Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Truthout 6/30

Matt Renner Facing the Crackdown in Tehran
Matt Renner, Truthout: "An air of fear and uncertainty continues to grip the population of Tehran. State repression, propaganda, swirling rumors of violence and a murky political battle hold an anxious citizenry hostage. Were declarations of a second Iranian revolution premature? Are we witnessing an overthrow of a theocratic government, sparked by possible election theft and a subsequent popular protest movement? Will there be further protest? More violence? ... These are questions for later."

Four US Soldiers Killed During Urban Pullout in Iraq
Patrick Quinn, The Associated Press: "Four U.S. soldiers were killed in combat shortly before the American military completed a withdrawal from Iraq's cities, and the prime minister stressed that government forces taking control of urban areas on Tuesday were more than capable of protecting the country. Nouri al-Maliki said in a nationally televised address that 'those who think that Iraqis are not able to protect their country and that the withdrawal of foreign forces will create a security vacuum are committing a big mistake.'"

Ira Chernus Charge of Anti-Semitism
Ira Chernus, Truthout: "It's not easy to get a laugh when you're giving a talk in a church about the Israel-Palestine conflict. But I managed recently. When someone in the audience said he was afraid of being called an anti-Semite if he criticized Israel, I replied, 'Oh, I've been called an anti-Semite lots of times, even though I'm Jewish. You just get used to it.' That drew a major chuckle from the audience. But it wasn't really an honest answer. I have been called an anti-Semite in public as well as in private. And it has gotten somewhat less painful over the years. Yet, I've never gotten totally used to it. It's unjustified; it's nasty and it hurts. There's nothing funny about it."

Shibil Siddiqi Pakistan's Ideological Blowback
Shibil Siddiqi, Foreign Policy in Focus: "If the bucolic Swat valley, tucked into the Himalayas less than 100 miles from the capital city of Islamabad, is a bellwether for Pakistan's war against the Pakistani Taliban, the war is going badly. The Swat District - an integrated part of Pakistan's North West Frontier Province (NWFP) as opposed to the autonomous Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) - has been beyond government control since 2007."

Herve Kempf Africa, Help Us!
Herve Kempf, Le Monde: "The paradoxical proposition is that the richest societies are not necessarily those the best-placed to confront those changes: accustomed to a profusion of goods, infused with an advertising ideology that presents excess consumption as an ideal, organized along the principle of brutal environmental transformation, they seem sadly ill-equipped, both psychologically and culturally, to slip into the harsh new conditions of existence."

Robert Parry Obama, They Want You to Fail
Robert Parry, Consortium News: "After last year's elections, a Democratic operative told me that if the Democrats got to 59 seats in the Senate, it would be easy to peel off one or two Republicans to pass key legislation like serious health care reform. I was left wondering what political planet he'd been living on for the past three decades. For almost as long as I've been in Washington (I arrived for the Associated Press in 1977) it has worked the other way. Even when the Republicans appear to be on the defensive and outnumbered, they band together and vote as a bloc, while Democrats bend over backwards to be 'bipartisan.'"

Steve Weissman Iran: The World Is Watching
Steve Weissman, Truthout: "When President Barack Obama warned Iran's ayatollahs that the world was watching their brutal crackdown on peaceful protesters, he touched a sacred chord for a whole generation of American activists. Back in 1968, as TV cameras broadcast dramatic images of Mayor Daley's police cracking heads at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, anti-war demonstrators famously chanted, 'the whole world is watching.'"

EU Threatens Mass Pullout of Ambassadors From Tehran
Ian Black, The Guardian UK: "European Union members are threatening the collective withdrawal of their ambassadors from Iran to secure the release of the British embassy employees being held by the authorities. EU diplomats said tonight all the envoys could be recalled 'temporarily' in solidarity with staff from the British mission in Tehran who have been accused - entirely falsely, UK officials insist - of involvement in protests over the 'stolen' presidential election."

Fireworks Over Baghdad as Iraqis Take Over Cities
Kim Gamel and Patrick Quinn, The Associated Press: "Iraqi forces assumed formal control of Baghdad and other cities Tuesday after American troops handed over security in urban areas in a defining step toward ending the US combat role in the country. A countdown clock broadcast on Iraqi TV ticked to zero as the midnight deadline passed for US combat troops to finish their pullback to bases outside cities. 'The withdrawal of American troops is completed now from all cities after everything they sacrificed for the sake of security,' said Sadiq al-Rikabi, a senior adviser to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. 'We are now celebrating the restoration of sovereignty.'"

Obama Denounces Honduras Ouster as "Not Legal"
Sam Youngman, The Hill: "Saying the US does 'not want to go back to a dark past,' President Obama said Monday that the military ouster of President Manuel Zelaya was 'not legal.' Meeting with Colombian President Alvaro Uribe in the Oval Office, Obama said the two men has discussed the coup and 'all of us have great concerns.'"

Obama Promises Progress to Gay Community
Sam Youngman, The Hill: "President Obama worked to assuage tension between his administration and the gay community Monday, telling them that he remains committed to their most important issues. Speaking to a group in the East Room of the White House representing the gay community, Obama reiterated his pledge to overturn both the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and the military's Don't-Ask-Don't-Tell rule."

UN Probe Into Gaza Conflict
Erin Cunningham, The Christian Science Monitor: "In a tearful and gruesome testimony, Salah Al-Samouni spoke of the two days of Israeli helicopter attacks in the Zaytoun area of Gaza that claimed 29 members of his family on Jan. 5 and 6. 'They hit us, they hit us with Apaches,' Mr. Samouni told United Nations war crimes investigators in Gaza City on Sunday. 'I found my 2-year-old daughter, she was dead .... Why?'"

FP morning post 6/30

Top story:

Six years after the U.S. invasion of Iraq, U.S. troops have withdrawn from Iraqi cities, ceding authority to Iraqi security forces. The pullout was met with celebrations in the streets and Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki called the withdrawal a "great victory for Iraq." More than 130,000 U.S. troops will remain in Iraq, stationed on forward operating bases throughout the country.

The U.S. announced the deaths of four soldiers in combat operations in Baghdad on Monday. The circumstances are still unclear.

The Iraqi government now faces the challenge of maintaining order amid an uptick in violence in Baghdad and other cities. You can read reactions to the withdrawal from FP bloggers Tom Ricks, Marc Lynch, and Peter Feaver as well as guest writers Anthony Shadid of the Washington Post and Joost Hilterman of the International Crisis Group.

Under the radar:

Drug-related violence is increasing at an alarming rate on the U.S.-Canadian border.

Middle East
Iran's Guardian Council says it found only slight irregularities in a recount of election ballots and declared the matter closed.
The Israeli navy turned back a ship carrying aid to Gaza and pro-Palestinian activists.
Iraq has begun auctioning off its oil and gas fields.

Honduras's interim government is hanging on amid international condemnation after the ouster of President Manuel Zelaya. Zelaya says he will return to the country in two days and addressing the U.N. General Assembly today.
President Rene Preval's party picked up five seats in Haiti's parliamentary elections.
Mexico has freed 3 of the 10 mayors it detained for suspected drug cartel ties last month.

A suicide bomber wearing a burqa attacked an Afghanistan-Pakistan border crossing.
U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is visiting Burma this week to press the regime about the case of imprisoned democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
A major Taliban faction in Northwest Pakistan has pulled out of a peace deal with the central government. Africa
China has agreed to loan $950 million to Zimbabwe.
Militants attacked two Royal Shell installations in the Niger Delta on Monday.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad made a surprise visit to the African Union summit in Libya.

With half the votes counted, Albania's parliamentary elections are going down to the wire.
OSCE observers have pulled out of Georgia after Russia blocked an extension of their mission.
Navy Admiral James Stavridis has taken over as U.S. and NATO commander in Europe.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Language tricks


To make her point about abortion, a local writer (Viewpoint, March 27) quotes George Orwell on how language can corrupt thought. The writer argues the phrase "a woman's right to choose" obscures the fact that abortion "terminat(es) a developing human life".

I agree the wording suggests ambiguity when applied specifically to terminating a pregnancy. However, the "right to choose" even the most basic forms of contraception, including the word "no," is unavailable to millions of women worldwide.

Furthermore, the writer's argument assumes all fertilized ova and successive stages are viable. Between 25 and 50 percent of all fertilized ova spontaneously abort. Nor do all fertilized ova divide and differentiate into the ectoderm, mesoderm and endoderm cells of a future fetus.

This did not happen for my friend, Laurie. During an early ultrasound, what she and her husband hoped would be the first glimpse of their developing child turned out to be a mass of undifferentiated cells. Without a surgical procedure to empty her uterus of these wildly dividing cells, Laurie's uterus would have ruptured and she would never be the mother of a healthy, beautiful girl, as she is today.

While the writer asserts "pro-choice" is a language trick, one could argue that she also employs a language trick by referring to a woman's uterus as "the womb," which she does in the third paragraph of her treatise. American English often uses the article "the" before a noun to imply public property, as in "the" library, "the" sidewalk, "the" government. For body parts, we use gender-specific possessive pronouns; for example, a man has "his" prostate gland checked; the CEO gets "her" eyes examined; the priest stubs "his" toe. We don't say "the writer got 'the' hair colored." When did more than 50 percent of the population lose their privacy and one of their organs become public property?

Furthermore, while the Viewpoint writer glosses over cases of rape and incest, the ugly truth is women and girls are violated, their ova are fertilized against their will and their uteruses harbor the co-mingling of their DNA with that of a perpetrator's.

The loss of privacy and the disassociation of women's uteruses from their bodies are graphically evident every time a dilation and extraction procedure is presented in what I shall henceforth refer to as "anti-privacy" literature. The diagram always depicts a minimal outline of a uterus, lower abdomen and one upper thigh (apparently belonging to some nondescript human female). A fetus within said uterus is shown in high detail. This image completely negates the fact that there is a woman whose uterus is on display, who, for very personal reasons, had to make the agonizing decision to terminate her pregnancy. The "anti-privacy" diagram never shows the weeping woman or her grieving spouse standing next to her as the physician extracts an inviable fetus or mass of undifferentiated cells to save this woman's life.

This brings me to Barbara Shelly's June 11 column in The Tribune about Dr. George Tiller's service to these unfortunate women and the tragic story of Phillip Wood, whose wife's life was threatened by the diseased placenta and dying fetuses in her womb. Wood had no choice but to drive his dangerously pregnant wife hundreds of miles to three different medical facilities, ending at the clinic of Dr. Tiller, who saved her life by performing an abortion.

This woman (who Shelly does not name out of respect for her privacy) and her plight, reconfirms the imperative to speak in support of every woman's right to privacy, because no one can ever know another person's circumstances.

Rather than making women's uteruses public property, we should confront the dearth of girls' and women's knowledge and access to contraceptive resources. We should condemn the recklessness of men who refuse to protect their partner from disease and unplanned pregnancies. We should be outraged by the lack of prosecution of rapists in our community.

Finally, we must publicly support organizations and programs that dispense reproductive health care services and common-sense sex education because, and this is no "language trick," that is what prevents unintended pregnancies.

Originally published in the South Bend Tribune June 27, 2009

Betraying The Planet

New York Times

So the House passed the Waxman-Markey climate-change bill. In political terms, it was a remarkable achievement.

But 212 representatives voted no. A handful of these no votes came from representatives who considered the bill too weak, but most rejected the bill because they rejected the whole notion that we have to do something about greenhouse gases.

And as I watched the deniers make their arguments, I couldn’t help thinking that I was watching a form of treason — treason against the planet.

To fully appreciate the irresponsibility and immorality of climate-change denial, you need to know about the grim turn taken by the latest climate research.

The fact is that the planet is changing faster than even pessimists expected: ice caps are shrinking, arid zones spreading, at a terrifying rate. And according to a number of recent studies, catastrophe — a rise in temperature so large as to be almost unthinkable — can no longer be considered a mere possibility. It is, instead, the most likely outcome if we continue along our present course.

Thus researchers at M.I.T., who were previously predicting a temperature rise of a little more than 4 degrees by the end of this century, are now predicting a rise of more than 9 degrees. Why? Global greenhouse gas emissions are rising faster than expected; some mitigating factors, like absorption of carbon dioxide by the oceans, are turning out to be weaker than hoped; and there’s growing evidence that climate change is self-reinforcing — that, for example, rising temperatures will cause some arctic tundra to defrost, releasing even more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

Temperature increases on the scale predicted by the M.I.T. researchers and others would create huge disruptions in our lives and our economy. As a recent authoritative U.S. government report points out, by the end of this century New Hampshire may well have the climate of North Carolina today, Illinois may have the climate of East Texas, and across the country extreme, deadly heat waves — the kind that traditionally occur only once in a generation — may become annual or biannual events.

In other words, we’re facing a clear and present danger to our way of life, perhaps even to civilization itself. How can anyone justify failing to act?

Well, sometimes even the most authoritative analyses get things wrong. And if dissenting opinion-makers and politicians based their dissent on hard work and hard thinking — if they had carefully studied the issue, consulted with experts and concluded that the overwhelming scientific consensus was misguided — they could at least claim to be acting responsibly.

But if you watched the debate on Friday, you didn’t see people who’ve thought hard about a crucial issue, and are trying to do the right thing. What you saw, instead, were people who show no sign of being interested in the truth. They don’t like the political and policy implications of climate change, so they’ve decided not to believe in it — and they’ll grab any argument, no matter how disreputable, that feeds their denial.

Indeed, if there was a defining moment in Friday’s debate, it was the declaration by Representative Paul Broun of Georgia that climate change is nothing but a “hoax” that has been “perpetrated out of the scientific community.” I’d call this a crazy conspiracy theory, but doing so would actually be unfair to crazy conspiracy theorists. After all, to believe that global warming is a hoax you have to believe in a vast cabal consisting of thousands of scientists — a cabal so powerful that it has managed to create false records on everything from global temperatures to Arctic sea ice.

Yet Mr. Broun’s declaration was met with applause.

Given this contempt for hard science, I’m almost reluctant to mention the deniers’ dishonesty on matters economic. But in addition to rejecting climate science, the opponents of the climate bill made a point of misrepresenting the results of studies of the bill’s economic impact, which all suggest that the cost will be relatively low.

Still, is it fair to call climate denial a form of treason? Isn’t it politics as usual?

Yes, it is — and that’s why it’s unforgivable.

Do you remember the days when Bush administration officials claimed that terrorism posed an “existential threat” to America, a threat in whose face normal rules no longer applied? That was hyperbole — but the existential threat from climate change is all too real.

Yet the deniers are choosing, willfully, to ignore that threat, placing future generations of Americans in grave danger, simply because it’s in their political interest to pretend that there’s nothing to worry about. If that’s not betrayal, I don’t know what is.

FP flashpoints

Think Again: Asia's Rise By Minxin Pei
Don't believe the hype about the decline of America and the dawn of a new Asian age. It will be many decades before China, India, and the rest of the region take over the world, if they ever do.

1979: The Great Backlash By Christian Caryl
What do Ayatollah Khomeini, Margaret Thatcher, Pope John Paul II, and Deng Xiaoping all have in common?

The Death of Macho By Reihan Salam
Manly men have been running the world forever. But the Great Recession is changing all that, and it will alter the course of history.

The Baltic Bust By Edward Lucas
The fall and rise—and fall again—of Europe's new basket cases: a recessionary tale.

The 2009 Failed States Index By FOREIGN POLICY and The Fund for Peace
It is a sobering time for the world's most fragile countries—virulent economic crisis, countless natural disasters, and government collapse. This year, we delve deeper than ever into just what went wrong—and who is to blame.

Minilateralism By Moisés Naím
The magic number to get real international action.

Prime Numbers: Sex Matters By Malcolm Potts and Martha Campbell
Low birthrates aren't the result of economic growth and political stability; they're a prerequisite.

In Other Words

The Berlin Fall By Cameron Abadi
Samizdat in the 21st Century By Leon Aron

In Box

Where Is Ban Ki-moon? By Jacob Heilbrunn
The List: World Wall Streets By Annie Lowrey
Epiphanies from Benoit Mandelbrot Interview by Joshua Keating
In Praise of Rejects By David Lehrer
The African Wave By Elizabeth Dickinson
Iraq and Afghanistan: Tale of Two War Zones By Annie Lowrey
Barack von Metternich By Gustavo de las Casas
The Return of Yeomanry By Phillip Longman
Plus, the FP Quiz

Truthout 6/29

Dilip Hiro The Clash of Islam and Democracy in Iran
Dilip Hiro, TomDisptach.com: "By marshalling the regime's coercive instruments, Iran's 70-year-old supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamanei, has, for now, succeeded in curbing the popular, peaceful challenge to the authenticity of Iran's fateful June 12th presidential election. But he has paid a heavy political price. Before his June 19th hard-line speech at a Friday prayer congregation, Khamanei had the mystique of a just arbiter of authority, perched on a lofty platform far above the contentiousness of day-to-day politics."

Iran Warned by EU After British Embassy Workers Arrested
Ian Black, The Guardian UK: "David Miliband demanded last night that British embassy staff arrested in Tehran be released as the EU warned of a 'strong and collective response' to the latest spat between Iran and the west over post-election unrest. The foreign secretary denied that the employees, all Iranians, had played a 'significant role' in clashes between security forces and demonstrators complaining about the 'theft' of the presidential poll."

In a Military Coup, Honduras's President Is Deposed
Sara Miller Llana, The Christian Science Monitor: "In a move to thwart an attempt to rewrite the Honduran constitution, soldiers have arrested President Manuel Zelaya in what one leader has called a coup and which the European Union has condemned as unconstitutional. Just before polls were to open on a controversial referendum to allow the president more than a single four-year term, which had led to escalating political tensions in this Central American nation in recent days, soldiers surrounded the president's home and took him into military custody."

Iraq Ready to Take Over Security From US Troops, Maliki Says
Patrick Quinn, The Associated Press: "Iraq's prime minister said yesterday that the full withdrawal of US combat troops from cities and towns was a message that his country was ready to take over its own security, even as he appealed for national unity after a week of attacks left more than 250 people dead. Both of Iraq's vice presidents joined in the call, with one of them warning Iraqis to stay away from crowded places favored by bombers."

Democrats Miss Bull's Eye on Arms Trafficking Reform
Mike Lillis, The Washington Independent: "Earlier this year, as the violence on the Mexican border had crescendoed into national headlines, the state of California contacted federal firearms officials with a seemingly innocuous request: Would the federal government lend state law enforcers details on the thousands of crime guns seized in Mexico and traced to California - information that might identify patterns of trafficking worth investigation? Citing a five-year-old federal law that limits the sharing of crime gun trace data, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives refused."

Many African Diamonds Still Bloody
Tristan McConnell, GlobalPost: "To halt the trade in 'blood diamonds' - gems whose sales fuel deadly conflicts - the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme was established in 2003. But as signatory states meet in Namibia this week, one of the scheme's architects said the Kimberley Process is not working. 'When you see what the Kimberley Process can do it's very disappointing where it fails,' said Ian Smillie, reached by phone at his Ottawa office as research coordinator for the non-governmental organization Partnership Africa Canada."

Stephen Zunes A Response to Steve Weissman's "Nonviolence 101"
Stephen Zunes, Truthout: "Steve Weissman's article 'Iran: Nonviolence 101' was profoundly inaccurate and misleading, particularly in regard to the role of Peter Ackerman and the organization he co-founded, the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict (ICNC), for which I chair the committee of academic advisers. All of Weissman's arguments against US government involvement in training and related support for nonviolent resistance movements in Iran, which he put forward in his article, would be quite valid - if they were true. They are not, however."

Madoff Sentenced to 150 Years
Aaron Smith, CNN: "A federal judge sentenced Bernard Madoff, the convicted mastermind of the largest and most sweeping Ponzi scheme ever, to the maximum sentence of 150 years in federal court Monday. Judge Denny Chin of U.S. District Court in New York announced the sentence just moments after Madoff apologized to his victims."

Dean Baker The Global Warming Lie Detector
William J. Kole, The Associated Press: "Iran began recounting some of the votes cast in its disputed presidential election today in an apparent attempt to placate opposition protesters, and the government dismissed the idea of downgrading relations with Britain despite accusing that country of stirring up unrest."

Iran Begins Recounting Some Votes
Dean Baker, Truthout: "The House's passage of the Waxman-Markey bill raises the possibility that the United States will finally do something on global warming. This prospect has the industry hacks screaming at top volume about the horrible fate that awaits the economy. Everyone should know not to take them seriously ..."

Some Veterans of Recent Wars Find Homelessness at Home
Jia-Rui Chong, The Los Angeles Times: "It was, back then, a joke Luis Pinto shared with his Army buddies in Iraq. As they were all eating food out of tin cans, living out of rucksacks, moving constantly from place to place, Pinto cracked, 'If I become homeless, I'm ready.' But five years later he didn't actually expect to find himself sleeping in alleys in Whittier or in friends' cars, too busy getting high to hold down a regular job. A suicide attempt on March 16 was the shock he needed to start putting his life back together."

How a Loophole Benefits GE in Bank Rescue
Jeff Gerth and Brady Dennis, ProPublica and The Washington Post: "General Electric, the world's largest industrial company, has quietly become the biggest beneficiary of one of the government's key rescue programs for banks. At the same time, GE has avoided many of the restrictions facing other financial giants getting help from the government. The company did not initially qualify for the program, under which the government sought to unfreeze credit markets by guaranteeing debt sold by banking firms. But regulators soon loosened the eligibility requirements, in part because of behind-the-scenes appeals from GE."

Joshua Holland Got Health Insurance
Joshua Holland, AlterNet: "The best argument for overhauling our ridiculously expensive and dysfunctional health care system - an argument one doesn't often hear in the corporate media - is that fixing it would put more dollars in your pocket, even if you already have health coverage. If there's enough pressure on Congress, we'll add a well-designed public insurance option to the current mix of private insurance and government health care programs."

FP morning post 6/29

Top story:

Leaders from Latin America and around the world are debating how to respond after Honduran President Manuel Zelaya was ousted in a coup ahead of a controversial referendum on Sunday. A non-binding vote was to have taken place yesterday over whether to ammend the constitution to allow the leftist president to run for a third term, a move opposed by the opposition, military, and even some of his own party.

Zelaya was taken from his home by the military in a predawn raid and put on a plane to Costa Rica. Congressional Leader Roberto Micheletti was sworn in as president and the secretary of congress read out a resignation letter allegedly written by Zelaya, which the former president says is false. "I am the president of Honduras," Zelaya said angrily during a press conference in Costa Rica.

Latin American leaders widely condemned the coup, with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez -- a close ally of Zelaya -- not surprisingly taking center stage, condemning "oligarchies" for breaking the rules of democracy, placing his country's military on high alert, and accusing the U.S. of helping to orchestrate the coup. Despite Chavez's accusations, the Obama administration has publicly sided with Zelaya, contacting the former president and calling for him to be returned to power.

Stat of the day:

Thanks to the credit crunch, the International Energy Agency expects demand for oil to grow by only 0.6 percent in 2008-2014.

Middle East
Iran began a recount of some of the ballots in this month's disputed presidential election. About 5,000 opposition supporters marched on Sunday, the first demonstration authorities have permitted in days.
Israel will build 50 new homes as part of a settlement expansion plan in the West Bank.
The U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. Ray Odierno, says Iraqi forces are ready to take over when U.S. troops withdraw from Iraqi cities on Tuesday.

Government fighter jets attacked northwest Pakistan killing 20 and damaging a mosque during prayers. Public opinion remains solidly behind the offensive.
China's central bank formally called for a new international reserve currency that could replace the dollar.
Kyrgyz forces killed three members of the militant Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan in a shootout.

Zimbabwean Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change is considering withdrawing from its coalition with President Robert Mugabe.
Former Congolese president Jean-Pierre Bemba is due to appear before the International Criminal Court on war crimes charges today.
Guinea-Bissau, where the last president and one of the candidates were both assassinated, finally held presidential elections.

Albania's parliamentary elections were reportedly free of incident. The ballots are still being counted.
Nato and Russia agreed to resume military ties, which were suspended after last August's war with Georgia.
Swiss officials say they are being unfairly targeted in the global crackdown on tax havens.

Argentina's Peronist party suffered losses in this weekend's parliamentary elections, a major setback for the country's ruling couple, the Kirchners.
Mexico has arrested 93 police officers for suspected ties to the Gulf drug cartel.
Colombian President Alvaro Uribe will visit the White House today, where he is likely to be questioned about his country's human rights record.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Truthout 6/28

Matt Renner The Rooftops and Streets of Tehran
Matt Renner, Truthout: "At 10pm families gather on rooftops in Iran's capitol city to shout together, their voices echoing throughout the sprawling city's mostly empty streets. This ritual, reminiscent of the 1979 Iranian revolution which led to the overthrow of the US-backed dictator Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, has become the 'responsibility' of one young woman's family."

Iraq Set to Seek Foreign Oil Bids
Ernesto Londono and K.I. Ibrahim, The Washington Post: "Iraq is poised to open its coveted oil fields to foreign companies this week for the first time in nearly four decades, a politically risky move in a country eager to shake off the stigma of occupation. Iraqi politicians and some veteran oil officials have said the deals are unduly beneficial to oil giants, which are viewed warily by many in this deeply nationalistic but cash-strapped country."

Richard Kim Obama's Stonewall
Richard Kim, The Nation: "Obama's slide hit what one hopes will be a nadir on June 12 when his administration filed a brief defending the legality of DOMA by comparing same-sex marriage to incest and pedophilia. It is impossible to accept that a president who owes so much to movements for civil rights and social justice, never mind the Obama of 1996, believes in such right-wing bigotry; the only plausible explanation can be one of political calculation."

White House Denies Indefinite Detention Order
Agence France-Presse: "The White House dismissed reports that it has drafted an executive order allowing indefinite detention in the United States of some of the top terror suspects at Guantanamo Bay. An administration official told AFP that no such draft order existed, though internal deliberations were taking place on how to deal with those inmates who could not be released or tried in civilian courts."

NATO and Russia Resume Security Ties Despite Georgia Row
David Brunnstrom and Ingrid Melander, Reuters: "NATO and Russia on Saturday resumed formal cooperation on broad security threats but failed to bridge major differences over Georgia in their first high-level talks since the war in the Caucasus region. The deal emerged after NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said the two sides recognized it was time to crank up joint efforts against Afghan insurgents and drug trafficking, Somali piracy, terrorism and nuclear proliferation."

Troops Arrest Honduran President
BBC News: "Honduran President Manuel Zelaya has been arrested by troops ahead of a controversial constitutional referendum. Mr. Zelaya's secretary said that the president had been taken to an airbase outside the capital, Tegucigalpa."

FOCUS Analysis: Climate Bill May Spur Energy Revolution
H. Josef Hebert, The Associated Press: "Congress has taken its first step toward an energy revolution, with the prospect of profound change for every household, business, industry and farm in the decades ahead."

FOCUS Congress Members Grabbed or Dumped Stocks as Market Crashed
Stephen Koff and Sabrina Eaton, The Cleveland Plain Dealer: "As financial markets tumbled and the government worked to stave off panic by pumping billions of dollars into banks last fall, several members of Congress who oversee the banking industry were grabbing up or dumping bank stocks."

Friday, June 26, 2009

Not enough audacity

New York Times

When it comes to domestic policy, there are two Barack Obamas.

On one side there’s Barack the Policy Wonk, whose command of the issues — and ability to explain those issues in plain English — is a joy to behold.

But on the other side there’s Barack the Post-Partisan, who searches for common ground where none exists, and whose negotiations with himself lead to policies that are far too weak.

Both Baracks were on display in the president’s press conference earlier this week. First, Mr. Obama offered a crystal-clear explanation of the case for health care reform, and especially of the case for a public option competing with private insurers. “If private insurers say that the marketplace provides the best quality health care, if they tell us that they’re offering a good deal,” he asked, “then why is it that the government, which they say can’t run anything, suddenly is going to drive them out of business? That’s not logical.”

But when asked whether the public option was non-negotiable he waffled, declaring that there are no “lines in the sand.” That evening, Rahm Emanuel met with Democratic senators and told them — well, it’s not clear what he said. Initial reports had him declaring willingness to abandon the public option, but Senator Kent Conrad’s staff later denied that. Still, the impression everyone got was of a White House all too eager to make concessions.

The big question here is whether health care is about to go the way of the stimulus bill.

At the beginning of this year, you may remember, Mr. Obama made an eloquent case for a strong economic stimulus — then delivered a proposal falling well short of what independent analysts (and, I suspect, his own economists) considered necessary. The goal, presumably, was to attract bipartisan support. But in the event, Mr. Obama was able to pick up only three Senate Republicans by making a plan that was already too weak even weaker.

At the time, some of us warned about what might happen: if unemployment surpassed the administration’s optimistic projections, Republicans wouldn’t accept the need for more stimulus. Instead, they’d declare the whole economic policy a failure. And that’s exactly how it’s playing out. With the unemployment rate now almost certain to pass 10 percent, there’s an overwhelming economic case for more stimulus. But as a political matter it’s going to be harder, not easier, to get that extra stimulus now than it would have been to get the plan right in the first place.

The point is that if you’re making big policy changes, the final form of the policy has to be good enough to do the job. You might think that half a loaf is always better than none — but it isn’t if the failure of half-measures ends up discrediting your whole policy approach.

Which brings us back to health care. It would be a crushing blow to progressive hopes if Mr. Obama doesn’t succeed in getting some form of universal care through Congress. But even so, reform isn’t worth having if you can only get it on terms so compromised that it’s doomed to fail.

What will determine the success or failure of reform? Above all, the success of reform depends on successful cost control. We really, really don’t want to get into a position a few years from now where premiums are rising rapidly, many Americans are priced out of the insurance market despite government subsidies, and the cost of health care subsidies is a growing strain on the budget.

And that’s why the public plan is an important part of reform: it would help keep costs down through a combination of low overhead and bargaining power. That’s not an abstract hypothesis, it’s a conclusion based on solid experience. Currently, Medicare has much lower administrative costs than private insurance companies, while federal health care programs other than Medicare (which isn’t allowed to bargain over drug prices) pay much less for prescription drugs than non-federal buyers. There’s every reason to believe that a public option could achieve similar savings.

