Monday, August 31, 2009

FP morning brief 8/31

Top story:

Japan's Democratic Party handed the ruling Liberal Democrats a crushing defeat in yesterday's election, ending a half century of nearly uninterrupted one-party rule. The DPJ won 308 of the 480 seats in the assembly, a 175 percent increase.

Now, of course, begins the hard part. The DPJ faces a laundry list of economic problems and an impatient electorate. The Party has promised robust social spending measures to combat the crisis, but with high deficits, it's not clear where the money is coming from. It's also an open question how a DPJ led government will reorient Japan's role on the world stage and its relationship with the United States.

In mid-September, the DPJ will vote in a new prime minister. The job will almost certainly fall to party leader Yukio Hatoyama, an unlikely reformer and scion of a Japanese political dynasty.

Strategy review:

The U.S. commander in Afghanistan, David McChystal, has sent his strategic review to the Pentagon calling for a new strategy in the war. The report doesn't mention troop level increases by McChrystal is expected to ask for them privately.

Middle East
Authorities in the U.A.E. have seized a shipment of North Korean weapons, bound for Iran.
Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was indicted on corruption charges.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas reaffirmed his unwillingness to negotiate with Israel without a full settlement freeze.

North and South Korea will resume regular cross-border traffic.
The Pakistani military killed at least 45 militants in the Swat valley.
Burma's military routed ethnic Chinese rebels in the north of the country.

Weekend regional election results in Germany don't bode well for Angela Merkel's conservatives.
Russian authorities have reportedly killed an Al Qaeda operative in Dagestan.
Falling European consumer prices are boosting hopes of an economic rebound.

Ethiopian troops have seized control of a Somali town.
Ali Ben Bongo, son of former leader Omar Bongo, appears to be leading in Gabon's presidential election.
African Union leaders are meeting for a summit in Libya.

Colombian President Alvaro Uribe has contracted swine flu.
A category 4 hurricane is nearing Baja California.
Venezuela will prosecute protesters arrested during a demonstration last week.

Truthout 8/31

Dr. Wilmer J. Leon, III "The Dream" Remains a Vision
Dr. Wilmer J. Leon III, Truthout: "On August 28, 1963, during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and delivered one of the most famous speeches in world history, "I Have A Dream." What has troubled me over the years is how Dr. King, the visionary, prophet, and revolutionary's vision, action, and ultimate sacrifice have been hijacked, compromised, and relegated to being those of just a dreamer."

Blackwater Tapped Foreigners on Secret CIA Program
Adam Goldman and Pamela Hess, The Associated Press: "When the CIA revived a plan to kill or capture terrorists in 2004, the agency turned to the well-connected security company then known as Blackwater USA."

Tomgram: Nick Turse, From My Lai to Lockerbie
Tom Engelhardt, "On this one-way planet of ours, it’s hard sometimes to imagine things any other way, but for a moment let’s try. Imagine, for instance, that in recent years the director of Iranian intelligence oversaw a program of 'extraordinary rendition' aimed at those who were believed to be prepared to commit acts of terror against that country’s fundamentalist regime."

Bill Moyers Disses Dems as "Spineless"
Patrick Gavin, The Politico: "Bill Moyers has been a frequent critic of the Republican Party over the years, making his critique of the Democratic Party on 'Real Time' more exceptional. PBS's Bill Moyers issued a tough critique of the Democratic Party on Friday night on HBO's 'Real Time With Bill Maher.'"

Mary Kelly Vital Protection in a Storm
Mary Kelly, The Philadelphia Inquirer: "Four years ago this weekend, Hurricane Katrina, a Category 3 storm, caused massive destruction along the Gulf Coast from central Florida to Texas. Much of the damage was caused by storm surge, which destroyed infrastructure and damaged critical refineries. It also contributed to levee failures, flooding homes and small businesses on a scale that stunned even the most jaded hurricane watchers."

The Los Angeles Times Gay Pride and Prejudice
The Los Angeles Times: "The issue before a federal judge in January will be same-sex marriage in California and whether the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, with its guarantees of equal protection and due process of law, prohibits Proposition 8 and other bans on the right to marry. "

Gentrification Fears Dog Sustainable Transport
Matthew Cardinale, Inter Press Service: "As U.S. cities consider the urgent need for sustainable public transportation options, advocates are looking for ways to achieve the environmental benefits of such projects without displacing residents through gentrification of surrounding areas."

Leopold Tribunal Takes Up Rendition, Torture Case
Jason Leopold, Truthout: "A week after the Justice Department released documents that described in extraordinary detail the CIA's top secret rendition program, an international human rights tribunal has agreed to take up the case of a German citizen who was 'rendered' to a CIA black site prison in Afghanistan and tortured in a case of mistaken identity."

McChrystal Says Afghanistan Strategy Failing, Hints at Troop Increase
BBC News: "A top US general in Afghanistan has called for a revised military strategy, suggesting the current one is failing.... The report has yet not been published, but sources say Gen McChrystal sees protecting the Afghan people against the Taliban as the top priority."

Cheney May Resist Cooperation With CIA Interrogation Probe
Josh Meyer, The Los Angeles Times: "Former Vice President Dick Cheney lashed out at President Obama on Sunday, saying the Justice Department's decision to investigate whether CIA operatives broke the law while interrogating terrorism suspects was politically motivated and dangerous to national security."

Suicide Bomber Kills 15 Police in Pakistan's Swat Region
Saeed Shah, McClatchy Newspapers: "A suicide bomber killed at least 15 police recruits in Pakistan's Swat valley Sunday, the first major attack since the army announced it had taken the area back from the Taliban. The bomber detonated himself at a training session for a new community police force intended to provide security for an area that had been overrun by the Taliban."

Top Officer Says US Bungling Muslim Outreach
Anne Gearan, The Associated Press: "The U.S. military is bungling its outreach to the Muslim world and squandering good will by failing to live up to its promises, the nation's highest-ranking military officer wrote Friday. Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said there is too much emphasis on telling the U.S. story and not enough on building trust and credibility."

Can a Mother Lose Her Child Because She Doesn't Speak English?
Tim Padgett with Dolly Mascarenas, TIME Magazine: "Can the U.S. government take a woman's baby from her because she doesn't speak English? That's the latest question to arise in the hothouse debate over illegal immigration, as an undocumented woman from impoverished rural Mexico - who speaks only an obscure indigenous language - fights in a Mississippi court to regain custody of her infant daughter."

Rachel Godfrey Wood Carbon Controversies in Costa Rica
Rachel Godfrey Wood, Council on Hemispheric Affairs: "Everyone needs something to believe in, and for many Latin American progressives, that something for years has been Costa Rica. The country has long been cited as a beacon of progressive tranquility in a region better known for violence, inequality and poverty.... Besides the Maldives, Costa Rica, is the only developing country to make carbon neutrality an explicit government objective."

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Truthout 8/30

John Lamperti Honduras: Lessons From the Coup
John Lamperti, Truthout: "The June 28 military coup that overthrew the legitimate government of Honduras was a shock. When the Central American wars of the 1980s finally ended, the region seemed on a path toward electoral democracy at last. The military's ouster of President Zelaya, followed by the suspension of civil liberties and repression of non-violent protests, looks like a return to the bad old days when coups were the rule and real elections the rare exception."

Jeremy Scahill Flushing Blackwater
Jeremy Scahill, The Nation: "Blackwater, the private mercenary company owned by Erik Prince, has been thrust back into the spotlight by a series of stunning revelations about its role in covert US programs. Since at least 2002, Blackwater has worked for the CIA in Afghanistan and Pakistan on 'black' contracts. On August 19, The New York Times revealed that the company was, in fact, a central part of a secret CIA assassination program that Dick Cheney allegedly ordered concealed from Congress."

President Obama's Eulogy for Sen. Ted Kennedy
President Barack Obama: "Ted Kennedy's life's work was not to champion those with wealth or power or special connections. It was to give a voice to those who were not heard; to add a rung to the ladder of opportunity; to make real the dream of our founding. He was given the gift of time that his brothers were not, and he used that gift to touch as many lives and right as many wrongs as the years would allow."

Rep. Frank Eyes Fed Audit, Emergency Lending Curbs
Tim Ahmann, Reuters: "Rep. Barney Frank, the chairman of the US House of Representatives Financial Services Committee, said he plans legislation to restrict the Federal Reserve's emergency lending powers and subject the central bank to a 'complete audit.'"

Obama Pledges to Push Ahead With Katrina Recovery
Philip Elliott, The Associated Press: "President Barack Obama marked the fourth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina on Saturday by pledging to make sure that turf wars and red tape don't slow the pace of the continuing recovery."

Opposition Wins Landslide in Japan's Election
Eric Talmadge, The Associated Press: "Japan's opposition party won historic elections in an apparent landslide Sunday, media projections said, sending the conservatives to defeat after 54 years of nearly unbroken rule amid widespread economic anxiety and desire for change."

Kennedy Memoir Set for September Release
Andrea Sachs, TIME Magazine: "In the days following Sen. Edward Kennedy's death, his story will be told by friends and admirers, fellow politicians, family members, pundits and critics. But when Kennedy's mammoth memoir, 'True Compass,' is published on September 14, readers will be able to experience his life story as told by the Senator himself."

FOCUS John Cory Requiem for a Man: In Honor of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy
John Cory, Truthout: "He was a man
Who lived at water's edge
And loved both tide and sand and the feel of nature's breath
He knew a dream delayed becomes a dream decayed
And so he fought on..."

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Til debt does its part

New York Times

So new budget projections show a cumulative deficit of $9 trillion over the next decade. According to many commentators, that’s a terrifying number, requiring drastic action — in particular, of course, canceling efforts to boost the economy and calling off health care reform.

The truth is more complicated and less frightening. Right now deficits are actually helping the economy. In fact, deficits here and in other major economies saved the world from a much deeper slump. The longer-term outlook is worrying, but it’s not catastrophic.

The only real reason for concern is political. The United States can deal with its debts if politicians of both parties are, in the end, willing to show at least a bit of maturity. Need I say more?

Let’s start with the effects of this year’s deficit.

There are two main reasons for the surge in red ink. First, the recession has led both to a sharp drop in tax receipts and to increased spending on unemployment insurance and other safety-net programs. Second, there have been large outlays on financial rescues. These are counted as part of the deficit, although the government is acquiring assets in the process and will eventually get at least part of its money back.

What this tells us is that right now it’s good to run a deficit. Consider what would have happened if the U.S. government and its counterparts around the world had tried to balance their budgets as they did in the early 1930s. It’s a scary thought. If governments had raised taxes or slashed spending in the face of the slump, if they had refused to rescue distressed financial institutions, we could all too easily have seen a full replay of the Great Depression.

As I said, deficits saved the world.

In fact, we would be better off if governments were willing to run even larger deficits over the next year or two. The official White House forecast shows a nation stuck in purgatory for a prolonged period, with high unemployment persisting for years. If that’s at all correct — and I fear that it will be — we should be doing more, not less, to support the economy.

But what about all that debt we’re incurring? That’s a bad thing, but it’s important to have some perspective. Economists normally assess the sustainability of debt by looking at the ratio of debt to G.D.P. And while $9 trillion is a huge sum, we also have a huge economy, which means that things aren’t as scary as you might think.

Here’s one way to look at it: We’re looking at a rise in the debt/G.D.P. ratio of about 40 percentage points. The real interest on that additional debt (you want to subtract off inflation) will probably be around 1 percent of G.D.P., or 5 percent of federal revenue. That doesn’t sound like an overwhelming burden.

Now, this assumes that the U.S. government’s credit will remain good so that it’s able to borrow at relatively low interest rates. So far, that’s still true. Despite the prospect of big deficits, the government is able to borrow money long term at an interest rate of less than 3.5 percent, which is low by historical standards. People making bets with real money don’t seem to be worried about U.S. solvency.

The numbers tell you why. According to the White House projections, by 2019, net federal debt will be around 70 percent of G.D.P. That’s not good, but it’s within a range that has historically proved manageable for advanced countries, even those with relatively weak governments. In the early 1990s, Belgium — which is deeply divided along linguistic lines — had a net debt of 118 percent of G.D.P., while Italy — which is, well, Italy — had a net debt of 114 percent of G.D.P. Neither faced a financial crisis.

So is there anything to worry about? Yes, but the dangers are political, not economic.

As I’ve said, those 10-year projections aren’t as bad as you may have heard. Over the really long term, however, the U.S. government will have big problems unless it makes some major changes. In particular, it has to rein in the growth of Medicare and Medicaid spending.

That shouldn’t be hard in the context of overall health care reform. After all, America spends far more on health care than other advanced countries, without better results, so we should be able to make our system more cost-efficient.

But that won’t happen, of course, if even the most modest attempts to improve the system are successfully demagogued — by conservatives! — as efforts to “pull the plug on grandma.”

So don’t fret about this year’s deficit; we actually need to run up federal debt right now and need to keep doing it until the economy is on a solid path to recovery. And the extra debt should be manageable. If we face a potential problem, it’s not because the economy can’t handle the extra debt. Instead, it’s the politics, stupid.

Truthout 8/29

Michael Winship Even Camelot Needed Health Care
Michael Winship, Truthout: "The first time I ever heard the dreaded phrase 'socialized medicine' was during John F. Kennedy's presidency, when the GOP fought his administration's attempts at health care reform. And during his own, all too brief presidential campaign in 1968, when Bobby Kennedy told audiences that decent medical care should not be a luxury of the rich, he quoted Aristotle: 'If we believe men have any personal rights at all, then they must have an absolute moral right to such a measure of good health as society can provide.'"

The Iranian Opposition's Second Life
Max Burns, Foreign Policy In Focus: "In a nation with a frighteningly effective intelligence service, Supreme Leader Khamenei was entirely unaware of this protest because it took place in cyberspace."

Robert Reich Beware Authoritative "Inside Washington" Sources
Robert Reich, Robert Reich's Blog: "Washington, DC is an echo chamber in which anyone who sounds authoritative repeats the conventional authoritative wisdom about the 'consensus' of inside opinion, which they've heard from someone else who sounds equally authoritative, who of course has heard it from another authoritative source. Follow the trail to its start and you often find an obscure congressional or White House staffer who has seen some half-assed poll number or briefing memo, but seeking to feel important hypes it to a media personality or lobbyist who, desperate to sound authoritative, pronounces it as truth."

August Deadliest Month for US in Afghanistan
Robert H. Reid, The Associated Press: "An American service member died Friday when his vehicle struck a bomb in eastern Afghanistan, making August the deadliest month for US forces in the nearly eight-year war."

Political Luminaries Pay Tribute to Kennedy
Bob Salsberg and Denise Lavoie, The Associated Press: "In death as in life, Massachusetts Sen. Edward Kennedy on Friday brought together political rivals - this time to celebrate his ferocious sense of humor and unwavering dedication to family and country."

