Sunday, May 31, 2009

Truthout 5/31

George Lakoff Empathy, Sotomayor, and Democracy: The Conservative Stealth Strategy
George Lakoff, Truthout: "The Sotomayor nomination has given radical conservatives new life. They have launched an attack that is nominally aimed at Judge Sotomayor. But it is really a coordinated stealth attack - on President Obama's central vision, on progressive thought itself, and on Republicans who might stray from the conservative hard line."

Special Operations' Oversight of Contractors Is Faulted
Walter Pincus, The Washington Post: "The U.S. Special Operations Command, which has Army Special Forces units worldwide, has been criticized by the Pentagon inspector general for not providing adequate oversight of $1.7 billion in logistic support contracts at 20 locations and for allowing contractors to perform what are considered 'inherently government functions.'"

Obama: Efforts to Scuttle Sotomayor Will Fail
The Associated Press: "President Barack Obama expressed confidence Saturday that efforts to scuttle Sonia Sotomayor's nomination to the Supreme Court will fail despite intensified scrutiny of her judicial career. He said senators should work quickly to elevate the federal appeals judge. 'I am certain that she is the right choice,' the president said in his weekly radio and Internet address in which he scolded critics who he said were trying to distort her record and past statements."

Obama Walks a Fine Line Over Mining
Tom Hamburger and Peter Wallsten, The Los Angeles Times: "With the election of President Obama, environmentalists had expected to see the end of the 'Appalachian apocalypse,' their name for exposing coal deposits by blowing the tops off whole mountains. But in recent weeks, the administration has quietly made a decision to open the way for at least two dozen more mountaintop removals."

Did a US Company Hire a Colombian Paramilitary Group?
Nadja Drost, Global Post: "There is a railway line in northern Colombia where cars laden with coal rumble from the parched flatlands surrounding an open-pit mine across verdant swaths of coastal plains to a port on the Atlantic. Until recently, the Northern Block of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, or AUC, terrorized communities along the railway, as well as towns throughout the provinces of Cesar and Magdalena that the tracks traverse.... Now, a lawsuit filed in Alabama May 27 by Florida-based firm Conrad and Scherer accuses Drummond Company Inc. - a coal company with headquarters in Birmingham, Ala. - of paying
millions of dollars to the AUC for 'protection services' of its rail line, which had suffered attacks from left-wing guerillas."

Darfuri Women Report Ominous Pattern of Rape
Peter James Spielmann, The Associated Press: "A survey of women who fled violence in the Darfur region of Sudan found that a third reported or showed signs of rape and revealed a widespread fear of sexual violence in their refugee camp in Chad, a human rights group reported Sunday."

FOCUS Dahr Jamail: The Return of the Resistance
Dahr Jamail, Truthout: "At least 20 U.S. soldiers have been killed in Iraq in May, the most since last September, along with more than 50 wounded. Iraqi casualties are, as usual and in both categories, at least ten times that number."

VIDEO Dan Choi Protests at President Obama's Hotel in Los Angeles
Lt. Dan Choi speaks out against the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy at a protest at President Obama's hotel in Los Angeles on Wednesday night.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

"Fidelity": Join the Movement to Repeal Prop 8

This is a truly great commercial for a truly just cause.

Truthout 5/30

Eugene Robinson On Sotomayor, GOP Grasping at Straws
Eugene Robinson, The Washington Post: "President Obama's nominee for the Supreme Court, Judge Sonia Sotomayor, is a proud and accomplished Latina. This fact apparently drives some prominent Republicans to a state resembling incoherent, sputtering rage."

Gates Calls for Tougher Sanctions on North Korea
Lara Jakes and Vijay Joshi, The Associated Press: "The US defense chief urged Asian allies Saturday to consider tougher sanctions against North Korea, noting that past efforts to cajole the reclusive regime into scrapping its nuclear weapons program have only emboldened it."

Joan Vennochi Where's the Equal Justice for Gays?
Joan Vennochi, The Boston Globe: "President Obama had much to say about the glass ceiling he is smashing on behalf of Hispanics and nothing to say about the glass ceiling the California Supreme Court is reimposing on gays.... On gay rights, as with other controversial issues, Obama stands where it's politically smart to stand. He finds the political sweet spot that placates the left and doesn't alienate the middle."

Levin: Cheney Lying About CIA Memos
Ed Hornick, CNN: "Sen. Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, says former Vice President Dick Cheney's claims - that classified CIA memos show enhanced interrogation techniques like waterboarding worked - are wrong."

UN Calls for Inquiry on "Unacceptably High" Civilian Death Toll
Julian Borger and Gethin Chamberlain, The Guardian UK: "A senior UN official said the civilian death toll from the Sri Lankan government's crushing of the Tamil Tiger insurgency was 'unacceptably high' and should be the subject of an official inquiry."

US-Canada: Shared Border, Unilateral Policy? F
Paul Weinberg, Inter Press Service: "Canada and the United States are on different wavelengths when it comes to a shared and increasingly hardening of what had been a sleepy border within North America."

VIDEO Dan Choi Protests at President Obama's Hotel in Los Angeles
Lt. Dan Choi speaks out against the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy at a protest at President Obama's hotel in Los Angeles on Wednesday night.

FOCUS Bill Moyers and Michael Winship Everyone Should See "Torturing Democracy"
Bill Moyers and Michael Winship, Truthout: "No political party would dare make torture a cornerstone of its rejuvenation if people really understood what it is. And lest we forget, we're not just talking about waterboarding, itself a trivializing euphemism for drowning. If we want to know what torture is, and what it does to human beings, we have to look at it squarely, without flinching. That's just what a powerful and important film, seen by far too few Americans, does."

FOCUS Government Taps Bailout Contractors With Conflicts of Interest
Elana Schor, The Washington Independent: "As the Wall Street bailout nears its first anniversary, the controversy over giving public money to private banks has become public knowledge. But an equally risky aspect of the financial rescue has flown largely under the radar: the government's reliance on private contractors - many with potentially significant conflicts of interest - to help revive the stalled economy."

On Torture And War Crimes, Part Two, Or, Dr. Addicott And I Find Common Ground

When last we met, Gentle Reader, it was to work through a series of legal precedents and statute law; the goal of the exercise being to determine if we could or could not define waterboarding as torture.

We have the kind assistance of Professor Jeffrey Addicott, who has provided us with his written testimony from his recent appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee and a personal interview, where he walked me through some of his thinking on the matter.

Today we’re going to take a look at the precedent that he has used to reach the conclusion that waterboarding is not torture.

It’s also possible that the analysis may result in the discovery of a bit of common ground…but as I noted in Part One, it’s common ground that neither one of us might have seen coming.

When last we met, Gentle Reader, it was to work through a series of legal precedents and statute law; the goal of the exercise being to determine if we could or could not define waterboarding as torture.

We have the kind assistance of Professor Jeffrey Addicott, who has provided us with his written testimony from his recent appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee and a personal interview, where he walked me through some of his thinking on the matter.

Today we’re going to take a look at the precedent that he has used to reach the conclusion that waterboarding is not torture.

It’s also possible that the analysis may result in the discovery of a bit of common ground…but as I noted in Part One, it’s common ground that neither one of us might have seen coming.

To begin, a quick review from yesterday:

Dr. Addicott wants you to know that waterboarding is not torture.

He relies on the argument that since the “Five Techniques” (“Wall-standing”, “Hooding”, the application of excessive noise, sleep deprivation, and the withholding of food and water) used on Irish prisoners by the United Kingdom were found not to be torture by the European Court of Human Rights, and waterboarding is not worse than the five techniques, it logically follows that waterboarding is not torture.

Although waterboarding might be cruel, inhuman, and degrading, Dr. Addicott would remind you that legally, torture requires severe physical pain over an extended, but unspecified, period of time.

He also notes a lack of lack of legal precedent specifically defining waterboarding as torture in either US or international courts.

I asked Dr. Addicott why 18 USC § 2340 (which defines torture, in part, as “…an act…specifically intended to inflict severe physical or mental pain or suffering” and defines “severe mental pain”, in part, as “the threat of imminent death…”) wouldn’t be the definition of torture that should apply.

His basic responses were that the alleged acts took place overseas to non-US citizens, therefore there is a jurisdictional issue; and that a lack of specificity in the statute males it unclear whether waterboarding would be torture.

Here’s how he expressed it to me:

“Those are words, those are descriptive words…that only find meaning when we have a court define what that means; that’s the whole problem with our Anglo-Saxon tradition, is that you have words that are put out in statute but what, you know, what does “severe” mean, what does “prolonged” mean, is it five minutes, is it 10 minutes…is it four drops to the head, is it three drops of water on your head, what does it mean?”

He also wants you to know that we do the same thing to our own military personnel who undergo “Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape” (SERE) training, which indicates the procedure isn’t torture.

He also tells us in his written testimony that the “shock the conscience” standard should apply to define torture.

Additionally, he cites Blefare v United States (362 F.2d 870) and Leon v. Wainwright (734 F.2d 770) to suggest that coercive interrogation is already permitted under US law.

With the catch-up complete, let’s have a look at Dr. Addicott’s assertions.

Right off the bat, Dr Addicott does correctly assert that…

“…the five techniques, as applied in combination, undoubtedly amounted to inhuman and degrading treatment, although their object was the extraction of confessions, the naming of others and/or information and although they were used systematically, they did not occasion suffering of the particular intensity and cruelty implied by the word torture as so understood.

168. The Court concludes that recourse to the five techniques amounted to a practice of inhuman and degrading treatment, which practice was in breach of Article 3 (art. 3)”.

…in the opinion of the European Court of Human Rights.

However, there is precedent that declares waterboarding is torture, as another international tribunal saw things a bit differently.

You undoubtedly are aware of the Nuremberg Trials, which addressed the conduct of officials of Nazi Germany at the end of World War II. A similar process took place to bring Japanese officials to account, the International Military Tribunal for the Far East. Here’s what they had to say about waterboarding:

“Torture and Other Inhumane Treatment

The practice of torturing prisoners of war and civilian internees prevailed at practically all places occupied by Japanese troops, both in the occupied territories and in Japan. The Japanese indulged in this practice during the entire period of the Pacific War. Methods of torture were employed in all areas so uniformly as to indicate policy both in training and execution. Among these tortures were the water treatment [euphemism for waterboarding], burning, electric shocks, the knee spread, [page number removed] suspension, kneeling on sharp instruments and flogging.

The Japanese Military Police, the Kempetai, was most active in inflicting these tortures. Other Army and Navy units, however, used the same methods as the Kempetai. Camp guards also employed similar methods. Local police forces organized by the Kempetai in the occupied territories also applied the same methods of torture.”

Dr. Addicott feels that 18 USC § 2340 doesn’t apply because the acts took place outside the US to non-US citizens…but the statute tells us jurisdiction applies if “the alleged offender is a national of the United States”.

Conspiracy to torture is also a crime, meaning that those who ordered this behavior would also face potential legal liability, even if the person doing the torturing is not a US citizen.

So what about the argument that SERE trainees are subjected to the same treatment?

The difference, I suggest, is that there is no threat of imminent death when a trainee is waterboarded, which is what 18 USC § 2340 requires.

Can waterboarding actually carry the threat of imminent death?

I know someone who can tell us.

Dr. Allen Keller, MD is an Associate Professor at New York University and the founder and Director of the Bellevue/NYU Program for Survivors of Torture, which has provided care for more than 2000 torture survivors. He’s also a member of the Advisory Council of Physicians for Human Rights.

He offered this assessment in testimony before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence

“Water-boarding or mock drowning, where a prisoner is bound to an inclined board and water is poured over their face, inducing a terrifying fear of drowning clearly can result in immediate and long-term health consequences. As the prisoner gags and chokes, the terror of imminent death is pervasive, with all of the physiologic and psychological responses expected, including an intense stress response, manifested by tachycardia, rapid heart beat and gasping for breath. There is a real risk of death from actually drowning or suffering a heart attack or damage to the lungs from inhalation of water. Long term effects include panic attacks, depression and PTSD. I remind you of the patient I described earlier who would panic and gasp for breath whenever it rained even years after his abuse.”

Dr. Addicott also relies on court rulings to demonstrate that coercive methods of obtaining evidence are permissible under US law.

He points two cases for guidance. In the first, Blefare v United States (362 F.2d 870), he tells us (in written testimony) that:

“the appellants were suspected of swallowing narcotics which were lodged in their rectums or stomachs…Then, without Blefare's consent the doctor forcefully passed a soft tube into the "nose, down the throat and into the stomach," through which fluid flowed in order to induce vomiting. This resulted in the discovery of packets of heroin and the subsequent conviction of Blefare.

Unlike Rochin [Rochin v. California, (342 U. S. 165)], the Ninth Circuit refused to hold that the involuntary intrusion into Blefare's stomach shocked the conscience.

While all that is true, it’s also irrelevant to the facts of the case as it appears in the record.

First, the Ninth Circuit had no reason to reach a conclusion about whether evidence was obtained from Blefare in a manner that “shocked the conscience” because the evidence that the appeal was trying to suppress did not belong to Blefare, but to his co-defendant, Donald Michel (who had voluntarily consented to the intubation that led to the recovery of the challenged evidence).

The second reason the challenged evidence was not suppressed had to do with the fact that the searches of Blefare and Michel were held to be “border searches”.

This, from Blefare:

“No question of whether there is probable cause for a search exists when the search is incidental to the crossing of an international border, for there is reason and probable cause to search every person entering the United States from a foreign country, by reason of such entry alone. That the customs authorities do not search every person crossing the border does not mean they have waived their right to do so, when they see fit…Mere suspicion has been held enough cause for a search at the border.”

Dr. Addicott also misstates the effect of Leon v. Wainwright (734 F.2d 770).

From his written testimony:

“For instance, in Leon v. Wainwright the Eleventh Circuit brushed aside the fact that police officers had used "force and threats" on kidnap suspect Jean Leon in order to get the suspect to reveal the location of his victim. When apprehended by a group of police officers in a Florida parking lot, Leon refused to reveal the location of his kidnap victim (the victim, Louis Gachelin, had been taken by gunpoint to an apartment where he was undressed and bound). In order to get the suspect to talk, police officers then physically abused Leon by twisting his arm and choking him until he revealed where the kidnap victim was being held. In speaking to the use of brutal force to get the information needed to protect the victim, the Court deemed that the action of the officers was reasonable given the immediate concern to find the victim and save his life.”

It is inaccurate to say the Court “brushed aside” the use of force and threats.

What actually happened was that the defendant confessed twice—and it was that second confession that was being challenged.

The first confession…the one taken by force…was not admitted into evidence; therefore its admissibility--and by extension, the means by which it was obtained--was not an issue to be considered by the appeals court.

This, from the ruling in Leon v Wainwright:

“Meanwhile, Leon was taken to the police station. He was questioned there by detectives who had neither been involved in the threats and use of force at the scene of his arrest nor witnessed it. After being thoroughly informed of his rights and signing a Miranda waiver form, he gave full oral and written confessions of the crime. This entire process was concluded about five hours after his arrest…

…The totality of the circumstances in this case clearly confirms the finding that the second statement was voluntary.[4] The police, motivated by the immediate necessity of finding the victim and saving his life, used force and threats on Leon in the parking lot.[5] Hours later, Leon was questioned at the police station by a completely different group of police officers. These officers were not even participants in the surveillance team at the parking lot. Prior to questioning him the officers meticulously explained to him his constitutional rights. He specifically waived his right to have counsel present. The necessity of saving the victim's life, the different physical setting, the different group of questioning officers, and the meticulous explanation to appellant of his constitutional rights constituted a sufficient break in the stream of events to dissipate the effects of the first coercion. The challenged confession was properly admitted into evidence.”

There is a question of what to do if it is suspected that torture has been committed. Here is a portion of Dr. Addicott’s comment on the matter, from his written testimony.

“…those who order, approve, or engage in torture must be criminally charged. If the United States determines that waterboarding as practiced by the CIA is torture, there is no option. Under the Torture Convention violators must be prosecuted. Similarly, lawyers at the Department of Justice who approved the practice must also be prosecuted… In short, in my legal opinion, the subject waterboarding technique used on the al-Qa'eda operatives did not constitute torture and requires no binding obligation to prosecute.”

With all respect to the Professor, this looks like circular logic. To “determine” that torture occurred requires a trial, as Dr. Addicott has previously noted, yet he says here there’s no need for a trial because, by his determination, no torture occurred.

It also appears that his analysis on this point is factually inaccurate, in that there is no obligation to prosecute under either the Geneva Conventions or the Torture Convention. Here are the pertinent texts:

“Article 12

Each State Party shall ensure that its competent authorities proceed to a prompt and impartial investigation, wherever there is reasonable ground to believe that an act of torture has been committee [sic] in any territory under its jurisdiction.”

--UN Convention Against Torture

“Article 129

The High Contracting Parties undertake to enact any legislation necessary to provide effective penal sanctions for persons committing, or ordering to be committed, any of the grave breaches of the present Convention defined in the following Article.

Each High Contracting Party shall be under the obligation to search for persons alleged to have committed, or to have ordered to be committed, such grave breaches, and shall bring such persons, regardless of their nationality, before its own courts. It may also, if it prefers, and in accordance with the provisions of its own legislation, hand such persons over for trial to another High Contracting Party concerned, provided such High Contracting Party has made out a prima facie case.”

--Geneva Convention relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War

The phrase “bring such persons…before its own courts” will be a subject of controversy, so let me clear it up now. In Europe, the “court” process involves the use of “investigating magistrates” who would decide if this sort of case should or should not be brought to trial; a function that, in the US, would be handled by a Special Prosecutor or the FBI and the appropriate US Attorney, possibly through the federal grand jury process.

As you can see, there is an obligation to investigate people suspected of torture…but no mandate to prosecute every suspected offense…which means, just like in a RICO case, you can round up the lower-level “actors”, convince them to “flip” on the other co-conspirators up the chain in exchange for immunity…and then you prosecute the ringleaders.

We have spent some considerable time addressing the questions around what is and what is not torture…but now we get to an issue that makes the “torture question” irrelevant.

Remember way back in Part One when I asked you to keep that “cruel and inhuman treatment” phrase in the back of your mind?

And remember the European Court of Human Rights ruling that called the “Five Techniques” cruel and inhuman?

Well, guess what?

If a prosecutor can demonstrate that waterboarding is not torture, but merely “cruel or inhuman” (a standard that only requires “serious” mental or physical pain, not the “severe” standard required for torture)…that’s a “war crime”, as defined by the War Crimes Act of 1996 (18 USC § 2441(d)(1)(B)).

And those who commit a war crime, it turns out:

“…shall be fined under this title or imprisoned for life or any term of years, or both, and if death results to the victim, shall also be subject to the penalty of death.”

And that’s where we get to the point that Dr. Addicott and I finally reach some common ground:

Maybe torture prosecutions are bad policy.

Especially when it’s easier to prove a war crime than it is to prove torture.

Once again, we have come a long way to get here, but let’s review it all before we finish:

Dr. Addicott and I differ on where we should look for a definition of torture.

Despite the language of 18 USC § 2340, he does not feel there’s jurisdiction to prosecute under the US Code.

He does not feel waterboarding is torture, but he acknowledges that the “Five Techniques” are “cruel and inhuman”.

There is precedent in international law to draw the conclusion that waterboarding is torture which Dr. Addicott did not note in his written testimony.

Because waterboarding does create the threat of imminent death and does cause severe and long-lasting mental problems, I feel it is also torture as defined by US law.

Dr. Addicott proffers legal precedent to support his position that the use of coercive techniques does not violate US law…but when you actually examine the texts of the rulings he cites, it appears that he either misunderstands the rulings or misstates their application to this question.

He also testifies inaccurately when he asserts that all cases “determined” to be torture must be prosecuted…firstly, because of the circular logic of “determined”, and secondly, because the two pertinent texts simply don’t read the way his testimony reports they read.

But all that said, it turns out that even if waterboarding is somehow not torture…that it does not cause “severe physical or mental pain or suffering”…it appears highly likely that the technique causes “serious physical or mental pain or suffering”…which, mirabile dictu, is the legal standard for proving a war crime.

Which leads us to the one point upon which we both agree: there should be prosecutions.

Prosecute under 18 USC § 2441 or treat it like any other “organized crime” case: start inviting “parties of interest” to flip on their co-conspirators, immunize the cooperative…and if a judge and jury decides it’s the right choice, people are going to have to go to prison.

So there you go: we started out questioning how torture is defined, and we ended up at a place where, because of the War Crimes Act, that definition become less relevant, a bit of common ground might have been found, and in the search for that common ground we’ve discovered a better way to ensure that justice can be done.

AUTHOR’S NOTE: I want to offer a hearty “thank you” to Dr. Addicott for taking the time to talk to me for this story. If we wish to do serious journalism, interviewing the people in the news is critical, and I very much appreciate his willingness to make himself available during the production of this pair of stories.

WARNING—Self-promotion ahead: I am competing for a Netroots Nation scholarship, and I was not selected in the first round of voting. There are two more chances to be selected, and the voting has restarted from even if you’ve done so before, I still have to ask you to stop by the Democracy for America site and click on the “Add your support” link to offer your support for me again. Thanks for your patience, and we now return you to your regular programming.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Truthout 5/29

US Army Base Shuts Down After Rise in Suicides
Dan De Luce, Agency France-Presse: "The commander of Fort Campbell army base in Kentucky has ordered a three-day suspension of regular duties to focus on a spike in suicides among his troops amid concern over a wider trend across the armed services."

Europe Objects Anew to Detainees
Craig Whitlock and Karen DeYoung, The Washington Post: "The Obama administration's push to resettle at least 50 Guantanamo Bay prisoners in Europe is meeting fresh resistance as European officials demand that the United States first give asylum to some inmates before they will do the same."

Abortion Rights Backers Get Reassurances on Nominee
Robert Barnes and Michael D. Shear, The Washington Post: "The White House scrambled yesterday to assuage worries from liberal groups about Judge Sonia Sotomayor's scant record on abortion rights, delivering strong but vague assurances that the Supreme Court nominee agrees with President Obama's belief in constitutional protections for a woman's right to the procedure."

Eric Alterman and Danielle Ivory Think Again: Dick Cheney's Post Presidency
Eric Alterman and Danielle Ivory, The Center for American Progress: "Former President George W. Bush recently mused with the press about scooping up his dog's droppings. Meanwhile, former Vice President Dick Cheney has taken on the role of attack dog. Some conservatives have suggested that President Barack Obama somehow goaded Cheney into this role when he attacked the VP during the campaign."

Underemployment Presents Challenges
Martha C. White, The Washington Independent: "While the steady rise of the nation's unemployment rate has become shorthand for the recession's impact, many economists say the grim figures - 8.9 percent in April - don't tell the whole story of Americans' financial distress. While the plight of the jobless tends to dominate social policy conversations and media coverage, a less-exposed but equally vulnerable population is the millions of underemployed."

Apeldoorn Sets High Energy Self-Sufficiency Goals
Gregoire Alix reports for Le Monde from the Dutch city of Apeldoorn: "'In 2020, all energy consumed in Apeldoorn will have to be renewable, without fossil fuels, without nuclear power, and produced in our own city.' With graphs for support, Michael Boddeke, the official in charge of sustainable development for this city that looks like a blossoming village at the center of the Netherlands, is optimistic: solar, wind, and biogas from organic waste and wastewater should suffice to warm and light this town of 156,000 residents."

William Rivers Pitt The Most Dangerous Game
William Rivers Pitt, Truthout: "The Republican right-wing's campaign of resistance settled into a predictable pattern almost immediately after the announcement. While those voicing opposition to Judge Sotomayor claimed to be surprised and disappointed that Obama chose such a 'controversial' nominee, the truth is they've been suiting up for weeks to fight whomever finally got the nod. Their attacks were triggered automatically and would have come no matter what; if Mr. Obama had nominated Jesus of Nazareth to replace Justice Souter, the GOP would now be denouncing Him for favoring a socialist welfare state because He gave away loaves and fishes and circumvented the insurance industry when He raised Lazarus from the dead."

Tad Daley Maybe We Should Take the North Koreans at Their Word
Tad Daley, "The one thing we can probably say for sure about the prospects for universal nuclear disarmament is that no state will agree either to abjure or to dismantle nuclear weapons unless it believes that such a course is the best course for its own national security. To persuade states like North Korea and Iran to climb aboard the train to abolition would probably require simultaneous initiatives on three parallel tracks. One track would deliver nuclear weapons policies that directly address the long-simmering resentments around the world about the long-standing nuclear double standard, that directly acknowledge our legacy of nuclear hypocrisy, and that directly connect nuclear non-proliferation to nuclear disarmament."

Jonathan Schell Torture and Truth
Jonathan Schell, The Nation: "It has fallen to President Obama to deal with the policies and practices of torture inaugurated by the Bush administration. He started boldly, ordering an end to the abuses, announcing the closing in one year of the detention camp at Guantanamo and releasing the Bush-era Justice Department memos authorizing torture. Subsequently, he seemed to grow cautious. He discouraged formation of an independent commission to investigate the torture and reversed a previous position in favor of releasing Pentagon photos of abuses and instead opposed release."

Obama Presses Israel, Palestinians on West Bank
Ben Feller, The Associated Press: "Gingerly trying to advance Mideast peace, President Barack Obama declared on Thursday the US is a 'stalwart ally' of Israel but challenged the Israelis to stop settlement construction in the disputed West Bank to help advance the long and painful road to peace with the Palestinians. Obama's message came on the same day that Israel refused a demand to freeze all construction in the West Bank, land the Palestinians hope to claim for a future nation of their own. The president stuck to a hopeful tone, saying he had pressed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the matter only last week."

Obama Administration Supports a Timeout on Road Building in National Forests
Jim Tankersley, The Los Angeles Times: "The US Forest Service will announce a 'timeout' on new road-building and other development in designated roadless areas of national forests today, sources say, prolonging a seesaw battle over a policy first announced in the waning days of the Clinton administration. The Roadless Area Conservation Rule, which former President Clinton issued shortly before leaving office in 2001, protects nearly 60 million acres of national forest land from logging and other development, largely in Western states. It has faced a protracted court battle that pitted conservation groups against the timber industry and several of those states."

FP morning brief 5/29

Top Story:

North Korea continued its provocations by firing short-range missile off its east coast today. It is the sixth such test since the country's nuclear test on Monday. The U.S. and South Korean militaries have raised the alert level for the peninsula as North Korea announced it will no longer respect the disputed western sea border between the two countries. The U.N. Security Council's five permanent powers, plus South Korea and Japan, have begun work on a resolution condemning North Korea's test.

At the same time, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said that a U.S. military buildup in the region would be unnecessary and that diplomatic measures were still the best option. "I don't think that anybody in the administration thinks there is a crisis," Gates said.

Under the radar:

A new report from the Global Humanitarian Forum calls climate change a "silent crisis" that is already killing 300,000 people every year.

An investigation by Britain's Times concluded that more than 20,000 Tamil civilians were killed during the final days of Sri Lanka's offensive against the Tamil Tigers.
Pakistani police have arrested suspected Taliban militants among the refugees fleeing the fighting in Swat Valley.
Thousands of Koreans came out to pay their final respects to former president Roh Moo-Hyun, who committed suicide last week.

Middle East
Iran has blamed the U.S. for a deadly mosque bombing that killed 20 people in the country's southeast.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton hosted Egyptian pro-democracy campaigners at the State Department and urged the Egyptian regime to respect human rights.
Months after Israeli troops left, Gaza is still largely cut off from aid and the area's poverty is growing desperate.

President Obama will give a speech announcing the creation of a cyber-security office at the White House today.
Despite warnings from the Venezuelan government, visiting author Mario Vargas Llosa gave a speech in Caracas saying that the country was moving toward a Cuba-like dictatorship.
Armed smugglers took 60 Haitian migrants hostage before they were to be apprehended by the U.S. Coast Guard.

Sudanese government troops have retaken control of a town near the Chadian border from rebels.
African ministers called for more funding to combat climate change, saying that they contribute little to the process but suffer disproportionately from its effects.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu pressed for more support for Zimbabwe's unity government, saying the country had become "hell on earth."

With U.S. officials in attendance Russia opened a new facility to destroy chemical weapons.
Several policemen were beaten and stabbed by anti-government protesters in Georgia.
Even if the U.S. does not move ahead with a missile defense shield in eastern Europe, Poland is still pushing hard to have a battery of Patriot missiles stationed in the country.

On Torture And War Crimes, Part One, Or, I Interview Dr. Addicott

I can’t tell you the number of times I began a story with a plan for where it would go, only to discover that the plan isn’t going to work.

The stories sometimes seem to write themselves…but other times, the research seems to do the writing instead; this being one of those times.

When the production of this story began it was with the intention of trying to explain what should be the “controlling authority” in terms of defining torture, a precedent set by the European Court of Human Rights, or Title 18 of the United States Code.

Having reviewed both statute law and numerous judgments in law courts worldwide as well as the recent Senate Judiciary Committee testimony of Professor Jeffrey Addicott, and having conducted an interview with Dr. Addicott personally, I’ve come to two rather surprising conclusions:

It may not really matter whether waterboarding is torture…and although neither I nor Dr. Addicott might have seen it coming, it’s starting to appear that he and I might agree on one thing:

Waterboarding, whether it’s torture or not, is a war crime.

There’s a big backstory here, so off we go:

Everybody remember the Senate Judiciary Committee’s “Torture Hearings” back on May 13th…the one where the FBI interrogator testified from behind a “security screen”?


One of those giving testimony that day was Professor Addicott; he of the Center for Terrorism Law at St. Mary’s University in San Antonio, Texas. In his testimony Dr. Addicott suggested that the words waterboarding and torture are thrown around in each other’s company rather casually and without much in the way of law to guide those doing the throwing.

In both his written and oral testimony, he suggested the best guidance for answering the question of whether waterboarding is torture can be found in an examination of a 1978 ruling of the European Court of Human Rights, Ireland v. the United Kingdom.

Well, I read that ruling, and a wee bit of statute law…and I began to wonder if Dr. Addicott might have missed a thing or two.

18 USC § 2340 and 2340A are the sections of the United States Code that deal specifically with “Torture”. Torture is defined in the statute, and jurisdiction applies if…

(1) the alleged offender is a national of the United States; or

(2) the alleged offender is present in the United States, irrespective of the nationality of the victim or alleged offender.

(18 USC § 2340A(c) tells us that conspiring to commit torture is also a crime.)

Whoever outside the United States commits or attempts to commit torture shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 20 years, or both, and if death results to any person from conduct prohibited by this subsection, shall be punished by death or imprisoned for any term of years or for life.

--18 USC § 2340A(a)

I mentioned that torture is defined…and here is the part of that definition that we’ll be discussing:

(1) “torture” means an act committed by a person acting under the color of law specifically intended to inflict severe physical or mental pain or suffering (other than pain or suffering incidental to lawful sanctions) upon another person within his custody or physical control;

(2) “severe mental pain or suffering” means the prolonged mental harm caused by or resulting from…

(c) the threat of imminent death…

--18 USC § 2340

The more I kept at it, the more I couldn’t shake the feeling that it made more sense that surely the United States Code should be the “controlling authority” on the question of what is or is not torture, not the ruling of a foreign court.

I sent an email to Dr. Addicott asking two questions:

--if he might be kind enough to explain why the US Code isn’t the final authority here, and if so,

--isn’t the fact that waterboarding is predicated on a threat of imminent death enough to make it torture, based on the definition laid out in 18 USC § 2340?

After a weekend of phone tag, Dr. Addicott was kind enough to explain to me some of his thinking on the matter. Some of that conversation will be repeated here, along with excerpts from the written testimony he provided the Senate Judiciary Committee.

(I’ll be “Q”, Dr. Addicott will be “A”.)

Q: “Why is the European Court of Human Rights ruling more dispositive, when you’re defining torture, than the US Code?”

A: “…basically, the individuals that we are alleged to have tortured, I use the word alleged because I don’t believe it amounts to torture…are not US citizens.”

He also noted that because the alleged torture took place outside the US, international law applies, specifically the United Nations Convention Against Torture, and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (the “Torture Convention”).

Q: “OK, but when I’m looking at 18 US Code, 18 US Code says “whoever outside the United States commits or attempts to commit torture shall be fined under this title or imprisoned.” So wouldn’t that imply that Americans, wherever they are, would be covered under the statute?”

A: “It would be hard…Regarding the shocking the conscience standard in the latest case, which was Chavez v. Sanchez, [ actually Chavez v. Martinez, (538 U.S. 760) ] if you read that case, that court did not even look at…uh…US Code in deciding whether or not shock the conscience, so I think when you’re looking at an international sphere it’s better to look at the international cases in regards to torture, particularly when you have a case that defines…uh…interrogation…”

Further light is shed on the question by reading this portion of Dr. Addicott’s written testimony:

“In the Anglo-Saxon legal tradition, we generally look to authoritative judicial decisions to define key terms in treaty and legislation. Perhaps the leading international case in the realm of defining "severe pain or suffering" in the context of interrogation practices against suspected "terrorists" comes from the often cited European Court of Human Rights ruling, Ireland v. United Kingdom. By an overwhelming majority vote (16-1), the Ireland court found certain interrogation practices (called the "five techniques") by English authorities to investigate suspected terrorism in Northern Ireland to be "inhuman and degrading," i.e., ill-treatment, under the European Convention on Human Rights, but not severe enough to rise to the level of torture (13-4). According to the Court, the finding of ill-treatment rather than torture "derives principally from a difference in the intensity of the suffering inflicted."”

