Friday, July 31, 2009

Health care realities

New York Times

At a recent town hall meeting, a man stood up and told Representative Bob Inglis to “keep your government hands off my Medicare.” The congressman, a Republican from South Carolina, tried to explain that Medicare is already a government program — but the voter, Mr. Inglis said, “wasn’t having any of it.”

It’s a funny story — but it illustrates the extent to which health reform must climb a wall of misinformation. It’s not just that many Americans don’t understand what President Obama is proposing; many people don’t understand the way American health care works right now. They don’t understand, in particular, that getting the government involved in health care wouldn’t be a radical step: the government is already deeply involved, even in private insurance.

And that government involvement is the only reason our system works at all.

The key thing you need to know about health care is that it depends crucially on insurance. You don’t know when or whether you’ll need treatment — but if you do, treatment can be extremely expensive, well beyond what most people can pay out of pocket. Triple coronary bypasses, not routine doctor’s visits, are where the real money is, so insurance is essential.

Yet private markets for health insurance, left to their own devices, work very badly: insurers deny as many claims as possible, and they also try to avoid covering people who are likely to need care. Horror stories are legion: the insurance company that refused to pay for urgently needed cancer surgery because of questions about the patient’s acne treatment; the healthy young woman denied coverage because she briefly saw a psychologist after breaking up with her boyfriend.

And in their efforts to avoid “medical losses,” the industry term for paying medical bills, insurers spend much of the money taken in through premiums not on medical treatment, but on “underwriting” — screening out people likely to make insurance claims. In the individual insurance market, where people buy insurance directly rather than getting it through their employers, so much money goes into underwriting and other expenses that only around 70 cents of each premium dollar actually goes to care.

Still, most Americans do have health insurance, and are reasonably satisfied with it. How is that possible, when insurance markets work so badly? The answer is government intervention.

Most obviously, the government directly provides insurance via Medicare and other programs. Before Medicare was established, more than 40 percent of elderly Americans lacked any kind of health insurance. Today, Medicare — which is, by the way, one of those “single payer” systems conservatives love to demonize — covers everyone 65 and older. And surveys show that Medicare recipients are much more satisfied with their coverage than Americans with private insurance.

Still, most Americans under 65 do have some form of private insurance. The vast majority, however, don’t buy it directly: they get it through their employers. There’s a big tax advantage to doing it that way, since employer contributions to health care aren’t considered taxable income. But to get that tax advantage employers have to follow a number of rules; roughly speaking, they can’t discriminate based on pre-existing medical conditions or restrict benefits to highly paid employees.

And it’s thanks to these rules that employment-based insurance more or less works, at least in the sense that horror stories are a lot less common than they are in the individual insurance market.

So here’s the bottom line: if you currently have decent health insurance, thank the government. It’s true that if you’re young and healthy, with nothing in your medical history that could possibly have raised red flags with corporate accountants, you might have been able to get insurance without government intervention. But time and chance happen to us all, and the only reason you have a reasonable prospect of still having insurance coverage when you need it is the large role the government already plays.

Which brings us to the current debate over reform.

Right-wing opponents of reform would have you believe that President Obama is a wild-eyed socialist, attacking the free market. But unregulated markets don’t work for health care — never have, never will. To the extent we have a working health care system at all right now it’s only because the government covers the elderly, while a combination of regulation and tax subsidies makes it possible for many, but not all, nonelderly Americans to get decent private coverage.

Now Mr. Obama basically proposes using additional regulation and subsidies to make decent insurance available to all of us. That’s not radical; it’s as American as, well, Medicare.

FP morning post 7/31

Top Story:

According to a new U.N. report, over 1,000 Afghan civilians have been killed in the first half of 2009, up 24 percent from last year. The report attributes the rise to new insurgent tactics, which include coordinated suicide attacks aimed a civilian infrastructure.
Afghan government and international forces killed 310 civilians, the majority of them in airstrikes. New U.S. commander, Lt. Gen. Stanley McChrystal has made the reduction of civilian casualties a centerpiece of his counterinsurgency strategy.
The report noted that it is becoming more difficult to avoid civilian casualties as the Taliban are increasingly "basing themselves in civilian areas so as to deliberately blur the distinction between combatants and civilians."


Funding for the U.S. governments "cash for clunkers" rebate program was exhausted after nearly a month.

A verdict for the trial of Burmese democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi has been delayed until Aug. 11.
With his poll numbers dropping, Japanese PM Taro Aso proposed a new plan to help the country's economy recover.
Pakistan's Supreme Court will not launch a treason case against former leader Pervez Musharraf.

Italy legalized the abortion drug RU-286, over the objections of the Catholic Church.
Spanish authorities are on high alert for the 50th anniversary of ETA.
The British government has begun a public inquiry into the country's involvement in the Iraq war.

Middle East
Multiple bombings killed 24 people as they were leaving Friday prayers at three Shiite mosques in Baghdad.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad denied any rift between Iran's supreme leader and himself.
A new Israeli government report defends Israel's campaign in Gaza this year as "necessary and appropriate."

As gun battles between police and Islamist militants continued in Nigeria, a sect leader was killed in police custody.
The UN Security Council is calling for elections in the Ivory Coast.
Scott Gration, the U.S. envoy to Sudan, recommended taking the country off the UN blacklist.

The United States signed a UN treaty affirming the rights of the disabled.
Honduran police are cracking down on pro-Zelaya protesters.
The Venezuelan National Assembly is considering a new law to regulate private media.

Truthout 7/31

Marc Ash Why Health Care Isn't Going Away
Marc Ash, Truthout: "Watching the Dixiecrats supposedly impose fiscal responsibility on the 'unrealistic liberals,' who, in theory, would go off and provide health care to all Americans if someone didn't put a stop to them, you have to wonder if this isn't all for show."

Wilmer Leon The President's "Teachable Moment"
Dr. Wilmer J. Leon III, Truthout: "This afternoon, President Obama, Sgt. James Crowley and Dr. Henry Louis Gates Jr. will sit down at the White House to 'clear the air.' The president's objective is to bring the parties together and through their personal interaction move the national dialogue on race forward. In the president's 'Teachable Moment,' what should we learn? We should learn how one's perceptions can color reality. We should also learn the danger of trying to contort a non-race-based issue into a dialog or valuable lesson on race."

Banks Paid $32.6 Billion in Bonuses Amid US Bailout
Karen Freifeld, Bloomberg News: "Citigroup Inc., Merrill Lynch & Co. and seven other US banks paid $32.6 billion in bonuses in 2008 while receiving $175 billion in taxpayer funds under the Troubled Asset Relief Program, according to a report by New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo."

Loan Servicers Work the Fine Print in Obama Foreclosure Plan
Mary Kane, The Washington Independent: "Even as the Obama administration presses the lending industry to get more mortgage loans modified, the practice of forcing borrowers to sign away their legal rights in order to get their loans reworked is a tactic that some servicers just won't give up on."

Beth Cardosi Single-Payer System Cuts Barriers to Care
Beth Cardosi, The Sun News: "I'm a physician in South Carolina. I have firsthand experience regarding our broken, wasteful health care system. On a daily basis I care for the uninsured who have no jobs (often because of layoffs or illness) and have no money or access to health care providers. These people often come to the emergency departments with minor issues that could be handled simply as an outpatient if there were a place for them to be treated, or they are seen with life-threatening illnesses because they couldn't receive the proper treatment for their chronic illness (i.e. high blood pressure and diabetes) or couldn't receive preventive care and now have untreatable cancer. These people show up where the care is the most expensive because they won't get turned away."

Dan Rather Wants Obama to Help Save the News
Andrew Travers, The Aspen Daily News: "Former CBS News anchor Dan Rather called on President Barack Obama to form a White House commission to help save the press, Tuesday night in an impassioned speech at the Aspen Institute. 'I personally encourage the president to establish a White House commission on public media,' the legendary newsman said."

Chalmers Johnson Ten Steps to Liquidating Our Empire
Chalmers Johnson, "However ambitious President Barack Obama's domestic plans, one unacknowledged issue has the potential to destroy any reform efforts he might launch. Think of it as the 800-pound gorilla in the American living room: our longstanding reliance on imperialism and militarism in our relations with other countries and the vast, potentially ruinous global empire of bases that goes with it. The failure to begin to deal with our bloated military establishment and the profligate use of it in missions for which it is hopelessly inappropriate will, sooner rather than later, condemn the United States to a devastating trio of consequences: imperial overstretch, perpetual war, and insolvency, leading to a likely collapse similar to that of the former Soviet Union."

Jason Leopold Bush, Rove Far More Involved in Attorney Firings Than Previously Revealed
Jason Leopold, Truthout: "George W. Bush and his former top adviser, Karl Rove, were far more involved in the firings of nine US attorneys in 2006 than they had previously let on, according to internal Bush administration documents and interviews Rove gave to two major newspapers earlier this month."

Baucus: "No Idea" How He'll Vote on Sotomayor
J. Taylor Rushing, The Hill: "Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) said Thursday he hasn't made up his mind on whether he will vote to confirm Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor."

Naomi Wolf Guantanamo Bay: the Inside Story
Naomi Wolf, The Times UK: "Six months ago this week President Obama, on his second day in office, promised to close the Guantanamo detention camp within a year, and to undo the secretive and coercive detention and interrogation policies of George W. Bush. But has Obama been as good as his word?"

House Passes $636 Billion Defense Bill Despite Veto Threat
Roxana Tiron, The Hill: "The House on Thursday bucked President Barack Obama's veto threats and overwhelmingly approved a $636 billion Pentagon spending bill for fiscal 2010."

Schwarzenegger Cuts 100% of Funding for Domestic Violence Centers
Tonie Scott, Oroville Mercury-Register: "Butte County domestic violence victims will face a sharp reduction in the services provided to them by Catalyst Domestic Services, as a result of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's blue pencil cuts to the state budget."

Arbitration Is Key in Fight Over Union Bill
Sam Hananel, The Associated Press: "The willingness of some Democrats to drop the 'card check' portion of a union organizing bill has led opponents of the measure to intensify their attack on another major provision: Binding arbitration if a new union and management can't agree on a first contract within 120 days."

Le Monde G-20 or G-2?
Le Monde's editorialist: "If we needed a sign that the financial crisis would have global geopolitical consequences, the first session of the 'strategic and economic dialogue' between the United States and China has just delivered it. After the creation of the G-20 and the first meeting of the BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, China) near Moscow in June, the Washington meeting is rich in lessons, even if the final three-and-a-half-page communique will not go down in the annals of diplomacy."

Thursday, July 30, 2009

FP morning post 7/30

Top story:

Defying a government ban, hundreds opposition supporters gathered in Tehran to commemorate those killed in Iran's post-election demonstrations. The memorial was held at the grave of Neda Agha Soltan, the young woman whose death, and the video that depicted it, became rallying points for movement.
Police broke up the demonstrations and arrested many of the mourners. Opposition candidates Mir Hoseen Moussavi and Mehdi Karroubi were forced to leave the cemetary.
In addition to the protesters, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is increasingly coming under fire from conservative hardliners, angry over his original choice of a vice president not approved by the clerical leadership and his firing of intelligence minister Gholam-Hossein Mohseni-Ejei, who had criticized him.

Stat of the day:

Authorities in China are concerned after a new report shows that there are 13 million abortions every year in the country compared to 20 million live births.

There was another bombing this morning targeting Spain's Civil Guard, this time on the island of Majorca.
The ruling communists failed to win a majority in Moldova's elections.
Serbian officials say they are closing in on wanted war criminal Ratko Mladic.

Middle East
Police broke up a memorial service for protesters killed in Iran's post-election demonstrations.
In a message to President Obama's envoys, Israeli settlers inaugurated 11 new outposts on the West Bank.
Violence broke out between Iraqi security forces and Iranian exiles at Iraq's controversial Camp Ashraf.

China is closing several coal plants in a move to reduce air pollution.
A group claiming to be the Indonesian arm of Al Qaeda is taking credit for last week's bombing in Jakarta.
With a verdict expected shortly in the Aung San Suu Kyi trial, the Burmese government is warning against protests.

Nigerian troops killed more than 100 in an attack on a militant mosque.
Large parts of West Africa were cut off from the internet after a fiber optic cable was cut.
The U.S. warned Eritrea that it will face sanctions if it continues supporting Somali insurgents.

Interim Honduras President Roberto Micheletti is calling for new talks and sources say he may be willing to allow the return of ousted president Manuel Zelaya under certain conditions.
Two prominent Mexican police officials were killed by drug traffickers in separate attacks.
Cuba signed a $150 million oil deal with Russia.

truthout 7/30

Jeff Cohen Are Liberal Netroots Groups Helping Obama Fail?
Jeff Cohen, Truthout: "I've started deleting them as spam. I'm not talking about the enlarge-your-penis emails or 'You've Won the Lottery' notices. I'm talking about the increasingly urgent emails coming for weeks from liberal netroots groups calling for a 'public option' for health care - a government insurance plan citizens could choose to PAY FOR instead of private insurance. Never has so much passion been so misdirected."

US Says It's Willing to Send Young Afghan Detainee Home
Marisa Taylor, McClatchy Newspapers: "The Obama administration on Wednesday said it plans to release a young Guantanamo detainee after military and civilian judges banned almost all evidence against him that they ruled was extracted through torture. Government attorneys, however, reserved the right to file new charges in federal court against Mohammed Jawad if they find evidence against him before he's freed."

Howard Fineman Playing With Fire
Howard Fineman, Newsweek: "In politics, dogs that don't bark make the loudest noise. I was reminded of that on Monday at the White House as I listened to Robert Gibbs, the presidential press secretary. Even discounting for his ever-present mordant calm, Gibbs was noticeably laid back when asked about the blogospherical hysteria over the question of whether President Obama is a U.S. citizen."

Eric Kleefeld The Rasmussen "Presidential Approval Index": Is This Newer Measurement Worth Anything?
Eric Kleefeld, Talking Points Memo: "Some commentators on the right have been pointing to an interesting number that has been coming from the Rasmussen daily tracking poll, which Rasmussen bills as the 'Presidential Approval Index,' which Scott Rasmussen only began bringing out in late 2008. The key questions then are: What is this number, and is it a valid measurement of real popularity? In an interview today with TPM, Rasmussen defended the index's validity against some harsh criticism, saying that intensity of opinion -- the true figure measured by his index -- does indeed matter. The thing to remember is that this is not simply subtracting all the respondents who disapprove of President Obama from the people who approve."

Iraq in Throes of Environmental Catastrophe, Experts Say
Liz Sly, The Los Angeles Times: "You wake up in the morning to find your nostrils clogged. Houses and trees have vanished beneath a choking brown smog. A hot wind blasts fine particles through doors and windows, coating everything in sight and imparting an eerie orange glow. Dust storms are a routine experience in Iraq, but lately they've become a whole lot more common."

Cohn-Bendit Advocates "Revolutionary" Carbon Tax
Pierre-Alain Furbury and Lucie Robequain of Les Echos interview European Parliament Green Party co-president, Daniel Cohn-Bendit, who explains: "the incentives to consume less fossil energy are clearly inadequate for the high-energy-consuming industries." Moreover, he believes, "we have to get it into our heads that recourse to nuclear energy cannot last indefinitely. Its price has no connection with the real market."

Iran Police Clash With Mourners
BBC News: "Iranian police have clashed with mourners gathered at a cemetery in Tehran for a memorial to those killed in post-election violence, reports say. State TV said police used teargas to disperse crowds from the grave of Neda Agha Soltan, whose death became a symbol of post-election unrest. Opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi tried to join the mourners but police forced him to leave, witnesses said."

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Truthout 7/29

Dahr Jamail Iraq as "Actor and Stakeholder"
Dahr Jamail, Truthout: "Just like the myth of Iraq's 'sovereignty,' the myth of US withdrawal is just that. Until the latter occurs, the former does not stand a chance. This is particularly so, as long as Iraq, like Afghanistan, are arenas where the US military is being used to 'ensure that all major and emerging powers are integrated as constructive actors and stakeholders into the international system.'"

Nine More Go to Jail for Single Payer
David Swanson, After Downing Street: "Following a pattern of civil resistance in Washington D.C. and around the country, citizens in Des Moines Iowa on Monday risked arrest to press for the creation of single-payer healthcare, the establishment of healthcare as a human right, and an end to the deadly practices of Iowa's largest health insurance company, Wellmark Blue Cross Blue Shield."

Feds Push Mortgage Companies to Modify More Loans
Alan Zibel and Daniel Wagner, The Associated Press: "The Obama administration, scrambling to get its main housing initiative on track, extracted a pledge from 25 mortgage company executives to improve their efforts to assist borrowers in danger of foreclosure."

No Legal Cover for British Forces in Iraq
United Press International: "British forces once stationed in Iraq moved to neighboring Kuwait due to the failure of the Iraqi Parliament to provide legal cover for their deployment."

Van Bomb Hits Spanish Police Family Quarters; 60 Hurt
Paul Tobin and Emma Ross-Thomas, Bloomberg News: "A bomb packed into a van exploded outside the family quarters of a police barracks in the northern Spanish city of Burgos, injuring almost 60 people."

In Break with Bush, Speculators Blamed for Oil Price Spikes
Kevin G. Hall, McClatchy Newspapers: "The chairman of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission signaled Tuesday that his agency is likely to limit financial speculators' ability to drive up prices for oil and other fuels."

Nigerian Army Attacks Rebels in North
Aminu Abubakar, The Los Angeles Times: "The Nigerian army launched an assault Tuesday against 'Taliban' militants fighting to establish radical Islamic rule in the north of the country, in an escalation of clashes that reportedly have left hundreds dead."

FP morning brief 7/29

Top story:

A car bomb exploded outside a Civil Guard barracks in the Northern Spanish city of Burgos this morning, injuring at least 46, including children. The Basque separatist group ETA has been blamed.

The last ETA attack took place in early July when a bomb exploded outside the Basque Socialist Party headquarters.

The Spanish government has taken a hard line against the group -- ruling out further negotiations -- since a bombing at Madrid airport in 2006. Four ETA commanders have been captured in the last year.
They're murderous, savage and crazy, which does not make them stronger but doubtlessly makes them more dangerous," Spain's interior minister said after today's attack.

French authorities reportedly warned Spain several days ago that ETA was planning to bring three vans packed with explosives over the border. The van used in today's attack was likely one of them.

Stat of the day:

China accounted for 87.3 percent of executions around the world in 2008. The overall number declined.

Middle East
Reformist Iranian journalist Saeed Hajjarian will be released from prison. The first trials of election protesters will begin this weekend.
U.S. commander Gen. Ray Odierno said the Iraqi military won't be ready to take over the country's air defenses by the time the U.S. military is scheduled to pull out in 2011.
The U.S. is taking steps to ease diplomatic sanctions on Syria.

Asia and Pacific
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will speak to India's parliament today to defend his efforts to improve relations with Pakistan.
Police broke up a rally by opposition members protesting the results of the recent presidential election in Kyrgyzstan.
Fiji will likely be suspended from the commonwealth after the country's military ruler replaced the president this week.

Ireland has agreed to take in two inmates from Guantanamo Bay.
Moldovans began voting in new national elections aimed at breaking the country's political deadlock.

Venezuela's Hugo Chavez suspended diplomatic ties with Colombia after being accused of supporting the FARC rebels.
The FARC has denied giving money to the campaign of Ecuador's President Raphael Correa.
The United States has revoked the visas of four officials from Honduras's interim government.

Nigerian police rescued 180 women and children held hostage by Islamist rebels.
The Zimbabwean opposition party's youth leader was arrested over a stolen cell phone. Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai says it is part of a pattern of harassment of opposition officials.
Thousands of Somalis are attempting to flee across the Gulf of Aden to Yemen.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Truthout 7/28

Jason Leopold Obama Administration Cooks Up New Legal Argument for Detaining Guantanamo Prisoner
Jason Leopold, Truthout: "Faced with impending defeat in a US District Court habeas corpus case, the Obama administration devised a new strategy for continuing the detention of Mohammed Jawad, an Afghani who may have been as young as 12 in 2002 when he allegedly wounded two US soldiers with a grenade. Justice Department lawyers announced Friday that they would transform Jawad's indefinite detention as an enemy combatant at Guantanamo Bay into a criminal case, thus negating the habeas corpus hearing in Washington, DC, where Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle had accused the government of 'dragging [the case] out for no good reason.'"

Climate Change to Force 75 Million Pacific Islanders From Their Homes
Bonnie Malkin, The Telegraph UK: "More than 75 million people living on Pacific islands will have to relocate by 2050 because of the effects of climate change, Oxfam has warned. A report by the charity said Pacific Islanders were already feeling the effects of global warming, including food and water shortages, rising cases of malaria and more frequent flooding and storms. Some had already been forced from their homes and the number of displaced people was rising, it warned."

Casualties of War, Part II: Warning Signs
Dave Philipps, The Colorado Springs Gazette: "After coming home from Iraq, 21-year-old medic Bruce Bastien was driving with his Army buddy Louis Bressler, 24, when they spotted a woman walking to work on a Colorado Springs street. Bressler swerved and hit the woman with the car, according to police, then Bastien jumped out and stabbed her over and over. It was October 2007. A fellow soldier, Kenneth Eastridge, 24, watched it all from the passenger seat."

J. Sri Raman US Arms for India: End Use and End Result
J. Sri Raman, Truthout: "Ever since the exit of George W. Bush from the White House, his admirers in India have been a worried lot. They have been wondering nervously about the fate of the 'strategic partnership' and the future of dangerous regional rivalries promoted during his days. They are happier after US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's recent visit to the country. They seem less concerned on both counts. What has dispelled their gloom is a document signed during her visit: an end-use monitoring (EUM) agreement on US military supplies to India."

Eight Killed in Baghdad Bank; Robberies on Rise in Iraq
The Associated Press: "Gunmen killed eight security guards and made off with nearly $7 million early today during a bank robbery that police say is the work of insurgents attempting to finance their operations. It was the second deadly robbery in a week in Baghdad's commercial Karradah district. Although violence has dropped dramatically over the past two years, the number of robberies in Iraq appears to be on the rise."

Fraud Alleged in US-Funded Iraqi Jobs Program
Ken Dilanian, USA TODAY: "The top US aid agency has suspended a $644 million Iraq jobs program after two outside reviews raised concerns about misspending, including an inspector general's audit that found evidence of phantom jobs and money siphoned to insurgents. The stalled Community Stabilization Program, launched in 2006, was designed to curb the insurgency by paying Iraqis cash to do public works projects such as trash removal and ditch digging."

Third World Scene With an American Setting
Howard Berkes, NPR: "It was a Third World scene with an American setting. Hundreds of tired and desperate people crowded around an aid worker with a bullhorn, straining to hear the instructions and worried they might be left out. Some had arrived at the Wise County Fairgrounds in Wise, Virginia, two days before. They slept in cars, tents and the beds of pickup trucks, hoping to be among the first in line when the gate opened Friday before dawn. They drove in from 16 states, anxious to relieve pain, diagnose aches and see and hear better."

Sonia Sotomayor Wins Backing of Senate Committee
Warren Richey, The Christian Science Monitor: "President Obama's Supreme Court nominee, Sonia Sotomayor, received an important stamp of approval from the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, pushing her one step closer to her expected confirmation by the full Senate next week."

Olivier Roy Enigma of the Uprising; Foucault and Iran
Olivier Roy, Vacarme. This 2004 article by Middle East specialist Olivier Roy analyzes French philosopher Michel Foucault's complex response to the Iranian revolution of 1979. The topic resonates again today in light of current events in Iran.

Arianna Huffington What Enron and WorldCom Can Teach Us About Goldman and AIG
Arianna Huffington, The Huffington Post: "America, it seems, can't wait to get back to business - risky business - as usual. No matter how atrocious business has been. Newsweek's latest cover story declares that The Great Recession is over."

Iran Frees 140 Political Detainees
Robert Tait, The Guardian UK: "Iran today responded to growing criticism over political detainees by freeing 140 inmates incarcerated in its most notorious jail following the recent post-election upheavals."

Better Balance Between Climate and Military Spending Urged
Marina Litvinsky and Jim Lobe, Inter Press Service: "Despite its conviction that climate change represents a serious threat to national and global security, the administration of President Barack Obama has proposed spending one dollar on addressing the challenge for every nine dollars it intends to spend on the US military, according to a new report by the left-leaning Institute for Policy Studies (IPS)."

Britain and US Prepared to Open Talks With the Taliban
Richard Norton-Taylor, The Guardian UK: "A concerted effort to start unprecedented talks between Taliban and British and American envoys was outlined yesterday in a significant change in tactics designed to bring about a breakthrough in the attritional, eight-year conflict in Afghanistan."

FP morning post 7/28

Top Story:

Opening a two-day meeting with nearly 200 Chinese officials in Washington yesterday, President Barack Obama declared that "the pursuit of power among nations must no longer be seen as a zero-sum game." The talks -- aimed at reaching bilateral agreement on economic, environmental, and security issues -- are widely seen as a recognition of China's increasingly vital role in world affairs.

The U.S. sought to reassure China that it would soon return to surer economic footing and discussed China's desire for a reformed international monetary system. The Obama administration also intends to remain focused on the U.S.-China trade gap.

While the divisions of economic policy are stark, there may be more room for agreement on security issues, where China has been increasingly amenable to pressuring North Korea on its nuclear program.

Number of the day:

More than 3,000 donkeys have been mobilized to deliver ballots for Afghanistan's upcoming presidential election.

Middle East
U.S. envoy George Mitchell is meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu today to discuss the ongoing dispute over Israel's West Bank settlements.

Iranian opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi is calling for new street protests this week.

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates arrived in Iraq for a tour of U.S. facilities.

The Afghan government says it has reached a ceasefire with the local Taliban commander in a small part of Northern Afghanistan.
Under pressure from China, Nepal is increasingly cracking down on Tibetan refugee groups.
A verdict is expected in the Aung San Suu Kyi case on Friday.

The Honduran Congress is considering an Amnesty proposal aimed at ending the country's political crisis.
El Salvador has closed schools nationwide for a week in an effort to combat swine flu.
Mexico has announced a new program to try drug users in special courts aimed at rehabilitation.

A curfew has been imposed in Northern Nigeria after days of violence by Islamist rebels.
South Africa's municipal workers' strike has turned violent in parts of the country.
The EU has announced a plan to train Somali security forces to fight piracy.

EU foreign ministers are fast-tracking Iceland's application for membership.
Eight suspected militants were killed by Russian security forces in Dagestan.
The Archbishop of Canterbury said the Anglican Church may have to accept a "two-track model" to address a growing schism over homosexuality.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Truthout 7/27

David Bacon Foreclosed and Evicted in Oakland
David Bacon, Truthout: "Oakland - At eight in the morning on Monday, ten Alameda County sheriffs arrived in their patrol cars in front of the tan house on the corner of Tenth and Willow in west Oakland, the oldest African-American neighborhood in the city and one of the oldest on the west coast. The renovated home is surrounded by an iron fence, and the sheriffs poured through its open gate and up the stairs."

US Eyes Private Guards for Bases in Afghanistan
Richard Lardner, The Associated Press: "US military authorities in Afghanistan may hire a private contractor to provide around-the-clock security at dozens of bases and protect vehicle convoys moving throughout the country."

Juan Cole Empire's Paranoia About the Pashtuns
Juan Cole, "Despite being among the poorest people in the world, the inhabitants of the craggy northwest of what is now Pakistan have managed to throw a series of frights into distant Western capitals for more than a century. That's certainly one for the record books."

US Citizens Wrongly Detained, Deported by ICE
Tyche Hendricks, San Francisco Chronicle: "The son of a decorated Vietnam veteran, Hector Veloz is a US citizen, but in 2007 immigration officials mistook him for an illegal immigrant and locked him in an Arizona prison for 13 months. Veloz had to prove his citizenship from behind bars."

Mousavi Calls for More Iran Protests
Borzou Daragahi and Ramin Mostaghim, The Los Angeles Times: "Iran's leading opposition figure today called on his supporters to head into the streets 'each day' during an upcoming series of religious festivals surrounding the birthday of the Imam Mahdi, the 12th saint in the Shiite faith, potentially escalating tensions between a burgeoning protest movement and authorities amid an ongoing crackdown."

Robert Weiner and Zoe Pagonis Drug War's Wrong Focus
Robert Weiner and Zoe Pagonis, The Baltimore Sun: "In Baltimore last week, new US drug czar Gil Kerlikowske made the case for expansion of drug courts to treat rather than imprison addicts and called for drugs to be considered a 'public health crisis.'"

Jacques Attali The Future of Socialism
In L'Express, Jacques Attali deplores the French Socialist Party's failure to deal with the urgent questions of the day: "Now the present crisis teaches us that many things we thought should be kept private exert too much influence on collective well-being to not be, in one way or another, socialized: that's the case for finance; that's also the case for nature, since future generations belong to the society the interests of which are to be protected ..."

Friday, July 24, 2009

On Respect, Or, How To Avoid Mispronounciation

For today’s story, we will travel far afield from the typical domains of politics or science or law that have so often provoked our thinking into an often overlooked area of human relations:

To which gender do you belong?

It’s a simple question, or so common sense would tell us—either you’re male, or you’re female.

As it turns out, things aren’t quite so simple, and in today’s conversation we’ll consider this issue in a larger way. By the time we’re done, not only will we learn a thing or two about sex and gender and sexuality, we’ll also learn how to offer a community of people a level of respect that they often find difficult to obtain.

Do you get off casting hexes?
Assuming forms of either sexes
And oh...are you a boy or a girl?

--Imperial Drag, Boy Or A Girl?

The best place to start today’s story, I suspect, is with a story.

Regular visitors to this space will recall the recent conversation we had regarding the life and times of Gladys Bentley. The kind folks at the Bilerico Project (“daily experiments in LGBTQ”) asked me to repost at the site, and it was there pointed out to me that I was confusing gender and sexuality at various times in the diary.