Secret Camps and Guillotines? Groups Make Birthers Look Sane
Steven Thomma, McClatchy Newspapers: "Is the federal government building secret camps to lock up people who criticize President Barack Obama? Will it truck off young people to camps to brainwash them into liking Obama's agenda? Are government officials planning to replicate the French Revolution's Reign of Terror, using the guillotine to silence their domestic enemies? No. The charges, of course, are not true."

California Firefighters Wage Fierce Wildfire Battles
Christina Hoag, The Associated Press: "Firefighters beat back flames licking at ocean-view estates Friday, while another wildfire raged through a dry forest above Los Angeles' foothill suburbs. Residents nervously watched aircraft drop loads of water and retardant on nearby blazing slopes."

Clientele On the Rise at Biloxi Soup Kitchen
Debra Alban, CNN: "Biloxi was one of the cities that Katrina hit hardest. And though the city has made progress rebuilding, the 26-year-old kitchen has seen steady increases in clients each year since the storm. With few residents in the city shortly after Katrina, there was little activity. But the kitchen reports serving 55,281 meals in 2007, 64,825 meals in 2008 and 38,877 in the first seven months of 2009."

FOCUS DOJ May Skirt Court Order on Interrogation Documents
Spencer Ackerman, The Washington Independent: "The Obama administration may circumvent the spirit of a judge’s order to disclose hundreds of documents relating to the CIA’s Bush-era interrogation program, delivering instead generic descriptions of the documents and legal arguments for continued nondisclosure."

Friday, August 28, 2009

Truthout 8/28

Jason Leopold US Interrogators Back Torture Probe
Jason Leopold, Truthout: "Support for a wide-ranging criminal investigation into the Bush administration's use of torture has grown to include a former top FBI interrogator and a career military intelligence officer with more than two decades of experience conducting interrogations."

Health Industry Donates Heavily to Blue Dog Democrats' Campaigns
Halimah Abdullah, Columbus Ledger-Enquirer: "As the Obama administration and Democrats wrangled over health care overhaul efforts during the first half of the year, the Democratic Party's Blue Dog political-action committee was receiving more than half of its $1.1 million in campaign contributions from the pharmaceutical, health care and health insurance industries, according to watchdog organizations."

Bill Richardson Sees No Charges in US Graft Probe
Reuters: "New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson's office said on Thursday it did not expect federal prosecutors to bring charges in a legal probe that led him to withdraw his nomination for a post in President Barack Obama's Cabinet."

Judge Rules That He, Too, Can Grant Access to US Secrets
Michael Doyle, McClatchy Newspapers: "In a highly unusual legal step, a federal judge has ordered the government to grant an attorney a security clearance so he can represent a disgruntled former narcotics officer in a lawsuit against a former CIA officer."

Business Groups Target Climate Bill
Jim Snyder, The Hill: "Advocates for manufacturers and small businesses are launching a multimillion-dollar ad campaign against climate change legislation in states represented by senators likely to determine the bill's fate."

Mike Elk Stop the Teabaggers, Give Them Green Jobs
Mike Elk, Campaign for America's Future: "West Virginia shows us how we could easily win over this key segment of society, working class whites, with a New Deal-style industrial policy. Currently, 85,000 people in the United States are employed by the wind industry; Slightly more than the 81,000 in the United States working as coal miners."

Danny Schechter Facts, and Understanding, Are Often in Conflict: Living in a Culture of Delusion Leads to Denial, Ignorance and Worse
Danny Schechter, Common Dreams: "What do we have a right to know? In this web-based age, where we can Google almost everything, you'd think we would be better informed than we are. We have Freedom of Information laws and a President who has promised transparency, offering some details on what he's doing on an easy to access website. Yet, there is much more that we still don't know, and maybe never will."

FP morning post 8/28

Top Story:

In the first attack against a member of the Saudi royal family in decades, a suicide bomber attempted to kill Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, the deputy interior minister in charge of antiterrorism operations.

Nayef was meeting with members of the public for Ramadan when the attacker detonated his explosives during a security check. Aside from the attacker, no one was killed.

This is the first terrorist bombing in Saudi Arabia since 2006. The government's crackdown has largely pushed militant activity into neighboring Yemen. No group has yet claimed responsibility for the bombing.

"This will only increase my determination" to fight terrorism, Nayef said.

Having words:

U.S. envoy Richard Holbrooke reportedly had an "explosive" meeting with Afghan President Hamid Karzai over the recent presidential election.

North and South Korea have reached a deal to resume family reunions. The North will also release the four South Korean fisherman it has detained.
10,000 Burmese refugees have crossed into China, fleeing fighting between the government and rebels in the country's northeast.
Al Qaeda second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri released a tape calling for armed resistance in Pakistan.

Middle East
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is demanding the prosecution of opposition leaders.
Shiites in Iraq and Iran have begun a period of mourning for deceased leader Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim

South African President Jacob Zuma is meeting with his Zimbabwean counterpart Robert Mugabe in Harare.
Power-sharing talks in Madagascar ended without an agreement.
South Africa may dismiss more than 1,000 soldiers who rioted, demanding higher pay, this week.

Britain will appoint a new head of its army tomorrow, Gen. David Richards.
Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is launching libel suits against a number of foreign and Italian media outlets.
Iceland will reimburse the governments of Britain and the Netherlands for money lost by investors in Icelandic banks.

Honduras's interim president has offered amnesty to ousted President Manuel Zelaya in exchange for him giving up his attempts to regain power.
The UN will investigate this week's murder of 12 indigenous Colombians.
The U.S.-Colombia basing agreement is at the top of the agenda at a regional summit in Argentina.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Truthout 8/27

Jason Leopold Torture Process Described in Detail
Jason Leopold, Truthout: "Among the treasure trove of documents released on Monday related to the CIA's detention and torture program is a 20-page background paper that, for the first time, describes in extraordinary detail the process of "rendition" and the torture prisoners are then subjected to when they are flown to 'black site' prisons. The document was turned over to the ACLU in response to the civil liberties group's Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the government late on Monday evening along with numerous others, including previously undisclosed Justice Department legal opinions."

Files Prove Pentagon Is Profiling Reporters
Stars and Stripes: "Contrary to the insistence of Pentagon officials this week that they are not rating the work of reporters covering U.S. forces in Afghanistan, Stars and Stripes has obtained documents that prove that reporters' coverage is being graded as 'positive,' 'neutral' or 'negative.' Moreover, the documents - recent confidential profiles of the work of individual reporters prepared by a Pentagon contractor - indicate that the ratings are intended to help Pentagon image-makers manipulate the types of stories that reporters produce while they are embedded with US troops in Afghanistan."

Sheehan Returns to Rebuke Obama
Agence France-Presse: "After spending weeks dogging George W. Bush's presidential vacations, anti-war protester Cindy Sheehan is now trying to make life uncomfortable for President Barack Obama. Sheehan used to pitch a peace camp near Bush's ranch in Crawford, Texas, becoming a symbol of the anti-war movement after her son Casey died in action in Iraq."

Promises, Promises: Early Katrina Praise for Obama
Ben Evans And Becky Bohrer, The Associated Press: "As a presidential candidate, Barack Obama pledged to right the wrongs he said bogged down efforts to rebuild the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina. Seven months into the job, he's earning high praise from some unlikely places. Gov. Bobby Jindal, R-La., says Obama's team has brought a more practical and flexible approach. Many local officials offer similar reviews. Even Doug O'Dell, former President George W. Bush's recovery coordinator, says the Obama administration's 'new vision' appears to be turning things around."

McCain Speaks With Angry Crowd at Arizona Town Hall
Amanda Lee Myers, The Associated Press: "Sen. John McCain met with an angry crowd at a town-hall meeting about health care reform Wednesday, sometimes having to fight to talk and telling one woman who wouldn't stop yelling that she had to leave. The Arizona senator hadn't yet opened up the meeting at McCain's central Phoenix church to questions when one audience member continuously yelled over him."

Delay Further Muddies Confused Afghan Poll Picture
Hamid Shalizi, Reuters: "Afghan officials said on Thursday they had delayed releasing further results from the nation's disputed presidential poll, adding further confusion to a contest which appears headed for a second round. Votes from about 17 percent of 27,000 polling stations have been counted so far, meaning results could swing wildly in the coming days. Preliminary final results are due on September 3, with the final tally about two weeks later."

Jean-Marc Vittori Bernanke, Feats and Flaws
Jean-Marc Vittori, Les Echos: "The markets are big babies. They always need to be reassured, especially under the current circumstances. That's why the president of the United States has renewed Ben Bernanke's tenure at the head of the Federal Reserve. The announcement, which will have to be confirmed by the Senate, was welcomed with a 21-gun salute by the financial exchanges."

FP morning post 8/27

Top story:

A landslide victory is appearing likely for Japan's opposition Democratic Party in this Sunday's election. New opinion polls suggest the party could win as many as two-thirds of the seats in the Diet, ending the Liberal Democratic Party's nearly unbroken half century in power with a crash. LDP leaders have all but conceded defeat with Prime Minister Taro Aso attributing it to “an accumulation of criticism" of his handling of the economy.

Japan now finds itself in uncharted political waters with the DPJ leading even in traditional LDP strongholds and preparing for the possibility of actually having to govern.

The DPJ plans to cut back the government bureaucracy and cut social service costs, but major overhauls seem unlikely and critics worry that its not willing to radical changes to pull the country out of its economic slump. In foreign policy, the DPJ has signaled a focus on relations with Asia rather than the traditional alliance with the United States.

World economy:

New figures show the largest monthly increase in international trade volume in nearly a year in June.

Taiwan will risk Chinese ire by inviting the Dalai Lama to visit.
A new video allegedly shows Sri Lanka's military committing atrocities against Tamil prisoners.
Polls show Afghan president Hamid Karzai extending his lead in the presidential election.

Middle East
A string of car bombings targeted Iraqi troops in Baghdad today.
Iran's Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamanei said there was no proof of ties between the Iranian opposition and Western powers.
Iranian MPs say they will investigate claims of mass burials of prisoners following June's election protests.

Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu is in Germany for talks over the Mideast peace process and Iran.
Moldova's communist government is expected to officially stand down on Friday.
Italy's antitrust watchdog is investigating Google.

The commander of the international peacekeeping force in Iran says Darfur is no longer in a state of war.
Mali's president is refusing to sign a controversial women's rights bill.
UN officials say peacekeepers need a new mandate in order to go after Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army.

Central America's development bank says it is freezing loans to Honduras.
Twelve indigenous Colombians were massacred by an armed gang in a Cocaine-producing region.
New Mexico governor Bill Richardson says he plans to brief the White House at the end of his trade mission to Cuba.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Truthout 8/26

Jack Newfield The Senate's Fighting Liberal
Jack Newfield, The Nation: "When Ted Kennedy arrived in Washington at the close of 1962 as the freshman senator from Massachusetts, he was welcomed with derision and low expectations. Just 30 years old, the President's kid brother, he had accomplished nothing in his life to earn the prize of a seat in the US Senate. Most pundits saw him as a dummy who had cheated on an exam at Harvard to stay eligible for football and who was dependent on an excellent staff to compensate for his inexperience. Now, forty years later, Ted Kennedy looks like the best and most effective senator of the past hundred years."

Iraq Shiite Leader Hakim Dies in Tehran Hospital
Farhad Pouladi, Agence France-Presse: "The leader of Iraq's largest Shiite party, Abdel Aziz al-Hakim, died in a Tehran hospital on Wednesday aged 60 after a long battle with lung cancer, five months ahead of key parliamentary elections. 'He died a few minutes ago after battling cancer for 28 months,' his son Mohsen Hakim told AFP. He and his brother Ammar had been at their father's bedside."

Leslie Thatcher How to Save the American West
Truthout's Leslie Thatcher talks to Drs. Howard Wilshire, Jane Nielson and Richard Hazlett, the authors of "The American West at Risk," about the genesis of the book and their prescriptions for saving the American West.

Obama on Brink of Deal for Middle East Peace Talks
Ewen MacAskill and Julian Borge, The Guardian UK: "Barack Obama is close to brokering an Israeli-Palestinian deal that will allow him to announce a resumption of the long-stalled Middle East peace talks before the end of next month, according to US, Israeli, Palestinian and European officials."

Favilla Bonuses on Trial
Favilla, Les Echos: "Bonuses are one of the summer's ongoing soap operas. They contain all the elements: money intoxication, the mysterious image of those invisible people who are traders and news fed by some banks' sensational declarations about the continuation of their precrisis practices and by governments' martial communiques promising the end of those practices. All the tumult gives rise to a certain confusion."

Tensions Rise as Iraq Blames Baathists in Syria for Bombings
Adam Ashton and Laith Hammoudi, McClatchy Newspapers: "Iraq Tuesday demanded that Syria hand over two high-ranking Iraqi Baath Party officials following last week's bombing of two government ministries. Iraq later recalled its ambassador to Damascus for consultations, and Syria followed suit, withdrawing its envoy from Baghdad."

Journalists' Recent Work Examined Before Embeds
Charlie Reed, Stars and Stripes: "As mo re journalists seek permission to accompany U.S. forces engaged in escalating military operations in Afghanistan, many of them could be screened by a controversial Washington-based public relations firm contracted by the Pentagon to determine whether their past coverage has portrayed the U.S. military in a positive light."

William Rivers Pitt Teddy
William Rivers Pitt, Truthout: "Teddy was just a man, but ended his life as something far more than that. Teddy, now gone from us, has become an idea, a bulwark, a standard and a clarion call to service and national duty. He will no longer be in the Senate working for us, and it is impossible to believe someone will step forward to stand in his place. He was just a man, and he has finally paid that death we all owe in the end, so the rest is up to us all. The dream he spoke of can indeed end, and surely will, if we let it. He guarded it, tended it and enriched it for so long, but that is over. It is up to us now, just as he would want it to be."

Henry A. Giroux Town Hall Democracy or Mob Hysteria? Rethinking the Importance of the Public Sphere
Henry A. Giroux, Truthout: "The bitter debate that is unfolding over Obama's health care plan has garnered a great deal of media attention. The images are both familiar and disturbing - members of Congress are shouted down, taunted, hanged in effigy and, in some instances, received death threats. In some cases, mob scenes have produced violence and resulted in a number of arrests. Increasingly, people are showing up with guns at these meetings, revealing an intimate connection between an embrace of violence, politics and an unbridled hatred of both the public sphere and the conditions for real exchange, debate and dialogue over important social issues."

Dean Baker Kennedy's Quick Win for Social Security
Dean Baker, Talking Points Memo: "If the Democrats in the Congress had joined the chorus of those pushing for a CPI adjustment, it is very likely that it would have gone through. So, even though almost no one knows the details of this particular incident, Senator Kennedy played an enormously important role in protecting the financial security of tens of millions of current and future retirees."