(That phrase “inhuman and degrading”? Keep it in mind, as it will figure prominently in Part Two.)

The “Five Techniques”?

Wall-standing”, “Hooding”, the application of excessive noise, sleep deprivation, and the withholding of food and water.

From Dr. Addicott's written testimony:

“To the reasonable mind, considering the level of interrogation standards set out in the Ireland case, the conclusion is clear. Even the worst of the CIA techniques authorized by the Department of Justice legal memorandums – waterboarding – would not constitute torture (the CIA method of waterboarding appears similar to what we have done hundreds and hundreds of times to our own military special operations soldiers in military training courses on escape and survival).”

You may recall a reference to the “shock the conscience” standard. It’s pertinent here because of doctrine found in the May 2005 “Torture Memo” written by Steven Bradbury of the Office of Legal Counsel, quoted here:

“Given that the CIA interrogation program is carefully limited to further the Government's paramount interest in protecting the Nation while avoiding unnecessary or serious harm, we conclude that the interrogation program cannot "be said to shock the contemporary c.onscience"”

The standard came from Rochin v. California, (342 U. S. 165). Long story short, police officers forced capsules full of morphene from inside Rochin’s body after watching him swallow them. In overturning the conviction, the Supreme Court ruled:

“…that the proceedings by which this conviction was obtained do more than offend some fastidious squeamishness or private sentimentalism about combatting crime too energetically. This is conduct that shocks the conscience…They are methods too close to the rack and the screw to permit of constitutional differentiation.”

Dr. Addicott’s written testimony also notes that the circumstances of Blefare v United States (362 F.2d 870) are similar to Rochin and support his view that if forcing evidence from the body does not “shock the conscience” waterboarding must not, either.

Additionally, Dr. Addicott asks us to consider a case that originated in Florida, Leon v. Wainwright (734 F.2d 770), in which a suspected kidnapper was choked and otherwise physically abused to obtain the information needed to save the kidnap victim. Since the conviction was upheld, we can surmise that even coercive interrogations have a place in American law.

Finally, the written testimony tells us we should consider the degree of physical pain that is inflicted by the interrogation method in deciding what torture is and what it is not.

“Certainly the red thread in these definitions is a combination of two essential elements: (1) the infliction of severe physical pain to the body or mind used to; (2) punish or obtain information. International law adopts this formula but sharpens it by stipulating that a State actor must carry out the act of torture.”

Add it all up, Dr. Addicott would tell you, and waterboarding, which fulfilled a vital interest and doesn’t rise to the level of behavior in Rochin, is not torture.

Let’s stop for a moment and review where we’ve been:

Dr. Addicott tells us that waterboarding is not torture first because it’s being done outside the US to non-citizens, and secondly, because of that Ireland v United Kingdom ruling, among others, but I’m of the opinion that the US Code is the better place to look for a definition of torture.

If an interrogation method doesn’t involve enough physical pain, over some period of time, to “shock the conscience”, Dr. Addicott feels, it’s not torture.

And in his view, the fact that coercive methods are used to obtain evidence is not necessarily illegal under American law.

Once again, this has become one of those stories that will require us to take a pause and pick it up tomorrow…but when we do, we’ll take a second look at some of those court rulings, and we’ll see if there might be other precedent that matters—and then we’ll consider a section of the United States Code that might shed an entirely different light on the whole question of what whether the question “waterboarding: is it torture?” even makes much of a difference in obtaining convictions for this behavior.

There will be a lot more in Part Two, so come back tomorrow for the rest...of the story.

WARNING—Self-promotion ahead: I am competing for a Netroots Nation scholarship, and I was not selected in the first round of voting. There are two more chances to be selected, and the voting has restarted from even if you’ve done so before, I still have to ask you to stop by the Democracy for America site and click on the “Add your support” link to offer your support for me again. Thanks for your patience, and we now return you to your regular programming.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Truthout 5/28

Tyler E. Boudreau Fratricide in Baghdad
Tyler E. Boudreau, Truthout: "Over the last few weeks, there's been a lot of commentary attributed to the incident of Sgt. John M. Russell, the soldier charged with killing five fellow service members at a mental health treatment facility in Baghdad. The natural question is: Why did he do it? And there has been no shortage of answers offered up on his behalf. For the moment, we have only conjecture, but the most logical assumption is that the man had troubles. That much is known. The real question, of course, is why did he have troubles? This is where the discussion has generally fallen, but also fallen short."

Review of Government Secrecy Ordered
Carrie Johnson, The Washington Post: "President Obama directed his national security adviser and senior Cabinet officials yesterday to examine whether the government keeps too much information secret. In a memo, Obama acknowledged that too many documents have been kept from the public eye for years and affirmed that he remains 'committed to operating with an unprecedented level of openness.'"

Olson, Boies Team Up to Fight Prop 8 in Federal Court
Carol J. Williams, The Los Angeles Times: "The California Supreme Court failed to protect gay couples' fundamental right to marry when it upheld Proposition 8, forcing same-sex couples to appeal to the federal courts to remedy the injustice, two prominent lawyers said today in announcing a lawsuit on behalf of two gay couples. Former US Solicitor General Theodore Olson, a renowned conservative, and David Boies, who opposed Olson in Bush v. Gore in the 2000 fight over the presidential election, cast their collaborative effort to restore the right of gays to marry in California as a moral imperative to correct an injustice."

Iraq Redux? Obama Seeks Funds for Pakistan Super-Embassy
Saeed Shah and Warren P. Strobel, McClatchy Newspapers: "The US is embarking on a $1 billion crash program to expand its diplomatic presence in Pakistan and neighboring Afghanistan, another sign that the Obama administration is making a costly, long-term commitment to war-torn South Asia, US officials said Wednesday. The White House has asked Congress for - and seems likely to receive - $736 million to build a new US embassy in Islamabad, along with permanent housing for US government civilians and new office space in the Pakistani capital."

Showdown in NSA Wiretap Case: Judge Threatens Sanctions Against Justice Department
David Kravets, "The Obama administration has until Friday to convince a federal judge not to levy sanctions against the government for 'failing to obey the court's orders' in a key NSA wiretapping lawsuit. US District Judge Vaughn Walker is threatening to summarily decide the 3-year-old lawsuit in favor of the plaintiffs, and award unspecified monetary damages to two American lawyers who claim their telephone calls were illegally intercepted by the NSA under the Bush administration. The lawyer represented a now-defunct Saudi charity that the Treasury Department claimed was linked to terrorism."

Robert Borosage Betting on Failure: The Right's Story
Robert Borosage, Campaign for America's Future: "Congressional Republicans are marginally more popular and significantly less contagious than the swine flu. Even conservatives are keeping their distance. House leader John Boehner's perpetual tan has become a presidential punch line. Senate leader Mitch Dr. No McConnell is known only for obstruction. Ideologues like Rush rush to fill the leadership vacuum, seeking to purge the party of any lingering moderates. It's gotten so bad that neo-con Bill Kristol suggests that leading presidential candidates for 2012 might well be the oft disgraced Newt Gingrich and...gulp...Darth Cheney himself."

Taguba: Abu Ghraib Abuse Photos "Show Rape"
Duncan Gardham and Paul Cruickshank, The Telegraph UK: "Photographs of alleged prisoner abuse which Barack Obama is attempting to censor include images of apparent rape and sexual abuse ... At least one picture shows an American soldier apparently raping a female prisoner while another is said to show a male translator raping a male detainee."

James J. Zogby What a Difference a Decade Can Make
Dr. James J. Zogby, Truthout: "When Benyamin Netanyahu last came to Washington as prime minister of Israel, the setting was quite different ... What a difference a decade can make ... In 2009, Netanyahu met a US president who had won election by a handsome margin, and whose victory helped his party expand its control over both the Senate and the House of Representatives. A popular president, Obama has wind in his sails and has demonstrated both the vision and commitment to make real change on many issues - including the Middle East."

Roadside Bomb Kills US Soldier in Baghdad
Kim Gamel, The Associated Press: "A roadside bomb killed a US soldier Wednesday in Baghdad, making May the deadliest month for the American military since September."

Amnesty: Economic Crisis Fuels Human Rights "Time Bomb"
Adrian Croft, Reuters: "The global economic downturn has aggravated human rights violations and distracted attention from abuses, Amnesty International said on Thursday."

US Weighs Single Agency to Regulate Banking Industry
Binyamin Appelbaum and Zachary A. Goldfarb, The Washington Post: "Senior administration officials are considering the creation of a single agency to regulate the banking industry, replacing a patchwork of agencies that failed to prevent banks from falling into the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, sources said."

Le Monde To Regulate
Le Monde's Editorialist: "Working from the assumption that there's no growth possible without a solid financial system, political leaders began by spending hundreds of billions to save their banks and are now trying to impose new rules so that finance doesn't concoct new exploding mixtures tomorrow. And there's the rub, especially in Europe."

FP morning brief 5/28

Top Story:

Israeli official say the government will press ahead with housing construction in the West Bank, despite U.S. objections. This comes after an unusually strong condemnation of the program by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who said the Obama administration "wants to see a stop to settlements -- not some settlements, not outposts, not natural-growth exceptions." Clinton made her comments after a meeting with Egypt's foreign minister.

Benjamin Netanyahu's government has said it would be willing to dismantle a number of recent wildcat settler outposts and would refrain from building more communities, but that allowances must be made for the "natural growth" of existing settlements. Nearly 300,000 Israelis now live in the West Bank.

Speaking of the Obama administration's position, veteran Middle East negotiator Aaron David Miller told the New York Times they seemed unlikely to budge. "They’ve concluded, ‘We’re going to force a change in behavior,'" he said.
Under the radar:

Russia and Cuba will renew cooperation on nuclear research, which halted after Cuba suspended construction of a power plant in 1992. The new partnership was announced at a ceremony in Moscow honoring Fidel Castro Diaz-Balart, one of Cuba's top scientists and its leader's oldest son.

The U.S. and South Korea have raised the military alert level for the Korean peninsula.
The Pakistani Taliban has claimed responsibility for yesterday's bombing in Lahore.
U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Beijing, where she urged Chinese leaders to play a larger part in combating climate change.

Middle East
Turkish jets once again attacked Kurdish rebels in Northern Iraq.
The International Monetary Fund has denied reports that it discussed a loan to Hezbollah, ahead of Lebanon's parliamentary elections.
At least 20 U.S. soldiers have been killed in Iraq in May, making it the deadliest month since September.

Rising crime rates have emerged as a major issue in Argentina's upcoming elections.
A powerful earthquake off the coast of Honduras caused minor damage onshore. The region is now on tsunami watch.
Hundreds marched in support of a free press in Venezuela.

One of the leaders of Nigeria's MEND rebel movement was killed in police custody.
The U.S. envoy for Sudan held "productive" talks with his Chinese counterpart.
Mogadishu's hospitals have been overwhelmed by casualties from the recent upsurge in violence.

Talks on who should buy GM's European unit Opel broke down in Berlin.
Molodva's parliament voted to delay the country's presidential election until June.
Vladimir Putin headed to Belarus for talks, just days after Belarussian leader Aleksandr Lukashenko launched an angry tirade against Moscow.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Truthout 5/27

Steve Weissman Springtime for Hitler?
Steve Weissman, Truthout: "Berliners learn to laugh out loud at Adolph Hitler, while his hateful ideas continue to promote violent attacks on Jews across the globe. It's a strange and troubling mix with important lessons about how confronting hate speech head-on works far better than well-meaning, but ill-fated efforts to ban it by law or bore it to death by being oh-so politically correct."

How - and Why - Barack Obama Picked Sonia Sotomayor for Supreme Court
Mike Allen and Jonathan Martin, Politico: "President Barack Obama called Judge Sonia Sotomayor at 9 p.m. on Memorial Day to say she was his pick for the Supreme Court. Obama showed he was willing to pick a fight with his choice - Republicans do not consider her a 'consensus' nominee and had signaled that they considered her the most liberal of the four finalists."

Army Chief Says US Ready to Be in Iraq Ten Years
Tom Curley, The Associated Press: "The Pentagon is prepared to leave fighting forces in Iraq for as long as a decade despite an agreement between the United States and Iraq that would bring all American troops home by 2012, the top US Army officer said Tuesday."

Obama Calls for Release of Burma's Suu Kyi
BBC News: "US President Barack Obama has called for the 'immediate and unconditional' release of Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi."

France Opens Military Base in Persian Gulf
Angelique Chrisafis, The Guardian UK: "Nicolas Sarkozy today opened France's first permanent military base in the Gulf region, in a symbolic move to show his new tough line on Iran and to compete with Britain and the US for military and commercial influence in the area."

Burris, Blago Brother Tapes OK'd for Ethics Panel
Susan Crabtree, The Hill: "FBI recordings of a phone conversation between Sen. Roland Burris (D-Illinois) and the brother of ex-Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich may be handed over to the Senate Ethics Committee, a federal judge determined Tuesday."

Marjorie Cohn Obama's Guantanamo Appeasement Plan
Marjorie Cohn, Truthout: "The pressure has caused Mr. Obama to buckle. Timed to coincide with a Cheney speech to the right-wing American Enterprise Institute, Mr. Obama announced an appeasement plan to deal with the 240 remaining Guantanamo detainees. Parts of his plan would threaten the very foundation of our legal system - that no one should be held in custody if he has committed no crime."

Huge Blast Rocks Pakistani City
BBC News: "Rescuers are searching the rubble of a police building in the Pakistani city of Lahore after a bomb attack killed at least 23 people and injured 200. Gunmen reportedly opened fire on guards before detonating a car bomb which flattened the emergency response building at police HQ."

North Korea Warns of Attack, Says Truce No Longer Valid
Simon Martin, Agence France-Presse: "North Korea said Wednesday it was abandoning the truce that ended the Korean War and warned it could launch a military attack on the South, two days after testing an atomic bomb for the second time. The announcement came amid reports the secretive North, which outraged the international community with its test Monday, was restarting work to produce more weapons-grade plutonium."

GM Says Bondholder Offer Fails; Bankruptcy Likely
Tom Krisher and Dan Strumpf, The Washington Post: "A General Motors Corp. bankruptcy filing seemed inevitable after a rebellion by its bondholders forced it to withdraw on Wednesday a plan to swap bond debt for company stock. GM has until Monday to complete a government-ordered restructuring that includes debt reduction, labor cost cuts and plant closures."

Court: Suspects Can Be Interrogated Without Lawyer
Jesse J. Holland, The Associated Press: "The Supreme Court on Tuesday overturned a long-standing ruling that stopped police from initiating questions unless a defendant's lawyer was present, a move that will make it easier for prosecutors to interrogate suspects."

Herve Kempf Family Farmers: The Return
Herve Kempf, "I have the immense pleasure of informing you that in these times of mental and political stagnation we can create a million jobs in Europe, five hundred thousand in France - family farmer jobs."

NOW Rehab for Terrorists?
NOW: "This week NOW on PBS partners with best-selling author and journalist Robert Lacey to investigate the surprising success of Saudi Arabia's approach to dealing with terrorists and extremists - without torture or water-boarding. Given extraordinary access to the Saudi Arabian Interior Ministry and its practices, Lacey visits terrorist rehabilitation camps that use 'soft policing' tactics to be nice to the bad guys."

fp Morning Brief 5/27

Top Story:

A massive car bomb attack in Lahore, Pakistan killed 30 people and injured over 300. The attacked destroyed a police station and damaged a building belonging to Inter-Services Intelligence, the country's top spy agency. The bomb blast was preceded by firing from several gunmen within the car.

The attack is the third in Lahore in recent months. Gunmen killed six police officers in an attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team in March. The increased terrorist activity in the Punjabi city has increased fears that the Taliban is making inroads into the Punjab, perhaps through alliances with local militant groups. “Very possibly, it is an attempt to subvert the army’s brave and courageous operation and the government’s resolve to defeat terrorists [in the Swat valley]” a presidential spokesperson told the New York Times.

The Taliban does appear to be reeling in its fight with the Pakistani military in Swat. The government apparently rejected a Taliban ceasefire and continued its offensive into the valley.

Stat of the day:

Are we witnessing the death of print media? Not quite yet, it seems. Newspaper circulation grew 1.3 percent worldwide last year, according the World Association of Newspapers. Growth in Africa, Latin America, and Asia offset declines in Europe and the United States.

North Korea warned that it would attack South Korea if any of its ships were stopped as part of a U.S.-led WMD interdiction effort.
President Hu Jintao of China hosted the leader of Taiwan's ruling party in Beijing A possible sign of thawing relations between the two rivals.
The Sri Lankan government will retain its state of emergency, despite the end of the Tamil Tiger war.
The death toll from Cyclone Aila has reached 168 in India and Bangladesh

The European Union unveiled sweeping financial reforms, which include much tighter scrutiny of banks.
More than 50,000 anti-government protesters rallied in the Georgian capital, Tblisi.
A former Italian spy chief denies participating in the kidnapping of an Egyptian Imam six years ago.

Mexico has detained 10 mayors for ties to the drug trade.
Bolivia and Venezuela denied Israeli allegations that they have supplied Iran with uranium.
U.S. consumer confidence jumped sharply in May, causing stock market gains worldwide.

Insurgents fired on Somalia's presidential palace, killing nine.
Opponents of Niger's president Mamadou Tandja say he is trying to create a dictatorship after he decided to dissolve parliament
South Africa's government faces a tough road ahead as the country finds itself in a severe recession.

Middle East
Barack Obama has added Saudi Arabia to his itinerary when he heads to the Middle East next week. He will meet with King Abdullah.
Iranians have regained access to the websites Facebook and Twitter after they were briefly blocked by the government.
Lebanese security forces arrested an army colonel they say was spying for Israel.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Truthout 5/26

William Rivers Pitt Another Bad Week
William Rivers Pitt, Truthout: "The Law of Large Numbers tells us the Republican Party is bound to get its act together sooner or later. One of these days, someone within or without the party is actually going to hit the fairway, if only by dint of repetition. Some, probably within the GOP base, would call such sentiments an expression of faith, hope for the evidence of things not seen, which is not entirely misplaced; spin the roulette wheel enough times and the ball is eventually going to click itself into your slot."

UN Security Council Condemns North Korean Nuclear Test
Edith M. Lederer, The Associated Press: "The UN. Security Council swiftly condemned North Korea's nuclear test on Monday as 'a clear violation' of a 2006 resolution banning them and said it will start work immediately on a new one that could result in stronger measures against the reclusive nation."

Seth Sandronsky Intimidation Nation: How US Employers Fight Unions
Seth Sandronsky, Truthout: "Opinion polls say that the majority of US workers want to be in a labor union, according to Kate Bronfenbrenner, a professor and director of Labor Education Research, New York State School of Industrial and Labor Relations at Cornell University. So why are just 12.4 percent of American workers union members? In brief, they fear what their bosses will do to them."

World Economy Stabilizing, Says Krugman
Reuters: "The world economy has avoided 'utter catastrophe' and industrialized countries could register growth this year, Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman said on Monday. 'I will not be surprised to see world trade stabilize, world industrial production stabilize and start to grow two months from now,' Krugman told a seminar."

Myanmar Rulers Put Opposition Leader on Trial
Aung Hla Tun, Reuters: "Army-ruled Myanmar will open the trial of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Tuesday, diplomats said, when the Nobel Peace laureate is expected to take the stand in a case that has drawn international outrage. Speculation that the trial may end soon intensified on Monday after prosecutors dropped nine remaining witnesses against 63-year-old Suu Kyi, who faces up to five years in jail."

US Soldiers' Options Limited to Protect Afghans From Taliban
Philip Smucker, McClatchy Newspapers: "Fortress Margha, with its grenade launchers and mortars sticking out from behind sandbags and bulletproof windows on three watchtowers, is a safe redoubt for the American troops stationed there. Within its walls, soldiers play ice hockey and video games that imitate guerrilla warfare. For the Afghans who live in a medieval world of mud homes with interlocking walls in the valley below, however, reality is a reign of terror."

Obama Nominates Sotomayor for Supreme Court
NPR News: "President Obama on Tuesday nominated federal appeals court Judge Sonia Sotomayor to replace David Souter on the Supreme Court, where she will become the first Hispanic and the third woman if confirmed by the Senate."

Showdown Looming on "State Secrets"
Carrie Johnson, The Washington Post: "President Obama vowed last week to rein in the use of a legal privilege that allows the administration to discard lawsuits that involve 'state secrets,' promising that a new policy is in the works that will quell criticism by civil libertarians. But hours after Obama's speech laid out a 'delicate balance' on national security, his Justice Department was criticized by a federal judge in California overseeing a case that has delved deeper than any other into one of the government's most highly classified data-gathering programs."

J. Sri Raman Wrong Lesson From Sri Lanka
J. Sri Raman, Truthout: "'I have only two groups - the people who fight terrorism and the terrorists.' That might sound like George W. Bush. The statement, however, emanated not from the former US president, but from an ardent fan of his - Lt. Col. (retired) Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, Sri Lanka's Defense Secretary. The Bush-like ring to the statement was barely accidental. A recent report recalls Gotabhaya, while an information technology professional in Los Angeles in 2001, hearing Bush's declaration, 'You are either with us or against us.' The brother of Sri Lanka's President Mahinda Rajapaksa 'didn't need convincing.'"

North Korea "Fires More Missiles"
BBC News: "North Korea has fired two more missiles, hours after the UN Security Council unanimously condemned its nuclear test, a South Korean reports say. The Communist state fired two short-range missiles off an east-coast base, South Korea's Yonhap news agency reported, citing an official. The move came as UN diplomats began work on a resolution to punish North Korea for its underground nuclear test."

Andy Kroll The Greatest Swindle Ever Sold
Andy Kroll, "On October 3rd, as the spreading economic meltdown threatened to topple financial behemoths like American International Group (AIG) and Bank of America and plunged global markets into freefall, the US government responded with the largest bailout in American history. That $700 billion bailout has since grown into a more than $12 trillion commitment by the US government and the Federal Reserve."

Francois Sergent Stain
Francois Sergent, Liberation: "Guantanamo is a stain on America. The images of wraiths in orange jumpsuits, caged in the American prison, just like the Abu Ghraib photos, have forever tainted the depiction of the United States."

President Obama Announces Supreme Court Nominee

FP morning Brief

Top Story:

Only a day after detonating a nuclear bomb, North Korea committed a further international provocation today by testing-firing two missiles from a launching pad on the East Coast, according to South Korean sources.

President Barack Obama has condemned Monday's nuclear test as a "blatant violation of international law," but appears to have few options for taking further action against North Korea. The administration was encouraged by China and Russia's quick and unusually forceful condemnation of the test.

One unexplored option would be to block North Korean shipping, a move that many worry could simply provoke Kim Jong Il's regime into overreaction. U.S. officials believe North Korea has six to 12 nuclear weapons already and is working on building more.

Under the radar:

The murder of a Sikh sect leader in Vienna set off rioting throughout India's Punjab region

Later this morning, President Barack Obama will nominate Judge Sonia Sotomayor as his first appointment to the Supreme Court, according to reports. She will be the first Hispanic and only the third woman ever nominated to the court.
Almost 400,000 Brazilians still cannot return home after last month's floods.
Venezuela's Hugo Chavez says his country may leave the Organization of American States and join Cuba as a non-member.

Cyclone Aila has killed over one hundred and displaced over half a million people in Bangladesh.
Pakistan's supreme court has lifted election restrictions on opposition leader Nawaz Sharif, allowing him to run for parliament.
Mongolia's opposition claimed victory in last weekend's presidential elections, though the ruling party disputes the result and police are wary of civil disturbances.

Middle East
Israel is working on a compromise proposal in which it would dismantle illegally constructed West Bank settlements while continuing to develop established ones.
Lebanon's Armenian Christian political party is growing in influence after its decision last month to block Hezbollah in upcoming elections.
Saudi Arabia's oil minister said that OPEC is likely to keep output levels steady at its meeting this Thursday.

Russia will begin selling uranium fuel to U.S. utility companies under a groundbreaking new deal.
France opened a military base in the United Arab Emirates, its first in the Middle East.
Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoe will host a ceremony in honor of the Dalai Lama when he visits France in June, a move likely to irritate China.

Somali president Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed asked for international help to fight the country's out-of-control Islamist insurgency.
Nigeria's MEND rebels destroyed several oil pipelines in the Niger Delta.
The Swedish navy captured seven pirates in the Gulf of Aden.

The U.S. Is Losing the Media War to the Taliban

Is Anyone Else Bored with the Torture Debate?

Where Iraqis Go to Drink and Gamble

10 People I'd Like to Grill on Memorial Day

-By Joshua Keating

Monday, May 25, 2009

Truthout 5/25

Cindy Sheehan The Day of the Dead
Cindy Sheehan, Truthout: "I can guarantee what you won't see this holiday weekend are images of the over one million Iraqi dead. Say we assign, in an arbitrary way for purely illustrative purposes, an average height of five feet for every person killed in Iraq and then line those people up from head to toe. That gruesome line would stretch from Los Angeles to Portland, Oregon - 950 driving miles up Interstate 5. If we count the Iraqis who have been forced to flee, we would have to go back and forth between Los Angeles and Portland another four times."

Memorial Day: Let Us Not Overlook Those Wounded in Spirit
The Washington Post: "Today the country is supposed to honor the fallen of all its wars. But 'fallen' is a word for inscriptions and oratory - it doesn't really convey what happens to those caught up in the ghastly business of warfare and subject to all the horrors inflicted by flying metal, high explosives and machines made for destruction. Nor does it quite encompass what happened to many of those who served day after day in constant danger and surrounded by death. They lost something in the country's wars - but not a limb or eyesight or the ability to walk or any essential physical capability. What was lost was a view of life as having meaning, order, security, purpose."

North Korea's Reported Nuclear Test No Surprise, Mullen Says
CNN: "North Korea's reported nuclear test did not come as a surprise to the United States, the top-ranking U.S. military officer said Monday. Adm. Mike Mullen says it will take a few days to verify that North Korea conducted a nuclear test. 'We weren't surprised because of recent statements by North Korean leadership that they intended to do this,' Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told CNN's 'American Morning.'"

How the Poorest Americans Dropped Out of Politics
Lee Drutman, Miller-McCune Magazine: "In the 2008 election, lower-income Americans voted at significantly lower rates than higher-income Americans. This was not, in itself, news. Just as in 2004, more than 60 percent of voters came from families above the median household income of $50,000. That family income is a significant predictor of individual voting is a long-standing and oft-lamented fact of American political life."

Spain's Judges Cross Borders in Rights Cases
Craig Whitlock, The Washington Post: "Spanish judges are boldly declaring their authority to prosecute high-ranking government officials in the United States, China and Israel, among other places, delighting human rights activists but enraging officials in the countries they target and triggering a political backlash in a nation uncomfortable acting as the world's conscience."

Chris Hedges "Clean" Energy and Poisoned Water
Chris Hedges, Truthdig: "In the musical 'Urinetown,' a severe drought leaves the dwindling supplies of clean water in the hands of a corporation called Urine Good Company. Urine Good Company makes a fortune selling the precious commodity and running public toilets. It pays off politicians to ward off regulation and inspection. It uses the mechanisms of state control to repress an increasingly desperate and impoverished population. The musical satire may turn out to be a prescient vision of the future."

FOCUS Dean Baker Blue Cross Millionaires Scared to Compete
Dean Baker, Truthout: "The boys running the show at Blue Cross in North Carolina are running scared. They're worried that President Obama is going to treat them like autoworkers and make them actually compete in the market. The Blue Cross boys think that they belong in the same league as the Wall Street bankers and should just be allowed to collect their multi-million-dollar salaries without being forced to worry about things like competition."

FOCUS Colin Powell Fires Back at Rush Limbaugh, Dick Cheney
Jonathan Martin, Politico: "In the latest round of the increasingly heated intra-GOP feud, former Secretary of State Colin Powell Sunday defended his Republican credentials and fired back at radio host Rush Limbaugh and former Vice President Dick Cheney, saying the party had to expand beyond its conservative base."

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Truthout 5/24

William Rivers Pitt Fixing America, Erasing Bush
William Rivers Pitt, Truthout: President Obama gave a speech on Thursday praising the excellence of the American experiment, and claimed his own life was made possible by the promise of the documents and the ideals that founded this nation. As usual, his delivery and diction was perfect. Unfortunately, his behavior of late has fallen far short of the ideals he has given such eloquent lip service to. Two thousand pictures of Americans performing acts of savage torture on prisoners will not be released to the general public if Mr. Obama gets his way. Military commissions will continue to try prisoners outside the scope of American law, and will be free to use brazen hearsay as "hard" evidence against defendants. Mr. Obama continues to cleave to the most abhorrent aspects of Bush-era secrecy policies."

US Holds Journalist Without Charges in Iraq
Liz Sly, The Los Angeles Times: "'Where is the journalist Ibrahim?' one of the Iraqi soldiers barked at the grandparents, children and grandchildren as they staggered blearily down the stairs. Ibrahim Jassam, a cameraman and photographer for the Reuters news agency, stepped forward, one of this brothers recalled. 'Take me if you want me, but please leave my brothers.' The soldiers rifled through the house, confiscating his computer hard drive and cameras. And then they led him away, handcuffed and blindfolded. That was September 2nd. Jassam, 31, has been in US custody ever since."

Obama Expands on Criteria for New Justice
Alec MacGillis, The Washington Post: "President Obama said he is seeking a Supreme Court nominee who understands the 'practical day-to-day' implications of rulings, as he pushed back in an interview airing yesterday against criticism of his emphasis on judicial 'empathy.' It is 'important this is somebody who has common sense and somebody who has a sense of how American society works and how the American people live,' he told C-SPAN, in his most extensive public comments yet on his deliberations since Justice David H. Souter announced his retirement. 'What I want is not just ivory tower learning,' he added. 'I want somebody who has the intellectual firepower but also a little bit of a common touch and has a practical sense of how the world works."

Obama Promises "Basic" Health Care Coverage
J.Taylor Rushing, The Hill: "President Obama vowed in an interview Saturday that his health care plan will provide "basic coverage" to all Americans - a linguistically different choice than 'universal' care - but reiterated his commitment to the idea of reform. Obama said reform is more possible in 2009 than it was under the Clinton administration in 1993 chiefly because businesses and the health industry itself now realize the country cannot afford the current system. 'The fact that we've got hospitals and doctors who also recognize that the system is unsustainable on its current path, fiscal conservatives who recognize that the single biggest component of driving down our deficits and long-term debt is getting control of Medicare and Medicaid costs, and that health care reform is critical to bend the curve,' Obama said. 'All those things I think are converged.'"

Gay US Diplomats to Receive Equal Benefits
Matthew Lee, The Associated Press: "Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton will soon announce that gay American diplomats will be given benefits similar to those that their heterosexual counterparts enjoy, US officials said Saturday. In a notice to be sent soon to State Department employees, Clinton says regulations that denied same-sex couples and their families the same rights and privileges that straight diplomats enjoyed are 'unfair and must end,' as they harm US diplomacy. 'Providing training, medical care and other benefits to domestic partners promote the cohesiveness, safety and effectiveness of our posts abroad.'"

Former South Korean Leader Leaps to Death Over Scandal
Jean H. Lee, The Associated Press: "Former President Roh Moo-hyun, embroiled in a penetrating corruption investigation, leaped to his death Saturday - a shocking end for a man whose rags-to-riches rise took him from rural poverty to Seoul's presidential Blue House. He was 62. Roh, a self-taught lawyer who never attended college and didn't have the elite background typical of Seoul politicians, had prided himself on being a 'clean' leader immune to South Korea's traditional web of corruption."

Abdul Malik Mujahid Aerial Bombing Makes Terrorists
Abdul Malik Mujahid, Truthout: "During the last thirty years of wars in Afghanistan, Afghan civilians have had one safe place to escape to: Pakistan. They fled the Soviet invasion. They fled civil wars. They fled US bombing. Pakistan took care of millions of these Afghan refugees. Now that safe haven with its lush green valleys is burning with bombs."

FOCUS Generals Find Suicide a Frustrating Enemy
Ann Scott Tyson and Greg Jaffe, The Washington Post: "At times Army leaders were frustrated by cases that defied simple explanation. In other instances soldiers simply fell through the cracks. One senior sergeant who had deployed multiple times to Iraq confessed to a fellow soldier that he had frequent nightmares from his first tour. He was binge-drinking. The friend took away his personal gun but never mentioned the sergeant's struggles to commanders. A couple of days later, the sergeant didn't show up for his slot in an Army school."

Ed Schultz takes on the Know Nothings of MSNBC

Scarborough, Schultz spar over Pelosi, Gitmo
Scarborough, Schultz spar over Pelosi, Gitmo

Elizabeth Edwards claims her right to be her

Caryl Rivers

The Huffington Post

Is Elizabeth Edwards a green-eyed monster savaging her straying husband and his lover in her new book to satisfy her lust for vengeance?

That's the opinion of some prominent critics -- especially women -- who see Elizabeth, with little sympathy, as a woman scorned and out for payback.