Indeed, the prospects for such savings are precisely what have the opponents of a public plan so terrified. Mr. Obama was right: if they really believed their own rhetoric about government waste and inefficiency, they wouldn’t be so worried that the public option would put private insurers out of business. Behind the boilerplate about big government, rationing and all that lies the real concern: fear that the public plan would succeed.

So Mr. Obama and Democrats in Congress have to hang tough — no more gratuitous giveaways in the attempt to sound reasonable. And reform advocates have to keep up the pressure to stay on track. Yes, the perfect is the enemy of the good; but so is the not-good-enough-to-work. Health reform has to be done right.

On Death And Justice, Or, What If The Death Penalty Could Be Fair?

Those who support Progressive causes are in an odd position these days: we’re often in the majority on issues that matter; and we’re seriously talking about how to turn what, just a few years ago, was a wish list...into a “reality list”.

Staying in the majority, however, requires the assistance of centrist voters--and that means, from time to time, finding philosophical compromise with voters we’d like to keep “in the fold”.

In years past, the issue of the death penalty has created a considerable chasm between Progressives and centrists; with the one side concerned about the misapplication of capital punishment, and the other convinced that, for the most heinous of crimes, the only way to achieve a truly just outcome is for the guilty party to face the most severe of punishments.

What if we could bridge that gap?

In today’s discussion we propose to do exactly that: to create a death penalty process that only executes those who are truly guilty and excludes those who might not deserve to be put to death...in fact, those who might not be guilty of any crime at all.

Before we proceed further, a bit of “full disclosure”: I am personally inclined to end the death penalty. The reason for this change in personal philosophy is related to the work of The Innocence Project, who would want you to know that as of the date of this writing 240 people convicted of various crimes were later exonerated in the United States through the use of DNA testing (17 of those being inmates who were on various Death Rows at the time).

It occurs to me that the only acceptable level of error in executions is zero, which has also led me to support the option of life without the possibility of parole as an effective death penalty substitute; the thinking here being that a wrongly convicted individual can always be released from life without parole...but until Dr. McCoy returns from his five year mission, the odds that an accidental execution can be reversed are quite low indeed.

“On the other hand, the worst nightmare of a death penalty supporter and of everyone who believes in our criminal justice system is to execute an innocent man.”

--From A Charge to Keep, George W. Bush

As you are no doubt aware, in order to obtain a criminal conviction in the United States a prosecutor must prove “guilt beyond a reasonable doubt”.

This standard, however, does not guarantee that only the guilty are convicted.

Improper convictions can be obtained for a variety of reasons, which can include eyewitnesses who make mistakes, situations that involve false confessions, the inappropriate use of informants, or even the occasional governmental misconduct.

To reduce the potential for these sorts of failures, I’m proposing that after conviction, and during the “penalty phase” of a trial involving capital crimes, we determine if the evidence presented can meet a higher “burden of proof” than what is required to merely convict a defendant of the crime for which they are facing trial.

That higher burden of proof:

“Guilt beyond any doubt.”

In other words, if, during the penalty phase, the defense could create any doubt at all as to whether the defendant is guilty, or that the conviction is appropriate, that defendant would no longer be death penalty eligible, and a sentence of life without the possibility of parole would be imposed.

This is a good start to reduce the number of improper capital convictions...but there is another important reason the innocent are convicted that this proposal cannot address: incompetent lawyers.

However, there is a way to get at a resolution for this problem: a requirement that all defendants in capital cases be represented by Federally-accredited “death penalty” attorneys, combined with a requirement that each State maintain a staff of accredited attorneys that would be available to defend those individuals who are facing capital crimes and cannot afford private accredited counsel.

All of this could be imposed by Congress with statute law; and an Act defining “cruel and unusual punishment” in part as a failure, in capital cases, to provide the “guilt beyond any doubt review” and accredited attorneys should do the trick just nicely.

Dimitri: I was talking to Zeus the other day, and he thinks you’re a bad influence on me.
Tasso: That’s interesting, because I think he’s a bad influence on you.
Dimitri: In what way?
Tasso: He makes you think the voices in your head are real.

--From "Plato and a Platypus Walk Into A Bar...", Thomas Cathcart and Daniel Klein

There are two counterarguments that might quickly occur to the reader, and I will attempt to address them both here.

First, it is indeed true that this will not absolutely guarantee that there will be no further improper executions...and it is also true that the only way to make such an absolute guarantee is to end the use of the death penalty altogether.

However, this is a great compromise, in that is reduces the odds of such an execution to near zero while still leaving open the potential for executions in cases where no doubt of any kind can be established by the defense.

Secondly, there will be concerns that this proposal will only allow the death penalty to be imposed under the most extreme and unusual circumstances, to which I would reply: that’s exactly correct.

The idea here is that virtually everyone who is accused of a capital crime would end up sentenced to life without the possibility of parole...except in those most rare of circumstances where there can be no doubt whatever as to the guilt of the accused.

This is also a great compromise—after all, does even the most conservative Christian voter amongst us really want to take the chance that innocent people are executed?

To help this process along, I would further propose that Congress enact legislation that allows anyone facing Federal crimes or capital crimes, in any State, the right to obtain and introduce, post-conviction, evidence that could absolutely prove the innocence of a convicted person...and I would encourage Congress or the State Legislatures to pass legislation that would apply this protection to those convicted of all crimes in all States.

We might consider creating “Review Magistrates” to conduct an initial, less formal, review of such claims, with claims deemed appropriately credible advancing to a more formal Court setting for final disposition.

This will also cause some to object to the added burden imposed on the legal system...but the goal of the Constitution’s due process and equal protection clauses is not to round up a few of the innocent in order to get all the guilty incarcerated...instead, it’s just the opposite: to let a few of the guilty go free in order to ensure that the odds of the innocent being convicted remain as low as possible.

And with all that said, let’s wrap this thing up:

In order to find a way to compromise between the philosophies of those who seek to end capital punishment and those who support its application, I’m proposing that we review the evidence after conviction in capital cases, as part of the “penalty phase” of such trials, and if the defendant can create any doubt at all, of any kind, as to the propriety of that conviction, that defendant shall be sentenced to life without parole.

I’m also proposing that all defendants facing capital crimes be represented by accredited “death penalty” attorneys, and that defendants have the opportunity, post-conviction, to present exculpatory evidence if it should become available.

The use of the death penalty, not unlike the issue of abortion, has pulled people of good conscience to diametrically opposite sides of a national debate that is not easily resolved.

This set of proposals tries to find the compromise between those two sides, and in doing that we hope to convince centrist voters that Progressives are more than just wild-eyed dreamers—that, instead, they’re realists who seek solutions that represent the interests of all Americans, even those with whom they might not always agree.

In a political world where one side seeks fairness and compromise and inclusion and the other side seeks a ever-crazier brand of moral purity...which they can’t quite seem to live up to...it seems to me that the side seeking compromise is hugely advantaged in elections...and that, as far as I’m concerned, sounds pretty good.

Special Note: We have become aware of concerns related to the health of Walter Cronkite, and we hope he is as hale and hearty as he would want to be.

WARNING—Self-Promotion ahead: I am competing for a Netroots Nation Scholarship, and I was not selected in either the first or second rounds. There is one more chance...and while I’m not inclined to use the “hard sell”...I guess I will today.

If you like what you’re seeing here, and you’d like to help me make these stories even better, swing by the Democracy for America site (even if you have before...) and express your support.

All of us here thank you for your kind attention, and we now return you to your regular programming (which, in keeping with the “hard sell”, is rated PG, instead of the usual G).

Thursday, June 25, 2009

FP morning brief 6/25

Top story:

There are further signs that at least the street protest portion of Iran's election controversy is winding down as the opposition has postponed a planned rally in honor of demonstrators who have been killed.

Opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi slammed Iran's clerical leadership on his Website saying, "if the leadership and the president are the same, it will not be in the interests of the country." 70 university professors were reportedly arrested after meeting with Mousavi.

There are continuing signs, however, of the growing rift among Iran's political elite. It was reported that over the 290 lawmakers invited to a victory celebration for President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, only 105 came. Ahmadinejad also criticized U.S. President Barack Obama for interfering in Iran's election, comparing him to former President George W. Bush.

Must read:

If you want to know what Iranians are thinking, go to Afghanistan.

Middle East
At least 76 people were killed in a Baghdad bombing last night. U.S. troops are due to leave the city in six days.
The Israeli military says it will limit its incursions in four West Bank cities.
Lebanon's parliament has re-elected a Hezbollah allied speaker.

Taliban leader Baithullah Mehsud was reportedly narrowly missed by a U.S. drone strike in Northwest Pakistan.
North Korea threatened to expand its nuclear arsenal and launch a "fire shower of nuclear retaliation." Everyone yawned.
New U.S. commander, Gen. Stanley McChrystal urged a "cultural shift" for NATO troops in Afghanistan toward making protecting civilians their top priority.

The U.S. is sending weapons to Somalia to help fight against the Islamist insurgency.
Al Qaeda has taken responsibility for the murder of an American aid worker in Mauritania on Tuesday.
So many Somali MPs have fled the country that the parliament may soon have trouble making quorum.

The U.S. and Venezuela are restoring each other's ambassadors, nine months since they were expelled.
Mexican President Felipe Calderon is the future of his country's democracy is at stake in the fight against drug trafficking and corruption.
Mexico is fighting a renewed dengue fever epidemic.

A Russian court has reversed the acquittals of three men who had been charged with the murder of journalist Anna Politkovskaya.
Two members of the Basque separatist group Eta were arrested in France.
Calls for embattled Italian PM Silvio Berlusconi to resign are growing louder.

Truthout 6/25

Mostofi and Quigley Time for Solidarity With Iran
Bitta Mostofi and Bill Quigley, Truthout: "In Isfahan, Iran, an 80-year-old woman stood defiantly in her doorway. Twenty baton-wielding Basij men arrived on motorcycles and threatened to enter her house in pursuit of a group of young demonstrators. Instead of running with fear or turning her back on the demonstrators, this woman looked the pursuers straight in the eye and said, 'You will not get past me.' Stories of extraordinary bravery and nonviolent defiance to aggression and injustice have slowly but consistently found their way over the Alborz Mountains and across rivers and oceans. They have found their way into the hearts and minds of people across the globe who have been captivated for the past week by this most unlikely of uprisings."

Iran's Women Protest: Shoulder to Shoulder With Men
The Associated Press: "For years, women's defiance in Iran came in carefully planned flashes of hair under their head scarves, brightly painted fingernails and trendy clothing that could be glimpsed under bulky coats and cloaks. But these small acts of rebellion against the theocratic government have been quickly eclipsed in the wake of the disputed June 12 presidential elections. In their place came images of Iranian women marching alongside men, of their scuffles with burly militiamen, of the sobering footage of a young woman named Neda, blood pouring from her mouth and nose minutes after her fatal shooting."

Robert B. Reich Why We Need a Public Health Care Plan
Robert B. Reich, The Wall Street Journal: "Why has health-care reform stalled in Congress? Democrats, after all, control both Houses, and President Obama, whose popularity remains high, has made universal health care his No. 1 priority. What's more, an overwhelming majority of the public wants it. In the most recent Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll, 76% of respondents said it was important that Americans have a choice between a public and private health-insurance plan. In last week's New York Times/CBSNews poll, 85% said they wanted major health-care reforms."

Neda Soltan's Family "Forced Out of Home" by Iranian Authorities
A correspondent in Tehran, The Guardian UK: "The Iranian authorities have ordered the family of Neda Agha Soltan out of their Tehran home after shocking images of her death were circulated around the world. Neighbours said that her family no longer lives in the four-floor apartment building on Meshkini Street, in eastern Tehran, having been forced to move since she was killed. The police did not hand the body back to her family, her funeral was cancelled, she was buried without letting her family know and the government banned mourning ceremonies at mosques, the neighbours said."

Obama Takes Health Care Debate to the Airwaves
Margaret Talev and David Lightman, McClatchy Newspapers: "President Barack Obama on Wednesday intensified his campaign to overhaul the nation's health care system, as polls show Americans wanting but fearing change and as a divided Congress grapples over what to do. In an unusual exclusive arrangement with ABC News that drew the ire of many Republicans, Obama planned to tape a health care town-hall meeting at the White House that the network would air at 10 p.m. EDT. Appearing earlier Wednesday on ABC's 'Good Morning America,' Obama said he that 'absolutely' expects Congress to pass comprehensive health care legislation by year's end."

Louis Wolf A Thoroughly Un-American Institution
Louis Wolf, Council on Hemispheric Affairs: "Today, Thursday June 25th Congress will to vote on an amendment to the Defense Authorization Act which would require the School of the Americas/WHINSEC to release to the public the names, ranks, countries of origin, courses taken and dates of attendance of all the students and instructors at the institute. The School of the America's, renamed WHINSEC, is an organization founded with the explicit purpose of teaching its students the science of torture and interrogation techniques. Its records have been concealed, and for the most part its dealings shrouded in mystery."

Iran in Turmoil
Right now, the best source of up-to-the-minute reports on the evolving Iranian situation is from people in Iran sharing via social networking. We think twitter looks like perhaps the best source. We're going to be picking up selected tweets that appear to provide the best insight into what is happening. *Remember,* this is social networking, but it can also be used for social engineering. Verifiability is always an issue. Read with a cautious eye. -ma/TO

Jason Leopold Detainees Were Also Murdered at Bagram in Afghanistan
Jason Leopold, Truthout: "A new report documenting the torture of more than two dozen former prisoners held at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan between 2002 and 2008 comes several months after a bipartisan Congressional committee linked the murder of two detainees held at the same prison facility to policies enacted by George W. Bush and ex-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld."

Suzanne Maloney The Show Must Go On
Suzanne Maloney, Foreign Policy: "Sorry pundits, there's little the United States can do about the protests in Iran. Better to plan for when the dust settles."

Iran Opposition Leader Blasts Rulers; 70 Professors Arrested
Borzou Daragahi, The Los Angeles Times: "Iran's leading opposition figurehead, Mir-Hossein Mousavi, launched a lengthy broadside against the Iranian leadership and state-owned media in comments published today on his website as authorities arrested 70 university professors who had met with him."

House Takes Up Creating Consumer Financial Protection Agency
Kevin G. Hall, McClatchy Newspapers: "A key committee in the House of Representatives began breaking down the Obama administration's financial-regulation revamp into separate parts Wednesday, promising to pass the portion that would affect most Americans, a proposed Consumer Financial Protection Agency, by the end of July."

Etienne Mougeotte Sarkozy vs. Sarkozy
French President Nicolas Sarkozy's address to a joint session of the French Parliament on Monday, June 22, represented such a rupture from his own previous policies and politics that Robert Schneider, in the Nouvel Observateur, wonders whether he has learned from the economic crisis or is just preparing his own re-election, while the conservative Le Figaro's Etienne Mougeotte applauds the president's audacity.

FTC Chairman Pushes Antitrust Legislation Against Pharmaceutical "Pay-for-Delay Payments"
David Ingram, The National Law Journal: "The chairman of the Federal Trade Commission gave some ammunition Tuesday to those who want to ban pharmaceutical companies from paying competitors who agree to delay the introduction of generic alternatives."

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Truthout 6/24

Congress Considers Referendum on Puerto Rico's Political Status
Frances Robles, The Miami Herald: "Puerto Rico's top political leaders are heading to Washington, DC, Wednesday to battle over a bill that could result in the first congressionally mandated referendum on the future of the island's political status."

US to Return Ambassador to Syria After Four-Year Absence
Scott Wilson, The Washington Post: "President Obama has decided to return a US ambassador to Syria after an absence of more than four years, marking a significant step toward engaging an influential Arab nation long at odds with the United States."

Public Health Plan Could Save Nearly $800 Billion: Policy Group
Susan Heavey, Reuters: "A nationwide health insurance exchange that includes a Medicare-like government option could save $1.8 trillion more than if only private plans are offered, a prominent private U.S. health policy group said on Wednesday."

J. Sri Raman Death of an Indian Nuclear Scientist
J. Sri Raman, Truthout: "On June 13, India's television channels reported the death of Lokanathan Mahalingam, a not-so-well-known nuclear scientist. Very few viewers indeed recognized his smiling face, sporting a religious mark on the forehead, flashed on the screen fleetingly. What made the event noteworthy was the apparent mystery over his end."

Obama to McCain on Iran: "I'm the President"
Sam Youngman, The Hill: "In a wide-ranging midday press conference, President Obama took on Republican critics of his stance on Iran, directly targeting former rival Sen. John McCain and saying, 'I am the president of the United States.'"

Pierre-Yves Gomez The Bosses: Those Diehards With No Self-Awareness
Pierre-Yves Gomez, Le Monde: The resignation of Societe Generale's former chairman Daniel Bouton "highlights the fundamental question facing the big financial institutions today: how are they to renew the management elites that often control their governance, even as the crisis demonstrates the failure of their policies?"

Iran in Turmoil
Right now, the best source of up-to-the-minute reports on the evolving Iranian situation is from people in Iran sharing via social networking. We think twitter looks like perhaps the best source. We're going to be picking up selected tweets that appear to provide the best insight into what is happening. *Remember,* this is social networking, but it can also be used for social engineering. Verifiability is always an issue. Read with a cautious eye. -ma/TO

Sixty Pakistanis Killed in US Drone Strike
BBC News: "At least 45 people have died in a missile strike by a US drone aircraft in Pakistan, officials there have said. The people killed in South Waziristan region had been attending a funeral for others killed in a US drone strike earlier on Tuesday."

Iran's Mousavi "Under 24-Hour Guard"
The Independent UK: "The Iranian opposition leader Mirhossein Mousavi is under 24-hour guard by secret police and no longer able to speak freely to supporters, according to the film director Mohsen Makhmalbaf."

Napolitano Announces End to Domestic Spy Satellite Program
Spencer S. Hsu, The Washington Post: "Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano announced this afternoon that she will kill a controversial Bush administration program to expand the use of spy satellites by domestic law enforcement and other agencies. Napolitano said she acted after state and local law enforcement officials said that access to secret overhead imagery was not a priority."

Obama: Health Reform Needs Public Insurer Option
David Alexander and Donna Smith, Reuters: "President Barack Obama said on Tuesday his healthcare overhaul needed a public insurance option to enforce market 'discipline' on private insurers, but stopped short of saying he would veto legislation without one."

Nicholas D. Kristof What to Do About Darfur
Nicholas D. Kristof, The New York Review of Books: "The slaughter in Darfur has now lasted more than six years, longer than World War II, yet the 'Save Darfur' movement has stalled - even as the plight of many Darfuris may be worsening."

George Monbiot Stop Building Tanks
George Monbiot, The Guardian UK: "The last time we faced a crisis on the scale of the global climate crash, the rational solution was to build tanks. Now the rational, least painful solution is to stop building tanks, and use the money to address a real threat."

FP morning brief 6/24

Top story:

Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, vowed yesterday that his government "will yield to pressure at any cost” amid signs that the resistance movement that grew in response to the disputed election of June 12 is beginning to fade. Mohsen Rezaee, the conservative candidate who came in fourth in the elections, has withdrawn his complaints over the results. Street protests have also become smaller and more sporadic and police and Basij militia crack down on public demonstrations.

Opposition leaders, including Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri have called for a public day of mourning on Thursday for those killed in the demonstrations, including Neda Agha-Sultan, the young woman whose filmed death has become an emblem for the opposition. "Resisting the people's demand is religiously prohibited," said Montazeri on his Website. Footage showing clerics participating in protests may indicate growing divisions in Iran's religious elite.

Iran has reportedly arrested a number of foreign nationals, including those with British passports, in connection with the demonstrations. Britain yesterday expelled two Iranian diplomats in response to the expulsion of two British diplomats from Tehran.

Yesterday, U.S. President Barack Obama also made his strongest condemnation of Iran's government since the protests began, saying he is “appalled and outraged by the threats, beatings and imprisonments of the past few days.”

The Washington Times reports that prior to this month's elections, Obama had written a letter to Khamenei seeking to deepen diplomatic ties. Khamenei refered to this overture derisively in his sermon last week.

Under the radar:

The U.S. says China's plan to equip all personal computers with Web filtering software is a violation of its WTO obligations.

Middle East
The United States will once again send an ambassador to Syria after four years without one.
Documents gathered by lawyers form the families of 9/11 victims show extensive financial ties between al Qaeda and the Saudi royal family.
Iraq is planning to auction off oil contracts to foreign companies for the first time in three decades next week.

Twenty-three Taliban have been killed in fighting near Kandahar according to the Afghan army.
The U.S. Navy continues to shadow a North Korean ship suspected of carrying contraband along the Chinese coast.
An Indian court issued arrest warrants for 22 Pakistanis suspected of involvement in the Mumbai terror attacks.

Kosovo's former prime minister was arrested on war crimes charges as he tried to enter Bulgaria.
Ukraine has scheduled presidential elections for January 17.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy has reshuffled his cabinet, including bringing on the nephew of former president Francois Mitterand.

The U.S. embassy has warned of terrorist threats against the Sudanese government.
North and South Sudan have agreed to seek international arbitration over an oil-producing region they both seek to control.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev is visiting Nigeria, seeking a new energy pact.

FARC rebels ambushed police in Western Colombia, killing seven.
Antigua has fired its chief finance regulator, who is accused of accepting bribes from Allan Stanford.
Tropical storm Andres has weakened and headed back to sea after brushing the coast of Mexico.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

On Looking Deeper, Or, Things About Iran You Might Not Know

It has been an amazing week in Iran, and you are no doubt seeing images that would have been unimaginable just a few weeks ago.

For most of us, Iran has been a country about which we know very little…which, obviously, makes it tough to put the limited news we’re getting into a proper context.

The goal of today’s conversation is to give you a bit more of an “insider look” at today’s news; and to do that we’ll describe some of the risks Iranian bloggers face as they go about their business, we’ll meet a blogging Iranian cleric, we’ll address the issue of what tools the Iranians use for Internet censorship and the companies that could potentially be helping it along, and then we’ll examine Internet traffic patterns into and out of Iran.

Finally, a few words about, of all things, how certain computer games might be useful as tools of revolution.

The first task for today…let’s talk about blogging:

It turns out that bloggers in Iran risk running afoul of the Press Law of 1986, which, in addition to requiring the licensing of media outlets, reads in part:

Article 6: The print media are permitted to publish news items except in cases when they violate Islamic principles and codes and public rights as outlined in this chapter…

…5. Encouraging and instigating individuals and groups to act against the security, dignity and interests of the Islamic Republic of Iran within or outside the country…
…7. Insulting Islam and its sanctities, or, offending the Leader of the Revolution and recognized religious authorities (senior Islamic jurisprudents);
8. Publishing libel against officials, institutions, organizations and individuals in the country or insulting legal or real persons who are lawfully respected, even by means of pictures or caricatures; and
9. Committing plagiarism or quoting articles from the deviant press, parties and groups which oppose Islam (inside and outside the country) in such a manner as to propagate such ideas (the limits of such offenses shall be defined by the executive by-law)…

… Article 25: If a person, through the press, expressly and overtly instigates and encourages people to commit crimes against the domestic security or foreign policies of the state, as specified in the public penal code, and should his/her action bear adverse consequences, he/she shall be prosecuted and condemned as an accomplice in that crime. However, if no evidence is found on such consequences he/she shall be subject to a decision of the religious judge according to Islamic penal code.

Article 26: Whoever insults Islam and its sanctities through the press and his/her guilt amounts to apostasy, shall be sentenced as an apostate and should his/her offense fall short of apostasy he/she shall be subject to the Islamic penal code.

Article 27: Should a publication insult the Leader or Council of Leadership of the Islamic Republic of Iran or senior religious authorities (top Islamic jurisprudents), the license of the publication shall be revoked and its managing director and the writer of the insulting article shall be referred to competent courts for punishment.

(In Iran, the penalty for apostasy is death.)

Those bloggers who are not licensed can still be prosecuted under the Penal Code, as the OpenNet Initiative reports in an excellent article they’ve just posted on the subject.

In 2008 the Iranian parliament passed a law which provides for the death penalty for bloggers who engage in non-permitted activities, a situation faced today by Yaghub Mehrnahad, who publishes the Mehrnahad blog.

(Interestingly, this blog can be reached in Persian, but an attempt to access the same URL with Google Translate returns this message:

“You are not authorized to view this page

The Web server you are attempting to reach has a list of IP addresses that are not allowed to access the Web site, and the IP address of your browsing computer is on this list.”

More about that later.)

There is also the risk of torture: a problem noted by the BBC at least as far back as 2005.

Ironically, Mohammad Ali Abtabi, a cleric and former Vice-President of Iran whom you may have recently seen on “The Daily Show” maintains a blog in which he does criticize Iranian society on a regular basis, including his assessment of the recent election as “a huge swindling”…which has now caused the authorities to place him under arrest.

So how does Iran manage to control Internet access?

What they aren’t doing is employing the simplest method possible: cutting off all access. This is presumably because of the negative impact on the Iranian economy that would be caused by business being unable to do what they need to do online.

There are several methods being employed, including a requirement that all Internet Service Providers in the country connect to the state-owned Data communication Company of Iran (DCI) for international access, that all ISPs put in place “filtering” and monitoring technologies, and that households be blocked from having access to high-speed Internet connections.

As of this writing the fastest Internet connection now available for an Iranian household is 128k, about double the speed of a dial-up connection…and as you might guess, not fast enough to allow Iranians to use such services as YouTube. A 6MB cable Internet connection, not uncommon in the US, would be roughly 50 times faster. Because of this the total capacity of Iran’s international Internet connections are roughly 12GB per second. Normal traffic is about 5GB per second, which, we are told, is about the same as a mid-size American city.

OpenNet reports that after an initial period of reliance upon foreign monitoring software, the government decided to create an “in-house” capability, and as a result there are locally developed software packages designed to allow access to the actual data packets in messages—meaning that authorities can read such things as e-mails and instant messages after they are sent and before they pass through the DCI “gateway”.

There has been a conversation regarding the role of Western equipment suppliers in all of this; and it is alleged that a Nokia/Siemens joint venture (Nokia/Siemens Networks) has sold to the Iranians equipment that is used to monitor the Internet use of Iranian citizens. The company denies this, however.

They also want you to know that the joint venture has been sold to a third party, and that, as their press release tells us: “providing people, wherever they are, with the ability to communicate ultimately benefits societies and brings greater prosperity”.

Another method of blocking access is to deny connections to certain sets of IP addresses, and this is why, presumably, I could not access the translated version of the “Mehrnahad” blog. This method would also allow the Iranians to block access to and from inside the country to sites like the BBC, Google, and Blogspot.

There is a way around “address blocking” which involves setting up “relays” and “bridges” that can be accessed by people in Iran—and this is something you yourself can do that can be of considerable benefit to Iranians trying to reach out to the rest of us.

The Iranian Government is also trying to locate and isolate those with Twitter accounts that are set to the Tehran time zone…and you can help make that process tougher by either setting up a Twitter account and setting the time zone to Tehran, or changing your existing account’s time zone.

The next few minutes are going to get a bit geeky, and for this I apologize in advance.

In order for your computer to use certain services that involve communicating with other computers the operating system utilizes a series of “ports” (this is all in the software, so don’t bother looking at the back of the machine to find them).

Some quick examples: the TCP/IP connection your computer is using to access the Internet is through Port 80 and the FTP service runs on Port 21.

There are two kinds of ports—TCP and UDP—and there is no reason to explain here why or how they differ.

There are thousands of ports, the ports used are usually specific to a particular service, and there are giant lists of assigned ports that everyone can access. A service can (and usually does) use more than one port for two-way communication with a computer, which is why the Federal Emergency Management Agency Information System uses TCP Port 1777 and UDP Port 1777.

The routing data that packets of information display as they travel through the Internet includes the port that the packet is seeking to access…and that data is accessible to all routers…and if you controlled the gateway through which all inbound and outbound Internet traffic was passing through you could block packets that seek to utilize certain ports.

Experts are suggesting that this is exactly what is happening today in Iran, with more than 80% of traffic bound for ports using the Adobe Flash Player being blocked, nearly 75% of the POP Service (e-mail) traffic being blocked, and roughly 70% of traffic bound for ports used by “proxy servers” being intercepted. (Proxy servers, by the way, are the same type of connections we discussed earlier that you can set up at home to help Iranians trying to reach the Internet.)

Voice over IP (VoIP), the Internet “telephone” service, is proving to be a troublesome issue for censors, as it has legitimate business purposes and is difficult to censor without either having someone listening on the other end of the line or installing a monitoring system worthy of the National Security Agency.

Interestingly, with the exception of the few hours immediately following the vote, the amount of Internet blockage, overall, seems to be fairly close to what it was just before the voting. However, the amount of “instability” has been highly variable, suggesting that certain blocks of IP addresses have been temporarily “withdrawn” from the Internet’s address structure, for want of a better term, and then once again made known to that same addressing infrastructure.

It is suggested that this may be because the Iranian Government has been able to institute a sufficient level of monitoring on those address blocks so as to make them comfortable with again allowing the users of those addresses access to the Internet.

In one of the oddest developments I’ve heard so far, there are reports that certain communications protocols used by some games are not being blocked. We will not go into specifics here, but it seems strange indeed that the video game your mother didn’t want you playing all day might actually be a tool for surreptitious communication.

And with all that said, let’s wrap it up for today.

Here’s what we’ve learned: it is indeed hazardous to be a blogger in Iran.

Despite the fact that it can get you tortured or get you the death penalty, there are those who take the risk—including a former Vice-President who now finds himself under arrest.

We can help Iranian citizens by installing software on our own computers that helps them obtain uncensored Internet access, and about 1/3 of that traffic is getting through.

The regime is not attempting to permanently shut down all Internet traffic—and in fact, that would be a cure that might be as bad as the disease.

The Iranian Government, instead, is developing and operating a sophisticated system of Internet blocking, but it is not perfect…and there are odd connections that could be used that most people would never think of as useful for the purpose.