Frida Berrigan Afghanistan: War Trumps Elections
Frida Berrigan, Foreign Policy In Focus: "The official results of Afghanistan's presidential elections won't be known for weeks. The ballots cast around the country need to be brought to Kabul - some by donkey and helicopter - and counted. Nevertheless, US officials have rushed to celebrate the process, and NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen heralded the elections as 'a testimony to the determination of the Afghan people to build democracy.' This, despite more than 75 reported incidents of violence throughout the country, an estimated 26 civilians and security forces dead, reports of more than a handful of districts where no one voted."

South Carolina Lt. Gov. Asks Sanford to Step Down
Peter Hamby, CNN: "South Carolina's lieutenant governor on Wednesday accused Gov. Mark Sanford of 'serious misconduct' in office and said the time has come for the embattled governor to resign. Andre Bauer is the highest-ranking official so far to call on Sanford to step down. He said he tried to remain supportive of the governor after he admitted to an extramarital affair in June, but subsequent investigations into Sanford's foreign and domestic travel expenses have become too much of a distraction for the state."

Obama Supporters Plan Pro-Health Overhaul Push
The Associated Press: "Supporters of President Barack Obama's health care agenda are ramping up their efforts with rallies and bus tours starting this week, aiming to counter increasing public skepticism leading up to Congress' post-Labor Day return to Washington. 'We want to send members of Congress back to DC with the real message, which is that the majority of the public want comprehensive health care reform and we want it now,' said Jacki Schechner, spokeswoman for Health Care for America Now, an umbrella organization of groups pushing for a comprehensive health care overhaul."

Massachusetts Law Makes Swift Kennedy Succession Unlikely
James Oliphant, The Los Angeles Times: "Senator Edward M. Kennedy didn't live to see his last public wish granted. Last week, during what turned out to be his final days, Kennedy sent a letter to Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick and Democratic leaders of the state Legislature, asking that the state law for choosing a successor be amended. Kennedy hoped to have Patrick granted the power to choose an interim senator until a special election could be held."

VIDEO A Tribute to Senator Edward Kennedy
The Lion of the Senate, Ted Kennedy died on Tuesday of brain cancer. The Democratic National Committee showed the following tribute to Senator Kennedy at the 2008 Democratic National Convention.

FP morning post 8/26

Top Story:

After talks with U.S. envoy George Mitchell in London, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says they are "making headway" on the contentious issue of West Bank settlements.

While it is not clear what sort of compromise is being discussed, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas does appear to be easing his insistence that he will not continue negotiations until all settlement construction has ceased, and officials now see he will meet with Netanyahu on the sidelines at the U.N. General Assembly in September.

Netanyahu met with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown yesterday, who said he is "more optimistic" about the peace process now. Netanyahu next travels to Germany where he will meet Chancellor Angela Merkel to discuss Iran sanctions.


Legendary U.S. Senator Edward Kennedy has died at 77. In addition to his role in domestic politics, he was an influential critic of the wars in Vietnam and Iraq and advocate for the Northern Ireland peace process.

Middle East
The leader of one of Iraq's leading Shiite political groups has died.
Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad unveiled a program to build up a Palestinian state over the next two years.
Diplomats say Iran may be running short on nuclear material.

Preliminary results show Afghanistan's election is still too close to call.
Chinese President Hu Jintao is visiting the Xinjiang region for the first time since last month's riots.
Delegates from North and South Korea have begun talks on family reunification.

A French security agent captured by insurgents in Somalia is now free.
A prolonged drought is devastating Kenya.
The head of the joint UN-African Union peacekeeping force has resigned.

Greece's devastating wildfires have been contained.
Russian investigators say the recovered ship Arctic Sea may have been carrying more sensitive cargo than originally thought.
French police have discovered a cache of weapons belonging to Basque separatist group Eta.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez says he is preparing to cut off diplomatic ties with Colombia.
Honduras's interim government has balked at a proposed resolution to the country's political crisis.
Remittances from Mexicans living abroad continued to drop last quarter.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

FP morning post 8/25

Top Story:

Following the visit by former U.S. President Bill Clinton and the death of former South Korean President Kim Dae Jung, North Korea appears to be ratcheting down its confrontational rhetoric for the time being, and making some conciliatory gestures. On Wednesday, North and South Korean will hold talks on resuming the reconciliation of families, separated since the end of fighting in the Korean War in 1953.

Pyongyang has also invited U.S. envoy Stephen Bosworth to visit for nuclear talks next month. It will be the first formal diplomatic meeting between North Korea and the Obama administration. South Korean President Lee Myung-bak is proposing a plan in which the South will resume and expand the humanitarian aid program he suspended when he came into office in exchange for the North suspending its nuclear program. However, few believe the Kim Jong Il's government will agree to this demand.

South Korea also launched its first rocket this morning, but failed to put a satellite in orbit.

World economy:

China is on pace to become the world leader in producing solar energy products.

Afghanistan is planning to release partial election results today.
A suicide bombing killed 26 at a restaurant in Southern Thailand.
The Philippines claims to have eliminated a prominent Al Qaeda-linked terror group.

The Obama administration will continue the policy of "rendition" of terror suspects but says it will institute more oversight.
Barack Obama will nominate Ben Bernanke for a second term as chairman of the Federal Reserve.
The Mexican military has arrested a senior member of the La Familia drug cartel.

Middle East
The Israeli air force attacked Gaza smuggling tunnels in retaliation for a mortar attack on Monday.
Iraq's Shiite leaders have created a political alliance without Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.
Fighting is intensifying between Yemen's military and Shiite rebels.

Three police were killed in a suicide bombing in Chechnya.
Libya's justice minister defended his decision to release Lockerbie bomber Abdel Basset Ali Megrahi.
Greece's government is coming under heavy criticism for its handling of out-of-control wildfires.

Half of Somalia's population is in need of humanitarian aid, according to the UN.
African ministers are meeting in Ethiopia to decide a common climate change policy.
South African President Jacob Zuma is due to visit Zimbabwe this week.

Truthout 8/25

Leopold GOP Uses Scare Tactics to Discourage Torture Probe
Jason Leopold, Truthout: "Senate Republican Whip Jon Kyl of Arizona is one of eight senators who signed a letter sent to Attorney General Eric Holder on Wednesday urging him not to appoint a special counsel to investigate torture. Nine Republican lawmakers sent a letter to Eric Holder on Wednesday saying the US could face a terrorist attack if the attorney general appoints a special prosecutor to investigate the CIA's use of torture against 'war on terror' suspects."

Holder to Appoint Prosecutor to Investigate CIA Terror Interrogations
Carrie Johnson, The Washington Post: "Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. has decided to appoint a prosecutor to examine nearly a dozen cases in which CIA interrogators and contractors may have violated anti-torture laws and other statutes when they allegedly threatened terrorism suspects, according to two sources familiar with the move. Holder is poised to name John Durham, a career Justice Department prosecutor from Connecticut, to lead the inquiry, according to the sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the process is not complete."

Leslie Thatcher If Dirt Could Talk ...
Leslie Thatcher, Truthout: "Thick roiling billows of ochre, rust and mushroom earth crest into a towering 5,000 foot high tsunami of dirt in the photograph of a 1977 dust storm above the southern San Joaquin Valley. I cannot think of another book I have ever read more true to its cover than Howard Wilshire, Jane Nielson and Richard Hazlett's 'The American West at Risk: Science, Myths, and Politics of Land Abuse and Recovery.'"

As Discord Mounts, Afghan Officials Promise Preliminary Election Results Tuesday
Laura King, The Los Angeles Times: "Amid mounting allegations of fraud in last week's presidential elections, election officials pledged today to provide preliminary results of the vote on Tuesday. However, the partial tally and turnout figures, to be based on reports from about three-quarters of the 6,500 polling stations, may serve to inflame tensions rather than ease them. Some observers fear the disclosure of a preliminary tally could set off clashes between rival camps."

Guantanamo Prisoner Detained as Teen Meets With Karzai
Jonathan S. Landay and Carol Rosenberg, McClatchy Newspapers: "A young Afghan whose six-year detention at Guantanamo came to symbolize many of the problems of the Bush administration's war on terror detention policies arrived in his home country today, less than a month after a federal judge in Washington ordered his release. Mohammed Jawad, whose confession to throwing a hand grenade that wounded two US soldiers in 2002 was rejected as coerced by torture, was helicoptered into Kabul from Bagram Air Base and taken to the office of the Afghan attorney general."

Attack on Obama Riles Beck's Advertisers
David Bauder, The Associated Press: "Glenn Beck returns to Fox News Channel on Monday after a vacation with fewer companies willing to advertise on his show than when he left, part of the fallout from calling President Barack Obama a racist. A total of 33 Fox advertisers, including Wal-Mart Stores Inc., CVS Caremark, Clorox and Sprint, directed that their commercials not air on Beck's show, according to the companies and, a group that promotes political action among blacks and launched a campaign to get advertisers to abandon him. That's more than a dozen more than were identified a week ago."

Cash for Clunkers Program Heads Into Final Day
Emily Fredrix, The Associated Press: "It was a race to the finish for dealers and customers alike as the government's Cash for Clunkers program headed into its final lap on Monday. Over the weekend, car dealers across the country watched their lots grow empty as crowds rushed to trade in gas guzzlers after the government said that the $3 billion rebate program would end at 8 p.m. EDT Monday, two weeks earlier than expected."

NOW Justice Delayed
NOW: "A terrible statistic: One in six women will be a victim of rape or attempted rape in her lifetime. But an even more shocking reality: A backlog in processing rape kits - crucial evidence in arresting violent predators - is delaying and sometimes denying justice for tens of thousands of American women."

New US Deaths Make 2009 Afghan War's Deadliest
Peter Graff, Reuters: "Four U.S. servicemen were killed by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan on Tuesday, making 2009 the deadliest year for the growing contingent of foreign troops since the overthrow of the Taliban in 2001. The deaths highlighted the steadily worsening violence in the country, which has been in political limbo since a disputed presidential election last week. Afghan election authorities were preparing later on Tuesday to publish the first partial results from the presidential election, but the tiny sample may do little to resolve a growing war of words on the outcome."

Seth Sandronsky Fixing California's Prisons?
Seth Sandronsky, Truthout: "Is it a famine and a feast? Some Californians might wonder. The state has a record budget deficit and a prisoner surplus. To help close a $24 billion gap in spending and tax revenues for the 2009 to 2010 budget year, state lawmakers and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger are addressing California's $10 billion, 33-prison system, operating at double its design capacity now."

Inside the CIA's Haphazard Interrogation Program
Pamela Hess and Matt Apuzzo, The Associated Press: "With just two weeks of training, or about half the time it takes to become a truck driver, the CIA certified its spies as interrogation experts after 9/11 and handed them the keys to the most coercive tactics in the agency's arsenal. It was a haphazard process, cobbled together in the months following the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington by an agency that had never been in the interrogation business. The result was a patchwork program in which rules kept shifting and the goals often were unclear."

Bernanke to Be Nominated for Second Term as Fed Chair
Julianna Goldman and Scott Lanman, Bloomberg: "Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke, who led the biggest expansion of the central bank's power in its 95-year history to battle the worst economic slump since the Great Depression, will be nominated to a second term by President Barack Obama. Bernanke 'has led the Fed through one of the worst financial crises that this nation and this world have ever faced,' Obama said in remarks prepared for delivery today in Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts, where Bernanke is to join him."

Obama Creates New Agency to Oversee Terrorist Interrogations
Margaret Talev, Marisa Taylor and Warren P. Strobel, McClatchy Newspapers: "The Obama administration, moving to break with Bush-era interrogation policies, announced Monday that it would create a new interagency group to manage the questioning and transfers of terrorist detainees. Many of the details, however, were unknown, and it was unclear how significantly the new approach will differ from previous practices."

Democrats Increase Talk of Moving Heath Care Without GOP
Jared Allen, The Hill: "A leading House Democrat on Monday said Democrats are prepared to pass healthcare reform without Republican support, echoing comments made over the weekend by a leading Senate Democrat. 'I think that at some point everyone's going to see that the Republicans simply are not going to agree to any kind of healthcare reform that the insurance industry isn't supporting and that, reluctantly, we're going to have to do it without them,' said Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Illinois)."

UN, Red Cross Warn of Escalating Conflict in Yemen
Bradley S. Klapper, The Associated Press: "The United Nations and the Red Cross warned Tuesday about an escalating conflict in northern Yemen between government forces and Shiite rebels that has already driven 120,000 people from their homes and is spreading to other provinces. Fighting has recently expanded to the province of Amran, the U.N. said. Most of the fighting has been in Saada province, where there are reports of no water and no electricity for the last 15 days."

Monday, August 24, 2009

FP morning post 8/24

Top Story:

Military commanders said the U.S. force in Afghanistan is insufficient -- despite the 17,000 additional troops sent by U.S. President Barack Obama. The commanders told Richard Holbrooke, Obama's special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, that the troop presence could not adequately respond to Taliban and other militant attacks, particularly in southern and eastern Afghanistan.

Compounding factor:

Afghan President Hamid Karzai's chief presidential rival, Abdullah Abdullah, accused the incumbent of stealing the election. It remains unclear who won, though most analysts expect it was Karzai -- the results are not due for another week and a half, at least.

Tens of thousands fled Athens, Greece, as wildfires burned around the city.
Up to 75 Eritreans died en route from Libya to Italy, the five survivors told officials.

Footage released by a Cuban state-run television station showed Fidel Castro, who is 83 and was rumored to be medically incapacitated, in apparently much-improved health.
Honduras’ Supreme Court rejected a deal brokered in Costa Rica to return ousted President Manuel Zelaya to power.

The head of South Africa’s national sports body quit in protest of the gender testing of star runner Caster Semenya.
Insurgents in Somalia rejected the president’s request for a cease-fire during Ramadan.
The United States -- including President Barack Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and CIA and military leaders -- criticized Libya over the handling of the repatriation of the Lockerbie bomber.Middle East
Iraq broadcast the supposed confession of a militant who bombed the Finance Ministry in a deadly attack last week. He said he paid a $10,000 bribe to get his truck past guards.
Troops in Yemen killed more than 100 in continued fighting between northern insurgents and the army.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad nominated Gen. Ahmed Vahidi, a suspect in the bombing of a Jewish community center in Argentina, as defense minister.

At a meeting with the South Korean president, North Korean interlocutors asked for him to meet with leader Kim Jong Il.
Xu Zhiyong, an activist Chinese lawyer held in detention, was released.
China said it is planning a mass trial for 200 over the sectarian riots in the restive Xinjiang Province.

All the President's zombies

New York Times

The debate over the “public option” in health care has been dismaying in many ways. Perhaps the most depressing aspect for progressives, however, has been the extent to which opponents of greater choice in health care have gained traction — in Congress, if not with the broader public — simply by repeating, over and over again, that the public option would be, horrors, a government program.