Maureen Dowd wrote in the New York Times, "Now Saint Elizabeth has dragged him [her husband John] back into the public square for a flogging on Oprah and in Time and at bookstores near you." And Dowd speaks of Elizabeth's desire "to prosecute her husband and his former girlfriend now in public, while still taking the marriage "month by month."...

But let me offer up another explanation for Elizabeth Edwards' book, in which -- though you'd never know it from the media -- her husband's affair is a small part of the story of her life. Edwards, I believe, is seeking something more profound than mere vengeance. It's about who owns her story, and through that narrative, herself.

Read the full post:

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Blue double Cross

New York Times

That didn’t take long. Less than two weeks have passed since much of the medical-industrial complex made a big show of working with President Obama on health care reform — and the double-crossing is already well under way. Indeed, it’s now clear that even as they met with the president, pretending to be cooperative, insurers were gearing up to play the same destructive role they did the last time health reform was on the agenda.

So here’s the question: Will Mr. Obama gloss over the reality of what’s happening, and try to preserve the appearance of cooperation? Or will he honor his own pledge, made back during the campaign, to go on the offensive against special interests if they stand in the way of reform?

The story so far: on May 11 the White House called a news conference to announce that major players in health care, including the American Hospital Association and the lobbying group America’s Health Insurance Plans, had come together to support a national effort to control health care costs.

The fact sheet on the meeting, one has to say, was classic Obama in its message of post-partisanship and, um, hope. “For too long, politics and point-scoring have prevented our country from tackling this growing crisis,” it said, adding, “The American people are eager to put the old Washington ways behind them.”

But just three days later the hospital association insisted that it had not, in fact, promised what the president said it had promised — that it had made no commitment to the administration’s goal of reducing the rate at which health care costs are rising by 1.5 percentage points a year. And the head of the insurance lobby said that the idea was merely to “ramp up” savings, whatever that means.

Meanwhile, the insurance industry is busily lobbying Congress to block one crucial element of health care reform, the public option — that is, offering Americans the right to buy insurance directly from the government as well as from private insurance companies. And at least some insurers are gearing up for a major smear campaign.

On Monday, just a week after the White House photo-op, The Washington Post reported that Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina was preparing to run a series of ads attacking the public option. The planning for this ad campaign must have begun quite some time ago.

The Post has the storyboards for the ads, and they read just like the infamous Harry and Louise ads that helped kill health care reform in 1993. Troubled Americans are shown being denied their choice of doctor, or forced to wait months for appointments, by faceless government bureaucrats. It’s a scary image that might make some sense if private health insurance — which these days comes primarily via HMOs — offered all of us free choice of doctors, with no wait for medical procedures. But my health plan isn’t like that. Is yours?

“We can do a lot better than a government-run health care system,” says a voice-over in one of the ads. To which the obvious response is, if that’s true, why don’t you? Why deny Americans the chance to reject government insurance if it’s really that bad?

For none of the reform proposals currently on the table would force people into a government-run insurance plan. At most they would offer Americans the choice of buying into such a plan.

And the goal of the insurers is to deny Americans that choice. They fear that many people would prefer a government plan to dealing with private insurance companies that, in the real world as opposed to the world of their ads, are more bureaucratic than any government agency, routinely deny clients their choice of doctor, and often refuse to pay for care.

Which brings us back to Mr. Obama.

Back during the Democratic primary campaign, Mr. Obama argued that the Clintons had failed in their 1993 attempt to reform health care because they had been insufficiently inclusive. He promised instead to gather all the stakeholders, including the insurance companies, around a “big table.” And that May 11 event was, of course, intended precisely to show this big-table strategy in action.

But what if interest groups showed up at the big table, then blocked reform? Back then, Mr. Obama assured voters that he would get tough: “If those insurance companies and drug companies start trying to run ads with Harry and Louise, I’ll run my own ads as president. I’ll get on television and say ‘Harry and Louise are lying.’ ”

The question now is whether he really meant it.

The medical-industrial complex has called the president’s bluff. It polished its image by showing up at the big table and promising cooperation, then promptly went back to doing all it can to block real change. The insurers and the drug companies are, in effect, betting that Mr. Obama will be afraid to call them out on their duplicity.

It’s up to Mr. Obama to prove them wrong.

Friday, May 22, 2009

FP morning brief 5/22

Top Story:

Vice President Joe Biden made a surprise visit to Lebanon to discuss military aid. Lebanon is holding parliamentary elections on June 7 and Hezbollah has accused him of meddling on behalf of the country's pro-Western ruling party. The party, which is widely expected to perform well in the upcoming election, called Biden's visit a "clear and detailed intervention in Lebanese affairs."

Biden denied that he was backing any particular party but did say that the U.S. would "evaluate the shape of our assistance programs based on the shape of the new government.” The U.S. has given Lebanon more than $1 billion in assistance since 2006.

Under the radar: Mongolia will hold presidential elections this weekend and the contest is expected to be close. The government worries at a too-tight result could result in the kind of rioting that followed an election last year.

Sri Lanka's government says that over 6,000 troops were killed in the last phase of the country's civil war.
North Korea is warning ships to stay away from a coastal missile base, a possible sign that it is planning another missile test.
Next week, China's government will host Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, who has attacked its human rights record in the past.

EU and Russian leaders failed to reach an agreement on energy at a summit in Russia.
Italian police seized $10 million in fake currency from the home of a Mafia boss.
New data shows the pace of Europe's economic contraction is slowing.Middle East
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took a hard line on the status of Jerusalem, saying that it would never be divided
Iraqis are largely unsatisfied with the life sentence given to an ex-U.S. soldier convicted of raping and killing an Iraqi girl.

Venezuelan authorities raided the home of an executive at a TV station that opposes Hugo Chavez's government.
With no new cases in a week, Mexico has ended its swine flu alert.
Colombian president Alvaro Uribe says it would be "inappropriate" for him to seek a third term.

Somalia's fragile government is facing a major offensive by Islamist rebels.
Malawian President was reelected to a second term, though the opposition alleges vote rigging.
The Somali pirate charged with the hijacking of the Maersk Alabama pleaded not guilty in a court in New York.

-By Joshua Keating

On Being American, Or, "A Hybrid? Not Unless It Has Tail Fins"

It’s great to see that people are starting to think about hybrid vehicles, but so far, they really haven’t been for me.

You know why?

Because for the most part, they have

The Prius?
If you look at it sideways, and squint, it looks more like a pepita than a car.

The Insight?
They say it’s stylish...but it looks like a Prius to me.

You know what I want?
I want someone to build the biggest, nastiest, most oversized hybrid the world has ever seen.

Something drenched with chrome, with seating for...many, and a convertible top; and maybe, if all my dreams come true: tail fins.

Something crazy.
Something ridiculous.

Well, guess what?

Somebody’s already gone out and had one built—and ironically, that somebody is Neil Young, Canadian.

So let me tell you what Neil Young did: lately, he’s been tearing around the countryside in a converted 1959 Lincoln Continental Mark IV that he calls the LincVolt.

Here’s the good part: it’s a “series hybrid” vehicle that gets 65 miles to the gallon.

To be more accurate, I should say today it gets 65 MPG.

The car reportedly will compete for the Automotive X Prize: a competition that seeks to award a vehicle that can (among other requirements) achieve the equivalent of 100 MPG and emits less than 200 “equivalent grams” of CO2 per mile...and the engineering team is confident they can pull it off.

Now here’s the really good part: it is truly an American car: it’s fast. It is indeed fact, it’s just about 19 feet long. And it is dripping with chrome.

Tail fins?
This car is so over-the-top it has front fins.

The interior?
The usual: tuck-and-roll, tons of dashboard...and the requisite computer-aided status monitoring system.

“If all the cars in the United States were placed end to end, it would probably be Labor Day Weekend”

--Canadian Racing Champion Doug Larson

So what, you might ask, is a “series hybrid”?

For all intents and purposes, it’s the same propulsion design found on locomotives: an engine, powered by a fuel, turns a generator that supplies power to one or more electric motors that turn the wheels. (It’s also the design that will be used in the Chevy Volt.)

The engine that turns the generator operates (as much as possible) at one constant speed. If the electric motor (or motors) that turn the wheels require extra power, additional current is provided from the electrical system, not the engine.

Constant speed operation of the generator’s engine is more efficient than the acceleration and deceleration cycles of engines in today’s cars...and because the electric propulsion system itself is more efficient than a mechanical power transfer system, a smaller engine (it can be 1/4 the size of a standard auto engine) and generator gets you more power with less energy input than today’s car engines.

In the case of the LincVolt, a variety of fuel capabilities are being built into the car, including natural gas, plug-in, and biodiesel.

Now this story did not start as a LincVolt story. The original intent of the story was to ask why someone doesn’t throw a series hybrid engine/generator setup on electric motors, lose the fancy batteries, and produce some cheap 40 MPG pickups and minivans?

Well as it turns out, there are good reasons not to do that. One reason has to do with power storage. If the car is generating power it doesn’t need at the moment, it can “reserve” that power in batteries—and when the batteries are full, the car can run with the engine and generator shut down until more charge is needed.

Later, if the car is climbing a steep hill, that extra power can be sent to the motor or motors; keeping voltage and the speed of the engine as constant as possible.

As it turns out, that same stored power can also be used to “brake” the electric motor system, making the process even more efficient.

It’s quite a cruisin’ car, the LincVolt is...and to make it even cooler, from time to time they do live webcasts from the car as it’s driving down the road...which eventually become videos that can be seen at the LincVolt website or on LincVolt's YouTube channel.

(You can also view live telemetry from the car as it operates and view a fascinating gallery of time-lapse photography of the entire “build-out” of the car from start to finish.)

Johnathan Goodwin, who did this conversion, is famous for building “Eco-Hummers” that run on biodiesel, get 25 miles to the gallon...and still manage to put up 650 horsepower or better.

Neil Young and the LincVolt appeared at San Francisco’s DreamForce Conference in November of 2008; since then the car has appeared around the country, and the website offers hints of a cross-country live-webcasting adventure to come.

So how about that?

We started with a question about generators and batteries, and we ended up with a 65 MPG multifuel/plug-in version of one of the largest passenger cars ever known to grace the surface of the planet...and in true American fashion, 65 MPG wasn’t good now they’re “kicking it up a notch” and shooting for 100 MPG and the Automotive X Prize.

Which leads me to the one and only conclusion that we can draw from today’s conversation:

When we finally take over Canada, Neil Young’s gonna fit right in.

UPDATE 5/26/09:

A commenter at the DailyKos site had questions about the methodology Johnathan Goodwin uses in his performance claims.

This is an excerpt from one of his comments:

“So, how can a car that's heavy and has a bad drag coefficient get 65mpg? Simple: the PHEV game.

Question: How much mpg does a PHEV that is running purely in electric mode get?
Answer: Infinite

Realizing this, you can see that it's trivial to give an arbitrary PHEV any mpg figure you want -- you just have it run in a scenario where you make X% electric and Y% gas, and you pick the percents. That's exactly what they've done here. Not to mention that that 65mpg number isn't for the US06 drivecycle -- it's for steady-state driving, so even if they weren't cheating, it still wouldn't be comparable to EPA figures.

I hate this sort of dishonesty, yet it's pervasive in the PHEV industry. The federal government really needs to step in and regulate it. Goodwin is a particularly bad example of this -- he always plays the PHEV game and never uses proper drivecycles.”

I sent that excerpt to Johnathan Goodwin for a response.
He did reply by email, and this was the comment I received:

“This is Goodwin, I see many out there doing the backwards math. To date i have only stated what i do in the mannor of simple math. Fill the tank, drive the car 100 miles and refill the tank. The consumption for a distance gives you your fuel econimy. I am not a fan of plug ins. I am a fan of fuel efficiancy without sacrifice in power or room. A train is one of the most fuel efficiant modes to date. This car is a posterchild to old technoligy in a new way. What i have done is made a 6k car have 500lb tourque and 50+ mpg with a 650 cu inch motor. The efficiancy of the small generator is were you get great results. Not the electric side. I only use that for the power end. I wish those that critisize would spend there time assisting the ones who are trying to make changes. We would get there much faster.”

WARNING—Self-promotion ahead: I am competing for a Netroots Nation scholarship, and I was not selected in the first round of voting. There are two more chances to be selected, and the voting has restarted from even if you’ve done so before, I still have to ask you to stop by the Democracy for America site and click on the “Add your support” link to offer your support for me again. Thanks for your patience, and we now return you to your regular programming.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Senator Ted Kennedy on the federal role in early care and education


Few people have been as involved in the struggle for health and education services for children for as long as eight-term Senator Edward J. Kennedy. A staunch supporter of Head Start and other early childhood programs, Kennedy serves as chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. Preschool Matters asked him about the state of early education and the federal role in it.

Q: Perhaps more than anybody in Washington, you have fought the longest and hardest for early childhood education. As you well know, garnering support for dedicating the kind of resources needed to effectively educate young children has been an uphill battle. Now that substantial new funding is coming by way of the stimulus plan, what are your thoughts?

A: Overall, the recovery investment is a major step toward ending the current economic nightmare and renewing the promise of the American dream, and early childhood education will be one of the most important beneficiaries. More teachers can be trained and hired, and the quality of early learning programs will be increased. There will also be needed new support for child care, which means that more young children will be cared for while their parents are at work or looking for jobs. These steps are significant, but more remains to be done. I look forward to working with Congress and the administration to see that all young children receive the early learning and support they need to be successful when they reach school.

Q: What do you say to those who maintain that ramping up funding for early care and education in a stimulus plan is setting up the early childhood community for a fall since the money coming from stimulus is not permanent funding?

A: Each year of a child's life is important. We can't deny young children today based on what we may or may not do two years from now. These funds are critical to keeping parents working and children in safe and productive early learning environments. In Massachusetts alone, I've heard countless stories of parents no longer able to afford the high cost of child care, and schools struggling to cover basic costs for transportation, food and staff. Few federal dollars are better spent. These investments need to be maintained and even increased, so that all children are not only ready for school, but are also well-prepared to become successful members of the workforce.

Q: With the enhanced funding for Head Start and some bills in Congress aimed at helping states fund their pre-K programs, some say we should be moving toward a more coordinated system of federal/state preschool. Do you think that's a good idea?

A: Yes. Many states have begun to invest in early childhood education and child care programs. In Massachusetts we have Head Start, Early Head Start, state-funded prekindergarten and other community-based early learning programs for children and their families. Better coordination of these investments at all levels will reduce gaps in services, increase cooperation among early childhood educators and providers, and optimize the impact of these investments. That's why state advisory councils were included in the Improving Head Start for School Readiness Act passed by Congress in 2007. Councils will help states align their programs and coordinate investments in early learning and child care. The role and responsibilities of these councils will assure the continuing success of early learning programs. We must also see that the Department of Education and the Depart­ment of Health and Human Services coordinate in ways that optimize programs for young children and their families.

Q: Taxpayers need to know how effective any new investments in early childhood education are at producing positive results. Are there issues or questions that research might address that would help you and your colleagues develop better policy?

A: The science of brain dev­elopment and years of data from high-quality early childhood programs such as Head Start, Perry Preschool and Abbott have made Congress and the country much better aware of the importance of investing in this area. In coming years, it will be important to have research that sheds additional light on the short-term benefits associated with high-quality early learning opportunities and gives us a better understanding of the key components of high-quality programs, such as staffing and professional development, curriculum, class size, standards, and resources and their direct benefits. Research will also give us a better analysis of workforce development; beyond general statistics on early childhood educators, broadly it would be helpful for legislators to have a more detailed understanding of the skills, training, opportunities and challenges facing early education providers working with infants and toddlers in quality early learning settings.

Q: The preponderance of responsibility for public education has traditionally rested with the states but the federal role is clearly growing. How big do you think the federal role should be?

A: The aim of the federal government is to become a resource by providing a framework for setting achievement benchmarks that will make our country globally competitive. Because of the unfortunate reality of unequal access and unequal quality in education nationwide, the federal role has to expand in order to level the playing field among the states, improve early childhood education and child care standards, and make certain that students are educated in ways that will enable them to be successful in the 21st century global economy. The challenge is for the federal role to grow in a constructive partnership with the states.

Q: During the previous administration you made a special effort to reach across the aisle and work with your Republican colleagues on issues such as the Head Start Reauthorization. Yet examples of that spirit have seemed the exception rather than the rule in recent years. Do you see us returning to an era of more bipartisanship?

A: Reaching consensus on the issues and achieving the best outcome for the nation will always be our priority. We'll continue to reach across the aisle to achieve our goals on these issues. All of us are encouraged by President Obama's commitment to such bipartisanship, and I'm hopeful that we can keep these key issues out of the partisan arena.

Truthout 5/21

Norman Solomon The March of Folly, Continued
Norman Solomon, Truthout: "To understand what's up with President Obama as he escalates the war in Afghanistan, there may be no better place to look than a book published 25 years ago. 'The March of Folly,' by historian Barbara Tuchman, is a chilling assessment of how very smart people in power can do very stupid things - how a war effort, ordered from on high, goes from tic to repetition compulsion to obsession - and how we, with undue deference and lethal restraint, pay our respects to the dominant moral torpor to such an extent that mass slaughter becomes normalized in our names."

Three US Soldiers Among 25 Killed in Iraq Bombing
The Associated Press: "Three American soldiers were killed and nine others wounded today in a bombing attack in Baghdad, the U.S. military said, in a burst of violence only weeks before American combat troops are due to leave Iraqi cities."

Did White House O.K. Earliest Detainee Abuse?
Ari Shapiro, National Public Radio: "It is clear that increasingly abusive interrogation techniques were used on Abu Zubaydah, the first high-value detainee, in the months between his capture and the first Justice Department memo authorizing harsh interrogations. But the legal guidance that authorized those early interrogations remains shrouded in secrecy."

Are Wall Street Speculators Driving Up Gasoline Prices?
Kevin G. Hall, McClatchy Newspapers: "Oil and gasoline prices are rising fast as Memorial Day weekend approaches, but not because supplies are tight or demand is high."

EPA: Chinese Drywall Has High Levels of Chemicals
Nirvi Shah, The Miami Herald: "Drywall made in China has high levels of chemicals not found in domestic drywall, but officials have yet to conclude that the differences have led to health problems for thousands of homeowners."

Economics: (In)Human Science
Sylvain Cypel, Le Monde: "For a so-called human science, economics seemed definitively poised to become inhuman. I exaggerate a bit, of course. One could say 'disembodied': simple figures, the enchanting waltz of which set the rhythm for analysts' studies - and then for the newspapers' pages. The more 'specialized' they were, the more the figures counted."

US Army Paid Bonuses to KBR Despite Questions
Thomas Ferraro, Reuters: "The US Army paid 'tens of millions of dollars in bonuses' to KBR Inc, its biggest contractor in Iraq, even after it concluded the firm's electrical work had put US soldiers at risk, according to a source close to a US congressional investigation."

Judge Says US Can Hold Detainees Indefinitely
Nedra Pickler, The Associated Press: "A federal judge says the United States can continue to hold some prisoners at Guantanamo Bay indefinitely without any charges. US District Judge John Bates' opinion issued Tuesday night limited the Obama administration's definition of who can be held. But he said Congress in the days after Sept. 11, 2001 gave the president the authority to hold anyone involved in planning, aiding or carrying out the terrorist attacks."

Ana Edwards and Phil Wilayto Anti-Racist Struggle Continues in Powhatan, Virginia
Ana Edwards and Phil Wilayto, Truthout: "The chant 'No Justice, No Peace!' rang out once again in Virginia's rural Powhatan County, as some 250 people marched May 17 on the county courthouse. The protesters, almost all African-Americans and including a large number of uniformed motorcycle club members, were denouncing what they charged was a racist court decision in the shooting death of local high school student Tahliek Taliaferro."

Chinese Plan to Relocate 150 Million Eco Refugees
Jonathan Watts, The Guardian UK: "Dust storms hit his village in Gansu province more often than in the past. The water table is falling. Temperatures rise year by year. Yet Huang says this is an improvement. Three years ago the government relocated him from an area where the river ran dry and the well became so salinated that people who drank from it fell sick.... Huang is one of millions of Chinese eco-refugees who have been resettled because their home environments degraded to the point where they were no longer fit for human habitation."

Mark Weisbrot Big Business Gears Up to Fight Green Technology
Mark Weisbrot, The Guardian UK: "The battle over intellectual property rights is likely to be one of the most important of this century. It has enormous economic, social and political implications in a wide range of areas, from medicine to the arts and culture - anything where the public interest in the widespread dissemination of knowledge runs up against those whose income derives from monopolising it."

Obama Won't Oppose Ruling Weakening "Don't Ask"
Bob Egelko, The San Francisco Chronicle: "The Obama administration, criticized by gay rights advocates for not following through on a campaign promise to repeal the 'don't ask, don't tell' policy on military service, has taken a quiet step to allow a federal court in San Francisco to limit enforcement of the policy."

Bill Moyers Journal Reforming Health Care
Bill Moyers Journal, Truthout: "Washington's abuzz about health care, but why isn't a single-payer plan an option on the table? Bill Moyers speaks with advocate Donna Smith about how our broken system is hurting ordinary Americans."

FP morning brief 5/21

Top Story:

The New York Times reports that the Afghan government and leaders of the Taliban and other militant groups are talking with intermediaries about a possible peace agreement, with U.S. troop withdrawal as a possible condition. The talks have been underway for months but have accelerated since Barack Obama took office and have reportedly involved senior members of the Taliban and representaties of tribal leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.

Several aspects of such an agreement are likely to make the U.S. uneasy. Obama has previously suggested he would be open to agreements with individual tribal leaders, but the current talks involve leaders of large militant movements who are apparently demanding a withdrawal of U.S. troops, with a peacekeeping force from Muslim nations taking their place. Several of the leaders involved in the talks also have ties to al Qaeda.

Across the border in Pakistan, another set of significant talks is taking place. The Wall Street Journal reports that the CIA has arranged for Pakistani and Indian intelligence services to begin sharing information on terrorist group Lashkar-e-Taiba, as well as the Taliban. The U.S. hopes that the Congress party's recent electoral victory over the Hindu nationalist BJP will help boost this cooperation.


Barack Obama will give a speech this morning on his plan to close the Guantanamo Bay prison.

Middle East
Suicide attacks in Baghdad and Kirkuk killed 19 people, including three U.S. soldiers.
Israel demolished an unauthorized settler outpost in the West Bank.
A politically connected Egyptian real estate tycoon was sentenced to death for the murder of a Lebanese pop star.

Pakistan's allies pledged $224 million in aid to help those displaced by fighting against the Taliban.
Burma banned diplomats and reporters from pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi's trial after briefly allowing them access.
Nepal's Maoists have agreed to let the government elect a new prime minister.

Four men were arrested for allegedly planning to bomb two synagogues in New York City.
Mexico's drug violence has spread to the once-quiet state of Durango.
Assistant Secretary of State Thomas Shannon arrived in Bolivia for talks with Evo Morales's government.

A new report documents the physical and sexual abuse of thousands of children in schools run by the Irish Catholic Church.
Vice President Joe Biden received a hero's welcome in Kosovo after avoiding anti-American protests in Serbia.
Italy cancelled a visit by its foreign minister to Iran at the last minute.

Zimbabwean Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai says he has resolved a dispute with President Robert Mugabe over government appointments.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that Mugabe's departure would be in the "best interests of everyone."
Mozambique will receive $3 million in military aid from China.

How Expats Fueled a Bloodbath in Sri Lanka

Why Gay-Friendly Countries Win

Is Obama’s New General Really Better?

Pakiscam: How Islamabad Is Duping the West

-By Joshua Keating

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Truthout 5/20

Gerald Paoli Life and Death in the Qandil Mountains of Iraqi Kurdistan
Gerald Paoli, Truthout: "Historically, seasonal bombings have been the norm in the northernmost region of Kurdistan. Bombings became a predictable part of an annual rhythm of life. But villagers adjusted to the anticipated attacks and continued to live in the manner dictated by their traditions and customs. In December 2007, George Bush and Turkish Prime Minister Recip Tayyip Erdogan met to discuss strategies for 'dealing' with the PKK. Since then, the bombing have been more intense and regular."

Susan Waltz Cairo and Our Relationships
Susan Waltz, Truthout: "Millions of Arabs respect and admire the US and the principles that undergird our political system, but their confidence in our own commitment to our values has been eroded - and that only serves to strengthen extremists. President Obama's challenge will be to restore US credibility as a defender of international human rights. He can do that by acknowledging that we went astray, and by assuring the Arab world that we will see our present task of review through to its end. Our process will not be complete until America's renunciation of torture has been made rock solid and systemic accountability has been established."

GQ Report Blames Rumsfeld for Military Delay After Katrina
The Times-Picayune: "A report on the GQ magazine Web site is quoting an unnamed former Bush administration official as blaming former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld for many failures, including a delay in military assistance in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. The report says in speaking with the former Bush officials, it becomes evident that Rumsfeld impaired administration performance on a host of matters extending well beyond Iraq to impact America's relations with other nations, the safety of our troops, and the response to Hurricane Katrina."

Jeremy Brecher and Brendan Smith The Trials of Ehren Watada
Jeremy Brecher and Brendan Smith, The Nation: "The Army's behavior toward Watada has been disgraceful from the start. The entire controversy could have been forestalled if the Army had not refused his initial request to resign. The Army charged Watada not only with 'missing movement' but with 'conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman' for speaking critically of government policy and President George W. Bush in ways that the military's own courts had repeatedly established to be constitutionally protected. In an effort to intimidate Watada's supporters, Army prosecutors subpoenaed journalists and organizers of public meetings."

Jeff Cohen Will Obama Move Supreme Court Rightward?
Jeff Cohen, "I learned long ago, while working at the media watch group FAIR, to be wary of New York Times headlines. Hearing news that President Obama has a shortlist of candidates to replace David Souter on the US Supreme Court, I dug up a front-page New York Times Week in Review piece written soon after Obama’s inauguration about his possible impact on the Court. It was headlined: 'To Nudge, Shift or Shove the Supreme Court Left.' I’d like to see Obama shift or shove the Court leftward. But after reading the article, I realized that it could just as easily have been headlined: 'Will Obama Move Supreme Court Rightward?'"

Prenatal Selection of Boys Is Growing
Gregoire Alix, Le Monde: "Social preference for boys leads women in certain Asian countries to practice selective abortions. Familiar in China and India, the phenomenon is growing in Vietnam, where the sex ratio at birth (SRB, or the number of boys born per hundred girls) rose to 112 in 2007, seven points above the 'natural' level of 105. That's what demographer Christophe Z. Guilmoto, director of research at the Paris Population and Development Center, has shown in a study published in the on-line scientific review Plos One."

National Security-Related Hard Drive Missing
Eric Zimmermann, The Hill: "A massive amount of sensitive, national security-related information from the Clinton administration has gone missing from the national archives. The Inspector General of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) told congressional committee staffers Tuesday that a hard drive containing over a terabyte of information -- the equivalent of millions of books--went missing from the NARA facility in College Park, Md., sometime between October 2008 and March 2009."

Camillo "Mac" Bica Fratricide at Camp Liberty
Camillo "Mac" Bica, Truthout: "Sergeant Russell's behavior in killing other than the enemy is not an aberration if one includes the 20 percent who admit to killing noncombatants. While apologists search for answers in issues of professionalism, family, relationships, finances, etc., there is a far more reasonable explanation of the conditions that led to these murders - one that is straightforward and foundational. Military training - creating soldiers who will kill - reinforced by combat, the 'growth experience' that General Casey referred to, and impacted by multiple tours with inadequate dwell time, traumatized and dehumanized Sergeant Russell and the others turning them into murderers capable of such atrocity."

Lawmaker: CIA Already Being Probed for Misleading Congress
Zachary Roth, Talking Points Memo: "As they go after Nancy Pelosi over those CIA briefings, Republicans have been putting the burden of proof on the Speaker, suggesting that it's all but unheard of for the CIA to mislead others in government. But in fact, the agency is currently being probed for doing exactly that on a different issue -- and the effort was initiated by one of Pelosi's fiercest critics on the torture briefings kerfuffle."

Kennedy's Cancer in Remission
Alexander Bolton and Michael Sandler, The Hill: "Sen. Edward Kennedy's brain cancer is in remission and he is expected back in the Senate after the Memorial Day recess to spearhead healthcare reform, according to Democratic colleagues. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said Tuesday that he spoke with Kennedy's wife, Vicki, in the past few days and was told the 77-year-old lawmaker is 'doing fine.'"

US Watchdog Faults Afghan Troop Training Oversight
Andrew Gray, Reuters: "The US military command that trains Afghan forces, a key part of Washington's war strategy, lacks the capacity to oversee multimillion-dollar contracts it has awarded, a watchdog reported on Tuesday. The Combined Security Transition Command Afghanistan is responsible for programs worth some $15 billion to develop Afghan security forces so they can take over from US and NATO troops in leading the fight against Taliban militants."

The Fight for Survival Goes on in Sri Lanka Amid Reports of 15,000 Killed
Gethin Chamberlain, The Guardian UK: "The first accounts of the suffering of civilians during the final stages of the war in Sri Lanka began to emerge from the camps where as many as a quarter of a million Tamils are being held behind barbed wire. Men and women described how they were shot at by the Tamil Tigers as they tried to escape the so-called no-fire zone and how a hospital was repeatedly shelled inside an area designated by the government as a safe zone."

FP morning brief 5/20

Top Story:

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad says Iran has test-fired a new missile with a range of up to 1,200 miles, long enough to strike Israel, Southeastern Europe, or U.S. military bases in the Persian Gulf. The announcement comes just days after U.S. President Barack Obama announced that he would seek further sanctions on Iran if it rejected offers of talks on its nuclear program.

A group of U.S. and Russian scientists yesterday released a report saying that Iran could build a missile capable of carrying a 2,000 pound warhead 1,200 miles in six to eight years. They also said the country could likely build a nuclear warhead in five. Iran maintains that its nuclear program is only for civilian use and that its missile program is for self-defense.

"In terms of strategic importance, this new missile test doesn't change anything for us since the Iranians already tested a missile with a range of 1,500 kilometres," said Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon today. "But it should worry the Europeans."

Under the radar:

In recent months, 2,000 baby flamingos, 1,200 penguins and scores of sardines have been found dead on Chilean beaches and no one knows exactly why. Scientists are investigating global warming-related causes.

The U.S. pledged $110 million in humanitarian aid for Pakistan's refugee crisis.
Japan's GDP fell 15.4 percent since last year, the largest slide on record.
The New York Times reports that weapons given by the U.S. to Afghan forces seem to be falling into Taliban hands.

Chad says its troops will enter Sudan in the next few hours on intercept a rebel assault on its eastern border.
Ethiopia is denying eyewitness accounts that its troops have entered Somalia.
The UN has asked the Congolese government to arrest army officers accused of comitting atrocities.

Middle East
Former World Bank official Salam Fayyad was sworn in as the new Palestinian Prime Minister.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's electoral rivals have accused him of trying to buy votes.
The UN plans to press ahead with its investigation of last January's Gaza war, even if Israel does not cooperate.

Visiting Bosnia, Vice President Joe Biden told leaders that he believed ethnic tensions could flare up again if the country continues on its current path.
The Italian opposition has asked President Silvio Berlusconi to quit over new allegations of financial impropriety.
Moldova may need to hold another general election with parliament seemingly unable to elect a new president.

New U.S. fuel efficiency regulations will require cars to average 35.5. miles per gallon by 2016.
Colombia will hold a referendum on whether to amend the constitution to allow President Alvaro Uribe to run for a third term.
Mexico arrested a prominent un-and-coming drug lieutenant.

How Expats Fueled a Bloodbath in Sri Lanka

Why Gay-Friendly Countries Win

Is Obama’s New General Really Better?

Pakiscam: How Islamabad Is Duping the West

-By Joshua Keating

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

On Cutting Dealerships, Or, We Examine The Costs Of Selling Cars

So there’s a lot of conversation out there about car dealerships being told they won’t be selling cars for Chrysler and GM any more.

The idea, we are told, is to save the auto manufacturers money by reducing the number of dealerships with whom they do business.

I don’t really know that much about the car business; and I really didn’t understand where these cost savings would come from, but I was able to have a conversation with the one person I do know who actually could offer some useful insight.

Follow along, Gentle Reader, and you’ll get a bit of an education at a time when we all need to know a bit more about these companies we suddenly seem to own…and about the closure of thousands of local businesses that will make the news about our bad job market worse.

We know, at the moment, that Chrysler wants to close more or less 800 of its 3181 dealerships, and that the list of dealerships was disclosed as part of the company’s bankruptcy filing. The dealer relationships with Chrysler are expected to end June 9.

We also know that GM intends to end relationships with at least 1100 dealers. That list has not been publicly disclosed, and the dealer relationships are not scheduled to end until after the end of the 2010 “model year”, in October of 2010.

It is anticipated that GM will eventually cut 2600 dealers from its current network in an effort to get down to about 3600 dealers; suggesting a second round of cuts is yet to come.

(It appears that Ford is seeking to cut sales costs by about $600,000,000 annually while not cutting the number of dealerships.)

In order to protect the innocent, I’m not going to name my source for this story, nor the dealer for whom he works. For our purposes, let’s refer to him as the “dealer rep”.

