US Judge, Foreign Detainees "Have US Right"
BBC News: "A US judge has ruled that foreign suspects held by the US in Afghanistan have the right to challenge their detention in US civilian courts. Judge John Bates denied the motion by the US government to withhold the right to three detainees at Bagram air base. The US Supreme Court ruled last year that detainees at Guantanamo had such a right. The justice department later said those held at Bagram did not. Judge Bates said the cases were essentially the same."

Thursday, April 2, 2009

FP morning brief 4/2

Top Story

Talks are ongoing, but it appears that G-20 leaders are close to a deal that would pledge an additional $500 billion for the IMF to assist struggling governments and create new financial regulations to prevent "banking secrecy."

While conceding some U.S. responsibility for the global financial crisis, U.S. President Barack Obama has resisted regulatory proposals that could reach inside U.S. borders. Though Obama and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown have downplayed the differences, Germany' Angela Merkel and France's Nicolas Sarkozy remain adamant about pushing for regulation.

Obama also said the world was entering a new era in which the U.S. could not be relied upon has the sole driver of economic growth. "Everybody is going to have to pick up the pace," he said.

Middle East
Israel's new foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman has already provoked controversy by saying the 2007 Annapolis agreement "has no validity." He was immediately criticized by his predecessor, Tzipi Livni.
The Palestinian authority has warned it could dissolve if Israel does not continue serious peace negotiations.
Despite the Iraqi government's clashes with Sunni paramilitaries last week, it has agreed to pay them.

Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud threatened to carry out attacks in the United States in retaliation for U.S. drone strikes on Pakistan.
North Korea may carry out its planned missile launch as early as this weekend.
Malaysia's reformist prime minister has resigned.

86 arrests were made at the G-20 protests in London yesterday. More marches are expected today.
A general strike has shut down public services and transportation in Greece.
Sweden's parliament voted to legalize same-sex marriage.

The U.S. announced more funding to crack down on weapons smuggling on the U.S.-Mexican border.
Former Peruvian president Alberto Fujimori testified in court to defend himself from human rights abuse charges.
A new internal report criticizes U.S. intelligence agencies for years of mismanagement.

Mediator Kofi Annan has threatened to turn over the names of perpetrators of Kenya's 2008 post-election violence to the International Criminal Court unless Kenya tries them.
The Obama administration’s new envoy told the Sudanese government that the United States seeks "friendship and cooperation" with the country.
The search for survivors of the ferry carrying African migrants that sank off the coast of Libya on Sunday has been called off.

Truthout 4/2

Maya Schenwar The Fall of the Presidential Pardon
Maya Schenwar, Truthout: "Although all recent presidents have granted few pardons, Bush's rate was exceptionally low. He tied with his father for the lowest-ever percentage of granted pardons (conviction reversals) - 9.8 percent - and he granted an astonishingly tiny number of requested commutations (shortened sentences): 0.012 percent. Bush's abstinence on the pardon front had some of his friends grumbling (Dick Cheney complained, poetically, that the president had left Scooter Libby 'hanging in the wind'), but it was a relief to many of his critics. The word 'pardon' conjured up images of Libby, Stevens and GOP Congressman-turned-felon Randy Cunningham - not the thousands of nonviolent offenders languishing in federal prisons across the country."

Michael Moore: "We the People" to "King of the World": "YOU'RE FIRED!"
Michael Moore, "Nothing like it has ever happened. The President of the United States, the elected representative of the people, has just told the head of General Motors - a company that's spent more years at #1 on the Fortune 500 list than anyone else - 'You're fired!' I simply can't believe it. This stunning, unprecedented action has left me speechless for the past two days. I keep saying, 'Did Obama really fire the chairman of General Motors?'"

Protesters Clash With Police at Bank of England
Raphael G. Satter, The Associated Press: "Chanting G-20 protesters clashed with riot police in central London on Wednesday, overwhelming police lines, vandalizing the Bank of England and smashing windows at the Royal Bank of Scotland. An effigy of a banker was set ablaze, drawing cheers. More than 30 people were arrested after some 4,000 anarchists, anti-capitalists, environmentalists and others clogged London's financial district for what demonstrators branded 'Financial Fool's Day.' The protests were called ahead of Thursday's Group of 20 summit of world leaders, who hope to take concrete steps to resolve the global financial crisis that has lashed nations and workers worldwide."

House Takes Up a Plan Tied to Health Care Overhaul
Andrew Taylor, The Associated Press: "The House took up a budget plan Wednesday that would allow Democrats to enact health care legislation more easily while Senate Republicans won a key vote to slow the advance of global warming legislation. As debate continued on nonbinding Democratic budget plans largely mimicking President Barack Obama's $3.6 trillion budget proposal, Republicans in the House offered an alternative that would eventually end the Medicare program as it is presently known. For all the pell-mell developments on Capitol Hill, the young administration's budget plan, while stripped to its essentials, appeared on track to pass on Thursday."