Washington, it seems, is still ruled by Reaganism — by an ideology that says government intervention is always bad, and leaving the private sector to its own devices is always good.

Call me naïve, but I actually hoped that the failure of Reaganism in practice would kill it. It turns out, however, to be a zombie doctrine: even though it should be dead, it keeps on coming.

Let’s talk for a moment about why the age of Reagan should be over.

First of all, even before the current crisis Reaganomics had failed to deliver what it promised. Remember how lower taxes on high incomes and deregulation that unleashed the “magic of the marketplace” were supposed to lead to dramatically better outcomes for everyone? Well, it didn’t happen.

To be sure, the wealthy benefited enormously: the real incomes of the top .01 percent of Americans rose sevenfold between 1980 and 2007. But the real income of the median family rose only 22 percent, less than a third its growth over the previous 27 years.

Moreover, most of whatever gains ordinary Americans achieved came during the Clinton years. President George W. Bush, who had the distinction of being the first Reaganite president to also have a fully Republican Congress, also had the distinction of presiding over the first administration since Herbert Hoover in which the typical family failed to see any significant income gains.

And then there’s the small matter of the worst recession since the 1930s.

There’s a lot to be said about the financial disaster of the last two years, but the short version is simple: politicians in the thrall of Reaganite ideology dismantled the New Deal regulations that had prevented banking crises for half a century, believing that financial markets could take care of themselves. The effect was to make the financial system vulnerable to a 1930s-style crisis — and the crisis came.

“We have always known that heedless self-interest was bad morals,” said Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1937. “We know now that it is bad economics.” And last year we learned that lesson all over again.

Or did we? The astonishing thing about the current political scene is the extent to which nothing has changed.

The debate over the public option has, as I said, been depressing in its inanity. Opponents of the option — not just Republicans, but Democrats like Senator Kent Conrad and Senator Ben Nelson — have offered no coherent arguments against it. Mr. Nelson has warned ominously that if the option were available, Americans would choose it over private insurance — which he treats as a self-evidently bad thing, rather than as what should happen if the government plan was, in fact, better than what private insurers offer.

But it’s much the same on other fronts. Efforts to strengthen bank regulation appear to be losing steam, as opponents of reform declare that more regulation would lead to less financial innovation — this just months after the wonders of innovation brought our financial system to the edge of collapse, a collapse that was averted only with huge infusions of taxpayer funds.

So why won’t these zombie ideas die?

Part of the answer is that there’s a lot of money behind them. “It is difficult to get a man to understand something,” said Upton Sinclair, “when his salary” — or, I would add, his campaign contributions — “depend upon his not understanding it.” In particular, vast amounts of insurance industry money have been flowing to obstructionist Democrats like Mr. Nelson and Senator Max Baucus, whose Gang of Six negotiations have been a crucial roadblock to legislation.

But some of the blame also must rest with President Obama, who famously praised Reagan during the Democratic primary, and hasn’t used the bully pulpit to confront government-is-bad fundamentalism. That’s ironic, in a way, since a large part of what made Reagan so effective, for better or for worse, was the fact that he sought to change America’s thinking as well as its tax code.

How will this all work out? I don’t know. But it’s hard to avoid the sense that a crucial opportunity is being missed, that we’re at what should be a turning point but are failing to make the turn.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Truthout 8/23

Obama May Abandon Effort to Reach Health Deal With Republicans
Edwin Chen, Bloomberg: "President Barack Obama is likely in September to end Democratic efforts to work with Republicans on health-care legislation and press for a party-line vote if the stalemate on the issue in the U.S. Senate persists, a person close to the White House said. The president and his advisers have started devising a strategy to pass a measure by relying only on the Democratic majority in each house of Congress, said the person, who spoke on condition of anonymity."

Afghan Challenger Says Election "Widely Rigged"
Paul Tait and Sayed Salahuddin, Reuters: "Afghan President Hamid Karzai's main challenger said on Sunday he had evidence last week's election had been widely rigged by the incumbent and that he had lodged more than 100 complaints. With counting underway following Thursday's vote, the country is on tenterhooks ahead of an official result -- although the start of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan and a relative lull in violence has helped calm tensions."

Homelessness Grows in Shadow of White House
Leila Fadel, McClatchy Newspapers: "As Washington's policymakers debate health care bills and promise economic recovery, Cali tries to stay afloat, as do thousands of others in the District of Columbia and millions across the country. About $1.5 billion from the $787 billion stimulus package was set aside to go toward preventing homelessness, but most of the money hasn't been distributed yet, advocates for the homeless say."

US "Names Secret Terror Suspects"
BBC News: "The US military has begun notifying the Red Cross of the identities of terror suspects being held at secret camps in Iraq and Afghanistan, US reports say. The International Committee of the Red Cross would not comment on the report, which the New York Times carried quoting unnamed US officials. The policy reportedly took effect this month with no public announcement."

Six Civilians Killed in Somali Capital
Agence France-Presse: "At least six civilians were killed and 17 wounded in the Somali capital when rebels and government forces backed by African peacekeepers exchanged fire, officials and witnesses said Sunday. The clashes broke out on Saturday night in southern Mogadishu's Hodan and Holwadag neighbourhoods. Each side accused the other of starting the fighting."

Competition Lacking Among Private Health Insurers
Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar, The Associated Press: "One of the most widely accepted arguments against a government medical plan for the middle class is that it would quash competition — just what private insurers seem to be doing themselves in many parts of the U.S. Several studies show that in lots of places, one or two companies dominate the market. Critics say monopolistic conditions drive up premiums paid by employers and individuals."

Elizabeth Westley Francine Coeytaux and Elisa Wells Emergency Contraception: Have We Come Full Circle?
Elizabeth Westley Francine Coeytaux and Elisa Wells, RH Reality Check: "Two decades ago, Dr. Felicia Stewart, then serving as Medical Director of the Planned Parenthood affiliate in Sacramento California, began her campaign to let out of the closet "America's best-kept secret" - emergency contraception. The method had been suppressed because many providers thought the method was "not effective enough," or would lead women to use it "too much" (in place of using other more effective methods). Advocates disagreed, believing that emergency contraception could help some women prevent pregnancy, that women could learn to use the method appropriately, and that women had the right to this important option."

FOCUS Dying for Affordable Health Care - the Uninsured Speak
Ed Pilkington, The Guardian UK: "In the furious debate gripping America over the future of its health system, one voice has been lost amid the shouting. It is that of a distinguished gynaecologist, aged 67, called Dr Joseph Manley. For 35 years Manley had a thriving health clinic in Kansas. He lived in the most affluent neighbourhood of Kansas City and treated himself to a new Porsche every year. But this is not a story about doctors' remuneration and their lavish lifestyles."

Hornswoggled once more by those pesky gay activists

South Bend Tribune

Thank God for Patrick Mangan, who has once again sounded his divertingly righteous trumpet in The Tribune (Viewpoint, Aug. 13). He warns us that those pesky special rights activists are at it again, promoting the homosexual agenda, misleading and confusing the mayor of South Bend and the president of the United States, attacking those who disagree, trying to silence opponents, criminalize thoughts and hijack the nobility of the civil rights movement for their own purposes.

Given all that, "activist" seems an understatement. I marvel at their ambition. I also wonder who they are. I wish Mangan would tell us so we'd know who to watch out for, but he never does.

Nor does he tell us what the homosexual agenda is, though he mentions it repeatedly. I've asked gay friends but none of them know. They in turn may wonder what the heterosexual agenda is. I don't know. The only agenda that's clear to me is Mangan's.

But some things still confuse me. Mayor Stephen Luecke's Executive Order 1-2009 says the city can't discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity in matters of employment. So a gay citizen has to be treated the same as any other citizen. Though that might sound like equal rights, Mangan calls it "special rights" based on "aberrant sexual practices." If that's true, anyone claiming protection under the order would have to prove that he or she engages in aberrant sexual practices. Mangan is the only one I know of so far who has found that requirement in the mayor's order, but he has studied this issue and written about it for years so he must be right.

Then there's what Mangan calls the basics: three tests a group has to pass in order to qualify for protection.

First, whatever the group has in common has to be something they can't change. While some think sexual orientation is not a matter of choice, Mangan quickly crushes that notion by citing Dr. Robert Spitzer's report that there's "no evidence for the biological theory." Mangan doesn't tell us where he found that information, but if he refers to Spitzer's 2003 study "Can some gay men and lesbians change their sexual orientation?" (Archive of Sexual Behavior/, Oct. 3, 2003) he's looking at a different version of it than I am.

As for Spitzer, in a 2005 interview he said of folks like Mangan, "It bothers me to be their knight in shining armor because on every social issue I totally disagree with the Christian right." The interviewer reports that Spitzer "calls 'totally absurd' the twin hypotheses that everyone is born straight and that homosexuality is a choice" (Sandra Boodman, The Washington Post, Aug. 16, 2005).

So why does Mangan invoke Spitzer to support a position that Spitzer himself calls absurd?

Mangan's second basic test is that the group has to have been denied the educational chances others get. Practicing homosexuals, he says, have on average a better education than the rest of society. He doesn't say what kind of education non-practicing homosexuals have. Apparently studies on that question are still on-going.

Anyway, Mangan says homosexuals fail this test because you can't have a good education and still be a victim. Yet in the most outrageous incident of anti-gay violence I know of personally, the victim was a professor at a major American university.

Mangan's third basic test is that the group must have been "excluded from economic opportunity," a test he says homosexuals fail because homosexuals have above-average incomes. His source for this data is those same pesky "homosexual activists" (whoever they may be).

Apparently he thinks economic opportunity consists merely of being able to make a lot of money instead of having an equal chance at any job in the country like most of us do (especially white straight men like Mangan and me).

Homosexuals, Mangan seems to suggest, are too small a minority to matter much. Really? The quaint idea that all citizens are entitled to equal treatment was still alive as recently as 1868, when the 14th Amendment was added to the Constitution, saying in part "nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws." In those days a minority of one was not too small to matter.

Mangan warns us that President Obama and Mayor Stephen Luecke and those pesky activists (still unidentified, darn it) want to silence the opposition by legislating "special" rights. And the "price tag for granting those rights," says he, "would be to undermine the First Amendment rights of the rest of us to speak our conscience in the public square."

But the mayor has already granted those rights, and yet here is Mangan, freely speaking his conscience in the public square (or, lacking an actual public square, The Tribune), as he has so many times before.

If he were silenced, Mangan is sure that the ACLU would not come to his defense. How can he so badly misunderstand them? Of course they would. That's what they do. Their whole point is that people with disagreeable opinions have the right to be heard.

Still, even rubbish can hide a diamond, such as Mangan's statement that "the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness is the great civil rights movement of the 21st century." Indeed it is. For everybody.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Truthout 8/22

Johann Hari: Republicans, Religion and the Triumph of Unreason
Johann Hari, The Independent UK: "Something strange has happened in America in the nine months since Barack Obama was elected. It has best been summarised by the comedian Bill Maher: 'The Democrats have moved to the right, and the Republicans have moved to a mental hospital.' The election of Obama 'a black man with an anti-conservative message -as a successor to George W. Bush has scrambled the core American right's view of their country. In their gut, they saw the US as a white-skinned, right-wing nation forever shaped like Sarah Palin. When this image was repudiated by a majority of Americans in a massive landslide, it simply didn't compute."

Michael Moore's Capitalism: A Love Story Movie Trailer
Peter Sciretta, Film: "Overture Films will release Capitalism: A Love Story on October 2nd 2009, a year and a day after the United States Senate voted to approve the $700 billion bailout. It is also the same week that Moore's feature debut Roger & Me made its U.S. Premiere 20 years ago. And this new film comes full circle, with Moore returning to the issue that began his career: 'the disastrous impact that corporate dominance and out-of-control profit motives have on the lives of Americans and citizens of the world. But this time the culprit is much bigger than General Motors, and the crime scene far wider than Flint, Michigan.'"

Afghan Polling "Marked by Fraud"
BBC News: "A leading group of election observers say there was widespread voting fraud and intimidation during Thursday's presidential election in Afghanistan. Stuffed ballot boxes, illiterate voters being told who to vote for and biased officials were cited by Afghanistan's Free and Fair Election Foundation. However EU monitors said that despite widespread intimidation and violence, the vote was generally good and fair."

Robert Reich Why the Gang of Six Is Deciding Health Care for Three Hundred Million of Us
Robert Reich, Robert Reich's Blog: "Last night, the so-called 'gang of six' - three Republican and three Democratic senators on the Senate Finance Committee - met by conference call and, according to Senator Max Baucus, the committee's chair, reaffirmed their commitment 'toward a bipartisan health-care reform bill' (read: less coverage and no public insurance option). The Washington Post reports that the senators shared tales from their home states, where some have been besieged by protesters angry about a potential government takeover of the nation's health care system."

David Sirota Ban Guns From Public Political Events
David Sirota, Creator's Syndicate: "Those of us living in the Rocky Mountains are steeped in America's famous gun culture - and we therefore know well the binary debates surrounding the Second Amendment. Firearm enthusiasts - the vast majority of whom use weapons responsibly - believe the Constitution protects their right to bear arms. Gun control advocates counter that the Constitution doesn't give anyone the inalienable right to wield automatic weapons that can kill scores of people in seconds."

Same-Sex Unions Accepted by Evangelical Lutherans
Christopher Quinn, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: "Pastors in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America can bless same-sex unions after a vote Friday by delegates at the Churchwide Assembly in Minneapolis. 'I've been a life-long member at Redeemer Lutheran Church [in Atlanta], and I was never comfortable asking my church to bless my relationship,' said Bob Gibeling, who is at the assembly."

Access to Water Key for World's Poor: Experts
Agence France-Presse: "An international cast of politicians, industry leaders and United Nations officials joined forces Monday to improve access to water and halt a tide of deaths in poor nations. Some 2,000 experts met at a global water summit in Sweden to tackle problems related to the vital natural resource."

FOCUS: Report Reveals CIA Conducted Mock Executions
Mark Hosenball and Michael Isikoff, Newsweek: "A long-suppressed report by the Central Intelligence Agency's inspector general to be released next week reveals that CIA interrogators staged mock executions as part of the agency's post-9/11 program to detain and question terror suspects, NEWSWEEK has learned. According to two sources - one who has read a draft of the paper and one who was briefed on it - the report describes how one detainee, suspected USS Cole bomber Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, was threatened with a gun and a power drill during the course of CIA interrogation."

A message from Democracy For America

The energy this week has been incredible. The media tried to convince you that the public option was dead and that progressives were powerless. They're wrong and we've been proving it all week.

It's all because of you and the work we've done together.It started with 400,000 thousand signatures of Americans drawing a line in the sand, demanding that the inclusion of a public option in healthcare reform is non-negotiable.