So the first thing the dealer rep told me is that many of the dealers affected are “midlevel” dealers who operate in a market with several other nearby dealers; closing these dealers will hopefully reduce costs without substantially reducing overall sales in those markets.

He reports that it costs GM about $250,000 a year to support each midlevel dealer.

The costs include providing unique tools to dealers, providing training to dealer personnel, and advertising and promotional expenses.

I’m told that these are “co-op” costs, with dealers also paying a portion of the same expenses…but GM’s share, multiplied by every 1,000 midlevel dealers removed from the rolls, equals a $250,000,000 annual savings for GM.

He also tells me that many of the dealers are located in rural markets and sell a relatively small number of cars. For these dealers, there is the additional cost of having to deliver vehicles on partially empty transport trucks (or as the dealer rep put it: they’re getting paid less for the delivery than it costs to actually make the delivery).

If we assume that GM spends only 30% of that $250,000 spent annually on midlevel dealer support for these dealers, each 1000 dealers cut saves about $85,000,000 per year; if they spend 60%, the savings is about $170,000,000.

Add it up, and the potential savings for GM might be in the range of $400-500,000,000. Chrysler might expect to save roughly a third of that amount…but that would assume the composition of dealers, and the money spent, is about the same as for the GM dealer group.

(Here’s a quick bit of gossip that I have not confirmed through a second source: the dealer rep told me that some GM dealers are being cut not for lack of sales, but as a result of “customer service” issues.)

There is another group of dealers who will be cut “through attrition”. These include Pontiac dealers, who already know there will be no more Pontiacs to sell, and Saab dealers, who know they won’t be part of the GM future. There are also dealers who are (and have been) closing because of the general economy.

Hummer and Saturn dealers currently face an unknown future.

Something else you should know: the dealer rep told me that Chrysler filed for bankruptcy before terminating the dealer relationships, which may give those dealers more rights in a bankruptcy proceeding than GM dealers that were notified before any bankruptcy filing.

He suggested such a filing might occur as soon as the second week in June…but that is also something I did not confirm through a second source.

He also points out that the successful outcome of all of this is that the two companies are able to make the same sales goals as before with fewer dealers…and he has no idea whether that will come to pass or not.

As for options: the dealer rep reports that the one manufacturer seeking dealers today is Hyundai; but even if they became Hyundai dealers, a lot of stores—particularly in rural areas—are not going to be as successful selling Hyundais as they were selling Chevy, GMC, or Dodge trucks…which might turn out to be good news for Ford and Toyota.

So what have we learned?

GM and Chrysler could save substantial amounts of money by reducing dealers; that process is underway…and for some number of dealers, it’s not about sales volume as much as it’s about sales practices.

GM and Chrysler hope that they can sell the same number of cars with fewer dealers, but as of today there is no way to be sure if that will come true or not.

The biggest winners in this process might be the surviving dealers, or the Ford and Toyota dealers with whom the closed dealers are no longer competing.

The employees of nearly 3000 dealers—and the cities in which they are located--are unlikely to end up winners in this process; however, some (such as mechanics) might eventually find work at the surviving dealerships.

Finally, I apologize for the fact that this wasn’t as inspiring a story as we like to present in this space…but now that we are basically the owners of two major auto manufacturers, it’s a set of facts and figures we better get to know.

WARNING—Self-promotion ahead: I am competing for a Netroots Nation scholarship, and I was not selected in the first round of voting. There are two more chances to be selected, and the voting has restarted from scratch…so even if you’ve done so before, I still have to ask you to stop by the Democracy for America site and click on the “Add your support” link to offer your support for me again. Thanks for your patience, and we now return you to your regular programming.

Monday, May 18, 2009

FP morning 5/18

Top Story:

Velupillai Prabhakaran, leader of the Tamil Tiger rebellion, was reported killed today as the Sri Lankan government declared victory in Asia's longest-running civil war. Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa is expected to formally announced the end of the 25-year war on Tuesday.

There had been reports that the remaining Tigers had been planning to commit mass suicide, but the rebels vowed to lay down their arms yesterday, saying that the fighting had reached its "bitter end" and that they did not want to give the government more excuses for killing Tamil civilians. The United Nations says that at least 7,000 have died since January.

The defeat is a stunning fall for the Tigers, who controlled a third of the island's territory as little as two years ago, but the rebels have previously vowed that if they lost the conventional war, they would return to their guerilla roots.

Must read:

The New York Times looks at how the Obama administration's nuclear nonproliferation push may be at odds with its military support for Pakistan. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mike Mullen said last week that Pakistan continues to add to is nuclear arsenal even as the Taliban advances.

India's Congress Party is planning for the future after an unexpected landslide victory gave it control of parliament. The country's stock market was boosted by the Congress win.
Maoist lawmakers stormed the Nepalese Parliament to prevent a vote on a new prime minister.
The trial of Burmese democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi has begun in Yangon.

Middle East
U.S. President Barack Obama will hold his first meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu today.
Iraq has set January 30 as the date for its next national election, the first to be entirely organized by the Iraqis.
Kuwait has elected a new parliament, including its first female parliamentarians.

Rwanda's government says it will not participate in UN peace efforts in Eastern Congo until the Security Council cracks down on Hutu rebels.
Chad's government says it has stopped airstrikes against Chadian rebels in Sudan.
A Darfur rebel leader accused of war crimes will voluntarily appear before the International Criminal Court at the Hague.

EU Commerce Commissioner Dalia Grybauskaite has been elected as Lithuania's first woman president.
Swine flu is dominating the agenda at the World Health Organization's annual meeting in Geneva.
France's minister of economic recovery says his country is four months ahead of the rest of Europe's recovery efforts.

Thousands of Guatemalans are demonstrating to demand the resignation of President Alvaro Colom.
Dozens of prison guards have been detained in Mexico after 50 prisoners were able to escape without firing a shot.
Venezuela's last anti-Chavez TV station is being investigated by the government and may be shut down.

How Expats Fueled a Bloodbath in Sri Lanka

Why Gay-Friendly Countries Win

Is Obama’s New General Really Better?

Pakiscam: How Islamabad Is Duping the West

-By Joshua Keating

Truthout 5/18

Abdul Malik Mujahid Why Do Afghans Have a Life Expectancy of Only 44 Years?
Abdul Malik Mujahid, Truthout: "According to the CIA World Factbook, an Afghan's life expectancy is merely 44 years. That's 20 to 30 years fewer than neighboring Pakistan and all other surrounding countries. It is just one result of the ongoing devastation in that country."

Dark Day at Baltimore Sun, Say Critics
Michael Calderone, Politico: "Even by the sad standard set by newspapers across the country, The Baltimore Sun has had a rough go. After the latest round of cuts, a newsroom that had more than 420 employees a decade ago now has just 140. At the beginning of the Bush administration, The Sun had 11 staffers in Washington. It has one today. Having previously shuttered bureaus in London, Beijing, and Moscow, the paper in the last few months closed local bureaus, including the one in Annapolis - Maryland's state capital."

Sri Lanka Declares End to War With Tamil Tigers
Matthew Weaver, The Guardian UK: "The Sri Lankan government today formally declared an end to the 25-year civil war after the army took control of the entire island and killed the leader of the Tamil Tigers. According to the Sri Lankan army the chief of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), Velupillai Prabhakaran, was shot dead while trying to flee the war zone in an ambulance after the final battle in an offensive that has killed thousands of Tamil civilians since January."

Deadly Strike Heightens Tension in Afghan Province
Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, NPR News: "American and Afghan officials will probably never agree on what happened in a remote village in western Afghanistan earlier this month, when up to 140 civilians were killed by what many in that country say were US airstrikes. But there is less debate over what would have happened if US warplanes hadn't joined in the daylong battle with Taliban fighters. Without the jets, both sides say the nearby capital of Farah province might now be in the hands of the Taliban."

Iraq's Once-Envied Health Care System Lost to War, Corruption
Corinne Reilly, McClatchy Newspapers: "Stories of missing drugs, of desperately ill-equipped doctors and of patients left to suffer the consequences are everywhere in Iraq's public health care system. Some hospitals are filthy and infested with bugs. Others are practically falling down. More and more, the blame is being placed on Iraq's US-backed government, which by many accounts is infested with corruption and incompetence."

Paul Jorion Financial Opacity at the Helm
Paul Jorion, Le Monde: "What do we observe in 2009? Regulation has not made its reappearance for an excellent reason: it had never disappeared, but had deliberately been suppressed. As for transparency, the little that existed two years ago ... has since disappeared without a trace. How to explain this paradox?"

Dean Baker Health Care: Protectionism Free Traders Love
Dean Baker, Truthout: "Suppose that people in the United States paid twice as much for our cars as people in Canada, Germany and every other wealthy country. Economists would no doubt be pointing out the enormous amount of waste in the US auto industry. They would insist that we both take advantage of the lower cost cars available elsewhere and take steps to make our own industry more efficient. For some reason, economists do not have the same attitude towards health care."

Scathing Watchdog Report Blasts Securities and Exchange Commission Oversight
Darren Barbee, The Fort Worth Star-Telegram: "The Securities and Exchange Commission abandons investigations for lack of resources, allows corporate wrongdoers to skip fines and drops cases because of a bureaucratic culture of risk aversion, according to a recent federal report. The list goes on: A lack of support staff is so severe it forces SEC attorneys to send confidential documents to nonsecure copy shops. One attorney spent a day putting together document boxes instead of pursuing cases, according to the scathing report by the US Government Accountability Office."

Netanyahu May Endorse Palestinian State on US Trip
Amy Teibel, The Associated Press: "On the eve of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's crucial visit to Washington, his defense minister suggested Saturday the Israeli leader might endorse a Palestinian state when he meets with President Barack Obama. That would be a significant shift for Netanyahu, who has made clear in the past that he does not think the Palestinians are ready to rule themselves. But that position has put him at odds with long-standing US policy that supports Palestinian statehood as the cornerstone of Mideast peace efforts."

Obama Addresses Abortion-Rights Furor at Notre Dame
John McCormick and Manya A. Brachear, The Los Angeles Times: "President Obama today called for greater understanding on both sides of America's abortion debate as he delivered a much anticipated University of Notre Dame commencement address and sought to quell a divisive controversy. 'I do not suggest that the debate surrounding abortion can or should go away,' he said. 'At some level, the views of the two camps are irreconcilable. Each side will continue to make its case to the public with passion and conviction. But surely we can do so without reducing those with differing views to caricature.'"

FBI Infiltrated Iowa Anti-War Group Before GOP Convention
William Petroski, The Des Moines Register: "An FBI informant and an undercover Minnesota sheriff's deputy spied on political activists in Iowa City last year before the Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minn. Confidential FBI documents obtained by The Des Moines Register show an FBI informant was planted among a group described as an 'anarchist collective' that met regularly last year in Iowa City. One of the group's goals was to organize street blockades to disrupt the Republican convention, held Sept. 1-4, 2008, where US Sen. John McCain was nominated for president."

Sudanese Rebel Leaders Face War Crimes Charges
Colum Lynch, The Washington Post: "The International Criminal Court's pre-trial judges have summoned three Sudanese rebel leaders to appear before the Hague-based tribunal to face charges of ordering a deadly attack against African Union peacekeepers in Darfur more than 18 months ago, according to sources close to the court. It is the first time that Darfur's rebels have been charged with war crimes since the court opened its investigation into mass violence in Darfur in 2005. Until now, the court's chief prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, has focused primarily on the Sudanese government's role in atrocities, issuing arrest warrants for Sudan's President, Omar Hassan al-Bashir, a top aide, and an allied militia leader."

The perfect, the good, the planet

New York Times

In a way, it was easy to take stands during the Bush years: the Bushies and their allies in Congress were so determined to move the nation in the wrong direction that one could, with a clear conscience, oppose all the administration’s initiatives.

Now, however, a somewhat uneasy coalition of progressives and centrists rules Washington, and staking out a position has become much trickier. Policy tends to move things in a desirable direction, yet to fall short of what you’d hoped to see. And the question becomes how many compromises, how much watering down, one is willing to accept.

There will be a lot of soul-searching later this year for advocates of health care reform. (For me the make-or-break issue is whether the legislation includes a public plan.) But right now it’s the environmental community that has to decide how much it’s willing to bend.

If we’re going to get real action on climate change any time soon, it will be via some version of legislation proposed by Representatives Henry Waxman and Edward Markey. Their bill would limit greenhouse gases by requiring polluters to receive or buy emission permits, with the number of available permits — the “cap” in “cap and trade” — gradually falling over time.

It goes without saying that the usual suspects on the right have denounced Waxman-Markey: global warming isn’t real, emission limits will destroy the economy, yada yada. But the bill also faces opposition from some environmentalists, who are balking at the compromises the sponsors made to gain political support.

So is Waxman-Markey — whose language was released last week — good enough?

Well, Al Gore has praised the bill, and plans to organize a grass-roots campaign on its behalf. A number of environmental organizations, ranging from the League of Conservation Voters to the Environmental Defense Fund, have also come out in strong support.

But Greenpeace has declared that it “cannot support this bill in its current state.” And some influential environmental figures — most notably James Hansen, the NASA scientist who first drew the public’s attention to global warming — oppose the whole idea of cap and trade, arguing for a carbon tax instead.

I’m with Mr. Gore. The legislation now on the table isn’t the bill we’d ideally want, but it’s the bill we can get — and it’s vastly better than no bill at all.

One objection — the claim that carbon taxes are better than cap and trade — is, in my view, just wrong. In principle, emission taxes and tradable emission permits are equally effective at limiting pollution. In practice, cap and trade has some major advantages, especially for achieving effective international cooperation.

Not to put too fine a point on it, think about how hard it would be to verify whether China was really implementing a promise to tax carbon emissions, as opposed to letting factory owners with the right connections off the hook. By contrast, it would be fairly easy to determine whether China was holding its total emissions below agreed-upon levels.

The more serious objection to Waxman-Markey is that it sets up a system under which many polluters wouldn’t have to pay for the right to emit greenhouse gases — they’d get their permits free. In particular, in the first years of the program’s operation more than a third of the allocation of emission permits would be handed over at no charge to the power industry.

Now, these handouts wouldn’t undermine the policy’s effectiveness. Even when polluters get free permits, they still have an incentive to reduce their emissions, so that they can sell their excess permits to someone else. That’s not just theory: allowances for sulfur dioxide emissions are allocated to electric utilities free of charge, yet the cap-and-trade system for SO2 has been highly successful at controlling acid rain.

But handing out emission permits does, in effect, transfer wealth from taxpayers to industry. So if you had your heart set on a clean program, without major political payoffs, Waxman-Markey is a disappointment.

Still, the bill represents major action to limit climate change. As the Center for American Progress has pointed out, by 2020 the legislation would have the same effect on global warming as taking 500 million cars off the road. And by all accounts, this bill has a real chance of becoming law in the near future.

So opponents of the proposed legislation have to ask themselves whether they’re making the perfect the enemy of the good. I think they are.

After all the years of denial, after all the years of inaction, we finally have a chance to do something major about climate change. Waxman-Markey is imperfect, it’s disappointing in some respects, but it’s action we can take now. And the planet won’t wait.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Truthout 5/17

Steve Weissman Our President, Our War?
Steve Weissman, Truthout: "Obama campaigned vigorously in favor of fighting an aggressive war in Afghanistan and Pakistan. He chose as his National Security Adviser Gen. Jim Jones, one of the leading advocates of a major American push in Afghanistan and Pakistan. And the entire administration has endlessly repeated that they intend to stay in the region for the long haul. Yet, 51 Democrats in the House stood up against the insiders and refused to go along."

Afghan Civilian Deaths: Who Is to Blame?
Laura King, The Los Angeles Times: "Local people are adamant that bombardment caused the civilian deaths; the U.S. military asserts that at least some were inflicted by the Taliban, and it sharply disputes the toll of 140. Whatever emerges as something akin to truth, the events that took place in this desolate patch of western desert stand as a microcosm of the Afghan war, a stark illustration of the enormous obstacles faced as the new American administration commits greater numbers of U.S. troops than ever before to confront an increasingly powerful Taliban insurgency."

Benjamin M. Friedman The Failure of the Economy and the Economists
Benjamin M. Friedman, The New York Review of Books: "By now there are few people who do not acknowledge that the major American financial institutions and the markets they dominate turn out to have served the country badly in recent years.... But despite the universal agreement that no one wants any more such failures once this one has passed, there is a troubling lack of attention to reforms that might prevent such a crisis from recurring."

Health Care Lobby Won Billions in Stimulus
Robert O'Harrow Jr., The Washington Post: "When President Obama won approval for his $787 billion stimulus package in February, large sections of the 407-page bill focused on a push for new technology that would not stimulate the economy for years. The inclusion of as much as $36.5 billion in spending to create a nationwide network of electronic health records fulfilled one of Obama's key campaign promises - to launch the reform of America's costly health-care system. But it was more than a political victory for the new administration. It also represented a triumph for an influential trade group whose members now stand to gain billions in taxpayer dollars."

Sri Lanka Rebels "Call Ceasefire"
BBC News: "Tamil rebels trapped in a tiny enclave of northern Sri Lanka have declared a ceasefire, a rebel spokesman says. The Tamil Tigers (LTTE) had given up their fight against a major government offensive and 'decided to silence our guns,' he said on a pro-Tamil website."

Final Edition of Tucson Citizen Hits the Streets
The Associated Press: "The headline on the final print edition of Saturday's Tucson Citizen newspaper said it all: Our epitaph.... The closure makes Tucson the latest two-newspaper town to lose one of its dailies."

FOCUS Obama's Word Breaks Ice in Geneva Arms Talks
Charles J. Hanley, The Associated Press: "A single word from Barack Obama has put new life into the stale old disarmament talks in Geneva, where diplomats are hailing a 'remarkable shift' by the Americans in favor of a treaty clamping down on production of the stuff of nuclear bombs."

FOCUS Michael Winship: What's So Funny About Washington?
Michael Winship, Truthout: "People have been making jokes about the news and having an impact on it since the Greek playwright Aristophanes cracked wise about Socrates. Now, the late-night shows are affecting traditional journalism and mainstream coverage of events, and influencing public opinion more than ever, whether it's John McCain dissing Letterman and appearing on Katie Couric's newscast instead, President Obama on Jay Leno, or Tina Fey imitating Sarah Palin to devastating effect on Saturday Night Live."

Obama Gives Speech, World Doesn't End

We've just seen President Obama deliver the commencement address to Notre Dame University with great good humor and, with one small exception, the complete support of the assembled crowd.

There will be more and better analysis to come from other sources, but to put it in the simplest terms, he suggested people on all sides of issues of social conflict--including abortion--should seek to see their opponents as people of good will, he noted that today's students are at a point in history where they are not going to be able to sit back and let life come to them, that sacrifices will be required...and that he is available as a 6' 2" forward with a decent jumper should the Barack O'Ballers need him in next year's 5 on 5 tourney.

Things went well...and I suspect that the Rush Limbaughs of the world will have to come up with something fairly crazy tomorrow in order to put together the daily attack pieces.

So to sum it all up: a good day to be a commencement speaker, a tough day to be a political opponent...and a great day to be a graduating student.

What's not to love?

Saturday, May 16, 2009

The case for CASA

Don Wheeler

Paddy and I have had an ongoing conversation that one of us (and maybe eventually both) should become involved in the Court Appointed Special Advocate program of St. Joseph County. In the end we decided on me.

Last week I met with Robin Smith, volunteer recruiter and coordinator for the program, for what I would characterize as an intake interview. I learned a great deal.

The most disheartening thing I learned was the huge number of children locally who were suspected to be suffering neglect and/or abuse. The CASA program was designed to research and represent children's interests in these situations.

On top of that, at present there are only enough trained CASA volunteers to represent about one-third of these children. Think about that for a minute.

It means that only the kids in the worst situations have advocates. It means that children who may be in more manageable situations could slip through the cracks.

The time commitment for training is a bit daunting. It starts June 2. But actually doing the work involves much less time - something like 15 - 20 hours per month. Are these children worth that?

Do the right thing. Here's the web address:

From the site:

What is the CASA volunteer's role?

A CASA volunteer provides a judge with a carefully researched background of the child to help the court make a sound decision about that child's future. Each home placement situation is as unique as the child involved. The CASA volunteer must determine if it is in a child's best interest to stay with his or her parents or guardians, be placed in foster care, or be freed for permanent adoption. The CASA volunteer makes placement and treatment recommendations to the judge and monitors the case until it is permanently resolved.

How does the CASA volunteer relate to the child he or she represents?

CASA volunteers offer children trust and advocacy during complex legal proceedings. They explain to the child the events that are happening, the reason for court proceedings, and the roles that the judge, attorneys, and social workers play. CASA volunteers also encourage the child to express his or her own opinions and hopes.

How is the program regarded locally?

"CASA volunteers serve as the eyes and ears of the Court. They are to be commended for their interest and dedication in advocating for children. Protecting the best interest of the child is the overriding concern of every CASA volunteer."
-- Hon. Peter J. Nemeth, Judge, St. Joseph Probate Court

Truthout 5/16

Steve Weissman Dick Cheney, Patron Saint of Torture-Free
Steve Weissman, Truthout: "'Hitler gave anti-Semitism a bad name,' as many high-born Europeans used to say, yearning for the good old days when all right-thinking people could disparage Jews in public. Former Vice President Dick Cheney is similarly giving torture an odious reputation, all in his zeal to prove himself the rightest thinking guy in America."

Blackwater in Hot Water Again
Fisnik Abrashi, The Associated Press: Four US contractors for the private security company formerly known as Blackwater are accusing the company of holding them against their will in Afghanistan following their involvement in a shooting this month, a lawyer said Saturday. A spokeswoman for the company denied the allegation."

Lobbyists Skirt Disclosures on Stimulus Lobbying
Olga Pierce and Brian Boyer, ProPublica: "We know that, like any giant pot of government money, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act attracted lobbyists' interest. Lobbyists have long been required to give Congress quarterly disclosure reports outlining their lobbying efforts. In the latest quarterly reports, no less than 871 lobbyists indicated lobbying on the stimulus. But only 12 of those lobbyists appear in the filings that agencies are now required to post online almost immediately after they speak to a lobbyist."

Corporate Dems: Don't Push Health Care Too Far
Chris Frates, The Politico: "Two powerful groups of moderate Democratic lawmakers have met with their House leaders to warn against pushing health care reform proposals too far to the left. The New Democrat Coalition and the Blue Dogs met separately Thursday with Democratic leaders to push for legislation they could embrace."

Obama Taps GOP's Huntsman for China Envoy Post
Michael D. Shear and Chris Cillizza, The Washington Post: "President Obama today chose Utah Gov. Jon M. Huntsman Jr. (R) as his choice for ambassador to China, tapping a moderate Republican governor to be his envoy to the world's largest country."

Anger at Obama Guantanamo Ruling
BBC News: "Civil liberties groups have reacted angrily to US President Barack Obama's decision to revive military trials for some Guantanamo Bay detainees. Mr. Obama has previously denounced the Bush-era judicial system, but in a statement said new safeguards would ensure suspects got a fairer hearing."

Dahr Jamail, Truthout: "HTS teams actively engage in targeting the 'enemy' in Iraq and Afghanistan. Team members often wear military uniforms and body armor, and even carry weapons. Like Ms. Roberts, they are not overly concerned about the fact that the 'intelligence' they produce is instrumental in capturing and killing people. The social scientists who choose to employ themselves within HTS clearly are not having a moral struggle with the fact that they are allowing their knowledge to be used as a weapon of war."

FOCUS Jeremy Scahill: Torture Continues at Guantanamo Bay
Jeremy Scahill, AlterNet: "As the Obama administration continues to fight the release of some 2,000 photos that graphically document US military abuse of prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan, an ongoing Spanish investigation is adding harrowing details to the ever-emerging portrait of the torture inside and outside Guantanamo."

Browse our continually updating front page at

Friday, May 15, 2009

Truthout 5/15

Jason Leopold Ex-CIA Official: Agency Brass Lied to Congress About Interrogations
Jason Leopold, Truthout: "Claims that Democrats were fully briefed on the Bush administration's torture program have been leveled as recently as last December by Vice President Dick Cheney and in books by former Bush officials such as John Yoo, the former deputy assistant attorney general at the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), who helped draft one of the four memos released last week. But the veracity of those assertions have been called into question by former CIA official Mary O. McCarthy, who said senior agency officials lied to members of Congress during an intelligence briefing in 2005 when they said the agency did not violate treaties that bar, cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment of detainees during interrogations, according to a May 14, 2006, front-page story in The Washington Post."

Obama to Renew Military Tribunals
Julian E. Barnes, The Los Angeles Times: "The Obama administration will announce plans today to revive the Bush-era military commission system for prosecuting terrorism suspects, current and former officials said, reversing a campaign pledge to rely instead on federal courts and the traditional military justice system."

Dr. Wilmer J. Leon III Afghanistan/Pakistan: Where Empires Go to Die
Dr. Wilmer J. Leon III, Truthout: "During the 2008 presidential campaign, candidate Obama promised to immediately withdraw troops from Iraq in order to bolster the forces in Afghanistan in order to defeat the Taliban and al-Qaeda. 'It's time to refocus our attention on the war we have to win in Afghanistan.' I believe that this tactic was taken by the Obama team in order to placate the anti-Iraq contingent in the American electorate, while not leaving himself vulnerable to the 'soft on defense' hawkish critics on the other side. As a campaign tactic, this approach proved to be successful. In reality, this may prove to be one of the greatest miscalculations President Obama could make."

To Probe Detainee Abuse, Congress Leans Toward Outsourcing
Gail Russell Chaddock, The Christian Science Monitor: "Congress is on track to punt its toughest investigations - including the hot-button one over harsh and possibly illegal treatment of terrorism suspects - to freshly minted, independent commissions, seen as freer of partisan rancor than the House and Senate."

Obama Taps NYC Health Commissioner to Head CDC
Steven R. Hurst, The Associated Press: "President Barack Obama on Friday appointed Dr. Thomas Frieden as director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, turning to New York City's health commissioner to deal with the swine flu outbreak and other major health issues."

Favilla The Democracy Factory
The authors writing as Favilla for Les Echos attended a three-day forum on the future of democracy, where 3,000 of the cream of the French-speaking intelligentsia examined "how our globalized universe is going to continue and develop the democratic process or whether that process might peter out, or even collapse."

William Rivers Pitt Why the Caged Bird Sang
William Rivers Pitt, Truthout: "Dick Cheney has been doing a lot of talking lately. From his most recent barrage of public statements, we have gleaned that he loves Rush Limbaugh, doesn't much care for Colin Powell, believes President Obama is about to sell the Sixth Fleet to the Taliban for pennies on the dollar and thinks torture is a nifty and effective tool that saves lives and defends freedom. Really, this isn't anything we haven't heard before from our growly, snarly, face-blasting former vice president. But it does beg the question: What the hell is he up to?"

Prosecutors to Question Rove on US Attorney Firings
Carrie Johnson, The Washington Post: "Former top White House official Karl Rove will be interviewed tomorrow as part of an ongoing criminal investigation into the firing of US attorneys during the Bush administration, according to two sources familiar with the appointment. As a senior adviser to President George W. Bush, Rove emerged at the center of numerous policy and political debates. He will be questioned tomorrow by Connecticut prosecutor Nora R. Dannehy, who was named last year to examine whether any former senior Justice Department and White House officials lied or obstructed justice in connection with the dismissal of federal prosecutors in 2006."

Congress Battles Overpaying for Wars, Guantanamo
David Lightman and William Douglas, McClatchy News: "The House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly Thursday to spend $96.7 billion largely for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars after lawmakers sparred sharply over how to fight terrorists most effectively. The 368-60 vote on the bill, which also includes $2 billion to help fight flu outbreaks, was the first step in an effort to get the funding to President Barack Obama's desk by the end of next week."

GM Now Sees Bankruptcy as "Probable," Henderson Says
Greg Miles and Katie Merx, Bloomberg News: "General Motors Corp. Chief Executive Officer Fritz Henderson said bankruptcy is now probable as the biggest US automaker races to beat a June 1 deadline to cut costs and debt to avoid it. 'It is probable' that GM will end up using the bankruptcy process, Henderson said today in a Bloomberg Television interview at the company's headquarters in Detroit. The comment went beyond Henderson's May 11 assessment that resorting to court protection to reorganize was 'more probable' than GM had previously thought."

Carlyle Group Admits Role in "Pay to Play" Scandal
Richard Esposito and Brian Ross, ABC News: "The Carlyle Group, a giant Wall Street firm best known for its ties to former President George H.W. Bush and other prominent public officials, made more than $13 million in payments to a indicted political fixer who arranged for the firm to receive business from a New York pension fund, New York attorney general Andrew Cuomo said today. Cuomo said Carlyle had agreed to $20 million to 'resolve its role' in the ongoing corruption investigation and agreed to a new code of conduct that prohibits the use of such middlemen."

Burma's Suu Kyi Charged by Military Over US Intruder
Agence France-Presse: "Myanmar's military junta charged pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi Thursday with breaching the terms of her house arrest over a bizarre incident in which a US man swam to her lakeside house. The 63-year-old goes on trial on Monday on the charges, which carry a jail term of up to five years and would stretch her detention past its supposed expiry date this month and through controversial elections due in 2010."

FP morning brief 5/15

Top Story:

Officials say the Obama administration will restart military tribunals for some Guantanamo detainees, a process that the president suspended immediately after coming into office calling them flawed. Around 20 of the 241 detainees at Guantanamo, including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, will be tried under the system.

The administration stressed that the new tribunals will include expanded due process rights for detainees and that Obama had pushed for a revised tribunal system as a senator in 2006. Still, civil liberties groups, already disappointed by Obama's decision not to release photos of U.S. military detainee abuse, were disturbed by this latest decision. "I am afraid the stench of Guantanamo will remain," said Tom Malinowski of Human Rights Watch.

Since Obama has ordered the prison at Guantanamo closed by 2010, the courts are now in a race against time to conclude the trials before the deadline, when they may have to be transported to the United States.

Under the radar:

Iraq has been bragging about the capture of its most high-profile detainee, al Qaeda leader Abu Omar al Baghdadi, for weeks. Unfortunately, nobody is quite sure if it's actually him they have in custody.

Pakistan's army says they are allowing civilians to flee before they assault the main town in the Swat Valley.
Burmese democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi has been taken to prison for violating the terms of her house arrest over a mysterious visit from an American.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is pushing the IMF to delay a loan to Sri Lanka until a ceasefire is in place.

The Eurozone contracted by 2.5 percent in the first quarter of 2009.
Britain's junior justice minister has become the highest-profile casualty so far of the country's growing expense report scandal.
Southern European officials are in Sochi to sign a new pipeline deal with Russia that will allow it to bypass Ukraine as a transit route.

Middle East
The Pope ended his controversial trip to the Holy Land with a forceful denunciation of the Holocaust.
Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood is struggling to overcome a government crackdown.
Settlements will be on the agenda at the meeting between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Barack Obama next week.

Mogadishu is facing a food shortage as fighting continues between al-Shabaab rebels and Somali government forces.
Niger's Tuareg rebels have agreed to a temporary ceasefire.
South Africa has reversed its decision and will allow the Dalai Lama to visit.

GM is close to a deal with the United Auto Workers to cut labor costs.
Migration from Mexico to the United States plummeted 25 percent last year.
With the popularity of his wife -- the current president -- sagging, former Argentine President Nestor Kirchner is getting back into politics by running for a senate seat.

-By Joshua Keating

Empire of carbon

New York Times

I have seen the future, and it won’t work.

These should be hopeful times for environmentalists. Junk science no longer rules in Washington. President Obama has spoken forcefully about the need to take action on climate change; the people I talk to are increasingly optimistic that Congress will soon establish a cap-and-trade system that limits emissions of greenhouse gases, with the limits growing steadily tighter over time. And once America acts, we can expect much of the world to follow our lead.

But that still leaves the problem of China, where I have been for most of the last week.

Like every visitor to China, I was awed by the scale of the country’s development. Even the annoying aspects — much of my time was spent viewing the Great Wall of Traffic — are byproducts of the nation’s economic success.

But China cannot continue along its current path because the planet can’t handle the strain.

The scientific consensus on prospects for global warming has become much more pessimistic over the last few years. Indeed, the latest projections from reputable climate scientists border on the apocalyptic. Why? Because the rate at which greenhouse gas emissions are rising is matching or exceeding the worst-case scenarios.

And the growth of emissions from China — already the world’s largest producer of carbon dioxide — is one main reason for this new pessimism.

China’s emissions, which come largely from its coal-burning electricity plants, doubled between 1996 and 2006. That was a much faster pace of growth than in the previous decade. And the trend seems set to continue: In January, China announced that it plans to continue its reliance on coal as its main energy source and that to feed its economic growth it will increase coal production 30 percent by 2015. That’s a decision that, all by itself, will swamp any emission reductions elsewhere.

So what is to be done about the China problem?

Nothing, say the Chinese. Each time I raised the issue during my visit, I was met with outraged declarations that it was unfair to expect China to limit its use of fossil fuels. After all, they declared, the West faced no similar constraints during its development; while China may be the world’s largest source of carbon-dioxide emissions, its per-capita emissions are still far below American levels; and anyway, the great bulk of the global warming that has already happened is due not to China but to the past carbon emissions of today’s wealthy nations.