Ban on Travel to Cuba May Be Lifted
William E. Gibson, The Los Angeles Times: "A bipartisan group of senators predicted Tuesday that Congress was ready to pass legislation to allow all Americans to travel to Cuba. Removing the travel ban would produce a burst of tourism, create thousands of jobs and generate as much as $1.6 billion in business a year, an independent research group said. A Senate news conference Tuesday and one in the House set for Thursday reflect new attempts to lift the travel ban, a key part of the US trade embargo imposed after Fidel Castro took power in Havana in 1959."

Harvey Wasserman Cracking the Corporate Media's Iron Curtain Around Death at Three Mile Island
Harvey Wasserman, The Free Press: "Take National Public Radio's Scott Simon. On March 28, Simon smirked on air that 'no one was killed or injured' at Three Mile Island, 'not so much as a sprained ankle.' Except when people are fleeing them, as they did 30 years ago, radiation releases have never been linked directly to joint sprains. But cancer, leukemia, birth defects, stillbirths, malformations, spontaneous abortions, skin lesions, hair loss, respiratory problems, sterility, nausea, cataracts, a metallic taste, premature aging, general loss of bodily function and more can be caused by radioactive emissions of the type that poured out of TMI. And all such ailments have been documented there OUTside the corporate media."

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

FP morning brief

Top Story

After a closed-door meeting in London between Presidents Barack Obama and Dmitry Medvedev today, it was announced that the United States and Russia would begin work on a new nuclear arms reduction treaty to replace the START agreement, which will expire this year.

They also pledged cooperation in a number of areas of concern including Iran, Afghanistan, and North Korea. The statement stressed the need to "move beyond Cold War mentalities and chart a fresh start in relations" but avoided sore subjects like Georgia and missile defense. Obama said he will visit Russia in July.

On the economic front, Obama held a press conference with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown in which both leaders urged united action to combat the downturn. Brown called reports of a transatlantic rift over stimulus measures "vastly overstated."

A feisty Nicolas Sarkozy has vowed to walk out of the conference if he can't get an agreement on aggressive financial regulation. The French President will hold his own press conference in German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who he described as being on the "same wavelength," later today.

Middle East
Benjamin Netanyahu was officially sworn in as Israel's prime minister, along with controversial foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman.
U.S. envoy Richard Holbrooke had a brief face-to-face meeting with Iran's deputy foreign minister at the Afghanistan conference at the Hague. FP's Laura Rozen has more.
Fatah and Hamas have resumed peace talks in Egypt.

Fourteen were killed in a Taliban suicide bomber attack on a government building in Kandahar.
A U.S. drone fired two missiles at a suspected Taliban site in Pakistan.
Indian PM Manmmohan Singh told the Financial Times that his country's economy was "more durable" than neighbor China's.

The United States is reversing policy by seeking a seat on the United Nations' controversial Human Rights Council.
Mexico says thieves have been stealing oil from state-owned and selling it across the border to U.S. refineries.
A climate bill drafted by U.S. congressional Democrats goes farther than President Obama's plans.

Russian gas supplies to Eastern Europe fell by 40 percent after a pipeline explosion in Moldova.
Albania and Croatia are counting down the minutes until they become NATO members this weekend, but the countries have verry different attitudes toward the alliance.
Thousands of anti-G20 protesters have taken to the streets of London, targeting financial institutions.

Indicted Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir continued his controversial international trip with a stop in Saudi Arabia.
South Africa's Desmond Tutu had harsh words for the country's ruling African National Congress ahead of national elections.

A Fake Consultant Exclusive: Administration Announces Drug Legalization Plan

Washington, D.C. (FNN)—In a move some are describing as a “news dump” timed to coincide with the attention being paid to President Obama’s foreign trip, the Justice Department announced the Administration’s plans to introduce legislation to legalize and regulate the manufacture, sales, possession, and use of what are today legally known as Schedule I drugs.

Additionally, Schedule II through Schedule V drugs will be made available to adult members of the public at their request, with a doctor’s prescription no longer being required before such drugs can be dispensed.

The drugs being “legalized” through this legislation would include marijuana, LSD, heroin, cocaine, and ecstasy; also included will be all pharmaceutical drugs currently under restricted distribution: among those are Xanax, OxyContin, and Viagra.

“Since the Inauguration, we have received more input on this issue than on any other” reports Department of Justice spokesman Harry Paratestes. “Many people will also recall that the question on this issue garnered a very large number of votes from the public in the run-up to the President’s recent Internet Town Hall meeting.”

Presidential Press Secretary Robert Gibbs continued to maintain this afternoon that legalization is not “a good strategy to grow the economy”; but conceded that questions of cost and the ineffectiveness of anti-drug strategies were driving the push for a new approach.