It occurred to me that education was the solution here; to that end I located Lifelines Rhode Island’s TGI/Gender-Spectrum Terminology Guide (which, unless indicated otherwise, will be the source for the material you see here today). Tobi Hill-Meyer, who also posts at the Bilerico Project, was able to confirm to me that the information here “covers a lot more than most terminology lists I’ve seen”…and with a confirming source in place, I think we’re ready to move forward.

Actually, before we do that…a caveat. Everything that will be presented today is “in flux”. Terminology and attitudes and thinking evolve rapidly in this area, and Ms. Hill-Meyer would tell you to worry less about exact terms and to pay more attention to the general concepts that this discussion incorporates.

The first thing you should know is that biological sex, gender, and sexuality are three completely different things, neither associated with the other. What I mean by that is that an individual might be male, or female, some combination of the two (intersex persons)…or none of the above—but that has no bearing on whether that same person might find themselves sexually attracted to males, or females, or intersex persons…or no one at all.

Let’s start with biological sex.

The human body expresses sex in four different ways, the first being genetic. Genetic males carry an X and a Y chromosome, genetic females two X chromosomes. Intersex persons might have a single X chromosome (known as XO) or some combination of three or more X and Y chromosomes.

“Gonadal” males possess testes, gonadal females possess ovaries; intersex persons might possess undescended testes or streak ovaries.

Those persons who possess testosterone or DHT in the body are “hormonal” males. Estrogen and progesterone are found in hormonal females, and intersex persons might have levels of any of these hormones that are either high or low…or they might not have the “receptors” that allow the body to recognize the hormones that are present.

Morphological sex is expressed by the presence, in males, of the Wolffian duct and a penis. Females will possess a Mullerian duct and a vagina. Intersex persons might possess both a Wolffian and a Mullerian duct or incomplete internal sexual organs—or none of the above—and an enlarged clitoris, a “micro-penis”, or a shallow and fused vagina.

Perception, the folks at Lifelines would tell you, exists in two parts: gender, which is derived from the perception of whether you appear to others to be male or female, and gender identity, which is based on your own perception of yourself as male, female, neither, both, or whatever other label you might choose to attach to your gender identity. The “take-away” from this line of thought is that people are entitled to make their own choices regarding gender identity.

Sexuality, or sexual orientation as it’s used by Lifelines, can be a bit tricky, but it works like this: start with an individual’s chosen gender identity, then proceed to whom they are attracted to. For example, if your gender identity is female, and you are attracted to females, you would be a lesbian. Options include straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual, asexual…and pansexual, a term used by those who see more than two sexes—and genders—within the rich tapestry of human existence.

I ought, therefore I am.

--From Immanuel Kant’s Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysic of Morals

Everyone still with me on all this?

Good, because now we get to the heart of the matter…the “how to show respect” part…and if you’ve been keeping up, what’s coming next will be fairly simple to grasp.

Mispronounciation is the act of referring to someone with the incorrect personal pronoun—in other words, incorrectly referring to a “he” as a “she”. To avoid this, all you need to do is refer to the individual using the pronouns that match that person’s appearance.

If the person to whom you are speaking is visually expressing their gender as female, that person is referred to as “she”, and vice versa. The fact that the person might not be “passing” in a manner that you find entirely convincing is irrelevant, as is the fact that the person may or may not have had sexual reassignment surgery.

If that same person were to express their gender, on another occasion, as a male, you would refer to the same person as “he”.

In keeping with the admonition to not worry so much about every single term, but instead to make an effort to grasp the concepts presented here, we will not endeavor to define everything on the list; instead touching on just a few terms and explaining why they are important.

“Tranny” is considered offensive and should be avoided.

A “crossdresser” is someone who does not associate their clothing choice with a desire to express as a different gender. In other words, when Rudy Giuliani dresses as a woman—even as he views himself as a man while doing it—that’s crossdressing.

Drag Kings and Drag Queens are entertainers who express themselves in an alternative gender. If the person with whom you are speaking is not on stage at the time…these terms are probably inappropriate.

Transsexual persons are taking hormones and have had sexual reassignment surgery…most of the time. (Some people use the term to describe themselves even though they have not had surgery.) This term is often used within the
medical community.

There are some people who do not prefer this term, either because it implies that a mental illness is somehow involved, or because it implies a change of sexuality, as opposed to a change of gender. (You should know that the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders”, also known as the “DSM-IV-TR”, does in fact describe Gender Identity Disorder as a mental illness.)

The word transgender, which has been in common use to describe people who are expressing any number of gender options, is considered offensive by some people because it is sometimes used to describe a person’s gender choice, instead of the preferred “he” or “she”.

Androgyne persons do not wish to express a single gender choice, instead choosing to present themselves in a way that blurs the line between male and female. Someone who expresses their gender in this manner might or might not also express their sexuality the same way.

Trans is the currently preferred term to describe people who are…well, trans.
Someone who fits into any of the categories we have described here would be considered a trans person. A trans man would be someone who was female at birth, but is now expressing the gender choice of male; obviously a trans woman would be someone who was designated male at birth and is now expressing the gender choice of female. (“Trans” is a prefix defined as “across, over, or beyond”)

If you fit into none of these categories, but instead are always expressing yourself in the same gender as your birth gender, the term cisgender or cissexual is in current use; this derived from the prefix “cis”, which is defined as “on this side of”.

So what have we learned today?

We learned that there is a community of people who do not find the two gender choices “man” and “woman” representative of all the options available…and we learned that, within that community, there are people who might wish, from time to time, to vary their gender role.

Beyond that, we found out that gender and sexuality are separate and not interrelated, and that a person can change one while not changing the other.

We learned that addressing someone using the gender they have chosen is the best way to show that person respect—and the other thing we should be taking away from this discussion is that terminology changes rapidly, but the larger concepts presented here have more permanence, and over the long term I would expect those concepts to change less than the terminology.

So go forth and have some summer fun…and should the occasion arise, apply these principles, and summer will be more fun for those you meet up with as well.

And who doesn’t love that?

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

FP morning post 7/22

Top story:

Speaking in Thailand, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton declared that the United States "is back" in Asia and issued warnings to North Korea, Burma, and Iran.
“We want Iran to calculate what I think is a fair assessment that if the U.S. extends a defense umbrella over the region, if we do even more to support the military capacity of those in the Gulf,” she said. The idea of a Middle Eastern security "umbrella" was a feature of Clinton's foreign policy platform during her presidential campaign.
Clinton also expressed concern over reports of North Korean military cooperation with Burma and said ASEAN should consider expelling Burma over its treatment of democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.


The World Trade Organization forecasted that global trade would contract 10 percent this year, but also saw Asia beginning to lead a global recovery.

Middle East
Iran's Supreme Leader rejected President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's choice for vice president because of past pro-Israel remarks.
Iraq's Nuri al-Maliki will meet with President Obama today in order to encourage more foreign investment in Iraq. On, Sam Parker looks at how the once-weak Maliki became the dominant force in Iraqi politics.
Amnesty International has accused Saudi Arabia of using its antiterror operations as a cover for "gross human rights abuses."

Pakistan is objecting to the expansion of U.S. combat operations in Afghanistan on the ground that it will drive Taliban militants across the border.
Kyrgyzstan votes in a presidential election today, though President Kurmanbek Bakiyev is almost guaranteed to win.
Pakistan's Supreme Court has called former President Pervez Musharraf to testify about his imposition of emergency rule in 2007.

An international arbitration court awarded Sudan a disputed oil field.
Somalia's Shabab rebels are increasingly crossing the border into Kenya.
Nigeria's MEND rebels have released six crewmembers from an oil tanker they seized three weeks ago.

After meeting Ukraine's leaders, Vice President Joe Biden is headed to Georgia.
The EU approved a new plan to keep Poland's historic Gdansk shipyard open.
A car bomb exploded outside a police station on the French island of Corsica.

With little progress in negotiations, ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya says he is looking at other options for a return to power.
Honduras has expelled Venezuela's ambassadors over Hugo Chavez's support for Zelaya.
Israel's Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has already run into controversy on his Latin American tour after a senior Brazilian official called him a "fascist."

Truthout 7/22

William Rivers Pitt Worst Case Scenario
William Rivers Pitt, Truthout: "The torture debate in America got real three weeks ago. Oh, the debate has been around for years now, of course, ever since the photos of what happened in Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq came to light. Men covered in feces, bent double and lashed to bedframes, their faith humiliated by the menstrual blood smeared on their faces, their bodies savaged by dogs, and worse, reports of the rape of women and children."

Obama: No Time for Delay on Health Care
Eric Werner, The Associated Press: "President Barack Obama remained on the offensive Tuesday on the pace and shape of legislation reinventing health care, against stiffening opposition from Republicans and growing wariness among rank-and-file Congressional Democrats."

Tom Loudon Honduran Coup Reveals Crisis of Democracy in the United States as Well
Tom Loudon, Truthout: "Three weeks have passed since the military coup d'etat in Honduras, yet the United States has failed to join the international community in issuing a clear denunciation of the illegal overthrow of the government of Honduras. Despite a statement by President Obama calling the coup illegal and recognizing Zelaya as the legitimate president, the US State Department refuses to classify what occurred as a coup or to take decisive steps required by law, including cutting off aid to the Micheletti government. The crisis of democracy in Honduras has unmasked a crisis in the United States as well."

Palin Implicated in Ethics Probe
Rachel D'oro, The Associated Press: "An independent investigator has found evidence that Gov. Sarah Palin may have violated ethics laws by trading on her position in seeking money for legal fees, in the latest legal distraction for the former vice presidential candidate as she prepares to leave office this week."

Seth Sandronsky Too Big to Fail or Failing to Think Big?
Seth Sandronsky, Truthout: "Do you recall last fall? Large Wall Street firms were going down as the crash of the housing market widened on Main Street. As lenders' losses and home foreclosures rose, the credit system froze up. This Big Freeze hammered businesses, consumers and workers."

Adele M. Stan Republicans Will Be Toast in 2010 If the Dems Pass Health Reform, and They Know It
Adele M. Stan, AlterNet: "If President Barack Obama succeeds in signing a major health care reform bill into law - one that provides a public plan for people currently priced out of the system - he will achieve what at least three presidents before him had hoped for, and failed to do. And he will likely deprive the Republican minority in Congress from anything approaching a comeback in the 2010 midterm elections."

House Committee Backs Obama Student Loan Reform
Reuters: "The $92 billion US college student loan market would be fundamentally reshaped under a bill approved on Tuesday by a Congressional committee, which sent the measure on to the full House of Representatives."

Favilla Bank Secrecy and a State of Siege
The authors writing as Favilla for France's premier business paper, Les Echos, argue that the Swiss government's intervention in the civil trial of UBS in Miami "illuminates the distinctive nature of the Swiss government, a veritable 'Bank State' in the service of financial activity that makes bank secrecy a quasi-Constitutional rule."

Ben Dangl "Argentina: Turning Around" - an Interview With Mark Dworkin and Melissa Young
Benjamin Dangl, Truthout: "'Argentina: Turning Around' is an exciting film which captures the spirit of Argentina's grassroots response to economic meltdown. Drawing from diverse interviews and incredible footage, the film offers an inside look at the victories and challenges of Argentina's neighborhood assemblies, protest movements and worker-run factories. 'Argentina: Turning Around' skillfully transmits the country's courageous examples of social change."

No Let-Up in US Drone War in Pakistan
Dan De Luce, Agence France-Presse: "The expanding US drone war against Al-Qaeda may be disrupting the terror network's operations but the lethal bombing raids carry risks for Washington and its ally Pakistan. The head of the CIA has defended the attacks in Pakistan by unmanned aircraft as 'the only game in town' when it comes to targeting Al-Qaeda and its allies.... Yet an unknown number of civilians have died in the bombing war, possibly as many as 700, according to the Pakistani press."

David Bromwich America's Wars: How Serial War Became the American Way of Life
David Bromwich, "We have begun to talk casually about our wars; and this should be surprising for several reasons. To begin with, in the history of the United States war has never been considered the normal state of things. For two centuries, Americans were taught to think war itself an aberration, and 'wars' in the plural could only have seemed doubly aberrant. Younger generations of Americans, however, are now being taught to expect no end of war -- and no end of wars."

Dr. Wilmer J. Leon Sometimes Even When You're Right, You're Wrong
Dr. Wilmer J. Leon III, Truthout: "As an African-American male, I have always been taught to show respect to the police, even when or if I feel that the officer is wrong. As a survival technique, I am teaching this to my son and I convey this to my students and all of the other young people that I engage in my lectures. My parents and other elders have always taught me 'an argument with a cop is an argument you will always lose ... if you don't get along with the police, you will probably go along with the police and that's a trip you do not want to take. Even when you're right, if you fail to comply, you're wrong.'"

Arrests at New Iranian Protests
BBC News: "Iranian riot police are reported to have arrested a number of pro-reform protesters in Tehran after demonstrations turned violent. Police clashed with hundreds of people marching despite a ban on public gatherings since the disputed election in June, Reuters news agency said."

Mike Elk GE Promotes Manufacturing Jobs in US, Then Ships 'Em Overseas
Mike Elk, The Huffington Post: "Jeffery Immelt, the CEO of General Electric, has led the outsourcing charge in the past. So commentators were shocked last month when, speaking at the Detroit Economic Club, Immelt said that the United States needs to invest in American manufacturing in order to get out of our current economic crisis.... Immelt should heed his own advice."

Ellen Bravo Paycheck Fairness? Let's Hope We See It Soon
Ellen Bravo, Women's eNews: "It took 17 years and an anonymous note for Lilly Ledbetter to find out she was earning significantly less than men doing the same job. The Supreme Court compounded the problem by telling her she waited too long to complain. Congress fixed that setback--but the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, the first piece of legislation signed by President Obama, simply brought us back to where we'd been before. The Paycheck Fairness Act, already passed by the House under the leadership of Rep. Rosa L. DeLauro and now pending in the Senate, is the critical next step."

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

On Aerodynamics, Or, Space: The Budget Frontier

Forty years ago this week an event occurred that changed the history of mankind forever.

An event so monumental that the memory lingers on, even though the venue where the event took place has been, shall we say, “repurposed”.

But we’re not here to talk about the time that Minnesota Twins Manager Billy Martin appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated.

Instead, let’s talk space.

NASA is forever trying to interest the world in space exploration...and forever struggling to come up with the money to get things done.

Well, I’m not a scientist, nor an engineer, and I don’t assemble rocket vehicles...but I am a fake consultant, and if NASA took my advice, I’d bet my fake paycheck that money would be a lot less of a problem.

“You know what really makes your rocket ships go up?”

“The aerodynamics alone are so complicated—“

“Funding. That's what makes your ships go up.
I'll tell you something, and you guys, too.
No bucks, no Buck Rogers.”

--From Philip Kaufman’s movie version of The Right Stuff

So here’s the thing: there was a time when spaceflight was the ultimate exploit...but not any more...or at least not at NASA.

These days, NASA views spaceflight as a job—and the International Space Station has become a workspace.

There is the process any more. Instead, it’s all about launching a payload to a platform where an anonymous Mission Specialist will conduct Fluid Merging Viscosity Measurements.

Even NASA TV, the Agency’s effort to make what they do more accessible to a wider audience, doesn’t seem to understand the basic elements of storytelling.

I mean, think about it for a minute: “Star Wars”, “Star Trek”, “Battlestar Galactica”...“Spaceballs”...every single one of them, with all the imitation space footage that money can buy (even the bad ones), are a thousand times more fun to watch than the real footage of the STS-127 Rendezvous Pitch Maneuver.

How is it possible that the one organization that has more film featuring genuine, no-kidding, space heroism than any other on the face of the Earth can’t make a space movie as interesting as Killer Klowns From Outer Space?

Why was “Apollo 13” actually more compelling to watch...than the actual Apollo 13?

To find an answer, we need to take a short detour—to Alaska.

Have you ever seen Ice Road Truckers? If you haven’t, well, let’s just say that it’s a master class in how to tell a story. In the series, the producers actually make something that potentially could be incredibly boring—watching people drive trucks—into fascinating television, and they do it by applying the three most basic principles of how to tell a tale:

Create one or more interesting “heroes”, a “protagonist” over whom the heroes must somehow triumph, and an interesting situation within which the triumph can either occur...or not occur.

And that’s exactly what happens on the show: the plot revolves around a group of “recurring characters” who face two protagonists: the Arctic, and each other, as they compete to see who will earn the most money. The interesting situations? Trying to get the trucks, and their cargoes, across the Arctic terrain; creating a variety of new “subplots” every episode.

“Say Captain, I’m sick; how far is it to land?”

“About three miles”

“Which way”

“Straight down”

--From 10,000 Jokes, Toasts, and Stories, Lewis and Faye Copeland

So how might NASA TV apply this principle?

The obvious first show: “Astronaut Candidate”. There is a huge amount of human drama in the candidate selection process...and with this show you can “humanize” both NASA and the people they send into space. The protagonists and the interesting situations? The other candidates and the tests required to make it through the process. (NASA does highlight their selection the form of a webpage that links to bios and headshots, and “b-roll” segments on NASA TV’s “Video File”.)

And why not humanize science as well? After all, an experiment doesn’t have to be just a “science payload” can also be a human asking a question about the nature of human existence. “Send My Experiment Into Space” would do the trick nicely; the idea being that you would follow the successful—and unsuccessful—experiments, and the people behind them, from inception to what happens at the Space Station to the “analysis phase” that follows (and at the same time creating interest in science and engineering among students exactly when we need more students interested in science and engineering).

“Rocket Builders” could focus on the activities that take place as the vehicles that transport astronauts and experiments are fabricated and assembled. People have to test rocket motors, transport components, and assemble the vehicles...and all of this has to be done in an extraordinarily hazardous environment under severe time pressures.

The images would be great, and the pressures on the people involved create story after story—and again, we get the chance to learn that space is a people business as much as it is a hardware business.

The final links in the chain, of course, are the flight crews in orbit...and in this regard, NASA has never quite been able to figure it out. We get to see a lot of welcoming ceremonies and farewell ceremonies, usually from a single “lockdown” camera—but we see very little about the actual lives of the crew.

Did you know that in May astronauts performed a series of spacewalks to repair the Hubble telescope? That the work was so risky that a second Space Shuttle was waiting to be launched in case an emergency rescue was required? If you either sort of remember these events—or weren’t aware of them at all—NASA has failed to tell their story.

“In Flight” could be blockbuster programming—and educational to boot—if the right people were behind the camera and doing the editing.

So that’s the story: NASA actually goes to space, and they take cameras with them, but they can’t seem to make space exploration as interesting to the public as driving a truck. They have an entire cable channel full of high drama and big adventure...and yet the ratings are death.

In just the past few days we have been told that NASA is indeed the victim of chronic underfunding that has left the agency “in a terrible position”—and when you can’t tell your story effectively, funding becomes a problem.

On the other hand, if you put the stories of the people who are trying every day to advance the boundaries of science and human knowledge into a format that captures the imagination of that same public...well, bucks, my friends, equals Buck Rogers.

And as Walter Cronkite would have said: “That’s the way it is...”

FP morning brief 7/21

Top story:

The Taliban launched coordinated attacks on government buildings in two cities in Eastern Afghanistan today, killing six security officers. The bombers attacked the National Security Directorate in Gardez and unsuccessfully attempted to attack governor's office and a police station. In Jalalabad, militants fired a rocket-propelled grenade into a U.S. airfield.

After a roadside bombing which killed four U.S. troops on Monday, July is now the deadliest month for U.S. forces in Afghanistan since the beginning of Operation Enduring Freedom in 2001

Under the radar:

A number of analysts are increasingly concerned that Burma is attempting to build a nuclear weapon with the help of North Korea.

Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso dissolved parliament and scheduled new elections for next month, despite forecasts that his Liberal Democratic Party is likely to lose.
Foreign ministers have gathered in Thailand for the annual ASEAN summit.
The terrorism trial of the surviving Mumbai attacker has been adjourned after his surprising confession yesterday.

Middle East
Israel is planning to remove 23 illegal settler outposts from the West Bank in one day.
The Iraqi city of Ramadi has declared a state of emergency after a double bombing this morning.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in on his way to Washington to meet with President Obama.

Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili unveiled a series of democratic reforms, including a reduction in presidential powers, ahead of a visit from U.S. Vice President Joe Biden.
Biden met with Ukrainian President Viktor Yuschenko to reaffirm U.S. support for Ukraine.
Spain's foreign minister will make a historic visit to the disputed territory of Gibraltar.

Former Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori was sentenced to seven and a half years in prison.
Honduras's interim government has sent a lobbying team to the United States to win support for their cause.
The U.S. is now offering a $50 million reward for the capture of leaders of Mexico's gulf cartel.

Sudan has lodged a complaint against Chad with the U.N. security council for launching raids inside its territory.
Shabab rebels looted two U.N. compounds in Somalia.
The NGO Global Witness criticized western mineral firms for fueling unrest in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Truthout 7/21

Deadliest Month for US Troops in Afghanistan
Laura King, The Los Angeles Times: "A roadside bomb killed four American soldiers in eastern Afghanistan today, adding to the toll in what has already been the conflict's deadliest month for Western forces. The latest deaths push the number of coalition troops killed in July to at least 55 - 30 of them American."

Interrogation Task Force Broadens Scope Beyond Techniques
Spencer Ackerman, The Washington Independent: "The task force advising the Obama administration on interrogating terrorism-related detainees is wrapping up its work this week, and although some of its final recommendations remain unfinished, officials familiar with its work indicate that it will focus less on specific interrogation techniques than on recommending interrogators develop their non-abusive strategies around known information about the specific detainees being questioned."

J. Sri Raman A Piece of Paper and South Asian Peace
J. Sri Raman, Truthout: "An India-Pakistan thaw, after the long freeze following the Mumbai blasts of November 2008, has been promised at last. Predictably, however, this development has been greeted with howls of protests."

Robert Reich Obamacare Is at War With Itself Over Future Costs
Robert Reich, Robert Reich's Blog: "Right now, Obamacare is at war with itself. Political efforts to buy off Big Pharma, private insurers, and the AMA are all pushing up long-term costs - one reason why Douglas Elmendorf, head of the Congressional Budget Office, told Congress late last week that 'the cost curve is being raised.' But this is setting off alarms among Blue Dog Democrats worried about future deficits - and their votes are critical."

Mexico's Army Is Violating Human Rights, Groups Say
Howard LaFranchi, The Christian Science Monitor: "Human-rights groups are calling on the United States to hold back millions of dollars in counternarcotics assistance to Mexico's military, concerned about what they say is a rise in abuse cases in conjunction with Mexico's drug war."

IPCC Chief: Benefits of Tackling Climate Change Will Balance Cost of Action
Damian Carrington, The Guardian UK: "Measures needed to tackle global warming could save economies more money than they cost, the world's top climate change expert said today. Rajendra Pachauri, the head of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), told The Guardian: 'The cost could undoubtedly be negative overall.' This is because of the additional benefits that reducing greenhouse gas emissions could bring, beyond limiting temperature rises."

Michael Paarlberg Organizing the Jungle
Michael Paarlberg, The Guardian UK: "Processed meats play a curiously outsized role in the history of labor relations in the US. A century ago, Upton Sinclair wrote 'The Jungle,' hoping to draft Chicago meatpackers into the class war, and instead birthed what eventually became the US Food and Drug Administration."

Dahr Jamail "Be Bold"
Dahr Jamail, Truthout: "US Army Specialist Victor Agosto, who publicly refused to deploy with his unit to Afghanistan, was to receive the harshest court-martial possible for his decision - one that would land him in jail for up to one year, followed by a dishonorable discharge. However, within hours of the publication of a Truthout report about his story, Agosto received word from the military that his court-martial had been reduced."

Judge Accuses CIA Officials of Fraud, Unseals Secret Files
Michael Doyle, McClatchy Newspapers: "A federal district judge ruled Monday that the CIA repeatedly misled him in asserting that state secrets were involved in a 15-year-old lawsuit involving allegedly illegal wiretapping."

Theodore R. Marmor and Jonathan Oberlander The Fateful Moment
Theodore R. Marmor and Jonathan Oberlander, The New York Review of Books: "Tom Daschle's book Critical: What We Can Do About the Health-Care Crisis offers an unusually helpful primer on the Obama administration's approach to health reform."

Black Scholar's Arrest Raises Profiling Questions
Melissa Trujillo, The Associated Press: "Police responding to a call about 'two black males' breaking into a home near Harvard University ended up arresting the man who lives there - Henry Louis Gates Jr., the nation's pre-eminent black scholar."

John Prados The Intelligence Oversight Mess
John Prados, Foreign Policy in Focus: " ... [T]he executive branch - should have learned its lesson long ago. And not just about schemes to create hit teams. Bush administration defenders are wrong to argue that this is a mere political charge over a plan that never left the drawing board. Far from some empty dispute over technicalities, today's controversy over whether the Central Intelligence Agency kept the oversight committees in Congress fully and currently informed regarding this significant, planned CIA operation is not new. Indeed, this struggle has been at the heart of efforts to implement a system of legislative monitoring of intelligence activities since the creation of the oversight system in the 1970s."

Schwarzenegger, Lawmakers Reach State Budget Agreement
Kevin Yamamura, The Sacramento Bee: "Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and legislative leaders agreed Monday to balance California's $26 billion deficit by cutting broadly across state government, shifting costs into the future and capturing funds from cities and counties."

Laurent Joffrin Explosive
Laurent Joffrin, Liberation: "In 2009, the managers of the telecommunications company Nortel, protected by Canadian bankruptcy law, divided $45 million in bonuses between themselves. A few weeks ago, Nortel announced the closing of its Chateaufort site in the Yvelines. Tuesday, Nortel's employees threatened to blow their company up using gas cylinders. Contrary to what certain appeasing wits would maintain, there is a direct relationship between these events."

Monday, July 20, 2009

Losing my religion for equality

Jimmy Carter
July 15, 2009

Women and girls have been discriminated against for too long in a twisted interpretation of the word of God.

I HAVE been a practising Christian all my life and a deacon and Bible teacher for many years. My faith is a source of strength and comfort to me, as religious beliefs are to hundreds of millions of people around the world. So my decision to sever my ties with the Southern Baptist Convention, after six decades, was painful and difficult. It was, however, an unavoidable decision when the convention's leaders, quoting a few carefully selected Bible verses and claiming that Eve was created second to Adam and was responsible for original sin, ordained that women must be "subservient" to their husbands and prohibited from serving as deacons, pastors or chaplains in the military service.

This view that women are somehow inferior to men is not restricted to one religion or belief. Women are prevented from playing a full and equal role in many faiths. Nor, tragically, does its influence stop at the walls of the church, mosque, synagogue or temple. This discrimination, unjustifiably attributed to a Higher Authority, has provided a reason or excuse for the deprivation of women's equal rights across the world for centuries.

At its most repugnant, the belief that women must be subjugated to the wishes of men excuses slavery, violence, forced prostitution, genital mutilation and national laws that omit rape as a crime. But it also costs many millions of girls and women control over their own bodies and lives, and continues to deny them fair access to education, health, employment and influence within their own communities.

The impact of these religious beliefs touches every aspect of our lives. They help explain why in many countries boys are educated before girls; why girls are told when and whom they must marry; and why many face enormous and unacceptable risks in pregnancy and childbirth because their basic health needs are not met.

In some Islamic nations, women are restricted in their movements, punished for permitting the exposure of an arm or ankle, deprived of education, prohibited from driving a car or competing with men for a job. If a woman is raped, she is often most severely punished as the guilty party in the crime.

The same discriminatory thinking lies behind the continuing gender gap in pay and why there are still so few women in office in the West. The root of this prejudice lies deep in our histories, but its impact is felt every day. It is not women and girls alone who suffer. It damages all of us. The evidence shows that investing in women and girls delivers major benefits for society. An educated woman has healthier children. She is more likely to send them to school. She earns more and invests what she earns in her family.

It is simply self-defeating for any community to discriminate against half its population. We need to challenge these self-serving and outdated attitudes and practices - as we are seeing in Iran where women are at the forefront of the battle for democracy and freedom.

I understand, however, why many political leaders can be reluctant about stepping into this minefield. Religion, and tradition, are powerful and sensitive areas to challenge. But my fellow Elders and I, who come from many faiths and backgrounds, no longer need to worry about winning votes or avoiding controversy - and we are deeply committed to challenging injustice wherever we see it.

The Elders are an independent group of eminent global leaders, brought together by former South African president Nelson Mandela, who offer their influence and experience to support peace building, help address major causes of human suffering and promote the shared interests of humanity. We have decided to draw particular attention to the responsibility of religious and traditional leaders in ensuring equality and human rights and have recently published a statement that declares: "The justification of discrimination against women and girls on grounds of religion or tradition, as if it were prescribed by a Higher Authority, is unacceptable."

We are calling on all leaders to challenge and change the harmful teachings and practices, no matter how ingrained, which justify discrimination against women. We ask, in particular, that leaders of all religions have the courage to acknowledge and emphasise the positive messages of dignity and equality that all the world's major faiths share.

The carefully selected verses found in the Holy Scriptures to justify the superiority of men owe more to time and place - and the determination of male leaders to hold onto their influence - than eternal truths. Similar biblical excerpts could be found to support the approval of slavery and the timid acquiescence to oppressive rulers.

I am also familiar with vivid descriptions in the same Scriptures in which women are revered as pre-eminent leaders. During the years of the early Christian church women served as deacons, priests, bishops, apostles, teachers and prophets. It wasn't until the fourth century that dominant Christian leaders, all men, twisted and distorted Holy Scriptures to perpetuate their ascendant positions within the religious hierarchy.

The truth is that male religious leaders have had - and still have - an option to interpret holy teachings either to exalt or subjugate women. They have, for their own selfish ends, overwhelmingly chosen the latter. Their continuing choice provides the foundation or justification for much of the pervasive persecution and abuse of women throughout the world. This is in clear violation not just of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights but also the teachings of Jesus Christ, the Apostle Paul, Moses and the prophets, Muhammad, and founders of other great religions - all of whom have called for proper and equitable treatment of all the children of God. It is time we had the courage to challenge these views.