Finally, a Western company is accused of selling equipment to Iran that could be used for Internet monitoring, but the company in question denies that the gear they sold Iran can perform the tasks the accusers say it can.

It is rare indeed to be able to see two revolutions taking place at the same time--but as you’re watching the news from the newest Iranian Revolution…keep an eye on the news of the Internet Revolution as well.

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…with an announcement due this week...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.

Truthout 6/23

Iran in Turmoil
Right now, the best source of up-to-the-minute reports on the evolving Iranian situation is from people in Iran sharing via social networking. We think twitter looks like perhaps the best source. We're going to be picking up selected tweets that appear to provide the best insight into what is happening. *Remember,* this is social networking, but it can also be used for social engineering. Verifiability is always an issue. Read with a cautious eye. -ma/TO

William Rivers Pitt Grand Old Parachutes
William Rivers Pitt, Truthout: "George W. Bush crawled out of the puckerbrush last week to deliver a speech in Erie, Pennsylvania, in which he took a poke at President Obama. 'I told you I'm not going to criticize my successor,' he said, before doing exactly that. 'I'll just tell you that there are people at Gitmo that will kill American people at a drop of a hat and I don't believe that persuasion isn't going to work. Therapy isn't going to cause terrorists to change their mind.' Ah, yes, the eloquence we've all missed so much since January."

US Commander in Afghanistan to Order Limits on Airstrikes
Ewen MacAskill, The Guardian UK: "The new US commander in Afghanistan is to issue fresh orders this week setting tighter limits on the use of air strikes to try to reduce the high civilian death toll, one of the reasons attributed to the swing in support behind the Taliban. General Stanley McChrystal, who took over last month after the failure to stem the Taliban advance, told senior US officers and Nato counterparts in video-conference last week the number of civilian casualties was counterproductive."

Iran: Rafsanjani Poised to Outflank Supreme Leader Khameini
Eurasianet: "Looking past their fiery rhetoric and apparent determination to cling to power using all available means, Iran's hardliners are not a confident bunch. While hardliners still believe they possess enough force to stifle popular protests, they are worried that they are losing a behind-the-scenes battle within Iran's religious establishment. A source familiar with the thinking of decision-makers in state agencies that have strong ties to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said there is a sense among hardliners that a shoe is about to drop."

Palestinian Rift in the West Bank Intensifies
Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News: "Increasing tensions between rival Palestinian factions in the West Bank have turned violent. Fatah leaders say Hamas is plotting to take over the West Bank by force - in a move similar to events in the Gaza Strip, where Hamas fighters overwhelmed Fatah forces. Ahmed Shreen, the Fatah representative in the West Bank city of Qalqilya, says that Hamas militants are stockpiling weapons in the city."

Azadeh Kian Legitimacy of Tehran Regime in Play
Azadeh Kian, a professor of sociology of Iranian origin at Paris's University VII-Diderot, writes an analysis for Le Monde of the class, economic and social tensions that underlie what she describes as a "coup d'etat" in Tehran.

Iraq: Forgotten and in Trouble?
Howard LaFranchi, The Christian Science Monitor: "Fresh concerns about the US-Iraq relationship are rising as the draw-down of US forces approaches. A suicide bombing in Kirkuk Saturday was the deadliest in Iraq in more than a year. Meanwhile, the Iraqi government continues to fail to approve crucial laws for administering the country. With the 133,000 US troops in the country set to be withdrawn from Iraqi cities by June 30, demands on the diplomatic relationship between the two countries will only grow, some Iraq specialists warn."

Jason Leopold Supreme Court Protects Cheney, Rove, Snubs Plame
Jason Leopold, Truthout: "The US Supreme Court on Monday refused to hear a civil lawsuit filed by Valerie Plame Wilson and her husband, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, against Bush administration officials who were responsible for leaking her covert CIA status to the media and attacking her husband for accusing the White House of twisting prewar Iraq intelligence. The Supreme Court's rejection effectively brings the three-year-old case to a close."

Jeremy Scahill Obama's Undeclared War Against Pakistan Continues
Jeremy Scahill, Rebel Reports: "Three days after his inauguration, on January 23, 2009, President Barack Obama ordered US predator drones to attack sites inside of Pakistan, reportedly killing 15 people. It was the first documented attack ordered by the new US Commander in Chief inside of Pakistan. Since that first Obama-authorized attack, the US has regularly bombed Pakistan, killing scores of civilians. The New York Times reported that the attacks were clear evidence Obama 'is continuing, and in some cases extending, Bush administration policy.'"

Iran's Guardian Council Rules Out Nullifying Election
CNN: "Iran's Guardian Council has ruled out the possibility of nullifying the results of the country's disputed presidential election, saying irregularities were reported before the balloting -- not during or after. The announcement, reported by Iran's government-funded Press TV on Tuesday, was another in a series of inconsistent stances by the council on how to handle the unrest stemming from the disputed June 12 race."

Ex-Shah's Son Urges Louder Protest of Iran Rights Abuses
Grace Chung, McClatchy Newspapers: "The former crown prince of Iran on Monday urged foreign leaders to condemn more forcefully the Iranian regime's crackdown on more than a week of mass protests in his homeland over the alleged rigging of the June 12 presidential election. While it's 'admirable' that they aren't interfering in Iran's internal affairs, world powers can't ignore human rights violations, said Reza Pahlavi, the son of the late former shah."

Hi-Tech Helps Iranian Monitoring
Rory Cellan-Jones, BBC: "Iran is well known for filtering the net, but the government has moved to do the same for mobile phones. Nokia Siemens Network has confirmed it supplied Iran with the technology needed to monitor, control, and read communications."

US SEC Charges Madoff Middlemen With Fraud
Martha Graybow, Reuters: "A brokerage firm and a Hollywood investment adviser that were key middlemen for Wall Street thief Bernard Madoff were hit with civil fraud charges on Monday, accused of steering new clients into the swindler's lair as he sought to keep his massive Ponzi scheme running. The US Securities and Exchange Commission filed fraud charges against Cohmad Securities Corp, which Madoff and his brother, Peter, partially owned; Cohmad's chairman, Maurice Cohn; and executives Marcia Cohn and Robert Jaffe."

FP morning brief 6/23

Top story:

In a setback for the opposition, though not an unexpected one, Iran's Guardian Council has ruled out an annulment of election results, saying it found no evidence of major fraud. The council had admitted yesterday that there were a number of irregularities, including at least 50 cities where turnout exceeded 100 percent.

Judicial officials announced that a special court is being created to try demonstrators and that anyone continuing to protest would be "considered a threat" and arrested.

Protesters again gathered in central Tehran on Monday, but were quickly overwhelmed by riot police using tear gas. Iranian security forces appear to be intensifying their crackdown on the demonstrators, though opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi is reportedly working on further actions, including calling for a general strike.

Must read:

Most public assembly is banned in Burma, but the country does have a growing pro soccer league featuring international players.

The U.S. navy continued to shadow a North Korean ship suspected of carrying weapons as it passed by Shanghai.
A pro-government militant rival of Taliban leader Baithullah Mehsud has been killed in Pakistan.
The U.S. and Kyrgyzstan have reached a deal over use of the Manas airbase.

Middle East
The Hamas-affiliated speaker of the Palestinian parliament was freed after three years in an Israeli prison.
Bomb attacks throughout Iraq killed at least 29 people yesterday.
Tensions are building in Nineveh, Iraq where local Kurds are refusing to accept the authority of an Arab nationalist governor.

Europe and Caucasus
The French Parliament has created a commission that could lead to the banning of the burqa.
The president of the Russian region of Ingushetia remains in critical condition after being wounded in a suicide bombing yesterday.
British lawmakers elected a new Speaker of the House of Commons.

Zimbabwe's mining minister has been barred from visiting Britain.
A failed prison break in Congo led to rioting and rape of 20 female prisoners.
Kenya has rejected Somalia's request for troops to help fight its growing insurgency.

Uruguay is compensating those taken as political prisoners during the country's military dictatorship in the 1970s and 80s.
Mexican drug cartels are increasingly recruiting U.S. teens as hired guns.
Tropical storm Andres is growing into the Pacific season's first hurricane and is expected to hit the coast of Mexico today.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Truthout 6/22

Memo Reveals US Plan to Provoke an Invasion of Iraq
Jamie Doward, Gaby Hinsliff and Mark Townsend, The Observer UK: "A confidential record of a meeting between President Bush and Tony Blair before the invasion of Iraq, outlining their intention to go to war without a second United Nations resolution, will be an explosive issue for the official inquiry into the UK's role in toppling Saddam Hussein. The memo, written on 31 January 2003, almost two months before the invasion and seen by the Observer, confirms that as the two men became increasingly aware UN inspectors would fail to find weapons of mass destruction (WMD) they had to contemplate alternative scenarios that might trigger a second resolution legitimising military action."

Twitter Ripped the Veil Off "the Other" - and We Saw Ourselves
Andrew Sullivan, The Sunday Times Online UK: "I have spent the past week hunched over a laptop, channelling and broadcasting as much information, video and debate about the momentous events in Iran, nothing quite captured the mood and pace of events like the tweets coming from the people of Iran. With internet speed deliberately slowed to a crawl by the Iranian authorities, brevity and simplicity were essential. To communicate, they tweeted. Within hours of the farcical election result, I tracked down a bunch of live Twitter feeds and started to edit and rebroadcast them as a stream of human consciousness on the verge of revolution."

Marisa Taylor Agents Say DEA Is Forcing Them Illegally to Work in Afghanistan
Marisa Taylor, McClatchy Newspapers: "As the Obama administration ramps up the Drug Enforcement Administration's presence in Afghanistan, some special-agent pilots contend that they're being illegally forced to go to a combat zone, while others who've volunteered say they're not being properly equipped. In interviews with McClatchy, more than a dozen DEA agents describe a badly managed system in which some pilots have been sent to Afghanistan under duress or as punishment for bucking their superiors."

Attack on Key US Afghan Base Kills Two Soldiers
Reuters: "An attack on the main US base in Afghanistan killed two soldiers of the NATO-led force on Sunday, the alliance said, in the first known casualties caused by hostile fire on the base since the Taliban's ouster. At least six other soldiers were wounded in the strike on Bagram air field which lies some 50 km (30 miles) north of Kabul and serves as the hub of operations for some 57,000 US troops in Afghanistan, NATO said in a statement."

$80 Billion Medicare Deal Reached
The Associated Press: "The pharmaceutical industry agreed Saturday to spend $80 billion over the next decade improving drug benefits for seniors on Medicare and defraying the cost of President Barack Obama's health care legislation, capping secretive negotiations involving key lawmakers and the White House. 'This new coverage means affordable prices on prescription drugs when Medicare benefits don't cover the cost of prescriptions,' Sen. Max Baucus, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, said in a statement announcing the accord."

Obama "Ready to Fight" for New Financial Agency
Doug Palmer, Reuters: "President Barack Obama said on Saturday he is 'ready to fight' for a tough new agency to protect consumers from risky loans and other financial products and lashed out at groups that might stand in the way. 'These interests argue against reform even as millions of people are facing the consequences of this crisis in their own lives,' Obama said in a weekly radio address."

Support Our Troops
Leslie Thatcher, Truthout, reviews Marjorie Cohn and Kathleen Gilberd's "Rules of Disengagement: The Politics and Honor of Military Dissent" and interviews the authors: "Although regular Truthout contributor, National Lawyers Guild president and Thomas Jefferson School of Law professor Marjorie Cohn and longtime activist co-author Kathleen Gilberd conceived 'Rules of Disengagement: The Politics and Honor of Military Dissent' as 'a practical guide, not an abstract analysis' and have certainly produced a primer on the available legal and honorable means for redress of the many grievances the US military may suffer, they have also authored a deeply suggestive meditation on the military 'we have' and how it may have come to be the source of so many and such varied grievances."

Democrats May Go It Alone on Government Insurance Plan
Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar, The Associated Press: "Democrats generally are standing behind their position that a health care system overhaul must include a government-sponsored plan that would be available to middle-class workers and their families. A key Democrat, New York Sen. Charles Schumer, said this option now seems even more of a necessity in view of unsuccessful behind-the-scenes attempts to get a deal with Republicans on nonprofit co-ops as an alternative to a public plan."

Iran Admits 50 Cities Had More Votes Than Voters
Martin Fletcher, The Times UK: "In 50 Iranian cities the number of votes cast in this month presidential election exceeded the number of eligible voters, the state's election watchdog admitted today. The surprising admission by the Guardian Council was, however, designed to undermine the claims of the defeated candidates that the vote was rigged."

Split Deepens Among Top Clerics in Iran
Jeffrey Fleishman and Ramin Mostaghim, The Los Angeles Times: "As the power struggle inside Iran's political class appeared to intensify, with reformist and conservative leaders exchanging sharp statements that blamed one another for last week's deadly street violence, authorities announced irregularities that could affect 3 million votes in 50 cities."

Critics Fault Climate-Change Legislation
Jennifer A. Dlouhy, The San Francisco Chronicle: "Across the nation, dairy operations ... as well as landowners growing trees on previously empty land and vegetable farmers who plant seeds over old crops without tilling their fields, could win big under climate-change legislation advancing on Capitol Hill. The measure, which might be considered by the House this week, would force businesses to meet steadily tightening limits on carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions blamed for global warming."

Insurers Revoke Policies to Avoid Paying High Costs
Joanne Silberner, NPR News: "According to a new report by congressional investigators, an insurance company practice of retroactively canceling health insurance is fairly common, and it saves insurers a lot of money. A subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee recently held a hearing about the report's findings in an effort to bring a halt to this practice. But at the hearing, insurance executives told lawmakers they have no plans to stop rescinding policies."

FP morning brief 6/22

Top story:

A spokesman for Iran's authoritative Guardian Council has admitted that voter turnout in the country's July 12 presidential election exceed 100 percent in as many as 50 cities. The admission is likely to further inflame controversy over the election which has plunged Tehran into its worst unrest since the 1979 revolution.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamanei's warning to protesters last Friday proved ineffective as the opposition continued to clash with security forces throughout the weekend. At least 10 people were thought to have been killed in Saturday's protests. 457 people were reported arrested. At least 24 journalists, including correspondents from Newsweek and the BBC have also been detained.

The fatal shooting of a teenage girl named Neda, which was captured on video and went viral, has become a rallying point for the protests. Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards vowed to crack down today if protests continue.

Opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi has reportedly called for more demonstrations today.
Must read: After seven months of silence, the New York Times reveals details of reporter David Rohde's capture and escape from the Taliban.

The U.S. Navy is tracking a North Korean ship, possibly carrying prohibited materials to Burma
Pakistani fighter jets attacked suspected insurgent hideouts in Northwest Pakistan.
Chinese Internet users are calling for a Web boycott on July 1, to protest the debut of new filtering software.

Europe and Caucasus
The president of the Russian region of Ingushetia was critically wounded in a suicide bombing.
Nicolas Sarkozy will address France's parliament tonight, the first time a French president has done so in 136 tears.
Greenland has taken a further step toward independence from Denmark as a new self-governance agreement goes into effect.

Middle East
Another bombing hit Shiite areas of Baghdad as U.S. troops prepare to withdraw from the city next week.
Documents from a lawsuit have shed light on murky process through which Israeli settlers are sold land in the West Bank.
Israeli President Shimon Peres applauded this week's protests in Iran.

Rwanda's former interior minister was sentenced to 30 years in prison for his role in the 1994 genocide.
Somalia's government has requested military assistance from its neighbors for fighting the Islamist insurgency.
There were three attacks on Royal Dutch Shell facilities in Nigeria on Sunday.

A U.N. probe found evidence of widespread extrajudicial killings by Colombia's military but cleared president Alvaro Uribe of complicity.
The U.S. is expecting to restart migration talks with Cuba's government.
President Barack Obama pledged an overhaul of the U.S. banking regulatory system in his weekly radio address.

Health care showdown

New York Times

America’s political scene has changed immensely since the last time a Democratic president tried to reform health care. So has the health care picture: with costs soaring and insurance dwindling, nobody can now say with a straight face that the U.S. health care system is O.K. And if surveys like the New York Times/CBS News poll released last weekend are any indication, voters are ready for major change.

The question now is whether we will nonetheless fail to get that change, because a handful of Democratic senators are still determined to party like it’s 1993.

And yes, I mean Democratic senators. The Republicans, with a few possible exceptions, have decided to do all they can to make the Obama administration a failure. Their role in the health care debate is purely that of spoilers who keep shouting the old slogans — Government-run health care! Socialism! Europe! — hoping that someone still cares.

The polls suggest that hardly anyone does. Voters, it seems, strongly favor a universal guarantee of coverage, and they mostly accept the idea that higher taxes may be needed to achieve that guarantee. What’s more, they overwhelmingly favor precisely the feature of Democratic plans that Republicans denounce most fiercely as “socialized medicine” — the creation of a public health insurance option that competes with private insurers.

Or to put it another way, in effect voters support the health care plan jointly released by three House committees last week, which relies on a combination of subsidies and regulation to achieve universal coverage, and introduces a public plan to compete with insurers and hold down costs.

Yet it remains all too possible that health care reform will fail, as it has so many times before.

I’m not that worried about the issue of costs. Yes, the Congressional Budget Office’s preliminary cost estimates for Senate plans were higher than expected, and caused considerable consternation last week. But the fundamental fact is that we can afford universal health insurance — even those high estimates were less than the $1.8 trillion cost of the Bush tax cuts. Furthermore, Democratic leaders know that they have to pass a health care bill for the sake of their own survival. One way or another, the numbers will be brought in line.

The real risk is that health care reform will be undermined by “centrist” Democratic senators who either prevent the passage of a bill or insist on watering down key elements of reform. I use scare quotes around “centrist,” by the way, because if the center means the position held by most Americans, the self-proclaimed centrists are in fact way out in right field.

What the balking Democrats seem most determined to do is to kill the public option, either by eliminating it or by carrying out a bait-and-switch, replacing a true public option with something meaningless. For the record, neither regional health cooperatives nor state-level public plans, both of which have been proposed as alternatives, would have the financial stability and bargaining power needed to bring down health care costs.

Whatever may be motivating these Democrats, they don’t seem able to explain their reasons in public.

Thus Senator Ben Nelson of Nebraska initially declared that the public option — which, remember, has overwhelming popular support — was a “deal-breaker.” Why? Because he didn’t think private insurers could compete: “At the end of the day, the public plan wins the day.” Um, isn’t the purpose of health care reform to protect American citizens, not insurance companies?

Mr. Nelson softened his stand after reform advocates began a public campaign targeting him for his position on the public option.

And Senator Kent Conrad of North Dakota offers a perfectly circular argument: we can’t have the public option, because if we do, health care reform won’t get the votes of senators like him. “In a 60-vote environment,” he says (implicitly rejecting the idea, embraced by President Obama, of bypassing the filibuster if necessary), “you’ve got to attract some Republicans as well as holding virtually all the Democrats together, and that, I don’t believe, is possible with a pure public option.”

Honestly, I don’t know what these Democrats are trying to achieve. Yes, some of the balking senators receive large campaign contributions from the medical-industrial complex — but who in politics doesn’t? If I had to guess, I’d say that what’s really going on is that relatively conservative Democrats still cling to the old dream of becoming kingmakers, of recreating the bipartisan center that used to run America.

But this fantasy can’t be allowed to stand in the way of giving America the health care reform it needs. This time, the alleged center must not hold.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

My Father's Day Wish

Evan Bayh
United States Senator D-IN

I was visiting an Indiana middle school during my second term as governor more than a decade ago when we posed a question to the class:

"Who can tell me what it means to be a good father?"

A boy sitting at the front of the room shot his hand into the air.

"Someone who will come around sometimes," he said, "and who remembers to bring diapers for the baby."

This youngster felt blessed for the chance to occasionally see his dad, cherishing even the smallest gesture of fatherly regard shown to his sibling. The subtext was tragically clear: Many of his peers did not know their fathers at all.

Today, as we honor fatherhood and recognize the vital role that active dads play in molding their children into responsible adults, I count myself blessed for having been raised by a devoted father.

We cannot be proud of the fact that our nation leads the world in the percentage of fatherless homes. Sadly, 24 million children will mark this day with no father in their lives at all.

There is an irrefutable body of evidence demonstrating that father absence is a major contributor to such troubling societal trends as increased teen pregnancy, teen violence, educational underperformance, and drug and alcohol abuse. Children who grow up without a dad are five times more likely to live in poverty and commit crime. They are more likely to drop out of school, more likely to commit suicide and more likely to become teenage parents.

Single mothers are heroes, and we should move mountains to honor them and lift them up.However, we also must take steps to help more of our fathers do their part, too.

One of my proudest achievements as governor was doubling child-support collections. We used "most wanted" posters to track down deadbeat parents and intercepted tax refunds, lottery winnings and unemployment benefits. We also increased resources for educational assistance, job placement and substance abuse treatment for fathers who wanted to do right by their kids.

Since my election to the Senate, I have worked to bring national attention to this issue. On Friday afternoon, I spent the day at the White House to draw attention to efforts to promote responsible fatherhood. Earlier morning, I reintroduced my legislation in the Senate to address the epidemic of absent fathers by funding programs that promote financial literacy, support domestic violence prevention efforts, remove some of the government penalties on married families, crack down on men avoiding child support payments, and ensure that support payments go to families instead of state bureaucracies.

Dads have a responsibility to offer a lot more to their kids than a cameo appearance and a box of diapers.

My Father's Day wish is that more of our sons and daughters can know the love of a father and be given every chance to grow into mature, responsible and caring adults.

Republicans need to check the bigotry

Leonard Pitts, Jr.
Miami Herald

The modern GOP was created in 1965 with a stroke of Lyndon Johnson's pen.

If that is an exaggeration, it is not much of one. When Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act, he made a prediction: In committing the unpardonable sin of guaranteeing the ballot to all citizens regardless of race, he said, he would cause his party to lose the South "for a generation."

And indeed Southern Democrats, who for a century had bombed schools, lynched innocents, perverted justice and terrorized millions in the name of intolerance, responded by leaving their ancestral party in droves. They formed the base of a new GOP, a reality acknowledged by Ronald Reagan when he opened his 1980 campaign at a segregationist fair in a town where three civil rights workers were infamously martyred, by declaring, "I believe in state's rights."

In embracing its new southern base, the Republican Party became the Repugnant Party on matters of race, a distinction it has done little to shed. So some of us were disappointed but not surprised last week when Sherri Goforth, an aide to Tennessee state Sen. Diane Black, came under fire for an e-mail she sent out. It depicted the 44 U.S. presidents, showing the first 43 in dignified, statesmanlike poses. By contrast, the 44th, the first African-American, is seen as a pair of cartoon spook eyes against a black backdrop. Goforth's explanation: the e-mail, which went to GOP staffers, was sent "to the wrong list of people."

You may wish to let that one marinate for a moment.

And please, don't bother reminding me of Democrat Robert Byrd's onetime membership in the Ku Klux Klan; I make no argument that the Democrats are untainted by bigotry. Rather, my argument is that the GOP is consumed by it, riddled with it, that it has shown, sown, shaped and been shaped by it, to an abhorrent degree.

You think that's unfair? Well, after Goforth's e-mail, after "Barack the Magic Negro," and John McCain's campaign worker blaming a fictional black man for a fictional mugging, and a party official in Texas renaming the executive mansion "the black house," and an official in Virginia claiming Obama's presidency would see free drugs and "mandatory black liberation theology," and a Republican activist in South Carolina calling an escaped ape one of Michelle Obama's "ancestors," it seems wholly fair to me. Indeed, overdue.

And keep in mind: all that is just from the last year or so. I could draw up a much longer list but space is limited and there is a final point to make.

Which is that, yes, I am cognizant of the danger of painting with too broad a brush and no, I am not saying membership in the GOP is synonymous with membership in the KKK. I know there are Republicans of racial enlightenment and common decency. Indeed, I am counting on it, counting on them to search conscience and demand their party find ways of winning elections that do not depend on lazy appeals to the basest emotions of the hateful and the unreconstructed.

Do it because it's the right thing. And do it because it is in the party's long-term interest. As a 2008 Gallup poll indicates, black people are "more" religious than Republicans as a whole and just as conservative on some key moral issues. Yet only 5 percent identify with the party of religion and conservatism. The GOP's ongoing inability to win over such a natural constituency speaks volumes.

I keep waiting for somebody to do something about it. I mean, I can hear Republicans of racial enlightenment and common decency yelling at me from here. They want me to know there is nothing honorable, much less inherently Republican, in the hatred expressed by these weasels in elephant's clothes. In response, I would give them this advice:

Don't tell me. Tell them.

Truthout 6/21

Iran in Turmoil
Right now, the best source of up-to-the-minute reports on the evolving Iranian situation is from people in Iran sharing via social networking. We think twitter looks like perhaps the best source. We're going to be picking up selected tweets that appear to provide the best insight into what is happening. *Remember,* this is social networking, but it can also be used for social engineering. Verifiability is always an issue. Read with a cautious eye. -ma/TO

Truck Bomb Kills Over 70 in Northern Iraq
Nada Bakri, The Washington Post: "A truck bomb killed at least 70 people Saturday as they were leaving a mosque near the contested northern city of Kirkuk, shattering a recent lull in violence and raising fears of renewed bloodshed as US forces complete their withdrawal from Iraqi cities by the end of the month. The bombing came shortly after Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki urged a gathering in Baghdad to remain steadfast if the American withdrawal leads to a resurgence in attacks."

Iran's Parliament Speaker Criticizes Election Authority
CNN: "Iran's influential parliamentary speaker Ali Larijani implied Saturday that the election authority sided with a certain candidate as thousands of defiant anti-government protesters once again swept into the streets of the capital. A stream of videos posted on social networking Web sites depicted tense scenes and chaos - sounds of gunshots, images of helicopters whirring overhead and wounded men and women being carried away."

Reporters Escape Taliban Captors
Keith B. Richburg, The Washington Post: "A New York Times reporter kidnapped by the Taliban and held for seven months in the rugged mountainous region along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border escaped Friday, along with a local Afghan reporter, by climbing over a wall and finding a nearby Pakistani army base, according to the newspaper, US officials and the journalist's family. David Rohde, 41, was taken captive November 10 along with local reporter Tahir Ludin, 35, and their driver while Rohde was researching a book on Afghanistan."

Bill Would Boost Congressional Oversight of Covert Spy Programs
Greg Miller, The Los Angeles Times: "Criticized for failing to challenge the intelligence operations of the Bush administration, key lawmakers have endorsed a bill that would force the president to make fuller disclosure of covert spy programs. The legislation approved by the House Intelligence Committee late Thursday would eliminate the president's ability to keep classified operations secret from any member of the panel, according to Democrats who described the provision."

Russia Ready for Deep Nuclear Arms Cuts
Reuters: "Russia is ready to dramatically cut its nuclear stockpiles in a new arms pact with the United States if Washington meets Russia's concerns over missile defense, President Dmitry Medvedev said on Saturday. 'We are ready to reduce by several times the number of nuclear delivery vehicles compared with the START-1 pact,' he told a news conference in Amsterdam."

UN: One Billion People Are Hungry Every Day
Alessandra Rizzo, The Associated Press: "The global financial meltdown has pushed the ranks of the world's hungry to a record one billion, a grim milestone that poses a threat to peace and security, UN food officials said yesterday. Because of war, drought, political instability, high food prices, and poverty, hunger now affects 1 in 6 people, by the UN estimate. The financial meltdown has compounded the crisis in what the head of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization called a 'devastating combination for the world's most vulnerable.'"

FOCUS Steve Weissman: Non-Violence 101 for Iran
Steve Weissman, Truthout: "Peter Ackerman and Ramin Ahmadi called the revolution on January 4, 2006, in an article in the International Herald Tribune with the prophetic title 'Iran's Future? Watch the Streets.' 'Against all odds, nonviolent tactics such as protests and strikes have gradually become common in Iran's domestic political scene,' they wrote. 'Student activists have frequently resorted to strikes, sit-ins and demonstrations, and the violent response of the regime and repeated attacks of the paramilitaries have not succeeded in silencing them.'"

FOCUS Mousavi Calls for Purge of "Lies"
Parisa Hafezi, Reuters: "Opposition leader Mirhossein Mousavi said the Islamic Republic must be purged of what he called lies and dishonesty, sending out a direct challenge to conservative rulers after a day of unrest across Tehran. Helicopters criss-crossed the city and ambulance sirens wailed into the night after streets emptied of protesters who had defied Friday's stern warning from Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei against further demonstrations."

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Out of the shadows

New York Times

Would the Obama administration’s plan for financial reform do what has to be done? Yes and no.

Yes, the plan would plug some big holes in regulation. But as described, it wouldn’t end the skewed incentives that made the current crisis inevitable.

Let’s start with the good news.

Our current system of financial regulation dates back to a time when everything that functioned as a bank looked like a bank. As long as you regulated big marble buildings with rows of tellers, you pretty much had things nailed down.

But today you don’t have to look like a bank to be a bank. As Tim Geithner, the Treasury secretary, put it in a widely cited speech last summer, banking is anything that involves financing “long-term risky and relatively illiquid assets” with “very short-term liabilities.” Cases in point: Bear Stearns and Lehman, both of which financed large investments in risky securities primarily with short-term borrowing.

And as Mr. Geithner pointed out, by 2007 more than half of America’s banking, in this sense, was being handled by a “parallel financial system” — others call it “shadow banking” — of largely unregulated institutions. These non-bank banks, he ruefully noted, were “vulnerable to a classic type of run, but without the protections such as deposit insurance that the banking system has in place to reduce such risks.”

When Lehman fell, we learned just how vulnerable shadow banking was: a global run on the system brought the world economy to its knees.

One thing financial reform must do, then, is bring non-bank banking out of the shadows.

The Obama plan does this by giving the Federal Reserve the power to regulate any large financial institution it deems “systemically important” — that is, able to create havoc if it fails — whether or not that institution is a traditional bank. Such institutions would be required to hold relatively large amounts of capital to cover possible losses, relatively large amounts of cash to cover possible demands from creditors, and so on.