“it really is ridiculous” Gibbs admitted in an impromptu press availability today, “I mean, we are literally sponsoring a website and ads that claim drugs make you bad at video games, for God's sake. Whoever came up with that idea must have competed in the Special Olympics of Advertising before we hired them.”

DOJ spokesman Paratestes also noted Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano’s recent testimony before Congress, in which it was revealed that the Drug War is costing the US Government about $40 billion annually—but not having any real impact on ending a $40 billion dollar a year business.

“This Administration has committed to reducing this year’s deficit by 50% in four years’ time, and if we hope to reach that goal, we have to be willing to eliminate any spending that doesn’t serve its intended purpose—and we absolutely don’t want to continue spending in ways that are demonstrably counterproductive”, Paratestes said.

The legislation would allow the states to choose from several distribution models.

Paratestes reports that states may incorporate any of several elements from the suggested distribution options, or they are free to create a distribution model of their own.

“We assume some states will distribute certain drugs, such as marijuana and hashish, in a manner similar to the way alcoholic beverages are retailed today; with bars or coffeehouses providing a venue for public use, and grocers or other retailers providing an outlet for sales for home use.”

Paratestes went on to comment that the States might look to Canada for an answer as to how other dugs can be distributed. “Drugs such as codeine and Robaxin have been sold over-the-counter by Canadian pharmacists for decades with no serious problems, and there’s no reason to believe such a plan wouldn’t work in the US as well.”

An additional distribution model Paratestes described would channel the sales of these newly legalized products through the State Liquor Stores which are already operating in 18 states.

Paratestes emphasized that an important element of the new legislation is funding for thousands of new spaces in treatment programs throughout the country: “If there is one thing we have learned over the years, it is that money spent on treatment represents a good return on investment for the taxpayer; and as I said earlier, this Administration is absolutely determined to spend every tax dollar wisely.”

Press Secretary Robert Gibbs offered an additional comment on the proposed legislation at today’s press availability: “In addition to the cost reductions we know we will realize after this legislation is enacted, we expect an almost immediate reduction in cross-border violence from within Mexico as the highly lucrative black market for these products disappears, along with the incomes of the drug gangs who are today engaged in that violence.”

In a most ironic development, Republican Congressman Ron Paul and Fox News’ Glenn Beck have both made statements in support of legalization.

When contacted for a statement, unnamed sources close to Rush Limbaugh said that they would “miss the thrill of picking up” Limbaugh’s various prescriptions; describing the visits to multiple pharmacies on the same day to pick up hundreds of illegal pills as “not quite as big a rush as meeting Ann Coulter, but pretty close.”

One of Limbaugh’s employees lamented the lost relationships as well: “I always enjoyed talking to the pharmacy workers” the anonymous source said “after spending a few years working for Excellence In Broadcasting, they were pretty much the only rational people I would talk to all day.”

The proposed bill already has several potential co-sponsors, and passage, although contentious, should be possible in today’s legislative environment.

Truthout 4/1

William Rivers Pitt Old, New, Borrowed and Dumb
William Rivers Pitt, Truthout: "Everyone knows the old adage about new brides needing something old, new, borrowed and blue for their weddings. Well, a number of Republicans have taken the line and recreated it for use in their attacks on the Obama administration. For them, now it's all about old, new, borrowed, and really, really dumb."
US, Russia Work to Reduce Nuclear Warheads
Michael D. Shear, The Washington Post: "President Obama and Russian President Dimitri Medvedev launched negotiations on a new nuclear arms treaty today, even as they agreed to pursue new and broader cooperation across a wide range of policy areas. In a statement after a closed-door meeting, the two leaders pledged to begin immediately on a new treaty on offensive nuclear weapons to replace the START agreement, which expires at the end of this year."

G-20 Protesters Jam Downtown London, Target Banks
Kevin Sullivan, The Washington Post: "As President Obama was holding one-on-one meetings Wednesday with the leaders of Russia and China, thousands of protesters marched in the streets of London, and there were several violent clashes with police."

Camillo "Mac" Bica A Philosophical Analysis of Obama's New Strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan
Camillo "Mac" Bica, Truthout: "In offering the American people and the world his agenda for change - his new strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan - President Obama reminds us that 'al-Qaeda and its allies - the terrorists who planned and supported the 9/11 attacks' - continue to be active in both nations. Using rhetoric reminiscent of the Bush administration, he warns us that al-Qaeda still seeks to kill 'as many of our people as possible' and is 'actively planning further attacks on the US homeland from its safe haven in Pakistan.' The reason, therefore, that 'our men and women still fight and die there' is to ensure our national security - the safety of the American people."