Then over 10,000 people delivered these petition signatures to every single member of Congress, sometimes to multiple offices. Governor Howard Dean capped it off with a public delivery event in Washington D.C. that drew over 10,000 supporters.Congress got the message. At least 64 House Democrats have pledged to vote against any bill without a public option. We need to thank our House Healthcare Heroes. Tell them to stand strong against pressure from insurance industry lobbyists.


We're winning today because you've been driving the debate and delivering results.For the last two months, DFA members teamed up with OpenLeft-com and Healthcare for America Now to get every Senator on the record in support. The campaign is working. We are only four Senators away from the 50 we'll need to guarantee passage.

We've been raising money all week to put extra staff and resources on the ground starting September 1st in as many as 10 states to pressure the remaining Senators. We will not stop until we win.

DFA members also teamed up with FireDogLake-com to mobilize House Democrats. We made calls together. We went to Town Halls and spoke up. And we offered House Democrats the chance of increased exposure if they shot a video to drive their position home. At least 64 House Democrats have stood up publicly, taken our challenge, and several of them backed it up with a video. Thanks to your work and these 64 Democrats, a Healthcare bill without a public option is D.O.A. in the House.

Together with leaders like Jane Hamsher at FireDogLake and Chris Bowers at OpenLeft, we're delivering the results to get the job done. Let's make sure our House Healthcare Heroes know we have their back as long as they stand strong against insurance industry pressure.


We're not holding anything back.We're continuing to pressure Roadblock Democrats like Senators Ben Nelson, Mary Landrieu and Max Baucus with hard-hitting ads and personal healthcare stories of real Americans calling for change.

And, with our friends at the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, we're preparing to amp the pressure up for Republican Senators in Iowa and Maine just in time to send them back to Washington with a clear message to not block reform.

More than 1,000 DFA members have offered to become a spokesperson in rapid-response ad campaigns pressuring their member of Congress. We're ready to hit back against any Republican or Democrat - in any state - at any time if they plan to stand against the choice of a public health insurance option.

We're organizing everywhere to make sure we pass reform with a real public option. And just as it is important for us to be able to fight back against our opponents, it's important for us to be able to thank our heroes.


We're winning, but we can't sit back and hope it happens. We need to make it happen.Thank you for everything you do to make sure we win.-ArshadArshad Hasan, Executive DirectorDemocracy for America

P.S. On Tuesday, Governor Dean challenged DFA members to fund a campaign to put organizers on the ground in states where we still have Roadblock Senators. We've almost hit our goal. After you add your name, please contribute. We can be on the ground in as many as 10 states if we have the funds by Monday.

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.

Paid for by Democracy for America, and not authorized by any candidate. Contributions to Democracy for America are not deductible for federal income tax purposes.

Still the one

Don Wheeler

It is striking to me how many people I talk to are highly disheartened by the conduct of the "health care" debate. (Health care is actually a misnomer - what we are debating is the means of coverage for the costs and administration of health care.) Anthony Nyers had a nice Viewpoint piece in the South Bend Tribune on this topic. He begins with this:

Republican thugs want to keep the poor down by refusing them the right to health care! Democrats want to euthanize Grandma!

Regardless of your personal politics, both of these statements likely raise your blood pressure. They have another thing in common: Neither is true. However, our leaders are using statements like these in a desperate attempt to mobilize their followers to be heard on health care reform. Unfortunately, they are raising emotion, inciting hostility, eliminating any real debate on the subject and it's time to stop because it's getting dangerous.

Perhaps even more disheartening to many of us, is the lack of leadership and sense of purpose out of the White House on this issue. As New York Times columnist and Nobel laureate Paul Krugman put it:

According to news reports, the Obama administration — which seemed, over the weekend, to be backing away from the “public option” for health insurance — is shocked and surprised at the furious reaction from progressives.

Well, I’m shocked and surprised at their shock and surprise.

A backlash in the progressive base — which pushed President Obama over the top in the Democratic primary and played a major role in his general election victory — has been building for months. The fight over the public option involves real policy substance, but it’s also a proxy for broader questions about the president’s priorities and overall approach.

I wish I could say I am surprised we're in this quagmire, but in my view, the early stages of the Democratic Primary race foreshadowed this situation.

Dennis Kucinich has consistently advocated for a full-out government managed single payer system. (You'd think that is what is being proposed in Congress if you listen to the detractors.) Setting aside the question of merit, most of us think this is a politically unrealistic objective in the short term. And we need drastic improvement in the short term.

In early 2007 former Senator John Edwards rolled out a series of specific, detailed, progressive proposals in his bid for the Democratic nomination for President. The first in this series was addressed towards Americans' health care. Edwards' strategy upped the ante in the race, causing Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama to propose their own.

The Edwards plan would have created universal coverage (as did the later released Clinton plan) with one option for Americans being a government run program (basically like Medicare).

When candidate Obama released his plan, it was not universal. The calculations were that something more than 15 million Americans would not have coverage under the Obama plan. The claim from the campaign was that it was a bridge - a compromise. It wasn't clear who was on the other side or what the other side was giving up.

When economist Krugman compared the plans, he noted that the overall cost of the Edwards plan (estimated at $120 billion in the first year) was not significantly more expensive than the Obama plan. That meant the cost per person was much higher in the Obama plan.

Later in 2007 at the Presidential Debates, candidate Obama spoke of gathering the insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies, etc. to "the table" to flesh out a plan.

Candidate Edwards' skeptical reply, "If you invite these guys to the table, they'll eat all the food!"

Seems they have.

Whatever you may think of John Edwards as a person, his plan is still the one. Here are some of the key elements.

Require businesses and other employers to either cover their employees or help finance their health insurance.

Make insurance affordable by creating new tax credits, expanding Medicaid and SCHIP, reforming insurance laws, and taking innovative steps to contain health care costs.

Create regional Health Care Markets purchasing pools to give every American the bargaining power to purchase an affordable, high-quality health plan, increase choices among insurance plans, and cut costs for businesses offering insurance.

Once these steps have been taken, require all American residents to get insurance.

Insurance works by pooling risk and resources of a group of people. It is least expensive when all of the group participates. This is because most of us have limited medical needs at certain points in our lives and greater ones at other times. Underwriting (investigations leading to non-acceptance or rating up premiums for individuals) is costly and certainly doesn't lead to better medical outcomes. Advertising, also expensive, wouldn't seem to improve outcomes. In fact, the only purpose for these outlays is to drive up profits.

The Edwards plan allowed for people keeping their current coverage, shopping the newly created Health Markets or choosing a government plan. This meant that private, for profit insurers still had the ability to prove their claim of greater efficiency. If in the end the government plan proved more efficient, insurance companies could evolve into a role more like reinsurance - bidding on pieces of Health Market business.

Sadly, we don't seem to talking about anything like this. And President Obama, having proposed an inadequate plan during the campaign, seems more than willing cave on parts of that.

It's hard to be very optimistic about the prospects.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Obama's trust problem

New York Times

According to news reports, the Obama administration — which seemed, over the weekend, to be backing away from the “public option” for health insurance — is shocked and surprised at the furious reaction from progressives.

Well, I’m shocked and surprised at their shock and surprise.

A backlash in the progressive base — which pushed President Obama over the top in the Democratic primary and played a major role in his general election victory — has been building for months. The fight over the public option involves real policy substance, but it’s also a proxy for broader questions about the president’s priorities and overall approach.

The idea of letting individuals buy insurance from a government-run plan was introduced in 2007 by Jacob Hacker of Yale, was picked up by John Edwards during the Democratic primary, and became part of the original Obama health care plan.

One purpose of the public option is to save money. Experience with Medicare suggests that a government-run plan would have lower costs than private insurers; in addition, it would introduce more competition and keep premiums down.

And let’s be clear: the supposed alternative, nonprofit co-ops, is a sham. That’s not just my opinion; it’s what the market says: stocks of health insurance companies soared on news that the Gang of Six senators trying to negotiate a bipartisan approach to health reform were dropping the public plan. Clearly, investors believe that co-ops would offer little real competition to private insurers.

Also, and importantly, the public option offered a way to reconcile differing views among Democrats. Until the idea of the public option came along, a significant faction within the party rejected anything short of true single-payer, Medicare-for-all reform, viewing anything less as perpetuating the flaws of our current system. The public option, which would force insurance companies to prove their usefulness or fade away, settled some of those qualms.

That said, it’s possible to have universal coverage without a public option — several European nations do it — and some who want a public option might be willing to forgo it if they had confidence in the overall health care strategy. Unfortunately, the president’s behavior in office has undermined that confidence.

On the issue of health care itself, the inspiring figure progressives thought they had elected comes across, far too often, as a dry technocrat who talks of “bending the curve” but has only recently begun to make the moral case for reform. Mr. Obama’s explanations of his plan have gotten clearer, but he still seems unable to settle on a simple, pithy formula; his speeches and op-eds still read as if they were written by a committee.

Meanwhile, on such fraught questions as torture and indefinite detention, the president has dismayed progressives with his reluctance to challenge or change Bush administration policy.

And then there’s the matter of the banks.

I don’t know if administration officials realize just how much damage they’ve done themselves with their kid-gloves treatment of the financial industry, just how badly the spectacle of government supported institutions paying giant bonuses is playing. But I’ve had many conversations with people who voted for Mr. Obama, yet dismiss the stimulus as a total waste of money. When I press them, it turns out that they’re really angry about the bailouts rather than the stimulus — but that’s a distinction lost on most voters.

So there’s a growing sense among progressives that they have, as my colleague Frank Rich suggests, been punked. And that’s why the mixed signals on the public option created such an uproar.

Now, politics is the art of the possible. Mr. Obama was never going to get everything his supporters wanted.

But there’s a point at which realism shades over into weakness, and progressives increasingly feel that the administration is on the wrong side of that line. It seems as if there is nothing Republicans can do that will draw an administration rebuke: Senator Charles E. Grassley feeds the death panel smear, warning that reform will “pull the plug on grandma,” and two days later the White House declares that it’s still committed to working with him.

It’s hard to avoid the sense that Mr. Obama has wasted months trying to appease people who can’t be appeased, and who take every concession as a sign that he can be rolled.

Indeed, no sooner were there reports that the administration might accept co-ops as an alternative to the public option than G.O.P. leaders announced that co-ops, too, were unacceptable.

So progressives are now in revolt. Mr. Obama took their trust for granted, and in the process lost it. And now he needs to win it back.

MomsRising Healthcare Truth Squad

Truthout 8/21

Reid Under Pressure to Rein in Centrists
Alexander Bolton, The Hill: "Liberal activists are pressuring Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and party leaders to crack down on renegade centrist Democrats who might block President Obama's healthcare overhaul."

Karzai and Abdullah Both Claim Victory in Afghan Elections
Jon Boone, The Guardian UK: "Despite calls by the US for the leading candidates in Afghanistan's election not to claim victory, both Hamid Karzai and Abdullah Abdullah said they won yesterday's vote."

Why Does the CIA Use So Many Contractors?
Kevin Whitelaw, NPR: "News that the CIA worked with a private contractor on a secret assassination program is the latest evidence of how much the agency has outsourced a range of its activities, including covert missions."

Jeremy Scahill Blackwater: CIA Assassins?
Jeremy Scahill, The Nation: "... the New York Times is reporting that in 2004 the CIA hired Blackwater 'as part of a secret program to locate and assassinate top operatives of Al Qaeda.' According to the Times, 'it is unclear whether the CIA had planned to use the contractors to capture or kill Qaeda operatives, or just to help with training and surveillance.'"

What Rebound? Foreclosures Rise as Jobs and Income Drop
Kevin G. Hall, McClatchy Newspapers: "Delinquency and foreclosure rates for U.S. mortgages continued to rise in the second quarter, with loans to the most qualified borrowers going bust at an unnerving clip, especially in hard-hit states such as Florida and California."

WHO Predicts "Explosion" of Swine Flu Cases
Gillian Wong, The Associated Press: "The global spread of swine flu will endanger more lives as it speeds up in coming months and governments must boost preparations for a swift response, the World Health Organization said Friday."

Biden Announces Grants to Spur Electronic Medical-Record Use
John McCormick, Bloomberg News: "Vice President Joe Biden announced almost $1.2 billion in grants to help health-care providers convert to electronic medical records, during a stop in Chicago."

FP morning report

Top Story:

Despite low turnout and as many as 50 deaths in dozens of Taliban attacks, observers, politicians, and commentators hailed the Afghan election a success. Both incumbent and frontrunner Hamid Karzai and his main rival, former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah, claimed victory, in spite of U.S. requests to abstain from calling the election before official results are released, in around two weeks.

For more comprehensive coverage, breaking news and commentary, from Washington and on the ground in Afghanistan, visit the AfPak Channel.

To Watch:

China plans to tighten capital requirements on banks to slow a sudden rise in stock prices.

The Lockerbie bomber returned from Britain to a hero’s welcome in Libya, accompanied by President Muammar Qaddafi’s son.
Suicide attacks killed four in Russia’s restive North Caucasus region.
An opposition party in Germany has called for the removal of the country’s troops from Afghanistan.

In a book coming out next month, former U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge says he was pressured to raise the U.S. terror alert level for political reasons.
The United States plans to close down its “Cash for Clunkers” stimulus plan early, as it has run out of funds.
Mexico’s anti-kidnapping chief has been suspended after a botched rescue killed four. The country is currently battling a fierce drug war with the cartels.

Caster Semenya, an 18-year-old South African runner, will take home the 800-meter gold from the Berlin world championships, despite questions over her sex.
Fighting in Somalia’s restive capital, Mogadishu, escalated, killing 22.
New reports suggest hundreds of former rebels from Burundi are joining militias in Congo.

Middle East
After a series of deadly suicide bombs in Baghdad, officials reconsider the U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraqi cities.
Embattled Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad continues to signal some flexibility on the nuclear issue.

A delegation of diplomats from North Korea arrived in South Korea to pay condolences on the death of former President Kim Dae-jung, who died this week.
Fighting between Keren rebels and troops in Myanmar intensified, with the miiltary reclaiming much of the country’s border with Thailand.
The United States said it planned to keep around 600 special-missions troops in the Philippines, despite calls to move them to Afghanistan.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Truthout 8/20

George Lakoff The Policy-Speak Disaster for Health Care
George Lakoff, Truthout: "Barack Obama ran the best-organized and best-framed presidential campaign in history. How is it possible that the same people who did so well in the campaign have done so badly on health care?"

Reports: CIA Hired Blackwater for Assassin Program
Agence France-Presse: "The CIA hired the Blackwater security firm in 2004 to help find and kill Al Qaeda leaders, US media said Thursday, citing intelligence officials."

Robert Naiman Amnesty: Honduras Testimonies Show Extent of Police Violence
Robert Naiman, Truthout: "There has been very little attention in the US press to repression in Honduras under the coup regime. Hopefully, that will now change: Amnesty International issued a report documenting 'serious ill-treatment by police and military of peaceful protesters' in Honduras, warning that 'beatings and mass arrests are being used as a way of punishing people for voicing their opposition' to the coup."