And the government would have the authority to seize such institutions if they appear insolvent — the kind of power that the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation already has with regard to traditional banks, but that has been lacking with regard to institutions like Lehman or A.I.G.

Good stuff. But what about the broader problem of financial excess?

President Obama’s speech outlining the financial plan described the underlying problem very well. Wall Street developed a “culture of irresponsibility,” the president said. Lenders didn’t hold on to their loans, but instead sold them off to be repackaged into securities, which in turn were sold to investors who didn’t understand what they were buying. “Meanwhile,” he said, “executive compensation — unmoored from long-term performance or even reality — rewarded recklessness rather than responsibility.”

Unfortunately, the plan as released doesn’t live up to the diagnosis.

True, the proposed new Consumer Financial Protection Agency would help control abusive lending. And the proposal that lenders be required to hold on to 5 percent of their loans, rather than selling everything off to be repackaged, would provide some incentive to lend responsibly.

But 5 percent isn’t enough to deter much risky lending, given the huge rewards to financial executives who book short-term profits. So what should be done about those rewards?

Tellingly, the administration’s executive summary of its proposals highlights “compensation practices” as a key cause of the crisis, but then fails to say anything about addressing those practices. The long-form version says more, but what it says — “Federal regulators should issue standards and guidelines to better align executive compensation practices of financial firms with long-term shareholder value” — is a description of what should happen, rather than a plan to make it happen.

Furthermore, the plan says very little of substance about reforming the rating agencies, whose willingness to give a seal of approval to dubious securities played an important role in creating the mess we’re in.

In short, Mr. Obama has a clear vision of what went wrong, but aside from regulating shadow banking — no small thing, to be sure — his plan basically punts on the question of how to keep it from happening all over again, pushing the hard decisions off to future regulators.

I’m aware of the political realities: getting financial reform through Congress won’t be easy. And even as it stands the Obama plan would be a lot better than nothing.

But to live up to its own analysis, the Obama administration needs to come down harder on the rating agencies and, even more important, get much more specific about reforming the way bankers are paid.

Truthout 6/20

Lisa Boscov-Ellen Water for Sale: The Thirst for Profit
Lisa Boscov-Ellen, The Council on Hemispheric Affairs: "Water has been characterized as the oil of the 21st century. Blue gold. It is essential to life, and yet humanity faces a growing water crisis as a result of severe mismanagement in water and sanitation, which will be exponentially exacerbated in the coming decades by population growth combined with declining resources. Latin America has the greatest income disparity in the world and the population’s access to water reflects this inequality."

David Bacon Criminals Because We Worked
David Bacon, Truthout: "The production lines at Overhill Farms move very quickly. Every day, for 18 years, Bohemia Agustiano stood in front of the "banda" for eight or nine hours, putting pieces of frozen chicken, rice and vegetables onto plates as they passed in a blur before her. Making the same motions over and over for such a long time, her feet in one place on the concrete floor, had its price. Pains began shooting through her hands and wrists, up her arms to her shoulders. Complaining also had a price, however. 'I was reluctant to say anything because of my need,' she says."

US Accepts Blame for Deaths of 26 Afghan Civilians
Anne Gearan, The Associated Press: "The United States accidentally killed an estimated 26 Afghan civilians last month when a warplane did not strictly adhere to rules for bombing, the US military concluded in a report that recommends even tighter controls to limit deaths that risk turning Afghans against the US war effort. 'The inability to discern the presence of civilians and assess the potential collateral damage of those strikes is inconsistent with the US government's objective of providing security and safety for the Afghan people,' the report prepared by US Central Command said."

Mark Weisbrot American Voters Want Congressional Investigations: Will Democrats Seize the Opportunity for 2010?
Mark Weisbrot, The Guardian UK: "Plans are already being made for the 2010 elections for the US Congress, and the Democrats would appear to have some advantages. They have a popular president, a 6-percentage-point lead in party identification and 9 points for a generic Congressional ballot. Majorities of the electorate see both Obama and the Democratic Party as pushing for a change from the failed policies of the past. The Republicans seem divided and confused over a recovery strategy, plagued by high-level defections (such as Senator Arlen Specter) and spokespeople (such as Rush Limbaugh and Dick Cheney) that seem too extreme to win over the necessary swing voters."

US Navy Prepares to Intercept North Korean Ship
Ewen MacAskill, The Guardian UK: "Tension was growing in the Pacific today as the US navy prepared to intercept a North Korean cargo ship suspected of carrying weapons in defiance of a United Nations ban. The US navy has been tracking the Kang Nam since its left a North Korean port on Wednesday."

Jobless Pain Continues in Most States in May
Lisa Lambert, Reuters: "Signs unemployment pains may be easing in individual US states in April disappeared by May, when jobless rates jumped in 48 states and the District of Columbia, according to data released on Friday. Michigan again reported the highest unemployment rate of 14.1 percent, followed by Oregon, which notched 12.4 percent, its greatest on record, the US Labor Department said."

FOCUS: Dahr Jamail Destroying Indigenous Populations
Dahr Jamail, Truthout: "There is uranium all around the Black Hills, South and North Dakota, Wyoming and Montana. Mining companies came in and dug large holes through these lands to extract uranium in the 1950's and 1960's prior to any prohibitive regulations. Abandoned uranium mines in southwestern South Dakota number 142. In the Cave Hills area, another sacred place in South Dakota used for vision quests and burial sites, there are 89 abandoned uranium mines. In occupied Iraq and Afghanistan, the uranium that has caused genocide of sorts at home has proceeded to wreak new havoc."

Iran's Top Leader Endorses Election
Thomas Erdbrink and William Branigin, The Washington Post: "Iran's supreme leader on Friday put his full authority behind the reelection of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, rejecting allegations of vote fraud and declaring that foreign "enemies," including the United States, were behind a week of massive street demonstrations. By placing his personal seal of approval on the election's official result, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei significantly raised the stakes for Iran's political opposition, which must now either concede the election or be seen as challenging the supreme leader himself. So far, opposition presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi and his supporters have questioned the validity of the June 12 election but not the country's theocratic system of governance."

Friday, June 19, 2009

FP morning post 6/19


In his Friday sermon, Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called for an end to protests and warned that opposition leaders would be “held responsible for chaos.” He dismissed reports of fraud is last week's elections, which he described as a “great demonstration of responsibility by our nation.” Khamenei also blamed “media belonging to Zionists, evil media” for sowing unrest in Iran.

Opposition leaders had no immediate response to Khamenei's intervention. Reports indicate that opposition candidate Mir Hossein Moussavi was conspicuous by his absence from the prayers after Khamenei had requested he attend.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was in attendance. The opposition candidates may bring their complaints to Iran's Guardian Council as early as tomorrow.

The question now is how long Iran's security forces will continue to allow demonstrations to continue, particularly after the supreme leader's warning. The relative restraint thus far may be due to the influence of former president and senior cleric Akbar Hashemi Rasfanjani, a rival to Khamenei who supports the opposition. In an effort to show even-handedness, during his sermon Khamenei also criticized Ahmadinejad for accusing Rasfanjani of corruption.


The Indian military has launched an offensive against Maoist rebels in West Bengal after the killing of 10 government supporters and the takeover of several villages this week.

Asia and Pacific
Islamist rebels in Southern Thailand have been targeting teachers for assassination.
Separatist protests in Kashmir have all but shut down the disputed province.
The U.S. has deployed interceptor missiles and radar systems to Hawaii after threats from North Korea.

A car bombing that killed a policeman in Basque country today was blamed on the separatist group ETA.
The European Union agreed to establish a continent-wide financial watchdog.
The Northern Irish loyalist group Ulster Volunteer Force decommissioned many of its weapons.

Middle East
The British ambassador in Lebanon has held talks with a senior official from Hezbollah.
Arab government have largely kept silent about this week's events in Iran.
The U.S. senate approved funding for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, after intense lobbying from the White House.

Amnesty International says human rights abuses have continued in Zimbabwe.
Nigeria's MEND rebels say they have blown up a major oil pipeline belonging to the Italian company Agip.
Officials now say that 35 people were killed in the bombing yesterday that also took the life of Somalia's security minister.

The UN has rebuked Colombia for not doing enough to stop civilian deaths in its war against the FARC.
Mexico has filed drug charges against 7 mayors and 19 other officials.
Accused fraudster Allan Stanford was arrested in Virginia last night.

Truthout 6/19

William Rivers Pitt Walking Soft
William Rivers Pitt, Truthout: "A lot of different things have been happening in Iran over the last several days, some of them hopeful, some of them ominous, and most of them as opaque and inscrutable as the country itself. Ever since last weekend's election, hundreds of thousands of people have taken to the streets to protest the outcome of what is widely believed to have been a rigged vote."

Images Reveal Full Horror of "Amazon's Tiananmen"
Guy Adams, The Independent UK: "The events of Friday, 5 June, when armed police went to clear 2,000 Aguaruna and Wampi Indians from a secluded highway near the town of Bagua Grande, are the subject of a heated political debate. They have sparked international condemnation and thrown Peru's government into crisis. Yet until today, details were shrouded in mystery."

Supreme Court Rules DNA Tests for Prisoners Not a Constitutional Right
David G. Savage, The Los Angeles Times: "The Supreme Court said today that DNA possesses a unique ability to free the innocent and convict the guilty, but the justices nonetheless ruled that prisoners do not have a constitutional right to demand DNA testing of evidence that remains in police files. In a 5-4 ruling, the court's conservative bloc agreed to stand back and allow states to work out the rules for new testing of old crime samples."

US Guns Feed Mexican Drug Violence, Says Report
Daniel B. Wood, The Christian Science Monitor: "Most of the guns fuelling the drug violence in Mexico originate in the US, according to a US Government Accountability Office report released Thursday that could provoke more heated debate over the flow of guns south of the border."

William Pesek Suitcase With $134 Billion Puts Dollar on Edge
William Pesek, Bloomberg News: "The dollar is, for better or worse, the core of our world economy and it's best to keep it stable. News that's more fitting for international spy novels than the financial pages won't help that effort. It is incumbent upon the U.S. Treasury to get to the bottom of this tale and keep markets informed."

Leonard Pitts Jr. Conservatives Aren't Being Persecuted
Leonard Pitts Jr., The Miami Herald: "Modern conservatism is defined by an Alice-through-the-looking-glass incoherence: small government except when it is growing larger than ever, fiscal restraint except when we are spending like Michael Jackson in a Disney gift shop, foreign-policy pragmatism except when we are trying to transform the Middle East. Indeed, sometimes it feels as if it is no longer defined by principles at all, nor by energy and ideas, but rather, by a limitless ability to feel put upon and slighted."

Phil Wilayto Some Observations on Iran's Election and Aftermath
Phil Wilayto, Truthout: "The dominant view among Western commentators, as well as some progressive members of the Iranian diaspora, is that Mousavi is a 'reformer' who favors loosening restrictions on civil liberties within Iran, while being more open to a less hostile relationship with the West. Ahmadinejad, on the other hand, is described as a 'hardliner' who demagogically appeals to the poor, while making deliberately provocative statements about the United States and Israel in order to bolster his standing in the Islamic world. In my opinion, both of the above characterizations are superficial."

Texas Billionaire Stanford Indicted in Massive US Fraud Case
Tabassum Zakaria, Reuters: "Texas billionaire Allen Stanford and four associates were indicted on fraud and obstruction charges in a $7 billion pyramid scheme to bilk investors, the US Justice Department said on Friday."

Ben Ehrenreich America and Torture Have a Long and Painful History
Ben Ehrenreich, The Los Angeles Times: "Perhaps we protest too much. Torture, after all, is a venerable American tradition. We were waterboarding captives in one of our earliest wars of occupation, the Philippine-American War, which cost as many as 1 million civilian lives. In 1902, Teddy Roosevelt himself wrote with laconic praise of 'the old Filipino method.'"

Gates Decries Congressional Efforts to Restore F-22 Funding
Nancy A. Youssef and David Lightman, McClatchy Newspapers: "Defense Secretary Robert Gates Thursday said he was having 'a big problem' with Congressional efforts to restore funding for the F-22, indicating that a showdown is looming between the Pentagon and Capitol Hill over the future of the one of the Air Force's most advanced fighter jets."

Asbestos Cleanup "Emergency" Declared in Montana Town
CNN: "A Montana town where asbestos contamination has been blamed for more than 200 deaths will get an additional $6 million in cleanup and medical assistance from the Obama administration under a 'public health emergency' declared Wednesday."

Jobless Benefit Rolls Dip as Aid Runs Out
Christopher S. Rugaber, The Associated Press: "On the surface, the government seemed to signal Thursday that more Americans are finding jobs: The number of people receiving unemployment aid fell for the first time since early January. But that doesn't necessarily mean more companies are hiring. Fewer people are receiving jobless aid largely because more of them have exhausted their standard unemployment benefits, which typically last 26 weeks."

Dean Starkman The Most Important Financial Journalist of Her Generation
Dean Starkman, The Nation: "At this point, it is almost impossible for business reporters and editors not to have an opinion about Morgenson. Supporters cheer her tell-it-like-it-is style; detractors call her simplistic and agenda-driven. In certain Wall Street and business circles, she is flatly detested."

CDC: "Something Different" Happening With New Flu
Maggie Fox, Reuters: "The new strain of H1N1 flu is causing 'something different' to happen in the United States this year - perhaps an extended year-round flu season that disproportionately hits young people, health officials said on Thursday."

John Aloysius Farrell Three Reasons Why White Working-Class Voters Can't Save the Republicans
John Aloysius Farrell, US News and World Report: "Democratic problems with white voters in critical states like Ohio and Pennsylvania were supposed to keep Republicans competitive last year. After all, George W. Bush beat John Kerry by 23 points among white working-class voters in 2004. It didn't happen."

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Truthout 6/18

Steve Weissman Iran: Who's Diddling Democracy?
Steve Weissman, Truthout: "Watching the protesters in Tehran, many Americans feel a strong sense of empathy, exhilaration and hope. I strongly share those feelings, especially since I know firsthand the danger the protesters face from government thugs on motorcycles, provocateurs and the secret police. But none of this should blind us to the likelihood that our own government is dangerously meddling in Iran's internal affairs and playing with the lives of those protesters."

Peru's Prime Minister to Step Down
Rory Carroll, The Guardian UK: "The prime minister of Peru, Yehude Simon, said he will bow to opposition demands and resign over violent clashes between security forces and Amazon tribes which left dozens dead. 'I am going to go for sure as soon as calm returns in the coming weeks,' he told local radio today. Earlier he apologised to indigenous leaders for the government's attempt to enforce decrees opening the rainforest to oil and gas exploration."

Centrist Democrats Make Voices Heard on Health Care
Mike Soraghan, The Hill: "The House's two most conservative caucuses, the Blue Dogs and New Democrats, are banding together to come up with shared principles on healthcare and counter a process many see skewing to the left. The two groups, which combined have 131 members - more than half the House Democratic Caucus - have been holding meetings to see where they can agree on a healthcare plan."

Stephen Zunes Serbia: Ten Years Later
Stephen Zunes, Foreign Policy in Focus: "Since the end of the U.S.-led war against Serbia, the country is slowly emerging from the wars of the 1990s. Despite lingering problems, Serbs appear to be more optimistic about their country's future than they have for decades. The United States deserves little credit for the positive developments, however, and a fair amount of blame for the country's remaining problems."

GOP Committee Paid Son of Ensign's Mistress During Affair
Ashley Powers and Richard Simon, The Los Angeles Times: "The 19-year-old son of a woman who reportedly had an affair with Nevada Sen. John Ensign was being paid by the National Republican Senatorial Committee during the relationship, federal election records show. Brandon Hampton, who shares an address with former Ensign staffers Doug and Cynthia Hampton, was paid $5,400 between March 2008 and August 2008."

Conyers Puts Mortgage Relief Back on Table
Press Office of House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers, Jr.: "Today, House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers, Jr. (D-Mich.) pledged to review the administration proposal released today to provide a new regulatory framework for the financial services industry, but insisted that mortgage relief must be a part of any legislative package."

Norman Solomon Obama and Anti-War Democrats
Norman Solomon, Truthout: "As a close vote neared on a supplemental funding bill for more war in Iraq and Afghanistan, The San Francisco Chronicle reported that 'the White House has threatened to pull support from Democratic freshmen who vote no.' In effect, it was so important to President Obama to get the war funds that he was willing to paint a political target on the backs of some of the gutsiest new progressives in Congress."

NSA Secret Database Ensnared President Clinton's Private Email
Kim Zetter, Wired: "A secret NSA surveillance database containing millions of intercepted foreign and domestic e-mails includes the personal correspondence of former President Bill Clinton, according to the New York Times."

Joe Conason The AMA's Unhealthy Obsession
Joe Conason, Truthdig: "Campaigning to build the widest possible consensus for reform of the nation's health care system, Barack Obama told the delegates of the American Medical Association that he wants their support, too. Persuasive and always polite, the president did not mention the embarrassing truth about his hosts - namely, that the AMA has undermined universal care with mindless zeal for more than 70 years."

Robert Dreyfuss Battle Lines in Iran
Robert Dreyfuss, The Nation: " ... the traditional balance of power has been upended. According to conventional wisdom, Iran's president is a figurehead with little or no power, while the Leader (often mistakenly called the 'Supreme Leader') is the all-powerful commander in chief and decision-maker. At the very least, that balance is tilting, and I'll leave it to closer watchers of Iranian politics than me to figure out how far it's moved. But it's clear that Ahmadinejad, his military and paramilitary allies, and the radical clerics that support him have at least surrounded if not neutralized Khamenei, the Leader."

White House Grants Benefits to Partners of Gay Government Workers
Ewen MacAskill, The Guardian UK: "Barack Obama [Wednesday] made a concession to gay rights campaigners who have become increasingly vocal over his failure to deliver on campaign promises ... But, crucially, same-sex partners will not be entitled to health benefits, a major issue in the US."

Missile Defense Cuts Won't Threaten Security, Pentagon Tells Congress
Erika Bolstad, McClatchy Newspapers: "The Pentagon Tuesday reassured senators that cutting $1.2 billion from the nation's missile defense budget wouldn't diminish the country's ability to defend against a rogue missile attack from North Korea or Iran."

UN Wants to Control the Rush on Agricultural Lands
Jean-Pierre Stroobants, Le Monde: "Olivier De Schutter, United Nations Special Rapporteur for the right to food, worries about the rapid expansion of rich government and investment funds' acquisitions and leasing of agricultural lands in developing countries. This practice of land grabbing accelerated under cover of the 2008 food crisis."

FP morning brief 6/18

Top story:

Iran's Council of Guardians, the panel of clerics who act as the country's top political authority, have invited opposition candidates to share their grievances in Iran's disputed election. With the clerical establishment more divided than ever, it's anyone's guess how the council will act to resolve the ongoing political drama in Iran.
More mass protests are planned for today in Tehran, with opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi calling for a day of mourning for the eight people killed in Monday's demonstrations.

A number of prominent opposition leaders are said to have been arrested, including former foreign minister Ebrahim Yazdi. At least 200 hundred people are thought to be detained around Iran, and rights groups say the repression is worse outside of Tehran, where there is less media attention.

Must read:

The Washington Post has an in-depth report on the extent of North Korea's international insurance fraud operation.

North Korea is reportedly planning to test-fire a missile toward Hawaii this summer.
U.S. drones attacked a suspected al Qaeda hideout in the Pakistani region of Waziristan.
The Burmese court has granted democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi's appeal to call more witnesses in her ongoing trial.

Middle East
A suspected al Qaeda militant has surrendered himself to authorities in Yemen.
Iraqi authorities made an arrest in connection with last week's assassination of a prominent Sunni politician.
Hamas has rejected former President Jimmy Carter's request that they recognize Israel.

Racist violence in Northern Ireland has driven hundreds of Roma from their homes.
The British government has released politicians' controversial expense reports, but all the good bits are still censored.
Britain is objecting to a new plan to give more power to EU financial regulators.

Somalia's national security minister was killed in a bombing.
Islamist militants attacked a police convoy in Algeria, killing 24 officers.
A new campaign by Nigeria's military aims to oust the MEND rebels from the Niger Delta.

The leader of Peru's indigenous protests has fled to Nicaragua, where he is seeking asylum.
The Mexican military has discovered one of the country's largest meth labs.
A cruise ship has been quarantined in Venezuela after a swine flu outbreak.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

FP morning brief 6/17

Top story:

Iran's opposition has called for another day of demonstrations as authorities continued to crack down on the movement. The Basij militia raided university dorms last night and two well-known reformist journalists were arrested. This morning, the government warned international journalists not to venture outside to cover the rallies. Iran's powerful Revolutionary Guard has also threatened to shut down Web sites if their content is found to "create tension." A prosecutor in the central province of Isfahan warned that protesters could be executed under Islamic law.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's supreme leader, has not appeared in public but appears to be working actively to figure out a solution to the crisis. He issued a statement yesterday telling the opposition, "Nobody should take any action that would create tension, and all have to explicitly say they are against tension and riots." All the same, opposition leader Mir Hussein Mousavi continued his call for "a new presidential election that will not repeat the shameful fraud from the previous election."

Despite calls to speak out more forcefully on behalf of the opposition, President Barack Obama maintained yesterday that it would not be helpful for the United States to be "seen as meddling" in Iran's internal politics.

Under the radar:

A new State Department report says human trafficking around the world has increased thanks to the recession.

Middle East
An Israeli official tells CNN that the "accommodation" on the settlement issue is being actively discussed by the government.
Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter will reportedly lobby to have Hamas removed from the U.S. terrorist watch list. FP's Laura Rozen has more on the administration's reaction.
More than 40 Iraqi police officers may be facing charges of prisoner abuse.

North Korea is reportedly preparing for another missile launch and has promised "thousand-fold" military retaliation if it is provoked.
Chinese President Hu Jintao held meetings with Russia's ruling tandem.
Maoist rebels have stepped up their attacks in India's West Bengal state.

U.S. envoy Daniel Fried is in Spain to discuss the transfer of detainees from Guantanamo Bay.
The Obama administration is still undecided about plans to base a missile defense system in Eastern Europe.
An anti-terrorism policeman was shot dead while guarding a witness in Athens.

Mogadishu's police chief was killed in fighting with Islamist insurgents.
Mutinous Congolese troops fired on a UN base over a pay dispute.
Mali's security forces attacked an Al Qaeda base in Mali.

Peru's Prime Minister promised to resign after the conclusion of negotiations with indigenous protesters.
For the first time, Mexico's cartels have targeted clergymen for assassination.
Protesters rallied to demand the resignation of Bermuda's prime minister over his decision to admit four Uighur prisoners without Britain's consent.

Truthout 6/17

Matt Renner Bank Plan Leaves Out Prosecution and Compensation
Matt Renner, Truthout: "Today, the Obama administration will present a plan for reregulating the financial industry - one of the most highly anticipated policy reforms on the president's long list. But critics charge that the key to the future of the financial system is accountability for crimes. The collapse of the financial industry and the subsequent government bailouts have enraged Americans, who see their government using tax dollars to save a system which failed to protect the interests of the little people."

House Passes $106 Billion War Funding Bill
The Associated Press: "War-funding legislation survived a fierce partisan battle in the House on Tuesday, a major step in providing commanders in Iraq and Afghanistan the money they would need for military operations in the coming months. The $106 billion measure, in addition to about $80 billion for military operations, provides for an array of other spending priorities, including $7.7 billion to respond to the flu pandemic and more than $10 billion in development and security aid for Pakistan and Iraq as well as countries such as Mexico and the nation of Georgia."

Iran's Top Cleric Denounces Election, Rivals Take to Streets
Warren P. Strobel and Jonathan S. Landay, McClatchy Newspapers: "Supporters of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his main rival in the disputed presidential election, Mir Hossein Mousavi, massed in competing rallies Tuesday as the country's most senior Islamic cleric threw his weight behind opposition charges that Ahmadinejad's re-election was rigged. 'No one in their right mind can believe' the official results from Friday's contest, Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri said of the landslide victory claimed by Ahmadinejad. Montazeri accused the regime of handling Mousavi's charges of fraud and the massive protests of his backers 'in the worst way possible.'"

Robert Lipsyte The Literature of Betrayal Arrives at the Ballpark
Robert Lipsyte, TomDispatch.com: "I don't remember such a publishing flood of bad news sports books, at least not during a flood of really bad news in the supposedly real world of politics, wars, and finance. Why beat up on the mendacity of our games? Aren't they our dream world, a distraction from the deadlier contact contests?"

Pentagon Wavers on Releasing Report on Afghan Attack
Nancy A. Youssef, McClatchy Newspapers: "Defense Department officials are debating whether to ignore an earlier promise and squelch the release of an investigation into a US airstrike last month, out of fear that its findings would further enrage the Afghan public, Pentagon officials told McClatchy Monday. The military promised to release the report shortly after the May 4 air attack, which killed dozens of Afghans, and the Pentagon reiterated that last week. US officials also said they'd release a video that military officials said shows Taliban fighters attacking Afghan and US forces and then running into a building. Shortly afterward, a US aircraft dropped a bomb that destroyed the building."

Report: Climate Change Already Affecting US
David A. Fahrenthold, The Washington Post: "Man-made climate change is already lifting temperatures, increasing rainfall, and raising sea levels around the United States -- and its effects are on track to get much worse in the coming century, according to a report released this afternoon by federal scientists. The report, 'Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States,' covers much of the same ground as previous analyses from US and United Nations science panels. It finds that greenhouse-gas emissions are 'primarily' responsible for global warming and that rapid action is needed to avert catastrophic shifts in water, heat and natural life."

Jason Leopold Gonzales's Advice to Bush on How to Avoid War Crimes
Jason Leopold, Truthout: "On January 25, 2002, then-White House counsel Alberto Gonzales advised George W. Bush in a memo to deny al-Qaeda and Taliban prisoners protections under the Geneva Conventions because doing so would 'substantially reduces the threat of domestic criminal prosecution under the War Crimes Act' and 'provide a solid defense to any future prosecution.' Two weeks later, Bush signed an action memorandum dated February 7, 2002, addressed to Vice President Dick Cheney, which denied baseline protections to al-Qaeda and Taliban prisoners under the Third Geneva Convention."

Seth Sandronsky California's Homecare Union Struggles Continue
Seth Sandronsky, Truthout: "Across the US, the housing market crash is reducing tax revenues for local and state governments. As their budget deficits swell, lawmakers cut spending on public health, parks and schools. In California, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger seeks to close a $24 billion deficit in 2009-2010 in part by reducing expenditures for In-Home Supportive Services. IHSS employees represented by the Service Employees International Union provide homecare for elderly and infirm people. Homecare costs less than residing in a nursing home and allows individuals to be more independent."

Robert Reich The Three Essentials of Financial Reform
Robert Reich, Robert Reich's Blog: "As the White House unveils its long-awaited proposals to prevent another Wall Street meltdown in the future, keep a lookout for three essentials. Without them the Street will revert to its old ways as soon as the coast clears. In fact, now that the government has bailed out the Street, the biggest banks will take even larger and more irresponsible risks because they're officially too big to fail. So these three reforms are critical."

J. Sri Raman "Dam"aging India-Bangladesh Relations
J. Sri Raman, Truthout: "Ever since India's general election, ending in the rout of the far right, international and regional attention has been focused on the country's relations with Pakistan and the prospects of their improvement. Unnoticed, meanwhile, is the ongoing damage threatened by India's proposed hydroelectric dam to its relations with Bangladesh, which an earlier ballot had promised to boost. In the Bangladesh general election of December 2008, the Awami League (AL) of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wajed won a landslide victory despite attempts to pin the pro-India tag on her by the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) of former Prime Minister Begum Khaleda Zia and her fundamentalist ally Jamaat-e-Islami (Jei). India seemed to have disappeared from the Bangladeshi political debate for some time, with the proposal for war crime trials threatening only to put Pakistan in the dock again."

Internet Thwarts Iran's Attempt to Clamp Down
Jeffrey Fleishman, The Los Angeles Times: "Footage of burning cars, masked boys and bloodied protesters in Iran is playing across the Middle East, captivating Arab countries where repressive regimes have for years been arresting political bloggers and cyberspace dissidents. Egypt, Saudi Arabia and other Sunni nations have tense relations with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the Shiite-led theocracy ruling Iran. But they don't want protests in Tehran to inspire similar democratic fervor in their countries -- especially the merging of Facebook and Twitter with a potent opposition leader like Iran's presidential challenger, Mir-Hossein Mousavi."

Timothy Noah The Isolationism of Health Reform
Timothy Noah, Slate: "The health care debate is, within mainstream political discourse, isolationism's last refuge. Every day Washington's leaders tell us that we live in an interdependent world with a globalized economy. A butterfly beats its wings in Guangdong province, and four Wal-Marts materialize in Duluth. The peso plunges, and 30 Honda workers get laid off in Marysville. A coal-fired power plant belches carbon dioxide in Prague, and Lohachara Island sinks into the Bay of Bengal."

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

FP morning brief 6/16

Top story:

After a day in which hundred of thousands of protesters defied a ban and took to the streets of Tehran to protest the disputed results of Iran's presidential election -- the largest demonstrations the country has seen since the 1979 revolution -- Iran's Guardian Council has ordered a recount of ballots from polling places where irregularities were reported. The announcement is another concession from the Iranian regime, which sought to quickly stamp out discontent over the election, but still falls far short of protester demands.

Another march has now begun. Organizers put out the word through Twitter that marchers should wear black in honor of those killed in yesterday's demonstrations.

Opposition candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi said that he is "not very optimistic" that Iran's Guardian Council will render a fair judgment in the dispute but that he is "ready to pay any price" to ensure a fair election. His opponent, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has left the country to attend a meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation in Yekaterinburg, Russia. He has not mentioned the election in his public remarks at the meeting.

U.S. President Barack Obama spoke about Iran for the first time since the election yesterday, saying he was "troubled" by the violence and telling the protesters that "the world is watching and inspired by their participation, regardless of what the ultimate outcome of the election was."