Truthout 7/20

Dean Baker Taxing Health Insurance Premiums
Dean Baker, Truthout: "Abstractly, imposing a cap on premiums would be reasonable policy. After all, why should the government pay more to subsidize the insurance of a relatively well-paid schoolteacher than the custodian who cleans the classroom? But this is not an abstract issue. It is a concrete question of who will pay more. For some reason, when it comes to sacrifice, union workers always seem to be at the top of the economists' agenda."

Honduras Crisis Talks Break Down
Rory Carroll, The Guardian UK: "Talks to resolve the political crisis in Honduras broke down today when coup leaders rejected a compromise plan to reinstate the ousted president, Manuel Zelaya. The interim government in Tegucigalpa, which took power last month after soldiers bundled the president into exile, ruled out his return even at the helm of a proposed unity administration."

Doyle McManus Obama and the Bush Years
Doyle McManus, The Los Angeles Times: "Whenever he's asked about the scandals of America's war on terror - the torture, the wrongful detentions, the legal corners cut - President Obama has responded with some version of this statement: 'We have to focus on getting things right in the future as opposed to looking at what we got wrong in the past.' But that approach can't work. The unanswered questions are too many, the lawsuits too numerous, the fundamental questions of accountability too nagging. We need a public reckoning - and, much as they might like to avoid the distraction, Obama and his people must know it."

On Friday, Lowest-Wage Workers Get a Pay Hike
Tony Pugh, McClatchy Newspapers: "The final installment of a three-part increase in the federal minimum wage is proving to be the most controversial. Two previous wage hikes, one in 2007, the other in 2008, pushed the federal wage to $5.85 and then to the current $6.55 an hour. The third, which goes into effect Friday, will push it to $7.25 an hour."

US, India Expected to Sign Defense Pact
Arshad Mohammed, Reuters: "The United States and India are expected to sign an agreement on Monday that would take a major step toward allowing the sale of sophisticated U.S. arms to the South Asian nation, three senior U.S. officials said. Known as an 'end-use monitoring' agreement and required by U.S. law for such weapons sales, the pact would let Washington check that India was using any arms for the purposes intended and preventing the technology from leaking to others."

Captors Release Video of US Soldier Who Went Missing in Afghanistan
Greg Miller and Laura King, The Los Angeles Times: "Posing an emotional new complication for the expanding U.S. military effort in Afghanistan, Islamic militants released a video of a captured American soldier whom U.S. military officials identified for the first time Sunday as Pvt. Bowe R. Bergdahl, 23, of Ketchum, Idaho. The video marked the first time that militants have sought to take advantage of Bergdahl's June 30 capture to mount a propaganda attack on President Obama's decision to escalate U.S. involvement in the war."

California Finds Pot Is a Huge Cash Cow
Marcus Wohlsen and Lisa Leff, The Associated Press: "More and more, having premium pot delivered to your door in California is not a crime. It is a legitimate business. Since the state became the first to legalize the drug for medicinal use, the weed the federal government puts in the same category as heroin and cocaine has become a major economic force."

FP morning post 7/20

Top Story:

In her first visit to India as Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton is close to a major agreement on defense cooperation but made less progress on emissions goals.

The defense agreement -- which is expected to be signed later today -- is known as an "end-use monitoring" agreement and would allow to verify how weapons sold to India is being used, a precaution that could pave the way for new weapons sales by U.S. contractors. Both Boeing and Lockheed are competing to supply India with 126 fighter jets as it modernizes its arsenal. The deal has not yet been finalized, but a U.S. official said it would be a "definite slap in the face" if it is not completed.

Tensions between the two powers were also on display during Clinton's visit. As the secretary toured a new energy-efficient office building, India's environmental minister Jairam Ramesh criticized the U.S. for pushing for more greenhouse gas reductions, when India already has extremely low levels of per-capita emissions. “We are simply not in a position to take over legally binding emission reduction targets,” said Ramesh. Nonetheless, the minister said India is committed to reaching a new global emissions agreement in Copenhagen this year.

Under the radar:

An EU report says the union's poorest member state, Bulgaria, is at serious risk of falling under Russian influence unless it can more effectively combat corruption.

Middle East
The Iranian opposition is calling for a new referendum on last month's disputed presidential election.
Israel will move ahead with a major housing construction project in Palestinian East Jerusalem despite U.S. objections.
Fifty-six more people -- including two generals joined the 86 already on trial for plotting a coup against Recep Tayyip Ergodgan's government in Turkey.

The surviving gunman from last-year's Mumbai attacks entered a surprise guilty plea.
The Taliban have released a video of a captured U.S. army private, which they are using for propaganda purposes.
The Chinese government is planning new laws to crack down on secessionism in the wake of last week's riots in Xinjiang.

Vice President Joe Biden arrived in Ukraine for a 3-day visit aimed at reassuring the country it won't be forgotten as U.S.-Russian cooperation deepens.
Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili is reportedly planning to roll out a package of democratic reforms ahead of Biden's visit to his country.
Britain lowered its terror threat level for the first time in three years.

Talks to resolve Honduras's political crisis have collapsed and deposed President Manuel Zelaya is once again planning to attempt a return.
Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega will follow Zelaya in asking for an extension of presidential term limits.
Wildfires have forced more than 17,000 people flee their homes in Western Canada.

General Ould Abdelaziz, who led a military coup last year, was reelected president of Mauritania in a disputed poll.
Namibia has launched a bribery investigation into a Chinese firm with ties to President Hu Jintao's son.
The two French contractors held by the Al-Shabab militia in Somlia will be tried for espionage under Sharia law.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

She does look better with the extra make-up

Truthout 7/19

NATO: At Least 16 Killed in Afghan Helicopter Crash
Agence France-Presse: "At least 16 civilians were killed on Sunday when a helicopter crashed near a military base in southern Afghanistan, the NATO-led force said, in the second fatal chopper crash here in a week. The civilian-contracted aircraft was not shot down by insurgents, the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said, but gave no details on what caused the crash in war-torn Kandahar province."

John Nichols A Real Win for Single-Payer Advocates
John Nichols, The Nation: "Those of us who know that the only real cure for what ails the U.S. health care system is a universal public plan that provides health care for all Americans while controlling costs recognize the frustrating reality that there are many economic and political barriers to the federal action that would create a single-payer system. This makes clearing the way experimentation at the state level all the more important. And, remarkably, the forces of real reform have won a congressional victory on that front, a victory that ought not be underestimated."

Afghanistan: Questions Remain Over Crash of US Aircraft
Peter Graff and Hamid Shalizi, Reuters: "A U.S. F-15E Strike Eagle fighter jet crashed in eastern Afghanistan on Saturday, the U.S. Air Force said, and a military source said both crew members on board were killed."

Tom Engelhardt Borrowed Time: The World at 65
Tom Engelhardt, "Tomorrow, I turn 65, an age I simply never imagined for myself back in those youthful years. And the past, I must admit, now lurks somewhat closer to home, as of course does the future, my future. Sometimes these days, when I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror - the bald head, the mustache that's gone silvery white, the little bumps and discolorations of every sort, in short, that aging face - I see my long-dead father staring back. Each time, it's a visceral shock. Like an ambush. Like a sucker punch in the gut. I feel horror - not him, not in my face! - and love, but not acceptance. Not yet anyway."

TARP Watchdog Says Treasury Lacking Bank Data
Silla Brush, The Hill: "The top watchdog over the financial bailout package said the Treasury Department is rejecting 'common sense' by not requiring banks receiving billions of dollars in government money to say how they are using the money. In a report to be released on Monday, Neil Barofsky said banks that have received money from the $700 billion bailout package passed last year are able to indicate how they are using taxpayer money and that Treasury should require banks to be more transparent."

Once World's Bread Basket, Iraq Now a Farming Basket Case
Mike Tharp, McClatchy Newspapers: "Once the cradle of agriculture for civilization, the Land Between Two Rivers - the Tigris and Euphrates - has become a basket case for its farmers. Just ask Naji Habeeb, 85. His family has been growing rice in this village 135 miles southeast of Baghdad for generations. Thin green shoots stick out of the flat paddies, shin-deep in brown water. The Iraqi government, he claims, still owes him half of what he's due from last year's crop."

VIDEO President Obama: Health Care Reform Cannot Wait
President Obama warns that if health care reform is not passed now it could mean a crisis for families.
Edward M. Kennedy "The Cause of My Life"
Edward M. Kennedy, Newsweek: "In 1964, I was flying with several companions to the Massachusetts Democratic Convention when our small plane crashed and burned short of the runway. My friend and colleague in the Senate, Birch Bayh, risked his life to pull me from the wreckage. Our pilot, Edwin Zimny, and my administrative assistant, Ed Moss, didn't survive. With crushed vertebrae, broken ribs, and a collapsed lung, I spent months in New England Baptist Hospital in Boston. To prevent paralysis, I was strapped into a special bed that immobilizes a patient between two canvas slings. Nurses would regularly turn me over so my lungs didn't fill with fluid. I knew the care was expensive, but I didn't have to worry about that. I needed the care and I got it."

Bush's Key Men Face Grilling on Torture and Death Squads
Paul Harris, The Guardian UK: "America is bracing itself for a series of investigations that could see top officials from the administration of President George W. Bush hauled in front of Congress, grilled by a special prosecutor and possibly facing criminal charges. Several investigations will now cast a spotlight on Bush-era torture policy and a secret CIA assassination program, examining the role played by big names such as the former Vice President Dick Cheney and the former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld."

Robert Reich Goldman and JPMorgan - The Two Winners When the Rest of America Is Losing
Robert Reich, Robert Reich's Blog: "Besides Goldman Sachs, the Street's other surviving behemoth is JPMorgan. Today it posted second-quarter earnings up a stunning 36 percent from the first quarter, to $2.7 billion. The resurgence of JPMorgan and Goldman Sachs gives both banks more financial clout than any other players on the Street - allowing both firms to lure talent from everywhere else on the Street with multi-million pay packages, giving both firms enough economic power to charge clients whopping fees, and bestowing on both firms even more political heft in Washington."

Doyle McManus Obama and the Bush Years
Doyle McManus, The Los Angeles Times: "Whenever he's asked about the scandals of America's war on terror - the torture, the wrongful detentions, the legal corners cut - President Obama has responded with some version of this statement: 'We have to focus on getting things right in the future as opposed to looking at what we got wrong in the past.'"

Democracy Hangs by a Thread in Honduras
Hugh O'Shaughnessy, The Independent UK: "The international group of right-wingers who staged the coup d'etat against the democratic government of Honduras on 28 June are watching their plot fast unravel. There is stiffening international opposition to their protege, Roberto Micheletti, who, in his capacity as President of Congress, ordered President Manuel Zelaya to be expelled from the country by plane in his pyjamas."

Fights Over the F-22 Engulf Senate, House
Roxana Tiron, The Hill: "The Senate is kicking off next week with one of the most contentious issues engulfing the fiscal 2010 defense policy bill: whether to include money for more F-22 fighter jets and ultimately draw a presidential veto."

William S. Becker Grading a Climate Bill
William S. Becker, The Huffington Post: "If Mother Nature were handing out grades, she'd have a difficult time assigning one to the 1,200-page climate dissertation known as Waxman-Markey, approved by the House and now being considered by the Senate. For one thing, she'd have to grade on a curve. What looks like an 'A' in Washington may qualify for no more than a 'C' or 'D' outside the beltway - and may be no better than 'F' in the rest of the world."

Journalist Imprisoned in Guantanamo Bay to Sue George Bush
Gwladys Fouche, The Guardian UK: "An al-Jazeera journalist who was imprisoned in Guantanamo Bay plans to launch a joint legal action with other detainees against former US President George Bush and other administration officials, for the illegal detention and torture he and others suffered at the hands of US authorities."

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Truthout 7/18

Jason Leopold House Panel to Probe CIA Assassination Program
Jason Leopold, Truthout: "The House Intelligence Committee formally announced Friday that it will probe whether the CIA broke the law by failing to inform Congress about a top secret assassination program reportedly aimed at targeting leaders of al-Qaeda. Committee Chairman Silvestre Reyes said the probe would be part of a wide-ranging investigation about the way in which the CIA informs Congress about its covert activities and other matters."

Sam Pizzigati From Tax Breaks To Tax Hits
"The push to overhaul the system that takes care of America’s health may be on the verge of morphing into something even grander, a promising new offensive against the unhealthy concentration of America’s wealth. The entire House Democratic leadership now stands united behind health care reform legislation that hikes taxes on America’s richest well beyond the levels that pundits, over recent years, have deemed 'politically feasible.'"

Clashes in Tehran as Hashemi Rafsanjani Warns Regime
Ian Black and Saeed Kamali Dehghan, The Guardian UK: "Iranian riot police used batons and teargas today to break up defiant protests after prayers in Tehran, where Hashemi Rafsanjani, one of the country's most powerful clerics, warned that the regime was "in crisis" and urged a release of prisoners detained in post-election unrest. Rafsanjani, a bitter rival of the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, broke his month-long silence to issue a stark warning that the Islamic Republic had lost popular support."

Antonia Juhasz Chevron Owes More to Richmond
Antonia Juhasz, The San Francisco Chronicle: "By revenue, Chevron is the largest corporation in California, the second-largest U.S. oil corporation and the third-largest corporation in the nation. Chevron's nearly $24 billion in profits for 2008 were its largest on record and the fourth-highest profits of any corporation in the world. Chevron's profits have increased every year since 2002, increasing by an astounding 2,100 percent. Those who have not benefited are the Richmond community, the site of Chevron's oldest refinery, and the state of California."

US Airstrike in Afghanistan Tests McChrystal's New Order
Nancy A. Youssef, McClatchy Newspapers: "An airstrike that Afghan officials allege killed at least four civilians Wednesday is the first test of a new U.S. directive that American troops let Taliban fighters flee if civilian lives are at risk."

US Persists in Pakistan Drone Attacks
Rasool Dawar and Munir Ahmad, The Associated Press: "A suspected U.S. missile strike in a Pakistani tribal region killed at least five alleged militants Friday, officials said, showing America's unwillingness to abandon the tactic even as Pakistani officials say it could interfere with army offensives in the northwest."

FOCUS Bill Moyers and Michael Winship Oysters for Health Care
Bill Moyers and Michael Winship: "This is a story of health care and two Americans; a tale of two citizens, if you will. This week, Regina Benjamin was nominated by President Obama as our next surgeon general, charged with educating Americans on medical issues and overseeing the United States Public Health Service. She was the first African-American woman to head a state medical society, a member of the board of trustees of the American Medical Association and last year was named the recipient of a MacArthur Foundation 'genius award.' But more important, she's a country doctor, a family physician along the Gulf Coast of Alabama, serving the poor and uninsured - white, black and Asian."

Senate Dems vs The People

We need your help with an important decision.

Democracy for America has teamed up with the Progressive Change Campaign Committee to run tough ads pressuring Democratic Senators who've taken millions of dollars from health and insurance interests while standing in the way of one of President Obama's top priorities -- a public healthcare option.

The question is: who do you want to see us pressure first with TV ads in their home state?


Our ads don't pull any punches, because it's up to us to make sure Democratic elected officials feel some heat if they're on the verge of opposing the President and 76% of Americans who want a public option.Here are eight senators who may stand in the way of the public option -- along with the total amount of money they’ve received from health and insurance interests. Who should we target first with local ads?

Sen. Max Baucus

Sen. Evan Bayh

Sen. Kent Conrad

Sen. Dianne Feinstein

Sen. John Kerry

Sen. Mary Landrieu

Sen. Joe Lieberman

Sen. Ben Nelson


Thank you for everything you do,

Charles Chamberlain,
Political Director
Democracy for America

P.S. Thousands of people have signed their name to be featured as one of the 76% who want a public option in the national version of these ads already running in Washington D.C. If you haven't signed up yet, there’s still time to add your name.

Democracy for America relies on you and the people-power of more than one million members to fund the grassroots organizing and training that delivers progressive change on the issues that matter. Please Contribute Today and support our mission.

Broaden ban on discrimination


On June 24, Mayor Steve Luecke issued an executive order stating that South Bend is committed to equal employment opportunity and will not tolerate discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The executive order prohibits such discrimination in city employment. The city's Human Resources division is in charge of investigating and resolving allegations.

The mayor is to be applauded for his unwavering commitment to equality for all. Nevertheless, this movement toward equality is also a painful reminder of all of the residents who do not fall under the protection of the executive order. Soon, we hope that the South Bend Common Council will have the opportunity to join with the mayor and amend the human rights ordinance to protect all South Bend residents from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

South Bend residents have experienced discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, according to the South Bend Human Rights Commission, whose purpose is to provide protection to those who have experienced discrimination in employment, housing, public accommodations and education. The HRO provides protection against discrimination based on race, religion, color, sex, disability, national origin and ancestry; there is currently no protection based on sexual orientation or gender identity. In other words, it is currently legal in South Bend to fire an employee, to refuse housing and to restrict access to public accommodations solely on the basis of one's actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. The HRC has encouraged the Common Council to remedy this problem.

If sexual orientation and gender identity are added to the HRO, individuals will be able to tell their stories to members of the HRC, who can investigate, determine if there is evidence of discrimination, mediate and try to resolve the issue.

Many other places in Indiana, such as Tippecanoe County and the cities of Bloomington, Fort Wayne, Indianapolis, Lafayette, Michigan City, Terre Haute, and West Lafayette, have enacted similar legislation. Since 2004, the state of Indiana has also provided protection against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity for all state employees.

When the Common Council considered amending the HRO in 2006, some council members expressed concerns about potential problems with enforceability. Now, several years later, we know that enforceability has not been a problem elsewhere in Indiana. For example, the Indianapolis City-County Council passed a similar HRO in 2005. Robert Ransom, of the Division of Equal Opportunity, reported that Indianapolis averages approximately three to five reports of such discrimination per year. All of these cases have been successfully resolved through mediation.

Some members of our community have repeatedly stated that they "lovingly oppose" providing protection for citizens who have experienced discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, calling this protection a "special right." But as Common Council member Ann Puzzello has stated, "We cannot lovingly oppose this right. It's discrimination and certainly has nothing to do with love." Puzzello is right. There is no room in our community for this kind of intolerance.

Some members of our community use religious language and religious arguments in their opposition to amending the HRO. These arguments represent a narrow part of the spectrum of religious views on the subject; many religious people find that their faith leads them to support this amendment. In respect for religious diversity, the proposed HRO amendment includes an exemption for religious organizations.

Following the mayor's executive order, all city employees, including Common Council members and their staff, now have a place to go should they experience discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Will members of the Common Council step forward to protect all South Bend residents? Refusing to amend the HRO is essentially perpetuating continued discrimination. Please, Common Council members, help us end discrimination in South Bend.

Chaunce Windle lives in South Bend. Judith Stanton and Mary Porter, both of South Bend, contributed to this Viewpoint.

Published in the South Bend Tribune july 18, 2009
BREAKING Walter Cronkite Dies
Greg Kandra, CBS News: "Walter Cronkite, who personified television journalism for more than a generation as anchor and managing editor of the 'CBS Evening News,' has died Friday night in New York. He was 92."

Friday, July 17, 2009

Truthout 7/17

William Rivers Pitt The Stimulus in Real Time
William Rivers Pitt, Truthout: "It has been a rough economic year for the city of Boston ... a funny thing started happening in Boston several weeks ago: The stimulus money kicked in."

Obama: Civil Rights Leaders Paved the Way
Philip Elliott, The Associated Press: "President Barack Obama on Thursday traced his historic rise to power to the vigor and valor of black civil rights leaders, telling the NAACP that the sacrifice of others 'began the journey that has led me here.' The nation's first black president bluntly warned, though, that racial barriers persist."

Bombs Rip Through Indonesia Hotels, Killing Eight
Telly Nathalia and Olivia Rondonuwu, Reuters: "Bomb blasts ripped through luxury hotels in the heart of Indonesia's capital on Friday, killing eight people and wounding dozens in attacks the president said badly hurt confidence in Southeast Asia's biggest economy."

US Helped Chinese Interrogate Uighurs at Guantanamo
Grace Chung, McClatchy Newspapers: "U.S. military personnel at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, actively helped Chinese interrogators question members of China's Uighur minority, including physically restraining them so they could be photographed against their will, according to testimony presented Thursday to a congressional subcommittee."

Feds: Domestic Violence Victims May Get Asylum
Paul Elias, The Associated Press: "The Department of Homeland Security has opened the door to the possibility that immigrants who have been victims of domestic violence could qualify for asylum."

Former Khmer Rough Prison Guard Recounts "Killing Field"
Patrick Falby, Agence France-Presse: "A man who worked as a guard at the main Khmer Rouge torture centre admitted at Cambodia's UN-backed war crimes trial Thursday that he executed a prisoner at a 'killing field.'"

Pascal de Lima and Francois Ladsous Obama Is Not Roosevelt!
Pascal de Lima and Francois Ladsous, writing for France's premier business paper, Les Echos: "The crisis, restructurings, and bankruptcies have not challenged American dominance of the global financial landscape. Although responsible for the present crisis, the United States remains for good and for sure the premier economy, the premier destination for investment capital, and, as a matter of course, the biggest market for financial products! And, once again, that puts American banks in a privileged situation for disseminating methods, practices and standards across the world and for influencing the management styles of international institutions. All so many reasons why the regulatory reform presented on June 17 by President Obama should be the object of so much interest."

FP morning brief 7/17

Top story:

Twin suicide bombers attacked the Ritz-Carlton and Marriot hotels in Jakarta this morning. At least nine people were killed, including the attackers, and 50 were injured. The attacks ended nearly four years of calm in the Indonesian capital and are a bad blow to the country's image coming shortly after presidential elections that were widely viewed as a sign of democratic progress and growing stability.

No group has yet claimed credit for the attack but attention is sure to focus on the militant group Jemaah Islamiyah, which was responsible for the 2002 Bali nightclub bombings which killed over 200 people. An Australian think tank report released just a day before the bombing warned that the risk of terrorist attack in Indonesia was increased by the relase of JI members from prison and tensions in the group's leadership.

President Susilo Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said it is too early to assume that JI is responsible, but vowed that "Those who carried out this attack and those who planned it will be arrested and tried according to the law."


The World Health Organization says it will stop counting individual cases of swine flu because there are now too many of them.

Middle East
Cleric and former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani criticized the Iranian leadership during Friday prayers, saying the results of last month's election are still in doubt. Police used tear gas to disperse protesters after the prayers.
Rioting by ultra-Orthodox Jews raged for a fourth day in Jerusalem.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad appointed a new head for the country's nuclear program. Any change in policy is considered unlikely.

Pakistan's supreme court overturned the nine-year-old hijacking charges against former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.
Mosques in Xinjiang reopened for Friday prayers under heavy security after being closed during last week's Uighur riots.
Efforts at a party meeting to unseat Japanese Taro Aso have failed. The PM will likely keep his job until next month's election

Mexico sent 5,500 additional troops into the drug violence-plagued Mihoacan state to restore order.
Honduras's ousted president and the current interim government have reached a number of compromises in their negotiations.
Colombia extradited a FARC "jailer" for prosecution in the United States.

Iceland's parliament voted to try to join the European Union.
Russia's first deputy prime minister says the country is hoping to join the World Trade Organization next year.
Supporters gather in Moscow to protest the murder of human rights activist Natalia Estimirova and call for a government investigation.

North and South Sudan agreed to avoid violence before next week's Hague ruling on a border dispute.
The two French hostages taken from their hotel in Mogadishu last week have reportedly been turned over to the al-Shabab militia.
Sudan accused Chad of launching air raids into Darfur.

It made our blood boil!

When we read the Wall Street Journal article this week in which the former CEO of GE, Jack Welch, states there's "no such thing as work-life balance," our blood really started boiling.

No such thing!? What we want to know is, "Why not already?"We're tired of people bemoaning that work-life balance isn't possible, while there are real-life solutions in the form of family-friendly policies at our disposal--policies which also up the corporate fiscal bottom line by helping to retain and advance women. Yes, it's true: Recent research underscores that having women in leadership is correlated with improving the fiscal bottom line for businesses.

Join us in asking the CEOs of the leading Fortune 500 companies to take action and put policies in place which enable women to advance to the top in their careers and also take care of their families. Click here now to sign the letter:

CEOs--and former CEOs who are business thought leaders--aren't innocent bystanders as we all struggle with work-life balance. They have the power to do something about it by making significant changes in the workplaces they oversee.Our economy now depends on the millions of women who work outside the home, and the vast majority of these women are mothers. In fact, women now make up almost half of the workforce and obtain more than 50% of college degrees2. With this information in mind, a big question comes forward: Why have so many workplaces failed to catch up to 21st Century realities when there are win-win solutions available? The answer: Too many employers don't understand the benefits of having family-friendly policies like flexible work options and paid family leave which can simultaneously increase productivity, as well as attract and retain high quality employees.

This isn't just rhetoric. Recent studies show that companies with women in leadership are actually doing better fiscally even in this tough economic environment. For example, a Pepperdine University study found that Fortune 500 companies with the best track records for having women in leadership roles fiscally outperformed industry medians as measured by revenue, asset growth, and equity. Other studies found that hedge funds with women in leadership did significantly better over time3.Don't forget to sign on to our open letter to the top CEOs of Fortune 500 companies. We're asking them to take the initiative to implement company policies which address the needs of the modern workforce, of which women - and mothers - can be key contributors to their fiscal success.

Sign the letter:

We need 10,000 signatures by NEXT Wednesday the 22nd so we can make sure the letter gets in the hands of these CEOs by National Parents' Day (July 26). We can't think of a better way to celebrate that day than by handing over a letter with so many thousands of signatures that it can't be ignored.

The more signatures, the more effective we'll be - so tell your friends, tell your family, tell your co-workers. Together we can make work-life balance better for every mom.


Kristin, Joan, Mary, Katie, Sarah and the rest of the MomsRising Team

The Joy of Sachs

New York Times

The American economy remains in dire straits, with one worker in six unemployed or underemployed. Yet Goldman Sachs just reported record quarterly profits — and it’s preparing to hand out huge bonuses, comparable to what it was paying before the crisis. What does this contrast tell us?

First, it tells us that Goldman is very good at what it does. Unfortunately, what it does is bad for America.

Second, it shows that Wall Street’s bad habits — above all, the system of compensation that helped cause the financial crisis — have not gone away.

Third, it shows that by rescuing the financial system without reforming it, Washington has done nothing to protect us from a new crisis, and, in fact, has made another crisis more likely.

Let’s start by talking about how Goldman makes money.

Over the past generation — ever since the banking deregulation of the Reagan years — the U.S. economy has been “financialized.” The business of moving money around, of slicing, dicing and repackaging financial claims, has soared in importance compared with the actual production of useful stuff. The sector officially labeled “securities, commodity contracts and investments” has grown especially fast, from only 0.3 percent of G.D.P. in the late 1970s to 1.7 percent of G.D.P. in 2007.

Such growth would be fine if financialization really delivered on its promises — if financial firms made money by directing capital to its most productive uses, by developing innovative ways to spread and reduce risk. But can anyone, at this point, make those claims with a straight face? Financial firms, we now know, directed vast quantities of capital into the construction of unsellable houses and empty shopping malls. They increased risk rather than reducing it, and concentrated risk rather than spreading it. In effect, the industry was selling dangerous patent medicine to gullible consumers.

Goldman’s role in the financialization of America was similar to that of other players, except for one thing: Goldman didn’t believe its own hype. Other banks invested heavily in the same toxic waste they were selling to the public at large. Goldman, famously, made a lot of money selling securities backed by subprime mortgages — then made a lot more money by selling mortgage-backed securities short, just before their value crashed. All of this was perfectly legal, but the net effect was that Goldman made profits by playing the rest of us for suckers.

And Wall Streeters have every incentive to keep playing that kind of game.

The huge bonuses Goldman will soon hand out show that financial-industry highfliers are still operating under a system of heads they win, tails other people lose. If you’re a banker, and you generate big short-term profits, you get lavishly rewarded — and you don’t have to give the money back if and when those profits turn out to have been a mirage. You have every reason, then, to steer investors into taking risks they don’t understand.

And the events of the past year have skewed those incentives even more, by putting taxpayers as well as investors on the hook if things go wrong.

I won’t try to parse the competing claims about how much direct benefit Goldman received from recent financial bailouts, especially the government’s assumption of A.I.G.’s liabilities. What’s clear is that Wall Street in general, Goldman very much included, benefited hugely from the government’s provision of a financial backstop — an assurance that it will rescue major financial players whenever things go wrong.

You can argue that such rescues are necessary if we’re to avoid a replay of the Great Depression. In fact, I agree. But the result is that the financial system’s liabilities are now backed by an implicit government guarantee.

Now the last time there was a comparable expansion of the financial safety net, the creation of federal deposit insurance in the 1930s, it was accompanied by much tighter regulation, to ensure that banks didn’t abuse their privileges. This time, new regulations are still in the drawing-board stage — and the finance lobby is already fighting against even the most basic protections for consumers.

If these lobbying efforts succeed, we’ll have set the stage for an even bigger financial disaster a few years down the road. The next crisis could look something like the savings-and-loan mess of the 1980s, in which deregulated banks gambled with, or in some cases stole, taxpayers’ money — except that it would involve the financial industry as a whole.

The bottom line is that Goldman’s blowout quarter is good news for Goldman and the people who work there. It’s good news for financial superstars in general, whose paychecks are rapidly climbing back to precrisis levels. But it’s bad news for almost everyone else.

No size fits all

New York Times

If you visit a four-year college, you can predict what sort of student you are going to bump into. If you visit a community college, you have no idea. You might see an immigrant kid hoping eventually to get a Ph.D., or another kid who messed up in high school and is looking for a second chance. You might meet a 35-year-old former meth addict trying to get some job training or a 50-year-old taking classes for fun.