And they’re right. It is unfair to expect China to live within constraints that we didn’t have to face when our own economy was on its way up. But that unfairness doesn’t change the fact that letting China match the West’s past profligacy would doom the Earth as we know it.

Historical injustice aside, the Chinese also insisted that they should not be held responsible for the greenhouse gases they emit when producing goods for foreign consumers. But they refused to accept the logical implication of this view — that the burden should fall on those foreign consumers instead, that shoppers who buy Chinese products should pay a “carbon tariff” that reflects the emissions associated with those goods’ production. That, said the Chinese, would violate the principles of free trade.

Sorry, but the climate-change consequences of Chinese production have to be taken into account somewhere. And anyway, the problem with China is not so much what it produces as how it produces it. Remember, China now emits more carbon dioxide than the United States, even though its G.D.P. is only about half as large (and the United States, in turn, is an emissions hog compared with Europe or Japan).

The good news is that the very inefficiency of China’s energy use offers huge scope for improvement. Given the right policies, China could continue to grow rapidly without increasing its carbon emissions. But first it has to realize that policy changes are necessary.

There are hints, in statements emanating from China, that the country’s policy makers are starting to realize that their current position is unsustainable. But I suspect that they don’t realize how quickly the whole game is about to change.

As the United States and other advanced countries finally move to confront climate change, they will also be morally empowered to confront those nations that refuse to act. Sooner than most people think, countries that refuse to limit their greenhouse gas emissions will face sanctions, probably in the form of taxes on their exports. They will complain bitterly that this is protectionism, but so what? Globalization doesn’t do much good if the globe itself becomes unlivable.

It’s time to save the planet. And like it or not, China will have to do its part.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Truthout 5/14

David Smith-Ferri A New Way
David Smith-Ferri, Truthout: "Recently, in an article by Kim Gamel, The Associated Press reported that the government of Iraq 'has recorded 87,215 of its citizens killed since 2005 in violence ranging from catastrophic bombings to execution-style slayings ...' The numbers, in fact, can obscure more than they reveal. They fool us into thinking that the impact of six years of war and occupation can be held in the palm of a hand, characterized in a single sentence, grasped in an instant. They fool us into thinking the consequences can be 'managed' and 'controlled.' Let's be clear: the losses for Iraqis are incalculable. We should face this and recognize that the losses from war are always too deep, too personal to measure, too large to manage or control. To think otherwise is to be open to the cost-benefit arguments in favor of the next war."

Former FBI Agent Testifies to CIA Contractor Push for Harsh Interrogation
Spencer Ackerman, The Washington Independent: "Ali Soufan, the former FBI agent who helped interrogate detained al-Qaeda operative Abu Zubaydah, told lawmakers Wednesday that he wasn't the only interrogator who opposed torturing Abu Zubaydah at a CIA-operated facility in the spring of 2002. According to Soufan, all the members of the CIA's interrogation team stood against a single CIA 'contractor' who advocated such techniques as placing the detainee in a 'confinement box.'" Suicide Bomb Kills Seven, Wounds 21 in Afghanistan Rahim Faiez and Heidi Vogt, The Associated Press: "A suicide car bomber killed seven people and wounded 21 others Wednesday outside a U.S. military base in the same part of eastern Afghanistan where militants stormed government buildings a day earlier, police said."

North Korea to Put US Reporters on Trial in Early June
Jae-Soon Chang, The Associated Press: "Two U.S. journalists arrested near North Korea's border with China on accusations of illegal entry and 'hostile acts' will be tried by Pyongyang in early June, state media said Thursday."

Obama Weighs Wide Range of Candidates for Court
Caren Bohan, Reuters: "U.S. President Barack Obama sought advice from congressional leaders on Wednesday as he pondered a broad group of candidates for a Supreme Court opening ranging from judges to a member of his Cabinet."

Jacques Attali Let Them Have Income!
Jacques Attali, L'Express: "Before this all slides out of control into a veritable social tragedy, it is essential to concentrate all public action on those touched or threatened with unemployment, to organize things so that no one risks losing a decent minimal income. All the rest (road-building and subsidies to industry) should be put to the side: if people recover predictability to their income, the crisis is no longer a source of anguish and growth may return."

Maya Schenwar Congress Pushes Iran Sanctions
Maya Schenwar, Truthout: "Twin bills recently introduced in Congress would significantly expand US sanctions on Iran, pressuring global energy companies to divest from the country, blocking its gas imports and urging the president to sever investments in the central bank of Iran. They would also authorize the president to impose sanctions on US businesses with ties to Iranian petroleum. Critics say the divestments would cripple the already troubled Iranian economy, with the brunt of the impact coming down on the population. The country's government could emerge relatively scot-free."

Robert Scheer Pelosi the Enabler
Robert Scheer, Truthdig: "Nancy Pelosi is no Dick Cheney, nor a George W. Bush. She was neither the author of a systematic policy of torture nor has she been, like Cheney and most top Republicans in Congress, an enduring apologist for its practice. It is a nonsensical distraction to place her failure to speak out courageously as a critic of the Bush policies on the same level as those who engineered one of the most shameful debacles in US history. But what she, and anyone else who went along with this evil, as lackadaisically as she now claims, should be confronted with are the serious implications of their passive acquiescence."

Breathing Easier After Bank Stress Tests? You Shouldn't
Kevin G. Hall and Greg Gordon, McClatchy Newspapers: "Largely unnoticed in last week's government report on the condition of the nation's biggest banks was the disclosure that five of them, topped by Bank of America, could lose $99 billion from the kinds of exotic bets that sank the global economy. Even that figure, however, could prove to be exuberantly optimistic if the economy hits new depths, a McClatchy analysis has found."

Robert Reich The Truth Behind the Social Security and Medicare Alarm Bells
Robert Reich, Robert Reich's Blog: "Don't be confused by these alarms from the Social Security and Medicare trustees. Social Security is a tiny problem. Medicare is a terrible one, but the problem is not really Medicare; it's quickly rising health-care costs. Look more closely and the real problem isn't even health-care costs; it's a system that pushes up costs by rewarding inefficiency, causing unbelievable waste, pushing over-medication, providing inadequate prevention, over-using emergency rooms because many uninsured people can't afford regular doctor checkups, and spending billions on advertising and marketing seeking to enroll healthy people and avoid sick ones."

Obama Team Moves to Regulate Complex Financial Instruments
Kevin G. Hall, McClatchy Newspapers: "The Obama administration on Wednesday unveiled a plan for strong new regulation over the complex financial instruments that helped spark today's global financial crisis. The surprise announcement represented one of the first steps in an expected comprehensive and controversial rewrite of federal financial oversight. 'This financial crisis was caused by, in part, significant gaps in the basic framework of oversight over critical institutions and markets,' Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said."

Rape Is Effective Weapon of War, Senators Told
William C. Mann, Associated Press: "Hundreds of thousands of women, girls and babies have been raped during 12 years of conflict in eastern Congo, victims of a weapon of war that almost always goes unpunished, senators were told Wednesday. Similar atrocities are found in Darfur, the devastated western Sudan region where the United States said in 2004 that genocide was occurring. Women also have been targeted on a wide scale in recent decades during wars in Asia and Europe. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee heard testimony on the plight of women caught up in violence, emphasizing the Darfur and Congo disasters."

Browse our continually updating front page at

FP morning brief 5/14

Top Story:

After five weeks of voting and tens of millions of ballots cast, India's election has finally come to a close. Official results will be released on Saturday, but exit polling shows that neither the ruling Congress Party, nor the Hindu nationalist BJP will gain enough votes for a majority, setting the stage for a round of frantic coalition building before the new parliament has to be in place on June 2. Senior leaders from both BJP and Congress are meeting to discuss strategy for the next phase of the contest over who will lead the world's largest democracy.

Voting was again marred by violence yesterday with suspected rebels throwing grenades and setting bombs at several polling places in Kashmir. Voting was also held this week in the southern state of Tamil Nadu, where violence in neighboring Sri Lanka has emerged as a contentious political issue.

Must reads:

Two fascinating, if discouraging, dispatches from Afghanistan today. The New York Times' C.J. Chivers files another chilling battlefield report from a remote outpost in eastern Afghanistan where U.S. troops fight a seemingly endless battle with insurgents, with little idea of what victory would even mean. The Wall Street Journal's Michael Phillips tells the story of how a U.S. base expansion in Zabul province disrupted access to agricultural canals, alienating locals and handing the Taliban a propaganda victory before U.S. troops even hit the ground.

In an about-face, the Obama administration has decided not to release photos of detainee abuse by U.S. soldiers.
Violent crime is spiraling out of control in El Salvador thanks to corruption and organized gangs.
Colombia's senate voted to delay a referendum to allow President Alvaro Uribe to run for a third term.

2,000 Tamil civilians broke out of Sri Lanka's war zone. The government pressed on with the fighting while President Barack Obama urged a ceasefire.
A charity with links to the Mumbai attacks may be helping Pakistani refugees flee the fighting in Swat Valley.
Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi faces new charges after an American was arrested after allegedly visiting her house.

Middle East
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made a surprise visit to Jordan where he met with King Abdullah.
The Pope spoke in Jesus's birthplace, Nazareth, and urged Israelis and Palestinians to "reject the destructive power of hatred."
The Kuwaiti government is locked in a political stalemate ahead of their second parliamentary election in a year.
MEND rebels have captured fifteen foreign oil workers in Nigeria's Niger Delta. Government forces have also been attacked by MEND in the area.
The highly controversial trial of Kenyan white farmer Thomas Cholmondeley ended with the defendant sentenced to only eight months will killing a black poacher on his property.
The commander of the EU's anti-piracy mission denied reports that Somali pirates were receiving tips from London, but said there was evidence that pirates were coordinating their attacks.

Russia's foreign ministry says it is willing to revive a key European arms control treaty.
Greece has been entirely paralyzed by a nationwide public sector strike.
The Spanish economy has suffered its worst contraction in half a century in 2009.

-By Joshua Keating

If you're tired of one religious controversy, here's a new one

Don Wheeler

"I've had alls I can stands, and I can't stands no more!" So sayeth the well-known philosopher Popeye the Sailor Man.

Another philosopher, Dr. Patricia Blanchette, the other morning declared that the South Bend Tribune needed to find something else to occupy the front page besides the endless drone over the choice of commencement speakers at the University of Football du lac. The following morning (as she scanned the front page) her language was more like that of a sailor.

The whole thing reminds me of the syndicated newspaper cartoon "Mutts". The artist often takes one idea and uses it for up to ten days (thus, ten strips) - with little to no variation. When that burden becomes too great, we are are given a redux of the cat with the speech impediment in ecstasy about its little pink sock.

But have faith (as it were), a good friend of mine informed me of a new religious controversy.

From -

We are announcing today that we have found our first bus system to run our ads: Transpo, in South Bend, Indiana. So when are the ads going up? Today.

That’s right. When the 48 biodiesel buses of the Transpo fleet roll out of South Street Transfer Station Monday morning at 5 AM, our ads will be on the sides of 20 of them. In other words, if you ride the bus in South Bend, chances are that you’ll see our ad somewhere along Transpo’s 180 miles of routes. If you live in or around South Bend, take a look at Transpo’s Routes & Schedules page to find out where buses will be.


According to out signed contract with Burkhart (the advertising agency that handles bus ads for the South Bend bus company, Transpo), Monday, May 11 was supposed to be the starting date for our month-long bus ad campaign. Based on this, we and the American Humanist Association issued a press release announcing the beginning of the campaign.

Unfortunately, this announcement turns out to have been premature. Transpo didn’t manage get the ads mounted in time to meet the target date, but presumably they will be able to do so within the five day leeway permitted in our contract for putting up the ads. We are thus optimistic that buses displaying ads with the slogan "You can be good without God" will be on the streets of South Bend by the end of the week. We apologize for any inconvenience that this confusion may have caused.


UPDATE: As of Wednesday May 13, 1:30 AM, the campaign has not received a response from Burkhart Advertising about the status of our ads. Â We just learned from a new Bloomington Herald-Times article (emphases ours):

When reached on Tuesday, TRANSPO General Manager Rick Brown said his agency never gave permission for the atheist ads. He said Burkhart Advertising is supposed to check with him about potentially controversial advertising before it is approved.

Brown said TRANSPOs nine-member board of directors would have considered the ads content and determined whether they were appropriate, had they known. He read about them in the newspaper Tuesday.We have that in our contract with them. If there is anything controversial, they are supposed to run it past us, Brown said. Usually, the ads are the kind of stuff we don't have to worry about.

TRANSPOs board of directors is scheduled to meet Monday and will consider the ads.

Most recently....

SECOND UPDATE: As of Wednesday May 13, 6:00 PM, the campaign has now received a response from Burkhart Advertising in South Bend.

A representative of the Indiana Atheist Bus Campaign just spoke with Rob Miller, the Vice President of Burkhart Advertising, and got their response. Miller said that Burkhart approved our ad (the one saying “You can be good without God”) without having TRANSPO (the South Bend bus corporation) review it. Burkhart has an agreement with the bus company that TRANSPO must make the final decision on ads, however, so TRANSPO will be having a board meeting on Monday to review the ad and make a final decision. Miller said that if the ad is not approved by the board on Monday, they will refund our money.

The Indiana Atheist Bus Campaign was under the impression that our ad had been improved (sic). It was, in fact, approved by Burkhart, and we paid in full and signed a contract with them. Even if our ads do go up after the board meeting on Monday, this would be after the 5-day leeway period allowed in
our contract with Burkhart, that is, after commencement and after President Obama’s address.

We are very disappointed that Burkhart’s mistake has led to this delay, which will (at best) significantly decrease the effectiveness of our ads.


The hits just keep a comin'.

Harry, Louise and Barack

New York Times

Is this the end for Harry and Louise?

Harry and Louise were the fictional couple who appeared in advertisements run by the insurance industry in 1993, fretting about what would happen if “government bureaucrats” started making health care decisions. The ads helped kill the Clinton health care plan, and have stood, ever since, as a symbol of the ability of powerful special interests to block health care reform.

But on Saturday, excited administration officials called me to say that this time the medical-industrial complex (their term, not mine) is offering to be helpful.

Six major industry players — including America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), a descendant of the lobbying group that spawned Harry and Louise — have sent a letter to President Obama sketching out a plan to control health care costs. What’s more, the letter implicitly endorses much of what administration officials have been saying about health economics.

Are there reasons to be suspicious about this gift? You bet — and I’ll get to that in a bit. But first things first: on the face of it, this is tremendously good news.

The signatories of the letter say that they’re developing proposals to help the administration achieve its goal of shaving 1.5 percentage points off the growth rate of health care spending. That may not sound like much, but it’s actually huge: achieving that goal would save $2 trillion over the next decade.

How are costs to be contained? There are few details, but the industry has clearly been reading Peter Orszag, the budget director.

In his previous job, as the director of the Congressional Budget Office, Mr. Orszag argued that America spends far too much on some types of health care with little or no medical benefit, even as it spends too little on other types of care, like prevention and treatment of chronic conditions. Putting these together, he concluded that “substantial opportunities exist to reduce costs without harming health over all.”

Sure enough, the health industry letter talks of “reducing over-use and under-use of health care by aligning quality and efficiency incentives.” It also picks up a related favorite Orszag theme, calling for “adherence to evidence-based best practices and therapies.” All in all, it’s just what the doctor, er, budget director ordered.

Before we start celebrating, however, we have to ask the obvious question. Is this gift a Trojan horse? After all, several of the organizations that sent that letter have in the past been major villains when it comes to health care policy.

I’ve already mentioned AHIP. There’s also the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), the lobbying group that helped push through the Medicare Modernization Act of 2003 — a bill that both prevented Medicare from bargaining over drug prices and locked in huge overpayments to private insurers. Indeed, one of the new letter’s signatories is former Representative Billy Tauzin, who shepherded that bill through Congress then immediately left public office to become PhRMA’s lavishly paid president.

The point is that there’s every reason to be cynical about these players’ motives. Remember that what the rest of us call health care costs, they call income.

What’s presumably going on here is that key interest groups have realized that health care reform is going to happen no matter what they do, and that aligning themselves with the Party of No will just deny them a seat at the table. (Republicans, after all, still denounce research into which medical procedures are effective and which are not as a dastardly plot to deprive Americans of their freedom to choose.)

I would strongly urge the Obama administration to hang tough in the bargaining ahead. In particular, AHIP will surely try to use the good will created by its stance on cost control to kill an important part of health reform: giving Americans the choice of buying into a public insurance plan as an alternative to private insurers. The administration should not give in on this point.

But let me not be too negative. The fact that the medical-industrial complex is trying to shape health care reform rather than block it is a tremendously good omen. It looks as if America may finally get what every other advanced country already has: a system that guarantees essential health care to all its citizens.

And serious cost control would change everything, not just for health care, but for America’s fiscal future. As Mr. Orszag has emphasized, rising health care costs are the main reason long-run budget projections look so grim. Slow the rate at which those costs rise, and the future will look far brighter.

I still won’t count my health care chickens until they’re hatched. But this is some of the best policy news I’ve heard in a long time.

They had it made

New York Times

In the late 1930s, a group of 268 promising young men, including John F. Kennedy and Ben Bradlee, entered Harvard College. By any normal measure, they had it made. They tended to be bright, polished, affluent and ambitious. They had the benefit of the world’s most prestigious university. They had been selected even from among Harvard students as the most well adjusted.

And yet the categories of journalism and the stereotypes of normal conversation are paltry when it comes to predicting a life course. Their lives played out in ways that would defy any imagination save Dostoyevsky’s. A third of the men would suffer at least one bout of mental illness. Alcoholism would be a running plague. The most mundane personalities often produced the most solid success. One man couldn’t admit to himself that he was gay until he was in his late 70s.

The men were the subject of one of the century’s most fascinating longitudinal studies. They were selected when they were sophomores, and they have been probed, poked and measured ever since. Researchers visited their homes and investigated everything from early bed-wetting episodes to their body dimensions.

The results from the study, known as the Grant Study, have surfaced periodically in the years since. But they’ve never been so brilliantly captured as they are in an essay called “What Makes Us Happy?” by Joshua Wolf Shenk in the forthcoming issue of The Atlantic. (The essay is available online today.)

The life stories are more vivid than any theory one could concoct to explain them. One man seemed particularly gifted. He grew up in a large brownstone, the son of a rich doctor and an artistic mother. “Perhaps more than any other boy who has been in the Grant Study,” a researcher wrote while he was in college, “the following participant exemplifies the qualities of a superior personality: stability, intelligence, good judgment, health, high purpose, and ideals.”

By 31, he had developed hostile feelings toward his parents and the world. By his mid-30s, he had dropped off the study’s radar. Interviews with his friends after his early death revealed a life spent wandering, dating a potentially psychotic girlfriend, smoking a lot of dope and telling hilarious stories.

Another man was the jester of the group, possessing in college a “bubbling, effervescent personality.” He got married, did odd jobs, then went into public relations and had three kids.

He got divorced, married again, ran off with a mistress who then left him. He drank more and more heavily. He grew depressed but then came out of the closet and became a major figure in the gay rights movement. He continued drinking, though, convinced he was squeezing the most out of life. He died at age 64 when he fell down the stairs in his apartment building while drunk.

The study had produced a stream of suggestive correlations. The men were able to cope with problems better as they aged. The ones who suffered from depression by 50 were much more likely to die by 63. The men with close relationships with their siblings were much healthier in old age than those without them.

But it’s the baffling variety of their lives that strikes one the most. It is as if we all contain a multitude of characters and patterns of behavior, and these characters and patterns are bidden by cues we don’t even hear. They take center stage in consciousness and decision-making in ways we can’t even fathom. The man who is careful and meticulous in one stage of life is unrecognizable in another context.

Shenk’s treatment is superb because he weaves in the life of George Vaillant, the man who for 42 years has overseen this work. Vaillant’s overall conclusion is familiar and profound. Relationships are the key to happiness. “Happiness is love. Full Stop,” he says in a video.

In his professional life, he has lived out that creed. He has been an admired and beloved colleague and mentor. But the story is more problematic at home. When he was 10, his father, an apparently happy and accomplished man, went out by the pool of the Main Line home and shot himself. His mother shrouded the episode. They never attended a memorial service nor saw the house again.

He has been through three marriages and returned to his second wife. His children tell Shenk of a “civil war” at home and describe long periods when they wouldn’t speak to him. His oldest friend says he has a problem with intimacy.
Even when we know something, it is hard to make it so. Reading this essay, I had the same sense I had while reading Christopher Buckley’s description of his parents in The Times Magazine not long ago. There is a complexity to human affairs before which science and analysis simply stands mute.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

FP morning brief 5/13

Top Story:

The Sri Lankan military has broken through Tamil Tiger defenses as the rebel group continues to make its last stand in a small strip of beach on the island's northern coast. Aid workers says that both sides are making it impossible to reach civilians still trapped in the area.

The Sri Lankan government accuses the Tigers of keeping civilians trapped as "human shields" but Human Rights Watch accuses both sides of using those trapped as "cannon fodder." Despite reports to the country, the government continues to deny that it is using artillery. The EU's human rights chief decried both sides for creating an "absolutely awful situation."

Shells hit the area's only hospital today. It was the third time the hospital has been hit and only the second time in two days. At least 50 people were killed in this latest attack, according to a local doctor.
Meeting in Washington, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and British Foreign Minister David Miliband issued a joint statement urging both sides to "end hostilities immediately."


The United States will once again use an airbase in Uzbekistan
to supply troops in Afghanistan, though the base will be operated by South Korea. U.S. forces were evicted from the country by leader Islam Karimov in 2005 because of U.S. protests over the Andijan massacre. The U.S. military has been looking for new supply routes in Central Asia since the closure of Manas airbase in Kyrgyzstan.

As India's five-week election comes to a close, polling narrowly favors the ruling Congress party.
On the fifth day of their military offensive in Swat Valley, the Pakistani military targeted Taliban bases in remote areas.
Envoy Stephen Bosworth said the U.S. is open to the possibility of limited direct talks with North Korea.

Middle East
Speaking in Bethlehem, Pope Benedict called for the establishment of a Palestinian state.
Tensions on the rise in Northern Iraq with recent demonstrations in Mosul and a suicide bombing in Kirkuk.
Israel is putting off a decision on withdrawing from a disputed town on the Lebanese border until after Lebanon's election.

The United States has joined the controversial U.N. Human Rights Council.
A video left by a slain Guatemalan lawyer, blaming his death on the country's president, has plunged the country into a political crisis.
Peru has given asylum to two Bolivian officials accused of genocide, straining relations between the two neighbors.

Fighting between government forces and Al-Shabaab rebels continues to worsen.
New U.S. coast guard rules will require U.S. ships to post guards when sailing off the coast of Somalia.
Massive anti-government rallies are taking place in Nigeria, with the country's security forces on high alert.

The EU has fined Intel a record $1.45 billion for antitrust violations.
France's government has passed a controversial new Web piracy law that will disconnect users caught repeatedly downloading illegal content.
Eurozone industrial production fell 20 percent year-on-year in March.

Truthout 5/13

William Rivers Pitt When PTSD Comes Marching Home
William Rivers Pitt, Truthout: "How long will Iraq be with us, even after we leave? Evidence strongly suggests that the physical and psychological toll taken upon our soldiers and service members from their extended, savage, deadly and ultimately fruitless deployments to the wars of the Bush administration is enormous, and growing."

Obama Will Seek to Delay Photos' Release
The Associated Press: "President Barack Obama is seeking to block the release of hundreds of photos showing prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan being abused, reversing his position after military commanders warned that the images could stoke anti-American sentiment and endanger US troops."

Fitrakis and Wasserman Why Isn't Obama Turning to the Credit Unions?
Bob Fitrakis and Harvey Wasserman, The Free Press: "As hundreds of our hard-earned billions are being poured into corrupt, greed-driven, lethally inefficient banks, the administration, Congress and corporate media have studiously avoided the one sector of the banking industry that actually works - the credit unions."

Bill Moyers Journal Pakistan in Peril
Bill Moyers Journal: "As the world follows the violence and unrest in Pakistan, Bill Moyers speaks with historian Juan Cole and journalist Shahan Mufti about how the US's increasingly strained relationship with the troubled nation will impact prospects for peace, human rights and democracy in the war-torn region. Also, Moyers talks with Daniel Goleman, author of 'Ecological Intelligence,' on building awareness of how consumer products impact the environment and why he writes that 'green' is a 'mirage.'"

Barack Obama's Key Climate Bill Hit by $45 Million PR Campaign
Suzanne Goldenberg, The Guardian UK: "America's oil, gas and coal industry has increased its lobbying budget by 50 percent, with key players spending $44.5 million in the first three months of this year in an intense effort to cut off support for Barack Obama's plan to build a clean energy economy."

Brian Beutler Will Unions Back a Green Candidate Against Blanche Lincoln?
Brian Beutler, Talking Points Memo: "The cause of Employee Free Choice been dealt a number of difficult blows in the last several weeks, but perhaps the hardest came from Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Arkansas) in early April when she came out against EFCA. At the time she said, '[I] cannot support that bill in its current form. Cannot support and will not support moving it forward in its current form.'"

Gloria Feldt To Run the World, Power Up Feminism
Gloria Feldt, On the Issues Magazine: "Were you thinking we were done with elections and could take a few minutes to celebrate a pro-woman administration and a Democratically controlled Congress that appears ready to embrace pro-choice and pro-equality measures? Sorry, my Sisters. Elections are never over when they are over."

The Debate Over Hormone Replacement Therapy
Anita Slomski, "On July 9, 2002, investigators in charge of the Women's Health Initiative, the largest, most ambitious examination of menopausal women, abruptly stopped one arm of the study three years ahead of schedule. They and the National Institutes of Health, which provided funding, also took the unusual step of releasing preliminary trial results to the public."

Judge Prohibits Los Angeles Teachers Strike
Howard Blume, The Los Angeles Times: "A Los Angeles County Superior Court judge Tuesday prohibited the city's teachers union from staging a one-day strike this week to protest layoffs and other budget-cutting proposals. The United Teachers Los Angeles contract explicitly bars a strike, said Judge James C. Chalfant, who also cited concerns about student health, safety and welfare in granting the restraining order against Friday's planned walkout."

Matt Renner Actual Bailout May Exceed $10 Trillion
Matt Renner, Truthout: "Ask most people on the street how much money taxpayers are using to save banks and you will probably hear the number $700 billion. The Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) passed by Congress at the urging of the Bush administration and then Treasury secretary Henry Paulson, allocated an unprecedented sum of taxpayer money for the sole purpose of propping up the financial sector in its darkest hour. But the actual number is much bigger. The current block of taxpayer money that has been pledged by the US government and the Federal Reserve to prevent the system from collapsing, according to an analysis by Bloomberg News, is roughly $12.8 trillion as of March 31. In an interview with Truthout, Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Florida), said the Federal Reserve is practicing 'Enron accounting,' and has 'socialized Wall Street's bad bets.'"

Michael Winship Murtha: If I'm Corrupt, It's Because I Care
Michael Winship, Truthout: "Headline in the May 2 New York Times: 'Murtha's Nephew Named a Lobbyist for Marines.' Headline just three days later in the May 5 Washington Post: 'Murtha's Nephew Got Defense Contracts.' Guess what? Two different nephews. They're brothers, though, each blessed with the same, beneficent and no doubt beloved uncle - Pennsylvania Rep. John P. Murtha, Democratic chairman of the House Appropriations defense subcommittee - friend of the military-industrial complex; a man who's generous to family and constituents, always ready to lend an ear - or, rather, earmark."

Dean Baker Social Security: Downturn Does NOT Affect Long-Run Picture
Dean Baker, The Center for Economic and Policy Research: "It is not surprising that Social Security's annual financial picture deteriorates in a downturn. This is entirely predictable and in fact desirable. Social Security's tax revenues fall as workers lose their jobs. Almost two-thirds of the reduced surplus this year is due to an unusually large cost-of-living increase for 2009. The latest adjustment accounts for last year's rise, but not the fall in oil prices. Though continuing benefits are automatically adjusted for inflation, this year Social Security will be paying a 6.9 percent larger real benefit to retirees, disabled workers and their families."

David Sirota Three Questions About Obama's "Major" Health Care Announcement
David Sirota, The Campaign For America's Future: "Look, I have no problem with the industry making voluntary commitments about lowering costs - and if it follows through, then that's great. But I also have no illusion about industries making voluntary commitments to reduce their profits - those commitments usually aren't worth the paper they're written on. And so I worry that promoting such commitments as 'major' can be politically dangerous and, frankly, counterproductive."

Tillman's Parents Want General's Record Reviewed
Lara Jakes, The Associated Press: "The parents of slain Army Ranger and NFL star Pat Tillman voiced concerns Tuesday that the general who played a role in mischaracterizing his death could be put in charge of military operations in Afghanistan. In a brief interview with The Associated Press, Pat Tillman Sr. accused Lt. Gen. Stanley McChrystal of covering up the circumstances of the 2004 slaying. 'I do believe that guy participated in a falsified homicide investigation,' Pat Tillman Sr. said."

US Rejoins UN's Human Rights Forum
Howard LaFranchi, The Christian Science Monitor: "The US ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice, hailed the return to the human rights forum as part of America's determination 'to again play a meaningful leadership role in multilateral organizations.' The US will not wait for a 2011 review of the council to try to reform it, she added, but 'will be working very hard from an early stage to try to support the strengthening and improvement of this body.'" Browse our continually updating front page at

Tuesday, May 12, 2009


Steve Weissman Will Pakistan Become Obama's Vietnam?
Steve Weissman, Truthout: "Washington has threatened Pakistan before, leading General Musharraf to believe that the Pentagon would bomb his country back to the Stone Age if he did not support George W. Bush's 'War on Terror.' Though Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage denied ever making the threat explicit, the menace worked to a point, and the Pakistanis helped American officials get their hands on several terrorist suspects, including Abu Zubaydah and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. But the American threat never got Pakistan's military to target the Taliban or al-Qaeda in the way that Washington wanted."

J. Sri Raman Battle for Binayak Sen: Beyond India's Ballot War
J. Sri Raman, Truthout: "On May 13, the world's most populous democracy will complete its periodical, primary exercise in popular governance. On this date, India will complete its month-long, five-phase general election. The very next day, however, will mark the second anniversary of the arrest of a medical missionary and human rights activist of India. The case of Binayak Sen will continue to illustrate the struggle in India, as elsewhere, for democracy beyond elections."

Roy Eidelson How Americans Think About Torture - and Why
Roy Eidelson, Cognitive Policy Works: "In recent weeks, new revelations about the harsh interrogation and torture of detainees during the Bush administration years have made headlines and stirred controversy. The positions of prominent advocates and opponents on each side are clear. But what do we know about how the American people in general have come to view the use of torture by the U.S. government?"

FBI Agent's Account of Interrogations Conflicts With Report
Spencer Ackerman, The Washington Independent: "As former FBI agent Ali Soufan prepares to testify publicly for the first time about the FBI's role in the torture policies of the Bush administration, some aspects of his testimony are already clear. Torture doesn't work, Soufan wrote in a high-profile New York Times op-ed in late April, and he knows because he, as part of the team interrogating al-Qaeda detainee Abu Zubaydah 'from March to June 2002,' got reliable information out of him 'before the harsh techniques were introduced later in August.'"

Pakistan Soldiers Swoop on Taliban Stronghold
Junaid Khan, Reuters: "Helicopter-borne Pakistani soldiers swooped into a Taliban stronghold in a remote corner of Swat on Tuesday, as the United Nations urged help for hundreds of thousands of people displaced by the fighting. The military's offensive in Swat, 130 km (80 miles) northwest of Islamabad, is seen as a test of the government's commitment to face up to a growing Taliban insurgency and comes after the United States accused it of 'abdicating' to the militants."

Dominique Moisi "Competing Cockpits of Capitalism"
Professor Dominique Moisi, writing for France's premier business paper Les Echos, describes the transatlantic gap in values and emotions, while Rue89's Pierre Haski enjoys describing The Economist's (unenthusiastic) acknowledgment of the virtues of the welfare state.

Dahr Jamail Unfit for Combat
Dahr Jamail, Truthout: "Studies that go back to World War II have found that combat veterans are twice as likely to commit suicide as people in the general population. Other lesser known distressing facts are that nine percent of all unemployment in the United States is attributed to combat exposure, as is 8 percent of all divorce or separation and 21 percent of all spousal or partner abuse. The impact of all this extends to behavioral problems in children, child abuse, drug and alcohol addiction, incarceration, and homelessness, all of which have implication that go well beyond the individual and reverberate across generations. As both occupations continue into the indefinite future, we should not be surprised when we hear of more atrocities like what happened Monday in Baghdad, whether they occur in Iraq or in the United States."

Did Blackwater Contractors Attempt to Hide Evidence of a Massacre in Iraq?
Scott Horton, Harpers Magazine: "Private security contractor Xe (formerly Blackwater USA) has fallen on hard times. Iraq has yanked its license, forcing Blackwater out of one of its former operations centers. Last December, five Blackwater employees were indicted on fourteen manslaughter charges and allegations they used automatic weapons in the commission of a crime. A sixth Blackwater agent pleaded guilty to two charges as part of an agreement to testify against his colleagues. Now the company faces more bad news. Bill Sizemore of the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot reports that charges are being brought based on obstruction of justice."