Under the radar:

A survey by Mexico's human rights commission found that almost 10,000 Central American migrants were kidnapped for ransom by drug traffickers in one six month period. Many of those kidnapped reported that authorities were involved.

The leaders of India and Pakistan met at the SCO meeting in Russia for the first time since the Mumbai attacks.
Campaign season has officially begun for Afghanistan's presidential election.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Il's son and apparent heir Kim Jong Un reportedly visited China last week for a meeting with President Hu Jintao.

Russia used its veto in the UN Security Council to end the 16-year UN monitoring mission in Abkhazia.
Meeting with President Obama at the White House, Italian President Silvio Berlusconi called for tough financial regulations to be put in place and next month's G8 meeting in Italy.
GM has agreed to sell its Saab unit to Swedish company Koenigsegg.

Middle East
U.S. officials have expressed skepticism about Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu's proposal for a demilitarized Palestinian state.
Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter is visiting Gaza where he condemned Israel's actions in last January's offensive.
Iraqi PM Nuri al Maliki vowed that his government would not call on U.S. forces for help in combat operations after they pull out of major cities on June 30.

Peru's government has offered concessions to the indigenous groups who last week protested plants to use their lands for energy exploration.
Former President Bill Clinton, now a UN envoy to Haiti, detailed a list of priorites for his new job beginning with ensuring that pledged aid actually reaches the country.
Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva faced rare criticism from human rights groups at the UN over his government's ties to abusive regimes.

Congo's former Vice President Jean-Pierre Bemba will be charged with five counts of war crimes at the Hague.
South African police are investigating an apparent $1.2 billion Ponzi scheme.
Nigeria's MEND rebels issued a threat against an international youth soccer tournament which will be held in the country later this year.

Truthout 6/16

Maya Schenwar Challenging Ahmadinejad's "Win"
Maya Schenwar, Truthout: "After Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was proclaimed the winner of a presidential election widely believed to be rigged, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei deemed the results a 'divine assessment.' However, after 48 hours of intensive protests throughout Iran, Khamenei backtracked, calling for an investigation into election complaints. The probe is to be conducted by the Guardian Council, a 12-member body of clerics and Islamic law experts. As demonstrations blaze on across the country, do reform-minded Iranians actually have a shot at a revote?"

Sarah Lazare War Resisters Held in Legal Limbo
Sarah Lazare, Truthout: "At Fort Bragg, North Carolina, AWOL soldiers find themselves detained for months under difficult conditions in an extended legal limbo they cannot escape. Dustin Stevens is one of about 50 soldiers being held at Fort Bragg awaiting likely AWOL and desertion charges that seem like they will never arrive, he says. A former soldier who refused to continue military service seven years ago because he did not want to fight a war, Stevens says that he and his colleagues are being held in legal limbo - a no man's land of poor living standards and arbitrary punishments - while awaiting charges and possible court-martial."

EU Agrees to Take Guantanamo Detainees
Robert Wielaard, The Associated Press: "The European Union agreed on Monday to help the administration of President Barack Obama 'turn the page' on Guantanamo, saying individual EU nations will take detainees from the American prison in Cuba. The EU and the US issued a joint statement saying some EU nations are ready 'to assist with the reception of certain former Guantanamo detainees, on a case-by-case basis.' It did not name the countries or how many detainees would be resettled across the 27-nation bloc, but that Washington was ready to pay toward the costs of their resettlement."

Kevin Zeese Congress to Transfer Hundreds of Billions in Tax Dollars to the Insurance Industry
Kevin Zeese, Truthout: "Yesterday, as Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) left the health-care hearing room, he leaned over to me and said: 'I used to sell insurance. The basic rule is the larger the pool the less expensive the health care. Today we have 1,300 separate pools - separate health care plans - and that is why health care is so expensive; 700 pools would be more efficient and less expensive and one pool would be the least expensive. That's why single payer is the answer.' Nothing like common sense."

Jimmy Carter to Meet Hamas Leaders After Criticizing Israeli Prime Minister
Rory McCarthy, The Guardian UK: "The former US president Jimmy Carter will visit Gaza for a rare meeting with senior Hamas officials following his criticism of a key speech by Israel's prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, on Sunday night. Carter, who has been in Israel and the occupied West Bank over the past week, will be one of the most senior western figures to meet the Hamas leadership in Gaza in recent years. He is expected to meet, among other Hamas officials, Ismail Haniyeh, the former Palestinian prime minister."

Obama Defends Government-Sponsored Health Insurance Program
Ceci Connolly, The Washington Post: "President Obama, addressing the American Medical Association on Monday, offered a forceful defense of creating a controversial new government-sponsored health insurance program as part of a broad overhaul of the nation's system. Speaking to a group that has voiced strong reservations about the concept, he said: 'The public option is not your enemy; it is your friend.' In some of his strongest language to date, Obama took on critics who argue that a new public insurance plan will undermine the private sector and lead to a European-style single payer health system, calling those attacks a 'Trojan horse.'"

Seven Dead; Hundreds of Thousands Protest Iran Vote
Borzou Daragahi and Ramin Mostaghim, The Los Angeles Times: "Hundreds of thousands of Iranian protesters defied authorities Monday and marched to Tehran's Freedom Square, as the Islamic Republic's supreme leader ordered an investigation into allegations of vote fraud, a move the opposition described as little more than an attempt to dampen anger over the reelection of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad."

Iraqis Take Control of Baghdad's Green Zone
Daniel Wallis, Reuters: "... as US soldiers pull out of towns and cities this month, they are handing control back to Iraqi security forces. The balance of power is changing and Multinational Force Iraq (MNF-I) cards, which once guaranteed swift passage in a separate lane past waiting Iraqis, have lost their clout."

CIA Mistaken on "High-Value" Detainee, Document Shows
Peter Finn and Julie Tate, The Washington Post: "An al-Qaeda associate captured by the CIA and subjected to harsh interrogation techniques said his jailers later told him they had mistakenly thought he was the No. 3 man in the organization's hierarchy and a partner of Osama bin Laden, according to newly released excerpts from a 2007 hearing."

Yemeni Official Says Nine Hostages Killed
Ahmed Al-Haj, The Associated Press: "Nine missing foreigners in Yemen have been murdered, a Yemeni official said today, apparently executed by their kidnappers in the impoverished nation in the Arabian peninsula where al-Qaeda has a strong presence. The nine foreigners, including seven German nationals, a Briton and a South Korean, disappeared last week while on a picnic in the restive northern Saada region of Yemen."

California Aid Request Spurned by US
David Cho, Brady Dennis and Karl Vick, The Washington Post: "The Obama administration has turned back pleas for emergency aid from one of the biggest remaining threats to the economy - the state of California. Top state officials have gone hat in hand to the administration, armed with dire warnings of a fast-approaching 'fiscal meltdown' caused by a budget shortfall. Concern has grown inside the White House in recent weeks as California's fiscal condition has worsened, leading to high-level administration meetings."

"Moussavi Himself Did Not Expect a Movement of Such Scope"
Reporting from Tehran for Le Nouvel Observateur, Sara Daniel: "The movement is not limited to Tehran and the small burghers north of the capital; it spills out into several other cities. It seems to bring together all those who contest the regime: even Iranians who didn't vote since they didn't believe in these elections have come down into the streets. They have a very determined air and have demonstrated incredible courage in confronting the regime this way. The two sides give prominence to a social economic and religious fracture: the third of the country that voted for Moussavi is better off, while Ahmadinejad's electors enjoy more modest circumstances and are more indoctrinated."

Monday, June 15, 2009

Stay the course

New York Times

The debate over economic policy has taken a predictable yet ominous turn: the crisis seems to be easing, and a chorus of critics is already demanding that the Federal Reserve and the Obama administration abandon their rescue efforts. For those who know their history, it’s déjà vu all over again — literally.

For this is the third time in history that a major economy has found itself in a liquidity trap, a situation in which interest-rate cuts, the conventional way to perk up the economy, have reached their limit. When this happens, unconventional measures are the only way to fight recession.

Yet such unconventional measures make the conventionally minded uncomfortable, and they keep pushing for a return to normalcy. In previous liquidity-trap episodes, policy makers gave in to these pressures far too soon, plunging the economy back into crisis. And if the critics have their way, we’ll do the same thing this time.

The first example of policy in a liquidity trap comes from the 1930s. The U.S. economy grew rapidly from 1933 to 1937, helped along by New Deal policies. America, however, remained well short of full employment.

Yet policy makers stopped worrying about depression and started worrying about inflation. The Federal Reserve tightened monetary policy, while F.D.R. tried to balance the federal budget. Sure enough, the economy slumped again, and full recovery had to wait for World War II.

The second example is Japan in the 1990s. After slumping early in the decade, Japan experienced a partial recovery, with the economy growing almost 3 percent in 1996. Policy makers responded by shifting their focus to the budget deficit, raising taxes and cutting spending. Japan proceeded to slide back into recession.

And here we go again.

On one side, the inflation worriers are harassing the Fed. The latest example: Arthur Laffer, he of the curve, warns that the Fed’s policies will cause devastating inflation. He recommends, among other things, possibly raising banks’ reserve requirements, which happens to be exactly what the Fed did in 1936 and 1937 — a move that none other than Milton Friedman condemned as helping to strangle economic recovery.

Meanwhile, there are demands from several directions that President Obama’s fiscal stimulus plan be canceled.

Some, especially in Europe, argue that stimulus isn’t needed, because the economy is already turning around.

Others claim that government borrowing is driving up interest rates, and that this will derail recovery.

And Republicans, providing a bit of comic relief, are saying that the stimulus has failed, because the enabling legislation was passed four months ago — wow, four whole months! — yet unemployment is still rising. This suggests an interesting comparison with the economic record of Ronald Reagan, whose 1981 tax cut was followed by no less than 16 months of rising unemployment.

O.K., time for some reality checks.

First of all, while stock markets have been celebrating the economy’s “green shoots,” the fact is that unemployment is very high and still rising. That is, we’re not even experiencing the kind of growth that led to the big mistakes of 1937 and 1997. It’s way too soon to declare victory.

What about the claim that the Fed is risking inflation? It isn’t. Mr. Laffer seems panicked by a rapid rise in the monetary base, the sum of currency in circulation and the reserves of banks. But a rising monetary base isn’t inflationary when you’re in a liquidity trap. America’s monetary base doubled between 1929 and 1939; prices fell 19 percent. Japan’s monetary base rose 85 percent between 1997 and 2003; deflation continued apace.

Well then, what about all that government borrowing? All it’s doing is offsetting a plunge in private borrowing — total borrowing is down, not up. Indeed, if the government weren’t running a big deficit right now, the economy would probably be well on its way to a full-fledged depression.

Oh, and investors’ growing confidence that we’ll manage to avoid a full-fledged depression — not the pressure of government borrowing — explains the recent rise in long-term interest rates. These rates, by the way, are still low by historical standards. They’re just not as low as they were at the peak of the panic, earlier this year.

To sum up: A few months ago the U.S. economy was in danger of falling into depression. Aggressive monetary policy and deficit spending have, for the time being, averted that danger. And suddenly critics are demanding that we call the whole thing off, and revert to business as usual.

Those demands should be ignored. It’s much too soon to give up on policies that have, at most, pulled us a few inches back from the edge of the abyss.

FP brief 6/15

Top Story:

Iran's post-election turmoil may be winding down as the country's main opposition group postponed a planned rally for today after supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called for calm and promised an investigation of irregularities in last Friday's election. Just after the initial announcement of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's victory, Khamenei had called it a "divine assessment."

Between 150 and 200 students were reportedly arrested last night in protests at Tehran University. Authorities have also reportedly blocked access to a number of online news services, and social networking sites. President Ahmadinejad has dismissed this weekend's arrest as similar to "passions after a soccer match".

A number of international figures have expressed concern about events without explicitly condemning the Iranian regime's actions. U.S. Vice President Joe Biden said that "It sure looks like the way they're suppressing speech, the way they're suppressing crowds, the way in which people are being treated, that there's some real doubt."

B Story:

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu gave a speech at Bar Ilan University on Sunday in which he endorsed the concept of a demilitarized Palestinian state, but only under conditions unlikely to be accepted by Palestinian leaders. He promised that no new settlements would be constructed on the West Bank, though left the door open for "natural growth" of existing communities. He also reiterated Israeli demands for an undivided Jerusalem.

The EU has agreed to accept some detainees from Guantanamo Bay. It's not yet clear how many will be taken or which countries are involved.
A person died of Swine Flu in Scotland on Sunday, the first death from the disease outside the Americas.
A Russian ban on Belarusian milk products has badly strained relations between the two allies.

Pakistan's military is planning an assault on the stronghold of Taliban leader Baithullah Mehsud.
Nepal's Maoist have shut down Kathmandu with demonstrations after the death of a prominent Maoist leader.
Gen. Stanley McChrystal has taken command of U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan.

Middle East
A double bombing rocked a marketplace in Shiite Eastern Baghdad on Monday morning.
Three German women from a group of foreigners kidnapped in Yemen have been found murdered.
British PM Gordon Brown authorized an investigation into mistakes made during the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Nigeria's MEND rebels have threatened to expand their attacks to offshore oil facilities.
Gabonese civil society groups are trying to prevent the son of late President Omar Bongo from succeeding him.
The former head of Guinea's armed forces has been charged with drug trafficking.

Opposition TV station Globovision is seeking talks with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who is threatening to pull its license.
A dissident Cuban doctor was, after 10 years, given permission to leave the country and left for Argentina.
An Argentinean glacier is one of the few in the world that has withstood the effects of global warming.

Truthout 6/15

Steve Weissman Israel Offers a State and a Half
Steve Weissman, Truthout: "Could Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu become the Richard Nixon of the Middle East, as Barack Obama invited him to do? Could he break with his hard-line past and reach out to the Palestinians the way Nixon did with the Chinese? Or will he pay lip service to peace even as he does everything he can to keep the Palestinians from ever getting a viable state of their own?"

Bill Maher Enough With the Obamathon
Bill Maher, The Los Angeles Times: "In conclusion, Bush was a jerk, but he never cared about being seen having a burger with Dick Cheney. He picked up the phone in the White House and said, 'I'm the president, bring me a burger.' And they'd say, 'Sir, this is NORAD. Would you please stop ordering burgers with the red phone?' I'm glad that Obama is president, but the 'Audacity of Hope' part is over. Right now, I'm hoping for a little more audacity."

Top Ayatollah Calls for Investigation of Iran's Election
Ian Black and Matthew Weaver, The Guardian UK: "Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has ordered an investigation into claims of vote-rigging and fraud in last week's presidential election, Iranian state TV reported today. The report said Khamenei had told the guardian council, the clerical body that oversees elections, to examine the pro-reform candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi's claims of widespread rigging in Friday's poll."

Tom Engelhardt Obama Looses the Manhunters: Charisma and the Imperial Presidency
Tom Engelhardt, TomDispatch.com: "Let's face it, even Bo is photogenic, charismatic. He's a camera hound. And as for Barack, Michelle, Sasha, and Malia -- keep in mind that we're now in a first name culture -- they all glow on screen. Before a camera they can do no wrong. And the president himself, well, if you didn't watch his speech in Cairo, you should have. The guy's impressive. Truly. He can speak to multiple audiences -- Arabs, Jews, Muslims, Christians, as well as a staggering range of Americans -- and somehow just about everyone comes away hearing something they like, feeling he's somehow on their side."

Pelosi Pushes Democrats to Vote for War Money
Adam Graham-Silverman, Congressional Quarterly: "House leaders appear ready to push ahead with a floor vote on the next war funding bill as early as Tuesday. It's not yet clear that Speaker Nancy Pelosi has persuaded enough fellow Democrats to support it. Democrats are the ones who'll have to supply the votes because Republicans say they are going to stay united and vote against it. 'Nancy's working it,' said Defense Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman John P. Murtha , D-Pa. 'It's going to be a very close vote.'"

Feds Seeking Clues to Whether Tiller Killer Really Acted Alone
Judy L. Thomas, The Kansas City Star: "It's called the 'lone wolf' model - one person inspired by others but acting alone to commit violence. That's the pattern some militant anti-abortion activists said Scott Roeder followed when he allegedly shot Wichita abortion doctor George Tiller to death on May 31. Federal authorities are investigating whether Roeder indeed acted alone or was part of a conspiracy of activists whose goal is to kill doctors and shut down abortion clinics."

Marjorie Cohn Agent Orange Continues to Poison Vietnam
Marjorie Cohn, Truthout: "From 1961 to 1971, the US military sprayed Vietnam with Agent Orange, which contained large quantities of Dioxin, in order to defoliate the trees for military objectives. Dioxin is one of the most dangerous chemicals known to man. It has been recognized by the World Health Organization as a carcinogen (causes cancer) and by the American Academy of Medicine as a teratogen (causes birth defects)."

California's Hard Times Driving People Back to the "Dust Bowl"
Phillip Reese, The Sacramento Bee: "Fleeing the Great Depression and a drought unprecedented in American history, a vast wave of Oklahomans and Texans dubbed 'Okies' loaded everything they could onto crowded vehicles during the 1930's and headed west for California. Today, in huge numbers, their grandchildren are moving back."

Hossein Askari Obama's Mullah Moment
Hossein Askari, Truthout: "The Iranian elections are over. Little has changed in the Iranian government. Ahmadinejad is still president! The world is, however, witnessing the plight of a large number of Iranians, young, old, professionals, even the more devout mullahs, yearning for change."

One Iranian Dead as Shots Fired at Mousavi Rally
Parisa Hafezi and Fredrik Dahl, Reuters: "Iran's hardline Islamic Basij militiamen killed at least one person on Monday and wounded more when their building was attacked by demonstrators protesting an election they say was stolen by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad."

Labor Teams Up With Enviros to Pass Climate Bill and Promote Green Jobs
Kate Sheppard, Grist Magazine: "After working for the United Steelworkers International Union for 30 years, Lauren Horne left in January to take on a new role within the labor movement - rallying union members to help fight climate change.... Horne is now one of five veteran labor organizers working on the ground for the Labor Climate Project in Rust Belt states."

Unions and Migrant Workers Coalesce From Coast to Coast
Peter Costantini, Inter Press Service: "Up the Pacific Coast from California to Washington, through the heartland in Texas and Illinois, and over to the Atlantic Seaboard in New Jersey and New York, local trade unions and mainly immigrant workers centers are experimenting with new modes of cooperation."

COBRA's Cost Bites Into Safety Net for Jobless Women
Molly M. Ginty, Women's eNews: "The average monthly unemployment payment in the United States is $1,278. COBRA for an individual consumes 30 percent of that. Family coverage devours 84 percent.... Many unemployed women, meanwhile, don't qualify for COBRA."

Promises, Promises: Indian Health Care Needs Unmet
Mary Clare Jalonick, The Associated Press: "On some reservations, the oft-quoted refrain is 'don't get sick after June,' when the federal dollars run out. It's a sick joke, and a sad one, because it's sometimes true, especially on the poorest reservations where residents cannot afford health insurance. Officials say they have about half of what they need to operate, and patients know they must be dying or about to lose a limb to get serious care."

A Tale of Technology in Two School Districts
Larry Abramson, NPR News: "For schools, computers for students are essential, but they are also expensive. With budget pressures increasing, schools are looking for ways to cut technology spending. Here's a tale of two school districts, and how they are trying to trim their tech budgets without hurting learning."

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Truthout 6/14

Robert Reich The Healthcare War is Now Official
Robert Reich, Robert Reich's Blog: "[Wednesday] the American Medical Association came out against a public option for health care. And [Wednesday] the President reaffirmed his support for it. The next weeks will show what Obama is made of - whether he's willing and able to take on the most formidable lobbying coalition he has faced so far on an issue that will define his presidency."

US Rejects Iran Election Results, To Investigate
US News and World Report: "The U.S. on Saturday refused to accept hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's claim of a landslide re-election victory in Iran and said it was looking into allegations of election fraud."

Jeremy Scahill Blackwater Still Working in Iraq for the International Republican Institute, According to New Lawsuit
Jeremy Scahill, Rebel Reports: "It seems as though every week there is a new lawsuit filed against Blackwater for the killing of civilians in Iraq. While the Justice Department has failed to prosecute most of these cases (the September 2007 Nisour Square massacre being an exception), attorney Susan Burke has dedicated a substantial part of her practice to holding the company responsible for its crimes. She works in cooperation with the Center for Constitutional Rights ... beyond the specifics of her lawsuits, Burke is also alleging Blackwater/Xe remains firmly entrenched in Iraq, using affiliate companies like Greystone."

DOJ Abortion Violence Suits Cratered Under Bush
Daphne Eviatar, The Washington Independent: "Just as federal law specifically penalizes hate crimes, the law also makes it a federal crime to threaten or commit violence against abortion providers, or to vandalize their clinics. Yet as TWI revealed last week, the criminal law was not being enforced ... But there's also a civil component to that federal law, known as the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, or FACE Act. That part of the law allows the attorney general to seek an injunction and compensatory damages for anyone who's been harmed by any activity that violates the law. And it turns out that the Department of Justice over the last eight years didn't use that part of the law to protect abortion providers, either."

GOP-Leaning Majority Seen Fading in US
Dan Balz, The Washington Post: "For the past few months, political analysts and demographers have been poring over the results of the 2008 election and comparing them with presidential results from the last two decades. From whatever angle of their approach - age, race, economic status, geography - they have come to a remarkably similar conclusion. Almost all indicators are pressing the Republicans into minority status."

Northwest Utilities Turn to Nuclear, 25 Years After Industry Collapsed
Les Blumenthal, McClatchy Newspapers: "A consortium of utilities in the Pacific Northwest once known as 'Whoops,' synonymous with the collapse of the nuclear power industry, wants back in the game."

FOCUS Juan Cole: Stealing the Iranian Election
Juan Cole, Informed Comment: Juan Cole explores the evidence of election theft in Iran.

FOCUS Get a Life? Not If You Want to Be One of the Nine
Emily Badger, Miller-McCune: "From the 1880s until about 2000, said Harvard law professor and Supreme Court historian Mark Tushnet, the idea that a judge's background would influence how he or she approached cases - and that this was desirable - was conventional wisdom. The court for years even followed a kind of enforced diversity, drawing justices from the geographic regions that captured some of the country's biggest disagreements, with plantation owners in the South, industrialists in the Northeast and ranchers to the West."

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Truthout 6/13

Kathy Kelly and Dan Pearson Down and Out in Shah Mansoor
Kathy Kelly and Dan Pearson, Truthout: "In Pakistan's Swabi district, a bumpy road leads to Shah Mansoor, a small village surrounded by farmland. Just outside the village, uniform size tents are set up in hundreds of rows. The sun bore down on the Shah Mansoor camp, which has become a temporary home to thousands of displaced Pakistanis from the Swat area. In the stifling heat, the camp's residents sit idly, day after day, uncertain about their future. They spoke with heated certainty, though, about their grievances."

Iran Declares Win for Ahmadinejad in Disputed Vote
The Associated Press: "Iranian riot police clashed with supporters of the main opposition candidate in disputed presidential elections as incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was declared the winner by a landslide on Saturday."

Head of Iraq's Main Sunni Bloc Is Slain
Zaid Sabah and Nada Bakri, The Washington Post: "The head of Iraq's biggest Sunni Muslim bloc in parliament was shot dead at a mosque after delivering a sermon Friday, underlining fears that violence might mount as U.S. forces prepare to withdraw from Iraqi cities before a deadline in two weeks."

Senators Who Opposed Tobacco Bill Received Top Dollar From Industry
Halimah Abdullah, McClatchy Newspapers: "Among the 17 senators who voted against allowing the Food and Drug Administration to regulate tobacco are some of the top recipients of campaign contributions from the tobacco industry, which has donated millions of dollars to lawmakers in the past several campaign cycles."

Obama Offers More Cuts to Pay for Health Reform
Jeffrey Young, The Hill: "President Obama has doubled down on cuts to federal healthcare spending that the White House says would cover the lion's share of the cost of healthcare reform."

John Nichols Why Vote "Yes" for the War and the IMF?
John Nichols, The Nation: "The Obama administration and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi are aggressively whipping House Democrats to support the 2009 war supplemental bill that seeks to steer another $100 billion in US tax dollars into the quagmires of Iraq and Afghanistan while at the same time squandering at least $5 billion on the failed economic schemes of the International Monetary Fund ... This is a very bad bill."

Bill Moyers and Michael Winship Why Have We Stopped Talking About Guns?http://www.truthout.org/061309Y
Bill Moyers and Michael Winship, Truthout: "There is much talk about hate talk; hate crimes against blacks, whites, immigrants, Muslims, Jews; about violence committed in the name of bigotry or religion. But why don't we talk about guns?"

FOCUS Senators Held Stock in Bailed-Out Banks
Reid Wilson and Kevin Bogardus, The Hill: "Senators who oversee the $700 billion Wall Street rescue package held stocks in many of the banks bailed out towards the end of last year, according to financial disclosure reports released Friday."

On The Costs Of Care, Or, You Don’t Want Every Item On This Menu

I don’t know if you’ve been thinking about it, but the costs of long-term care have been on the mind of some friends of mine lately.

For reasons that we won’t go into here, they are in the process of pricing long-term care at care facilities…and yesterday afternoon, we had a chance to have a look at the “menu” of services (the facility's term) that can be purchased at this particular location.

If you are facing this issue in your own family, if you are a taxpayer thinking about how we plan to fund long-term care in the future…or if, one day, you expect to be old yourself…this conversation will surely matter.

To protect the innocent, I won’t be mentioning names today, but here’s what you need to know:

The location in question is an “assisted living facility” located near Seattle, it is somewhat upscale, but by no means ”posh”, and it is a residence of substantial size, with dozens of clients living there. It is not a “mom and pop” business run out of a house, but instead a more corporate operation.

The first thing you are charged for is the “apartment” in which you reside and some basic services to go with it. Those services include “finishing the place” with blinds and appliances, weekly housekeeping and linen, and the power and the water and the cable (“Basic Extended”).

You’re also paying for the 24-hour staff presence, “recreation” services, and scheduled transportation.

Also included: two meals daily, but not breakfast.

Telephone charges are not included.

The cost, for a single person: $1900 per month for a studio, $2300 for a one bedroom, and $2800 for a two-bedroom. There are nicer “views” available, which add about $400 to each price. Adding a second person costs $600 extra every month.

You will note that this price does not include medical and “personal” services…and for that, we will turn to the actual “menu”.

"Old wood to burn! Old wine to drink! Old friends to trust! Old authors to read!"

--Francis Bacon, Apothegms. No. 97.

Start with the basics: a daily wake-up call is $50/month; having a load of personal laundry washed every week or having a staff member make the bed daily adds $70 monthly. Housekeeping is $30/hour…so hopefully the resident can clean their own apartment.

Breakfast is $95 each month.

To determine what additional needs you might have, a nursing assessment is conducted at the time of admission.

If it’s determined that the resident needs bathing assistance, costs work like this:

If the resident can wash themselves, but need to be watched during the shower, that service, once a week, is $165 monthly. If the resident needs a staff member to help them shower, add $60 (If two staff members are required, that’s an extra $140 monthly).

Can the resident dress themselves?

A daily reminder to change clothes costs $100/month. If a staff member needs to spend under 10 minutes a day to help the resident dress, that’s $175/month, if 15 – 20 minutes of assistance is required, that’s $250 monthly.

Can the resident take care of their own personal grooming? If they can’t, that adds $150 to the monthly charges.

There are also “toileting programs”.

Having the staff remind you to go to the bathroom costs $200/month (this also covers the occasional incontinence event), and having a staff member monitor you in the bathroom raises the rate to $275 (this also covers the occasional “bowel accident”).

A “structured toileting program” runs $350…and if you need to be checked for bowel accidents regularly, or need someone to wipe for you, or have regular accidents requiring changes of clothing, that’s $425 a month added to the bill.

Some people have had surgical procedures that require them to use a bag attached to their colon for waste removal. The site where the bag is attached is called a “stoma site”, and the service associated with stoma care is at least $250 monthly at this facility. Supplies (such as colostomy bags) are not included in this price.

Can the resident walk to meals on his or her own?

If yes, but they need a verbal reminder to go to meals, that’s $175/month. If the resident requires assistance to get to the dining room, that’s $225 monthly…and if it takes longer than 5 minutes on average to assist the resident, that adds $275 to the bill each month.

Special diets, prescribed by a physician, add $500 to the monthly bill.

Can the resident take their own medications?

If not, the minimum charge is $230 monthly, which covers up to 5 medications daily, “served” two times a day.

If the client takes more than five meds daily (or takes meds more than twice daily) that cost could potentially increase by another $165/ month.

Oxygen service: add another $150 monthly.

While all that seems expensive…we haven’t come to the big-ticket item yet.

There will be residents who will require “memory support”.

The simplest form of this service provides “redirecting, reassurance, orientation to surroundings, responding to questions/concerns that arise from diminished short term memory” and several checks daily to ensure the resident is on the property. Those who receive this level of service are also physically escorted to meals. The service costs $300 per month.

For $400 the resident is walked back from meals, and a staff member provides verbal cues to get the resident dressed. The resident will also be “convinced” to bathe, if need be.

If the resident requires physical cues to perform the same tasks, the cost jumps to $550 (and at this stage the resident might require two staff members to get them to perform personal hygiene).

The highest level of care also provides someone to check on the resident every two hours, and costs $800 monthly.

This is hardly a complete list: for example, there are charges for making appointments and other “clerical” services, for “concierge” service, and for other incidentals.

However, there’s one other significant charge about which you should be aware, and that’s the cost for nursing services.

Wound care that involves changing a dressing, and takes less than 5 minutes, is $15 for each occurrence. This service must be provided by a licensed nurse…and if you add it up, it works out to $180/hour that the facility is charging you for the services of an LPN/LVN (depends on where you live) who is not likely to be making above $25/hour. (Each dressing change that lasts from 5 – 10 minutes costs $20; meaning at least $120/hour.)

Add it all up, and the chances that you’ll be paying at least $3000 a month are (in the words of Johnny Mathis) awfully good.

"If Mr. Selwyn calls again, shew him up; if I am alive I shall be delighted to see him; and if I am dead he would like to see me."