These students may not realize it, but they’re tackling some of the country’s biggest problems. Over the past 35 years, college completion rates have been flat. Income growth has stagnated. America has squandered its human capital advantage. Students at these places are on self-directed missions to reverse that, one person at a time.

Community college enrollment has been increasing at more than three times the rate of four-year colleges. This year, in the middle of the recession, many schools are seeing enrollment surges of 10 percent to 15 percent. And the investment seems to pay off. According to one study, students who earn a certificate experience a 15 percent increase in earnings. Students earning an associate degree registered an 11 percent gain.

And yet funding lags. Most people in government, think tanks and the news media didn’t go to community college, and they don’t send their children to them. It’s a blind spot in their consciousness. As a result, four-year colleges receive three times as much federal money per student as community colleges. According to a Brookings Institution report, federal spending for community colleges fell six percent between 2002 and 2005, while spending on four-year colleges increased.

Which is why what President Obama announced this week is so important. He announced a $12 billion plan to produce 5 million more community college grads by 2020.

If the plan were just $12 billion for buildings and student aid, it wouldn’t be worth getting excited about. The money devoted to new construction amounts to about $2 million per campus. With new facilities costing in the tens of millions, that’s not a big deal.

Nor is increased student aid fundamentally important. I’ve had this discussion with my liberal friends a thousand times, and I have come to accept that they will never wrap their minds around the truth: lack of student aid is not the major reason students drop out of college. They drop out because they are academically unprepared or emotionally disengaged or because they lack self-discipline or because bad things are happening at home.

Affordability is way down the list. You can increase student aid a ton and you still won’t have a huge effect on college completion.

What’s important about the Obama initiative is that it doesn’t throw money at the problem. It ties money to reform and has the potential — the potential — to spur a wave of innovation.

People who work at community colleges deserve all the love we can give them, since they get so little prestige day to day. But the fact is many community colleges do a poor job of getting students through. About half drop out before getting a degree.

Most schools have poor accountability systems and inadequately track student outcomes. They have little information about what works. They have trouble engaging students on campus. Many remedial classes (60 percent of students need them) are a joke, often because expectations are too low.

The Obama initiative is designed to go right at these deeper problems. It sets up a significant innovation fund, which, if administered properly, could set in motion a spiral of change. It has specific provisions for remedial education, outcome tracking and online education. It links public sector training with specific private sector employers.

Real reform takes advantage of community colleges’ most elemental feature. These colleges educate students with wildly divergent interests, goals and abilities. They host students with radically different learning styles, many of whom have floundered in traditional classrooms.

Therefore, successful reform has to blow up the standard model. You can’t measure progress by how many hours a student spends with her butt in a classroom chair. You have to incorporate online tutoring, as the military does. You have to experiment with programs like Digital Bridge Academy that are tailored to individual learning styles. You have to track student outcomes, as the Lumina Foundation is doing. You have to build in accountability measures for teachers and administrators.

Maybe this proposal, too, will be captured by the interest groups. But its key architects, Rahm Emanuel in the White House and Representative George Miller, have created a program that is intelligently designed and boldly presented.

It’s a reminder that the Obama administration can produce hope and change — when the White House is the engine of policy creation and not the caboose.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Truthout 7/16

Foreclosures at Record High in First Half 2009 Despite Aid
Lynn Adler, Reuters: "U.S. home foreclosure activity galloped to a record in the first half of the year, overwhelming broad efforts to remedy failing loans while job losses escalated."

Robert Scheer "Government Sachs" Strikes Gold ... Again
Robert Scheer, Truthdig: "Connect the dots: Goldman Sachs made $3.44 billion in profit this past quarter, while the U.S deficit topped $1 trillion for the first time in the nation's history and appeared to be headed toward doubling that figure before the budget year is out. Since most of the increase in the federal deficit is due to bailing out the banks and salvaging the greater economy they helped destroy, why is the top investment bank doing so well?"

Democrats Add Long-Sought Hate Crimes Measure to Defense Bill
Halimah Abdullah, McClatchy Newspapers: "Just days after Arizona Sen. John McCain forged an unusual bipartisan alliance with the White House to cut $1.75 billion in increased spending for the F-22 jet fighter, congressional Democratic leaders on Wednesday added a hate-crimes measure to the must-pass bill."

Jeremy Scahill The Democrats' Selective Amnesia on Assassination: Clinton Did It and Obama Does It Too
Jeremy Scahill, Rebel Reports: "Members of Congress have expressed outrage over the 'secret' CIA assassination program that former vice president Dick Cheney allegedly ordered concealed from Congress. But this program - and the media descriptions of it - sounds a lot like the assassination policy implemented by President Bill Clinton, particularly during his second term in office."

Mike Elk Honoring Paul Wellstone's Legacy: Fighting Like Hell for Health Care Reform
Mike Elk, The Huffington Post: "Last week, Al Franken, a friend of Paul's who had been inspired to run for office by Paul's death, took back Paul's old seat from Republican Norm Coleman ... I thought about how Paul would be down on the floor of the Senate to talk about the 20,000 people that die every year due to a lack of health coverage, or to talk about how his access to quality health care as a United States senator allowed him to continue having a productive life despite his semi-debilitating multiple sclerosis."

Justice Agrees to Exclude Detainee's Confession
Nedra Pickler, The Associated Press: "The Justice Department agreed Wednesday not to use a Guantanamo Bay detainee's confession that he threw a grenade at U.S. soldiers to justify keeping him imprisoned, after his attorneys argued his statements were the result of torture."

FP morning brief 7/16

Top story:

Natalia Estemirova, a prominent campaigner with the Russian human rights group Memorial, became the latest in a string of activists and journalists murdered after investigating government abuses in the North Caucasus.
Estemirova was abducted by a group of men outside her home in the Chechen capital of Grozny. Her body was found several hours later in the neighboring Russian republic of Ingushetia.

In her work investigating human rights abuses in Chechnya, Estemirova had worked closely with journalist Anna Politkovskaya, who was herself murdered in 2006. She was the winner of the 2007 Anna Politkovskaya Award for human rights.

Memorial's chairman Oleg Orlov was quick to blame Chechnya's president for the murder, saying that Estemirova had previously received threats from him. "I know, I am sure of it, who is guilty for the murder of Natalia... His name is Ramzan Kadyrov," he wrote on the group's Website.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev expressed "outrage" at the killing and vowed a full investigation.

Under the radar:
In another possible flashpoint for ethnic tension in China, African immigrants demonstrated at a police station in Guangzhou after a street vendor was killed in a clash with police.

The prime ministers of India and Pakistan agreed on a new diplomatic framework at a meeting in Egypt.
China is planning to issue arrest warrants for the instigators of last week's unrest in Xinjiang.
U.S. energy secretary Steven Chu is in China to make the case for action on global warming.

Middle East
The head of Iran's nuclear organization has resigned.
Israel accused Syria and Iran of sending weapons in violation of a U.N. ceasefire agreement.
Iranian opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi will make his first public appearance this month at Friday prayers in Tehran tomorrow.

Iceland's parliament will vote today on whether to join the European Union.
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown's government backed former Prime Minister Tony Blair's bid for the EU presidency.
A group of former Eastern European leaders issued a public letter calling for Barack Obama to counter Russian encroachment in Eastern Europe.

In what was billed as a major foreign policy address, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said engagement with Iran was still a possibility.
Honduras's interim leader Roberto Micheletti said he would be willing to step down so long as former President Manuel Zelaya does not regain power.
Venezuelan government troops took over a police station controlled by an opponent of President Hugo Chavez.

The former governor of Kigali was sentenced to life in prison for his role in Rwanda's 1994 genocide.
Gabon's ruling party chose the son of former leader Omar Bongo as their presidential candidate.
The Republic of the Congo's president Denis Sassou-Nguesso was reelected with widespread reports of voting irregularities.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

A Fake Consultant Exclusive: Political Robots Fail In Operational Service

It has been quite some time, Gentle Reader, since we addressed the issue of political robot design, but recent events have forced us to return to the subject once again.

As you undoubtedly are aware, three high profile ‘bots from Robotican™ Labs have recently experienced major failures.

It was originally thought that the problems were isolated to the Robotican™.1 Congressional Series of Devices...but it is now known that the failures also extend to the.2 Gubernatorial Series as well.

In today’s story we will examine what is known about these failures, how they may impact other devices in Political Service, and what solutions might be available to address these issues.

First, a bit of background: In 2007 we examined the state of the robotic art in considerable detail, and there is some information from that analysis which should be brought to the table today:

In putting today’s “non-optimal behavior modalities” into a proper context, it’s important to remember that Robotican™ Labs devices are not designed for fully autonomous operation—instead, they depend on central management of operating parameters and onboard software updates that are “pushed” out to the devices on a daily basis.

The reason for this design choice is to enable all Robotican™ devices to create a more consistent “ideological display” output: in other words, to allow the .1 Congressional Series, the .2 Gubernatorial Series, the .3 Presidential Series, the Murdoch Series of Media Robots (and the Murdoch’s derivative, the Atwater SpokesBot Series) to all deliver the same messages simultaneously, and to provide the ability to immediately revise that ideological output should operators determine the need for such change exists.

This can have its disadvantages, and there are many who have noted a “parroting” effect over the years; a problem now rendered more acute with the expanded use of YouTube as a campaign analysis tool by both opposition and independent researchers.

(Systems fielded by the Democrobot Device Program are far more autonomous, which reduces the “parroting” effect. Of course, this also makes it much more difficult to get the ‘bots to operate in unison; an effect that has been noted frequently by observers since at least 1968.)

The failure that is the easiest to explain, I’m told, is the recent breakdown of Robotican™ Lab’s Revo-Ensign v1994.1. The Revo-Ensign ‘bot is one of the many Revolution®-Class v199x.1 Devices that were introduced into service during the 1994, ’96, and ‘98 election cycles. Several of those devices have failed in spectacular manner, most notably the Revo-Vitter v1998.1, the Revo-Greene-Waldholtz v1994.1, and the Revo-Foley v1994.1.

Since the 1994 electoral cycle all Robotican™ Devices (including Murdoch Series Media Robots) have come with the Moral Majority snap-in pre-installed as an Operating System enhancement.

The problem seems to be an incompatibility issue between this snap-in and the Human.exe program’s RealityEmulatorProcess, which is one of the core processes that is allowed direct access to the Operating System Kernel.

In order to avoid “Uncanny Valley” problems, Robotican™ software engineers of the 1980s programmed for a certain number of “moral failures” in the robot fleet, but they could not anticipate the data errors that would result when Human.exe, the snap-in, and the OS Kernel interacted.

The most obvious sign of non-optimal behavior was seen in the Media.exe program. When the program is initialized it calls the MediaModulatorProcess (the second of three core processes that can access the OS Kernel). Software engineers now know that in failure mode the output from that Process can become severely garbled.

In some instances so many “unrecoverable errors” occurred that over the years since the snap-in was introduced several Revolution©-Class Devices have required “unscheduled withdrawal” from Political Service.

The repair appears to be fairly simple, and Robotican™ software engineers have, on several occasions, asked for permission to remove or modify the Moral Majority snap-in, but in every instance the requests have been denied by Corporate Management.

(It is not known if Fundraising.exe is impacted by the presence of the snap-in. The third “core” process, AcceptDonationsProcess, is called by the program, but considerable research conducted in the runup to the 2000 campaign cycle suggested the Process remains unaffected, even when the Operating System is in failure mode. More recent research, however, contradicts those conclusions.)

Now here’s where the story turns weird.

During 1998 and 1999 Robotican™ design teams were preparing to field test the Operating System Release Candidate for the Compassionate©-Class Devices that would be introduced into Political Service for the 2000 cycle and beyond.

Instead of removing the Moral Majority snap-in from the new OS, Corporate Management ordered engineers to create a new program, Faith.exe, as its replacement; the theory being that a closer association between Faith Factors and the OS Kernel would yield a more robust design that would be less likely to fail. Associated with the program are two new core processes, MoralObjectionProcess and JustifyActionProcess.

At the same time, a Revolution©-Class ‘bot was transferred from .1 Congressional Service to .2 Gubernatorial Service: the Revo-Sanford v1994.1. Normally, this would involve the installation of new OS components...but in this case, the Robotican™ design team was ordered to implement a retrofit of the Revo-Sanford to a Compassionate©-Class Device.

The result was the Compasi_Sanford v2000.2...and the problems began almost immediately...and strangely enough, on several occasions animals seem to be associated with the bizarre behaviors noted by engineers and technicians working on the project.

Examples? At one point in 2004 the Device was confusing pigs with humans, and in 2005 the Compasi_Sanford held a news conference to announce his intention to appoint a horse as his Legislative Liaison.

This was hardly a unique situation: an effort to retrofit a Revolution©-Class Device from .2 Gubernatorial Service to a Compassionate©-Class .3 Presidential Service Device resulted in the release of the GWBmatic 3000 v2000.3 and its own upgrade, the v2004.3—Devices that many say set the “gold standard” for political robot failure.

(There are some who would say the gold standard was not set by the GWBmatic 3000, however, pointing to the Evangi-Haggard v.1984.SB, which imploded in a most spectacular manner in 2006.)

Experts will tell you that you will encounter more problems with any retrofit project than you will in a “new build” project; the Robotican™ engineers I have been in consultation with are suggesting that the same effect is in play here.

It should be noted, however, that others feel the Faith.exe program and its MoralObjectionProcess and JustifyActionProcess are the real source of the problem, and that any effort to apply software of this type to ‘bots working in Political Service will inevitably result in disaster.

The third Device we will we discuss today is not part of a Series of Robotican™ Labs ‘bots, but is instead a “one-off” experimental design: the SarahCuda v2006.Xa.

For more or less a decade Corporate Management had been pressing design engineers to develop a system that could effectively function in a “consistent ideological output” environment while avoiding the “parroting” problem...and for those in the Robotican™ “Skunk Works” engineering group, this task now had the highest priority.

One possible solution, designers thought, would be to create disassociation between the SaraCuda and the Compassionate© Series of ‘bots.

With very little in the way of time or resources, Skunk Works engineers decided to attempt deployment of the still unproven “Maverick II” software suite, and by 2006 the Device was being field-tested in the remote and friendly environment of Alaska.

The software suite does have its limitations, however: because of the lack of resources available, there was no effort to develop a fully-functional QueryResponseProcess. Instead, the designers installed “call and response” and “predictive algorithm” technologies that were based on “sampling” responses into the Device’s onboard data storage facility for recall later.

Although the Device was experiencing anomalies during its experimental phase of Alaska Gubernatorial Service, Corporate Management was so desperate in the runup to the 2008 election that they rushed the SaraCuda into full operation, despite the concerns of test engineers.

“No Device can successfully function in a hostile media environment running call and response software, and they knew it when they sent her out there, and they did it anyway. I couldn’t believe they would be so willing to accept the risk, even after we warned them what might happen...”

--Harry Paratestes, Robotican™ design engineer

Although initial results were encouraging, it soon became clear that the limitations of the software were going to lead to the very disaster predicted by the design and test team. After the 2008 election, there was hope that the Device could be repaired and returned to Gubernatorial Service, but a cascading series of failures within the Operating System and the MediaModulatorProcess have now caused Corporate Management to initiate an “unscheduled withdrawal” of the Device from Service.

As of today it appears that the Device has been returned to Experimental Service, and it also appears that the call and response software is still running, suggesting that extensive development effort lies ahead before a successful redeployment can occur—or that the Device may be converted into a Murdoch Series Media Robot.

It’s time to bring this story home, so let’s see where we’ve been:

Robotican™ engineers are dealing with three different failures in three different types of ‘bots—and in two of those failures, there are crippling incompatibilities that appear to be beyond the ability of the engineering team to resolve. Corporate Management appears to be unwilling to acknowledge that an incompatibility exists...and unwilling to allow removal of the software that is at the heart of the failures.

In the third case, desperation compounded by lack of time and resources led to the massive failure of the still-experimental SaraCuda, and it now appears that an effort may be underway to “repurpose” the Device for Media Service.

Will the current Robotican™ fleet of Compassionate©- and Revolution©-Class Devices be capable of leading the charge back to victory, or will Corporate Management be forced to place a new generation of ‘bots into operation?

Can a Robotican™ Operating System be fielded that does not require the Faith.exe program or its derivatives?

And finally, has the reliance on a consistent ideological output—and the resultant “parroting” effect—become more of a detriment than an advantage in the effort to garner votes at election time?

These are the questions for the future...and the next time we address this subject, maybe we’ll have more answers.

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 today is the last day of voting...and while I’m not normally 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).

Truthout 7/15

Seymour Hersh: The Man Who Knew Cheney's Secret
Benjamin Sarlin, The Daily Beast: "The New Yorker's Seymour Hersh was mocked in March when he referred to Dick Cheney's secret squad of CIA assassins. Now, he talks to The Daily Beast about the next shoe to drop."

All 168 on Board Killed in Iran Plane Crash
Zahra Hosseinian, Reuters: "A Tupolev passenger aircraft crashed in northwestern Iran on Wednesday on its way to neighboring Armenia and all 168 people on board were killed, Iranian media reported. 'On board the plane there were 151 adults, 2 children and 15 crew members,' said Caspian Airline's representative in Yerevan Arlen Davudyan told Reuters at Yerevan Airport."

Bernard Chazelle Whither the American Left?
Writing for Rue89, Princeton Professor Bernard Chazelle notes that the rightward evolution of the US over the 30 years from Reagan's victory in 1980 was so resistant to party change that the US "would finish the century with a Democratic president, Bill Clinton, anchored firmly to the right of Republican Richard Nixon."

Iraqis Have Told US Military No Patrols Permitted in Baghdad
Mike Tharp, McClatchy Newspapers: "Two weeks after U.S. combat troops withdrew from Iraq's major cities, amid sporadic outbreaks of violence countrywide, Iraqi authorities aren't asking American forces for help. Although U.S. troops are 'just a radio call away,' in Baghdad and five other major urban areas, it appears the Iraqis haven't asked even once."

Iranian Consumers Boycott Nokia for "Collaboration"
Saeed Kamali Dehghan, The Guardian UK: "The mobile phone company Nokia is being hit by a growing economic boycott in Iran as consumers sympathetic to the post-election protest movement begin targeting a string of companies deemed to be collaborating with the regime. Wholesale vendors in the capital report that demand for Nokia handsets has fallen by as much as half in the wake of calls to boycott Nokia Siemens Networks (NSN) for selling communications monitoring systems to Iran."

Robert Reich Goldman's Back, and Why We Should Be Worried
Robert Reich, Robert Reich's Blog: "Should we breath a sigh of relief that Goldman Sachs has posted record earnings as revenue from trading and stock underwriting reached all-time highs (second quarter net income was $3.44 billion) -- less than a year after the firm took $10 billion directly from taxpayers and $13 billion indirectly through AIG? In some ways, yes.... But in another respect, Goldman's resurgence should send shivers down the backs of every hardworking American who has lost a large chunk of retirement savings in this economic debacle, as well as the millions who have lost their jobs."

US Gun Debate Fires Up as States Allow Weapons in Bars
Ed Pilkington, The Guardian UK: "Up to 375,000 registered gun owners in Arizona and Tennessee were today given the right to carry concealed guns into bars and restaurants that serve alcohol, in the latest example of loosening gun laws in a country already renowned for its lax approach to firearms."

FP morning post 7/15

Top story:

After two months of nearly nonstop attacks that have cut the country's oil output by 300,000 barrels per day, Nigeria's MEND rebels have declared a ceasefire and say they seek negotiations with the government. Lagos had offered a truce three weeks ago.

The six-month ceasefire comes in response to the freeing of rebel leader Samuel Okah on Monday, though just before his release, MEND attacked the main oil depot serving Lagos.

In an interview with the BBC, Okah described the attack as a welcome president and said that MEND is "repared to dialogue with government, and prepared to arrive at an amicable, mutually acceptable resolution of the problem."
The rebels are demanding the withdrawal of government troops from the Niger Delta and a more equitable distribution of oil profits.

The government response was skeptical. "It's a welcome development, but we are continuing to do our normal assignment of maintaining law and order," a spokesman for Nigeria's military told CNN.
World oil prices were unaffected by the development.


China's foreign reserves passed $2 trillion for the first time.

Middle East
A new report by former Israeli soldiers says the army used reckless force in its incursion into Gaza last year.
The Palestinian government has suspended broadcasts of Al Jazeera in the West Bank after what it says was unbalanced reporting on President Mahmoud Abbas.
U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner is in the United Arab Emirates working to promote financial ties with the gulf states.

Polls show Japan's ruling Liberal Democratic Party likely heading for nearly its first defeat in half a century.
In a new audio message, Al Qaeda second in command Ayman al-Zawahri accused the U.S. of meddling in Pakistan's affairs.
The foreign ministers of Pakistan and India are meeting on the sidelines of a summit in Cairo to discuss antiterrorism measures.

Former Polish Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek was elected as the first president of the European parliament from Eastern Europe.
Four security personnel were killed in a militant attack in Chechnya.
President Nicolas Sarkozy used France's Bastille Day festivities to call for military modernization.

The twelve bodies found alongside a road in Mexico's Mihoacan state turn out to be Federal Police officers.
Obama administration officials wrapped up their first talks with Cuba's government on Tuesday, describing them as productive.
Talks on Honduras's political crisis will resume on Saturday.

In his testimony at his war crimes trial yesterday, former Liberian President Charles Taylor denounced the charges against him as "lies."
World pirate attacks doubled in the first half of this year, driven by a surge of pirate activity off the Somali coast.
Workers on South Africa's World Cup stadiums will end a week-long strike.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The way we live now

New York Times

The senators at the Sonia Sotomayor confirmation hearings on Monday told the story that public officials are expected to tell on these occasions. It is the civil rights story — about a young minority woman from humble circumstances who overcomes obstacles, fights discrimination and achieves the American dream. It’s a true and inspiring story that people like telling and hearing.

And yet the profiles of Judge Sotomayor’s life tell a different and more complicated story. It’s the upward mobility story — about a person who worked hard and contributes profoundly to society, but who also sacrificed things along the way.

As you read the profiles, you can almost draw a map of her relationships during each stage in her life. In some areas, her relationships are thick and fulfilling, but in others, there are blank spaces.

Her father died when she was 9, leaving one such gap. (It is amazing how many people who suffer parental loss between the ages of 9 and 13 go on to become astounding high achievers.)

But as a child, Sotomayor clearly benefited from an extended family that drove her to succeed. After her father’s death, her paternal aunts and grandmother convened an emergency meeting with her mother. They had noticed that Sotomayor was devoted to Archie, Casper and Richie Rich comic books, and they were afraid these comics were distracting her from her studies.

When she arrived at Princeton, Sotomayor once said, she felt like a “visitor landing in an alien country.” As a young woman, she earned a reputation as a fanatically driven worker, who lived on caffeine and cigarettes.

Yet she also had an amazing ability to attract and impress mentors. Her ascent wasn’t a maverick charge against the establishment. Instead, at each phase her talents were noticed by a well-placed member of that establishment — a famous law professor, a revered D.A., a partner at an elite firm. She was elevated and guided. “She seemed to fit in with everybody,” a law school classmate remembered to the Yale Daily News.

As an adult, the profiles describe her as upbeat and social, leading walks to Brooklyn, hosting poker parties, serving as godmother to many children. Yet over the years, she has been remarkably honest about the costs of her workaholism.

Her marriage broke up after two years. She was quoted as saying, “I cannot attribute that divorce to work, but certainly the fact that I was leaving my home at 7 and getting back at 10 o’clock was not of assistance in recognizing the problems developing in my marriage.”

Later, during a swearing-in ceremony in 1998, she referred to her then-fiancé, “The professional success I had achieved before Peter did nothing to bring me genuine personal happiness.” She addressed him, saying that he had filled “voids of emptiness that existed before you. ... You have altered my life so profoundly that many of my closest friends forget just how emotionally withdrawn I was before I met you.”

That relationship ended after eight years, and her biographers paint a picture of a life now that is frantically busy, fulfilling and often aloof. “You make play dates with her months and months in advance because of her schedule,” a friend of hers told The Times.

This isn’t the old story of a career woman trying to balance work and family. This is the story of pressures that affect men as well as women (men are just more likely to make fools of themselves in response, as the news of the last few years indicates). It’s the story of people in a meritocracy that gets more purified and competitive by the year, with the time demands growing more and more insistent.

These profiles give an authentic glimpse of a style of life that hasn’t yet been captured by a novel or a movie — the subtle blend of high-achiever successes, trade-offs and deep commitments to others. In the profiles, you see the intoxicating lure of work, which provides an organizing purpose and identity. You see the web of mentor-mentee relationships — the courtship between the young and the middle-aged, and then the tensions as the mentees break off on their own. You see the strains of a multicultural establishment, in which people try to preserve their ethnic heritage as they ascend into the ranks of the elite. You see the way people not only choose a profession, it chooses them. It changes them in a way they probably didn’t anticipate at first.

My impression is that judges feel the strain between their social roles and their social lives more acutely than anybody. They are often outgoing people who, because of their jobs, cannot freely socialize with lawyers and others who share their deepest interests. But Sotomayor’s life also overlaps with a broader class of high achievers. You don’t succeed at that level without developing a single-minded focus, and struggling against its consequences.

Truthout 7/14

Dahr Jamail Afghanistan War Resister to "Put the War on Trial"
Dahr Jamail, Truthout: "US Army Specialist Victor Agosto served a 13-month deployment in Iraq with the 57th Expeditionary Signal Battalion ... His experience in Iraq, coupled with educating himself about US foreign policy and international law, has led Agosto to refuse to deploy to Afghanistan. 'It's a matter of what I'm willing to live with,' he said of his recent decision, 'I'm not willing to participate in this occupation, knowing it is completely wrong.'"

Calls Grow for Probe of CIA Plan for al-Qaeda Hits
Pamela Hess, The Associated Press: "Congressional demands for an investigation grew on Monday over new disclosures that a secret CIA program to capture or kill al-Qaida leaders was concealed from Congress for eight years, perhaps at the behest of former Vice President Dick Cheney."

Robert Reich The Health Care Clock, and Why Obama Has to Act Quickly
Robert Reich, Robert Reich's Blog: "Universal health insurance won't happen unless Obama can light a fire under the Senate Finance Committee this week."

To Many Iraqis, US Troops Have Not Faded Away
Quil Lawrence, NPR News: "Nearly two weeks after U.S. combat troops officially pulled out of Iraq's cities, the government in Baghdad is hailing the withdrawal as a sign that it is holding the U.S. to an agreement stipulating that all American troops leave Iraq by 2012."

Union Leaders: Obama Still Firm on Organizing Bill
Sam Hananel, The Associated Press: "President Barack Obama told labor leaders Monday he remains committed to passage of legislation making it easier to form unions, but he did not offer any timeline."

Zelaya Gives Micheletti Deadline to Step Down as Honduras Leader
Tim Rogers and Jim Wyss, The Miami Herald: "Managua - Ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya gave his rival, Roberto Micheletti, one week to step down, saying he was prepared to risk bloodshed to recapture the presidency, which he lost on June 28."

Maurice Ulrich Equality and Freedom
Maurice Ulrich, L'Humanite: "Two hundred and twenty years after the taking of the Bastille, new Bastilles offer a challenge to reason. Hundreds of millions of men, women and children live on less than a Euro a day, but that's not all. Access to water, massive air pollution, access to health care, to education, the situation of women, children and minorities are so many abysmal and often criminal inequalities in a world that people say has become a village."

FP morning report 7/14

Top Story:

China continues to face criticism from abroad and at home as tensions remain high in Xinjiang. Beijing reacted angrily to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's suggestion that it was practicing genocide against the Muslim Uighur ethnic group in Xinjiang. An editorial in China Daily accused the Turkish president of twisting the facts and demanded that he retract his statement and China's foreign minister called to formally complain.

Al Qaeda's Algerian affiliate also vowed to attack Chinese interests in the country in retaliation for the crackdown. Today on, Editor in Chief Moisés Naím wonders why outrage over the treatment of the Uighurs is not more widespread in the Islamic world.

A small but growing number of Chinese are criticizing the government's actions as well. A number of writers and democracy activists have signed a public petition calling for the release of Ilham Tohti, a prominent Uighur economist who vanished after violence broke out last week.

Security forces are on high alert in the Xinjiang capital Urumqi after police shot and killed two Uighur "lawbreakers" yesterday.

Coming up:

Former president and pro-opposition cleric Akbar Hashem Rafsanjani will lead Friday prayers in Tehran this week. Opposition leader Mir Hoseein Mousavi is expected to attend.

Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso narrowly survived a no-confidence vote in parliament.
Pakistan lifted restrictions on the return of refugees to the Swat valley.
China has widened its investigation of corruption in the steel industry beyond Rio Tinto.

Middle East
Iran executed 13 members of a Sunni rebel group.
Thanks to years or reckless agricultural policies in Iraq, Turkey, and Syria, the Euphrates River is drying up.
The United Kingdom has revoked five weapons contracts with the Israeli Navy because of actions during last year's war in Gaza.

Former Liberian leader Charles Taylor took the stand in his trial at the Hague to deny the war crimes charges against him.
Somali gunmen abducted two French security consultants from their hotel.
President Omar al-Bashir of Sudan held talks with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on resolving the situation Darfur.

Europe and Caucasus
A U.S. destroyer docked off the coast of Georgia in a show of support, one day after Russian President Dmitry Medvedev visited the breakaway region of Sout Ossetia.
Britain is planning to send an additional 140 troops to Afghanistan.
Alleged former concentration camp guard John Demjanjuk was charged as an accessory to 27,900 murders in Germany.