For Homeless, a Home May Be the Best Rehab
Joseph Shapiro, National Public Radio: "Richard Corbett has been homeless for long periods of time. He has struggled with depression and alcoholism. But he says he doesn't drink very often anymore and only moderately when he does. When he lived on the scary streets and in shelters, he says, he would drink just to fall asleep. The difference, Corbett says, is that now he has a permanent place to live and that makes him feel safe. He says he no longer has 'to worry about being hit in the night with a brick upside the head and being robbed.'"

Moisi, Le Boucher Arguments for Regime Change
Writing for Les Echos, Dominique Moisi suggests a reading of de Tocqueville's "The Ancien Regime and the Revolution" with an eye to the role aristocratic privileges played in the fall of the Ancien Regime ("One need only substitute the lack of bread for the loss of habitation, to replace the aristocrats with bankers and financiers,"); while Eric Le Boucher, also writing for France's premier business newspaper, reviews a new book of economists' essays and the competing world views of two schools of economic thought. Among French economists, the view that structural changes must occur for recovery to take place prevails ...

Jason Leopold DOJ Watchdog "Revising" Critical Report on John Yoo's Legal Work on Torture
Jason Leopold, Truthout: "A Justice Department watchdog report that is said to be highly critical of the legal work conducted for the Bush administration by three attorneys who worked at the agency’s powerful Office of Legal Counsel is in the process of being revised after the agency received responses on the report's conclusions from the attorneys under scrutiny, according to a letter sent to two Democratic senators by a Justice Department’s acting assistant attorney general. The Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) is apparently 'watering' down some of the more critical conclusions related to legal opinions on 'enhanced interrogation' policies based on responses from John Yoo, Steven Bradbury and Jay Bybee. It's now unknown, the DOJ, said when the revised version of its report will be complete."

Seymour Hersh: Secret US Forces Carried Out Assassinations in "A Lot of" Countries
Amy Goodman, Democracy Now!: "Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist Seymour Hersh created a stir last month when he said the Bush administration ran an executive assassination ring that reported directly to Vice President Dick Cheney. Hersh made the comment during a speech at the University of Minnesota on March 10. 'Congress has no oversight of it. It's an executive assassination wing, essentially. And it's been going on and on and on. And just today in the Times there was a story saying that its leader, a three-star admiral named McRaven, ordered a stop to certain activities because there were so many collateral deaths. It's been going in - under President Bush's authority, they've been going into countries, not talking to the ambassador or to the CIA station chief, and finding people on a list and executing them and leaving.' said Hersh."

US to Join UN Human Rights Council, Reversing Bush Policy
Colum Lynch, The Washington Post: "The Obama administration decided Tuesday to seek a seat on the UN Human Rights Council, reversing a decision by the Bush administration to shun the United Nations' premier rights body to protest the influence of repressive states. 'Human rights are an essential element of American global foreign policy,' Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said in a statement. 'With others, we will engage in the work of improving the UN human rights system ... We believe every nation must live by and help shape global rules that ensure people enjoy the right to live freely and participate fully in their societies.' The United States announced it would participate in elections in May for one of three seats on the 47-member council, joining a slate that includes Belgium and Norway."

Ann Jones Death on the Home Front: Women in the Crosshairs
Ann Jones, "Wake up, America. The boys are coming home, and they're not the boys who went away. On New Year's Day, The New York Times welcomed the advent of 2009 by reporting that, since returning from Iraq, nine members of the Fort Carson, Colorado, Fourth Brigade Combat team had been charged with homicide. Five of the murders they were responsible for took place in 2008 when, in addition, 'charges of domestic violence, rape and sexual assault' at the base rose sharply. Some of the murder victims were chosen at random; four were fellow soldiers - all men. Three were wives or girlfriends."

Dr. James J. Zogby Netanyahu: Then and Now
Dr. James J. Zogby, Truthout: "When Benjamin Netanyahu became prime minister in 1996, he ran on a platform dedicated to ending the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. That is what he said in Israel. For US consumption, Netanyahu took a different approach, seeking instead to unilaterally alter the terms of the process. He rejected the 'land for peace' formula, replacing it with 'security for peace' (emphasizing Israeli security, while promising only economic improvements to the Palestinians)."

Election Contest Ruling Deals Coleman Setback, Appeal Certain
Chris Cillizza, The Washington Post: "A three-judge state panel convened to review an election contest brought by former Minnesota Sen. Norm Coleman (R) in his race against entertainer Al Franken (D) has dealt the Republican a serious setback in its ruling this afternoon. The panel will allow the consideration of only 400 wrongly rejected absentee ballots to be reviewed and possibly counted - making it very difficult for Coleman to make up the 225-vote deficit he currently carries. 'We feel pretty good about where we stand,' said Marc Elias, a lawyer for Franken's campaign, on a conference call conducted moments ago. 'This court has spoken clearly about what the legal standards are' for the inclusion of ballots."