--Henry Fox, the First Baron Holland

So how is all this relevant to politics, you might ask?

How about this: we are about to enter an age where millions of Americans will require this sort of long-term care…and many of us do not have $3000 per month available to pay for this kind of care.

How many? It is estimated that 70 million Americans will be 65 or over by 2030, and if the numbers from 1999 continue to be valid, roughly 30% of those people will be living in an institutional setting.

20 million people, at $3000 a month, equals $60 billion that will be required to cover the cost of long-term care for this group—each and every month. That’s $720 billion a year.

So how do we deal with the problem when it hits us?

I don’t know…but consider this: it is going to be tough to reduce these costs, if only because these are tasks that are not well suited for automation. These are services, for the most part, that require one-on-one care (or even two-on-one care)…and those who provide the care will want pay raises…which we will want to provide, in order to help keep the quality of care at a high level.

You should also know that there are substantial costs associated with “fixing broken workers”. The fact that workers are often required to assist clients that are physically large or physically awkward puts a lot of these workers out on injury leave…and the unhappy fact is that understaffing is a common way to try to control labor costs in nursing facilities, adding to the injury problem these workers face.

How bad is the healthcare injury problem? Ironically, the Bureau of Labor Statistics tells us health care facilities are the most dangerous work environment in the United States.

“General medical and surgical hospitals (NAICS 6221) reported more injuries and illnesses than any other industry in 2007—more than 253,500 cases.”

To put it another way, there are basically two kinds of healthcare workers: the ones with back injuries…and the ones who don’t yet have back injuries.

As we wrap this thing up, let’s ask that question we ask almost every time: what have we learned today?

If you hadn’t already been thinking about it, it is fantastically expensive to have to receive care at an assisted-living facility, and soon there may be as many as 20 million Americans who will be in that situation…or something even more expensive, such as “skilled nursing facilities” (more commonly referred to as “nursing homes”).

We could be looking at having to find $720 billion (in today’s dollars) to cover the annual cost of that care.

It is going to be very tough to reduce those costs, unless you can develop ways to deliver the same care in a less-expensive environment…or you can find a way to reduce the number of people who will require such care.

Considering the cost of “memory care”, money invested in Alzheimer’s mitigation today might pay huge dividends later.

So that’s the deal: there is a giant bill that’s coming due, we better be thinking about it now…and one way or another, this will become one of the biggest fights in American politics as we move into the middle third of this century—so we can either get ready for it now, or we can all act surprised later.

Of course, if enough of us require “memory care”…then I guess that surprised look on our faces won’t be an act, eh?

Friday, June 12, 2009

Chapter 57, revisited

Don Wheeler

One of the first stories to appear on this blog – cross-posted from The Campaign To Change America - The John Edwards blog, was my account of an example of poverty housing in our local area.

As an independent home inspector I am typically hired by would-be home purchasers to assess the buildings they have contracted to purchase. Although the homes are sometimes in rough shape(generally these are vacant), normally they are not. Occasionally though, they are worse than rough and people are living in them. I was in such a place last Friday.

The home (a duplex) was located in a subdivision of sorts located in a small town about a half hour from South Bend. On the map you might think you were looking at a mobile home park because of the narrow winding streets. But these are all stick built fixed homes which I would guess were built in the 1950s. Like mobile homes however, many if not most are built on concrete piers and skirted – instead of being on continuous foundations. This is a very unusual type of construction for our area...

...As you’d expect, generally the people living here are disadvantaged and some in multiple ways. If you’ve ever lived among people in these circumstances the social and conversational patterns would be familiar. As I worked on the outside I overheard complaints about the landlord(s), hassles with government aid agencies, the gauntlet (unending) presented to make receiving disability benefits from the Social Security program so difficult, etc. The social patterns however, are much like that of any compact neighborhood.
Progressives, South Bend
July 11, 2007

Much of the rest of the narrative was dedicated to describing the appalling living conditions in the dwelling, and that it seemed typical for the area.

Apparently the city of Walkerton has been aware of the need to address this blighted area and recently announced a plan of attack:
...Walkerton applied for and received $2,956,831 and will use it to buy and rehabilitate five homes, buy and demolish 90-plus residences and rebuild 30 to 40 new homes in the neighborhood, which is on the west end of the town.

The Indiana Housing and Community Authority will present the town with the money Thursday."The housing (in the neighborhood) was built originally as World War II housing," said Matt Schalliol, assistant chief of the Walkerton Police Department. "It wasn't designed to be long-term housing, but it
ended up becoming that."

Schalliol described the neighborhood as a "troubled area" of the town, some of whose residents have issues with drug dealing and drug use.

-Madeline Buckley
South Bend Tribune
June 10, 2009

A significant proportion of the dwellings slated for demolition are duplexes of about 450 square feet per side, which have seriously outlived their usefulness. Indications are that the trailer park type winding streets would be replaced with a more conventional approach and the duplexes replaced with single family homes on larger lots.

It seems a very good thing that people will no longer be charged rent to live in really nasty conditions. But the new housing will not be subsidized - meaning that most, if not all, of the residents will be forced out of the area.

The Walkerton community needs to have a well thought out plan to help these folks resettle - hopefully into far better situations.

FP morning brief 6/12

Top Story:

Iranians head to the polls today, in what may be the most closely-fought election since the Iranian revolution. Turnout is expected to be high, with many reformists who boycotted previous elections, taking part this time.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who will remain Iran's supreme leader regardless of today's outcome, cast his vote this morning and praised the "passionate yet peaceful" nature of the campaign.

The primary opposition candidate, Mir Hossein Mousavi, along with fellow candidate Mehdi Karroubi, has formed a committee against vote rigging and have attempted to put observers at all of Iran's 45,000 polling places, but complain that some have been denied access to the polls. Opposition supporters have warned that demonstrations or even riots could break out if there is evidence of vote-rigging in favor of Ahmadinejad.

Ahmadinejad's allies, meanwhile, have accused the opposition of planning a "color revolution" if the vote doesn't go their way.

Under the radar:

With Muammar al Qaddafi visiting Rome this week, the Financial Times looks at how Libya is expanding its stake in the Italian economy through its $70 billion sovereign wealth fund.

Middle East
The head of the Iraqi parliament's main Sunni bloc has been killed.
American officials say that al Qaeda fighters and leaders are increasingly moving to Yemen and Somalia from their strongholds in Northwest Pakistan.
U.S. envoy George Mitchell met with senior Egyptian officials in Cario, where he urged them to make concessions to Israel in order to move the peace process forward.

Asia and Pacific
Suicide bombers attacked a mosque and a religious school in two Pakistani cities, killing a prominent anti-Taliban cleric.
The government's decision to accept 13 Uighur prisoners from Guantanamo has sparked an angry public backlash in Palau.
The trial of Burmese democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi has been pushed back again, to June 26.

NATO has extended its anti-piracy mission off the Somali coast.
Sudan is letting some aid groups back into the country after expelling them in March.
Zimbabwe Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai will meet with President Obama at the White House today.

Hugo Chavez has threatened to shut down an opposition TV station unless its directors stand down.
Human Rights Watch warns that abuses by the Mexican military in the war on drugs are on the rise.
Student protesters have joined indigenous demonstrations against rainforest energy exploration in Peru.

The World Health Organization officially declared the H1N1 virus a pandemic.
Latvia's prime minister says cutting $1 billion from the government's budget has saved the country from bankruptcy.
Industrial production has declined sharply in the Eurozone, dampening hopes for near-term economic recover.

Truthout 6/12

Greg Palast Oil and Indians Don't Mix
Greg Palast, GregPalast.com: "There's an easy way to find oil. Go to some remote and gorgeous natural sanctuary, say Alaska or the Amazon, find some Indians, then drill down under them. If the indigenous folk complain, well, just shoo them away. Shooing methods include: bulldozers, bullets, crooked politicians and fake land sales."

One in Every 398 US Homes Received Foreclosure Filing Last Month
Alan Zibel, The Associated Press: "The number of US households on the verge of losing their homes dipped in May from April, and the annual increase was the smallest in three years."

Conversation With Henry Giroux: (Part II) Let Us Make Haste While We Can
Tolu Olorunda of The Black Commentator continues his interview with Henry Giroux on the American education system.

Senate Passes Bill to Let FDA Regulate Tobacco
Lyndsey Layton, The Washington Post: "Landmark legislation approved by the Senate yesterday will give the federal government sweeping new powers to oversee tobacco products, allowing regulators to control factors including the amount of addictive nicotine in a cigarette and how that cigarette is packaged and marketed."

Mark Weisbrot Vultures Circle Argentina
Mark Weisbrot, The Guardian: "Attempts by vulture fund investors to profit from Argentina's debt default are straining US-Argentine relations."

Mercenaries Set Off for Afghanistan
Remy Ourdan, Le Monde: "They are trying to be more discreet and less murderous than in Iraq. In Kabul, foreign mercenaries don't let loose with rapid fire at intersections and the laws attempt to compel them to cooperate with Afghan companies. However, with the improvement of the situation in Iraq and since Barack Obama announced that Afghanistan and Pakistan were the 'central front' of the war against al-Qaeda, they've been arriving."

William Rivers Pitt Death Talkers
William Rivers Pitt, Truthout: "The much-maligned DHS report on the rise of right-wing extremism in America, released last April by Secretary Napolitano to conservative cries of outrage, appears to have been pretty much on the button. Three days before the report was made public, three Pittsburgh police officers were shot to death by a right-wing gun-ownership extremist who believed President Obama was coming for his guns. One month after the report was made public, an anti-choice zealot named Scott Roeder gunned down Dr. George Tiller in the vestibule of Tiller's church in Kansas while his wife sang in the choir. On Wednesday, a security guard was shot and killed at the Holocaust Memorial in Washington, DC, by James W. von Brunn, a right-wing conspiracy theorist who filled pages on his blog with screeds about a Jewish world conspiracy and, you guessed it, Obama's so-called 'false' birth certificate."

Fifteen Months After Bloodbath in Iraq, Young Veteran Takes His Life
Cynthia Hubert, The Sacramento Bee: "On March 7, 2007, Army Spc. Trevor Hogue was inside his barracks in Baghdad, describing his morning on the battlefield. 'I saw things today that I think will mess me up for life,' Hogue typed to his mother, Donna, as she sat at her computer thousands of miles away from Iraq, in Granite Bay. That day the young soldier, whose assignment included driving a Humvee through perhaps the most dangerous ZIP code on the globe, saw his sergeant blown to pieces. He saw the bodies of half of the men in his platoon torn apart. Heads were cut off and limbs severed. It happened 30 yards in front of him, and he had never been so afraid, he told his mom. 'My arms are around you,' Donna Hogue wrote. 'You'll be alright.' But Hogue never really recovered. Last week, he committed suicide by hanging himself in the backyard of his childhood home. He was 24 years old."

Marines Will Come Out of Iraq by Spring 2010
Lolita C. Baldor, The Associated Press: "All but a few dozen of the 16,000 Marines now in Iraq will be out by next spring, the Marine Corp Gen. James T. Conway said his Marine commanders are already moving equipment out of Anbar Province, where his forces have largely been concentrated. But the larger exodus will begin shortly after the Iraqi elections. 'I see the number going down to essentially zero in, I think, sometime in spring 2010,' Conway told an audience at the National Press Club. The only exception, he said, will be about 30 Marines who will be working with Iraq's fledgling Marine Corps securing oil platforms in the south around Basra."

Obama Touts Public Plan at Health Care Town Hall
Michael A. Fletcher, The Washington Post: "President Obama today reiterated his call for a government-run insurance option as part of his a plan to remake the nation's health care system, saying that a public plan will provide the competition needed to keep private insurance companies 'honest and keep prices down.' Creation of a publicly run health care plan to compete with private insurers has emerged as one of the largest hurdle as Congress moves closer to a full blown debate on restructuring the nation's health care system in the coming weeks. Many Republicans oppose the option, saying it would eventually squeeze private insurers out of business."

Federal Agent Sacked for Reporting Illegal Cougar Kills
Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility: "A federal agent who reported that his colleagues had illegally used government airplanes to hunt mountain lions was fired in retaliation, according to filings released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The legal complaint filed by Gary Strader, a professional hunter for US Wildlife Services, is one of the first whistleblower cases arising during the Obama administration. How the case is handled may give important clues as to whether civil servants can expect a respite from the heavy-handed personnel practices that characterized the Bush administration. Gary Strader worked for Wildlife Services, an arm of the US Department of Agriculture, as a hunter and tracker, principally of coyotes, out of the agency's Ely, Nevada office. His job was abruptly eliminated after he reported both to his regional office, as well as the FBI, that his agency co-workers had illegally shot as many as five mountain lions from government airplanes."

Jeremy Ben-Ami and Trita Parsi How Diplomacy With Iran Can Succeed
Jeremy Ben-Ami and Trita Parsi, The Huffington Post: "As Iranians go to cast their ballots in Friday's elections, it is much more than just Iran's future that is at stake. The White House is closely following the elections, as is Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The Israeli Prime Minister may be watching Washington's reaction to the results more than the results themselves since his meeting with President Barack Obama last month confirmed that they are likely to bring different approaches to the critical problems facing the Middle East. While the President will base his Middle East policy on diplomacy to resolve conflicts, particularly with Iran, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will be pressing for tight timelines on diplomacy and for tough action sooner rather than later. The President would be well advised to pursue his chosen strategy with the intent to succeed -- not fail -- and the most critical factor will be time."

The big hate

New York Times

Back in April, there was a huge fuss over an internal report by the Department of Homeland Security warning that current conditions resemble those in the early 1990s — a time marked by an upsurge of right-wing extremism that culminated in the Oklahoma City bombing.

Conservatives were outraged. The chairman of the Republican National Committee denounced the report as an attempt to “segment out conservatives in this country who have a different philosophy or view from this administration” and label them as terrorists.

But with the murder of Dr. George Tiller by an anti-abortion fanatic, closely followed by a shooting by a white supremacist at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, the analysis looks prescient.

There is, however, one important thing that the D.H.S. report didn’t say: Today, as in the early years of the Clinton administration but to an even greater extent, right-wing extremism is being systematically fed by the conservative media and political establishment.

Now, for the most part, the likes of Fox News and the R.N.C. haven’t directly incited violence, despite Bill O’Reilly’s declarations that “some” called Dr. Tiller “Tiller the Baby Killer,” that he had “blood on his hands,” and that he was a “guy operating a death mill.” But they have gone out of their way to provide a platform for conspiracy theories and apocalyptic rhetoric, just as they did the last time a Democrat held the White House.

And at this point, whatever dividing line there was between mainstream conservatism and the black-helicopter crowd seems to have been virtually erased.

Exhibit A for the mainstreaming of right-wing extremism is Fox News’s new star, Glenn Beck. Here we have a network where, like it or not, millions of Americans get their news — and it gives daily airtime to a commentator who, among other things, warned viewers that the Federal Emergency Management Agency might be building concentration camps as part of the Obama administration’s “totalitarian” agenda (although he eventually conceded that nothing of the kind was happening).

But let’s not neglect the print news media. In the Bush years, The Washington Times became an important media player because it was widely regarded as the Bush administration’s house organ. Earlier this week, the newspaper saw fit to run an opinion piece declaring that President Obama “not only identifies with Muslims, but actually may still be one himself,” and that in any case he has “aligned himself” with the radical Muslim Brotherhood.

And then there’s Rush Limbaugh. His rants today aren’t very different from his rants in 1993. But he occupies a different position in the scheme of things. Remember, during the Bush years Mr. Limbaugh became very much a political insider. Indeed, according to a recent Gallup survey, 10 percent of Republicans now consider him the “main person who speaks for the Republican Party today,” putting him in a three-way tie with Dick Cheney and Newt Gingrich. So when Mr. Limbaugh peddles conspiracy theories — suggesting, for example, that fears over swine flu were being hyped “to get people to respond to government orders” — that’s a case of the conservative media establishment joining hands with the lunatic fringe.

It’s not surprising, then, that politicians are doing the same thing. The R.N.C. says that “the Democratic Party is dedicated to restructuring American society along socialist ideals.” And when Jon Voight, the actor, told the audience at a Republican fund-raiser this week that the president is a “false prophet” and that “we and we alone are the right frame of mind to free this nation from this Obama oppression,” Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader, thanked him, saying that he “really enjoyed” the remarks.

Credit where credit is due. Some figures in the conservative media have refused to go along with the big hate — people like Fox’s Shepard Smith and Catherine Herridge, who debunked the attacks on that Homeland Security report two months ago. But this doesn’t change the broad picture, which is that supposedly respectable news organizations and political figures are giving aid and comfort to dangerous extremism.

What will the consequences be? Nobody knows, of course, although the analysts at Homeland Security fretted that things may turn out even worse than in the 1990s — that thanks, in part, to the election of an African-American president, “the threat posed by lone wolves and small terrorist cells is more pronounced than in past years.”

And that’s a threat to take seriously. Yes, the worst terrorist attack in our history was perpetrated by a foreign conspiracy. But the second worst, the Oklahoma City bombing, was perpetrated by an all-American lunatic. Politicians and media organizations wind up such people at their, and our, peril.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Like a Louis L'Amour novel

Don Wheeler

(The late) Louis L'Amour sold more Westerns than anyone in history. Most of his stories were based around historical events and often included real persons. Additionally, he was known for having spent time in all the settings he wrote about - which gave his depictions real depth and authenticity. My father introduced me to his writing when I was very young, and I have enjoyed them ever since.

One consistent plot feature of his stories was a point in which our hero would seem to be defeated - often mortally. But he (almost always he) would drag himself in from the desert, (the mountain, the water, etc.) and either nurse himself "back to life" or encounter someone else who did it. His condition would nearly always be a result of fight (unfair, of course).

Which brings us back to the saga of Cowboy.

Cowboy limped back to our house after two days in the wilderness. Battered and famished, he called to me in the late afternoon from our back yard and refused to come into the sunporch. I brought him food and sat with him. After he had eaten well, I scooped him up and took him inside.

He spent an uneasy night in the house - hiding. Paddy took him to the Vet the next day, where he was checked out and his wounds were treated. The Vet was sure Cowboy had been in a serious cat fight - as opposed to my original theory of his assailant.

As you may guess, I am highly relieved. Not only do we have our kitty friend back, but I don't have to dread my daughter, full of hope, being disappointed every morning looking for a cat who will never come.

Instead, I get to witness more of her joy. She loves Tabby and Cowboy. And she can enjoy both of them.

FP morning brief 6/11

Top Story:

After a week of massive rallies, Iran is quiet again as campaigning officially ended for the presidential election, which will be held on Friday. In a final TV apearance (which his opponents boycotted, saying they had not been allowed equal airtime) President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad accused the opposition candidates of conspiring with Israelis to discredit him.

If no candidate receives more than 50 percent of the vote tomorrow, there will be a run-off between the two front-runners next week. The big story in the run-up to the election has been the unexpected rise in popular support for former Prime Minister Mir Hossein Mousavi. Perhaps rattled by the huge rallies in support of Mousavi in Tehran, the political head of Iran's Revolutionary Guard warned yesterday that any "attempt for velvet revolution will be nipped in the bud."

One of Mousavi's most powerful backers, former President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rasfanjani, sent an unusually blunt open letter this week to Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, asking him to put a stop to Ahmadinejad's “insults, lies and false allegations.”

The final days of the campaign have also been marked by the opposition candidates' all-out push for female voters, who have been marginalized under Ahmadinejad's presidency.

Under the radar:

U.S. President Barack Obama sent a personal message to the government of Kygyzstan, in an effort to prevent the closing of a U.S. airbase considered vital for the war in Afghanistan.

The permanent five members of the UN Security Council agreed on new sanctions against North Korea.
Defense ministers from eight NATO nations met in the Netherlands to discuss progress in Afghanistan.
Militants attacked Pakistani Army bases in South Waziristan.

A known white supremacist and anti-Semite opened fire at the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington D.C., killing a security guard.
The U.S. has cut aid to Nicaragua over concerns about democracy and the free market under leftist President Daniel Ortega.
Peru's congress repealed a controversial land use law that was the subject of widespread protests by indigenous groups this week.

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi hosted a visit from Libya's Muammar al Qaddafi.
Six British police officers have been suspended after being accused of torturing drug suspects last year.
Italy is carrying out arrests against suspected leftist terrorists.

Middle East
The U.S. is reportedly close to a deal with Saudi Arabia to accept nearly 100 Yemeni detainees from Guantanamo Bay.
Three of the five U.S. contractors detained in Iraq on suspicion of killing another American have been released.
U.S. envoy George Mitchell met with senior Palestinian leaders and urged the "prompt resumption and early conclusion" of peace talks.

Kenyan prosecutors have charged 17 Somalis with piracy, after they were handed over by the U.S. Navy.
A senior Malian military officer tasked with investigating al Qaeda activity was killed.
Former rebels in South Sudan have begun one of the world's largest ever military demobilizations.

Truthout 6/11

Geithner Announces "Pay Czar"
Eamon Javers, Politico: "Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said Wednesday that the Obama administration will take several new steps to reform the ways executives are paid on Wall Street - and he argued that pay packages were partly to blame for the epic Wall Street crash of 2008. 'There were clearly some areas of compensation that contributed to excessive risk taking across the financial sector,' Geithner said in a meeting with Securities and Exchange Commission Chairwoman Mary Schapiro, Federal Reserve Governor Dan Tarullo and leading executive pay experts."

Coleman Ordered to Pay Franken $95,000 in Legal Fees
Elizabeth Stawicki and Mike Mulcahy, Minnesota Public Radio: "A three-judge panel has ordered Norm Coleman to pay Al Franken nearly $95,000 related to Coleman's lawsuit over the still-unresolved US Senate race. The panel's order comes as both sides are still waiting for the Minnesota Supreme Court to rule on Coleman's appeal."

Anti-Hate Play Was to Be Unveiled Night of US Shooting
Agence France-Presse: "A gunman attacked the Holocaust museum just hours before the unveiling of a new play about hate crimes, following an imaginary conversation between Anne Frank and a black boy lynched in Mississippi. 'Our whole play is about hate, to eradicate hate, and this is an example of hatred,' said the playwright Janet Langhart Cohen, wife of former US defense secretary William Cohen, who had been heading to the museum's theater for final rehearsals ahead of Wednesday night's premiere when the attack happened."

Democrats Close in on War Funding Agreement
Andrew Taylor, The Associated Press: "Capitol Hill Democrats are closing in on agreement on a war funding bill that's now likely to cost taxpayers well over $100 billion with the late addition of more flu-fighting funds and money to subsidize new car purchases. And, under a compromise revealed by House and Senate aides Wednesday, detainees held at the Guantanamo Bay prison could be transferred to the US to face trial but not to serve their sentences in this country if convicted. An official House-Senate negotiating session was scheduled for Thursday, with votes in the House and Senate expected next week."

Country Lawyer Trumps Democratic Star in Virginia Primary
Bob Lewis, The Associated Press: "For four years, Democratic state Sen. R. Creigh Deeds has coped with losing the closest statewide race in modern Virginia history to Republican Bob McDonnell. Now that the rumpled, rough-around-the-edges country lawyer whipped close friend Brian J. Moran and master Clinton fundraiser Terry R. McAuliffe in Tuesday's Democratic gubernatorial primary, Deeds has the chance to avenge his 2005 loss in the attorney general election - a margin of 323 votes out of 2 million cast."

New York Times Does Not Plan to Close Boston Globe
Robert MacMillan, Reuters: "The New York Times Company said on Tuesday that it does not plan to close The Boston Globe, a day after its largest union rejected a $10 million package of concessions aimed at cutting costs at the 137-year-old newspaper. But tensions are only deepening between the Globe and the Boston Newspaper Guild. The Times has said it will cut more than a fifth of union members' pay to get the savings that it needs. The union on Tuesday responded by petitioning the US government to block that move."

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Truthout 6/10

Matt Renner Study Follows the Money on Cram-Down Vote
Matt Renner, Truthout: "A new analysis from a government watchdog group shows senators who killed off a consumer-friendly change in law aimed at addressing the foreclosure crisis received more money in campaign contributions from the industries their vote aided. Senators who voted against the consumer-friendly amendment received $3.98 million from the financial industry during the 2008 election cycle, while proponents of the bill received $2.65 million."

Peru: "Police Are Throwing Bodies in the River"
Milagros Salazar, Inter Press Service: "There are conflicting reports on a violent incident in Peru's Amazon jungle region in which both police officers and indigenous protesters were killed. The authorities, who describe last Friday's incident as a 'clash' between the police and protesters manning a roadblock, say 22 policemen and nine civilians were killed."

Bank Bailout Turns Out to Have Been Good Business for US
Kevin G. Hall, McClatchy Newspapers: "When Congress passed the $700 billion Wall Street bailout package last fall, critics said it'd be a money loser. But when 10 banks returned $68 billion of the money on Tuesday, President Barack Obama said the government had realized a small profit. Did it really? In addition to returning the $68 billion, the 10 banks paid the government $1.8 billion in dividends on the preferred shares of stock the government owned. That translates to an annualized rate of return of about 4.64 percent on the $68 billion."

Halliburton Rape Case Highlights Arbitration Debate
Wade Goodwyn, NPR News: "Jamie Leigh Jones was a 20-year-old Halliburton employee in 2005 when she was sent to work in Iraq. She'd been there just four days when she joined a small group of Halliburton firefighters outside her barracks at the end of the day. One of them gave her a drink. She took two sips, and Jones says that was the last thing she remembered. 'I woke up inside the barracks,' she says. 'It was actually inside my barrack room, and that's when I noticed I had been severely beaten and was actually naked.'"

Frida Berrigan Cyberscares About Cyberwars Equal Cybermoney
Frida Berrigan, TomDispatch.com: "As though we don't have enough to be afraid of already, what with armed lunatics mowing down military recruiters and doctors, the H1N1 flu virus, the collapse of bee populations, rising sea levels, failed and flailing states, North Korea being North Korea, al-Qaeda wannabes in New York State with terrorist aspirations, and who knows what else -- now cyberjihadis are evidently poised to steal our online identities, hack into our banks, take over our Flickr and Facebook accounts, and create havoc on the World Wide Web."

House Democrats Unveil Health Care Overhaul
Alex Wayne, Congressional Quarterly: "The health care overhaul under development by House Democrats would subsidize insurance premiums for families earning as much as four times the poverty level, while expanding Medicaid and improving its payments to health providers. Staff of the three House committees with jurisdiction over the emerging bill - Ways and Means, Energy and Commerce, and Education and Labor - have compiled a three-page outline of the legislation, which they call a 'tri-committee' proposal."

Jason Leopold Administration Fights Disclosure on Two Fronts
Jason Leopold, Truthout: "Last month, the CIA told a federal court judge it could not abide by a court order and turn over detailed documents about the destruction of 92 interrogation videotapes because it would compromise the integrity of a special prosecutor's criminal investigation into the matter. US District Court Judge Alvin Hellerstein responded by demanding a sworn declaration from special counsel John Durham confirming that to be the case. In a subsequent court filing, Lev Dassin, acting US attorney for the Southern District of New York, backtracked and said the CIA would no longer rely on that argument."

Kevin Zeese Big Breakthroughs for Single-Payer Health Care
Kevin Zeese, Truthout: "When we started our campaign one month ago to put single-payer national health insurance on the table, we were ignored. When we stood up and demanded that single payer be part of the debate, we were arrested. Today, single payer is breaking through, while the multi-payer pro-health insurance reform is faltering."

Car Bomb Rips Through South Iraq Market
Anthony Shadid, The Washington Post: "A car bomb tore through a crowded market Thursday in a remote town in a part of southern Iraq that has been relatively peaceful in past months, officials said. At least 29 people were killed, with dozens more wounded, overwhelming the nearby hospital. The explosives were packed in a parked car that exploded in the market in al-Batha, a town 20 miles west of the provincial capital of Nasiriya. Police said the bomb detonated at about 8 a.m., at a time the town's commercial area was busy with people."

Pacific Island Nation to Accept Chinese Muslim Detainees From Guantanamo
Ray Lilley, The Associated Press: "The tropical Pacific island nation of Palau announced Wednesday it will accept up to 17 Chinese Muslims who have languished in legal limbo at Guantanamo Bay despite a Pentagon determination that they are not 'enemy combatants.' China's Foreign Ministry had no immediate reaction to the decision by Palau to grant Washington's request to resettle the detainees from China's Uighur minority who had been incarcerated at the US Navy base in Cuba. Palau is one of a handful of countries that does not recognize China and maintains diplomatic relations with Taiwan."

Global Weapons Spending Hits Record Levels
Richard Norton-Taylor, The Guardian UK: "Worldwide spending on weapons has reached record levels amounting to well over $1tn last year, a leading research organisation reported today. Global military expenditure has risen by 45% over the past decade to $1.46tn, according to the latest annual Yearbook on Armaments, Disarmament, and International Security published by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (Sipri)."

Herve Kempf Ecology and Democracy
Herve Kempf, Le Monde: "Since its beginnings, ecology has thought of itself as a political movement and highlighted the degree to which the excesses of technological power weaken democracy. That line of analysis reasserted itself during the 1970's with respect to nuclear energy: the rejection of nuclear energy focused not only on its intrinsic danger, but equally on the character - presented as incontestable - of the 'experts'' knowledge."

FP brief 6/10

Top Story:

The death toll from yesterday's bombing at the Pearl Continental Hotel in Peshawar, Pakistan has risen to 16. Gunmen first overwhelmed guards before a car bomb exploded, destroying half the hotel. The Pearl's guests included UN officials working on Pakistan's refugee crisis. Two of them were among the dead. The UN has now evacuated its personnel from Peshawar. FP's Elizabeth Dickinson has more on how yesterday's bombing connects to Pakistan's refugee crisis.

A security official told the Financial Times that the attack was likely carried out by militants loyal to Taliban leader Baithullah Mehsud. This is the latest in a string of bombings in Pakistani cities, likely provoked by the Pakistani government's offensive against the Taliban in Northwest Pakistan.