Bicycle Bomb Kills Two Near Restaurant in Baghdad
Sinan Salaheddin, The Associated Press: "A bicycle bomb exploded near a restaurant in Baghdad Thursday killing two people in a deadly reminder of Iraq's security problems as the death toll rose to at least 101 from a string of blasts the day before that mainly targeted heavily guarded government buildings."

US Judge Sets January 2010 Federal Gay Marriage Trial
Peter Henderson, Reuters: "The federal judge being asked to declare gay marriage a fundamental constitutional right on Wednesday set a January 2010 trial date and denied attempts by gay and conservative advocacy groups to join the case, already top-heavy with high profile lawyers."

DC Delegate Calls for Ban on Guns Near Obama
Jordy Yager, The Hill: "Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) called on the Homeland Security Department and the U.S. Secret Service on Wednesday to provide tighter restrictions on citizens carrying weapons, openly or concealed, while in the vicinity of President Barack Obama."

Hamas Moves Against Al-Qaeda-Inspired Extremists
Dion Nissenbaum, McClatchy Newspapers: "Faced with eroding popular support and disenchantment among young Palestinians looking for alternatives, Hamas is moving forcefully to crush Islamic extremists with possible ties to al Qaida that threaten its hold on power in the Gaza Strip."

Leopold Rove, Miers Expected to Testify Before Congress
Jason Leopold, Truthout: "Back in March, when House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers announced that he and his staff had reached an agreement to have Karl Rove and ex-White House counsel Harriet Miers testify privately about their roles in the firings of nine US attorneys, he said his panel also reserved the right to haul the former Bush administration officials before Congress to testify publicly about the matter. Conyers now intends to take advantage of that prearranged agreement and is expected to call Rove and Miers to testify before his panel sometime in the fall, according to several Congressional sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity."

Ridge: I Was Pressured to Raise Terror Alert Level Before '04 Election
Olivier Knox, Agence France-Presse: "Former US homeland security chief Tom Ridge charges in a new book that top aides to then-president George W. Bush pressured him to raise the 'terror alert' level to sway the November 2004 US election. Then defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld and attorney general John Ashcroft pushed him to elevate the color-coded threat level, but Ridge refused, according to a summary from his publisher, Thomas Dunne Books."

Afghan Voters Go to the Polls Despite Violence
Laura King, The Los Angeles Times: "The concrete floor was cracked and the windows caked with grime, but the sense of pride was palpable at Zarghani Girls' High School as voters lined up today to cast their ballots in Afghanistan's second-ever direct presidential election. 'It's for me, and it's for my country,' said a baby-faced 18-year-old named Nasir, who was voting for the first time. 'If it's dangerous, I don't care. I'm happy.'"

Joe Conason Obama's Enforcer: Not Really Tough Enough
Joe Conason, Rasmussen Reports: "Every mistake made by the Obama White House in the pursuit of health care reform can be traced to the political style and ideological prejudices of Rahm Emanuel, who has sought to intimidate progressives and empower conservatives, always in the name of winning elections and 'getting things done.' A self-styled tough guy who famously likes to prove his point with abusive language and threats, he led the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee during the years when the party regained its majority - when he spent millions to elect the 'Blue Dogs,' who have done so much to thwart the president's agenda on health, energy and economic recovery."

Diplomats: Iran Improves Access to Nuke Activities
George Jahn, The Associated Press: "Iran has lifted a yearlong ban and allowed UN inspectors to visit a nearly completed nuclear reactor as well as granting greater monitoring rights at another atomic site, diplomats said Thursday. International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors visited the nearly finished Arak heavy water reactor last week, the diplomats told The Associated Press. Separately, they said Iran agreed last week to IAEA requests to expand its monitoring of the Natanz uranium enrichment site, which produces material for nuclear fuel that can be further enriched to provide fissile material for warheads."

Health Care Battle Tarnishes Grassley's Bipartisan Reputation
Mike Lillis, The Washington Independent: "Senate Democrats negotiating health care reforms with Sen. Charles Grassley are finding out the hard way that the Iowa Republican, while boasting a reputation for reaching across the aisle, appears hard set on supporting GOP leadership above bipartisan compromise. Not only is Grassley threatening to vote against the bill — even a bill he supports — if it doesn’t gain enough GOP backing, but his home-state recess tour has found him echoing false GOP accusations that the Democrats’ plans would empower the government to ration services and euthanize seniors."

Ailing Kennedy Asks for Speedy Replacement Process
Glen Johnson, The Associated Press: "A cancer-stricken Sen. Edward M. Kennedy has asked Massachusetts leaders to change state law to allow a speedy replacement if it becomes necessary for him to surrender his seat, fearing a months-long vacancy would deny Democrats a crucial vote on President Barack Obama's health care overhaul. In a note to Gov. Deval Patrick and other state leaders, Kennedy asked that lawmakers allow the governor to appoint an interim replacement pending election of a successor, to ensure there would not be a period with a vacancy. Currently, the law requires a special election to be held within five months."

Thomas Renard Allied Division re AfPak Mission
Thomas Renard, writing for La Libre Belgique: It is necessary to acknowledge that [NATO's counter insurrectional efforts in South Asia] have proved to be largely ineffective - one could almost say counterproductive - up until now. The principle reason for this failure is limited to the complete absence of strategy, as much on the side of the Atlantic Alliance, as on the American side, and that remains true in spite of President Obama's new 'AfPak Strategy' ... This lack of strategy is linked to the deep disagreement that divides NATO members with respect to the nature of the mission in Afghanistan."

FP morning brief

Top Story:

Voters head to the polls in Afghanistan, to decide between incumbent Hamid Karzai, former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah, former finance minister Ashraf Ghani, and dozens of other candidates. If any candidate takes more than 50 percent of the votes, he wins outright. Otherwise, the top two finishers head to a run-off election. The outcome is not expected for at least two weeks.

The security situation has deteriorated in recent weeks and days, as the Taliban and other insurgents swore to disrupt the election. Initial observations suggest low turn-out and relatively little violence.

To Watch:

In an effort to increase transparency, China's secretive military has opened a Web site.

Middle East
The death toll from yesterday's string of attacks in Baghdad has risen to at least 95.
Attacks in Baghdad continued, with a suicide bomb on a bicycle killing two on Thursday.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad submitted a new cabinet purged of dissenters and filled with loyalists; commenters said it may strengthen opposition against him within his own conservative camp.

The South Korean government has said it will accept a delegation from North Korea to bring a funeral wreath for former South Korean President Kim Dae-jung.
Lead poisoning from an unlicensed smelter has sickened more than 1,300 children in Hunan Province, China.
American John Yettaw, who was arrested intruding on the home of Myanmar dissident Aung San Suu Kyi, arrived back in the United States.

Fighting between insurgents and the army in Mogadishu, Somalia, has left at least 15 dead.
Kenyan police said they arrested the murderer of a Scottish geologist; he was apparently killed over local mining rights.

A British court is due to announce whether or not the Lockerbie bomber, a Libyan sentenced to life for the attack, who is terminally ill, will be freed.
Russian officials interrogated the crew and supposed hijackers of the Arctic Sea, the pirated freighter found off the coast of Cape Verde this week.
Spain commemorated the first anniversary of the crash of a plane near Madrid, which killed 154.

In 2004, the CIA hired private security contractor Blackwater, now Xe, to help it assassinate top al Qaeda targets.
U.S. Senator Ted Kennedy, who has brain cancer, wrote Congressional leaders to ask for help changing Massachusetts' succession laws; currently, were Kennedy to step down, the state would hold a special election.
Colombia has approved a bill which would allow incumbent president Alvaro Uribe to run for a third term.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Truthout 8/19

Robert Reich How Tough Is Our President?
Robert Reich, Robert Reich's Blog: "Latest word from the White House is that the President still supports a public option but is also standing by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius's remark last weekend that a public insurance plan is 'not the essential element' of health-care reform. So where, exactly, is the White House on the public option? Just about where it is on the question of whether it agreed with Big Pharma to bar Medicare from using its bargaining clout to get lower drug prices -- or didn't. In other words, we don't know."

Baghdad Blasts Kill 77, Iraqi Security Criticized
Aseel Kami and Suadad al-Salhy, Reuters: "A series of blasts in Baghdad killed 77 people and wounded 420 on one of Iraq's bloodiest days this year, renewing doubt over Iraqi forces' ability to maintain security after U.S. troops pulled out of urban areas."

The Progressive Populist Stop Corporate Terrorism
The Progressive Populist: "For sheer, unmitigated gall, it's hard to beat the conservatives who are mounting a last-ditch campaign to derail meaningful health care reform. First, the health insurance and pharmaceutical companies bribed Congress members with millions of dollars in campaign contributions to keep expansion of Medicare - the most efficient way to provide affordable health coverage to every American - 'off the table.'"

US Prepares for Questions of Legitimacy in Afghan Election
Spencer Ackerman, The Washington Independent: "With Thursday's presidential election in Afghanistan proving difficult to forecast, some analysts in and outside the Obama administration are considering U.S. options if the next government is viewed as illegitimate. If so, the U.S. may push the winner toward forming a 'national unity government' to incorporate the losing factions into a governing coalition - a move that incumbent president Hamid Karzai is already indicating he'll pursue."

"Egg-as-Person" Crusade Drives Big Money to Anti-Choice Groups
Wendy Norris, RH Reality Check: "In just five short years, the primary movers and shakers in the absolutist anti-abortion/anti-choice movement seeking to promote the 'personhood' of zygotes (the single cell that forms after a sperm fertilizes an egg) have amassed nearly $58 million in tax-deductible contributions for their cause. Even the lead up to one of the worst economic periods in U.S. history has barely registered a blip in the group's collective money-drawing power according to an examination of IRS and state campaign finance records conducted for RH Reality Check."

New Limits on Credit Card Issuers Begin to Take Effect (Finally)
Tony Pugh, McClatchy Newspapers: "The credit card legislation signed by President Barack Obama in May provides consumers their first morsel of relief on Thursday when card issuers must begin giving more notice before imposing rate increases or charging late fees. Beginning Aug. 20, the Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility, and Disclosure Act of 2009 increases the required notice before raising credit card interest rates to 45 days from 15 days."

Afghan Civilians Soured on US Security Contractors
David Zucchino, The Chicago Tribune: "The shooting deaths of Raheb Dost, 24, and Romal, 22, who used just one name, by four gunmen with the company once known as Blackwater have turned an entire neighborhood against the American presence here. Enraged by the deaths of civilians in military airstrikes, many Afghans are demanding more accountability from security contractors who routinely block traffic and bark orders to motorists and pedestrians."

Split on Health Care Goes Beyond Public Option
Teddy Davis, ABC News: "Asked by ABC News about a package of insurance market reforms that have been endorsed not only by President Obama but also by the insurance industry, Sen. Jon Kyl came out against all three proposals. In particular, the Arizona Republican signaled that he opposes requiring insurance companies nationwide to provide coverage without regard to pre-existing conditions."

Afghan Media Refuse to Censor Election Reporting
Rahim Faiez And Heidi Vogt, The Associated Press: "'If anyone broadcasts or gives news about any movements or activities of terrorists, domestic media offices will be closed and foreigners will be kicked out of the country,' he told AP in a phone interview. Media watchdog groups condemned the order. Reporters Without Borders said in a statement that it 'not only violates media freedom but also the fundamental right of Afghan citizens to know what is going on in their country.'"

Tim Rutten America the Delusional
Tim Rutten, The Los Angeles Times: "At least a dozen people openly displaying everything from an AR-15 assault rifle to 9-millimeter Beretta sidearms were in the crowd outside the hall where Obama spoke in Arizona on Monday. The state is one of those that have a so-called open-carry law, which allows people into public places with loaded weapons. Their appearance at recent rallies is supposed to signal their implacable opposition to the 'tyranny' of health care reform. In Hagerstown, Maryland, last week, a man appeared at a town hall meeting hosted by Sen. Benjamin Cardin (D-Maryland) with a sign that read 'Death to Obama' and 'Death to Michelle and her two stupid kids.'"

Six US Troops Die in Afghanistan Ahead of Election
Jason Straziuso and Amir Shah, The Associated Press: "The US military said Wednesday six American troops were killed in Afghanistan, as militants killed six election workers amid growing fears on the eve of the presidential election that insurgents would mar the vote. Two troops were killed in gunfire in the south on Wednesday, the US military said, while a third was killed in an unspecified hostile attack. The US also said a roadside bomb Tuesday in the south killed two troops, while another died of noncombat-related injuries. No other details were released."

CBS News Pioneer Don Hewitt Dies at 86
David Bauder, The Associated Press: "Don Hewitt, the CBS newsman who invented '60 Minutes' and produced the popular newsmagazine for 36 years, died Wednesday. He was 86. He died of pancreatic cancer at his Bridgehampton home, CBS said. His death came a month after that of fellow CBS legend Walter Cronkite."

Darwinian Struggle for a Place on the Endangered Species List
Julie Cart, The Los Angeles Times: "It was mixed news as the US Fish and Wildlife Service announced today that it would move forward on a review of 29 plant and animal species to assess their inclusion on the federal endangered species list. On the other hand, the service rejected petitions for nine species, including the ashy storm-petrel, a California seabird."

Noel Mamere Ecology or Barbarity
Green Party MP and Mayor of Begles, Noel Mamere, writes for Liberation: "The recent news brings us new evidence of the indivisible connections between the questions raised by environmentalists and human rights: Aung San Suu Kyi's latest sentence from the Burman junta and the institutional coup d'etat by the president of Niger who has just trafficked his Constitution to stay in power longer. What is the relationship with ecology? Let's look a little closer: these two countries are rich in raw materials that interest the countries of the North in the greatest degree, and France in particular: wood and oil in Burma, uranium in Niger."

FP morning post 8/19

Top Story:

A wave of violence swept through Baghdad, as a long string of suicide attacks and mortars killed at least 75 and injured at least 300 on Wednesday. It was the worst day of violence since the United States withdrew troops from cities in June, and one of the worst days of violence this year.

The worst attack, from a vehicle packed full with explosives, killed at least 45 outside the Foreign Ministry.
Reports of violence trickled out of Afghanistan on the eve of the presidential election. In one incident, gunmen seized a branch of a commercial bank, leading to an extended fight with police. The Afghan government has requested that media outlets not report on the incidences, in order not to discourage voters from heading to the polls tomorrow.

An aside:

The creator of an iconic anti-Obama image, of the president as the joker, with the word "Socialism" beneath, has stepped forward.

Middle East
Reports on the violence in Kabul continue to trickle out, with reports of at least 20 dead.
The United States and Iraqi security services have ramped up in response to the violence in Baghdad.
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak left Washington after his first visit in five years. Mubarak and U.S. President Barack Obama reportedly discussed Egypt’s presidential succession and the Israel-Palestine conflict.