Franken Calls on State Supreme Court to Order Issuance of Election Certificate
Paul Demko, The Minnesota Independent: "Al Franken won the US Senate contest fair and square. That's the gist of the Democrat's 53-page brief filed Monday with the Minnesota Supreme Court. Franken wants the state's highest court to affirm the ruling by a three-judge panel that he won the US Senate contest by 312 votes and order that he be issued an election certificate immediately."

Frida Berrigan The News on Nukes
Frida Berrigan, Foreign Policy In Focus: "It's not on the front pages of what is left of US newspapers. The headlines are dominated by violence in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Iraq, by Miss America's semi-nude photo scandal, and by the Chrysler fiasco. But just about everyone who is anyone is talking about nuclear weapons this week. At the United Nations, representatives from the world's 190 or so nations are meeting (in typical fashion) to prepare to meet. The preparatory meeting of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) is taking place the first two weeks of May to get ready for the Review Conference of the Treaty, which will happen next year."

Bailouts Crimp Senate Democrats' Fundraising
Alexander Bolton, The Hill: "Senate Democrats are losing their fundraising edge on Wall Street, seeing less money for candidates at a time when the party's liberal wing is demonizing billions of dollars in taxpayer bailouts to banks. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) raised $10.4 million through the first three months of this year, compared with $9.6 million raised by its Republican counterpart during the same quarter. That's a much narrower margin than last election cycle, when the DSCC raised $163 million compared to the National Republican Senatorial Committee's (NRSC) $94 million."

Krugman: US Risks "Lost Decade" Due to Half-Steps
Alan Wheatley, Reuters: "The United States risks a Japan-style lost decade of growth if it does not take aggressive action to stimulate its economy and clean up its banking system, Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman said on Monday. 'We're doing half-measures that help the economy limp along without fully recovering, and we're having measures that help the banks survive without really thriving,' Krugman said." Browse our continually updating front page at

On A May-December Romance, Part Two, Or, Las Vegas, Integrated

Moulin Rouge.

The mention of that name, in the right circles, brings back a flood of associations.

Among them: a famous cabaret in Gay Paree, a Nicole Kidman movie rich in costume and set design and…well, a movie, anyway; or, if you really know your films, perhaps the association is with the 1952 John Huston “biography” film of the same name.

The one association that might not quickly come to mind, even though it should: ground zero in a battle that led to the desegregation of Las Vegas.

Today’s story will fill in the blanks that you might have regarding that association—and by the time we’re done, we’ll have covered, just as we promised last time, the 55-year history of a place that began in 1955, lasted for not quite six months, and ended just last week…maybe.

It’s another one of those American history stories you never heard before, and it’s well worth the telling…so let’s get right to it.

“Last year people won more than one billion dollars playing poker. And casinos made twenty-seven billion just by being around those people.”

--Samantha Bee, The Daily Show, March 10, 2005

For those of you who missed Part One, we better take a moment to catch up:

Las Vegas, as World War II came to an end, was very much a segregated city, with blacks, who by that time were roughly 3000 of the city’s total population of 20,000, literally forced to live on the Wrong Side of The Tracks (a problem that continues to create headlines even as recently as 2008).

(Irony number one: “The Tracks”, or at least 60 acres of the land upon which they used to sit, are now the site of an upscale redevelopment effort (“Union Park”) that Westside residents note has the potential to leave them even more geographically isolated than they were when The Tracks occupied the site. To further the irony, far more redevelopment money is being spent on the Union Park project then is being spent in the severely economically disadvantaged Westside.)

As the casinos began to become the major driver of the local economy, blacks were allowed to work on the properties, but they could not patronize the segregated casinos in which they worked.

This extended to the highest levels of worker, as even the entertainers who were brought in to work the showrooms were forced to seek accommodations in the Westside neighborhood…which is why the neighborhood’s rented cottages and hotels, such as the famous Harrison Boarding House, could count among their many famous guests Nat King Cole, Lena Horne, Sammy Davis, Jr. and Jack Benny’s “valet” and sidekick Eddie “Rochester” Anderson.

By the middle of the 1950s there had been unsuccessful efforts in Nevada to pass laws mandating an end to segregation in the casinos and elsewhere (oddly enough, there had never been a law requiring segregation); and it has been suggested that casinos were resistant because their customer base at the time was mainly Californians who had settled there from the Southern states, and who presumably brought their racial animus with them.

And it wasn’t as if blacks were not allowed in bars or casinos: there were several on the Westside that catered to a black clientele.

(Irony number two: it’s reported that among those were Jewish-owned properties, including the Brown Derby, the Cotton Club, and the Ebony Club.)

Want to see a product of Strip segregation history with your very own eyes? The New Town Tavern, who once hosted Redd Foxx and B.B. King on its now-closed showroom stage, has remained open on the Westside from 1955 to the present day at the corner of F Street and Jackson Avenue.

Which brings us to Frank Sinatra.

By 1953 Sammy Davis, Jr., and the other members of the Will Maston Trio, of which he was the featured player, were splitting $5,000 a week for their services…but they could not stay at the place they played. By 1954, Sinatra convinced Sammy to open for him at The Sands; and in November of that year The Will Maston Trio was not only making $7500 a week at the Frontier, the hotel “comped” their room, board, and drinks, and allowed them the run of the casino, making them the first black act to receive that sort of treatment from a Strip casino (although others report that Nat King Cole was actually the first, in 1955).

Later that same month, Sammy lost an eye in an automobile accident, and was offered $25,000 a week to play The Sands, along with what are described as “Sinatra-like accommodations”.

In May of 1955, in an effort to “change the rules of the game”, Alexander Bisno and Lou Rubin opened the Moulin Rouge Hotel and Casino on a site in between the Strip and the Westside.

Bisno and Rubin opened the property as a completely integrated facility, bringing blacks and whites in as guests and staff…and even as management and owners. Boxing great Joe Louis was both the official greeter and a partner in the venture. The great Benny Carter was brought in as musical director.

(Fun Fact: the distinctive neon signage for the Moulin Rouge was designed by one of the few women in the business at the time, Betty Willis, who also designed one of the most recognizable signs in advertising history, the “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas” sign.)

The hotel was an immediate and massive hit with visitors, who were treated to the best entertainment available anywhere: Sammy, naturally, played the room, along with The Platters, Harry Belafonte, Louis Armstrong, Nat King Cole, and Eartha Kitt, to name but a few.

But here’s the thing: a major reason the place was so popular was because Sinatra, Dean Martin, and the rest of the Rat Pack would head over to the Moulin Rouge, either to put on impromptu performances or to just hang out in this newly swinging atmosphere—and suddenly, the Moulin Rouge, after the other shows on the Strip had ended for the evening, became possibly the hottest joint in the world; with everybody, and I mean everybody, heading over to see and be seen with Sammy, Sinatra, Dino, and the rest of the Pack…and of course, the “Tropi-Can Can” girls.

Things got so crazy that the Moulin Rouge added a 2:30 AM “Third Show”—but within six months, the Moulin Rouge had closed its doors; possibly the victim of mismanagement, possibly the victim of an oversaturated market, possibly the victim of policies designed to make blue-collar black patrons feel less welcome…and possibly the victim of “The Mob”, who had a hand in several of the Strip hotels that were suddenly losing significant amounts of gambling business to the new hotel.

"We don't think that we, or any other hotel, should give away a $30,000 show for a Coke and two straws."

--Former Riviera Hotel Chairman Morrie Mason, in Time Magazine, September 19, 1955

And with that, you’d think the history of the Moulin Rouge had come to an end.

In fact, there was quite a bit more history yet to come.

Throughout the ‘50s, Sinatra had been busy working to eliminate what he called the “national disease” of bigotry. He wrote this in a July 1958 “Jet” Magazine article, The Way I Look At Race:

“A friend to me has no race, no class, and belongs to no minority. My friendships were formed out of affection, mutual respect, and a feeling of having something strong in common. These are eternal values that cannot be racially classified. This is the way I look at race.”

By 1959, the Rat Pack was in town filming Ocean’s Eleven and going after segregation in their own unique way. They would show up at a casino, and if the casino would not admit Sammy Davis, Jr. to the gaming floor, then they would move on to the next one. Since no one wanted the bad publicity…Sammy usually got in. (That same year, blacks and whites in Nevada were legally allowed to marry.)

Because so many people were pushing for integration, segregation was beginning to be bad for business, and something had to be done.

Even Nevada’s Governor, Grant Sawyer, was trying to change the culture of segregation…and as 1960 rolled around, the NAACP was applying its own pressure.

Dr. James McMillan, leader of the local NAACP chapter, announced that he would organize a series of “sit-down strikes” in the restaurants of the Strip casinos. The day before the strikes were to begin, Oscar Crozier, representing the hotel interests, met and negotiated with NAACP representatives, Hank Greenspun, the publisher of the “Las Vegas Sun”, and some assorted politicians at…wait for it…the abandoned Moulin Rouge, where the Moulin Rouge Agreement was struck, which immediately desegregated the patronage of casinos on the Strip.

“When these fellows realized that they weren't going to lose any money, that they might even make more, they were suddenly colorblind.”

--Dr. James McMillan

(The new colorblindness, oddly enough, did not extend to the Downtown casinos, and Binion’s Horseshoe was among of the last of those casinos to desegregate.)

Over the next few years, employment on the gaming floors was also desegregated, and in 1971 the State Legislature passed a law barring racial discrimination in the housing market.

Even after all that, the Moulin Rouge wasn’t through making history. The property and buildings and…casino license…passed from one owner to another, and eventually one of those owners, Sarann Knight-Preddy, became the first black woman to hold a Nevada gaming license.

The property did operate as a sort of “apartment-motel” for a number of years, and even reopened as a casino during the 1990s, but a 2003 arson fire destroyed the casino/showroom building and removed it from Preserve Nevada’s list of 11 most endangered historical sites in the State.

Even then the remaining “hotel” buildings became low-income housing…until they became too dilapidated for that purpose.

And even then plans continued to float around, including an effort that seemed to be gaining momentum in 2008 to build an entirely new project on the old site…until a bad economy and bankruptcy brought that momentum to a crashing halt.

In an ending reminiscent of something that might have happened in the movie “Casino”, on May 5th of this year, Olympic Coast Investments of Seattle took ownership of the Moulin Rouge through foreclosure…and on May 6th, another fire took out the remaining buildings on the site. Olympic Coast reports they intend to sell. (Luckily, the neon sign had been removed in the weeks before the fire to the Neon Boneyard.)

We have come a long way with this story, but here we are at last.

Las Vegas, we’ve learned, has had to deal with a history of racial segregation, was able to break the back of that segregation through the efforts of people as diverse as local neighborhood organizers, Jewish financiers…and the Rat Pack.

That history was forever changed because one casino, for not quite six months, showed what Las Vegas could be—but as we said at the beginning of Part One, even though the casino was only open for those few months, the history it represents continues to unfold, more than 50 years later.

What happens next, no one knows…but in Las Vegas, with a piece of land and an available gambling license to work with…I wouldn’t be too quick to bet that the history of the Moulin Rouge is over just yet.

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.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Truthout 5/11

Henry A. Giroux Child Beauty Pageants: A Scene From the "Other America"
Henry A. Giroux, Truthout: "Beauty pageants gain legitimacy within what might be called the myth of innocence in which children are often portrayed as inhabiting a world that is untainted, magical and utterly protected from the harshness of adult life. Innocence in this scenario not only erases the complexities of childhood and the range of experiences different children encounter, but it also offers an excuse for adults to evade responsibility for how children are firmly connected to and shaped by the social, economic and cultural institutions run largely by adults."

US Soldier Guns Down Five Fellow Soldiers in Iraq
Robert H. Reid, The Associated Press: "A US soldier opened fire at a counseling center on a US base Monday, killing five fellow soldiers before being taken into custody, the US command and Pentagon officials said. The shooting occurred at Camp Liberty, a sprawling US base on the western edge of Baghdad near the city's international airport and adjacent to another facility where President Barack Obama visited last month."

"More Than 1,000 Civilians Killed" in Attacks on Sri Lanka Safe Zone
Gethin Chamberlain and Mark Tran, The Guardian UK: "A doctor working inside the no-fire zone in Sri Lanka today told the Guardian that more than 1,400 people were believed to have been killed in two days of air and artillery attacks. Dr V Shanmugarajah said 381 bodies had been brought in to the temporary hospital inside the government safe zone yesterday, and another 55 today."

US Journalist in Iran Freed From Prison
Borzou Daragahi, The Los Angeles Times: "Authorities released Iranian American journalist Roxana Saberi from a Tehran prison today after an Iranian appeals court suspended her sentence on an espionage charge, said an Iranian judiciary official. Saberi's sentence was trimmed from eight years in prison to a two-year suspended sentence after a lengthy appeals court hearing today, attorney Abdul-Samad Khorramshahi said in a telephone interview from the Iranian capital."

Washington State, California Ponder High-Speed Rail Line
Les Blumenthal, McClatchy Newspapers: "Washington state and California officials have held preliminary discussions about a high-speed, state-of-the-art rail line that would connect San Diego and Vancouver, B.C., with trains that could travel in excess of 200 miles per hour. The talks come just weeks after Congress approved a $787 billion economic stimulus bill sought by the White House that included $8 billion for high-speed rail in the Northwest and nine other corridors around the nation."

White House Plans to Reverse Bush Antitrust Rules
Cecilia Kang, The Washington Post: "The Obama administration today said it would reverse rules made during the Bush administration that made it difficult to stop anticompetitive business behavior. Christine Varney, head of antitrust at the Justice Department, said the agency was withdrawing a 2008 report on competition that gave guidelines on how to enforce conduct of dominant industry firms under the Sherman Act."

Jason Leopold CIA Headquarters Micromanaged Torture
Jason Leopold, Truthout: "CIA interrogators provided top agency officials in Langley with daily 'torture' updates of Abu Zubaydah, the alleged 'high-level' terrorist detainee, who was held at a secret 'black site' prison and waterboarded 83 times in August 2002, according to newly released court documents obtained by this reporter. The extensive back-and-forth between CIA field operatives and agency officials in Langley likely included updates provided to senior Bush administration officials."

Doctors Raise Phosphorus Concerns After US Strikes in Afghanistan
Jon Boone, The Guardian UK: "Afghanistan's leading human rights organisation is investigating claims that white phosphorus was used during a deadly battle between US forces and the Taliban last week in which scores of civilians may have died. Nader Nadery, a senior officer at the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, said the organisation was concerned that the chemical, which can cause severe burns, might have been used in the firefight in Bala Baluk, a district in the western province of Farah."

Cheney Backs Limbaugh Over Powell on GOP Future
The Associated Press: "Dick Cheney made clear Sunday he'd rather follow firebrand broadcaster Rush Limbaugh than former Joint Chiefs chairman Colin Powell into political battle over the future of the Republican Party. Even as Cheney embraced efforts to expand the party by ex-Govs. Jeb Bush of Florida and Mitt Romney of Massachusetts and the House's No. 2 Republican, Virginia Rep. Eric Cantor, the former vice president appeared to write his one-time colleague Powell out of the GOP."

Will Congress Keep Paying for These Two Wars?
David Lightman and William Douglas, McClatchy Newspapers: "The debate over how - and how long - the United States should fight wars in Iraq and Afghanistan returns to Washington's political stage this week as a wary Congress begins considering new funding for the conflicts. The House of Representatives is scheduled to spar over a $96.7 billion plan to pay this year's costs for the wars and flu prevention strategies, with final passage likely by the end of the week. The Senate Appropriations Committee plans to write its version on Thursday."

Health Groups Offer $2 Trillion in Cost Savings
Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar and Philip Elliott, The Associated Press: "President Barack Obama's plan to provide medical insurance for all Americans took a big step toward becoming reality Sunday after leaders of the health care industry offered $2 trillion in spending reductions over 10 years to help pay for the program. Hospitals, insurance companies, drug makers and doctors planned to tell Obama on Monday they'll voluntarily slow their rate increases in coming years in a move that government economists say would create breathing room to help provide health insurance to an estimated 50 million Americans who now go without it."

Cleanup Funding Benefits Energy Giants
Evan Halper, The Los Angeles Times: "Some of the country's wealthiest oil companies and gas station chains have collected hundreds of millions of dollars from a cleanup fund conceived to help smaller, financially struggling entities. Environmentalists and former lawmakers who pushed to establish the fund, which motorists pay into whenever they buy gasoline in California, say they never intended it for large energy companies with the means to repair environmental damage from their own operations. Yet big firms have taken $490 million from the fund since it was created in 1989."

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FP morning brief 5/11


Pakistan claims to be making progress in its offensive against the Taliban in the Swat Valley, but reliable information is hard to come by. Pakistan's interior minister says that 700 rebels were killed by raids in Swat over the last four days, though the military puts the number at only around 140. A suicide bomber killed 10 soldiers at a checkpoint earlier today.

What is certain is that Pakistan is facing a full-blown refugee crisis as a result of the fighting. Some 360,000 people from the disputed areas of Swat, Buner and Dir have registered at refugee camps since May 2, according to the U.N.

While most analysts say an Islamist takeover of the Pakistani state remains unlikely, the New York Times reports that al Qaeda is likely seizing on the chaos to create "mini-Afghanistans" throughout Pakistan, from which it can launch attacks with impunity.


Peru's cocaine trade is booming again after a 1990s drop-off, giving new life to the country's Shining Path rebels.

Middle East
Imprisoned American journalist Roxana Saberi has received a suspended sentence from an Iranian court and will likely be released today.
U.S. President Barack Obama has chosen Egypt as the venue for a high-profile address to the Muslim world next month.
The Pope has arrived for a five-day visit to Israel.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi made a surprise visit to Iraq on Sunday.

The United Nations is calling a Sri Lankan artillery assault, which killed at least 378 civilians over the weekend, a "bloodbath."
Japanese opposition leader Ichiro Ozawa resigned over a corruption scandal.
Nepal's Maoists have vowed to disrupt sessions of parliament until the president agrees to their demand that the head of the army be dismissed.

Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili will meet with opposition leaders today to try to bring an end to months of political deadlock.
British PM Gordon Brown has apologized on behalf of all political parties after leaked invoices show MPs filing expense reports for items like doog food and light bulbs.
Hundreds of Tamil protesters are blocking traffic in downtown London.

New South African President Jacob Zuma has chosen his cabinet with few major ideological changes.
Zimbabwean Prime Minsiter Morgan Tsvangirai played down his dispute with President Robert Mugabe.
Veterans of Kenya's Mau Mau rebellion are suing the British governent for alleged human rights abuses.

Flooding is receding in northern Brazil after 300,000 people were displaced.
Seven Colombian troops were killed in an ambush by FARC rebels.
U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates will defend his proposed budget before a skeptical Congress this week.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Truthout 5/10

Elizabeth de la Vega Prosecuting Torture: Is Time Really Running Out?
Elizabeth de la Vega, Truthout: "When the highest officials of our nation flung open the gates of law and morality and let the wild dogs of torture run, they set in motion a constellation of potentially-indictable federal crimes."

US Soldiers, Attacked, Kill a 12-Year-Old Boy
Ali Abass and Jack Dolan, McClatchy Newspapers: "American soldiers opened fire and killed a 12-year-old boy after a grenade hit their convoy in Mosul on Thursday."

Melissa Harris-Lacewell Michelle Obama, Mom-in-Chief
Melissa Harris-Lacewell, The Nation: "With Mother's Day approaching I want to think about Michelle Obama's assertion that her primary role as First Lady is 'Mom-in-Chief.'"

From ACORN, a Mighty GOP Fight
Michael Falcone, The Politico: "It's almost as if the 2008 presidential campaign never ended: The community organizing group known as ACORN continues to find itself in legal jeopardy and the Republican Party continues to spend an inordinate amount of time obsessing about it."

Obama, Activists Lose Momentum Over "Don't Ask"
Carolyn Lochhead, The San Francisco Chronicle: "Dan Choi, a gay National Guard platoon leader, will be discharged from the military under the Obama administration, which has quietly shelved the president's campaign promise to repeal the 16-year-old 'don't ask, don't tell' policy with the tacit acquiescence of Washington's gay lobbying establishment."

In Toledo, Downturn Empties Offices
Peter Slevin, The Washington Post: "Rob Noonan's friends think he's a sucker. Laid off from his $140,000-a-year construction management job when the credit markets froze, he still shows up at work, one man working without pay in a cluster of vacant cubicles, trying to make something out of nothing."

FOCUS Desperation in Pakistani Hospitals, Refugee Camps
The Associated Press: "Civilians cowered in hospital beds and trapped residents struggled to feed their children Saturday, as Pakistani warplanes pounded a Taliban-held valley in what the prime minister called a 'war of the country's survival.'"

FOCUS Obama Set to Revive Military Commissions
Peter Finn, The Washington Post: "The Obama administration is preparing to revive the system of military commissions established at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, under new rules that would offer terrorism suspects greater legal protections, government officials said."

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A voice stilled, and, what we should do

Don Wheeler

Friends and family gather in front of the home of Kathy Curtis and Chuck Leone

The event begins with gentle music, meditation and a poem

The walk begins

We walk to the new river pathway, then its length and back - just as Kathy had so many times.

We lost our dear friend Kathy Curtis to a tragic accident. We'll miss her warmth, her bright smile and her sense of humor (she could be really funny). Having known her quite a while, I feel as though she left a little bit of herself in me - and I'm grateful for that.

This loss we can do nothing about.

We also lost her efforts toward the important things she cared about and worked on. She helped children to get off to a good start - particularly those with disadvantages, worked towards eradicating poverty housing, promoted efforts towards peace and social justice as well as responsible stewardship of our planet. (I'm sure I've missed some other things.) This could be work left undone.

We can do something about this loss.

It seems to me the best way to honor the life of Kathy Curtis is for each us to pick up a small piece of the work she would have been doing, were she still with us. This may mean taking on a new role or project. It might mean saying yes instead of no to new responsiblilities in efforts we're already involved in.

Let's make something positive come of this. Please.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Truthout 5/9

Dean Baker Unemployment Rate Rises to 8.9 Percent
Dean Baker, Truthout: "The unemployment rate rose to 8.9 percent, in spite of the fact that the household survey actually showed an increase in employment of 120,000."

Pakistan: Half a Million Flee Swat Valley
Andrew Buncombe, The Independent: "Up to 500,000 terrified residents of Pakistan's Swat valley have fled or else are desperately trying to leave as the military steps up an operation using fighter jets and helicopter gunships to 'eliminate' Taliban fighters."

White House Aide Resigns Over NYC Flyover
Philip Elliott, The Associated Press: "The White House official who authorized a $328,835 photo-op of an Air Force jet used by the president soaring above New York City resigned under fire Friday as the administration tried to move past the embarrassing incident that sent panicked workers rushing into the streets amid flashbacks of Sept. 11."

Obama Wants Fed to Be Finance Supercop: Sources
Anne Flaherty, The Associated Press: " The Federal Reserve could become the supercop for 'too big to fail' companies capable of causing another financial meltdown under a proposal being seriously considered by the White House."

Short Sales: Banks Blocking Way Out of Foreclosure Crisis
Arthur Delaney and Ryan Grim, Huffington Post: "In a time of collapsing real estate values, where one in five homes are now under water, a short sale is increasingly the only option before foreclosure. It is less damaging to credit scores and spares the homeowner the shame of foreclosure."

Sources: Senators Weigh Three Government Health Plans
Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar, The Associated Press: "Senators are considering three different designs for a new government health insurance plan that middle-income Americans could buy into for the first time, congressional officials said Friday. Officials familiar with the proposals said senators plan to debate them in a closed meeting next week."

Rob Larson The Subprime Court
Rob Larson, Z Magazine: "By now everyone knows the new Supreme Court tilts to the right. Bush's nominees Justice Alito and Chief Justice Roberts lead a conservative five-justice bloc, where reproductive health rights have been cut back and the President's Office of Faith-Based Initiatives keeps getting public money. What's less known is the court's newly expanded function as an institution of corporate power."

Obama to Address Muslim World From Egypt
Anne E. Kornblut, The Washington Post: "President Obama will make his promised speech to the Muslim world from Egypt, a White House official said on Friday."

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GOOD: Swine Flu

Friday, May 8, 2009

Progress report 5/8

Pushing The Peace Process

Earlier this week, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), "the nation's major pro-Israel lobby," held its annual policy conference in Washington, DC. Attended by "more than half the members of the House and Senate," the conference featured major foreign policy speeches by Vice President Biden and Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-MA). Noting America's "commitment to the peace and security of the state of Israel," Biden said that"all of us have obligations to meet, including the Israeli and Palestinian commitments made in the road map." "The Palestinian Authority must combat terror and incitement against Israel," the Vice President said, "but Israel has to work towards a two-state solution. You're not going to like my saying this, but not build more settlements, dismantle existing outposts, and allow the Palestinians freedom of movement based on their first actions." Kerry echoed Biden's themes, arguing that while the Palestinians "must do enormous work to uphold their end of the bargain," "Israel, too, must take hard steps towards the path to peace."

"And nothing will do more to show Israel's commitment to making peace than freezing new settlement activity," Kerry said. Though new Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu "has so far shied away from publicly supporting a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict," the AIPAC conference this week indicated some potential movement toward that position. As the Jewish Telegraphic Agency's Ron Kampeas noted yesterday, "The AIPAC delegates' wish list included endorsements for two congressional letters that unequivocally support a 'viable Palestinian state.'"

"Such an endorsement for the concept by AIPAC is unlikely to have come without some sort of nod from Jerusalem," wrote Kampeas, pointing out that "Netanyahu addressed the conference via satellite and sent some of his top advisers."PROGRESS ON SECURITY IN WEST BANK: In his speech, Biden noted that "the United States and its partners have provided funding and training for a reformed Palestinian security force, which has impressed everyone, including the Israeli security officers with its recent demonstrations of professionalism and effectiveness."

"We are right now seeking funds from Congress to expand this program," said the Vice President. Last week, the State Department released a report on worldwide terrorism that said "the Palestinian Authority's (PA) counterterrorism efforts improved in 2008, with Prime Minister Salam Fayyad's government engaged in efforts to control terrorist groups, particularly Hamas."

"All observers, including Israeli security officials, credited [Palestinian Authority security forces] with significant security improvements across the West Bank," said the report. At the same time, the report noted that the security forces' "ability to counter terrorism was hindered by a lack of resources, unclear chain-of-command, and [Israeli Defense Forces]-imposed restrictions on their movement, equipment, and operations." In March, retired Brigadier General Ilan Paz, the former head of the Israeli Civil Administration in the West Bank, told the Middle East Bulletin (MEB) that while "there is a need" for roadblocks and checkpoints in the West Bank, "changing the existing situation of access and movement in the West Bank is very, very important for Palestinians."

"Therefore, I believe that we have to continue reducing the number of these obstacles," said Paz. Meanwhile, Hamas -- which controls the Gaza Strip -- continues to spar with its rival Fatah over a power-sharing agreement. Attempts to resolve differences between the two factions have failed thus far.


In the same interview with the Middle East Bulletin, Paz called settlements "one of the main challenges affecting any kind of peace agreement in the future." As Kerry explained in his speech at AIPAC, "the fact is that settlements make it more difficult for Israel to protect its citizens."

"New settlements, especially in sensitive areas like E-1, don't just fragment a future Palestinian state, they also fragment what the Israeli Defense Forces must defend. They undercut President Abbas and strengthen Hamas by convincing everyday Palestinians that there is no reward for moderation. The settlements also empower the enemies of peace in the region," said Kerry. During a hearing on rebuilding Gaza last February, Rep. Robert Wexler (D-FL) argued that the continued growth of settlements hurt the prospect of a two-state solution. "The notion that Israel can continue to expand settlements, whether it be through natural growth or otherwise, without diminishing the capacity of a two-state solution, is both unrealistic and, I would respectfully suggest, hypocritical," said Wexler. The commitments made in the road map included taking "all necessary steps to normalize Palestinian life." But as Robert Drumheller, the vice president of structured finance for the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, told MEB in April 2009, the "high number of checkpoints" is a detriment toward improving the Palestinian economy. "Clearly, if you can minimize the checkpoints or at least develop some solution to move commercial goods in an expedited manner through checkpoints, that would make a big difference," said Drumheller.


In an interview with the MEB, Israeli President Shimon Peres said that he believed "it is worthwhile to leverage the positive spirit of the Arab Peace Initiative to assist in a regional peace process." At the same time, the new Israeli government, led by Netanyahu, "is seeking to reorient the country's foreign policy" to focus on "the rising hegemonic appetite of Iran" rather than the peace process. In contrast, "President Obama views the region as a whole, and trying to isolate each problem does not reflect reality," a senior U.S. official told the New York Times. "It will be a lot easier to build a coalition to deal with Iran if the peace process is moving forward."Daniel Kurtzer, the former U.S. ambassador to Israel and Egypt told the Council on Foreign Relations recently that "these are complex interwoven issues which have to be dealt with in a rather nuanced but very aggressive manner. And in the first instance, the diplomatic engagement on both tracks -- the Iranian and the Arab-Israeli peace process issues -- really is called for." American officials believe that "the opportunity for a regional alliance against Iranian influence is great," but they argue that in order for "Arab leaders to work alongside Israel on this, even quietly, requires demonstrable Israeli movement on ending its occupation of the West Bank by freezing or reducing settlements and handing over more power to the Palestinians." The desire for Arab leaders to engage constructively with Israel, as Center for American Progress Senior Fellow Brian Katulis has noted, means that the Obama administration "will need to manage the linkages between these two challenges carefully."

"As the international community works to ratchet up the pressure on Iran and increase the costs on the regime for its nuclear program, it is not inconceivable that Iran would seek to distract and act on other fronts -- like trying to scuttle any efforts to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict and further undermine the situation," Katulis wrote last November.

FP morning brief 5/8

Top Story

After concluding their "stress tests" of the health of the nations banks, U.S. regulators yesterday ordered 10 of them to raise $75 million in equity as a buffer in case of further economic downturn. In a worst case scenario, the Fed predicted that losses at the country's 19 largest banks could reach $599 billion in 2010.

The banks have until June 8 to present regulators with a plan for raising the capital. The stress test results may also force the government to take a larger stake in several regional banks.

The test results was less dire than many analysts had feared, leading to some optimism that the worst is over for the U.S. banking sector. The stock market rose with the news.

But while the tests may have stopped the bleeding, the rigor of the Fed's confidence-boosting measure has been questioned and many continue to wonder what will happen if the Fed's worst case scenario proves hopelessly optimistic.

Local residents say that 147 people were killed in U.S. airstrikes in Afghanistan's Farah Province earlier this week. The U.S. military has admitted it caused at least some of the deaths.
Pakistan's humanitarian crisis continues to worsen as nearly half a million people have fled the fighting in Pakistan's Swat Valley.
China's vice premier said he saw the financial crisis spreading and the world economy worsening before it gets better.

Georgian government officials have agreed to meet opposition leaders after month-long demonstrations in Tblisi turned violent.
A right-wing Croatian MP was sentenced to 10 years in prison for war crimes.
The EU is holding a summit in Prague with Middle Eastern and Central Asian countries to restart work on the stalled Nabucco pipeline project.

Middle East
The Pope left for his first trip to the Middle East, with planned stops in Jordan, Israel and the West Bank.
Israel's government is debating withdrawal from a disputed village on the Lebanese border.
The former head of Iran's revolutionary guards has registered as a presidential candidate.

At least 12 were killed in fighting between Shabaab rebels and pro-government militias in Somalia.
Sudan's government says it will open the country up to more international aid groups.
Preparations are under way in South Africa for Jacob Zuma's inauguration tomorrow.

Over 50,000 people have been left homeless by flooding in Brazil.
Venezuela's Hugo Chavez announced plans to further nationalize the country's oil industry.
The handling of the flu crisis has emerged as an issue in Mexico's election season.

Truthout 5/8

David Bacon US Courts - Enemies of Education?
David Bacon, Truthout: "Is there a 'constitutional right to education'? Legal scholar and civil rights advocate Erwin Chemerinsky says there is. 'There has to be a right to education in the Constitution,' he declares, 'and equal protection is a Constitutional imperative.'"

Pakistani Forces Bomb Taliban in Swat
Junaid Khan, Reuters: "Pakistani planes bombed the Taliban in their Swat bastion on Friday, after the prime minister ordered elimination of 'militants and terrorists' and on the heels of a commitment to Washington to fight extremists."

Unemployment Rate Rises as Pace of Layoffs Slows
Annys Shin, The Washington Post: "The ranks of Americans looking for work continued to swell in April, as the nation's unemployment rate rose to 8.9 percent, the Labor Department reported this morning."

J. Sri Raman "Big Brother" Regional Roles for India?
J. Sri Raman, Truthout: "Two new challenges on the foreign policy front await the newly elected government of India to be installed soon - in heaven-turned-hell Sri Lanka and the Himalayan state of Nepal. How India meets the challenges will depend on how its people vote in the five-phase, month-long general elections to end on May 13."

Psychologists' Emails Stir Interrogation Issue
Farah Stockman, The Boston Globe: "Newly public e-mails between psychologists involved in the Bush administration's controversial detention program have fueled a fierce debate over whether mental-health professionals should give advice on warfare, and whether the nation's largest psychology association tacitly blessed the government's use of abusive interrogations involving waterboarding and sleep deprivation."