Ousted Honduran president Manuel Zelaya says if he is not restored to power, he may resort to "other means."
The embezzlement trial of former Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori has begun.
Mexico and the United States agreed on a new protocol to share information about weapons trafficking.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Truthout 7/13

William Rivers Pitt Now Can We Investigate?
William Rivers Pitt, Truthout: "President Obama is in the process of losing what may be the most important argument of his young administration. The argument is not about health care, bank bailouts, the economy, Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan, the environment or the auto industry, though arguments on these issues are indeed ongoing and hanging in the balance. No, the Obama administration is losing the argument about the past being less important than the future."

Obama Orders Probe of Alleged Mass Grave
The Associated Press: "President Barack Obama has ordered his national security team to investigate reports that U.S. allies were responsible for the deaths of as many as 2,000 Taliban prisoners of war during the opening days of the war in Afghanistan. Obama told CNN in an interview that aired Sunday that he doesn't know how the U.S.-allied Northern Alliance behaved in November 2001, but he wants a full accounting before deciding how to move forward."
Clifton Ross and Marcy Rein Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Good Neighbor
Clifton Ross and Marcy Rein, Truthout: "If we assume that the Obama administration is following all previous recent administrations' policy of genocide, brute force, terror, authoritarian rule, and other forms of inhumane repression, we ignore the evidence that we are in a new, more complex and, indeed, more dangerous moment for the Bolivarian project of Latin American unity. To understand our moment, we need to look back three-fourths of a century to Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his 'Good Neighbor' policy."

Report: Kim Jong Il Has Pancreatic Cancer
The Associated Press: "North Korean leader Kim Jong Il has life-threatening pancreatic cancer, a news report said Monday, days after fresh images of him looking gaunt spurred speculation that his health was worsening following a reported stroke last year."

New Evidence Surfaces in Post-Katrina Crimes
A.C. Thompson, ProPublica: "Television news reports are casting new light on the violence that flourished in New Orleans in the anarchic days after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The reports - broadcast Thursday by WTAE TV in Pittsburgh and WDSU in New Orleans - focus on two unsolved crimes: the near-fatal shooting of Donnell Herrington, who was allegedly attacked by a group of white vigilantes in the Algiers Point neighborhood, and the murder of Henry Glover, whose charred remains were discovered on a Mississippi River levee. Both victims are African American."

American Children in Poverty on the Rise
Annie Gowen, The Washington Post: "A growing number of American children are living in poverty and with unemployed parents, and are facing the threat of hunger, according to a new federal report released yesterday. According to 'America's Children: Key National Indicators of Well-Being,' 18 percent of all children 17 and under were living in poverty in 2007 - up from 17 percent in 2006."

Boxer Faces "Challenge of a Lifetime" on Climate Change Bill
Rob Hotakainen, McClatchy Newspapers: "If the Senate doesn't pass a bill to cut global warming, Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer says, there will be dire results: droughts, floods, fires, loss of species, damage to agriculture, worsening air pollution and more. She says there's a huge upside, however, if the Senate does act: millions of clean-energy jobs, reduced reliance on foreign oil and less pollution for the nation's children."

Steve Weissman Obama's Nuclear Gambit
Steve Weissman, Truthout: "Former UN Ambassador John Bolton, the mustachioed neocon, sometimes gets it half right. President Barack Obama is, in fact, reducing America's nuclear advantage over Russia, just as Bolton argues. But the hell-for-leather Bolton fails completely to understand what Obama is doing and why, as do many Obama supporters. 'Americans may have voted for a lower profile in Iraq, but they did not vote for a weaker United States globally,' Bolton wrote right before Obama's trip to Moscow."

Iraq's Weakened Unions Fight Foreign Oil Firms
Aref Mohammed, Reuters: "Unions are lobbying against Iraq's new oil contract with BP and China's CNPC, but the weakened labor movement may have a hard time thwarting deals desperately needed to revive a struggling oil sector."

Sotomayor Hearings Begin With Debate Over Judges' Role
Warren Richey, The Christian Science Monitor: "Sharp battle lines were quickly drawn between Democrats and Republicans on the first day of Senate confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor. Even before Judge Sotomayor delivered her own introductory remarks Monday, senators on both the right and the left sought to frame the historic hearings as part of a broader debate over the proper role of American judges."

J. Sri Raman A Question of Corporate Liability for Hillary Clinton
J. Sri Raman, Truthout: "New Delhi is under pressure to get its nuclear act together in time for US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's scheduled visit to India on July 20-21. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's government is proceeding posthaste to meet the deadline on two tasks: getting nuclear liability legislation ready and deciding on the sites for two US nuclear reactors."

Only Forceful Action Can Turn Foreclosure Crisis Tide
Mary Kane, The Washington Independent: "The time may be ripe for a shift in strategy as the foreclosure machine grinds on, and new foreclosure notices reach the troubling milestone of 10,000 per day. A weak economy has added job losses and falling home values to the mix of toxic loans that prompted the crisis two years ago, making an already difficult situation even more severe. Government measures from foreclosure freezes to loan modifications have only served, so far, to stall the inevitable - and to create an ominous backlog of millions of pending foreclosures."

Obama Chooses Alabama Doctor as Next Surgeon General
Lauran Neergaard, The Associated Press: "President Barack Obama turned to the Deep South for the next surgeon general, a rural Alabama family physician who made headlines with fierce determination to rebuild her nonprofit medical clinic in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. An administration official said Obama will announce the nomination of Dr. Regina Benjamin later Monday. The official spoke on condition of anonymity so as not to upstage the official announcement."

Robert Naiman US Press Falsely Claims Honduran Plurality for Coup
Robert Naiman, Truthout: "Did a CID-Gallup poll last week indicate that a plurality of Hondurans support the military coup against democratically elected President Zelaya? Yes, according to The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, The Christian Science Monitor, and Reuters, which all reported that the poll showed 41 percent in favor of the coup, with only 28 percent opposed."

FP morning breif 7/13

Top story:

Kim Jong Il, the leader of North Korea, allegedly has a fatal form of cancer. A South Korean cable news channel, citing unnamed Chinese and South Korean intelligence sources, reported that that doctors diagnosed Kim with pancreatic cancer when he had a stroke last August. The highly secretive leader of the nuclear state appeared frail and sickly on state television in April, raising questions about his health. In June, Kim apparently tapped his son, 26-year-old Kim Jong Un, as his successor.

Prime numbers:

Goldman Sachs, which recently repaid a U.S. government bailout loan, earned $2 billion between March and June.

Iranian officials said an employee of the British embassy in Tehran will be tried for fomenting mass protests and spying.
Swiss and U.S. officials continue negotiations over whether banking giant U.B.S. will release privileged data on 52,000 accounts for a tax-evasion case.
A group of Spanish nobles are planning to challenge a new law allowing women equal claim to hereditary titles.

Japan's ruling Liberal Democratic Party, headed by Prime Minister Taro Aso, lost its majority in the Tokyo local assembly. Aso called a general election for August 30.
Maoist rebels ambushed and killed at least two dozen police officers in India's restive Chattisgarh province.
In and around Pakistan's Swat Valley, officials cleared roads to allow persons displaced by the conflict with the Taliban to return home.

Middle East
In Iraq's Dhi Qar province, an explosive detonated in an attack on U.S. Ambassador Christopher Hill; there were no injuries in the moving convoy.
At the same time, a series of bomb attacks in Baghdad targeted churches; at least four died.
Today, the European Union and Turkey plan to sign agreements on the Nabucco gas pipeline, which will deliver gas from the Middle East to Europe. Turkey said Europe may also buy Iranian gas, despite U.S. objections.

An eight-year old Central Intelligence Agency spy program may have been kept secret from Congress on the orders of former U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney, CIA Director Leon Panetta said.
U.S. President Barack Obama has ordered a national security review into whether U.S. forces knew a coalition-backed Afghan warlord murdered hundreds of Taliban fighters in custody in 2001.
Colombian President Alvaro Uribe paid out nearly $1 million in reparations to victims of paramilitary violence.

Amid fierce fighting, Islamic separatists approached Somalia's presidential palace in Mogadishu on Sunday. African Union peacekeepers intervened.
Today, Nigeria may release a top rebel, currently held on charges of treason; some commentators fear it may stoke sectarian violence. This weekend, Nigerian militants attacked a Lagos jetty where oil rigs dock.
Obama completed a widely praised trip to Accra, Ghana, where he cautioned African governments over corruption.

Boiling the frog

New York Times

Is America on its way to becoming a boiled frog?

I’m referring, of course, to the proverbial frog that, placed in a pot of cold water that is gradually heated, never realizes the danger it’s in and is boiled alive. Real frogs will, in fact, jump out of the pot — but never mind. The hypothetical boiled frog is a useful metaphor for a very real problem: the difficulty of responding to disasters that creep up on you a bit at a time.

And creeping disasters are what we mostly face these days.

I started thinking about boiled frogs recently as I watched the depressing state of debate over both economic and environmental policy. These are both areas in which there is a substantial lag before policy actions have their full effect — a year or more in the case of the economy, decades in the case of the planet — yet in which it’s very hard to get people to do what it takes to head off a catastrophe foretold.

And right now, both the economic and the environmental frogs are sitting still while the water gets hotter.

Start with economics: last winter the economy was in acute crisis, with a replay of the Great Depression seeming all too possible. And there was a fairly strong policy response in the form of the Obama stimulus plan, even if that plan wasn’t as strong as some of us thought it should have been.

At this point, however, the acute crisis has given way to a much more insidious threat. Most economic forecasters now expect gross domestic product to start growing soon, if it hasn’t already. But all the signs point to a “jobless recovery”: on average, forecasters surveyed by The Wall Street Journal believe that the unemployment rate will keep rising into next year, and that it will be as high at the end of 2010 as it is now.

Now, it’s bad enough to be jobless for a few weeks; it’s much worse being unemployed for months or years. Yet that’s exactly what will happen to millions of Americans if the average forecast is right — which means that many of the unemployed will lose their savings, their homes and more.

To head off this outcome — and remember, this isn’t what economic Cassandras are saying; it’s the forecasting consensus — we’d need to get another round of fiscal stimulus under way very soon. But neither Congress nor, alas, the Obama administration is showing any inclination to act. Now that the free fall is over, all sense of urgency seems to have vanished.

This will probably change once the reality of the jobless recovery becomes all too apparent. But by then it will be too late to avoid a slow-motion human and social disaster.

Still, the boiled-frog problem on the economy is nothing compared with the problem of getting action on climate change.

Put it this way: if the consensus of the economic experts is grim, the consensus of the climate experts is utterly terrifying. At this point, the central forecast of leading climate models — not the worst-case scenario but the most likely outcome — is utter catastrophe, a rise in temperatures that will totally disrupt life as we know it, if we continue along our present path. How to head off that catastrophe should be the dominant policy issue of our time.

But it isn’t, because climate change is a creeping threat rather than an attention-grabbing crisis. The full dimensions of the catastrophe won’t be apparent for decades, perhaps generations. In fact, it will probably be many years before the upward trend in temperatures is so obvious to casual observers that it silences the skeptics. Unfortunately, if we wait to act until the climate crisis is that obvious, catastrophe will already have become inevitable.

And while a major environmental bill has passed the House, which was an amazing and inspiring political achievement, the bill fell well short of what the planet really needs — and despite this faces steep odds in the Senate.

What makes the apparent paralysis of policy especially alarming is that so little is happening when the political situation seems, on the surface, to be so favorable to action.

After all, supply-siders and climate-change-deniers no longer control the White House and key Congressional committees. Democrats have a popular president to lead them, a large majority in the House of Representatives and 60 votes in the Senate. And this isn’t the old Democratic majority, which was an awkward coalition between Northern liberals and Southern conservatives; this is, by historical standards, a relatively solid progressive bloc.

And let’s be clear: both the president and the party’s Congressional leadership understand the economic and environmental issues perfectly well. So if we can’t get action to head off disaster now, what would it take?

I don’t know the answer. And that’s why I keep thinking about boiling frogs.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Truthout 7/12

Bill Moyers and Michael Winship Some Choice Words for "The Select Few"
Bill Moyers and Michael Winship, Truthout: "If you want to know what really matters in Washington, don't go to Capitol Hill for one of those hearings, or pay attention to those staged White House 'town meetings.' They're just for show. What really happens - the serious business of Washington - happens in the shadows, out of sight, off the record. Only occasionally - and usually only because someone high up stumbles - do we get a glimpse of just how pervasive the corruption has become."

Holder "Leaning Toward Appointing a Prosecutor" to Investigate Bush Torture Policy
Daniel Klaidman, Newsweek: "Obama doesn't want to look back, but Attorney General Eric Holder may probe Bush-era torture anyway."

Cindy Sheehan Takes On the Robber Class
Bob Fitrakis, The Free Press: "The United States has produced several mythic historical figures - Paul Bunyan, John Henry and the like - but our actual prophetic peace activists are actually far more interesting. People like Eugene Victor Debs, Emma Goldman, and in our present day, Cindy Sheehan."

New York Times to Charge for Online Content
Amanda Andrews, The Telegraph UK: "The tie-up in March served as a precursor to a key decision in August on how best to charge for access to the group's websites, reversing an earlier decision not to, and becoming the first major non-financial newspaper group to take the step."

Afghan Bombings Kill NATO Troops
BBC News: "Four NATO soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan, the coalition has said."

Obama Admin: No Grounds to Probe Afghan War Crimes
Lara Jakes, The Associated Press: "Obama administration officials said Friday they had no grounds to investigate the 2001 deaths of Taliban prisoners of war who human rights groups allege were killed by US-backed forces."

Henry A. Giroux Obama's Tortured Democracy
Henry A. Giroux, Truthout: "By refusing to release photos of those tortured by US forces, Obama sadly continues yet another element of the Bush regime, organized around an attempt to regulate the visual field, to mandate what can be seen and modify the landscape of the sensible and visible. And equally important, as Judith Butler points out, the Obama administration's application of the state-secrecy privilege grants it the power to determine 'which lives count as human and as living, and which do not.'"

Two US Marines Killed in Afghan Bomb Blasts
Jason Straziuso, The Associated Press: "A bomb blast killed two US Marines in Afghanistan's dangerous south, where thousands of American troops have deployed in a massive operation to oust Taliban fighters from the country's opium poppy region, officials said Sunday. Some 4,000 Marines moved into Helmand province this month, the largest Marine operation in Afghanistan since the 2001 US invasion. They have met little head-on resistance but remain vulnerable to guerrilla tactics like suicide and roadside bombs."

More Democrats Call for Investigating the CIA
Alex Isenstadt, The Politico: "Calls for an investigation into the Central Intelligence Agency intensified this weekend amid revelations that former Vice President Dick Cheney ordered the concealment of a covert agency spy program from Congress. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Illinois) said that the Senate Intelligence Committee should 'absolutely' investigate the program."

Sotomayor Hearing Opens Supreme Court Debate
Andrew Quinn, Reuters: "Sonia Sotomayor looks almost certain to emerge from Senate hearings this week poised to become the first Hispanic member of the US Supreme Court. But political debate over President Barack Obama's plans for the top US court has only begun. Republicans are ready to resist what they fear could be a sharp leftward turn for the court under Obama's Democratic administration, reversing a steady tack to the right under former Republican President George W. Bush."

Band of House Dems Revisits Cramdown
Mike Lillis, The Washington Independent: "The Obama administration has all but abandoned it, and the Senate has already voted it down. But a proposal to allow struggling homeowners to escape foreclosure through bankruptcy got a boost Thursday from a small band of House Democrats convinced that voluntary mortgage modifications aren't alone solving the housing crisis. They have a point. Despite White House efforts to entice mortgage lenders and servicers to alter the terms of mortgage loans at their own discretion, participation in the program has been meager."

Soldiers Sue KBR for Chemical Exposure in Iraq
Kaitlynn Riely, The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: "Nearly as soon as they arrived, people became sick - not just the soldiers, but also the KBR employees. First, Mr. Powell said, their noses would bleed and their skin would feel raw. They developed sore throats and skin sores and began to cough up blood. When asked, KBR told soldiers it must be allergies or a reaction to the sand."

Africa's Bitter Cycle of Child Slavery
Robyn Dixon, The Los Angeles Times: "Rebecca Agwu told her 5-year-old son, John, not to cry when she sent him away to live with relatives four years ago. Mary Mootey sent away her 4-year-old son, Evans, telling him he was going off to school. The two boys, now 9, from the same town in Ghana, ended up being forced to work 14 hours a day fishing on Lake Volta and being beaten for the smallest lapse. Rewind about two decades: Rebecca Agwu was a child herself when her mother sent her away to live with an aunt."

FOCUS Cheney Linked to Secrecy of CIA Program
Greg Miller, The Los Angeles Times: "The CIA kept a highly classified counter-terrorism program secret from Congress for eight years at the direction of then-Vice President Dick Cheney, according to sources familiar with an account that agency Director Leon E. Panetta provided recently to House and Senate committees."

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Truthout 7/11

How Rove Said He'd Answer Siegelman Prosecution Queries
Jason Leopold, Truthout: "While the details of Karl Rove's eight-hour deposition Tuesday before the House Judiciary Committee remain unknown, Rove has provided insight into how he said he intended to answer the panel's questions. The deposition concerned Rove's role in the firings of nine US attorneys and the alleged political prosecution of former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman."

Obama Urges 'Strong, Sustainable' Governments in Africa
CNN: "President Obama praised Ghana on Saturday for working to put its democratic government on a firmer footing, with peaceful transfers to powers."

Lisa Pease CIA's History of Lying to Congress
Lisa Pease, Consortium News: "On TV this week, with a measure of disbelief in their voices, the pundits ask, did the CIA lie to or deliberately mislead Congress? How is that not a rhetorical question?"

Jim Hightower Big Bankers Mounting Sneak Attack on Consumers
Jim Hightower, AlterNet: "More than a year into the Wall Street bailout, I've yet to get any sort of 'thank you' from even a single one of the big banks that you and I propped up with $12 trillion in direct giveaways, indirect giveaways, government guarantees and sweetheart loans. You'd think their mommas would've taught them better. But I've begun to think that waiting on a simple gesture of banker gratitude is like waiting on Donald Trump to have a good hair day - ain't gonna happen."

Closed-Door Suu Kyi Trial Resumes in Myanmar
Reuters: "The widely condemned trial of Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi resumed on Friday, a week after the country's military rulers ignored a plea from the United Nations chief to drop security charges against her."

Suicides in US Army Rise in First Half of 2009
Agence France-Presse: "Suicides in the US Army are on the rise with 88 suspected cases in the first six months of the year, compared to 67 in the same period in 2008, according to Pentagon figures issued."

FOCUS Report: Bush Surveillance Program Was Massive
Pamela Hess, The Associated Press: "The Bush administration built an unprecedented surveillance operation to pull in mountains of information far beyond the warrantless wiretapping previously acknowledged, a team of federal inspectors general reported Friday, questioning the legal basis for the effort but shielding almost all details on grounds they're still too secret to reveal."

Friday, July 10, 2009

Does Evan Bayh not understand what itemization means?

Don Wheeler

This came into my inbox today from our esteemed Senator, Evan Bayh:

In counties across Indiana, the property tax bill is in the mail. Many Hoosiers will once again face a steep bill due to the recent reassessment.

While property taxes are mainly a state and local issue, there is no law that says leaders in Washington can't do our part to help. Last year, I wrote and passed federal legislation allowing families who fill out the IRS short form to deduct—for the first time ever—up to $1,000 of their state and local property taxes from what they pay the federal government. Homeowners who itemize on their federal tax returns can already claim a generous deduction. As a matter of simple fairness, non-itemizers should be able to do the same. My plan targeted tax relief to middle-class families and seniors. An estimated 20 million Americans and more than half a million Hoosiers benefited.

This year, I'm working to expand federal property tax relief in two ways: 1) allow non-itemizing homeowners to deduct the full value of their property tax bills, and 2) make this relief permanent. Under my plan, a non-itemizing family with $75,000 in taxable income and a $3,000 property tax
bill would receive a $750 tax cut.

With home values falling and our national economy struggling toward recovery, Uncle Sam doesn't deserve a bite at the apple once you've already paid your property tax bill locally. I'll keep you posted on how to claim this relief come tax time next April.

The Senator may have missed this bit of news, but due to the "circuit breaker" legislation passed by Indiana's General Assembly some time ago, homeowners will have had real estate taxes capped in relation to assessed valued. Those ceilings will get lower over the next couple of years.

The Senator also seems to have missed the point of the standard deduction. That idea was conceived to make filing tax returns for lower to mid-range earners easy without them suffering financially. The idea of offering a standard deduction with itemized deductions sort of screws the whole thing up. The choice of itemizing already exists.

If the Senator believes the standard deduction should be increased, he should just say so. If people are struggling, should we offer more help to people able to purchase their homes - as opposed to those who must rent their homes?

In the runup to the 1992 Presidential elections, the late Paul Tsongas coined the term "Pander Bear" - aimed at Bill Clinton's promises of largesse.

Looks like Indiana's Pander Bear is Evan Bayh. Maybe he's running for something.

Truthout 7/10

Bill Scheurer Beyond the Yellow Ribbon: Hope for Returning Veterans
Bill Scheurer, Truthout: "Extensive information in the popular and scientific press shows that veterans are 'falling through the cracks' of our medical system. In a strange new twist of 'don't ask, don't tell' military culture, many veterans do not tell physicians about their military service and health care practitioners do not ask."

Climate Talks End With Meager Promises
Richard Harris, NPR News: "International climate talks held in Italy this week ended with little progress. The rich industrial nations wouldn't promise to cut back their emissions in the near term. And China, India and the rest of the developing world wouldn't commit to cutting their emissions, ever."

House Overwhelmingly Rejects Signing Statement
Walter Alarkon, The Hill: "The House rebuked President Obama for trying to ignore restrictions to international aid payments, voting overwhelmingly for an amendment forcing the administration to abide by its constraints."

Lawsuits Combat Defense of Marriage Act
Michael B. Farrell, The Christian Science Monitor: "Five years after it became the first state to marry same-sex couples, Massachusetts is taking on the federal government's definition of marriage. While other lawsuits have challenged the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which was passed in 1996 and defined marriage as between a man and woman, Massachusetts is the first to argue that Congress overstepped its bounds and violated a state's right to determine what constitutes marriage."

Robert Reich When Will The Recovery Begin? Never.
Robert Reich, Robert Reich's Blog: "In a recession this deep, recovery doesn't depend on investors. It depends on consumers who, after all, are 70 percent of the US economy. And this time consumers got really whacked. Until consumers start spending again, you can forget any recovery, V or U shaped."

Deepak Bhargava Don't Enshrine Discrimination in Health Care Reform
Deepak Bhargava, The Huffington Post: "Finally, the country seems serious about reforming health care. But with discussions about a public option, cost control and competition raging, one aspect of achieving true universal coverage is being left out: what to do about immigrants who lack coverage?"

Nicolas Truong The New Insurrectional Thinking
In Le Monde, Nicolas Truong explains the philosophical and literary antecedents of the French best seller, "The Coming Insurrection," authored by the "Invisible Committee," that advocates anonymity and "blocking everything."

FP morning brief 7/10

Top story:

China has banned Friday prayers at mosques in the restive Xinjiang province, where violence between the Uighur ethnic group and Han Chinese has left more than 150 dead. Government officials have said that Muslims in the region, most of them members of the Uighur minority, should stay at home to pray, rather than gathering for religious services.The rash of violent protests and resultant crackdown, ongoing since Sunday, is the result of long-simmering ethnic and religious tensions in the once-autonomous area. (Foreign Policy's Christina Larson describes the conflict in a Web-exclusive article today.) And, in China's Yunnan province, a 6.0-magnitude earthquake killed at least 300.

To watch:

Cyberattacks continued to slow governmental and banking Web sites in the United States and South Korea. Yesterday, South Korean officials pointed the finger at North Korea.

As the G-8 summit in L'Aquila comes to a quiet close, China again calls for an end to dollar-dominance in world reserves.
Health officials in Britain warn that a new spate of H1N1, or swine flu, infections threaten an "epidemic." The number of H1N1-related deaths has doubled in two days.
British parliamentarians said they will question managers of the News of the World tabloid, which allegedly hacked into politicians' and celebrities' mobile phones.

China's central bank is expected to announce that the country's foreign-exchange reserves have reached $2 trillion.
Japanese politicians campaigned in advance of the June 12 elections, in which the ruling Liberal Democratic Party is expected to lose its parliamentary majority.
China details an Australian mining executive for Rio Tinto and accuses him of spying.

Middle East
Bombs killed more than 60 in Iraq -- Mosul saw at least 35 dead -- in the worst day of violence since the repeal of U.S. troops at the end of June.
Protests resumed in Iran, marking the fourth week of disruption.
Kurds in northern Iraq are carrying out the mandates of their constitution, passed two weeks ago, worrying Iraqi and U.S. officials about their separatism.

Ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya and governmental leader Roberto Micheletti entered a house for talks. They never met face-to-face, and made no progress.
A row continues after U.S. congressional Democrats said the Central Intelligence Agency deliberately misled them.
U.S. carmaker General Motors emerged from government-aided bankruptcy.

U.S. President Barack Obama leaves the G-8 conference in L'Aquila to head to Accra, Ghana -- his first visit to sub-Saharan Africa as president.
Leaders at the G-8 summit pledged $15 billion in global food aid for farming, in hopes of creating "green revolution" in African agriculture.
The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species said rhinocerous-poaching has reached a 15-year high on the continent.

The stimulus trap

New York Times

As soon as the Obama administration-in-waiting announced its stimulus plan — this was before Inauguration Day — some of us worried that the plan would prove inadequate. And we also worried that it might be hard, as a political matter, to come back for another round.

Unfortunately, those worries have proved justified. The bad employment report for June made it clear that the stimulus was, indeed, too small. But it also damaged the credibility of the administration’s economic stewardship. There’s now a real risk that President Obama will find himself caught in a political-economic trap.

I’ll talk about that trap, and how he can escape it, in a moment. First, however, let me step back and ask how concerned citizens should be reacting to the disappointing economic news. Should we be patient and give the Obama plan time to work? Should we call for bigger, bolder actions? Or should we declare the plan a failure and demand that the administration call the whole thing off?

Before you answer, consider what happens in normal times.

When there’s an ordinary, garden-variety recession, the job of fighting that recession is assigned to the Federal Reserve. The Fed responds by cutting interest rates in an incremental fashion. Reducing rates a bit at a time, it keeps cutting until the economy turns around. At times it pauses to assess the effects of its work; if the economy is still weak, the cutting resumes.

During the last recession, the Fed repeatedly cut rates as the slump deepened — 11 times over the course of 2001. Then, amid early signs of recovery, it paused, giving the rate cuts time to work. When it became clear that the economy still wasn’t growing fast enough to create jobs, more rate cuts followed.

Normally, then, we expect policy makers to respond to bad job numbers with a combination of patience and resolve. They should give existing policies time to work, but they should also consider making those policies stronger.

And that’s what the Obama administration should be doing right now with its fiscal stimulus. (It’s important to remember that the stimulus was necessary because the Fed, having cut rates all the way to zero, has run out of ammunition to fight this slump.) That is, policy makers should stay calm in the face of disappointing early results, recognizing that the plan will take time to deliver its full benefit. But they should also be prepared to add to the stimulus now that it’s clear that the first round wasn’t big enough.

Unfortunately, the politics of fiscal policy are very different from the politics of monetary policy. For the past 30 years, we’ve been told that government spending is bad, and conservative opposition to fiscal stimulus (which might make people think better of government) has been bitter and unrelenting even in the face of the worst slump since the Great Depression. Predictably, then, Republicans — and some Democrats — have treated any bad news as evidence of failure, rather than as a reason to make the policy stronger.

Hence the danger that the Obama administration will find itself caught in a political-economic trap, in which the very weakness of the economy undermines the administration’s ability to respond effectively.

As I said, I was afraid this would happen. But that’s water under the bridge. The question is what the president and his economic team should do now.

It’s perfectly O.K. for the administration to defend what it’s done so far. It’s fine to have Vice President Joseph Biden touring the country, highlighting the many good things the stimulus money is doing.

It’s also reasonable for administration economists to call for patience, and point out, correctly, that the stimulus was never expected to have its full impact this summer, or even this year.

But there’s a difference between defending what you’ve done so far and being defensive. It was disturbing when President Obama walked back Mr. Biden’s admission that the administration “misread” the economy, declaring that “there’s nothing we would have done differently.” There was a whiff of the Bush infallibility complex in that remark, a hint that the current administration might share some of its predecessor’s inability to admit mistakes. And that’s an attitude neither Mr. Obama nor the country can afford.

What Mr. Obama needs to do is level with the American people. He needs to admit that he may not have done enough on the first try. He needs to remind the country that he’s trying to steer the country through a severe economic storm, and that some course adjustments — including, quite possibly, another round of stimulus — may be necessary.

What he needs, in short, is to do for economic policy what he’s already done for race relations and foreign policy — talk to Americans like adults.

Whip Inflation Now

New York Times

Over the past few decades, health care inflation has exceeded the general rise in prices by about 2.5 percent a year. These inexorably rising costs are bankrupting the nation, walloping businesses and squeezing middle-class salaries.

Fortunately, the country now has an excellent opportunity to change that. We have a president fervently committed to reducing health care inflation. We have a budget director who is perhaps the nation’s leading expert on the issue. We have a fiscal crisis staring us in the face, just to focus the mind.

And what is the result so far? Failure. Overwhelming, amazing failure.

The health care bills now winding their way through Congress would cover many of the uninsured. They would pay for most of the costs associated with that expanded coverage. But they would do little to change the fundamental incentives that drive health care inflation.

Health care providers would still largely rely on a fee-for-service system. They could still ignore cost-benefit analyses when deciding what treatments to provide.

As Alec MacGillis reported in a front-page piece in The Washington Post this week, “All signs in Washington suggest that cost considerations will be kept at arm’s length as health-care legislation moves forward.” As my colleague David Leonhardt wrote in his column this week, “The current health care system is hard-wired to be bloated and inefficient,” and health care economists don’t see the current bills doing enough to fix that.