North Korea sent South Korea condolences over the passing of Kim Dae-jung, the former president who helped craft the “sunshine policy” which eased tensions between the two countries.
Oil giant PetroChina has purchased an oil field off the coast of Australia for an estimated $41 billion.
India has pledged Afghanistan more than $1.2 billion in aid, irking Pakistan. During the Taliban rule, India sent none.
A Chinese boy is in serious condition after being abused while at an internet addiction camp.

The story of the Arctic Sea, a hijacked ship found off the coast of Cape Verde, has started to unravel.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton reiterated her opposition to the release of the Lockerbie bomber.
In Mauritania, the North African branch of al Qaeda claimed responsibility for the suicide bombing of the French Embassy earlier this month.

Hungary celebrates the 20th anniversary of its opening its borders to the West via Austria. The “Pan-European Picnic” helped lead to the fall of the Berlin Wall a few months later.
France arrested three people it suspects of being members of ETA, the Spanish Basque separatist group.
Israeli President Shimon Peres accused Russian President Dmitry Medvedev of considering the sale of weapons, including air missiles, to Iran.

Colombia arrested the former head of its secret police service in connection with an unsolved murder.
U.S. General David Petraeus arrived in Pakistan to discuss expediting a delivery of equipment for fighting the Taliban to the country.
Honduras has expelled Argentine diplomats seeking the return of ousted president Manuel Zelaya.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Truthout 8/18

Howard Dean Calls Public Option Indispensable
Philip Elliott, The Associated Press: "Former Democratic Party chairman Howard Dean said Monday he doubts there can be meaningful health care reform without a direct government role, putting him at odds with President Barack Obama who says such a public option is only a sliver of the solution. Dean, a leading figure among the party's liberals, carefully tried to avoid criticizing the president openly, but he urged the administration to stand by statements made early on in the debate in which it steadfastly insisted that such a public option was indispensable to genuine change. Dean said Medicare and the Veterans Administration are 'two very good programs that have been around for a long time.'"

Obama Lashes Defense Establishment, Congress
Liz Sidoti, The Associated Press: "President Barack Obama took on both the defense establishment and freespending lawmakers on Monday, saying they were draining the defense budget with 'exotic projects.' 'If Congress sends me a defense bill loaded with a bunch of pork, I will veto it,' he declared in a speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars."

Afghanistan's President Faces a Tough Reelection
Laura King, The Los Angeles Times: "The dilapidated soccer stadium, a onetime Taliban execution ground, rang today with excited shouts of 'Karzai! Kar-ZAI!' The chants weren't a signal of support for Afghanistan's beleaguered president. Far from it. They were the raucous response to a shouted question - 'Who's the one who failed at governing?' - from a speaker warming up the crowd for Hamid Karzai's principal rival, Abdullah Abdullah."

New Hearing Ordered in High-Profile US Death Row Case
Agence France-Presse: "The US Supreme Court on Monday ordered that Troy Davis, a high-profile death row inmate, should receive a new hearing to determine whether evidence not available at his trial could prove him innocent. 'The district court should receive testimony and make findings of fact as to whether evidence that could have been obtained at the time of the trial clearly establishes petitioner's innocence,' the court said."

Obama Disses Marriage Law as Justice Defends It
Devlin Barrett, The Associated Press: "President Barack Obama insisted Monday he still wants to scrap what he calls a discriminatory federal marriage law, even as his administration angered gay rights activists by defending it in court. The president said his administration's stance in a California court case is not about defending traditional marriage, but is instead about defending traditional legal practice."

Hillary Clinton's Stop in Congo Strikes a Chord in Africa
Robyn Dixon, The Los Angeles Times: "For most of her recent African tour, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton sounded much like any visiting foreign official, male or female. Except in Congo. When Clinton ignored security advice and flew to Goma, in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo, her focus on the region's rape crisis resonated with some of the continent's most powerless people: women."

Roland Hureaux Afghanistan: Is France Amnesiac?
Has France lost all critical sense? Afghanistan is not our first war outside our borders. Algeria and Indochina are tragic experiences from which the country appeared to have learned some lessons. But France, in spite of all, got involved in that conflict. A conflict which – if one believes Roland Hureaux - nonetheless bears all the signs of an illegitimate war.

Jeremy Scahill Blackwater Still Armed in Iraq
Jeremy Scahill, The Nation: "Despite the Iraqi government's announcement earlier this year that it had canceled Blackwater's operating license, the US State Department continues to allow Blackwater operatives in Iraq to remain armed. A State Department official told The Nation that Blackwater (which recently renamed itself Xe Services) is now operating in Iraq under the name 'US Training Center' and will continue its armed presence in the country until at least September 3. That means Blackwater will have been in Iraq nearly two years after its operatives killed seventeen Iraqi civilians in Baghdad's Nisour Square."

Marjorie Cohn Legendary Lawyer Doris Brin Walker Dies
Marjorie Cohn, Truthout: "Doris 'Dobby' Brin Walker, the first woman president of the National Lawyers Guild, died on August 13 at the age of 90. Doris was a brilliant lawyer and a tenacious defender of human rights. The only woman in her University of California Berkeley law school class, Doris defied the odds throughout her life, achieving significant victories for labor and political activists."

Meltdown 101: Foreign Investments in US Debt
Christopher S. Rugaber, The Associated Press: "Many Americans know that China holds the most U.S. Treasury debt, followed by Japan. But who would expect a group of Caribbean countries would collectively come in fifth? Or that Luxembourg would come in eighth?"

At Free Clinic, Scenes From the Third World
Steve Lopez, The Los Angeles Times: "The huge turnout each day at the Forum made it clear that although Southern California has quite a few free medical and dental clinics, there aren't enough to handle the demand. Among those waiting patiently for help was Walter Samwel, a 70-year-old Vietnam vet from Gardena who has been putting off a root canal for two years. I asked Samwel why he didn't go to the VA and he said they're swamped with recently returning vets, and more severe dental problems take priority.... There's something shamefully wrong, I told him, when a man who served his country overseas for seven years can't get basic dental care."

Specter and Sestak Attack Each Other From the Left on Free Trade
Mike Elk, Campaign for America's Future: "Trade policy may become a flash point in the Pennsylvania Democratic Senate primary, as both candidates at Netroots Nation sought to criticize the other as too supportive of unfair trade agreements. Some union officials have expressed dismay over the trade positions of both candidates. Specter voted for the 1994 NAFTA, 2005 CAFTA and 2007 Peru agreements, while Sestak, who joined the House in 2007, also voted for the Peru deal."

Mahin Hassibi Busting Bogus Biology and Beliefs
Mahin Hassibi, On the Issues Magazine: "The simplified male-female concept of 'gender' has never been simple. Unrelated to individual capabilities, 'gender roles' throughout most of human history have subordinated the female to the male. In more recent years, reexaminations of 'gender identity' along with developments in science and society have resulted in new understandings about what gender means to individuals. These developments, in turn, may reshape 'gender roles.'"

Chicago Shuts Down to Save Money
BBC News: "Public services in the US city of Chicago have been shut down for a day as the authorities face an expected budget shortfall of some $300m ... Non-essential services such as rubbish collections, libraries and health centres were closed, in the first of three planned reduced service days."

FP morning post 8/17

Top Story:

For the first time in five years, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak is visiting the White House, meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama and other dignitaries and political leaders. Yesterday, Mubarak discussed the stalled Middle East peace process with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton; he is expected to do the same today with Obama.

The current U.S. administration is hoping that it can use Egypt as an interlocutor and mediator in the Middle East -- and particularly, Israel and Palestine. For more comprehensive detail on the visit, see Foreign Policy's coverage on The Cable blog by Laura Rozen and by Issandr Amrani.

To Watch:

A suicide bomb attack hit a NATO convoy in Afghanistan, killing 7: the first sign of the violence sure to amplify before the country's presidential election on Thursday. The Taliban and various other extremist groups have vowed to attack and disrupt the election.

Middle East
After a meeting between U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Mubarak, a State Department spokesperson said the U.S. had recommitted to talks between Israel and Palestine.
The United States said it would free members of an Iraqi insurgency group which is known to have killed Americans as a gesture of reconciliation.
The ex-wife of a groom at a wedding in Kuwait admitted she started a fire which killed 43 guests.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas condemned the violent fighting between Hamas factions, which killed at least 24 over the weekend.

Kim Dae-jung -- a former left-wing dissident, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, and the former president of South Korea -- died at the age of 83.
Tens of thousands of supporters of ousted Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, the "Red Shirts," presented a petition seeking his pardon.
Heavy rains continued to soak a 230,000-person Sri Lankan refugee camp, blighted by disease and disarray.
The South Korean government distanced itself from a deal to restart tourist visits to the North, but said it welcomed state-to-state talks.

Frederick Chiluba, the former president of Zambia, was acquitted on charges of embezzling $500,000 from the government.
A Scottish court cleared one obstacle to the release of the Lockerbie bomber, who has terminal cancer and is attempting to return to Libya.
Tumult continues to seize the Nigerian banking market, after the government bailout of five major banks and the suspension of some banking shares.
The U.S. Peace Corps has withdrawn its 100 workers from Mauritania, citing safety concerns.

The Russian Navy interrogated the crew of a cargo ship which went missing from the English Channel at the end of July and appeared off the coast of Cape Verde this weekend. They said they arrested 8 hijackers and freed the rest of the crew -- all without firing a shot.
Governments across Europe prepare to inoculate millions against the H1N1, or Swine Flu, virus.
Dozens of workers in a remote Siberian hydroelectric plant died in an dam accident.

Speaking to veterans, U.S. President Barack Obama yesterday called Afghanistan a war of "necessity," not "choice," and reiterated his intention to build a leaner fighting force.
In the continued August congressional recess debate over U.S. health insurance reform, some Democrats said they would endorse insurance co-ops over a public option.
Brazil said it is seeking more control over the extraction of oil found under its ocean.

Monday, August 17, 2009

FP morning post 8/17

Top Story:

U.S. Sen. Jim Webb, a Democrat of Virginia and former undersecretary of the Navy, successfully argued for the release of an American man sentenced to 7 years of hard labor in Myanmar (Burma). John Yettaw left Myanmar with Webb on Sunday. Yettaw had been tried and sentenced by the country's ruling military junta for intruding at the home of Aung San Suu Kyi, the leading dissident held under house arrest there.

To Watch:

A report released today by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization and the International Water Management Institute says Asia faces a massive food crisis unless the continent invests billions in irrigation.

Middle East
Iran agreed to release a French woman accused of spying during the protests following the country's highly conteseted presidential election a month ago.
Iran also expanded the mass trial of protestors by 25, including a Jewish teenager.
A powerful group of clerics called for Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, to step down.
Iraq's government said the country had shelved plans for a nationwide census, due to be performed in October, over fears it would stoke ethnic violence.
On Friday, members of Hamas and a Hamas splinter group held a deadly shoot-out at a Gaza Strip mosque, showing signs of fracture in the Islamist movement.

Top Afghan candidates for president debated live on television on Sunday. Incumbent President Hamid Karzai deflected questions about his relationships with warlords.
International aid arrived in Taiwan, where more than 500 died in a typhoon that hit last weekend.
U.S. and South Korean troops started a military exercise near the border with North Korea; North Korea called it a "grave threat" and moved troops to the border.
North Korea also said it would ease the restrictions on its highly armed southern border, allowing family members to visit one another and South Korean groups to visit the north.
Japan's economy emerged from recession.

Police in Nigeria arrested more than 600 men in an isolated Muslim community; a month ago, an uprising in the community killed as many as 800.
Today, a commission at The Hague will announce how much Ethiopia and Eritrea will pay one another for damages resulting from the bloody border war between the two countries a decade ago.

The death toll of British soldiers in Afghanistan hit 204, as Washington prepared to ask London to send more troops.
Finnish police said they had received a ransom request for a Russian cargo ship that had disappeared on July 31 and was found off the coast of Cape Verde, in West Africa.
20 died in a suicide bombing in Russia's restive North Caucasus region on Monday morning.
At the Olympic Stadium in Berlin, Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt smashed his own 100-meter world record to set a new top speed for the distance: 9.58 seconds.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said American troops aided in ousting Honduran President Manuel Zelaya.
White House officials signaled that the "public option" -- part of the Democrats' health insurance reform plan -- has been dropped to appease conservatives.
Workers at Argentina's National Institute of Statistics said the country's economic data had been altered to appease the president.

Truthout 8/17

White House Appears Ready to Drop "Public Option"
Philip Elliott, The Associated Press: "Bowing to Republican pressure, President Barack Obama's administration signaled on Sunday it is ready to abandon the idea of giving Americans the option of government-run insurance as part of a new U.S. health care system. Facing mounting opposition to the overhaul, administration officials left open the chance for a compromise with Republicans that would include health insurance cooperatives instead of a government-run plan. Such a concession would likely enrage his liberal supporters but could deliver Obama a much-needed win on a top domestic priority opposed by GOP lawmakers."

Who's Behind the Attacks on a Health Care Overhaul?
Margaret Talev, McClatchy Newspapers: "Much of the money and strategy behind the so-called grassroots groups organizing opposition to the Democrats' health care plans comes from conservative political consultants, professional organizers and millionaires, some of whom hold financial stakes in the outcome. If President Barack Obama and Congress extend health insurance coverage to millions of uninsured Americans, raise taxes on the wealthy to pay for it, and limit insurers' discretion on who they cover and what they charge, that could pinch these opponents."

Ira Chernus "What Do Palestinians Want?" Is the Wrong Question
Ira Chernus: "What do the Palestinians really want, anyway? Are they ready to compromise and make peace with Israel? Or are they really intent on abolishing the Jewish state? Sooner or later, nearly every conversation about the Middle East conflict - whether it's here in the US, in Israel, or most anywhere else - gets around to that seemingly central question. That's why the just-completed conference of the Fatah Party, the dominant force in West Bank politics, stirred so much interest around the world. Everyone was hoping to come a bit closer to a definitive answer to this crucial question."

Iran Defies Condemnation, Expands Opposition Trial
Nasser Karimi, The Associated Press: "Iran expanded a mass trial of opposition supporters on Sunday with the addition of 25 defendants - including a Jewish teenager - in defiance of international condemnation, as France said Iran agreed to release a French woman held on spying charges from prison. The defendants are among more than 100 people charged with plotting a "soft revolution" against the Islamic theocracy during the postelection protests. The mass trial is part of an attempt to put an end to the protests by those who say Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's June 12 re-election was the result of fraud."

Actor's US 'Detention' Prompts Outrage in India
Nirmala George, The Associated Press: "Angry fans burned a US flag in protest Sunday, a Cabinet minister suggested searching visiting Americans and an actress tweeted her outrage after Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan said he was detained for questioning at a US airport. Though US immigration officials denied he was formally held, fellow Indian film stars and political leaders condemned what they called "humiliating" treatment given to Khan, a Muslim who is well-loved in a largely Hindu country. One Cabinet minister suggested a "tit-for-tat" policy toward Americans traveling to India.