Philippe Boulet-Gercourt American Bankers Have Learned Nothing!
Philippe Boulet-Gercourt, Le Nouvel Observateur: "At the first signs of a lull in the crisis, they have but one idea in their heads: get rid of the government's trusteeship as fast as possible so they can pay themselves allowances and bonuses as they did before. The power struggle with the Obama administration has begun."

Matt Renner "They Frankly Own the Place"
Matt Renner, Truthout: "What happens when a powerful senator goes up against an industry which has received roughly four trillion dollars in taxpayer support to stave off complete collapse? The senator loses. Or at least that seems to be what happened last week when an amendment, which would have given bankruptcy judges the ability to adjust or 'cram down' mortgages to help borrowers avoid foreclosure, was not able to garner the 60 votes needed to overcome a self-imposed invisible filibuster, which continues to haunt the Democrats in the Senate."

Ten Banks Fail "Stress Tests"
Craig Torres, Bloomberg: "The Federal Reserve determined that 10 US banks need to raise a total of $74.6 billion in capital, concluding its unprecedented probe of the health of the nation's 19 largest lenders. The results showed that losses at the banks under 'more adverse' economic conditions than most economists anticipate could total $599.2 billion over two years. Mortgage losses present the biggest part of the risk, at $185.5 billion. Trading accounts were the second-largest vulnerability, with potential losses of $99.3 billion."

Obama Proposes End to Oil, Gas Industry Tax Breaks
H. Josef Hebert, The Associated Press: "President Barack Obama wants to end $26 billion in oil and gas industry tax breaks, calling them 'unjustifiable loopholes' in the tax system that other companies do not get. Obama's proposed fiscal 2010 budget, details of which were released Thursday, also more clearly spells out his intention to shut down a proposed nuclear waste dump at Yucca Mountain in Nevada and calls for ending a government subsidy that helps utilities license and plan for new nuclear power plants."

Walter Brasch People. People Who Don't Need People
Walter Brasch, Truthout: "From a pool of about seven billion, those hard-working geniuses at People magazine have managed to find the 100 most beautiful people in the whole wide world. And - get ready for the surprise - almost all of those beautiful people are rich American celebrities. Since 1989, People's editors believed they were given the divine right to anoint who they believe are the most beautiful people on the planet. The ethnocentric celebrity-fawning People editors are so secure in their self-imposed knowledge that they don't even reveal the criteria they used to make their determinations. Not even an 'editor's note,' common in most magazines."

Obama Budget Would Kill Abstinence-Only Funding
Jonathan Allen, Congressional Quarterly: "President Obama plans to eliminate funding for abstinence-only sex education programs and replace it with money for more inclusive forms of teen pregnancy prevention. The predictable and potentially controversial reversal of Bush administration policy on abstinence was announced with little fanfare in the 1,380-page budget appendix released by the White House on Thursday morning."

Maryland Becomes First State to Protect Homeless People Under Hate-Crimes Law
Ben Nuckols, The Associated Press: "Maryland granted a new safeguard to its most downtrodden residents Thursday, becoming the first state in the nation to extend hate-crimes protection to homeless people. Lawmakers point to cases like the one in south Baltimore in 2001, where a group of young men embarked on what a judge later described as a 'systematic cleansing' of homeless men in their neighborhood. Three victims were beaten to death and others were forced to relocate. Three men went to prison for the crime one of them dubbed 'bum stomping.'"

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Sressing the positive

New York Times

Hooray! The banking crisis is over! Let’s party! O.K., maybe not.

In the end, the actual release of the much-hyped bank stress tests on Thursday came as an anticlimax. Everyone knew more or less what the results would say: some big players need to raise more capital, but over all, the kids, I mean the banks, are all right. Even before the results were announced, Tim Geithner, the Treasury secretary, told us they would be “reassuring.”

But whether you actually should feel reassured depends on who you are: a banker, or someone trying to make a living in another profession.

I won’t weigh in on the debate over the quality of the stress tests themselves, except to repeat what many observers have noted: the regulators didn’t have the resources to make a really careful assessment of the banks’ assets, and in any case they allowed the banks to bargain over what the results would say. A rigorous audit it wasn’t.

But focusing on the process can distract from the larger picture. What we’re really seeing here is a decision on the part of President Obama and his officials to muddle through the financial crisis, hoping that the banks can earn their way back to health.

It’s a strategy that might work. After all, right now the banks are lending at high interest rates, while paying virtually no interest on their (government-insured) deposits. Given enough time, the banks could be flush again.

But it’s important to see the strategy for what it is and to understand the risks.

Remember, it was the markets, not the government, that in effect declared the banks undercapitalized. And while market indicators of distrust in banks, like the interest rates on bank bonds and the prices of bank credit-default swaps, have fallen somewhat in recent weeks, they’re still at levels that would have been considered inconceivable before the crisis.

As a result, the odds are that the financial system won’t function normally until the crucial players get much stronger financially than they are now. Yet the Obama administration has decided not to do anything dramatic to recapitalize the banks.

Can the economy recover even with weak banks? Maybe. Banks won’t be expanding credit any time soon, but government-backed lenders have stepped in to fill the gap. The Federal Reserve has expanded its credit by $1.2 trillion over the past year; Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have become the principal sources of mortgage finance. So maybe we can let the economy fix the banks instead of the other way around.

But there are many things that could go wrong.

It’s not at all clear that credit from the Fed, Fannie and Freddie can fully substitute for a healthy banking system. If it can’t, the muddle-through strategy will turn out to be a recipe for a prolonged, Japanese-style era of high unemployment and weak growth.

Actually, a multiyear period of economic weakness looks likely in any case. The economy may no longer be plunging, but it’s very hard to see where a real recovery will come from. And if the economy does stay depressed for a long time, banks will be in much bigger trouble than the stress tests — which looked only two years ahead — are able to capture.

Finally, given the possibility of bigger losses in the future, the government’s evident unwillingness either to own banks or let them fail creates a heads-they-win-tails-we-lose situation. If all goes well, the bankers will win big. If the current strategy fails, taxpayers will be forced to pay for another bailout.

But what worries me most about the way policy is going isn’t any of these things. It’s my sense that the prospects for fundamental financial reform are fading.

Does anyone remember the case of H. Rodgin Cohen, a prominent New York lawyer whom The Times has described as a “Wall Street éminence grise”? He briefly made the news in March when he reportedly withdrew his name after being considered a top pick for deputy Treasury secretary.

Well, earlier this week, Mr. Cohen told an audience that the future of Wall Street won’t be very different from its recent past, declaring, “I am far from convinced there was something inherently wrong with the system.” Hey, that little thing about causing the worst global slump since the Great Depression? Never mind.

Those are frightening words. They suggest that while the Federal Reserve and the Obama administration continue to insist that they’re committed to tighter financial regulation and greater oversight, Wall Street insiders are taking the mildness of bank policy so far as a sign that they’ll soon be able to go back to playing the same games as before.

So as I said, while bankers may find the results of the stress tests “reassuring,” the rest of us should be very, very afraid.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

FP morning brief

Af-Pak frustration
After two days of talks between U.S. President Barack Obama, Pakistani President Asif Ali Zaradari, and Afgan President Hamid Karzai, the three leaders committed to a joint fight against the Taliban, but there was little discussion of specifics. The United States' main demand of Pakistan -- that the country should move troops from its Eastern border with India to fight the Taliban in the west -- remains unmet.

Meanwhile, the Red Cross has warned of a humanitarian crisis in Pakistan where more than 500,000 people may have been displaced by the fighting in the areas of Swat, Dir, and Buner. Pakistani jets are continuing airstrikes on Swat today.

Captured video footage shows Tamil Tiger rebels forcing civilians to help their war effort.
India has entered its fourth round of elections.
Thousands of Maoist protesters clashed with police in Nepal as the country's political deadlock continued.

Middle East
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas plans to ask his prime minister to form a new government this week.
The Baghdad operations contract for the company formerly known as Blackwater has expired.
Arab foreign ministers are meeting in Cairo to discuss a joint strategy for the Mideast peace process.

Brazil is struggling to get aid to areas affected by floods. 200,000 have been forced to flee.
Foreign bidders are lining up to buy off parts of struggling General Motors.
With swine flu declining, students are beginning to return to schools in Mexico.

Weeks of peaceful protesting turned to rioting in Georgia yesterday, forcing the government to release three protesters in order to defuse tensions
The Basque region's first non-nationalist president was sworn in.
A surge in orders has boosted Germany's struggling manufacturing sector.

Jacob Zuma was elected president by South Africa's parliament.
Congo passed a law granting amnesty to militias in the country's war-torn east.
The manslaughter conviction of a prominent white farmer has stirred racial tensions in Kenya.

Truthout 5/7

Robert Naiman Stopping Pakistan Drone Strikes
\Robert Naiman, Truthout: "Until this week, it seemed like the conventional wisdom in Washington was that stopping US drone strikes in Pakistan was outside the bounds of respectable discussion. That just changed. Or it should have."

UN Warns of Refugee Crisis as Thousands Flee Fighting in Swat Valley
Declan Walsh and Peter Walker, The Guardian UK: "Officials and aid workers in Pakistan were today facing a fresh influx of people fleeing fighting between government forces and Taliban militants in the Swat valley as the UN warned that the situation was fast becoming a crisis."

Robert Borosage Corruption Is Dangerous to Your Health
Robert Borosage, The Campaign For America's Future: "This isn't about America being a 'center-right country,' the myth that pundits still peddle about the American people. This is about Congress being bought and sold, pure and simple. Each night, Washington slurps on political fund-raisers. Each day, the deals get cut; the favors get done. Now with Republicans lining up lemming-like to obstruct anything Obama, Congress can be bought on the cheap. The lobbies have only to enlist (suborn, bribe, seduce, finance) a few of what the press insists on describing as 'moderate Democrats' in the Senate to stop any reform they don't like."

One Aim of US-Afghan-Pakistani Summit: A Parade for Aid
Howard LaFranchi, The Christian Science Monitor: "The Washington visit of Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari is billed as a trilateral summit to advance the Obama administration’s strategy for battling the region’s Islamist extremists. But all three leaders also have another objective: convincing Congress to open up the purse strings."

Obama Budget Would Cut or End 121 Government Programs
David Lightman, McClatchy Newspapers: "President Barack Obama plans to unveil Thursday a fiscal 2010 budget full of details on his plans to save as much as $17 billion by cutting - and in some cases ending - 121 government programs." Mexico: "

They Kill Our Trees So We'll Grow Their Drugs."
Yemeli Ortega, Rue89: "The region with the richest biodiversity in North America is located in Mexico's far north, at 1,420 meters of elevation, in the heart of the Western Sierra Madre. These lands, rugged and inhospitable, have been inhabited by Tarahumara, 'the light-footed people,' for close to 2,000 years. Today, this peaceful people is threatened by narco-trafficking which threatens the very essence of their culture and the equilibrium of their environment.

Dahr Jamail Laying the Groundwork for Violence
Dahr Jamail, Truthout: "Throughout history, those who collaborate with the occupiers of their country tend to end up hung out to dry, or dead. The occupation of Iraq is no different - collaboration and the poison fruits that come of it are on full display for the history books once again. Only now, the rapidity with which this is happening is staggering."

Obama Expresses Regret for Afghan Civilian Deaths
Robert Burns, The Associated Press: "Flanked by the leaders of Afghanistan and Pakistan, President Barack Obama expressed deep US regret Wednesday for civilian casualties in a deadly incident this week in western Afghanistan, promising 'every effort' to avoid recurrences in the war against a rising Taliban insurgency. Obama had a more upbeat and determined tone as he lauded 'unprecedented cooperation' between the two neighbors in fighting Taliban and other extremist threats. But he cautioned that success will not come quickly."

Maine Becomes Fifth State to Allow Same-Sex Marriage
Glenn Adams, The Associated Press: "Maine's governor signed a freshly passed bill Wednesday approving gay marriage, making it the fifth state to approve the practice and moving New England closer to allowing it throughout the region. New Hampshire legislators were also poised to send a gay marriage bill to their governor, who hasn't indicated whether he'll sign it. If he does, Rhode Island would be the region's sole holdout."

Banks That Received Federal Cash Enabled Subprime Lenders, Report Finds
Dina ElBoghdady, The Washington Post: "Many of the banks receiving billions of dollars in federal aid owned or bankrolled subprime lenders that directly contributed to the unraveling of the global economy, according to a new report. While many of these banks have portrayed themselves as unwitting victims of the subprime mortgage meltdown, they also enabled that kind of lending because it was lucrative, according to the nonprofit Center for Public Integrity."

Party Switch Costs Specter His Seniority on Senate Committees
Paul Kane, The Washington Post: "The Senate last night stripped Sen. Arlen Specter (Pa.) of his seniority on committees, a week after the 29-year veteran of the chamber quit the Republican Party to join the Democrats. In announcing his move across the aisle last week, Specter asserted that Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) had assured him he would retain his seniority in the Senate and on the five committees on which he serves. Specter's tenure ranked him ahead of all but seven Democrats. Instead, though, on a voice vote last night, the Senate approved a resolution that made Specter the most junior Democrat on four committees for the remainder of this Congress."

Corporate Friendly Democrats Press Pelosi to Shelve Climate Bill
Mike Soraghan, The Hill: "Democratic centrists are pressing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to set aside a flagging climate change bill to focus on what they think is a more achievable goal: overhauling the nation's healthcare system. But those close to Pelosi (D-Calif.) say she is charging forward on cap-and-trade legislation, despite the potential defections of Democrats who represent states with industries that would be adversely affected by the bill. Pelosi views the bill's troubles as predictable and solvable aspects of the legislative process."

Browse our continually updating front page at

On Judicial Empathy, Or, Random Roadblocks Aren't Annoying. Really.

So a Supreme Court justice that hardly anyone noticed has announced his retirement and all of a sudden the lips of The Experts are all a-flutter with the word “Empathy”.

President Obama reports he wants his nominee to have it; and Republicans are convinced that the word is a secret code for something that eventually ends in the death of free speech, massive roundups of guns by the Secret United Nations World Police, and the Internment Of All The White People In Reeducation Camps Run By Americorps And ACORN And Gay People Who Want To Marry And Are Funded By George Soros.

It is suggested that Evil Activist Judges will trample the Constitution as they create Law out of whole cloth; and that only those who interpret the Constitution just as it was written can bring the proper attitude to the Court.

It sounds like somebody needs to come along and provide a couple of cogent thoughts about this whole empathy thing...and lucky for you, Gentle Reader, we have before us today specific examples of how the quality of empathy can express itself in Court Doctrine.

So right off the bat, a few words about how cases are interpreted by the Supreme Court are in order:

A lot of the talking heads on the tee-vee frame the Court’s job as one of basically hearing the arguments in a case, reviewing the record, and deciding whether some action of Government violates someone’s constitutional rights.

That framing ignores two huge elements of the Court’s job: resolving the conflicts between the protected rights of two groups of private citizens (for example, does the right of all citizens to have access to the “public square” for purposes of political campaigning override the right of shopping center owners to control who has access to their private property?)...and creating rulings that attempt to discern what the mood or motivation of the public might be regarding aspects of potential Court Doctrine (for example, does a particular item of pornography violate “prevailing community standards”?).

The obvious example of how all this can play out might be found in the way the Court saw things when they ruled in Plessy v Ferguson, followed later by Brown v Board of Education; in which the Supremes first ruled that “separate but equal” was just fine and then ruled it wasn’t fine after all. Lots of others will examine these cases in detail, so, instead, we shall take a different tack.

The Fourth Amendment, in requiring that searches not be “unreasonable” and that warrants be justified by probable cause, guaranteed that Justices would forever be required to interpret without clear definitions to guide them.

Let’s now examine how “empathy’ has affected those interpretations.

If you are driving north from San Diego to Los Angeles...and you’re not a’ll be inspected by Customs and Border Protection officers manning an immigration checkpoint on I-5. It’s possible that you might be directed to a “secondary inspection” area for a search of the contents of your vehicle, based on nothing more than the hunch of the Inspector on duty.

In 1975, the Court, showing one kind of empathy, unanimously ruled that:

“The Fourth Amendment [is] held to forbid Border Patrol officers, in the absence of consent or probable cause, to search private vehicles at traffic checkpoints removed from the border and its functional equivalents...”

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

However, Chief Justice Burger, who generally joined in the concurrences of the other Justices, had his own “empathetic” point of view:

“Like MR. JUSTICE WHITE, I can, at most, do no more than concur in the judgment. As the Fourth Amendment now has been interpreted by the Court, it seems that the Immigration and Naturalization Service is powerless to stop the tide of illegal aliens -- and dangerous drugs -- that daily and freely crosses our 2,000-mile southern boundary....Perhaps these decisions will be seen in perspective as but another example of a society seemingly impotent to deal with massive lawlessness.”

Amado Martinez-Fuerte, who had been arrested at the same checkpoint, probably thought that the Court would continue to see things as they had in 1975...but by 1976, the Court no longer felt as empathetic towards the concept that consent or probable cause...or even reasonable suspicion...was required for vehicle searches as they had the year before:

“To require that such stops always be based on reasonable suspicion would be impractical because the flow of traffic tends to be too heavy to allow the particularized study of a given car necessary to identify it as a possible carrier of illegal aliens.”

--United States v. Martinez-Fuerte, 428 U.S. 543

This ruling is particularly significant in that it allowed the checkpoint to operate under a general “warrant of inspection” (a device usually used only to allow building inspections and the like), and for the evidence obtained there to be admissible against individuals in criminal trials.

However, the plain text of the Fourth Amendment seems to take a different view, stating that:

“ Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

By this time, Thurgood Marshall had left the Court (his empathy demonstrated perhaps best by the fact that in 1954 he had argued—and won--Brown v Board of Education before the Supreme Court); and the new Court ruled 7-2 in favor of the Government’s position in Martinez-Fuerte.

You’ll recall that we discussed the fact that the Court often has to determine the public mood. Here’s a very specific example:

The Court, in deciding that the immigration checkpoint was not an “unreasonable” search, felt no empathy toward the idea that being stopped every day would bother any commuter who was legally using I-5 several days a week, nor to the concept that the delay of legal commercial traffic would be bothersome. Their sole concern was that the motorist would view the checkpoint as “legitimate”:

“Routine checkpoint stops do not intrude similarly on the motoring public. First, the potential interference with legitimate traffic is minimal. Motorists using these highways are not taken by surprise as they know, or may obtain knowledge of, the location of the checkpoints and will not be stopped elsewhere....The regularized manner in which established checkpoints are operated is visible evidence, reassuring to law-abiding motorists, that the stops are duly authorized and believed to serve the public interest. The location of a fixed checkpoint is not chosen by officers in the field, but by officials responsible for making overall decisions as to the most effective allocation of limited enforcement resources. We may assume that such officials will be unlikely to locate a checkpoint where it bears arbitrarily or oppressively on motorists as a class. And since field officers may stop only those cars passing the checkpoint, there is less room for abusive or harassing stops of individuals than there was in the case of roving-patrol stops...”

(A quick Fun Fact: the location of the checkpoint near San Clemente appears to have been chosen specifically because it allows the stopping of virtually all traffic between San Diego and Los Angeles. You might think setting up a checkpoint to stop all traffic is a bit arbitrary...and I would agree with you. The Court, obviously, did not.)

The ruling in Martinez-Fuerte also does not display empathy with the Defendants’ assertions that being ordered to “Secondary Inspection” is intrusive...even if there for no reason at all to suspect the vehicle--or even if the reason for the stop is entirely race-based:

“The defendants arrested at the San Clemente checkpoint suggest that its operation involves a significant extra element of intrusiveness in that only a small percentage of cars are referred to the secondary inspection area, thereby "stigmatizing" those diverted and reducing the assurances provided by equal treatment of all motorists. We think defendants overstate the consequences. Referrals are made for the sole purpose of conducting a routine and limited inquiry into residence status that cannot feasibly be made of every motorist where the traffic is heavy. The objective intrusion of the stop and inquiry thus remains minimal. Selective referral may involve some annoyance, but it remains true that the stops should not be frightening or offensive because of their public and relatively routine nature. Moreover, selective referrals - rather than questioning the occupants of every car - tend to advance some Fourth Amendment interests by minimizing the intrusion on the general motoring public...

... Thus, even if it be assumed that such referrals are made largely on the basis of apparent Mexican ancestry...we perceive no constitutional violation...As the intrusion here is sufficiently minimal that no particularized reason need exist to justify it, we think it follows that the Border Patrol...officers must have wide discretion in selecting the motorists to be diverted for the brief questioning involved.”

And with that (and a few cases to supplement the concept), the idea that the police require an actual reason to stop people and then conduct searches and seizures has gradually faded into a quaint anachronism of history.

So where does all this leave us?

Well, how about this: it leaves us more aware of the fact that there are rarely “simple” interpretations of the Constitution. Rather than just relying on the plain text of the document, the Justices, using the sense of empathy they’ve developed throughout their lives, interpret and create new law in each and every case.

It should leave us more aware that the arguments made by those who support “strict constructionists” for the Court reflect less of a desire to remain pure to the principles of the Constitution, and more a desire to advance very specific, and often radical, policies that favor Government over the People who are supposed to be its master—policies that are often based more on a sense of fear than an appreciation of the strength of the system their new policies seek to “save”.

Mr. Obama is absolutely correct in seeking a Justice with “empathy”.

Let’s just hope the one he picks has the kind of empathy that, for a change, advances civil liberties, instead of sending them to the sort of “Guantanamo Chainsaw Massacre” that Justice Scalia finds so in keeping with his sense of empathy.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

FP morning brief 5/6

Top Story

President Obama will meet with Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari and Afghan President Hamid Karzai in Washington today to try to urge the two governments to work together to combat Islamist militants, offering billions of dollars in aid in return.

Zardari met with the House Foreign Affairs Committee yesterday in an attempt to reassure them about his country's efforts to fight the Taliban, but most lawmakers apparently left the meeting unconvinced of Pakistan's commitment.

Obama also seems to be taking a more skeptical approach to Karzai than his predecessor.

Meanwhile, Pakistan is preparing a new offensive against the Taliban in the contested Swat valley. The government claims to have killed 35 militants today.

In Afghanistan, the Red Cross is now saying that U.S. airstrikes yesterday killed dozens of civilians, including children. If the reports are confirmed, the incident has the potential to overshadow the talks in Washington.

Nepal's Maoists have taken to the street in order to prevent other parties from forming a government.
U.S. envoy Stephen Bosworth is traveling to Asia to attempt to restart stalled North Korea nuclear talks.
India's top suspect in the Mumbai attacks has pleaded not guilty to all charges.

Middle East
A car bomb exploded at a fruit and vegetable market in central Baghdad.
Tony Blair told reporters that the U.S. will roll out a new Middle East peace plan within weeks.
U.S. journalist Roxana Saberi, who is imprisoned in Iran, ended her hunger strike for health reasons.

South Africa's parliament is set to elect Jacob Zuma president today.
A French magistrate has opened a corruption investigation into three African heads of state.
The 18 Zimbabwean opposition activists who were jailed yesterday will be released on bail.

Russia is expelling two Canadian diplomats in retaliation for the expulsion of two Russians from NATO. NATO is also conducting miltary exercises in Georgia today under heavy criticism from Russia.
The Czech Republic's senate will likely vote to ratify the EU's controversial Lisbon treaty today.
New Spanish government figures show unemployment rising less slowly and consumer confidence recovering.

The U.S. Treasury Department is planning to require that banks demonstrate they can survive without taxpayer aid before exiting the TARP program.
Venezuela's National Assembly gave preliminary approval to a law that would make it easier for the government to seize control of oil contracts.
The U.S. confirmed a second death from swine flu, but authorities now say the disease is no worse than regular seasonal flu and people should act accordingly.

-By Joshua Keating

Truthout 5/6

Jason Leopold DOJ Report Reaches "Damning" Conclusions for Bybee and Yoo
Jason Leopold, Truthout: "An ethics report prepared by H. Marshall Jarrett, head of the Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR), reached 'damning' conclusions about numerous cases of 'misconduct' in the advice attorneys John Yoo and Jay Bybee provided the Bush administration, according to legal and Congressional sources familiar with the findings and news reports. The report, which also may be critical of legal opinions authorizing domestic surveillance activities, recommends state bar associations conduct a review of Yoo and Bybee's legal work to determine whether they should face disciplinary action, including disbarment."

Pressure Mounts on Bank of America and Citibank
Financial Times: "US regulators are moving to impose tough conditions on banks that want to repay federal bail-out funds, requiring them to prove that they can issue debt without government insurance. This new requirement, which was confirmed by a senior US official, could deter some banks from trying to repay funds early. Banks have issued more than $300bn of debt insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. Earlier, a second senior US official told the Financial Times that banks wishing to repay government funds may also be required to demonstrate that they can raise equity capital from private investors."

Robert Scheer Cashing In on "Government Sachs"
Robert Scheer, Truthdig: "We are so inured to tales of business corruption that even a devastating expose in The Wall Street Journal no longer shocks us. The fact that the chairman of the New York Federal Reserve Bank made millions off his secret purchase of Goldman Sachs stock, 'in violation of Federal Reserve policy,' as the WSJ put it, at a time when the N.Y. Fed was ostensibly overseeing the antics of the Wall Street firm, has barely registered a blip of outrage. When N.Y. Fed Chairman Stephen Friedman bought stock in the company that he once headed, and where he still serves as a director, he was already in violation of Federal Reserve policy and was hoping for a waiver to permit him to hold his existing multi-million-dollar stock stash and to remain on the Goldman board."

Economic Casualties Pile Into Tent Cities
Emily Bazar, USA Today: "Tent cities and shelters from California to Massachusetts report growing demand from the newly homeless. The National Alliance to End Homelessness predicted in January that the recession would force 1.5 million more people into homelessness over the next two years. Already, 'tens of thousands' have lost their homes, Alliance President Nan Roman says. The $1.5 billion in new federal stimulus funds for homelessness prevention will help people pay rent, utility bills, moving costs or security deposits, she says, but it won't be enough."

Katrina Vanden Heuvel Springsteen to Seeger: "You Outlasted the Bastards"
Katrina Vanden Heuvel, The Nation: "'You outlasted the bastards, man,' Bruce Springsteen told the roaring crowd. I think that was my favorite line at the rollicking birthday concert celebrating Pete Seeger's 90th! There were other uplifting, astonishing moments Sunday night at Madison Square Garden, at a five-hour concert which Seeger only OK'd because it raised much-needed funds for his Clearwater project--a non profit organization which the oft-maligned bard started in 1969 to clean up his beloved, polluted Hudson River. Fifteen thousand people, of all ages, (okay, median age was probably 55) danced, clapped and sang along as Seeger did a soaring version of 'Amazing Grace' and the saintly looking Joan Baez sang 'Where Have All the Flowers Gone.'"

Jean-Claude Hazera The Phoney Epidemic
Jean-Claude Hazera, Les Echos, compares the upcoming months in the current war on the A1N1 virus to the so-called "phoney war" that occurred between the Franco-British declaration of war on September 3, 1939, and the German invasion of May 10, 1940.

Matt Renner My Interview With Economist James K. Galbraith
Matt Renner, Truthout: "Economists go to work every day at universities, financial institutions, think tanks and government offices prepared for battle. They fight using historical models, statistics, public statements and complex computer algorithms. Their war is the war; they fight to influence world leaders who command the course of history. This war remains somewhat hidden until catastrophe strikes, collapse is imminent and the economists are wheeled out to explain what happened."

Thousands Flee Pakistan Valley as Truce Crumbles
Riaz Khan and Ashraf Khan, The Associated Press: "Black-turbaned Taliban militants seized government buildings, laid mines and fought security forces Tuesday in the Swat Valley, as fear of a major operation led thousands to pack their belongings on their heads and backs, cram aboard buses and flee the northwestern region. The collapse of a 3-month-old truce with the Taliban means Pakistan will now have to fight to regain control of the Swat Valley, testing the ability of its stretched military and the resolve of civilian leaders who until recently were insisting the insurgents could be partners in peace. The government feared the refugee exodus could reach 500,000."

Obama Prepares to Meet With Leaders of Afghanistan, Pakistan
Paul Richter and Christi Parsons, The Los Angeles Times: "President Obama begins two days of talks Wednesday with the leaders of Pakistan and Afghanistan to hastily overhaul a painstakingly developed security strategy that was unveiled only five weeks ago but is already badly outdated. The three countries spent months developing the plan to combat an insurgency centered in eastern Afghanistan, near the Pakistani border. But they are being forced to switch focus because of growing militant activity in Pakistan that is emerging as Obama's first major foreign policy crisis."

Democrats Nix Money to Close Guantanamo, Say Plan Needed First
CNN: "House Democrats told the president Monday he won't be getting money to close the military detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, until he has a 'concrete program' for shutting it down and moving its prisoners. The $80 million will be dropped from President Obama's supplemental request for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, House Appropriations Committee Chairman Rep. David Obey told reporters."

A.I.G. Bonuses Four Times Higher
Eamon Javers, The Politico: "The 2008 AIG bonus pool just keeps getting larger and larger. In a response to detailed questions from Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), the company has offered a third assessment of exactly how much it paid out in bonuses last year. And the new number, offered in a document submitted to Cummings on May 1, is the highest figure the company has disclosed to date. AIG now says it paid out more than $454 million in bonuses to its employees for work performed in 2008. That is nearly four times more than the company revealed in late March."

Representative Waxman Hits Back on Climate Change
Sam Youngman and Mike Sorghan, The Hill: "Rep. Henry Waxman, fresh out of a White House meeting with President Obama on Tuesday, pushed back against those who have suggested climate change legislation might need to be put on the backburner. Waxman (D-Calif.) said his Energy and Commerce Committee expects to mark up a climate change bill by the Memorial Day recess and present a bill for Obama’s signature by the end of the year. He also said Obama is fully supportive of that timetable."

Browse our continually updating front page at

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Truthout 5/5

Steve Weissman Obama Faces Israel's Angst
Steve Weissman, Truthout: "'Could the Taliban get the bomb before Iran does?' read the headline in my favorite Israeli newspaper, Haaretz. The columnist, Bradley Burston, was joining Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in thinking the unthinkable, that the Taliban in Pakistan might soon have their hands on what the country's former President Zulfikar Ali Bhutto called his Islamic Bomb."

Benjamin Dangl Paraguay: Protests and Rubber Bullets Greet Return of Dictatorship Criminal
Benjamin Dangl, Truthout: "Workers and activists gathered in the central plaza of Asunción, Paraguay, on May 1 to commemorate International Workers Day. Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo marked the day by raising the minimum wage by 5 percent, half of what many of the unions present were demanding. But another piece of news set the tone for this annual gathering: the return to Paraguay of an ex-minister from the dictatorship who orchestrated the murder and torture of thousands of political dissidents."

Pakistani Army Flattening Villages as It Battles Taliban
Saeed Shah, McClatchy Newspapers: "The Pakistani army's assault against Islamic militants in Buner, in northwest Pakistan, is flattening villages, killing civilians and sending thousands of farmers and villagers fleeing from their homes, residents escaping the fighting said Monday."

DC Gay Marriage Measure Set for Mayor's Signature
Tim Craig, The Washington Post: "An overwhelming majority on the D.C. Council voted today to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states, sending the District deeper into the national debate and galvanizing supporters on both sides of the issue."

Nathalie Collard Inspiring Michelle
Nathalie Collard, La Presse: "In a very short time, Michelle Obama has succeeded in transforming a function that could have easily been limited to the formal role defined by protocol, accompanied by a few charitable works and a heightened interest in the color of the Blue Room drapes, into a more meaningful role in the eyes of the American people."

Camillo "Mac" Bica Deadly Games
Camillo "Mac" Bica, Truthout: "For several years now, the video game America's Army has ranked among the top ten online action games and has attracted more than nine million players who have participated in more than 380 million virtual 'missions' from basic training to fighting the 'War on Terrorism.' In recent years, America's Army has improved significantly, becoming even more sophisticated and desirable and expanding its application to console versions for Xbox and Xbox 360. Unless one is naive enough to believe that the Army has invested some $8 million to develop and merchandise this very violent video game for the entertainment and education of our young people, it is clear that the military has realized the value and effectiveness of video games in enticing young men and women to enlist."

Obama Boosting Taxes on Multinational Corporations
Sam Youngman and Walter Alarkon, The Hill: "In a move sure to send shivers down the spines of executives of multinational corporations, President Obama announced plans Monday to close tax havens and eliminate some tax incentives for the companies that will essentially amount to billions of dollars in new taxes. The president and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, as part of their plan to revamp international tax laws, are planning to reform deferral rules, which would raise taxes for US multinationals, raising taxes on international businesses partly in an effort to reach the $210 billion his budget expects to take over the next decade."

White House Tax Proposals "Controversial," Senator Baucus Says
Martin Vaughan, Dow Jones Newswires: "Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., said President Barack Obama's proposals to ratchet up taxes on the foreign profits of US firms are 'controversial' and may not be enacted this year. 'We want to make sure the playing field is level so our American companies are able to compete,' Baucus told reporters before Senate votes Monday evening. He said White House proposals to crack down on offshore tax evasion by individuals may well move more quickly, however."