The basic problem is that the American people have gotten used to high-tech, all-everything health care, under the illusion that they don’t have to pay for it and that it’s always better for them. Politicians are unwilling to force voters and donors to give up that sort of system, even the parts that are ineffective.

There are several ideas floating around that could reduce inflation, but they are neutered in the current bills. For example, many people believe that comparative effectiveness research would bend the cost curve. The current bills would pay for that research but negate the effects by allowing everybody to ignore the findings.

Many people believe that ending the tax exemption on employer health benefits would reduce costs and make consumers more conscious of cost considerations. But the House has rejected that, and the Senate is walking away from even capping that tax exemption.

Many people believe that a public plan would save money through lower administrative costs and because a government-controlled system would allow the government to ram through cost reductions. But lower administrative costs, even if they materialized, would not affect the fundamental incentives driving inflation. And the current public plan wouldn’t really change the system. A Congressional Budget Office analysis of the public plan provisions in the bill from the Senate committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) projected that they would neither increase the total number of people insured nor substantially affect costs, “largely because the public plan would pay providers of health care at rates comparable to privately negotiated rates.”

Then there are all these mysterious deals the White House is cutting with industry groups. They sound good, but it’s not clear what industry is getting in return, and they, too, would not alter the fundamental incentives.

Keith Hennessey, the former chief of the National Economic Council, studied the HELP bill and wrote on his blog that aside from one provision, “I can find nothing that would provide information and incentives to consumers, medical professionals, health plans, employers or government to slow the growth of long-term private health care spending.”

Wait, it gets worse.

The bills not only fail to reduce health care inflation, they make it harder to fix the larger fiscal mess later. They do that by taking the chits we could use to balance the overall budget and using them to cover the $1.3 trillion in new federal health spending.

To get our overall fiscal house in order, we’re going to need to raise taxes on the rich. The House bill would use that chit to pay for expanded coverage. We’re going to have to take a bite out of Medicare spending. The administration plan does that to pay for expanded coverage. We’re going to have to tax people in the middle class more. The Congressional bills effectively do that by mandating coverage and then failing to subsidize middle-class consumers. But that burden, too, is to pay for new coverage.

Instead of brightening the fiscal picture, these bills make it immeasurably worse.

Health care inflation is not some optional side issue that can be left out of reform. It is the core problem that undermines the viability of the health care system, the federal budget and the economy as a whole. Maybe the administration will provide some last-minute solution in conference or somewhere else. But right now the prospects don’t look good.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Truthout 7/9

House Intel Chair: CIA Has Misled Us for Years
Pamela Hess, The Associated Press: "Democrats are accusing senior CIA officials of repeatedly misleading Congress, but Republicans say the allegations are just political maneuvering to protect House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. The accusations come as lawmakers prepare to debate intelligence legislation - a bill President Barack Obama has threatened to veto."

Mark Weisbrot US Leaves Honduras to Its Fate
Mark Weisbrot, The Guardian UK: "In Honduras we have the entire world refusing to recognize the coup government, and equally large demonstrations (in a country of only seven million people, and with the military preventing movement for many of them) demanding Zelaya's return. The problem in Honduras is that their military - unlike the Venezuelan military - has more experience in organized repression, including selective assassinations carried out during the 1980s, when the country was known as a military base for US operations in El Salvador and Nicaragua."

Energy Industry Sways Congress With Misleading Data
Abrahm Lustgarten, ProPublica: "The two key arguments that the oil and gas industry is using to fight federal regulation of the natural gas drilling process called hydraulic fracturing -- that the costs would cripple their business and that state regulations are already strong -- are challenged by the same data and reports the industry is using to bolster its position."

Silent Protests in Iran Expected to Draw Thousands
Borzou Daragahi and Ramin Mostaghim, The Los Angeles Times: "Protesters and security forces have begun to gather in the streets of downtown Tehran as the nation braces for a potential day of violent confrontations."

Schumer: Immigration Bill to Be Ready by Labor Day
Suzanne Gamboa, The Associated Press: "The lead Democrat steering an immigration overhaul through the Senate said Wednesday he expects to have a bill ready by Labor Day that is more generous to highly skilled immigrant workers than those who are lower skilled and is tough on future waves of illegal immigration."

Health Care Reform Will Succeed This Time, Say Experts
Laura Woodhead, Talk Radio News Service: "America is ready for health care reform both socially and politically, health care professionals argued Wednesday. Speaking at a discussion on health care reform at the Campus Progress National Convention, the experts argued that the mood within the US makes this year the perfect time to implement legislation, unlike 1993 when a variety of conflicting factors lead to the defeat of President Bill Clinton's health care plan."

Fabrice Rousselot and Le Monde Repression in Urumqi
Le Monde's editorialist and Fabric Rousselot at Liberation decry the Chinese policies that have led to violence in Xinjiang.

Normon Solomon Escalation Scam: Troops in Afghanistan
Norman Solomon, Truthout: "The president has set a limit on the number of US troops in Afghanistan. For now. That's how escalation works. Ceilings become floors. Gradually. A few times since last fall, the Obama team has floated rising numbers for how many additional US soldiers will be sent to Afghanistan. Now, deployment of 21,000 more is a done deal, with a new total cap of 68,000 US troops in that country."

Thousands Protest in Iran, Defying Crackdown Vow
Nasser Karimi, The Associated Press: "Thousands of protesters streamed down avenues of the capital Thursday, chanting 'death to the dictator' and defying security forces who fired tear gas and charged with batons, witnesses said. The first opposition foray into the streets in 11 days aimed to revive mass demonstrations that were crushed in Iran's post-election turmoil."

Pharmacists Can't Refuse Plan B Pill, Appeals Court Says
Carol J. Williams, The Los Angeles Times: "Pharmacists are obliged to dispense the Plan B pill, even if they are personally opposed to the 'morning after' contraceptive on religious grounds, a federal appeals court ruled Wednesday."

Michael Schwartz Colonizing Iraq: The Obama Doctrine?
Michael Schwartz, "Here's how reporters Steven Lee Myers and Marc Santora of The New York Times described the highly touted American withdrawal from Iraq's cities last week: 'Much of the complicated work of dismantling and removing millions of dollars of equipment from the combat outposts in the city has been done during the dark of night. Gen. Ray Odierno, the overall American commander in Iraq, has ordered that an increasing number of basic operations - transport and re-supply convoys, for example - take place at night, when fewer Iraqis are likely to see that the American withdrawal is not total.' Acting in the dark of night, in fact, seems to catch the nature of American plans for Iraq in a particularly striking way."

Growing Numbers of Poor People Swamp Legal Aid Offices
Tony Pugh, McClatchy Newspapers: "After years of funding shortfalls, legal aid societies across the country are being overwhelmed by growing numbers of poor and unemployed Americans who face eviction, foreclosure, bankruptcy and other legal problems tied to the recession. The crush of new clients comes as the cash-strapped agencies cut staff and services."

Rite Aid Facility Symbolic of Unions' Legislation Push
Patrick J. McDonnell, The Los Angeles Times: "A chilly, high desert dawn was breaking as the workers trickled onto the sprawling grounds of Rite Aid Corp.'s distribution warehouse, a behemoth box at the edge of the Mojave. Awaiting them outside was a makeshift table set with hot coffee and doughnuts, courtesy of the International Longshore & Warehouse Union. Employees donning yellow union T-shirts briefly savored a hard-won triumph as they continue a bitter, three-year-plus campaign."

Nicolas Truong The New Insurrectional Thinking
In Le Monde, Nicolas Truong explains the philosophical and literary antecedents of the French best seller, "The Coming Insurrection," authored by the "Invisible Committee," that advocates anonymity and "blocking everything."

NOW Peace and Prosperity for the West Bank?
NOW: "Once one of the most dangerous and violent cities in the West Bank, Jenin was the scene of frequent battles between the Israeli military and Palestinian fighters, and was the hometown of more than two dozen suicide bombers. Today, however, there's been a huge turnaround. Jenin is now the center of an international effort to build a safe and economically prosperous Palestinian state from the ground up."

FP Morning Brief 7/9

Top story:

Iraq had its worst day of violence since the withdrawal of U.S. troops from major cities last weeks with multiple suicide bombings in killing at least 41 people. The worst attack was in the city of Tal Afar, where one bomber attacked a court where terrorism cases are tried and then a second one detonated the crowd that gathered. Three roadside bombs in Baghdad killed seven other people.

The bombings come just a twin car bombings near Mosul and the release of a recorded statement attributed to Al Qaeda in Iraq commander Abu Omar al-Baghdadi calling on Iraqis to continue fighting until all U.S. troops have left Iraq. While several insurgent groups have recently renounced Iraqi-on-Iraqi violence, Baghdadi's statement called for attacks on Shiites, warning that Iraq's Sunni population is becoming weaker.


China has supplanted the United States as Brazil's largest trading partner.

G8 leaders in Italy are meeting to discuss an agreement on carbon emissions, but developing nations are reluctant to sign on. The leaders are also seeking an agreement to restart the stalled Doha round of trade talks in 2010.
Two Serbian police were attacked with a rocket-propelled grenade near the Kosovo border.
The Bank of England surprised many analysts by holding interest rates steady.

Violence in China's Xinjiang province is subsiding as authorities crack down on Uighur demonstrators.
Pakistan says that 2 million refugees displaced by fighting in the Swat Valley will be allowed to return home next week.
A massive bombing in central Afghanistan killed at least 25.

Middle East
The Iranian opposition has called for new demonstrations today, and the government says security forces will "smash" any protests.
Five Iranian officials held by U.S. forces in Iraq were released.
A report by Israel's national security chief argued that there is no Palestinian leadership and that living with a nuclear Iran is not an option.

Expectations are low as former Honduran President Manuel Zelaya meets with the leaders who ousted him today.
The killing of an anti-crime activist has sparked anger in Mexico.
Colombian president Alvaro Uribe has backed hostage negotiations with the Farc rebels.

Mediator Kofi Annan has handed over names of those suspected of instigating violence in the 2007 Kenyan elections to the International Criminal Court.
Human Rights Watch has sharply criticized the government of Equatorial Guinea for plundering their country's oil wealth.
South Africa's labor department is attempting to mediate a resolution to the strikes that have halted work at the World Cup site.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

FP morning brief 7/8

Top story:

G8 leaders have begun their annual summit in the earthquake-stricken Italian town of Aquila. The financial crisis still tops the agenda and U.S. President Barack Obama's aides expressed confidence that the group would reach a consensus on further economic stimulus.

Climate change was also on the agenda, but discussions on the topic hit a setback when Chinese President Hu Jintao was forced to return home early to monitor the ongoing ethnic violence in Xinjiang. It appears likely that the resolution reached by the G8 will also play down China's proposal to replace the dollar as the world's reserve currency.

Leaders will also discuss restarting the stalled Doha round on world trade negotiations and a U.S. proposal to invest $15 billion in developing world agriculture in order to ensure the world's food supply.

Under the radar:

Fourteen cases of swine flu have been detected on a U.S. military base in Afghanistan.

Early returns in Indonesia's presidential election show incumbent president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono leading.
Paramilitary police have been dispatched to put down the rioting in China's Xinjiang province.
South Korean intelligence believes that North Korea was behind cyber attacks on South Korean and U.S. government websites on Tuesday.

Ousted Hundoruan leader Manuel Zelaya has accepted a U.S.-backed plan to have Costa Rica's president try to mediate a solution to the political crisis. He will meet with the coup backers on Thursday.
Argentine President Cristina Fernandez has rearranged her cabinet after her party's defeat in midterm elections.
Former U.S. President Bill Clinton is making his first visit to Haiti as the U.N.'s special envoy to the country.

Middle East
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad gave his first major television address since his re-election, calling it "the most clean and free election in the world."
The U.S. has not given Israel the go-ahead to attack Iran, says President Obama, despite recent statements by Vice President Joe Biden.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says the U.S. may call for tougher sanctions against Iran if current outreach efforts fail.

Somali pirates seized a Turkish ship in the Gulf of Aden.
Stadium construction for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa was halted as workers went on strike.
Nigeria's MEND rebels say they have blown up two oil pipelines in the Niger Delta.

The Hague tribunal has rejected accused Serbian war criminal Radovan Karadzic's claim that he was offered immunity by the United States.
Ireland will hold a second referendum on the European Union's controversial Lisbon treaty in October.
The French legislature has begun debate over banning the burqa, with lawmakers suggesting that the ban may be put in place gradually.

Truthout 7/8

Afghans: Taliban Have Escaped Helmand and Marines
Nancy A. Youssef, McClatchy Newspapers: "Taliban fighters and their commanders have escaped the Marines' big offensive in Afghanistan's Helmand province and moved into areas to the west and north, prompting fears that the US effort has just moved the Taliban problem elsewhere, Afghan defense officials have told McClatchy."

American Bar Association Gives Sonia Sotomayor Its Highest Rating
James Oliphant and David G. Savage, The Los Angeles Times: "Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor has received the stamp of approval from the American Bar Assn. less than a week before her confirmation hearing begins on Capitol Hill. Sotomayor, a sitting federal appeals judge in New York, was deemed 'well qualified. to serve as an associate justice on the high court by an ABA panel -- the highest rating the national attorney organization bestows."

Revealed - The Secret Torture Evidence MI5 Tried to Suppress
Ian Cobain, The Guardian UK: "The true depth of British involvement in the torture of terrorism suspects overseas and the manner in which that complicity is concealed behind a cloak of courtroom secrecy was laid bare last night when David Davis MP detailed the way in which one counter-terrorism operation led directly to a man suffering brutal mistreatment."

The Man Who Crashed the World
Michael Lewis, Vanity Fair: "Almost a year after A.I.G.'s collapse, despite a tidal wave of outrage, there still has been no clear explanation of what toppled the insurance giant. The author decides to ask the people involved - the silent, shell-shocked traders of the A.I.G. Financial Products unit - and finds that the story may have a villain, whose reign of terror over 400 employees brought the company, the US economy, and the global financial system to their knees."

Gerald LeMelle Straight Talk: Revealing the Real US-Africa Policy
Gerald LeMelle, Foreign Policy in Focus: "It's time for some straight talk on US foreign policy as it relates to Africa. While Obama administration officials and the US African Command (AFRICOM) representatives insist that US foreign policy towards Africa isn't being militarized, the evidence seems to suggest otherwise."

Panel Recommends Bringing Guantanamo Prisoners to US
Alexandra Marks, The Christian Science Monitor: "With the deadline to close the Guantanamo Bay prison just six months away, Obama administration lawyers told Congress Tuesday they are still unsure about how they will deal with the remaining detainees there. But a bipartisan group of leading homeland-security experts criticized congressional efforts to block to the administration from moving the Guantanamo detainees to the US as 'unnecessary and harmful to our national security.'"

Rove Deposed in US Attorney Probe
John Bresnahan and Josh Gerstein, The Politico: "Former White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove was deposed Tuesday by attorneys for the House Judiciary Committee, according to Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), the panel's chairman. Rove's deposition began at 10 a.m. and ended around 6:30 p.m, with several breaks, Conyers said. Conyers would not comment on what Rove told congressional investigators, what the next step in the long-running Judiciary Committee investigation would be or whether Rove would face additional questioning."

US, Russia Deal Would Cut Nukes to Post-Cold-War Lows
Howard LaFranchi, The Christian Science Monitor: "President Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev committed Monday to reaching a new nuclear-arms reduction agreement that would set both strategic warheads and warhead delivery vehicles, such as missiles, at post-cold-war lows. Yet despite the upbeat tone at the first of two days of summit talks in Moscow, the two leaders offered few specifics on how the looming stumbling blocks to a new era of cooperation will be overcome. Those issues include American plans for a missile-defense system in Eastern Europe and US-supported expansion of NATO to Ukraine and Georgia."

G8 Sees Economy Still in Peril, Falters on Climate
Darren Ennis and Krittivas Mukherjee, Reuters: "G8 leaders believe the world economy still faces 'significant risks' and may need further help, according to summit draft documents that also reflect failure to agree climate change goals for 2050. Progress on the environment was impeded by Chinese President Hu Jintao returning home due to unrest in northwestern China in which 156 people have died. Before he left, summit host Silvio Berlusconi spoke of Chinese 'resistance' on climate goals."

Costa Rican President Agrees to Mediate Honduran Crisis
Lesley Clark, Trenton Daniel and Frances Robles, McClatchy Newspapers: "The dueling Honduran governments agreed Tuesday to allow Costa Rican President Oscar Arias to mediate the political dispute, paving the way for a possible resolution to the crisis that's polarized the country. Word of the proposed talks, which were announced Tuesday by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and could start as soon as Thursday, came as Clinton met with ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya and as supporters of de facto president Roberto Micheletti arrived to press their case in Washington."

In Gay-Marriage Battle, DC Shapes Up as Next Big Prize
Michael B. Farrell, The Christian Science Monitor: "Washington began recognizing gay marriages performed in other states Tuesday - a move that is being called a potential first step toward allowing same-sex couples to wed in the nation's capital. The district's measure stops short of other laws in states such as Iowa and Vermont, which allow for same-sex wedding ceremonies. But it adds to their momentum."

Laurent Joffrin Balance
Laurent Joffrin, Liberation: "Question: In a balanced society, must the freedom of economic agents overcome every other consideration? Those who have not learned the specific lesson of the economic crisis we are currently going through will answer in the affirmative. Others will demur. The market is not always right."

On Gay History, Or, This Is Not A Stonewall Story

Pride Month has come and gone, Gentle Reader, with no comment from this desk.

It’s not that I’m in some way insensitive to the subject; instead it’s more of a desire, once again, to stay off the beaten path.

And in that spirit, I do indeed have a story of Gay History...but it’s not from the Summer of ’69...instead, this story was already well underway before the Summer of ’29.

So put on something très chic and let’s head on over to the time of the Renaissance...because it’s time to meet Gladys Bentley.

As so often happens, I had no idea I would be writing a Gay History (HerStory?) story—and the funny thing is, it’s all Groucho Marx’s fault.

For those not aware, Groucho starred in what is now an ancient television game show, “You Bet Your Life”. The basic concept was that the guest would come on and demonstrate a talent, do a little comedic banter with Groucho, and then answer questions for money.

There is a newly released DVD set of episodes from the show, and I was watching the very first episode of the set...and along comes this woman who introduces herself as Gladys Bentley. After a few words, she sits down at the portable piano that was provided, and much to my amazement she proceeds to pound out some of the most amazing boogie-woogie it has ever been my pleasure to watch.

Naturally, a Google search ensued...and that’s when it got interesting.

You see, Gladys Bentley, in 1920s and 1930s Harlem, was the most famous Drag King of her time (yes, Virginia, there are Drag Kings, just as there are Drag Queens)...and all of a sudden, it was time to write a “couple days after Pride Month” story.

The history of early 20th Century Harlem is associated with two notable trends: black migration caused by the gradual desegregation of the neighborhood and the introduction of Prohibition and the speakeasy culture.

“...a costume ball can be a very tame thing, but when all the exquisitely gowned women on the floor are men and a number of the smartest men are women, ah then, we have something over which to thrill and grow round-eyed.”

--“Lady Nicotine”, Geraldyn Dismond Major, describing the “Faggot’s Ball” in her “Between Puffs” column for The Inter-State Tattler, February 1929

For those unaware, 1920s Harlem was the home of an active gay community, and it was apparently the perfect place for a black woman who once wrote that “even as I was toddling, I never wanted a man to touch me....”. By the end of the decade she had worked herself up from playing rent parties to stardom on “Jungle Alley”: appearing at The Cotton Club and eventually becoming the “headliner-in-residence” at the predominantly lesbian The Clam House (the entendre being entirely intentional).

It is reported that there was a surprising amount of integration on Jungle Alley—of multiple kinds—which helped Gladys Bentley soon became the darling of the white, black, gay, and straight social sets. (Langston Hughes even modeled a character in the play Little Ham after her.) Her ability to write and perform some of the bawdiest lyrics ever while “working the room”—especially the ladies--kept The Clam House packed...and it set her up for an even bigger gig to come.

Connie’s Inn, another famous speakeasy, had closed, and in its place was the Ubangi Club. To “kick things up a notch”, as it were, the new management not only hired Bentley, but provided for her an entire chorus line of “pansies”; the combination of the effeminate male chorus line and the female butch headliner forming a sort of gender-bending fugue that that came together in elaborate stage shows produced by the likes of Leonard Harper.

Eventually she moved over to the Mad House, performing under the stage name of Barbara “Bobbie” Minton...which, before long, caused the club to change its own “stage” name to Barbara’s Exclusive Club in her honor.

She recorded music as well, first in the late 1920s, for OKEH records; some of that music can be heard today by visiting just the right websites.

Eventually...Miss Bentley became a Mrs....more than once.

“A friend, visiting her, pointed inquiringly at two pictures on Miss Bentley’s dresser...

“Who are they?” the visitor inquired innocently.

“Oh” Miss Bentley replied “That’s my husband (pointing to the male) and that’s my wife.”

--From The Third Sex By Albert Duckett, in “The Chicago Defender”, March 2, 1957

Bentley’s first marriage—to a white woman, in Atlantic City—was reportedly covered in the society pages of the New York papers. Bentley also reports that there were two marriages to men, in later years, both ending in divorce—a topic to which we will return later.

All of this came to an end as the Depression deepened, and in 1937, less than five years after she had moved into a Park Avenue apartment she moved out to Los Angeles to live with her mother.

World War II revived the gay scene on the West Coast, and Bentley was able to find work at bars such as the San Bernardino Club and Joaquin’s El Rancho in Los Angeles and Mona’s Club 440 in San Francisco (“Where Girls Will Be Boys!”), along with other artists such as Miss Jimmy Reynard and Miss Beverly Shaw.

(Fun Fact: Some sort of club has occupied the same location as the old Mona’s right up to this very day, and if you find yourself in San Francisco you can visit Apartment 24, the current occupant of the spot (the website tells us to “think of classic age rock star David Bowie's over the top apartment in the 1960s....”).)

In 1945 World War II came to an end...and not long after that, so did the “gender-bending” phase of Gladys Bentley’s life.

“I thought that nought is worth a thought,
And I’m a fool for thinking.”

--From The Chant of the Brazen Head, Winthrop Mackworth Praed

Before we proceed further, a few words about the public ”presentation” of homosexuality.

If you read media accounts from the 1930s—and later--that deal with gay issues, one thing that will become quickly apparent is the way the gay lifestyle is presented as an aberrant condition. You will likely also note the admonitions that a gay person must be suffering from internal torment, and unable to live a happy life.

Here are a couple quick examples:

“...Dr. Berger reasons that 99 out of any 100 Lesbians are successful in hiding their strange sex habit...

...Since it is easier for a woman to hide the fact that she is sexually cold than for a man to hide the fact that he cannot satisfactorily perform functions expected of a normal husband...

--From The Third Sex by Albert Duckett, in “The Chicago Defender”, March 2, 1957

“...still, in my secret heart I was weeping and wounded because I was traveling the wrong road to real love and true happiness. I could not find them in the cruel, unusual world of my strange private life.”

That second example is from an August 1952 “Ebony” Magazine article written by Gladys Bentley, I Am A Woman Again.

In the article Bentley renounces her entire life...and in doing so she paints a portrait of a woman who would have been a whole lot happier if she would have had the freedom to just be herself.

She describes a childhood that was spent mostly alone, parents who tried to “fix” her gender confusion by making her dress in something other than her brothers’ attraction to her teacher that she did not understand...and what she herself portrays as “extreme social maladjustment”.

Even then there was a feeling that you could cure “Teh Gay”, and as a child Bentley’s mother “began to take me from doctor to doctor...”; an effort to which Bentley herself would eventually return.

Fast forward again to post-1945...and the time she married a sailor.

“Don” was a friend-of-a-friend from San Diego via San Francisco who was told to introduce himself to Ms. Bentley if he should happen to find himself in Los Angeles...which eventually happened.

Despite the fact that “I hated sailors at the time” because of their aggressive nature they began to spend a great deal of time together—so much so that she began to introduce him as her brother.

“One day, I told Don all about my life. I admitted to him that he had me very confused because I couldn’t understand what I was doing letting a normal man pay attention to me.”

In the midst of tremendous anxiety about the future of their relationship (what with Don being the accepting type and all, they had decided to marry), she decided to visit another physician, to whom she announced the news of her impending marriage.

““That’s just what I wanted to hear” the doctor told me. “Now I can tell you what I’ve known for a long time. Your sex organs are infantile. They haven’t progressed past the stage of those of a fourteen-year-old-child.””

The solution? Injections of female hormones, three times weekly.

(There are those, notably Eric Garber, who question this account.)

“The treatment was expensive but it was worth every penny it cost.”

Fast forward to two lines later in the story:

“Even though our marriage did not last...”

Eventually Bentley began to study religion seriously, and she was in the process of becoming an ordained minister at the time of her 1958 appearance on the episode of “You Bet Your Life” that was the genesis for this story in the first place.

(Another Fun Fact: An 11-year-old Candice Bergen appears as a contestant in the second half of that same episode.)

In one way, Gladys Bentley’s story came to an untimely end just two years later, in 1960, when she died from influenza...but in another, more profound way, the story remains unresolved to this day.

It is, after all, still impossible for most same-sex couples to marry—and the Federal Government has yet to acknowledge the legal marriages that have occurred.

And those who do choose to carve out a different gender rôle for themselves, as well as those who are merely “committing the crime” of being gay are still ostracized by many in the larger society, even to the point that “God Hates Fags” has become the rallying cry for a weird and twisted church.

That said, the story is moving in the right direction...Prop 8 notwithstanding...with several states now granting to same-sex couples the right to marry—and the LBGT community gaining more and more political power all the time (can you say gAyTM?).

The remainder of the Obama Administration promises to be an exercise in...well, we’re not sure: will the Administration live up to the Candidate’s promises—or will the LBGT community find itself feeling the same way vis à vis the Democrats as the “teabag” community (not that one...the other one...) feels about the Republicans: taken for granted while at the same time lacking better options.

So how’s that for a “not Pride Month” story?

History that stretches back more than 40 years before Stonewall...great music...a bawdy personal life...repression, regret, and recriminations...and in the end, an Administration that is having to face up to the demands of those who seek more equal treatment.

And all of that...because of Groucho Marx.

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).

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Tell Mitch Daniels that you want answers!


This afternoon, the Associated Press reported that the problems with Governor Mitch Daniels' privatization of welfare services in this state continue to pile up. For the first time, members of the Daniels administration are talking openly about having to abandon the ten-year scheme that sold off services usually handled by state workers under the Family and Social Services Administration to a private company.

Obviously, we're all glad that Governor Daniels has finally taken an interest in the problems that have plagued this effort from the beginning. After two years of turning a deaf ear to the chorus of Hoosiers who depend on these services, though, the time has come for true accountability.

Governor Mitch Daniels and then-FSSA chief Mitch Roob pursued the privatization of FSSA in 2007 on the heels of a disastrous roll-out of a similar program in Texas. Ignoring the concerns of advocates and those familiar with the needs of Hoosier families, Daniels and Roob pushed forward and signed the $1.16 billion contract.

They promised that the mistakes made in Texas would not be repeated here, but it has become increasingly clear that they were wrong.

Furthermore, Governor Daniels never adequately addressed the fact that Mitch Roob had been an executive at a company called ACS prior to helping usher in the contract that benefited the Texas-based firm and IBM. This was a clear conflict of interest at the time, but the Daniels administration simply brushed it under the rug.

Hoosiers are tired of the spin, tired of the delays, and tired of the excuses. If Governor Daniels is serious about wanting to fix his mistakes, he'll welcome and encourage a full audit of his privatization program. If the deal isn't what is best for Hoosier families, he'll act accordingly.

It's time for Mitch Daniels to come out from under his desk and talk honestly about his handling of welfare services in this state.

Call the Governor's Office today at 317-232-4567, or contact Governor Daniels by email here.

Tell Governor Daniels that you stand with the hardworking Hoosier families, and want him to fully investigate the problems that have occurred over the last two years under his watch!

FP morning brief 7/7

Top story:

After yesterday's meeting with President Dmitry Medvedev in which the two agreed on a framework for the reduction of nuclear arsenals, President Obama on Tuesday met for the first time with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. The two men "formed the basis of a good relation" according to Kremlin officials. Obama said last week that Putin has "one foot in the old ways of doing business" but today described Putin as "smart, tough, shrewd" and "unsentimental," and said he believed the Russian leader would approach the relationship between the two countries in a pragmatic way.

Obama gave a graduation speech at Moscow's "New Economic School" in which he said that conflict between the United States and Russia is not inevitable and that "America wants a strong, peaceful and prosperous Russia." Obama praised democratic values, saying the that United States promotes them "because they are moral, but also because they work" but also stressed that "state sovereignty must be a cornerstone of international order."

Under the radar:

The AP's Christopher Torchia looks at the less well-known side of maritime muggings, small-scale robberies, or maritime muggings, the often go unreported.

Ethnic rioting by both Uighurs and Han Chinese continued in China's Xinjiang province on Tuesday. The death toll has risen to 156.
Seven U.S. troops were killed in Afghanistan on Monday -- the worst daily toll since the 2001 invasion.
U.S. drones attacked a camp run by Pakistani Taliban leader Baithullah Mehsud in Waziristan.

Middle East
Iranian opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi made his first speech in days, calling for continued protests over last month's disputed election.
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak met with Israeli President Shimon Peres in Cairo.
Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has praised U.S. Vice President Joe Biden's remarks about Israel's right to attack Iranian nuclear facilities, calling them "logical."

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has agreed to meet with ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya.
The mayor of Caracas is on a hunger strike to protest the policies of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.
Bolivia says it has shut down a cocaine lab with the capacity to produce 220 pounds of the drug per day.