The fighting continued in the Swat Valley and surrounding regions today with the military claiming dozens of terrorist casualties. Shortly before yesterday's attack, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, testifying before the senate, praised the Pakistani government's new offensive, saying that previous peace agreements with the Taliban had directly led to an upsurge in violence across the border in Afghanistan.

Under the radar:

A new report finds that climate change is one of the main factors driving migration in the world today.

Middle East
A car bombing killed 35 people in a crowded market in Southern Iraq.
With Iran's election coming down the wire, former President Akbar Hashemi Rasfanjani lashed out at President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for making "baseless and irresponsible statements.
Turkey sentenced six suspected al Qaeda members to life in prison for the 2003 Istanbul bombings.

The Pacific island nation of Palau has offered to accept 17 Uighur prisoners from Guantanamo Bay.
Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso vowed that his country would cut greenhouse gas emissions 15 percent by 2020.
Thailand has sent troops to its border with Burma to prevent an influx of Karen refugees.

The UN High Council on Refugees says more than 100,000 people have been forced to flee their homes in Somalia since May.
The speaker of Gabon's senate has been sworn in as interim president after the death of long-time leader Omar Bongo.
MEND rebels have set fire to a Chevron pumping station in the Niger Delta.

Al Qaeda suspect Ahmed Ghailani pleaded not guilty to complicity in the 1998 embassy bombings in his first court appearance in New York.
Mexican federal police raided several local police stations in an effort to stamp out police corruption.
The Obama administration is planning to roll out new restrictions on financial executive compensation.

With new arms reduction talks underway, Russian military sources says the country will need to keep at least 1,500 warheads.
One of the top judges in Russia's volatile Ingushetia region was killed by gunmen.
London has been crippled by a citywide subway strike.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

FP brief 6/9

Top Story:

The first Gunantanamo detainee has been brought to the United States for trial. Tanzanian Ahmed Ghailani, a suspected in the 1998 bombings of U.S. two U.S. embassies in East Africa was flown to New York early this morning.

He will appear in a Federal Court in Manhattan later today. Ghailani has been held at Guantanamo since 2006.

Four other men have already been tried and convicted in the New York court for their role in the attacks. All are currently serving life sentences. President Barack Obama has ordered the prison at Guantanamo closed by the end January.

Stat of the day:

According to a new poll, 29 percent of Iranians hold a positive view toward the United States, down from 34 percent in February, 2008.

Middle East
U.S. envoy George Mitchell assured Israeli President Shimon Peres that despite differences, the U.S.-Israel alliance remains strong.
Massive campaign rallies for Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his rival Mir Hussein Moussavi have brought downtown Tehran to a standstill.
Iraqi Shiite parties are attempting to rebuild a political alliance, a potential setback to efforts to end sectarian politics.

British Prime Minister Gordon brown has dodged a bullet, winning the support of his Labour party despite a disappointing European election result.
E.U. President Jose Manuel Barroso has declared his candidacy for a second term.
Latvia's nosediving economy may force it to devalue its currency.

The Pakistani government has sent helicopters to assist tribesmen in the country's northwest who have risen up against the Taliban.
Ten people were killed in an attack on a mosque in Southern Thailand. The Thai military has denied involvement.
Police opened fire on protesters in Kashmir, protesting over alleged sexual assault by the Indian military.

Royal Dutch Shell has agreed to pay $15.5 million to the families of anti-oil campaigners executed in Nigeria in 1995 in an out-of-court settlement.
Gabon's military is on high alert after the death of long-time ruler Omar Bongo.
Sudan has now sentenced 103 rebel fighters to death for a raid on Khartoum in May, 2008.

The riots in Peru which led to over thirty deaths appear to have subsided for now.
The U.S. Supreme Court has delayed the sale of bankrupt carmaker Chrysler to Italy Fiat.
One day after a deadly gunfight in downtown Acapulco, two police stations were attacked by gunmen armed with grenades.

Truthout 6/9

Maya Schenwar Voices From Tehran
Maya Schenwar, Truthout: "In his much-anticipated speech last week in Cairo, President Obama had some encouraging words for Iran. 'For many years, Iran has defined itself in part by its opposition to my country, and there is in fact a tumultuous history between us,' he said. 'Rather than remain trapped in the past, I've made it clear to Iran's leaders and people that my country is prepared to move forward.' But what would 'moving forward' look like? The truth is, no one is exactly sure, and blank spaces can be dangerous breeding grounds for hawkish sentiments."

Panetta in Court to Argue for Interrogation Secrecy
Devlin Barrett, The Associated Press: "CIA Director Leon Panetta told a federal judge Monday that releasing documents about the agency's terror interrogations would gravely damage national security. Panetta sent a 24-page missive to New York federal judge Alvin Hellerstein, arguing that release of agency cables describing tough interrogation methods used on al-Qaida suspects would tell the enemy far too much about US counterterrorism work."
Schwarzenegger Considers Oil Drilling Off Coast
David R. Baker, The San Francisco Chronicle: "Desperate to plug California's gaping budget hole, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has turned to an idea he has long opposed - offshore oil drilling. Schwarzenegger has thrown his support behind a Texas company's proposal to tap an oil field just off the coast of Santa Barbara County. Drills lowered from an existing oil platform near Vandenberg Air Force Base would bore as many as 30 wells into the seabed over the life of the project. The state could reap $1.8 billion in royalties over 14 years."

Khmer Rouge Jailer Says Ordered Killing of Children
Reuters: "Pol Pot's chief jailer told Cambodia's Khmer Rouge tribunal on Monday that children of inmates at the regime's S-21 prison were murdered to keep them from seeking revenge later in life. Duch, the first of five senior cadres to face trial for the 1975-79 reign of terror in which 1.7 million Cambodians died, said he accepted responsibility for the children's deaths but was following orders."

Near Washington, DC, Construction Crews Watch for Mystery "Black" Wire
Amy Gardner, The Los Angeles Times: "This part happens all the time: A construction crew putting up an office building in the heart of congested Tysons Corner in McLean, Va., hit a fiber-optic cable no one knew was there. This part doesn't: Within moments, three black SUVs drove up, half a dozen men in suits jumped out, and one said, 'You just hit our line.'"

Supreme Court Delays Fiat's Purchase of Chrysler
Kevin G. Hall, McClatchy Newspapers: "The Supreme Court issued a temporary freeze Monday on the Obama administration's planned sale of bankrupt Chrysler LLC, a move that also could threaten General Motors' efforts to seek protection from its creditors. The high court agreed to a request for a delay from Indiana state pensioners and some public interest groups, who alleged that the speedy bankruptcy process and administration rescue of Chrysler trampled on long-established rights of creditors and misused taxpayer bailout money."

Norman Solomon Words and War
Norman Solomon, Truthout: "It takes at least tacit faith in massive violence to believe that after three decades of horrendous violence in Afghanistan, upping the violence there will improve the situation. Despite the pronouncements from high Washington places that the problems of Afghanistan can't be solved by military means, 90 percent of the spending for Afghanistan in the Obama administration's current supplemental bill is military."

Mark Weisbrot The Next Big Taxpayer Bailout?
Mark Weisbrot, The Center for Economic and Policy Research: "The bailout of private banks and financial institutions has become a touchy political issue in the United States, ever since President Bush's Treasury Secretary and former Goldman Sachs CEO Hank Paulson asked Congress for a $700 billion dollar blank check last September. Now the Obama administration is asking the Congress for $108 billion for the International Monetary Fund.... These are enormous sums of money that the IMF has never come close to before. What is all this money for? There is an answer staring us in the face from the financial press: European banks."

Nobel Winner Krugman Sees US Recession Ending Soon
Courtney Schlisserman, Bloomberg: "The U.S. economy probably will emerge from the recession by September, Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman said. 'I would not be surprised if the official end of the U.S. recession ends up being, in retrospect, dated sometime this summer,' he said in a lecture today at the London School of Economics. 'Things seem to be getting worse more slowly. There's some reason to think that we're stabilizing.'"

First Guantanamo Inmate Transferred to US for Trial
Mark Silva, The Los Angeles Times: "The first detainee from the U.S. military-run prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to arrive in the United States has been moved to New York City to face criminal charges in connection with the bombings of U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya, according to the Justice Department."

Budget Woes Have Oakland Mulling Bankruptcy
Chip Johnson, The San Francisco Chronicle: "Even though city officials would prefer to avoid a public conversation, behind closed doors the Oakland City Council has discussed filing for bankruptcy protection in the midst of a $100 million budget deficit. 'We have asked the (bankruptcy) question because we wanted to know the impact,' said District 5 council member Ignacio De La Fuente. 'In closed session, the question has been asked, and an answer was given.' He would not elaborate."

Le Monde Indifference?
Le Monde's editorialist ponders: "It's one of the paradoxes of Europe. The European idea, if one believes the polls, remains popular in most member countries. But the European Union, as it constructs itself in Brussels, is supposedly unpopular because it's too technocratic, that is, not democratic enough. And yet, the sole election that allows Europe's people to fashion one of the Union's institutions, its Parliament, is very widely boycotted."

Monday, June 8, 2009

This Ol' Cowboy

Don Wheeler

Several weeks ago we had a visitor….A young, rambunctious, male, tabby cat.

As it happens, we have an older female tabby cat – named Tabby. Though he was marked and colored like her, it didn’t take long to determine that this cat was not Tabby. This cat was young and skittish and loud and very nearly starving.

Tabby, who often is quite territorial, was aloof and watchful – but not aggressive towards the young stranger. I got a bowl full of cat food and placed it in on our sunporch. The young stranger was wary, but hunger won out and he attacked the food with gusto.

This event began a pattern where the cat would be around for a couple of days – then vanish for a week or more. When he returned, he was invariably rail thin. I started calling him Cowboy – he was young and wild and full of adventure, after all. He and Tabby seemed to like each other’s company more and more.

Our daughter, Sarah, of course found all this very exciting. At first, Paddy (sensibly enough) wondered if we should encourage him to stick around. She’s a warm hearted and generous person, though, so she quickly warmed to the little guy. It wasn’t too long before we started talking about vet visits and the like.

Eventually, Cowboy started hanging around. I think he liked his twice daily feedings and tummy rubs by each of the three of us. And Sarah fell for him hard.

The first person up in the morning (generally me) would find Cowboy out on the sunporch meowing “Good Morning! I’ll have my breakfast now.” He’d get his back scratched while he ate. He’d rub and roll on his back when he’d finished – accepting a tummy rub with real pleasure. He’d often walk up to the open door to the kitchen, but he wasn’t quite ready to come inside.

Last weekend we spent the day in Chicago with my sister, her daughter and their significant others. I was being treated to a White Sox game in honor of my upcoming birthday. The weather was not the greatest, but it was a fun day and the Sox won. We arrived back home well after dark. We looked out on the sunporch to see if Cowboy was wanting his second meal of the day, but there was no sign of him. We went to bed.

The next morning I went out to get the Sunday paper and brought it out to the sunporch with my coffee. I noticed a few small tufts of fur in one corner and a small amount of excrement on the carpet. When Paddy joined me, she pointed out that there was a little more on a couple of the glass doors as well.

We were pretty sure the porch was frequented by a raccoon – the cats’ water dish was often muddy in the morning – so we attributed the mess to that cause at first. But as I was cleaning up a bit later, I came to a different conclusion – and my heart sank.

We had been encouraged by the lack of any blood in the room, but there is really only one explanation for feces part way up the glass doors.

Cowboy was trapped by a dog or coyote on our sunporch. He probably could have hidden under the table – but he was young and scared. As his attacker shook him violently to break his neck – his bowels emptied. Then he was carried off and eaten.

I’m not sure why I am as upset about this as I am. In some way, we feel responsible in leading him to feel safe with us. Also, (as bad as it was to lose him) it makes us worry for Tabby. I think we also feel violated – Cowboy was becoming part of the family. This feels personal – though it is not. He brought some joy to us – especially to Sarah – and this awful end seems so unfair.

But in the end I think it comes down to being a parent of a six-year–old child. Sarah has seen (and will continue to see) Tabby outside and ask hopefully and excitedly, her eyes wide, her face bright “Is that Cowboy?!”

I can’t even tell her that he won’t back. She will want to know how I know – and I can’t possibly answer that question. I won’t lie to her about it, so this will be the first serious secret I have to keep from her.

I hope there aren’t many others because my heart is breaking.

FP morning brief 6/8

Top Story:

It was a big night for European Conservatives, who picked up European Parliament seats in Germany, France, Italy, Belgium, Britain, and Spain in continent-wide elections marked by record-low turnout. European Commission President blamed governments for voter apathy about the EU, saying, "National politicians, whose debates all too often remain largely national in their focus, must acknowledge themselves more consistently as both national and European actors."

One national leader who is celebrating is French President Nicolas Sarkozy who became the first French president to lead his party to European victory since 1979, with the opposition socialists barely beating out the third-place green party. Sarkozy will meet this week with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, another winner, " to open up new projects" for the Union.

Across the English Channel, the mood is not so bright. After the Labor Party's worst electoral result since 1910, rebel Labor lawmakers will meet today to decide whether to mount a campaign to remove Prime Minister Gordon Brown. The British political establishment has also been shaken up by the strong showing of the widely reviled, anti-immigrant British National Party, which won its first ever seat in the European Parliament.

Overall, it was a good night for previously fringe parties with Sweden's anti-copyright Pirate Party also taking a seat.

Under the radar:

New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin is being held in quarantine in China due to possible exposure to swine flu.

Middle East
Official results have confirmed the pro-Western bloc's victory over Hezbollah in Lebanon's election.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is planning a major speech next week to lay out his plan for the peace process.
A bus bombing killed seven in southern Baghdad.

The two U.S. journalists held in North Korea were sentenced to 12 years in a labor camp.
The United States is considering re-adding North Korea to its state sponsors of terrorism list.
Pakistani tribesmen attacked two Taliban strongholds in retaliation for a mosque attack last Friday.

A British judge has found that Michael McKevitt, leader of the IRA splinter group Real IRA, was responsible for the 1998 Omagh bombing.
Industrial orders increased notably in Germany last month, the latest sign that the country's economy may be on the mend.
The Dalai Lama was made an honorary citizen of Paris, to great Chinese annoyance.

Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe has taken over as head of the COMESA trade bloc, Africa's largest.
The director of an influential radio station in Somalia was shot to death.
Indicted Sudanese leader Omar al Bashir paid a visit to Zimbabwe.

Protests by Peruvian indigenous groups against oil development have turned violent, leaving more than 50 police and protesters dead.
Eighteen people were killed in a shootout between police and drug traffickers in Acapulco, Mexico.
Former Cuban leader Fidel Castro said the arrest of two Americans accused of spying for Cuba could be politically motivated.

Truthout 6/8

Henry A. Giroux Remembering "Manchild in the Promised Land"
Henry A. Giroux, Truthout: "When Claude Brown published 'Manchild in the Promised Land' in 1965, he wrote about the doomed lives of his friends, family and neighborhood acquaintances. The book is mostly remembered as a brilliantly devastating portrait of Harlem under siege, ravaged and broken from drugs, poverty, unemployment, crime and police brutality. But what Brown really made visible was that the raw violence and dead-end existence that plagued so many young people in Harlem, stole not only their future but their childhood as well."

Mitchell: Obama Wants "Immediate" Mideast Talks
Wojciech Moskwa, Reuters: "US President Barack Obama wants 'immediate' talks between the Palestinians and Israel to forge a comprehensive Middle East peace agreement, US envoy George Mitchell said on Monday. Mitchell, who is en route to the Middle East, said the aim of such talks was 'a comprehensive peace and normalization of relations' between Israel and its neighbors, which would also serve 'the security interests of the United States.'"

Lebanese Election a Blow to Hezbollah
Nicholas Blanford, The Christian Science Monitor: "Lebanon's Western-backed March 14 coalition has defeated a stiff challenge by the Hezbollah-led opposition in national elections to retain its parliamentary majority. The March 14 bloc's win will reassure its supporters in Washington and Saudi Arabia, while the opposition defeat is a blow for Iran and Syria, which support Hezbollah and were hoping to counter US influence in Lebanon."

North Korea Sentences Two US Reporters to 12 Years in Prison
John M. Glionna and Barbara Demick, The Los Angeles Times: "Two American television journalists today were convicted of a 'grave crime' against North Korea and sentenced to 12 years of hard labor, a move that increased mounting tensions between the US and the reclusive Asian state. Laura Ling and Euna Lee, reporters for San Francisco-based Current TV, were sentenced by the top Central Court in Pyongyang in a two-day trial that started Friday as US officials demanded the release of the two women."

Supreme Court Rejects Challenge to "Don't Ask, Don't Tell"
The Associated Press: "The Supreme Court on Monday turned down a challenge to the Pentagon policy forbidding gays and lesbians from serving openly in the military, granting a request by the Obama administration. The court said it will not hear an appeal from former Army Capt. James Pietrangelo II, who was dismissed under the military's 'don't ask, don't tell' policy."

Gilles Kepel Fractures of the Levant
Gilles Kepel, Le Monde: "Three axes of crisis structure the contemporary Middle East: the Levant, around the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and its Lebanese-Syrian extensions; the Gulf, around hydrocarbons and Iranian-Arab, Sunni-Shiite antagonisms; and the Afghanistan-Pakistan (AfPak) region, where the Taliban's power ascent threatens the NATO troops in Afghanistan as well as the cohesion of the Pakistani government."

Jason Leopold Comey Emails Illustrate Concerns Over Torture Policies
Jason Leopold, Truthout: "Dick Cheney and his lawyer, David Addington, pressured the Department of Justice (DOJ) in 2005 to quickly approve a torture memo that authorized CIA interrogators to use a combination of barbaric techniques during interrogations of 'high-value' detainees, despite objections from senior DOJ officials, according to emails written by James Comey, the agency's former deputy attorney general. In the emails, Comey also wrote that then Attorney General (AG) Alberto Gonzales was 'weak' and had essentially allowed Cheney and Addington to politicize the DOJ."

Kennedy Details Vision for Health Care
Ceci Connolly, The Washington Post: "Three months after he was diagnosed with incurable brain cancer, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) vowed in an emotional Democratic National Convention address last summer that health reform would be 'the cause of my life.' Nearly a year later, Kennedy, rarely seen in public, has put that vision to paper in legislation that would provide generous government subsidies to families buying coverage, place significant responsibilities on employers, create a new long-term-care program for millions of people with disabilities, and perhaps reach into the profits of insurance companies."

Alfred W. McCoy Confronting the CIA's Mind Maze
Alfred W. McCoy, TomDispatch.com: "If, like me, you've been following America's torture policies not just for the last few years, but for decades, you can't help but experience that eerie feeling of deja vu these days. With the departure of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney from Washington and the arrival of Barack Obama, it may just be back to the future when it comes to torture policy, a turn away from a dark, do-it-yourself ethos and a return to the outsourcing of torture that went on, with the support of both Democrats and Republicans, in the Cold War years."

Netanyahu to Give Major Speech in Response to Obama
Barak Ravid, Haaretz: "Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will discuss the future of settlement construction and the establishment of a Palestinian state during a major policy address at Bar-Ilan University on Sunday. In the speech, Netanyahu will lay out his plans for Israel's relations with the Palestinian Authority and Arab countries, a source close to the premier said yesterday. It remains unclear whether Netanyahu will recognize the principle of two states for two peoples in the speech, which is meant as a response to US President Barack Obama's address in Cairo last week."

Acapulco Gun Battle Leaves 18 Dead
William Booth, The Washington Post: "Suspected drug traffickers trapped in a safe house fought a furious gun battle with Mexican soldiers early Sunday in the beach resort city of Acapulco. As terrified residents and tourists cowered in their rooms, the firefight raged for two hours, leaving 16 gunmen dead. Two soldiers were also killed and several bystanders were wounded. The gunmen, suspected members of one of Mexico's major cartels, threw as many as 50 grenades at the advancing soldiers, and both sides fired thousands of rounds from assault rifles."

Major Problems Found in War Spending
Richard Lardner, The Associated Press: "KBR Inc., the primary LOGCAP contractor in Iraq, has been paid nearly $32 billion since 2001. The commission says billions of dollars of that amount ended up wasted due to poorly defined work orders, inadequate oversight and contractor inefficiencies. In one example, defense auditors challenged KBR after it billed the government for $100 million in costs for private security even though the contract prohibited the use of for-hire guards."

Friday, June 5, 2009

Truthout 6/5

Weissman Obama Speaks: Will Palestine or Pakistan Decide?
Steve Weissman, Truthout: "'Violence is a dead end,' he told them. 'It is a sign of neither courage nor power to shoot rockets at sleeping children, or to blow up old women on a bus. That is not how moral authority is claimed; that is how it is surrendered.' One need not be a nonviolent activist to hear the wisdom of Barack Hussein Obama's words, especially as American drones continue to kill innocent Afghans or Pakistanis."

David Swanson Baucus Tells Single-Payer Advocates No
David Swanson, AfterDowningStreet.org: "Sen. Max Baucus met on Wednesday with advocates for single-payer health care, including Sen. Bernie Sanders, and told them that he might drop criminal charges against 13 people arrested for speaking up in his hearings, but that he would not include any supporters of single-payer health coverage in any future hearings. According to one report, Baucus suggested that he'd been mistaken to exclude single payer, but asserted that the process of creating health care reform legislation was too far along now to correct that omission."

US Mortgage Rates Surge to Highest Level Since December
Julie Haviv, Reuters: "US mortgage rates surged to their highest in almost six months in the latest week, despite government efforts to keep rates at low levels that will help the hard-hit housing market begin to recover. Interest rates on US 30-year fixed-rate mortgages soared to 5.29 percent for the week ending June 4, up from 4.91 percent in the previous week, according to a survey released on Thursday by home funding company Freddie Mac."

China Blocks Any Commemoration of Tiananmen Crackdown
Agence France-Presse: "China blanketed Tiananmen Square with police and security forces on Thursday, blocking any attempt to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the deadly crackdown on mass democracy protests. The government again defended the decision to put down the demonstrations, which left hundreds and perhaps thousands dead, and firmly dismissed a US demand for a public accounting of the events of June 3-4, 1989."

Study: Medical Bills Underlie 60 Percent of US Bankruptcies
Maggie Fox, Reuters: "Medical bills are behind more than 60 percent of US personal bankruptcies, US researchers reported on Thursday in a report they said demonstrates that healthcare reform is on the wrong track. More than 75 percent of these bankrupt families had health insurance but still were overwhelmed by their medical debts, the team at Harvard Law School, Harvard Medical School and Ohio University reported in the American Journal of Medicine."

Sotomayor's Finance Disclosures Show a Judge of Modest Means
Michael Doyle, McClatchy Newspapers: "Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor owns a condo valued at $1 million in New York's Greenwich Village but otherwise is a woman of fairly modest means, a newly filed report shows. On Thursday, Sotomayor advised the Senate Judiciary Committee that she has savings of about $32,000 as well as $15,000 in credit card debt. The 54-year-old appellate court judge also is on the hook for a $15,000 dentist bill."

Jason Leopold Crisis at the VA as Benefits Claims Backlog Nearly Tops One Million
Jason Leopold, Truthout: "During the past four months, the Department of Veterans Affairs backlog of unfinished disability claims grew by more than 100,000, adding to an already mountainous backlog that is now close to topping one million."

US Unemployment Hits Record but Job Losses Slow
Lucia Mutikani, Reuters: "U.S. employers cut 345,000 jobs last month, the fewest since September and far less than forecast, according to a government report on Friday that was the most definitive evidence the economy's severe weakness was diminishing. However, the Labor Department said the unemployment rate raced to 9.4 percent, the highest since a matching rate in July 1983, from 8.9 percent in April."

Pakistan Mosque Bomb Kills Dozens
BBC News: "A bomb has exploded at a mosque in north-western Pakistan during Friday prayers, killing at least 38 people and wounding dozens more.... Nearby Swat Valley has been the scene of heavy fighting between the Pakistani military and Taliban militants."

Europe Agrees to Terms for Accepting Guantanamo Detainees
Ian Traynor, The Guardian UK: "European countries yesterday agreed terms for taking in dozens of detainees from Guantanamo Bay, boosting President Barack Obama's plan to close the detention camp."

Jacques Attali Crisis: Let's Get Down to the Essentials
Jacques Attali, in L'Express, advocates a truly radical restructuring of the economy to prevent the deepening recession from lingering another ten years.

Iran's President, Rival, Spar in Debate
Borzou Daragahi, The Los Angeles Times: "Iran's president waved an apparent intelligence file on his challenger's wife in the air Wednesday night, accusing her of violating government rules in an explosive televised debate that laid bare the rifts within the country's establishment."

Keeping them honest

New York Times

“I appreciate your efforts, and look forward to working with you so that the Congress can complete health care reform by October.” So declared President Obama in a letter this week to Senators Max Baucus and Edward Kennedy. The big health care push is officially on.

But the devil is in the details. Health reform will fail unless we get serious cost control — and we won’t get that kind of control unless we fundamentally change the way the insurance industry, in particular, behaves. So let me offer Congress two pieces of advice:

1) Don’t trust the insurance industry.

2) Don’t trust the insurance industry.

The Democratic strategy for health reform is based on a political judgment: the belief that the public will be more willing to accept reform, less easily Harry-and-Louised, if those who already have health coverage from private insurers are allowed to keep it.

But how can we have fundamental reform of what Mr. Obama calls a “broken system” if the current players stay in place? The answer is supposed to lie in a combination of regulation and competition.

It’s a sign of the way the political winds are blowing that insurers aren’t opposing new regulations. Indeed, the president of America’s Health Insurance Plans, the industry lobby known as AHIP, has explicitly accepted the need for “much more aggressive regulation of insurance.”

What’s still not settled, however, is whether regulation will be supplemented by competition, in the form of a public plan that Americans can buy into as an alternative to private insurance.

Now nobody is proposing that Americans be forced to get their insurance from the government. The “public option,” if it materializes, will be just that — an option Americans can choose. And the reason for providing this option was clearly laid out in Mr. Obama’s letter: It will give Americans “a better range of choices, make the health care market more competitive, and keep the insurance companies honest.”

Those last five words are crucial because history shows that the insurance companies will do nothing to reform themselves unless forced to do so.

Consider the seemingly trivial matter of making it easier for doctors to deal with multiple insurance companies.

Back in 1993, the political strategist (and former Times columnist) William Kristol, in a now-famous memo, urged Republican members of Congress to oppose any significant health care reform. But even he acknowledged that some things needed fixing, calling for, among other things, “a simplified, uniform insurance form.”

Fast forward to the present. A few days ago, major players in the health industry laid out what they intend to do to slow the growth in health care costs. Topping the list of AHIP’s proposals was “administrative simplification.” Providers, the lobby conceded, face “administrative challenges” because of the fact that each insurer has its own distinct telephone numbers, fax numbers, codes, claim forms and administrative procedures. “Standardizing administrative transactions,” AHIP asserted, “will be a watershed event.”

Think about it. The insurance industry’s idea of a cutting-edge, cost-saving reform is to do what William Kristol — William Kristol! — thought it should have done 15 years ago.

How could the industry spend 15 years failing to make even the most obvious reforms? The answer is simple: Americans seeking health coverage had nowhere else to go. And the purpose of the public option is to make sure that the industry doesn’t waste another 15 years — by giving Americans an alternative if private insurers fall down on the job.

Be warned, however. The insurance industry will do everything it can to avoid being held accountable.

At first the insurance lobby’s foot soldiers in Congress tried to shout down the public option with the old slogans: private enterprise good, government bad.

At this point, however, they’re trying to kill the public option in more subtle ways. The most recent ruse is the proposal for a “trigger” — the public option will only become available if private insurers fail to meet certain performance criteria. The idea, of course, is to choose those criteria to ensure that the trigger is never pulled.

And here’s the thing. Without an effective public option, the Obama health care reform will be simply a national version of the health care reform in Massachusetts: a system that is a lot better than nothing but has done little to address the fundamental problem of a fragmented system, and as a result has done little to control rising health care costs.

Right now the health insurers are promising to deliver major cost savings. But history shows that such promises can’t be trusted. As President Obama said in his letter, we need a serious, real public option to keep the insurance companies honest.

Stop the violence! (Early)

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Truthout 6/4

William Rivers Pitt A Day in the Life
William Rivers Pitt, Truthout: "The Obama administration opened the White House doors to NBC correspondent Brian Williams and a large herd of television cameras last week, the fruits of which became a two-day television special titled 'Inside the Obama White House,' which NBC aired Tuesday and Wednesday nights. Most of it is fluff - among other things, we learn that Rahm Emanuel walks fast, M&M's taste good, Bo the dog is growing fast and Five Guys makes a mean cheeseburger - but the lasting impression left by the show is how busy a place this White House is. During a Blue Room interview between Williams and President Obama, the question of whether the Obama administration is taking on too many massive tasks came up. Mr. Obama laughed, shook his head and made a good point: 'What, exactly, would you have me give up?'"

Obama Calls for New Beginning With World's Muslims
Scott Wilson, The Washington Post: "President Obama asked Thursday for a 'new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world' in a speech that urged Islamic nations to embrace democracy, women's rights, religious tolerance and the right of Israel to co-exist with an independent Palestinian state. In an address designed to change perceptions of the United States in the Arab Middle East and beyond, Obama reviewed the troubled historical legacy between Islam and the rest of the world, from colonialism through the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the uncertainty surrounding cultural and economic globalization."

OAS "Agrees to Let Cuba Rejoin"
BBC News: "Foreign ministers of the Organization of American States have voted to lift Cuba's suspension, apparently paving the way for it to rejoin the group. Cuba was suspended from the 34-member OAS in 1962 over its 'incompatible' adherence to Marxism-Leninism."

Clinton Presses China Over Tiananmen
BBC News: "US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has urged China to publicly account for those killed in the suppression of the Tiananmen Square protests 20 years ago. Mrs Clinton said China should release those still held over the protests and stop harassing those who took part."

Robert Scheer Reagan Didn't Do It
Robert Scheer, Truthdig: "How could Paul Krugman, winner of the Nobel Prize in economics and author of generally excellent columns in The New York Times, get it so wrong? His column last Sunday-'Reagan Did It'-which stated that 'the prime villains behind the mess we're in were Reagan and his circle of advisers,' is perverse in shifting blame from the obvious villains closer at hand."