NY Times Files to Shut Down Boston Globe
Howard Kurtz, The Washington Post: "The New York Times Co. said last night that it is notifying federal authorities of its plans to shut down the Boston Globe, raising the possibility that New England's most storied newspaper could cease to exist within weeks. After down-to-the-wire negotiations did not produce millions of dollars in union concessions, the Times Co. said that it will file today a required 60-day notice of the planned shutdown under the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification law. The move could amount to a negotiating ploy to extract further concessions from the Globe's unions, since the notice does not require the Times Co. to close the paper after 60 days."

Paul Campos The Court's Other Diversity Problem
Paul Campos, The Daily Beast: "Anyone who looks at a 50-year-old photograph of the Supreme Court will probably be struck first by the uniform race and gender of the nine older white men. Given that the court today includes only one woman justice, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and that she was recently diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, there's nothing wrong with limiting the search for David Souter's replacement to women. Whatever one's views on the value of gender and ethnic diversity, it's probable that not too many people today remain comfortable with the notion of an all-male Supreme Court. Still, other forms of diversity shouldn't be ignored - and in a crucial sense the Supreme Court today is a far less diverse institution than it was a half-century ago."

Deepak Chopra The Toxic Residue of Torture
Deepak Chopra, The San Francisco Chronicle: "It seems clear that the question of torture won't go away. It would be easier to talk about moving ahead. Images of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo belong in nightmares. As a physician, my personal nightmare is of the doctors who stood by during torture sessions to monitor the victim's vital signs. This was supposed to be humane, but what about the Hippocratic oath, which says that a doctor shall do no harm? Is making sure that waterboarding doesn't cause a heart attack doing no harm? The whole rationale is grotesque. This is one of those moments when painful truth is the only way to heal."

Browse our continually updating front page at

FP morning brief 5/5

Top Story

Pakistan's government abandoned its short-lived peace deal with the Taliban over control of the Swat Valley and has sent troops to fight militants in the area. Despite the fighting, the government still plans to enforce Sharia law in the valley in order to rob the Taliban of a source of popular support. The government has urged residents to leave the valley as fighting intensifies.

The Taliban has been consolidating its position in Swat over the past few days and many doubt that the military has the stomach for the sustained fight that will be required to dislodge them. As one MP from the area put it, "The army understands the threat from the militants, but they are more permanently worried about India."

Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari left for Washingtonjeopardizing the U.S. military operation in neighboring Afghanistan. today to discuss the situation in person with U.S. President Barack Obama. The U.S. has accused the Pakistani government of not doing enough to fight the Taliban,
U.S. Senators John Kerry and Richard Lugar introduced a bill yesterday to triple nonmilitary aid to Pakistan.

Sri Lankan forces broke through Tamil Tiger defenses, moving into the rebel group's final stronghold.
Nepal's political parties are struggling to form a government after Maoist Prime Minsiter Prachandra resigned yesterday.
Afghan officials are accusing coalition forces of killings dozens of civilians in bombing raids.

Middle East
Speaking at this week's AIPAC conference in Washington, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said his government was willing to begin peace talks immediately, but did not mention a Palestinian state.
A gunman killed 44 people at a wedding in southeast Turkey as part of a longstanding family blood feud.
The Iraqi government ruled out letting U.S. troops remain in Mosul past the scheduled withdrawal date.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has dropped plans to attend this months NATO-RUSSIA summit over the expulsion of two Russian diplomats on espionage charges.
Georgia put down a military mutiny, which it has accused Russia of provoking.
Italian investigators are looking into the Mafia's involvement in the country's lucrative wind power business.

Mexico has ended its five-day swine flu shutdown and some commercial life is returning to the country.
Mexico's drug violence has continued unabated during the swine flu scare.
U.S. government stress tests have found that 10 of 19 major U.S. banks require more capital.

Chad has accused Sudan of launching an attack on its territory, two days after the countries signed a peace deal.
Zimbabwe imprisoned 18 leading human rights campaigners.
Shell has resumed oil production in southern Nigeria after a major pipeline was destroyed by fire.

-By Joshua Keating

Kathleen C. Curtis - June 5, 1951 - April 30, 2009

from the South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND - Kathleen C. Curtis, 57, of South Bend, died at 8:10 a.m. Thursday, April 30, 2009, at the intersection of Riverside Drive and Angela Blvd. from injuries sustained in a traffic accident.

Kathy was born June 5, 1951, in Coldwater, MI, to James and Norma (Grohman) Culbert, and had lived in South Bend for almost 20 years. On June 29, 1996, in South Bend, she married Charles S. Leone, who survives. Also surviving are a son, Matthew Grayson of South Bend; two stepdaughters, Rebecca (Sean) Dwyer of Chittenango, NY, and Angela Leone of Washington, D.C.; one stepson, Joseph Leone of South Bend; three grandchildren, Syris, Rowyn and McKenzie; her parents, James and Norma Culbert of Coldwater; four sisters, Margie (Tom) Forsythe of Grand Blanc, MI, Marian Culbert of Coldwater, Annette Himmel of Port Huron, MI, and Julie (Bill) Polak of Romulus, MI; two brothers, Steven Culbert of Port Huron, MI, and Michael Culbert of Coldwater; 27 nieces and nephews, four great-nieces and nephews.

Kathy received her bachelor's degree in occupational therapy from Western Michigan University and completed graduate courses in health sciences and special education. She was employed as a learning specialist providing reading and cognitive-visual-perception remediation at Step Wise in South Bend. She had also worked for South Bend and Mishawaka schools, Madison Center, Elkhart Clinic, the Center, P.C., and Healthwin Hospital. Kathy enjoyed working in her garden and was passionate about her grandchildren, peace and social justice, helping children learn to read, and minimizing our footprint on the environment.

She kept these words by Oren Lyons framed on the wall next to her desk at home. These words describe who Kathy was.

In our way of life... with every decision we make, we always keep in mind the Seventh Generation to come... When we walk upon Mother Earth, we always plant our feet carefully, because we know that the faces of our future generations are looking up at us From beneath the ground. We never forget them.

A memorial celebration of Kathy's life was held at 11:00 a.m. Monday, May 4th, at Pinhook Park, 2801 Riverside Drive, with Rev. Jennie Barrington of First Unitarian Church, South Bend, officiating.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests that contributions be made to the Kathy Curtis Memorial Fund at the First Unitarian Church, 101 E. North Shore Drive, South Bend, IN 46617. The fund will support the environmental, social justice and children's reading causes that Kathy cared so much about. Family and friends may leave e-mail condolences at

How's this for change we can believe in?

It requires a great deal of your change. - DW


Sunday, May 17, 2009

For a special dinner to benefit
Keep Indiana Blue

The Honorable Andre Carson
The Honorable Joe Donnelly
The Honorable Brad Ellsworth
The Honorable Baron Hill

And special guest
President Barack Obama

4:00 p.m.
Westin Indianapolis
50 South Capitol Avenue
Indianapolis, IN

For more information, please email

$5,000 (Blue Preferred Seating) **SPACE IS LIMITED**
$2,500 (Red Seating)
$1,000 (White Seating)
$250 (Bleacher seating)

Please contribute online at or mail your contribution to:

Keep Indiana Blue
PO Box 83142
Gaithersburg, MD 20883-3142

For more information, please email

Paid for by Keep Indiana Blue, a joint fundraising committee authorized by Andre Carson for Congress, Joe Donnelly for Congress, Ellsworth for Congress and Hoosiers for Hill.

Contributions to Keep Indiana Blue will be distributed evenly among Andre Carson for Congress, Joe Donnelly for Congress, Ellsworth for Congress and Hoosiers for Hill. Any contributor may designate any portion of his or her contribution for a particular participant. The allocation formula above may change if any contributor makes a contribution that, when allocated, would exceed the amount that the contributor may lawfully give to any participant.

Paid for and authorized by the Indiana Democratic Party
Daniel J. Parker, Chair

Monday, May 4, 2009

FP morning brief 5/4

Top Story

Nepal's fragile peace process seems to be in peril today with Maoist Prime Minister Prachandra resigning amid a constitutional scandal. Prachandra's government, in power since a peace deal in 2006, had been trying to integrate former Maoist fighters into Nepal's army and attempted to fire army chief Rookmangud Katawal who Prachandra accused of hampering the effort.

The Maoists lost the support of the Communist party over the firing, which was blocked by President Ram Baran Yadav. Prachandra resigned over the conflict with Yadav.

The controversy has the potential to reignite Nepal's decade-long civil war. The Maoists are describing the peace process as "in peril" as their supporters took to the streets. Much will depend on the words of Prachandra, who is expected to address the nation shortly.


Sri Lankan forces continue to fight the Tamil Tigers in a 3-mile long strip of coast where the rebels are holding thousands of civilians as human shields. The government is reported to still be using air strikes despite agreeing to stop them last week.
Pakistan's peace pact with the Taliban is all-but-over as government forces continue to fight militants in the Buner district.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai registered for reelection, selecting a powerful Tajik warlord as his new running mate.
Middle East
U.S. reporter Roxana Saberi, imprisoned in Iran on espionage charges, was taken to the hospital after she intensified her hunger strike by refusing to drink water.
Robert Gates is headed to the Middle East where he will try to reassure the governments of Egypt and Saudi Arabia about U.S. outreach to Iran.
Iraqi authorities arrested a senior member of the U.S.-backed Awakening movement.

Swine flu cases around the world are up to nearly 1,000, though Mexican authorities report that new cases are leveling off at the disease's epicenter.
Campaigning for Mexico's midterm elections has begun amid the swine flu epidemic.
Conservative businessman Ricardo Martinelli was elected president in Panama.

The Special Tribunal for Sierra Leone rejected former Liberian leader Charles Taylor's motion of acquittal on war crimes charges.
An influential Islamist leader in Somalia ruled out cooperation with the country's president and urged militants to continue fighting the government.
Niger's president is holding peace talks with the country's Tuareg rebels for the first time.

The European Commission cautiously declared the end of Europe's recession in sight.
Despite an invitation, Belarusian leader Aleksandr Lukashenko will not attend the EU summit in Prague this week.
Controversial Israeli foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman is heading to Europe in his official trip abroad. -By Joshua Keating

Truthout 5/4

Dean Baker Outsourcing Top Management: The Lesson of Fiat-Chrysler
Dean Baker, Truthout: "The media coverage of the auto bailouts has focused on the need for union autoworkers to take big pay cuts, causing them to once again miss the real story. The Fiat-Chrysler deal shows that the pay problem is at the top, not the bottom. At the end of the day, the new Chrysler is still likely to be producing most of its cars in the United States. What the new company will be getting from abroad is technology and top management."

Obama to Crack Down on Business Tax Havens
The Associated Press: "President Barack Obama plans to propose changes to tax policy certain to be unpopular with corporations with international divisions and individuals who use tax havens. Obama also plans to ask Congress for 800 new federal tax agents to enforce his broad requests."

US Allies Losing Asylum Bids Over Definition of "Terrorist"
Marisa Taylor, McClatchy Newspapers: "Forced to flee his homeland because he supported America's ideals, Tsegu Bahta thought he'd be embraced by the country he emulated and respected. Instead, the US has branded him a terrorist. The former rebel commander and top official in Eritrea once provided the US with intelligence about Osama bin Laden and advocated the adoption of an American-style constitution for his fledgling African nation. He now works as a Washington parking lot attendant, biding his time until the US government decides whether to deport him."

Few Hospitals Go Paperless Using Free VA Software
Lisa Wangsness, The Boston Globe: "In a country where just 1.5 percent of US hospitals have fully computerized records, one of the poorest and least technologically advanced states has created a paperless records system for its state-run hospitals and nursing homes serving the indigent elderly and mentally ill."

Florentin Collomp Change We Didn't Expect?
Writing for Le Figaro, Florentin Collomp considers "The New American Way of Life in the Obama Era," while Alain Dubuc writes for Quebec's La Presse: "Ever since this crisis started, people have often wondered whether it would change anything. Whether, beyond its obvious economic impact, the shock would be sufficient to provoke lasting transformations in our societies, to result in our learning from our own mistakes."

Dahr Jamail Combat Operations in Fallujah
Dahr Jamail, Truthout: "Indicative of the rapidly deteriorating situation in Iraq, on May 1 the US military reported the death of a Naval petty officer who was killed 'on April 30 while conducting combat operations in Fallujah, Iraq.' The Department of Defense report went on to explain that the sailor 'was deployed with an East Coast based Navy SEAL team.' That same day, the military announced the deaths of two marines 'killed while conducting combat operations against enemy forces here April 30.' The dateline for the latter press release is 'AL ANBAR PROVINCE, Iraq.' Apparently, all is not well in Fallujah and al-Anbar province. The US military, having met the fiercest resistance throughout their occupation of Iraq in these areas, is once again conducting combat operations there."

Iraq Rules Out Extension of US Withdrawal Dates
Reuters: "Iraq will not extend withdrawal deadlines for US troops set out in a bilateral accord, ending months of speculation about whether US combat troops would stay beyond June in bases in the restive northern city of Mosul. Government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said Iraq was committed to adhering to the withdrawal schedule in the pact, which took effect on Jan. 1, including the requirement to withdraw US combat troops from towns and cities by the end of June and a full withdrawal by the end of 2011."

Dilip Hiro China Defying the Economic Odds
Dilip Hiro, "In the midst of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, a new world order is emerging -- with its center gravitating towards China. The statistics speak for themselves. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) predicts the world's gross domestic product (GDP) will shrink by an alarming 1.3% this year. Yet, defying this global trend, China expects an annual economic growth rate of 6.5% to 8.5%. During the first quarter of 2009, the world's leading stock markets combined fell by 4.5%. In contrast, the Shanghai stock exchange index leapt by a whopping 38%. In March, car sales in China hit a record 1.1 million, surpassing the US for the third month in a row."

Some Satisfied, Others Outraged With Verdict for Immigrant's Death
Emanuella Grinberg, CNN: "Friends and relatives of two teens accused in the beating death of a Mexican immigrant struggled to contain their relief as not-guilty verdicts were announced on the most serious charges against the former high school football stars Friday. Gasps filled the courtroom and some had to be restrained by sheriff's deputies as they tried to rush the defense table after Derrick Donchak, 19, and Brandon Piekarsky, 17, were acquitted of aggravated assault, reckless endangerment and ethnic intimidation for the death of Luis Ramirez."

Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite Why the Faithful Approve of Torture
Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite, The Washington Post: "The more often you go to church, the more you approve of torture. This is a troubling finding of a new survey by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. Shouldn't it be the opposite? After all, who would Jesus torture? Since Jesus wouldn't even let Peter use a sword and defend him from arrest, it would seem that those who follow Jesus would strenuously oppose the violence of torture. But, not so in America today. Instead, more than half of people who attend worship at least once a week, or 54%, said that using torture on suspected terrorists was 'often' or 'sometimes' justified."

An Invention That Could Change the Internet Forever
The Independent UK: "The biggest internet revolution for a generation will be unveiled this month with the launch of software that will understand questions and give specific, tailored answers in a way that the web has never managed before. The new system, Wolfram Alpha, showcased at Harvard University in the US last week, takes the first step towards what many consider to be the internet's Holy Grail - a global store of information that understands and responds to ordinary language in the same way a person does." Browse our continually updating front page at

Falling wage syndrome

New York Times

Wages are falling all across America.

Some of the wage cuts, like the givebacks by Chrysler workers, are the price of federal aid. Others, like the tentative agreement on a salary cut here at The Times, are the result of discussions between employers and their union employees. Still others reflect the brute fact of a weak labor market: workers don’t dare protest when their wages are cut, because they don’t think they can find other jobs.

Whatever the specifics, however, falling wages are a symptom of a sick economy. And they’re a symptom that can make the economy even sicker.

First things first: anecdotes about falling wages are proliferating, but how broad is the phenomenon? The answer is, very.

It’s true that many workers are still getting pay increases. But there are enough pay cuts out there that, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average cost of employing workers in the private sector rose only two-tenths of a percent in the first quarter of this year — the lowest increase on record. Since the job market is still getting worse, it wouldn’t be at all surprising if overall wages started falling later this year.

But why is that a bad thing? After all, many workers are accepting pay cuts in order to save jobs. What’s wrong with that?

The answer lies in one of those paradoxes that plague our economy right now. We’re suffering from the paradox of thrift: saving is a virtue, but when everyone tries to sharply increase saving at the same time, the effect is a depressed economy. We’re suffering from the paradox of deleveraging: reducing debt and cleaning up balance sheets is good, but when everyone tries to sell off assets and pay down debt at the same time, the result is a financial crisis.

And soon we may be facing the paradox of wages: workers at any one company can help save their jobs by accepting lower wages, but when employers across the economy cut wages at the same time, the result is higher unemployment.

Here’s how the paradox works. Suppose that workers at the XYZ Corporation accept a pay cut. That lets XYZ management cut prices, making its products more competitive. Sales rise, and more workers can keep their jobs. So you might think that wage cuts raise employment — which they do at the level of the individual employer.

But if everyone takes a pay cut, nobody gains a competitive advantage. So there’s no benefit to the economy from lower wages. Meanwhile, the fall in wages can worsen the economy’s problems on other fronts.

In particular, falling wages, and hence falling incomes, worsen the problem of excessive debt: your monthly mortgage payments don’t go down with your paycheck. America came into this crisis with household debt as a percentage of income at its highest level since the 1930s. Families are trying to work that debt down by saving more than they have in a decade — but as wages fall, they’re chasing a moving target. And the rising burden of debt will put downward pressure on consumer spending, keeping the economy depressed.

Things get even worse if businesses and consumers expect wages to fall further in the future. John Maynard Keynes put it clearly, more than 70 years ago: “The effect of an expectation that wages are going to sag by, say, 2 percent in the coming year will be roughly equivalent to the effect of a rise of 2 percent in the amount of interest payable for the same period.” And a rise in the effective interest rate is the last thing this economy needs.

Concern about falling wages isn’t just theory. Japan — where private-sector wages fell an average of more than 1 percent a year from 1997 to 2003 — is an object lesson in how wage deflation can contribute to economic stagnation.

So what should we conclude from the growing evidence of sagging wages in America? Mainly that stabilizing the economy isn’t enough: we need a real recovery.

There has been a lot of talk lately about green shoots and all that, and there are indeed indications that the economic plunge that began last fall may be leveling off. The National Bureau of Economic Research might even declare the recession over later this year.

But the unemployment rate is almost certainly still rising. And all signs point to a terrible job market for many months if not years to come — which is a recipe for continuing wage cuts, which will in turn keep the economy weak.

To break that vicious circle, we basically need more: more stimulus, more decisive action on the banks, more job creation.

Credit where credit is due: President Obama and his economic advisers seem to have steered the economy away from the abyss. But the risk that America will turn into Japan — that we’ll face years of deflation and stagnation — seems, if anything, to be rising.

Friday, May 1, 2009

I heard the news today, oh boy...

Don Wheeler

I lost a good friend yesterday – as did many, many other people. Even people who never had the privilege of meeting her.

Kathy Curtis died in a tragic accident. The details are unimportant – though you’ve probably heard them already.

I knew Kathy through the First Unitarian Church of South Bend. She and her husband Chuck Leone were among the first people there to really try to make me feel welcome.

As a fairly new attendee, I thought it would be a good idea to involve the church in a Habitat for Humanity workday in need of volunteers. Kathy Curtis was the first to volunteer, the first to arrive, worked tirelessly and offered her quiet good humor. It is remarkable to me how that first experience I had with her seems a marker of who she was. Kathy always tried to help people who struggle.

Last night, as our community gathered to deal with this tragedy, two people (both dear to me) who had dealt with extremely serious health issues told of how Kathy would come be with them day after day and how much that mattered. One woman said when she was willing to give up – rather than deal with the horrors of chemotherapy – it was Kathy’s continued, determined presence that made quitting no longer an option.

I could go on.

Early on in our meeting, one woman blurted out “So what do we do?!”

Tough question. But long serving Minister Lisa Doege offered us some help in a sermon she gave on April 11, 1999 entitled “When The Future Changes”.

[It’s] not an easy thing to do – to accept the inevitability of the new future as though it were a choice. It’s something other than looking on the bright side of things or making the best of a bad situation. And it’s something other than throwing one’s hands up in the air and saying, “There’s nothing I can do about it, so I better live with it, but I’m not going to like it.”

Each time our future changes, life becomes more or less normal, but normal isn’t as normal as it once was. At this point we start planning the future again -- heading off in this new direction life seems pointed toward, though perhaps counting on it with a bit less certainty than before. It is reaching this point that allows us the possibility of helping others who are at the brink of their changing futures. When we have faced our own changed future, and mourned, and decided how to live, and eventually found life, though not as normal as it once was, nevertheless returning more or less to normal, then we can walk alongside others who are on that frightening, forced journey.

The experience will be utterly unique for each of us… We can’t tell another how to face the changed future or at what pace, or even very convincingly assure another that he will survive, she will survive. But we can witness the mourning [no matter how long it lasts] without dismissing it or calling for a premature end. We can cheer on the decision to go forward in this new direction. We can celebrate the return to normalcy, such as it is.

And from Rev. Forrest Church of All Souls UU :

Unless we armor our hearts, we cannot protect ourselves from loss -- we can only protect ourselves from the death of love. Yet, without love nothing matters. Break your life into a million pieces and ask yourself what of any real value might endure after you are gone. The pieces that remain will each carry love’s signature. Without love, we are left only with the aching hollow of regret -- that haunting emptiness where love might have been.

Grief is the token of love. When a person comes and says I'm handling this perfectly, either they are lying to me or they pretty much have closed their hearts off from the vulnerability that would make them susceptible to grief.

It should knock your socks off, it should make you to stop and shake your head, it should make you want to pound the wall. And it should make you want to reach out for all the help you can get, because it is a wrenching, a permanent, a devastating thing to lose a loved one. The only thing that's more devastating is not to have the loved one to lose.

An affordable salvation

New York Times

The 2008 election ended the reign of junk science in our nation’s capital, and the chances of meaningful action on climate change, probably through a cap-and-trade system on emissions, have risen sharply.

But the opponents of action claim that limiting emissions would have devastating effects on the U.S. economy. So it’s important to understand that just as denials that climate change is happening are junk science, predictions of economic disaster if we try to do anything about climate change are junk economics.

Yes, limiting emissions would have its costs. As a card-carrying economist, I cringe when “green economy” enthusiasts insist that protecting the environment would be all gain, no pain.

But the best available estimates suggest that the costs of an emissions-limitation program would be modest, as long as it’s implemented gradually. And committing ourselves now might actually help the economy recover from its current slump.

Let’s talk first about those costs.

A cap-and-trade system would raise the price of anything that, directly or indirectly, leads to the burning of fossil fuels. Electricity, in particular, would become more expensive, since so much generation takes place in coal-fired plants.

Electric utilities could reduce their need to purchase permits by limiting their emissions of carbon dioxide — and the whole point of cap-and-trade is, of course, to give them an incentive to do just that. But the steps they would take to limit emissions, such as shifting to other energy sources or capturing and sequestering much of the carbon dioxide they emit, would without question raise their costs.

If emission permits were auctioned off — as they should be — the revenue thus raised could be used to give consumers rebates or reduce other taxes, partially offsetting the higher prices. But the offset wouldn’t be complete. Consumers would end up poorer than they would have been without a climate-change policy.

But how much poorer? Not much, say careful researchers, like those at the Environmental Protection Agency or the Emissions Prediction and Policy Analysis Group at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Even with stringent limits, says the M.I.T. group, Americans would consume only 2 percent less in 2050 than they would have in the absence of emission limits. That would still leave room for a large rise in the standard of living, shaving only one-twentieth of a percentage point off the average annual growth rate.

To be sure, there are many who insist that the costs would be much higher. Strange to say, however, such assertions nearly always come from people who claim to believe that free-market economies are wonderfully flexible and innovative, that they can easily transcend any constraints imposed by the world’s limited resources of crude oil, arable land or fresh water.

So why don’t they think the economy can cope with limits on greenhouse gas emissions? Under cap-and-trade, emission rights would just be another scarce resource, no different in economic terms from the supply of arable land.

Needless to say, people like Newt Gingrich, who says that cap-and-trade would “punish the American people,” aren’t thinking that way. They’re just thinking “capitalism good, government bad.” But if you really believe in the magic of the marketplace, you should also believe that the economy can handle emission limits just fine.

So we can afford a strong climate change policy. And committing ourselves to such a policy might actually help us in our current economic predicament.

Right now, the biggest problem facing our economy is plunging business investment. Businesses see no reason to invest, since they’re awash in excess capacity, thanks to the housing bust and weak consumer demand.

But suppose that Congress were to mandate gradually tightening emission limits, starting two or three years from now. This would have no immediate effect on prices. It would, however, create major incentives for new investment — investment in low-emission power plants, in energy-efficient factories and more.

To put it another way, a commitment to greenhouse gas reduction would, in the short-to-medium run, have the same economic effects as a major technological innovation: It would give businesses a reason to invest in new equipment and facilities even in the face of excess capacity. And given the current state of the economy, that’s just what the doctor ordered.

This short-run economic boost isn’t the main reason to move on climate-change policy. The important thing is that the planet is in danger, and the longer we wait the worse it gets. But it is an extra reason to move quickly.

So can we afford to save the planet? Yes, we can. And now would be a very good time to get started.

Truthout 5/1

Ann Wright Torture: An Author and a Resister
Ann Wright, Truthout: "Bybee authorized ten 'enhanced interrogation techniques' to encourage Abu Zubaydah to disclose 'crucial information regarding terrorist networks in the United States or in Saudi Arabia and information regarding plans to conduct attacks within the United States or against US interests overseas.' The torture techniques authorized were (1) attention grasp, (2) walling, (3) facial hold, (4) facial slap, (5) cramped confinement, (6) wall standing, (7) stress position, (8) sleep deprivation, (9) insects placed in a confinement box and (10) waterboarding."

Congress's Budget Shorts Obama Plans to Shift Wealth
Janet Hook, The Los Angeles Times: "President Obama's first budget, unveiled with great fanfare two months ago, started out like a plan that Robin Hood would love: He proposed taxing the wealthy to ease the burden on the middle class. But so far, Congress has not rushed to follow his lead."

Obama Vows Swift Overhaul as Chrysler Enters Bankruptcy
Peter Whoriskey, Brady Dennis and Kendra Marr, The Washington Post: "Now largely under government control, Chrysler will seek in court to strip itself of its overwhelming debts. Then, according to the administration plan, the company will get roughly $10 billion in new government aid and be merged with Italian automaker Fiat."

Karen Greenberg Human Rights in the Dust
Karen Greenberg, "These days, it's virtually impossible to escape the world of torture the Bush administration constructed. Whether we like it or not, almost every day we learn ever more about the full range of its shameful policies, about who the culprits were, and just which crimes they might be prosecuted for. But in the morass of memos, testimony, op-eds, punditry, whistle-blowing, documents, and who knows what else, with all the blaming, evasion, and denial going on, somehow we've overlooked the most significant victim of all. One casualty of the Bush torture policies -- certainly, at least equal in damage to those who were tortured and the country whose laws were twisted and perverted in the process -- has been human rights itself. And no one even seems to notice."

Kabul's New Elite Live High on West's Largess
Patrick Cockburn, The Independent UK: "Vast sums of money are being lavished by Western aid agencies on their own officials in Afghanistan at a time when extreme poverty is driving young Afghans to fight for the Taliban. The going rate paid by the Taliban for an attack on a police checkpoint in the west of the country is $4, but foreign consultants in Kabul, who are paid out of overseas aids budgets, can command salaries of $250,000 to $500,000 a year."

Hakim El Karaoui This Is Primarily a Crisis of Globalization
Hakim El Karaoui, Marianne2: "The source of the crisis is stagnation in domestic demand.... This interpretation is not wrong, but it is partial. It misreads the true source of the crisis: the indebtedness of American - and more generally, Western - households."

Maya Schenwar Taking Inequality to Court
Maya Schenwar, Truthout: "'Equal' brings to light perhaps the most obstructive force in the fight for women's rights and liberation: the predicament of not being taken seriously. The book depicts the institutionalized stereotypes of vengeful wives bringing rape cases and vindictive female employees suing for sexual harassment, showcasing the overwhelming tendency of courts to 'disbelieve women.' During one sexual harassment case, the referee asks the plaintiff whether her boss was simply a 'pain in the neck.' When she responds emphasizing the situation's severity, the referee rejoins, 'Oh, so he's one of these Male Chauvinist Pigs?' The dismissive vibe makes its way all the way up to the Supreme Court: In attacking VAWA, Justice Rehnquist asserts that the federal courts should be reserved for 'important national interests.' Strebeigh wonders 'why the issue of violence against women was not important and not national.'"

Souter Reportedly Planning to Retire From Supreme Court
Robert Barnes, The Washington Post: "A vacancy would give President Obama his first chance to begin reshaping the court but would not likely change the dynamic on a bench that is often evenly split between the liberal and conservative blocs, with moderate conservative Justice Anthony M. Kennedy often holding the pivotal role. Most court observers also believe Obama would be likely to choose a woman as his first appointment, since Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is the lone female among the nine justices. Most often mentioned as possibilities are two appeals judges, Sonia Sotomayor of New York and Diane P. Wood of Chicago, along with Obama's new solicitor general, Elena Kagan. Vice President Biden has been charged with drawing up a list of possible nominees, according to the source close to the court."

Senate Defeats Obama-Backed, Anti-Foreclosure Bill
The Associated Press: "The Democratic-controlled Senate on Thursday defeated a plan to spare hundreds of thousands of homeowners from foreclosure through bankruptcy, a bill President Barack Obama embraced but did little to see it through. A dozen Democrats joined Republicans in the 45-51 vote to scuttle the bill, which Obama had said was important to saving the economy and promised to push through Congress. But facing stiff opposition from banks, Obama did little to pressure lawmakers who worried it would encourage bankruptcy filings and spike interest rates."

Specter Casts Another Vote Against Democratic Agenda
J. Taylor Rushing, The Hill: "Newly minted Democratic Sen. Arlen Specter is already asserting his famous independence, casting his second straight vote against his new party's agenda. Specter on Thursday voted against a controversial bill that would have rewritten bankruptcy laws - a bill cherished by Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) - just a day after voting against the Democratic-written budget. Specter shocked Capitol Hill on Tuesday by announcing his switch to the Democratic Party ahead of his reelection next year. He was welcomed to the White House on Wednesday, where he told President Obama he was 'a loyal Democrat' but also warned reporters he 'would not be an automatic 60th vote' for Democrats."

Coleman Appeals Senate Race at Minnesota High Court
Brian Bakst, The Associated Press: "Republican Norm Coleman asked the Minnesota Supreme Court on Thursday to order the counting of at least 1,359 additional ballots and possibly thousands more in his US Senate race or go so far as to throw out the election entirely. In filing a brief to the court, Coleman said counties didn't follow the same standard for determining how absentee ballots were accepted or rejected. He is seeking to overcome Democrat Al Franken's lead of 312 votes after a recount and a trial. The brief focused mainly on uncounted absentee ballots, arguing that the 'overwhelming evidence of disparate treatment cannot be ignored - no matter how expedient it may be to do precisely that.'"

Browse our continually updating front page at

FP morning brief 5/1

Top Story

Mexico's health secretary sounded an optimistic note on Thursday, saying that new cases of the swine flu virus are leveling off, but the World Health Organization says it's too early to say that the worst is over as the number of confirmed infections worldwide jumped to 331. Analysis of the H1N1 virus suggests that it is a relatively mild strain that would have to mutate to cause the mass deaths that many had feared.

Mexico has begun a five-day shutdown of much of its economy in order to prevent the spread of the virus. The country's chief epidemiologist accused the WHO of being slow to react to early warnings, allowing the flu to spread.

The virus continues to spread throughout the United States. A federal agent who traveled to Mexico was infected as well.

U.S. Supreme Court justice David Souter announced that he will will retire in June, giving President Barack Obama his first chance to nominate a judge to the court.
Secretary of Defense Robert Gates says that 50-100 of the detainees at Guantanamo Bay cannot be released.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said that Colombia's FARC rebels are not welcome within Venezuelan territory.

The Taliban has kidnapped 10 Pakistani paramilitaries.
The Sri Lankan government dropped leaflets urging civilians to flee the area in which it has cornered the last of the Tamil Tiger rebels.
China has banned foreign financial news services from reporting in the country.

Midde East
A new U.S. state department report describes Iran as the world's most active state supporter of terrorism.
An accused Al Qaeda sleeper agent pleaded guilty to terrorism charges in the U.S.
The Egyptian government has decided to slaughter all the country's pigs to prevent the spread of swine flu, a move the WHO says is unnecessary.

Five people were killed by a speeding car in an assassination attempt on the Dutch royal family.
Italian automaker Fiat is hoping its new partnership with the bankrupted Chrysler will allow it to expand into the U.S. market.
An Israeli official said that unless EU officials change their critical tone toward Israel's new government, they will not be included in future negotiations.

The U.N. Security Council decided to extend the mandate for peacekeepers in Southern Sudan for another year.
Ethiopia has arrested 40 for plotting to assassinate senior government officials.
Madagascar's new regime has charged the opposition government's "prime minister" with threatening state security.