The BBC reports that Sudanese rebels are openly using Chad's refugee camps to regroups and resupply.
Over 200,000 people have fled violence in Mogadishu since May.
Prosecutors at the Hague are appealing the International Criminal Court's decision not to charge Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir with genocide.

The pope has issued a new encyclical on the eve of the G8 summit blaming greed for the financial crisis and calling for a new economic order.
The European Union has extended the deadline for Eastern European economies to reduce their deficits.
Italy has prepared an earthquake evacuation plan for the G8 summit.

Truthout 7/7

Jason Leopold DOJ Releases Cheney, Fitzgerald Interview Details
Jason Leopold, Truthout: "In early fall 2003, as the scandal over leaking a covert CIA officer's identity was exploding, President George W. Bush claimed not to know anything about the leak and called on anyone in his administration who had knowledge to come 'forward with the information so we can find out whether or not these allegations are true.' How disingenuous the president's appeal was has been underscored again by a new Justice Department court filing sketching out the contents of the 2004 interview between special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald and Vice President Dick Cheney."

Seven American Troops Killed in Afghan Incidents
Laura King, The Los Angeles Times: "Seven American service members were killed Monday in Afghanistan, the largest one-day death toll here in months for US troops. The deaths -- two in the south, four in the north and one in the east -- reflected in part the intensifying conflict in a large swath of the south, where a major US offensive is underway. But they also signaled Taliban insurgents' determination to push into areas that have been relatively quiet, such as Afghanistan's northern tier, and to keep up pressure on American forces in the east, which borders Pakistan's volatile tribal areas."

US Justice Department Eyeing Telecom Probe: Report
Reuters: "The US Justice Department has begun looking at big telecom companies such as AT&T Inc and Verizon Communications to try to determine if they have abused their market power, the Wall Street Journal reported in its online edition on Monday. The journal, which cited people familiar with the matter, said the Antitrust Division's review was in its very early stages and was not yet a formal probe of any specific company."

Joseph L. Galloway on McNamara: Reading an Obit With Great Pleasure
Joseph L. Galloway, McClatchy Newspapers: "Well, the aptly named Robert Strange McNamara has finally shuffled off to join LBJ and Dick Nixon in the 7th level of Hell. McNamara was the original bean-counter - a man who knew the cost of everything but the worth of nothing. Back in 1990 I had a series of strange phone conversations with McMamara while doing research for my book We Were Soldiers Once And Young. McNamara prefaced every conversation with this: 'I do not want to comment on the record for fear that I might distort history in the process.' Then he would proceed to talk for an hour, doing precisely that with answers that were disingenuous in the extreme - when they were not bald-faced lies."

WaPo Not Alone on Corporate-Sponsored "Salons"
Zachary Roth, Talking Points Memo: "Last week, Politico reported that the Washington Post had planned to put on an exclusive off-the-record 'salon' at the home of its publisher, where corporate lobbyists would pay as much as $250,000 to gain access to Post reporters and editors, as well as Obama administration officials and members of Congress. The news provoked an outcry in DC journalism circles -- the Post's own ombudsman called it 'pretty close to a public relations disaster' - and the event was quickly canceled. But the notion that the Post's gambit represents some sort of new and uniquely outrageous collapsing of the wall between the editorial and business sides of a news publication is badly off the mark."

Arundhati Roy Democracy's Failing Light
Arundhati Roy, Outlook India Magazine: "While we're still arguing about whether there's life after death, can we add another question to the cart? Is there life after democracy? What sort of life will it be? By democracy I don't mean democracy as an ideal or an aspiration. I mean the working model: Western liberal democracy, and its variants, such as they are. So, is there life after democracy?"

Obama Reaches Out to the Russian People
Christi Parsons and Michael Muskal, The Los Angeles Times: "In a far-reaching speech to graduates of the New Economic School in Moscow, Obama said the old Cold War rivalries that marked the second half of the 20th Century were gone and it was up to the new generation of leaders in Russia and the United States to decide how to solve the world's woes. 'You get to decide what comes next,' Obama said. 'You get to choose where change will take us. Because the future does not belong to those who gather armies on a field of battle or bury missiles in the ground - the future belongs to young people with the education and imagination to create.'"

Tom Engelhardt What Are Afghan Lives Worth?
Tom Engelhardt, "In the two weeks since, however, that's been on my mind -- or rather the lack of interest our world shows in dead civilians from a distant imperial war -- and all because of a passage I stumbled upon in a striking article by journalist Anand Gopal. In 'Uprooting an Afghan Village' in the June issue of the Progressive magazine, he writes about Garloch, an Afghan village he visited in the eastern province of Laghman. After destructive American raids, Gopal tells us, many of its desperate inhabitants simply packed up and left for exile in Afghan or Pakistani refugee camps."

Franken Sworn in as Minnesota Senator
Henry C. Jackson, The Associated Press: "Al Franken became a senator on Tuesday, completing the transformation from comedian to politician. The Minnesota Democrat's swearing-in marked the end of an eight-month political and legal struggle and drew thunderous applause in the Senate chamber. His presence gives Democrats 60 votes, enough to thwart possible Republican filibusters."

J. Sri Raman The Poison in Bangladesh Polity
J. Sri Raman, Truthout: "Was Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wajed fed poisoned food while in detention during 2007-08? The question should be a matter of concern not for reasons of her health alone and not only for the country that gave her a landslide election victory at the end of last year. On June 27, in a television program that went almost unnoticed outside of Bangladesh, a top leader of Hasina's Awami League (AL) alleged that Hasina was served poison-laced food for an unspecified period as an under-trial prisoner facing charges of corruption during her earlier term in elected office. She was arrested on July 16, 2007, by an army-backed regime and released on bail on June 12, 2008."

Seth Sandronsky Michael Perelman, on Market Myths, Past and Present
Seth Sandronsky, Truthout: "Michael Perelman: 'First of all, when the economy slows down, tax revenues decline for federal, state and local governments. Second, government expenditures increase because people who experience sudden drops in income need to rely more on the social safety net. Third, the federal government stimulus has been largely directed toward the financial sector. Unlike the New Deal, when the government put people to work producing valuable projects that people can readily appreciate while walking around cities today, this stimulus is largely directed toward prettying up corporate balance sheets.'"

Eric Desrosiers Sick America
Eric Desrosiers, Le Devoir, "In spite of all the ill spoken about it, the American health care system is even sicker than is generally believed, if only for economic reasons ..."

VIDEO Obama Addresses the Russian People
"In 2009, a great power does not show strength by dominating or demonizing other countries. The days when empires could treat sovereign states as pieces on a chessboard are over. The pursuit of power is no longer a zero-sum game - progress must be shared."

Monday, July 6, 2009

Truthout 7/6

Dahr Jamail US Occupation of Iraq Continues Unabated
Dahr Jamail, Truthout: "We have passed the June 30 deadline that, according to a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) signed between US Ambassador Ryan Crocker and Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari on November 17, 2008, was the date all US forces were to have been withdrawn from all of Iraq's cities. Today, however, there are at least 134,000 US soldiers in Iraq - a number barely lower than the number that were there in 2003. The SOFA is a sieve, and the number of US military personnel in Iraq is remaining largely intact for now."

Financial Lobby Gears Up Effort Against Obama Plan
Silla Brush, The Hill: "A coalition of financial services interests is in the process of organizing a major lobbying campaign against the Obama administration's plan for a Consumer Financial Protection Agency.... The budget could be as high as several millions of dollars to organize grassroots opposition to the plan, launch an advertising campaign and contact congressional offices, according to one source."

Honduran Violence, US Aid Tests Obama's Global Image
Roberto Lovato, New America Media: "Public and official outrage in response to the killings and shootings are sure to intensify pressure on the military coup leaders who already face worldwide denunciation and pressure. The Organization of American States (OAS) suspended Honduras' membership Saturday; The European Union and most countries in Latin America with embassies in Honduras have withdrawn their ambassadors; the World Bank and some governments have either suspended or frozen loans to Honduras. But the military coup leaders are still recipients of U.S. economic and military aid."

Renters Across America Need More Help From Congress
Edward I. Koch and Robert S. Weiner, The New York Daily News: "While the recent anti-foreclosure bill signed by President Obama is of assistance to the homeowners affected by the current financial meltdown, the bill and its $13.6 billion of housing recovery money have ignored the nearly one-third of American households who rent, including more than 2 million households in New York City."

Colin Powell: Time to Review Policy on Gays in US Military
Reuters: "American attitudes have changed and the 'don't ask, don't tell' policy toward gays serving in the U.S. military should be reviewed, former Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Colin Powell said on Sunday. President Barack Obama favors overturning the policy, which bars gay troops from serving openly in the military."

Joseph E. Stiglitz Wall Street's Toxic Message
Joseph E. Stiglitz, Vanity Fair: "Every crisis comes to an end - and, bleak as things seem now, the current economic crisis too shall pass. But no crisis, especially one of this severity, recedes without leaving a legacy. And among this one's legacies will be a worldwide battle over ideas - over what kind of economic system is likely to deliver the greatest benefit to the most people."

Nick Mottern US Not Talking Much About Iraq's Detention Nightmare
Nick Mottern, Truthout: "As most American troops reportedly are leaving Iraqi cities, the occupation enters a new phase in which it will become more clear whether the US-backed Iraqi government will be able to retain control without having US firepower instantly available to it in the street. In this situation, detention of Iraqi citizens, a key element of the occupation, may increase."

Obama in Moscow: Can Tense Relationship Be "Reset"?
Tom Lasseter, McClatchy Newspapers: "Obama's trip to Russia is viewed on both sides of the Atlantic as a chance to resuscitate relations between the two nations after they fell to post-Cold War lows during the presidency of George W. Bush."

Dean Baker Life, Liberty and Employer-Provided Health Insurance
Dean Baker, Truthout: "As Congress starts to delve into the dirt of a health care reform package, the clearest point of conflict is over the existence and structure of a public health care plan. Some members of Congress have thrown down the gauntlet, insisting that they could never allow the public to have the option of buying into a government-run plan."

Six US Troops Killed in Afghanistan
Fisnik Abrashi, The Associated Press: "Two roadside bombs killed six American troops in Afghanistan on Monday, as a suicide bomber attacked the gate of the main NATO base in the south, officials said."

Chris Hedges The Crooks Get Cash While the Poor Get Screwed
Chris Hedges, Truthdig: "Tearyan Brown became a father when he was 16. He did what a lot of inner-city kids desperate to make money do. He sold drugs. He was arrested and sent to jail three years later for dealing marijuana and PCP on the streets of Trenton, N.J., mostly to white kids driving in from the suburbs. It was a job which saw him robbed at gunpoint and stabbed in the chest. But it made him about $1,400 a week."

Ethnic Violence in China Leaves 140 Dead
Tania Branigan, The Guardian: "Ethnic violence in China's restive Xinjiang province has left more than 140 people dead and hundreds injured, Chinese authorities said today, the bloodiest violence in the country since the Tiananmen Square protests."

FP Morning Post 7/6

Rioting by Uighurs

in China's restive Xinjiang province has resulted in over 140 deaths, according to Chinese officials. Hundreds of Uighur activists had gathered in the provincial capital Urumqi, to protest racial discrimination against the Muslim ethnic group. Authorities cracked down after protesters began throwing rocks and vegetables at the police. There are also reports of Uighur rioters attacking Han Chinese civilians.

Chinese authorities have blamed the violence on Uighur activists in Washington. Internet access in Xinjiang was unusually slow after the rioting began and social networking sites were blocked. Official casualty reports changed significantly throughout the day on Sunday and will likely rise again, but this does already seem to be China's worst outbreak of ethnic unrest since the Tibet uprising of March, 2008.

In the back room:

Tensions are rising between rival clerical groups in Iran's religious capital, Qom, over the results of last month's disputed election.

President Barack Obama arrived in Russia for a meeting with Russian leaders, aimed at reducing both countries' nuclear arsenals.
Bulgaria's opposition conservatives won in nationwide elections. Sofia Mayor Boiko Borisov will form a new government.
The EU's foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, says he will not seek another term in office after this year.

Ousted President Manuel Zelaya was prevented from returning to Honduras by fighting at the airport where his plane was supposed to land. The Organization of American States has suspended Honduras's membership.
Mexico's former ruling party, the PRI, made gains in midterm elections.
The Venezuelan government has taken control over the country's third largest bank.

North Korea fired more missiles toward the Sea of Japan on Saturday.
While visiting Burma, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was denied a visit with opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
A car bomb exploded near the main NATO airbase in Kandahar.

Middle East
A car bombing in Mosul broke a relatively violence-free spell since the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraqi cities.
Iran has freed one British embassy worker, but one more still remains in jail.
Iranian opposition candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi is reportedly planning to launch his own political party.

Nigeria's MEND rebels took over a Chevron oil facility and hijacked a chemical tanker.
The U.S. is warning Ethiopia not to send its troops back into Somalia.
Zimbabwe says it will withdraw troops from its Eastern diamond fields after criticism by human rights groups

HELP is on the way

New York Times

The Congressional Budget Office has looked at the future of American health insurance, and it works.

A few weeks ago there was a furor when the budget office “scored” two incomplete Senate health reform proposals — that is, estimated their costs and likely impacts over the next 10 years. One proposal came in more expensive than expected; the other didn’t cover enough people. Health reform, it seemed, was in trouble.

But last week the budget office scored the full proposed legislation from the Senate committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP). And the news — which got far less play in the media than the downbeat earlier analysis — was very, very good. Yes, we can reform health care.

Let me start by pointing out something serious health economists have known all along: on general principles, universal health insurance should be eminently affordable.

After all, every other advanced country offers universal coverage, while spending much less on health care than we do. For example, the French health care system covers everyone, offers excellent care and costs barely more than half as much per person as our system.

And even if we didn’t have this international evidence to reassure us, a look at the U.S. numbers makes it clear that insuring the uninsured shouldn’t cost all that much, for two reasons.

First, the uninsured are disproportionately young adults, whose medical costs tend to be relatively low. The big spending is mainly on the elderly, who are already covered by Medicare.

Second, even now the uninsured receive a considerable (though inadequate) amount of “uncompensated” care, whose costs are passed on to the rest of the population. So the net cost of giving the uninsured explicit coverage is substantially less than it might seem.

Putting these observations together, what sounds at first like a daunting prospect — extending coverage to most or all of the 45 million people in America without health insurance — should, in the end, add only a few percent to our overall national health bill. And that’s exactly what the budget office found when scoring the HELP proposal.

Now, about those specifics: The HELP plan achieves near-universal coverage through a combination of regulation and subsidies. Insurance companies would be required to offer the same coverage to everyone, regardless of medical history; on the other side, everyone except the poor and near-poor would be obliged to buy insurance, with the aid of subsidies that would limit premiums as a share of income.

Employers would also have to chip in, with all firms employing more than 25 people required to offer their workers insurance or pay a penalty. By the way, the absence of such an “employer mandate” was the big problem with the earlier, incomplete version of the plan.

And those who prefer not to buy insurance from the private sector would be able to choose a public plan instead. This would, among other things, bring some real competition to the health insurance market, which is currently a collection of local monopolies and cartels.

The budget office says that all this would cost $597 billion over the next decade. But that doesn’t include the cost of insuring the poor and near-poor, whom HELP suggests covering via an expansion of Medicaid (which is outside the committee’s jurisdiction). Add in the cost of this expansion, and we’re probably looking at between $1 trillion and $1.3 trillion.

There are a number of ways to look at this number, but maybe the best is to point out that it’s less than 4 percent of the $33 trillion the U.S. government predicts we’ll spend on health care over the next decade. And that in turn means that much of the expense can be offset with straightforward cost-saving measures, like ending Medicare overpayments to private health insurers and reining in spending on medical procedures with no demonstrated health benefits.

So fundamental health reform — reform that would eliminate the insecurity about health coverage that looms so large for many Americans — is now within reach. The “centrist” senators, most of them Democrats, who have been holding up reform can no longer claim either that universal coverage is unaffordable or that it won’t work.

The only question now is whether a combination of persuasion from President Obama, pressure from health reform activists and, one hopes, senators’ own consciences will get the centrists on board — or at least get them to vote for cloture, so that diehard opponents of reform can’t block it with a filibuster.

This is a historic opportunity — arguably the best opportunity since 1947, when the A.M.A. killed Harry Truman’s health-care dreams. We’re right on the cusp. All it takes is a few more senators, and HELP will be on the way.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Truthout 7/5

William Rivers Pitt Pass the Ball for Victory?
William Rivers Pitt, Truthout: "Insane southpaw Bill 'Spaceman' Lee once described Boston Red Sox baseball (pre-2004, of course) as high tragic opera, the kind of shattering long-running mental and emotional experience that leaves one with arms flung heavenward screaming, 'Why, God, why?' One must assume there were very many Republican strategists greeting the Saturday dawn in painfully similar fashion."

Honduras "to Stop Zelaya Plane"
BBC: "The interim government in Honduras says it will block any attempt by ousted President Manuel Zelaya to return."

Attack on US Base in Eastern Afghanistan Kills Two Soldiers
M. Karim Faiez and Laura King, The Los Angeles Times: "US military officials say 'several' US soldiers also were wounded in the assault on the remote outpost in Paktika province. It's the same area where an American soldier disappeared on Tuesday."

Mousavi Labelled "US Agent" as Iran Charges UK Official
Robert Tait, The Observer UK: "The stakes over Iran's disputed presidential election were raised dramatically yesterday, after a powerful regime hardliner denounced Mir Hossein Mousavi, the candidate officially declared to have lost, as an American agent and demanded that he undergo a public trial."

Obama Plan Could Trim Back Financial Powerhouses
Jim Kuhnhenn, The Associated Press: "Financial regulations proposed by the president would result in leaner and simpler institutions that don't carry the weight of the system on their marble columns."

Iranian Clergy Group Blasts Election
United Press International: "Senior Iranian religious leaders suggested Saturday recent election results are not legitimate and blasted the government's use of force against protesters."

Eleanor Clift Social Justice and the First Lady
Eleanor Clift, Newsweek: "Away from the cameras, Michelle Obama is reaching out to DC's poor and neglected."

FOCUS Obama's Trip: A Mission to Reshape US Image
Ben Feller, The Associated Press: "Determined to change the way the world views the United States, Barack Obama is on to his next foreign mission: rebuilding relations with Russia, proving to global leaders that America is serious about climate change, and outlining his vision for Africa, his father's birthplace."

FOCUS OAS Without Dissent Suspends Honduras Over Zelaya Ouster
Lesley Clark and Laura Figueroa, McClatchy Newspapers: "The Organization of American States voted late Saturday to suspend Honduras from the group over the military ouster of President Manuel Zelaya, who minutes later vowed to return to his country Sunday despite warnings it would be too dangerous."

Saturday, July 4, 2009

A President Breaks Hearts in Appalachia

Robert F. Kennedy, Jr

Mountaintop removal coal mining is the worst environmental tragedy in American history. When will the Obama administration finally stop this Appalachian apocalypse?

If ever an issue deserved President Obama's promise of change, this is it. Mining syndicates are detonating 2,500 tons of explosives each day -- the equivalent of a Hiroshima bomb weekly -- to blow up Appalachia's mountains and extract sub-surface coal seams. They have demolished 500 mountains -- encompassing about a million acres -- buried hundreds of valley streams under tons of rubble, poisoned and uprooted countless communities, and caused widespread contamination to the region's air and water. On this continent, only Appalachia's rich woodlands survived the Pleistocene ice ages that turned the rest of North America into a treeless tundra. King Coal is now accomplishing what the glaciers could not -- obliterating the hemisphere's oldest, most biologically dense and diverse forests. Highly mechanized processes allow giant machines to flatten in months mountains older than the Himalayas -- while employing fewer workers for far less time than other types of mining. The coal industry's promise to restore the desolate wastelands is a cruel joke, and the industry's fallback position, that the flattened landscapes will provide space for economic development, is the weak punchline. America adores its Adirondacks and reveres the Rockies, while the Appalachian Mountains -- with their impoverished and alienated population -- are dismantled by coal moguls who dominate state politics and have little to prevent them from blasting the physical landscape to smithereens.

Obama promised science-based policies that would save what remains of Appalachia, but last month senior administration officials finally weighed in with a mixture of strong words and weak action that broke hearts across the region. The modest measures federal bureaucrats promised amount to little more than a tepid pledge of better enforcement of existing laws.

And government claims of doing everything possible to halt the holocaust are simply not true. George Bush gutted Clean Water Act protections. Obama must restore them.

First, the White House should fix the "fill" rule the Bush administration adopted in 2002 to allow coal companies to use streams as waste dumps. Under this perverse interpretation of the Clean Water Act, 2,000 miles of Appalachian streams have been interred under mining waste. Obama could reverse the "fill" rule to reflect its original meaning, which forbids waste matter from being dumped into waterways.

Second, the Interior Department should strictly enforce the widely ignored "buffer zone" rule that forbids dumping waste within 100 feet of intermittent or perennial streams.

Third, our laws require companies to restore mined areas to their original condition. The administration should end the absurd fiction that extraction pits filled with unconsolidated rocks and rubble where trees will never grow and streams will never flow are "reclaimed."

Fourth, current law forbids the issuance of "fill" permits that will cause "significant degradation" to waterways. It is absurd for the Army Corps of Engineers to endorse the canard that filling miles of streams is not causing significant degradation. The president should require the Corps to deny and rescind permits where operations will cause downstream damage.

Fifth, the Clean Water Act requires mining operators to prove that they can restore the "function and structure" of affected streams. Operators have never been compelled to make the functional or structural analyses of the aquatic ecosystem required by the act. Obama should order his officials to stop ignoring this requirement.

Sixth, the administration should enforce the law requiring an environmental impact study for each permit when a mine "may have significant environmental impacts," individually or cumulatively. The Corps of Engineers routinely allows coal operators to escape this mandate -- an illegal practice that should stop.

Instead of acting to enforce these laws, administration officials indicated last month that they will allow more than 100 permits to go forward while they carefully review their regulatory options. If they act accordingly, the ruined landscapes of Appalachia will be Obama's legacy.

President Obama should go to Appalachia and see mountaintop removal. My father visited Appalachia in 1966 and was so horrified by strip mining -- then in its infancy -- that he made it a key priority of his political agenda. He complained that Appalachia, with our nation's richest natural resources, was home to America's poorest populations, its worst education system, and its highest illiteracy and unemployment rates. These statistics are even grimmer today as mining saps state wealth. In 1966, 46,000 West Virginia miners were collecting salaries and pensions and reinvesting in their communities. Mechanization has shrunk that number to fewer than 11,000. They extract more coal annually, but virtually all the profits leave the state for Wall Street.

The coal industry provides only 2 percent of the jobs in Central Appalachia. Wal-Mart employs more people than the coal companies in West Virginia. Last week a major study documented how coal imposes a net cost to Kentucky of more than $100 million per year. Coal is not an economic engine in the coalfields. It is an extraction engine.

Obama has the authority to end mountaintop removal, without further action from Congress and without formal rulemaking. He just needs to make the coal barons obey the law.

The writer is senior attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council. This originally appeared in the Washington Post July 3, 2009.

Truthout 7/4

Jim Hightower July 4th, Rebel and Agitate for Change
Jim Hightower, AlterNet: "Agitators created America, and it's their feisty spirit and outright rebelliousness that we celebrate on our national holiday. I don't merely refer to the Founders, either. Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, James Madison, Ben Franklin and the rest certainly were derring-do agitators when they wrote the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, creating the framework for a democratic republic."

Scott Tucker The Age of Paine
Scott Tucker, Truthdig: "Thomas Paine was born Jan. 29, 1737, in Thetford, England, and died on June 8, 1809, in Greenwich Village, New York. He was an active participant in the American and French revolutions, and once said to George Washington, 'a share in two revolutions is living to some purpose.' Through his writings he also left a lasting legacy in the British working-class movement. During his life, his books and pamphlets became instant best-sellers, since he was a pioneer in addressing a wide public in plain language."

Access Scandal Echoes Beyond The Washington Post
Michael Calderone and Andy Barr, The Politico: "For embarrassed Washington Post executives - reeling from what the paper's own ombudsman called a public relations "disaster" over a flier promoting a "salon" for lobbyists to mingle with prominent newsmakers - there must be a sense of 'Why us?' The fact is The Post's clumsy effort to make money on its brand name and market its access to the powerful was a belated effort to follow in the steps of at least two other prominent news organizations: the Wall Street Journal and the Economist magazine."

US Marines Push Deeper Into Southern Afghan Towns
Jason Straziuso and Chris Brummitt, The Associated Press: "US Marines pushed deeper into Taliban areas of southern Afghanistan iling victory, Amazonian Indian groups said it was an 'historic day.' At least 34 people died during weeks of strikes against the legislation, which allowed foreign companies to exploit resources in the Amazon forest."

Obama Tells Russia's Putin the Cold War Is History
Jennifer Loven, The Associated Press: "President Barack Obama said former Russian President Vladimir Putin and his hand-picked stracted by spin. We will not be able to respond effectively until we're able to deal in facts. The sooner we shoot down these myths, the sooner we'll be able dispel fear, think clearly, and start having some real, honest conversations about the actual threats we face."

Iranian Cleric Says UK Embassy Staff Face Trial
Hashem Kalantari, Reuters: "A senior Iranian cleric warned on Friday that detained British embassy staff would face trial for their alleged role in post-election unrest, and EU countries summoned Iranian envoys to protest against the detentions. Britain said it was urgently seeking clarification from Iranian authorities over Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati's comments to worshippers during Friday prayers in Tehran.

VIDEO President Barack Obama's Fourth of July Address
President Barack Obama: "These are some of the challenges that our generation has been called to meet. And yet, there are those who would have us try what has already failed; who would defend the status quo. They argue that our health care system is fine the way it is and that a clean energy economy can wait. They say we are trying to do too much, that we are moving too quickly, and that we all ought to just take a deep breath and scale back our goals. These naysayers have short memories. They forget that we, as a people, did not get here by standing pat in a time of change. We did not get here by doing what was easy. That is not how a cluster of 13 colonies became the United States of America."

FOCUS John Scripsick: Bush's 4th of July Celebration
John Scripsick, Truthout: "It's good to see that Woodward, Oklahoma, invited George W. Bush to their 4th of July celebration. Some days I feel sorry for this poor, lonely man. His dream of being rich and famous took him to be the leader of our great nation. My satisfaction as an Oklahoma farmer and rancher is the rain that comes in July or August to carry a cow herd 'till fall. I wonder what Bush will say in his 40-minute speech. I'm sure it will be sprinkled with patriotism, independence, and how we were only attacked once during his presidency."

Friday, July 3, 2009

Truthout 7/3

Jason Leopold Oil Industry Execs Suggested Invasion
Jason Leopold, Truthout: "Two years before the invasion of Iraq, oil executives and foreign policy advisers told the Bush administration that the United States would remain 'a prisoner of its energy dilemma' as long as Saddam Hussein was in power. That April 2001 report, 'Strategic Policy Challenges for the 21st Century,' was prepared by the James A. Baker Institute for Public Policy and the US Council on Foreign Relations at the request of then-Vice President Dick Cheney."

Matt Taibbi The Great American Bubble Machine
"In Rolling Stone Issue 1082-83, Matt Taibbi takes on 'the Wall Street Bubble Mafia' investment bank Goldman Sachs. The piece has generated controversy, with Goldman Sachs firing back that Taibbi's piece is 'an hysterical compilation of conspiracy theories' and a spokesman adding, 'We reject the assertion that we are inflators of bubbles and profiteers in busts, and we are painfully conscious of the importance in being a force for good.' Taibbi shot back: 'Goldman has its alumni pushing its views from the pulpit of the US Treasury, the NYSE, the World Bank, and numerous other important posts; it also has former players fronting major TV shows. They have the ear of the president if they want it.'"

Afghanistan: Massive US Offensive Targets Taliban Heartland
BBC News: "As the US launches a major offensive in Helmand where the Taliban insurgency is at its fiercest, the BBC's Caroline Wyatt assess the tactics and dangers involved in such an operation. The US Marines say Operation Khanjar, or Strike of the Sword, will be decisive."

Courtney Carvill Guatemalan Democracy: Hanging On by Its Fingernails
Courtney Carvill, Council on Hemispheric Affairs: "In a country where an average of 17 murders are committed each day and 98 percent of criminal cases remain unsolved, the May 10, 2009 assassination of prominent Guatemalan lawyer, Rodrigo Rosenberg, could easily have been dismissed along with thousands of other ill-handled and heavily manipulated political murder investigations. Instead, the dramatic elements of a video recording shown at the attorney's funeral, in which Rosenberg forewarns the viewers of his own death as a result of the alleged plotting of President Alvaro Colom, his wife Sandra Torres, and Colom's chief of staff Gustavo Alejos, has brought Rosenberg's murder to the height of national attention."

ACLU Statement on Raid at Progressive Candidate's Fundraiser
ACLU: "On Friday, June 26, 2009, according to press reports and witness statements, a San Diego County Sheriff's deputy, responding to a noise complaint, entered the home of Shari Barman who was hosting a political gathering to support Francine Busby, a candidate for Congress. When the homeowner questioned why she had to provide her date of birth, the deputy grabbed her arm, put it behind her back, and brought her to the ground. Feeling intimidated by a group of mostly middle-aged women, he pepper-sprayed a number of guests and arrested Barman."

Afghanistan: Massive US Offensive Targets Taliban Heartland
Gareth Porter, Inter Press Service: "The Barack Obama administration has given new prominence to a Bush administration charge that Iran is providing military training and assistance to the Taliban in Afghanistan, for which no evidence has ever been produced, and which has been discredited by data obtained by IPS from the Pentagon itself. The new twist in the charge is that it is being made in the context of serious talks between NATO officials and Iran involving possible Iranian cooperation in NATO's logistical support for the war against the insurgents in Afghanistan."