New Hampshire Legislature Approves Same-Sex Marriage
Norma Love, The Associated Press: "New Hampshire became the sixth state to legalize gay marriage after the Senate and House passed key language on religious rights and Gov. John Lynch - who personally opposes gay marriage - signed the legislation Wednesday afternoon. After rallies outside the Statehouse by both sides in the morning, the last of three bills in the package went to the Senate, which approved it 14-10 Wednesday afternoon."

Robert Borosage Making Change: Progressives in the Obama Moment
Robert Borosage, The Campaign For America's Future: "President Obama has deep and strong support from progressives. But in Washington, the media is increasingly focused on areas where Obama's base is disappointed or restive. Now, as progressives gather in Washington at the America's Future Now! Conference (the annual event formerly known as Take Back America) sponsored by the Campaign for America's Future (which I co-direct, program and sessions available here [1]), the mainstream media wants to know: Are progressives still supporting Obama or are they pushing him?"

Henry Giroux Judge Sonia Sotomayor and the New Racism: Getting Beyond the Politics of Denial
Henry A. Giroux, Truthout: "While many liberals suggest that with the election of Barack Obama to the presidency the United States has become a post-racial society, many conservatives have now taken the opposition position, prompted by the nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court, that racism is alive and well in the republic."

President Barack Obama A New Beginning
President Barack Obama's speech, "A New Beginning," at Cairo University, Egypt.

Obama Plan Would Provide Health Care for All
Erica Werner, The Associated Press: "President Barack Obama says he's open to requiring all Americans to buy health insurance, as long as the plan provides a 'hardship waiver' to exempt poor people from having to pay."

David Segal Let's Say No to Nativism
David Segal, The Providence Journal: "The Rhode Island General Assembly is again poised to vote on legislation to require firms to participate in a troubling federal bureaucracy (known as E-Verify) to try to prevent them from hiring undocumented immigrants. I am voting against this legislation with history as my guide."

Advice on the "Bailout Bonanza" From a Controversial Pitchman
Aaron Mehta and Nick Schwellenbach, The Center for Public Integrity: "Meet Fred Steinberg. He 'will personally outline what you must know for your company to prosper under the "new capitalism" emerging from Washington,' according to an e-mail from his company, B2G Institute, Inc, a subsidiary of the Telligenix Corporation ... But before signing up for Steinberg's tips on getting a piece of the 'bailout bonanza,' you might want to check out his resume."

How Abu Dhabi Is Going to Become a Sustainable City
Gregoire Allix, Le Monde: "Difficult to believe for those who venture forth in the city of Abu Dhabi without a car, but the oil emirate - which presently flaunts the worst ecological footprint on the planet - nourishes a firm ambition to become 'the capital of sustainable development.' And we're not talking here about the high-tech eco-city of Masdar which emerges from the desert on the city's periphery. Beyond that futuristic showcase, the whole city, through the Vision 2030 plan, is preparing its conversion to the canons of 'green' urbanism: public transportation, energy-efficient buildings, pedestrian streets and mixed neighborhoods."

FP morning brief 6/4

Top story:

In one of the most highly anticipated speeches of his young presidency, Barack Obama addressed the Muslim world from Cairo University this morning, pledging to "seek a new beginning."

Obama referred to his own biography and experiences with having "known Islam on three continents" before addressing the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, democracy, women's rights and development.

Obama assured that the United States does "not want to keep our troops in Afghanistan" and seeks to "leave Iraq to Iraqis." He also promised to "not turn our backs on the legitimate Palestinian aspiration for dignity, opportunity, and a state of their own" and notably referred to "Palestine" rather than a "future Palestinian state." But he also called on Palestinians, including Hamas, to recognize Israel's right to exist and renounce violence and anti-Semitism.

Obama called on all governments in the region to "maintain your power through consent, not coercion," though he avoided referring specifically to his host country, Egypt, in this regard.

Story to watch:

Obama kicks off the European leg of his trip later today, which will be heavy on World War II history. Obama will visit the city of Dresden, which was firebombed by the allies during the war, the Buchenwald concentration camp, which he referred to during his Cairo speech, and attend a ceremony for the 65th anniversary of the Normandy invasion.

Obama will also hold talks with Angela Merkel of Germany and Nicolas Sarkozy of France as well as visit wounded U.S. troops at the Landstuhl military hospital, which he was criticized for not doing during his campaign stop in Europe.

Beijing police are out in force to prevent demonstrations in honor of the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre. Hong Kong will hold the country's only vigil for the anniversary.
The trial of two U.S. journalists held by North Korea for entering the country with "hostile intent" will begin today. A guilty verdict is thought to be nearly certain.
President Obama has asked Congress for an additional $200 million in aid for refugees displaced by the fighting in Pakistan's Swat Valley.

The Organization of American States voted to readmit Cuba, over U.S. objections.
The Peruvian government has taken control of one of the country's largest television stations and the opposition in crying foul.
Mexican drug gangs are increasingly operating in Guatemala, due to pressure at home.

Voting has begun in European parliamentary elections with results expected after most countries vote on Sunday. Turnout is expected to be low.
Gordon Brown's Labor Party seems certain to lose big in local and European elections today.
An EU official says the union is likely to take in "several dozen" prisoners from Guantanamo.

Middle East
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad held a televised debate with his main rival Mir Hossein Moussavi, in which the two men clashed on foreign policy.
Shooting broke out between Hamas militants and Palestinian police in the West Bank.
A cafe bombing killed nine people in south Baghdad.

An Ethiopian rebel group warned international oil companies to avoid exploration in the country.
Leaders are angry over Delta Airlines' decision to suspend service to Kenya and Liberia over security concerns.
Over 150 inmates escaped from an overcrowded prison in Nigeria.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

FP brief 6/3

Top story:

In his first stop on a diplomatic mission aimed at restoring the U.S. relationship with the Middle East, President Barack Obama stopped in Riyadh to hold talks with Saudi King Abdullah on the Arab-Israeli conflict, Iran's nuclear program, and oil prices.

Obama may be hoping to entice the Saudis toward a significant gesture toward Israel, but Arab leaders are unlikely to act unilaterally without further concessions from the Jewish state. Obama met with Israeli foreign minister Ehud Barak in Washington just before he left, and pressed the Israeli government to curb further settlement growth in the West Bank.

Tomorrow, Obama will deliver as highly-anticipated speech to the Muslim world from Cairo University. Obama has promised that he will not avoid difficult topics as he faces up to significant regional distrust of the United States stemming from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the treatment of prisoners in the war on terrorism, and U.S. support for Israel.

Al Qaeda second-in-command Ayman al Zawahiri made his position on Obama's visit clear yesterday, saying in a new recorded message that Obama's "bloody messages" would not be "concealed by public relations campaigns or by farcical visits or elegant words."

For more on the challenges Obama faces on Cario, read Ramez Maluf on why selling America will be harder than he thinks, Scott Carpenter and Soner Cagaptay on why the idea of "Muslim world" is misleading, and Liam Stack on the fascinating history of the speech's venue -- all on ForeignPolicy.com.

Must read:

A document containing sensitive details on U.S. civilian nuclear facilities was briefly post online yesterday in a self-inflicted security breach by the Government Print Office.


A U.S. investigation has found that military error led to the deaths of dozens of Afghan civilians in air strikes on May 4.
A Chinese company has purchased GM's Hummer unit.
Pakistan has ordered the release of an Islamic militant suspected of ties to the Mumbai attacks.


The U.S. and Latin American countries failed to reach an agreement on the status of Cuba at the Organization of American States meeting in Honduras.
A Yemeni detainee at Guantanamo Bay has committed suicide.
Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez says he could not attend the inauguration of El Salvador's president because of a CIA-backed plot to kill him.

Middle East

With Lebanese elections coming this weekend, Hezbollah says it would invite its pro-Western opponents into a unity government if it wins.
Visiting Russia, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman explicitly said that his country has no intention of attacking Iran.
Iran's Presidential election candidates have begun a series of televised debates.


Al Qaeda has killed a British hostage who was kidnapped in Mali last January.
In his first speech to the nation as South Africa's president, Jacob Zuma promised to create half a million jobs this year.
Madagascar sentenced its former president -- who was ousted in a coup last March -- to four years in Jail for abuse of office.


Moldova's parliament has once again failed to elect a president. The parliament will now be dissolved and a new election held this summer.
A fourth British minister has quit over the country's expenses scandal.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel attacked the role of central banks in economic recovery, saying they could be creating the next economic crisis.

Truthout 6/3

Jason Leopold Red Cross Informed Powell About Torture
Jason Leopold, Truthout: "The International Committee of the Red Cross began an investigation of US war crimes in Iraq from the first days of the invasion, interviewing Iraqi captives from March to November 2003. On January 15, 2004, Red Cross President Jakob Kellenberger expressed his concern to Secretary of State Colin Powell about the Bush administration's attitude regarding international law."

The Dark Side of Plan Colombia
Teo Ballve, The Nation: "'Plan Colombia is fighting against drugs militarily at the same time it gives money to support palm, which is used by paramilitary mafias to launder money,' says Colombian Senator Gustavo Petro, an outspoken critic of the palm industry. 'The United States is implicitly subsidizing drug traffickers.'"

Aldo Caliari The IMF Is Back? Think Again
Aldo Caliari, Foreign Policy in Focus: "Last year, as the financial crisis reached global and historic proportions, many commentators identified one institution as the debacle's great winner: the International Monetary Fund. Just two years ago, the IMF seemed to be on an inexorable downward path: its credibility and effectiveness in question, its portfolio of borrowers severely reduced, its legitimacy and governance structure under challenge, and its own finances in disarray."

Iraq Halts Clearing Landmines Even as Huge Toll Keeps Rising
Jack Dolan and Jenan Hussein, McClatchy Newspapers: "That scrap trade, and the fear that desperate villagers are selling harvested explosives to Iraq's many insurgents, prompted the Ministry of Defense to halt all mine-clearing operations last December. International relief organizations and Iraq's Environment Ministry opposed the ban, saying it delays desperately needed cleanup work in perhaps the most mine-ridden country in the world."

Christina Romer Health Care Reform Is an Economic Necessity
Christina Romer, Yahoo News: "Health care reform is more than a social imperative - it is an economic necessity. A new study by the President's Council of Economic Advisers demonstrates that the current American health care system is on an unsustainable path. Without health care reform, American workers and families will continue to experience eroding health care benefits and stagnating wages caused by the pressure of escalating health insurance premiums. And without reform, rising spending on Medicare and Medicaid will lead to massive and unsustainable Federal budget deficits."

Military: Guantanamo Detainee Dies of Apparent Suicide
David McFadden and Danica Coto, The Associated Press: "A Yemeni detainee at Guantanamo Bay has died of an apparent suicide, US military officials said Tuesday. His is the fifth apparent suicide at the offshore US prison, which President Barack Obama hopes to close by January. The Joint Task Force that runs the US prison in Cuba said guards found Muhammad Ahmad Abdallah Salih unresponsive and not breathing in his cell Monday night."

Cheney Led Lawmaker Briefings to Defend Torture
Paul Kane and Joby Warrick, The Washington Post: "Former vice president Richard B. Cheney personally oversaw at least four briefings with senior members of Congress about the controversial interrogation program, part of a secretive and forceful defense he mounted throughout 2005 in an effort to maintain support for the harsh techniques used on detainees. The Cheney-led briefings came at some of the most critical moments for the program, as congressional oversight committees were threatening to investigate or even terminate the techniques, according to lawmakers, congressional officials, and current and former intelligence officials."

Jeremy Scahill Military Contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan Increase
Jeremy Scahill, Rebel Reports: "A couple of years ago, Blackwater executive Joseph Schmitz seemed to see a silver lining for mercenary companies with the prospect of US forces being withdrawn or reduced in Iraq. 'There is a scenario where we could as a government, the United States, could pull back the military footprint,' Schmitz said. 'And there would then be more of a need for private contractors to go in.' When it comes to armed contractors, it seems that Schmitz was right.

Robert Reich The Future of Manufacturing, GM and American Workers (Part III)
Robert Reich: "Middle-class taxpayers worry they cannot afford to bail out companies like GM. Yet they worry they cannot afford to lose their jobs. Wilson's edict, too, has been turned upside down: in many ways, what has been bad for GM has been bad for much of America. The answer is not to bail out GM. It is to smooth the way to a new, post-manufacturing economy."

Tom Engelhardt Redefining the World
Tom Engelhardt, TomDispatch.com: "Graduates of the Bush years, initiates of the Obama era, if you think of a commencement address as a kind of sermon, then every sermon needs its text. Here's the one I've chosen for today, suitably obscure and yet somehow ringing: 'The idea that somehow counterterrorism is a homeland security issue doesn't make sense when you recognize the fact that terror around the world doesn't recognize borders. There is no right-hand, left-hand anymore.'"

Stuck at Guantanamo, Uighurs Demand Freedom
Carol Rosenberg, The Miami Herald: "The US government has for months been seeking a nation to offer asylum to some 17 Uighurs with Chinese citizenship who fear persecution and perhaps torture if they are returned to their communist-controlled homeland. Attorney General Eric Holder has said he was willing to resettle some in the United States. But some members of Congress have rebelled, casting them as terrorists and creating a deadlock on the future of the men whom a federal judge ordered released from these remote prison camps in October 2008."

Jacques Attali Real vs. Imaginary Threats
Jacques Attali, L'Express: "A massive release of methane from the Siberian tundra, a collision between the asteroid Apophis and the Earth: why aren't we talking more about these threats?"

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

FP post 6/2

Top Story:

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is in Honduras for a meeting of the Organization of American States, where she is facing near-unanimous calls to readmit Cuba and lift the United States' decades-old embargo.

Cuba and the United States did agree yesterday to resume talks on migration issues, but Clinton says the United States is not prepared to support Cuba's readmission until it lives up to the OAS's democratic charter.

"We think that there is an opportunity for Cuba to be more involved, but at the same time, we want to see the peaceful transfer of power that we saw this morning possible for the Cuban people," she said on Monday, referring to the inauguration of El Salvador's new president, Mauricio Funes.

Funes is El Salvador's first leftist president and comes from a party of former guerilla fighters. As his first act as president, he restored diplomatic ties with Cuba, but downplayed fears of radicalism by citing Barack Obama and Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva as his models of progressive leaders.

Clinton returned the complement saying that, "It is very clear that President Obama and President Funes share so much in common."

Under the radar:

Britain's Telegraph reports that the U.S. is selling "bunker buster" bombs to South Korea, which would be capable of destroying underground facilities in North Korea.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-il has reportedly named his son Kim Jong-un as his successor.
China is blocking access to Twitter ahead of the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown.
Visiting China, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said he found leaders in Beijing to be confident in U.S. economic recovery efforts.

Middle East
U.N. human rights investigators have entered Gaza to look into possible abuses that occurred during last January's Israeli incursion.
Sectarian violence is increasing in the run-up to Iran's presidential election.
Iraq's Kurdish region began pumping oil to Turkey, the first time it has exported oil abroad.

British Home Secretary Jacqui Smith will reportedly resign over allegations in Britain's ongoing parliamentary expenses scandal.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy will host Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki on Wednesday in a rare meeting between a western head of state and a high-ranking Iranian official.
Eurozone unemployment has reached its highest point in a decade.

Mexico has detained 29 police officers for ties to drug cartels.
Brazil's air force says it has found debris that could be from the Air France flight that went missing yesterday.
After 83 years, General Motors has been removed from the Dow Jones industrial average.

Aid agency Medecins Sans Frontieres says South Africa is denying medical care to Zimbabwean refugees.
Over sixty miners were killed in an illegal gold mine in South Africa.
China's special envoy to Darfur met with Sudanese President Omar al Bashir and pledged $3 million in aid to the region.

Truthout 6/2

Tentative Deal Struck for Funding War
Andrew Taylor, The Associated Press: "Top House and Senate Democrats reached a tentative agreement on an almost $100 billion war funding bill Monday, including a generous new line of credit for the International Monetary Fund. At the core of the measure is President Barack Obama's war funding request, which included $76 billion for Pentagon operations. But the IMF funding is a top priority of Obama, who pledged the $100 billion line of credit at April's G-20 summit in London to help developing countries deal with the troubled global economy."

Chris Hedges War Is Sin
Chris Hedges, Truthdig: "The crisis faced by combat veterans returning from war is not simply a profound struggle with trauma and alienation. It is often, for those who can slice through the suffering to self-awareness, an existential crisis. War exposes the lies we tell ourselves about ourselves. It rips open the hypocrisy of our religions and secular institutions. Those who return from war have learned something which is often incomprehensible to those who have stayed home. We are not a virtuous nation. God and fate have not blessed us above others. Victory is not assured. War is neither glorious nor noble. And we carry within us the capacity for evil we ascribe to those we fight."

Why'd Obama Switch on Detainee Photos? Maliki Went Ballistic
Nancy A. Youssef, McClatchy Newspapers: "President Barack Obama reversed his decision to release detainee abuse photos from Iraq and Afghanistan after Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki warned that Iraq would erupt into violence and that Iraqis would demand that US troops withdraw from Iraq a year earlier than planned, two US military officers, a senior defense official and a State Department official have told McClatchy."

Former Interrogator Presses for McChrystal's Stance on Torture
Spencer Ackerman, The Washington Independent: "A former military interrogator who contributed to the manhunt for a senior Iraqi terrorist has urged the Senate Armed Services Committee staff to press Lt. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the Obama administration's nominee to lead US troops in the Afghanistan war, on what he knew about detainee abuse committed by troops in Iraq under his command when McChrystal goes before the panel Tuesday morning for his confirmation hearing. 'Gen. McChrystal, he was there in Iraq often, and he may have been separated from these things by couple layers [of subordinates] but it would've been his responsibility to know what was going on,' said Matthew Alexander, the pseudonym of a former Air Force interrogator whose non-coercive interrogations in 2006 helped identify and kill Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, then the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq."

Revolutionary Haitian Priest Gerard Jean-Juste, Presente!
Bill Quigley, Truthout: "Gerard Jean-Juste was a Jesus-like revolutionary. In jail and out, he preached liberation of the poor, release of prisoners, human rights for all, and a fair distribution of wealth. A big, muscular man with a booming voice and a frequent deep laugh, he wore a brightly colored plastic rosary around his neck and carried another in his pocket. When he was jailed for nearly a year in Haiti by the US-supported coup government that was trying to silence him, Amnesty International called him a Prisoner of Conscience."

Fred Kaplan There Are Already 355 Terrorists in American Prisons
Fred Kaplan, Slate Magazine: "President Obama's remark that some Guantanamo detainees might be transferred to American prisons has prompted an extraordinary, and intellectually feeble, storm of protest. Former Vice President Dick Cheney kicked off the campaign when he said, during his May 21 speech at the American Enterprise Institute, that 'to bring the worst terrorists inside the United States would be a cause for great danger and regret in the years to come.' Sitting lawmakers - especially those from states such as Kansas and Colorado where federal prisons are based - raised the same specter and shouted the ancient cry of principled rebellion: 'Not In My Back Yard!'"

Kathy Kelly To Counter Terror, Build Justice
Kathy Kelly, Truthout: "Shortly after arriving in Pakistan, one week ago, we met a weaver and his extended family, numbering 76 in all, who had been forcibly displaced from their homes in Fathepur, a small village in the Swat Valley. Fighting between the Pakistani military and the Taliban had intensified. Terrified by aerial bombing and anxious to leave before a curfew would make flight impossible, the family packed all the belongings they could carry and fled on foot. It was a harrowing four-day journey over snow-covered hills."

US Helps Afghans Assume Control of Local Security
Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, NPR News: "In volatile Wardak province, bordering the Afghan capital, US Army Special Forces are establishing a neighborhood watch program that US and Afghan officials hope will help drive out the Taliban and other militants. Members of the Afghan Public Protection Force, known as the Guardians, carry Kalashnikov rifles to protect their families and homes. The idea is to get local Afghans to take charge of securing their villages against militants who find safe haven in the isolated, mountainous region that Afghan and U.S. soldiers have been unable to control."

Hopes High for Obama's Islam Speech
Paul Reynolds, BBC News: "President Obama will give what could be one of the most important speeches of his presidency on Thursday when he addresses the relationship between the United States and Muslims. In his speech, to the University of Cairo, he will hope to break with the hostility of recent years and set a new tone designed not only to isolate the extremists of al-Qaeda and the Taliban, but to re-establish the understanding America gained on 9/11 and lost in Iraq."

Minnesota Justices Skeptical Over Norm Coleman's Case
P.J. Huffstutter, The Los Angeles Times: "Minnesota Supreme Court justices expressed skepticism today of Republican Norm Coleman's claim that thousands of absentee ballots in his Senate race against Democrat Al Franken were illegally excluded. During the hearing in St. Paul, Minn., justices pointed out that Coleman's legal team acknowledged that no voter fraud occurred. A lower court ruled in April that Franken had won the race by 312 votes."

Arson Attack Kills Five in Iran
Thomas Erdbrink, The Washington Post: "Five people died Monday in an arson attack on an Iranian bank in the southeastern city of Zahedan, where a suicide bombing in a Shiite mosque last week killed 25 people, state news channel Press TV reported. Violence in the ethnically mixed city near Iran's border with Pakistan and Afghanistan and bomb threats and attacks on opposition figures elsewhere have ratcheted up tension in the country ahead of a presidential election scheduled for June 12."

Le Monde Unpunished Massacre
Le Monde's editorialist excoriates the international community for allowing the Sri Lankan government to massacre an estimated 20,000 Tamil civilians with impunity.

Monday, June 1, 2009

FP morning post 6/1

Top story:

Mobs of Jewish settlers rioted in the West Bank attacking Palestinians and setting fire to agricultural land in protest of the Israeli government's pledge to crack down on "wildcat" settlements. Settlers are also waging an ongoing legal battle to evict Palestinians from homes in East Jerusalem.

The disputes come as the Barack Obama administration is pushing the Israeli government to halt all new settlement construction, including the "organic growth" of existing communities. Benjamin Netanyahu called these demands "unreasonable" and has dispatched defense minister Ehud Barak to Washington in hopes of reaching a compromise.
This weekend also saw an outbreak of intra-Palestinian violence, with a clash between Hamas and Fatah security forces claiming six lives. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas had assured President Obama last week that he was getting the violence under control.

Story to watch:

The Obama administration has set itself up for a legal battle over the controversial "state secrets" privilege. The Justice Department informed a federal judge in San Francisco last weekend that it would continue invoking the privilege to suppress evidence of wiretapping in the trial of an Islamic charity accused of aiding terrorism. A hearing on the matter is scheduled for Wednesday.

General Motors has filed for bankruptcy protection. The U.S. federal government will take a 60 percent ownership stake in the company.
The U.S. and Cuba have agreed to resume talks on migration issues, suspended since 2003.
Just hours before starting his term, Salvadoran President-elect Mauricio Funes appointed his wife and a former Marxist guerilla to his cabinet.

North Korea is reportedly planning another long-range missile test.
The Pakistani Army has lifted curfews on several towns in the Swat Valley.
The majority of the U.S. military's 17,000 additional troops will be in Afghanistan by mid-July.

Middle East
The Israeli government has thrown out a proposed "loyalty oath" bill aimed at Israeli Arabs that was proposed by Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman's party.
Nearly a fifth of Kuwaiti lawmakers walked out of the new parliament's first session to protest the makeup of the cabinet.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's main election rival Mir Hossein Mousavi has been hammering him on foreign policy.

Britain's Chancellor of the Exchequer is the latest official accused of abusing public funds in Britain's ongoing MP expenses scandal.
An Air France plane carrying 228 people has gone missing over the Atlantic.
The breakaway territory of South Ossetia elected a parliament. Supporters of pro-Moscow President Edward Kokoity will dominate.

Finnish prosecutors will file charges against a Rwandan man accused of killing 15 people during the 1994 genocide.
Niger Delta militants released a British hostage they had held for nearly nine months.
The U.N. says tribal violence in Southern Sudan is now worse than in Darfur.

Truthout 6/1

William Rivers Pitt Sotomayor Derangement Syndrome
William Rivers Pitt, Truthout: "They called it Bush Derangement Syndrome for eight years: the condition of being berserk with rage, hatred and fear over the acts and actions - nay, even the very existence - of George W. Bush and his administration. After last November, it became known as Obama Derangement Syndrome; symptoms included an obsession with birth certificates, a sudden ersatz sense of expertise on the intricacies of modern socialism and a general tendency to agree with anyone who disagrees with President Obama no matter how demented that opinion may be. Last week, the malady mutated into a whole new thing - Sotomayor Derangement Syndrome - and boy, but it's a doozy."

Abortion Provider Shot Dead in Church
Robert Barnes, The Washington Post: "George Tiller, perhaps the most prominent of the handful of doctors in the United States who perform late-term abortions, was shot and killed at his Wichita, Kan., church this morning, his lawyer said. Police arrested a suspect in the slaying several hours later, the Wichita Eagle reported. Tiller was shot as he served as an usher during Sunday morning services at Reformation Lutheran Church."

Sherwood Ross Will Obama End "War on Drugs"?
Sherwood Ross, Consortium News: "Efforts by President Obama to put an end to the nation's failed 'War on Drugs' can't come an hour too soon - if that's his intent. From his actions, it's hard to know. Drug offenses account for about half the 200,000 Federal prison inmates behind bars, compared to just 15 percent of prisoners convicted of violent crimes involving weapons, explosives, or arson. If America leads the world with 2.3 million prisoners in all its prisons, jails, and assorted lock-ups, it is largely because we have criminalized drug addiction, not treated it."

In Turnaround, Cuba Agrees to Talks With US
Mary Beth Sheridan, The Washington Post: "Cuba has agreed to open talks with the United States on issues ranging from immigration to anti-narcotics cooperation and direct mail service , a senior State Department official said today, in a sign that the island's communist government is warming to President Obama's call for a new relationship after decades of tension. The breakthrough came shortly before Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton left on a trip to Latin America, where she is expected to face pressure to make further gestures to Cuba, including allowing it into the Organization of American States."

Extra Troops in Afghanistan by Mid-July
Golnar Motevalli, Reuters: "The majority of the 17,000 extra US troops being sent to fight a growing Taliban-led insurgency in southern and western Afghanistan should be on the ground by mid-July, the US military said on Sunday. A further 4,000 troops are arriving to train Afghan security forces and they will be deployed by August. Washington pledged to send 21,000 additional troops to Afghanistan to reinforce security ahead of presidential elections scheduled for August 20 and to support NATO-led troops which have struggled to fight an escalating insurgency there."

New Legal Battle in Guantanamo
Mike Melia, The Associated Press: "A session of the Guantanamo war crimes court that began Sunday will likely show the difficulties President Barack Obama faces in changing the system and closing the prison by January. The case in question, of a Canadian charged with killing an American soldier, is stalled by infighting among lawyers. Other defendants have even more complex legal issues, and officials say the US may have to choose between delaying Guantanamo's closure or quickly finding somewhere else to hold the trials. 'I don't think they'll get a single trial done by January,' said Michael Berrigan, the deputy chief defense counsel for the Guantanamo tribunals. 'I don't think there's any way.'"

Michael Moore Goodbye, GM
Michael Moore, MichaelMoore.com: "I write this on the morning of the end of the once-mighty General Motors. By high noon, the President of the United States will have made it official: General Motors, as we know it, has been totaled. As I sit here in GM's birthplace, Flint, Michigan, I am surrounded by friends and family who are filled with anxiety about what will happen to them and to the town. Forty percent of the homes and businesses in the city have been abandoned. Imagine what it would be like if you lived in a city where almost every other house is empty. What would be your state of mind?"

Dean Baker Investigating the Collapse: Looking for the Killer We Already Know
Dean Baker, Truthout: "Congress may establish a commission to investigate the causes of the economic crisis. This may be a useful exercise in publicly shaming those who are responsible for an enormous amount of unnecessary suffering. That would be a good thing. These people should be held accountable. Those in the financial sector who broke the law should go to jail, or at the least, lose their ill-gotten fortunes. The public officials whose incompetence and/or corruption allowed for this disaster should lose their jobs and never again be given a position of public trust."

North Korea Puts Long-Range Missile on Launch Pad, Reports Say
John M. Glionna, The Los Angeles Times: "North Korea has positioned its most sophisticated long-range ballistic missile at a launch site for a test firing that could come within weeks, a newspaper here reported Monday. Pyongyang, which last month raised tensions worldwide by conducting a nuclear test, could even fire its missile when South Korean President Lee Myung-bak meets President Obama in Washington on June 16, according to the report."

Pratap Chatterjee Is Halliburton Forgiven and Forgotten?
Pratap Chatterjee, TomDispatch.com: "Two weeks ago, David Lesar, CEO of the once notorious energy services corporation Halliburton, spoke to some 100 shareholders and members of senior management gathered there at the company's annual meeting. All was remarkably staid as they celebrated Halliburton's $4 billion in operating profits in 2008, a striking 22% return at a time when many companies are announcing record losses. Analysts remain bullish on Halliburton's stock, reflecting a more general view that any company in the oil business is likely to have a profitable future in store."

Holder Sends US Marshals to Protect Abortion Clinics, Doctors
Peter Slevin and Robert Barnes, The Washington Post: "Scott Roeder, identified Sunday as a possible suspect in the slaying of prominent Kansas late-term abortion provider George R. Tiller, is known in antiabortion circles as a man who believes that killing an abortion doctor is justifiable. Two abortion opponents who had previously encountered Roeder, 51, said the Merriam, Kansas, resident expressed support for their view that lethal force is not a criminal offense if it protects the lives of unborn children."

Jacques Attali The Future of Transportation
Jacques Attali, L'Express: "Nothing is more important than transportation for understanding the future of the economy: Transport companies go into crisis before the others and they emerge from crises before the others. So, [last week's International Transport forum in Leipzig] constituted a very precious barometer of our future that ought to indicate the depth, duration and nature of the crisis."