Jason Leopold Oil Industry Execs Suggested Invasion
Jason Leopold, Truthout: "Two years before the invasion of Iraq, oil executives and foreign policy advisers told the Bush administration that the United States would remain 'a prisoner of its energy dilemma' as long as Saddam Hussein was in power. That April 2001 report, 'Strategic Policy Challenges for the 21st Century,' was prepared by the James A. Baker Institute for Public Policy and the US Council on Foreign Relations at the request of then-Vice President Dick Cheney."

Michael Winship My State Legislature's Crazier than Yours. Oh Yeah?
Michael Winship, Truthout: "California should just be done with it and rename the entire state 'Neverland Ranch.' This serves several useful purposes. It would be the ultimate tribute to Michael Jackson, pleasing his most ardent and bereft fans. Further validate the state's Cloud Cuckoo, fairy tale reputation, thus probably promoting additional, revenue-generating tourism. Stand as an accurate metaphor for the state government's airheaded inability to cope with its current financial disaster."

Officials: US Drone Strike Kills Ten in Pakistan
Hafiz Wazir, Reuters: "A US drone aircraft fired missiles on Friday into Pakistan's South Waziristan region, killing 10 militants, officials said, ahead of an expected Pakistani military offensive in the area."

Dean Baker Economy Loses 467,000 Jobs In June; Unemployment Edges Up to 9.5 Percent
Dean Baker, Truthout: "Unemployment among men is near its all-time high on record. The economy shed another 467,000 jobs in June, as the unemployment rate edged up to 9.5 percent. The rise in unemployment would have been higher except 155,000 people left the workforce, pushing down the employed percentage of the population (EPOP) by 0.2 percentage points to 59.5 percent."

"The Commission Has Been Road-Blocked": Republicans' War on the FEC
Pete Martin and Zachary Roth, TPMMuckraker: "Election-law experts, supporters of campaign-finance regulations, and even some members of the commission itself are expressing growing concern about a string of cases in which the three Republicans on the commission - led by Tom DeLay's former ethics lawyer - have voted as a block against enforcement, preventing the commission from carrying out its basic regulatory function."

"Marital Rape Exemption" Persists in Many States
Caroline Johnston Polisi, Women's eNews: "Studies indicate that between 15 and 25 percent of all married women have been victims of spousal rape and some scholars suggest that this type of rape is the most common form in our society. Unfortunately, for survivors like Regan Martin, modern US law still retains vestiges of a misogynistic past."

Olivier Truc The Carbon Tax Has Proven Its Effectiveness in Sweden
Olivier Truc, Le Monde: "In 1991, the Swedes established a carbon tax that bears on energy consumption. To the skeptics who assert that this tax kills growth, they answer with their record: since the introduction of the tax, Swedish greenhouse gas waste has been reduced by 9 percent, while, during the same period, economic growth was 48 percent."

Oberstar, Obama on collision course

The Editors
Minneapolis Star-Tribune

"Make no small plans," Winston Churchill is credited with saying. U.S. Rep. Jim Oberstar seems to agree. As chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, the Minnesota Democrat is in the driver's seat to rewrite the surface transportation bill, which is due for its six-year renewal by Oct. 1, when the current five-year version expires.

In a recent interview, Oberstar listed his goals for the bill: "To restructure the Department of Transportation and the modal agencies within it; speed up delivery of highway and transit projects; change the operating culture of the department; restructure the delivery of programs to states; simplify and compress the categories of funding, to shift our surface transportation from a highly prescriptive program to a performance and outcomes-based program; give a greater responsibility to states, metropolitan planning organizations and transit agencies; and to elevate the issues of livability and accomplish something really significant, almost in a breakthrough fashion, in safety."

"Can't say it in a word," he concluded.

Whew. While visionary, Oberstar's ambitious agenda might have worn out Sir Winston.

It seems to have had that impact on the Obama administration, which has proposed an 18-month extension of the current program -- a delay Oberstar fears might actually translate to three or four years, putting off important decisions until the next presidential election cycle.

That kind of delay, Oberstar argues, is "madness. Just Madness. It's shortsightedness of the worst kind. This administration came in promising change. And we're offering the most sweeping change since the department was created. Since the interstate was established in 1956. They are responding, 'We need more time.' Well, we can't afford time. The public can't afford time."

The time the administration is trying to buy isn't due a fundamental philosophical difference on transit policy; but rather the roadblock is money -- or, more specifically, how to pay for a bill Oberstar pegged at $450 billion for highways and an additional $50 billion for high-speed rail. That compares with the current five-year expenditure of more than $286 billion. As it is, the existing federal Highway Trust Fund may go broke by mid-August with gas tax revenue falling as Americans drive less, and often in more fuel-efficient cars.

Several revenue-generating proposals have been suggested by two transportation commissions, including raising the 18.3-cent-per-gallon gas tax, but Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, a former congressional colleague of Oberstar's when he was a Republican representative from Illinois, is on record as saying the administration opposes a gas tax increase "during this challenging recessionary period, which has hit consumers and businesses hard across our country." One of the other proposals -- imposing a vehicle miles tax -- may make policy and technological sense, but the need to install GPS devices to count those miles raises privacy concerns that might position Uncle Sam as Big Brother.

Oberstar says the role of his committee is "to propose,'' while the Ways and Means Committee has jurisdiction on taxes. Technically, he's correct. But neither Oberstar nor any other committee chairman can afford to ignore the spiraling federal debt, which makes it essential that policies come with a way to pay. If a tax increase is needed, convince the president, as well as the public, that the investment will pay off.

Oberstar certainly believes it will. "There is an economic cost to congestion and a concomitant economic cost for delay in moving this legislation forward."

And, indeed, it would be counterproductive for the Obama administration to give legislative priority to the climate change bill working its way through Congress at the expense of a transit bill that has as one of its core goals easing the congestion that contributes to greenhouse gases.

Oberstar's bill has many merits. But the Obama administration is right to be concerned about the price tag. Bringing a complete bill forward -- with specific proposals on how to pay for it -- is the best way to try to turn a roadblock into a speed bump.

That 30s Show

New York Times

O.K., Thursday’s jobs report settles it. We’re going to need a bigger stimulus. But does the president know that?

Let’s do the math.

Since the recession began, the U.S. economy has lost 6 ½ million jobs — and as that grim employment report confirmed, it’s continuing to lose jobs at a rapid pace. Once you take into account the 100,000-plus new jobs that we need each month just to keep up with a growing population, we’re about 8 ½ million jobs in the hole.

And the deeper the hole gets, the harder it will be to dig ourselves out. The job figures weren’t the only bad news in Thursday’s report, which also showed wages stalling and possibly on the verge of outright decline. That’s a recipe for a descent into Japanese-style deflation, which is very difficult to reverse. Lost decade, anyone?

Wait — there’s more bad news: the fiscal crisis of the states. Unlike the federal government, states are required to run balanced budgets. And faced with a sharp drop in revenue, most states are preparing savage budget cuts, many of them at the expense of the most vulnerable. Aside from directly creating a great deal of misery, these cuts will depress the economy even further.

So what do we have to counter this scary prospect? We have the Obama stimulus plan, which aims to create 3 ½ million jobs by late next year. That’s much better than nothing, but it’s not remotely enough. And there doesn’t seem to be much else going on. Do you remember the administration’s plan to sharply reduce the rate of foreclosures, or its plan to get the banks lending again by taking toxic assets off their balance sheets? Neither do I.

All of this is depressingly familiar to anyone who has studied economic policy in the 1930s. Once again a Democratic president has pushed through job-creation policies that will mitigate the slump but aren’t aggressive enough to produce a full recovery. Once again much of the stimulus at the federal level is being undone by budget retrenchment at the state and local level.

So have we failed to learn from history, and are we, therefore, doomed to repeat it? Not necessarily — but it’s up to the president and his economic team to ensure that things are different this time. President Obama and his officials need to ramp up their efforts, starting with a plan to make the stimulus bigger.

Just to be clear, I’m well aware of how difficult it will be to get such a plan enacted.

There won’t be any cooperation from Republican leaders, who have settled on a strategy of total opposition, unconstrained by facts or logic. Indeed, these leaders responded to the latest job numbers by proclaiming the failure of the Obama economic plan. That’s ludicrous, of course. The administration warned from the beginning that it would be several quarters before the plan had any major positive effects. But that didn’t stop the chairman of the Republican Study Committee from issuing a statement demanding: “Where are the jobs?”

It’s also not clear whether the administration will get much help from Senate “centrists,” who partially eviscerated the original stimulus plan by demanding cuts in aid to state and local governments — aid that, as we’re now seeing, was desperately needed. I’d like to think that some of these centrists are feeling remorse, but if they are, I haven’t seen any evidence to that effect.

And as an economist, I’d add that many members of my profession are playing a distinctly unhelpful role.

It has been a rude shock to see so many economists with good reputations recycling old fallacies — like the claim that any rise in government spending automatically displaces an equal amount of private spending, even when there is mass unemployment — and lending their names to grossly exaggerated claims about the evils of short-run budget deficits. (Right now the risks associated with additional debt are much less than the risks associated with failing to give the economy adequate support.)

Also, as in the 1930s, the opponents of action are peddling scare stories about inflation even as deflation looms.

So getting another round of stimulus will be difficult. But it’s essential.

Obama administration economists understand the stakes. Indeed, just a few weeks ago, Christina Romer, the chairwoman of the Council of Economic Advisers, published an article on the “lessons of 1937” — the year that F.D.R. gave in to the deficit and inflation hawks, with disastrous consequences both for the economy and for his political agenda.

What I don’t know is whether the administration has faced up to the inadequacy of what it has done so far.

So here’s my message to the president: You need to get both your economic team and your political people working on additional stimulus, now. Because if you don’t, you’ll soon be facing your own personal 1937.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Two on SB Council appear less than welcoming

Donna Pandori

Many in South Bend are praising Mayor Steve Luecke for his executive order issued Wednesday that bans GLBT discrimination of city employees and prospective workers. However, council members Henry Davis Jr. (district 2) and Oliver Davis (district 6) are not.

The City of South Bend is a progressive community that believes in freedom and equality of opportunity for all. We treat everyone with dignity and respect," Mayor Luecke said (in his announcement).

"This order ensures that my administration will not tolerate discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity in employment decisions, including hiring, firing, promotion, compensations or other terms and conditions of city employment.

The executive order seems pretty straight forward. A person will be judged solely on the basis of individual merit. Everyone deserves to be treated respectfully and with dignity. If you do a good job you should be promoted and if you are a qualified person you should be hired. Not "special rights" just the "same rights" as everyone else. Why would anyone object to this?

In 2006 the Common Council considered a similar proposal which would have banned GLBT discrimination city-wide but the measure was defeated by one vote. Council members Henry Davis Jr. and Oliver Davis were not on the council in 2006 so it is not clear how they would have voted but their initial reaction to Mayor's executive order sheds light on how they might vote in the future.

Council member Henry Davis Jr. had this to say to WSBT:

"This is going to come back to the council at an extreme time and give us more work rather than focusing on the budget," said council member Henry Davis, Jr.

First of all this isn't going to cost the taxpayers a dime. Second of all, is council member Henry Davis Jr. implying an area as important as insuring equal rights for all is too "inconvenient" for him to take time to deal with?

Let's move on to council member Oliver Davis whose reaction captured by WSBT was this:

Council Vice President Oliver Davis told WSBT he is still taking feedback from constituents in his district.

"I think the issue is not only to have the executive order put in, but also to get the buy-in from the community," Davis said.

He also said he's heard from constituents on both sides of the issue -- but more people are against the equal rights proposal than for it.

"Buy in from the community"? Does this mean he will oppose equal rights as long as the "majority" of his constituents tell him to do so? That seems rather unjust wouldn't you say? Hmm.

Apparently council member Oliver Davis, an Assistant Professor of Social Work and BSW Program Director at Andrews University, is either leading two separate lives or he doesn't embrace the philosophies in a Field Manual authored by the very department he works for at Andrews University.

Excerpts from the Andrews University Department of Social Work "Field Manual":

We affirm-

That God's Kingdom embraces and includes all people, regardless of race, ethnicity, age, class, gender, sexual orientation, cultural background, religious belief, health status, ability, choice or action;

- The life and example of Jesus, who modeled a life of compassionate service to others and sought to end institutional and social oppression and improve the lives of others in the here and now;- That all people possess strengths and are resilient and capable of love, respect and self-determination;

- The values of self-determination, individual worth and dignity and the importance of life.

We lament-

-The institutional and social pain which humans inflict on one another, whether rooting in power, religious intolerance or secular philosophy;

- The injustice and violence which pervades our communities and our world;- The fear and selfishness expressed in racism, sexism, anti-Semitism and homophobia which separate us from one another;

- The exploitation of the earth and its poor for economic gain;

- The ways in which those with power attempt to impose their beliefs and will on the powerless, whether because of religious or secular dogma, ignorance, ideology or personal gain;

- The ways we fail to consistently demonstrate God's message of peace, hope, impartial justice, holistic healing and unconditional love for all communities and all others;

Nondiscrimination Statement

"Andrews University is committed to the same policy of nondiscrimination in education, research and all aspects of faculty, staff, student and alumni relations. All personnel policies, including all matters affecting compensation, benefits, promotions and employee discipline, are administered without regard to race, color, creed, ethnic background, country of origin, age, sex, height, weight, physical handicap, marital status, political
preference, gender, sexual orientation or past military service."

There has not been any justifiable explanations forthcoming from either of these two council members to merit their non-support of Mayor Lueck's executive order.

Those who oppose extending equal human and civil rights to the GLBT community are running out of wiggle room to continue their, for lack of better word, bigotry.

Change is coming to Indiana.

FP morning brief 7/2

Top story:

Around 4,000 U.S. marines pushed into the Taliban-controlled Helmand River valley in eastern Afghanistan in the biggest offensive since President Barack Obama ordered 21,000 additional troops to the country. The mission is supported by British troops stationed in Helmand, and the Pakistani military, which has set up along the border to block Taliban fighters from escaping into Pakistan.

A Marine commander described the mission as different from previous offensives in terms of the "massive size of the force introduced, the speed at which it will insert, and the fact that where we go we will stay, and where we stay, we will hold, build and work toward transition of all security responsibilities to Afghan forces.”

Reported casualties on both sides are minor so far, but a senior Taliban commander told Reuters that "Thousands of Taliban mujahideen are ready to fight against U.S. troops in the operation in Helmand province."

It has also been revealed that a U.S. soldier was taken prisoner by the Taliban in Eastern Afghanistan on Tuesday.

Must read:

Declassified records from Saddam Hussein's interrogation by the FBI indicate that the former Iraqi leader's WMD bluff was aimed primarily at Iran.

North Korea test-fired two short range missiles.
Islamist rebels in Southern Philippines say they have killed more than 500 government troops in the last 10 months.
In a landmark ruling, an Indian court overturned the country's ban on gay sex.

Middle East
Iranian opposition leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mohammad Khatami issued statements condemning the government's post-election crackdown and calling the Islamic regime illegitimate.
Several Iraqi insurgent groups issued statements calling on Iraqis to continue the fight against U.S. troops after this week's withdrawal from major cities.
Amnesty International has accused Israel of committing war crimes during its recent war in Gaza.

Honduras's interim government is refusing to cave to international pressure to reinstate ousted president Manuel Zelaya, and has accused the former president of allowing drugs to be shipped through the country.
The U.S. ambassador to Venezuela has returned to Caracas, nine months after he was expelled.
Argentina has sworn in a new health minister as it continues to battle a swine flu outbreak.

The European Union is considering withdrawing its diplomats from Tehran.
Russian president Dmitry Medvedev vlogged a message to the United States ahead of his meeting with President Obama next week, calling for better relations.
Albania's ruling Democratic Party is claiming victory in last weekend's election, but the opposition is disputing the result.

At the African Union summit in Tripoli, Union President Muammar al-Qaddafi is pushing for more continent-wide integration while richer nations like Nigeria and South Africa are expressing concerns over losing sovereignty.
Nine people convicted of genocide in Rwanda have been transferred to Benin to serve out their sentences.
Internationally mediated talks to resolve Madagascar's political crisis will resume this month.

Truthout 7/2

Maya Schenwar Iraq Vote Could Oust US Troops Early
Maya Schenwar, Truthout: "As US combat troops retreated from Iraqi urban centers on Tuesday, signs of an incomplete withdrawal abounded. Some soldiers remained in cities, their labels changed from 'combat troops' to 'trainers' or 'advisers,' while others relocated to bases close outside city borders. However, the US-Iraq security pact approved last December requires that every single US troop withdraw from the country by December 31, 2011, and an upcoming referendum vote in Iraq may demand an even quicker deadline."

Obama Takes Health Care Pitch to Annandale, Virginia
Philip Elliott, The Associated Press: "President Barack Obama hugged a cancer patient Wednesday at an emotional forum before a supportive audience and vowed to bring greater efficiency and accessibility to the nation's health care system. Debby Smith, 53, of Appalachia, Va., a volunteer for Obama's political operation, fought tears as she told the president of her kidney cancer and her inability to obtain health insurance or hold a job. Obama embraced her and called her 'exhibit A' in what he said was an unsustainable system that is too expensive and complex for millions of Americans."

Progressive Congressional Candidate's Fundraiser Raided by Police
Angela Lau, San Diego Union Tribune: "Francine Busby says she will demand an explanation from the Sheriff's Department about deputies breaking up a fundraising party held for her in Cardiff and arresting the host. The party was Friday night in the 1300 block of Rubenstein Avenue, the home of Shari Barman, a Busby supporter."

Poll: Pakistanis Turn on Taliban, but Resent US
Paul Eckert, Reuters: "Public opinion in Pakistan has turned sharply against the Taliban and other Islamist militants but Pakistanis still do not trust the United States and President Barack Obama, a poll showed on Wednesday. The poll, conducted last month as Pakistan's army fought the Taliban in the Swat Valley, found that most Pakistanis see the Pakistani Taliban and al Qaeda as a critical threat to the nuclear-armed country."

Iran "Disqualifies" EU From Talks
BBC News: "The EU is no longer qualified to take part in talks on Iran's nuclear programme, Iran's military chief says. Maj Gen Hassan Firouzabadi, Iran's chief of staff, accused the EU of 'interference' in riots which followed June's disputed presidential elections."

Did Justice Department Lawyers Violate Ethics?
Ari Shapiro, NPR News: "For more than a year, a Justice Department watchdog has been investigating whether lawyers who authorized harsh interrogations violated legal ethics. Attorney General Eric Holder says the investigation is nearly done. But to get to the bottom of the case, the watchdog has to take a close look at legal ethics rules, and how they relate to torture memos."

Dahr Jamail Kill the Indian. Save the Man.
Dahr Jamail and Jason Coppola, Truthout: "In 1845, an American columnist, John O'Sullivan, writing about the proposed annexation of Texas, claimed that it was America's 'manifest destiny to overspread the continent.' ... Perhaps Americans seriously believe that the US was preordained by God to expand and exercise hegemony over all that it surveys?"

Staffer at SEC Had Warned of Madoff
Zachary A. Goldfarb, The Washington Post: "An investigator at the Securities and Exchange Commission warned superiors as far back as 2004 about irregularities at Bernard L. Madoff's financial management firm, but she was told to focus on an unrelated matter, according to agency documents and sources familiar with the investigation."

US Soldier Believed Captured in Afghanistan
Khan Mohammad, Agence France-Presse: "A US soldier is believed to have been captured by insurgents in Afghanistan, the military said Thursday, as a commander for a hardline Taliban faction said his militia had the trooper."

AMA President: Group Open to Government-Funded Insurance
CNN: "The new president of the American Medical Association, which represents the interests of the nation's doctors, said Wednesday the group is open to a government-funded health insurance option for people without coverage."

North Korea Fires Short-Range Missiles, South Says
Heejin Koo, Bloomberg News: "North Korea fired two short-range missiles off its eastern coast today in defiance of United Nations sanctions imposed after a nuclear test, South Korea's military said."

Francois Vidal The Madoff Scandal: Nothing Is Settled
Three Francophone editorialists argue from right, left and center that Bernard Madoff's sentencing for the swindle of the century fails to reveal both the inner workings of that swindle and other dark sides of the whole financial system. One asks, "Will Madoff's punishment exonerate those who are responsible?"

South Bend Mayor extends employees' discrimination protections

Donna Pandori

From WSBT Newstalk

South Bend Mayor Steve Luecke is issuing his first Executive Order and it will prohibit discrimination against city employees who are gay, bisexual or transgender.

The mayor says the new personnel policy book will include language against bias based on sexual orientation or gender identity for city employees or prospective workers.

Luecke says it is similar to actions taken by other municipalities and businesses and is an issue of fairness for city workers.

In an email to council members, Luecke says he realizes this topic has been a difficult one for Council members and was rejected adding similar language to the Human Rights ordinance.

The mayor says he believe it is important to include these protections as a principle of City employment.

Anyone who was around when the amendment to include similar protections in the city's Human Rights Ordinance was debated knows this is a huge deal for South Bend. The HRO amendment was heavily fought by the conservative religious right who used scare tactics, lies, and rhetoric to defeat it. It will be interesting to see the reaction this brings from that fringe community.

Efforts are also currently underway again to get the HRO amendment passed. Now that Mayor Luecke has taken a leadership role in this area perhaps the common council will follow suit? The longer this executive order is in place the better it will be for garnering support for the amendment. The public will see the scare tactics, lies, and rhetoric spread by opponents for what they are - bigotry and discrimination.

If any council members were looking for a reason to vote yes on the HRO amendment, you now have a reason to do so. Follow the leadership of Mayor Luecke.

cross-posted from The Bilerico Project 6/24/09

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Judge vs. Judge

Don Wheeler

I used to read Mad magazine as a teenager, and one feature I enjoyed a lot was the "Spy vs. Spy" cartoon series. For those unfamiliar, it was an ongoing contest with the White Spy and the Black Spy - each trying to outdo the other. This came to mind when I spotted a recent story in the South Bend Tribune.

Tribune Staff Writer

SOUTH BEND — Two judges are embroiled in a legal battle that could force one judge to appear before the other in court next week, as part of a case filed by a formerly homeless man seeking custody of his son.

Circuit Judge Michael Gotsch has ordered County Probate Judge Peter Nemeth, who handles juvenile cases, to appear in court Thursday to explain why a 17-year-old boy hasn't been released from a foster home and returned to his father.

Later in the story, we find out why the boy hasn't been released:

Nemeth denied the boy and his father's request, in part because social workers said Walter Jennings refused to sign a "safety plan," which required in-home visits by social workers and an agreement to attend family counseling. Masters (representing Judge Nemeth's interests) said that refusal was enough cause for Nemeth to deny the teen's release."

(Jennings) admits in his (court) response that he never signed that safety plan ... he doesn't think it's necessary ... consequently the child hasn't been released from foster care and placed with him," Masters

[full story here]

As described in the article, the father lost custody originally because he was homeless and jobless. He has since established normality in both and thinks he should be able to put his family back together. On the face of it, that seems reasonable.

I have some insight into this matter I wouldn't have had, due to being half-way through my Court Appointed Special Advocate for children (CASA) training. Thus, I'm able to spot a problem not mentioned in the newspaper article.

Remember that the father lost custody due to neglect of his child. When that happens, the Division of Child Services, and the Court (ultimately), in consultation with specialists, devise a plan for reunification. It's important to emphasize that the bias is towards reunifying children with their parent(s). Thus, there is a clear path for the parent's desired outcome - he/she merely needs to follow it.

I'm sure stable occupational and residential components were in the plan but, as we can tell from the article, there were some other pieces as well. It seems clear the father feels he should be able to pick and choose which parts of the plan he will honor and which he feels he can ignore. Not surprisingly, Judge Nemeth feels otherwise.

Thus, the father is attempting an end run around the family court (Probate) system by filing a writ of habeas corpus in Circuit Court. You have to give the man high marks for creativity, but it is stunning that Judge Gotsch would not just honor the tactic, he would go so far as to order Judge Nemeth to appear in Gotsch's court and explain himself.

What was Judge Nemeth's reaction?

James Masters, Nemeth's law partner and attorney, said Gotsch has no jurisdiction in the case and cannot make Nemeth appear in court. On Friday, Masters filed a motion to quash the writ of habeas corpus, and he said he is confident Gotsch will rescind the writ once he reads the motion to quash.

"Nobody is going to appear (Thursday)," Masters said. "My motion to dismiss has been filed. My motion to quash has been filed. Judge Nemeth is not going to waste his time appearing before a judge who has no jurisdiction."

Let's hope Mr. Masters' faith in Judge Gotsch's ability to admit a mistake is well-placed.

Were this approach to be sanctioned, it would obviate the point of the Probate Court System. That system was created to address matters such as this. As it has done.

Leave well enough alone, Judge Gotsch.

Truthout 7/1

Reese Erlich Iran and Leftist Confusion
Reese Erlich, Truthout: "When I returned from covering the Iranian elections recently, I was surprised to find my email box filled with progressive authors, academics and bloggers bending themselves into knots about the current crisis in Iran. They cite the long history of US interference in Iran and conclude that the current unrest there must be sponsored or manipulated by the Empire. That comes as quite a shock to those risking their lives daily on the streets of major Iranian cities fighting for political, social and economic justice."

Dahr Jamail Refusing to Comply: The Tactics of Resistance in an All-Volunteer Military
Dahr Jamail, "On May 1st at Fort Hood in central Texas, Specialist Victor Agosto wrote on a counseling statement, which is actually a punitive US Army memo: 'There is no way I will deploy to Afghanistan. The occupation is immoral and unjust. It does not make the American people any safer. It has the opposite effect.'"

Norm Coleman Concedes Minnesota Senate Race to Al Franken
P.J. Huffstutter and James Oliphant, The Los Angeles Times: "After a fierce legal battle and a voter recount fight that stretched on for seven months, the Minnesota Supreme Court unanimously ruled today that Democrat Al Franken be certified as the winner in the long-disputed US Senate race. Two hours after the ruling was announced, Republican Norm Coleman conceded defeat. Franken said at a news conference that he was humbled 'not just by the closeness of this election, but by the responsibility that comes with this position.' 'I can't wait to get started,' he added."

Chris Hedges The Corporate Media Circus: The Truth Alone Will Not Set You Free
Chris Hedges, Truthdig: "The ability of the corporate state to pacify the country by extending credit and providing cheap manufactured goods to the masses is gone. The pernicious idea that democracy lies in the choice between competing brands and the freedom to accumulate vast sums of personal wealth at the expense of others has collapsed. The conflation of freedom with the free market has been exposed as a sham. The travails of the poor are rapidly becoming the travails of the middle class, especially as unemployment insurance runs out and people get a taste of Bill Clinton's draconian welfare reform. And class warfare, once buried under the happy illusion that we were all going to enter an age of prosperity with unfettered capitalism, is returning with a vengeance."

Wal-Mart Supports Employer-Mandated Health Coverage
Nicole Maestri, Reuters: "Wal-Mart Stores Inc , the world's largest retailer, said on Tuesday that it supports President Barack Obama's push to require large employers to offer health insurance to workers. 'We are for an employer mandate which is fair and broad in its coverage,' stated a letter addressed to Obama and signed by Mike Duke, the chief executive of Wal-Mart; Andy Stern, the president of Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and John Podesta, the CEO of the Center for American Progress."

Renters Hit by Foreclosure Crisis Too
Martha C. White, The Washington Independent: "While the plight of homeowners affected by the real estate meltdown has been well-documented, renters too often fall under the radar. Although tenants' advocacy groups credit recently passed national legislation for including some protections, they charge that the new law only scratches the surface. The number of renters being forced from their homes is on the rise as foreclosures increase. 'We've seen a mass increase. I would say it's up by 50 percent,' said Arlene Bradley, housing advocacy director of Housing Rights Inc. in Berkeley, Calif., a group that provides legal advice and counseling to renters in the greater San Francisco Bay area."

FP morning post 7/1

Top story:

Honduras is facing growing international pressure to reinstate ousted President Manuel Zelaya. The Organization of American States has given the country a 72-hour deadline to reinstall the president. The United Nations also voted for a measure condemning the coup which was co-sponsored by the United States. President Barack Obama has called the coup a "terrible precedent" for democracy in the region.

Acting President Roberto Micheletti is holding strong, saying "no one can make me resign" and vowing that Zelaya could only return through another country invading Honduras and installing him.

Zelaya had planned to return to Honduras on Thursday, but because of the 72-hour ultimatum, he will not wait until this weekend for what is sure to be a tense showdown with the acting government, which has promised to arrest him if he enters Honduras. In a reversal, Zelaya now says he will not run for reelection or seek to extend his term.

Under the radar:

A trade dispute may be brewing as reports indicate that China will ban the import of U.S. chicken.

Middle East

At least 33 people were killed in a bombing in Kirkuk as Iraqis celebrated the withdrawal of U.S. troops from cities.
Iran's Basij militia has called for an investigation into the activities of opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi.
Few companies are bidding on Iraq's oil fields.

The North Korean ship being tailed by the U.S. navy has changed course and seems to be heading back the way it came.
Malaysia has loosened its system of ethnic preferences in hiring.
Thousands of pro-democracy protesters rallied in Hong Kong on the 12th anniversary of Chinese rule.

At the last minute, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad cancelled an appearance at the African Union summit in Libya.
The African Union dropped sanctions on Mauritania, imposed after the country underwent a military coup last August.
Niger's main opposition leader was arrested after being accused of plotting a coup.

Sweden assumes the presidency of the European Union today.
Albania's election is headed for deadlock with neither party able to gain a majority and accusations of fraud.
Al Qaeda has issued a threat against France in response to a public debate over whether to ban the burqa.

Democrat Al Franken has finally been declared the winner in Minnesota's senate election after a drawn-out court battle. This gives the Democrats 60 seats in the senate and the ability to break a veto.
For the first time, Cuba will allow workers to hold multiple government jobs.
Several parts of Latin America, including Buenos Aires, have declared a swine flu emergency.