North Korea to Reopen Border With South: KCNA
Jonathan Thatcher, Reuters: "North Korea, whose relations with South Korea have turned increasingly bitter, said on Monday it had agreed to reopen its border with its neighbor and allow tourism and family reunions to resume. But in a sign that tensions on the peninsula still run high, North Korea's KCNA news agency immediately followed the report with one that the entire country was being put on alert over joint military exercises by South Korea and the United States."

Mario Roy Nasty Debate
Mario Roy, La Presse: "Is Barack Obama a new Adolf Hitler? Is it his intention to institute "death panels" to separate those who will be cared for from those who will not? And is the United States becoming "a socialist country like Russia?" And don't these three count as some of the stupidest questions ever asked? ..."

Marc Ash Fight for the Public Option
Marc Ash, Truthout: "As August comes to a close, one of the most important debates in American history will come to a point of decision making. Will Americans have the option to support their own health care system if they choose? It will not only be important as a political precedent or as policy statement; it will be a landmark moment socially. Will we as Americans care for Americans in illness and need? The conflict could not be more stark, the stakes any higher."

Obama Picks Fight With Left on Health Reform
Ian Swanson, The Hill: "In backing away from its support for a public option in healthcare reform, the Obama administration is picking a fight with the liberal wing of the Democratic party. Liberal Democrats have insisted a public insurance option is necessary to ensure competition for private insurers. Just this week, former Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean predicted there could be Democratic primary challenges if a healthcare bill without a public option is approved by Congress."

Six Lobbyists Per Lawmaker Work on Health Overhaul
Jonathan D. Salant and Lizzie O'Leary, Bloomberg News: "If there is any doubt that President Barack Obama's plan to overhaul U.S. health care is the hottest topic in Congress, just ask the 3,300 lobbyists who have lined up to work on the issue. That's six lobbyists for each of the 535 members of the House and Senate, according to Senate records, and three times the number of people registered to lobby on defense."

Thomas Geoghegan The Case for Busting the Filibuster
Thomas Geoghegan, The Nation: "This past spring, Senator Claire McCaskill wrote to me asking for $50 to help elect more Democrats, so we could have a filibuster-proof Senate. Now that Al Franken has finally been declared the sixtieth Democratic senator, her plea may seem moot. But even with Franken in office, we don't have a filibuster-proof Senate. To get to sixty on the Democratic side, we'll still have to cut deals with Democrats like Max Baucus, Ben Nelson and others who cat around as Blue Dogs from vote to vote. Whether or not Senator Arlen Specter is a Democrat, the real Democrats will still have to cut the same deals to get sixty votes."

How Did a Suicide Bomber Get Into Kabul's NATO Headquarters?
Jonathan S. Landay, McClatchy Newspapers: "Afghan authorities are trying to determine how a suicide bomber breached tight security in Kabul's diplomatic quarter on Saturday and detonated an SUV packed with explosives in front of NATO headquarters five days before the presidential election. At least seven people died and 91 others were injured by the explosion, according to a Defense Ministry statement."

Bombs Kill at Least Eight People in Iraqi Market
Sameer N. Yacoub, The Associated Press: "Bombs hidden in plastic bags near a falafel stand exploded at a market in a mainly Shiite area in Baghdad on Sunday, killing at least eight civilians and wounding 21, Iraqi officials said. It was the latest in a series of bombings targeting Shiites and minorities in the capital and northern Iraq. The U.S. military has said insurgents are trying to re-ignite sectarian bloodshed that pushed the country to the brink of civil war but Shiites so far have shown restraint."

Lutherans Prep for Vote on Gay Clergy
Barbara Bradley Hagerty, NPR: "First it was the Episcopalians, now it's the Lutherans. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America - one of the largest Christian churches - is on the brink of sanctioning gay clergy members. When more than 1,000 members of the clergy and lay people begin a weeklong meeting in Minneapolis on Monday, they will be asked to decide whether to change their policy and allow pastors in gay relationships to serve in the ministry."

Bank Failure Friday Costs FDIC Nearly $4 Billion
Jake Bernstein, ProPublica: "The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. shuttered five banks on Friday, bringing the total number of failures for the year to 77. The agency's insurance fund took a hit of nearly $4 billion. In March, the FDIC reported that its fund was at a 16-year low of $13 billion. New assessments on member institutions are expected to help replenish the fund, but the recent failures will likely intensify speculation that the FDIC might need a taxpayer bailout at some point."

The Swiss menace

New York Times

It was the blooper heard round the world. In an editorial denouncing Democratic health reform plans, Investor’s Business Daily tried to frighten its readers by declaring that in Britain, where the government runs health care, the handicapped physicist Stephen Hawking “wouldn’t have a chance,” because the National Health Service would consider his life “essentially worthless.”

Professor Hawking, who was born in Britain, has lived there all his life, and has been well cared for by the National Health Service, was not amused.

Besides being vile and stupid, however, the editorial was beside the point. Investor’s Business Daily would like you to believe that Obamacare would turn America into Britain — or, rather, a dystopian fantasy version of Britain. The screamers on talk radio and Fox News would have you believe that the plan is to turn America into the Soviet Union. But the truth is that the plans on the table would, roughly speaking, turn America into Switzerland — which may be occupied by lederhosen-wearing holey-cheese eaters, but wasn’t a socialist hellhole the last time I looked.

Let’s talk about health care around the advanced world.

Every wealthy country other than the United States guarantees essential care to all its citizens. There are, however, wide variations in the specifics, with three main approaches taken.

In Britain, the government itself runs the hospitals and employs the doctors. We’ve all heard scare stories about how that works in practice; these stories are false. Like every system, the National Health Service has problems, but over all it appears to provide quite good care while spending only about 40 percent as much per person as we do. By the way, our own Veterans Health Administration, which is run somewhat like the British health service, also manages to combine quality care with low costs.

The second route to universal coverage leaves the actual delivery of health care in private hands, but the government pays most of the bills. That’s how Canada and, in a more complex fashion, France do it. It’s also a system familiar to most Americans, since even those of us not yet on Medicare have parents and relatives who are.

Again, you hear a lot of horror stories about such systems, most of them false. French health care is excellent. Canadians with chronic conditions are more satisfied with their system than their U.S. counterparts. And Medicare is highly popular, as evidenced by the tendency of town-hall protesters to demand that the government keep its hands off the program.

Finally, the third route to universal coverage relies on private insurance companies, using a combination of regulation and subsidies to ensure that everyone is covered. Switzerland offers the clearest example: everyone is required to buy insurance, insurers can’t discriminate based on medical history or pre-existing conditions, and lower-income citizens get government help in paying for their policies.

In this country, the Massachusetts health reform more or less follows the Swiss model; costs are running higher than expected, but the reform has greatly reduced the number of uninsured. And the most common form of health insurance in America, employment-based coverage, actually has some “Swiss” aspects: to avoid making benefits taxable, employers have to follow rules that effectively rule out discrimination based on medical history and subsidize care for lower-wage workers.

So where does Obamacare fit into all this? Basically, it’s a plan to Swissify America, using regulation and subsidies to ensure universal coverage.

If we were starting from scratch we probably wouldn’t have chosen this route. True “socialized medicine” would undoubtedly cost less, and a straightforward extension of Medicare-type coverage to all Americans would probably be cheaper than a Swiss-style system. That’s why I and others believe that a true public option competing with private insurers is extremely important: otherwise, rising costs could all too easily undermine the whole effort.

But a Swiss-style system of universal coverage would be a vast improvement on what we have now. And we already know that such systems work.

So we can do this. At this point, all that stands in the way of universal health care in America are the greed of the medical-industrial complex, the lies of the right-wing propaganda machine, and the gullibility of voters who believe those lies.

Correction: In Friday’s column I mistakenly asserted that Senator Johnny Isakson was responsible for a provision in a House bill that would allow Medicare to pay for end-of-life counseling. In fact, he is responsible for a provision in a Senate bill that would allow a different, newly created government program to pay for such counseling.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Truthout 8/16

The Brutal Truth About America’s Healthcare
Guy Adams, The Independent UK: "They came in their thousands, queuing through the night to secure one of the coveted wristbands offering entry into a strange parallel universe where medical care is a free and basic right and not an expensive luxury. Some of these Americans had walked miles simply to have their blood pressure checked, some had slept in their cars in the hope of getting an eye-test or a mammogram, others had brought their children for immunisations that could end up saving their life. In the week that Britain's National Health Service was held aloft by Republicans as an 'evil and Orwellian' example of everything that is wrong with free healthcare, these extraordinary scenes in Inglewood, California yesterday provided a sobering reminder of exactly why President Barack Obama is trying to reform the US system."

Report: Militia Activity on the Rise in US
Arthur Bright, The Christian Science Monitor: "Right-wing militia groups are on the rise in the United States after nearly a decade of obscurity, according to a new report from the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), which monitors hate groups and extremist activity. The report, released Wednesday, warns of 'unmistakable signs of a revival of what in the 1990s was commonly called the militia movement.'"

Dick Armey Leaves Firm Amid Health Care Flap
David Mark, The Politico: "Former House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-Texas) is resigning from DLA Piper law firm amid a wave of negative attention his grassroots organization, Freedom Works, has drawn for helping to organize protesters at health care town hall meetings with members of Congress. In an interview with POLITCO Armey said that he was concerned about the media scrutiny the health care protests were drawing to the firm he has been associated with since retiring from Congress."

Brazil Played Role in US-Backed Overthrow of Chile's Allende, Document Shows
Andrew Zajac, The Los Angeles Times: "President Nixon's determination to eliminate the socialist government of Salvador Allende led him to offer financial support to efforts by the Brazilian military to undermine the Chilean leader, according to a newly declassified summary of a White House meeting between Nixon and the president of Brazil. 'The president said that it was very important that Brazil and the United States work closely in this field. . . . If money were required or other discreet aid, we might be able to make it available,' stated the synopsis of Nixon's December 1971 conversation with President Emilio Medici."

Good News Could Spell Trouble for GOP
Patrick O'Connor, The Politico: "Don’t expect Republicans to credit President Barack Obama for the recent signs of life in the long-ailing U.S. economy, but don’t expect them to applaud more bad news either – at least not publicly. The still-reeling economy is riding a rollercoaster of economic indicators these days. A better-than-expected jobs report sent stock markets higher earlier this month. But Friday’s lower-than-expected consumer confidence number sent those same markets lower, and employers are continuing to shed hundreds of thousands of jobs each month, albeit at a slower pace than earlier this year. Many economists are predicting a jobless economic recovery over the next of year, as businesses begin to get back on their feet, but hold off on adding jobs."

Senator Jim Webb Wins Release of US Prisoner in Burma
Charles McDermid, The Los Angeles Times: "Virginia Sen. Jim Webb has gained the release of an American prisoner on the fast-moving first day of a trip to Myanmar in which Webb held face-to-face talks with reclusive junta leader Senior Gen. Than Shwe and also a rare meeting with jailed pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi. Webb's two-day trip comes just days after a military court ruled Suu Kyi was guilty of violating the terms of her house arrest by harboring the uninvited American John Yettaw and sentenced her to another 18 months of house arrest. Yettaw, a 53-year-old resident of Missouri, was sentenced to seven years, including four of hard labor, for swimming across a lake to Suu Kyi's villa in Yangon."

Online, Your Private Life is Searchable
David Sarno, The Los Angeles Times: "When Maya Rupert wrote an article frowning at several Southern states for officially celebrating Confederate History Month, Internet critics lined up to fire back. But this time, they arrived with more than harsh words. The 28-year-old Los Angeles attorney's detractors dug up a photo of her and posted it, along with details of political contributions she'd made, in an online discussion of the article she wrote for the L.A. Watts Times. They called their finds evidence of her bias on the emotionally charged subject."

FOCUS: Dahr Jamail Afghanistan War Resister Sentenced
Dahr Jamail, Truthout: "Sergeant Travis Bishop, with the US Army's 57th Expeditionary Signal Battalion, pled not guilty at a special court martial on Thursday to two counts of missing movement, disobeying a lawful order and going absent without leave (AWOL). Friday, in a trial full of theatrics from the jury, prosecution witnesses and the prosecution, he was found guilty on all counts. Sgt. Bishop is the second soldier from Fort Hood in as many weeks to be tried by the military for his stand against an occupation he believes is 'illegal.' He insists that it would be unethical for him to deploy to support an occupation he opposes on both moral and legal grounds, and has filed for conscientious objector (CO) status. A CO is someone who refuses to participate in combat based on religious or ethical grounds, and can be given an honorable discharge by the military."

Futher adventures in Bizarro World

Don Wheeler

Once again we have heard from the man who tells us up is down, light is dark, fiction is reality, etc. Of course, I'm referring to a recent Michiana Point of View penned by Patrick Mangan. It almost seems unsportsman-like to analyze his rant, but I just can't help myself. We all have our darker side, I guess.

I was interested that The Tribune chose the Michiana Point of View heading. They don't often use that any more. Typically, they head local Op Eds "Viewpoint" - as they did mine just yesterday.

Mr. Mangan begins:

Activist judges aren't the only problem citizens need to contend with these days. Special rights activists promoting the homosexual agenda are now misleading the executive branch both locally and at the highest level.

Locally, South Bend Mayor Stephen Luecke is at it again. Failing to get the support of the community or the South Bend Common Council for his special rights ordinance three years ago when it was voted down after a thorough discussion of the issue, he has now issued an executive order to confer special rights on homosexuals as it relates to city employees. The premise is faulty because it is not appropriate to confer special status and therefore special rights on anyone based on their aberrant sexual practices. Yet that is precisely what the mayor's order seeks to do.

(Luecke's executive order bars discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity for city employees or in municipal government's recruitment of prospective workers. — Editor)

The editor is very helpful in defining the term "special rights". Apparently, it means freedom from discrimination. Though Mr. Mangan doesn't make it clear what "the homosexual agenda" consists of, it must have something to do with fighting discrimination. So far, so good.

However, the mayor is not alone in his confusion about what constitutes a legitimate group as a class for special protection. President Obama is laboring under the same misguided intentions and recently laid out his special rights for homosexuals agenda as well. He included lifting the ban on homosexuals in the military, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, overturning the Defense of Marriage Act and passing hate crimes legislation in his unholy agenda.

Oh-oh. This seems to imply that our government should only involve itself in holy agendas. My Consitutional hackles are rising.

Let's go back to the basics. There are tests for qualifying as a protected class. The first test is that the common characteristic is immutable — that is unchangeable. Since concerned citizens and the Citizens for Community Values of Indiana Task Force have already presented the videotaped testimonies of "former homosexuals" to the South Bend Common Council during hearings in 2006, it is clear that many who once were engaged in homosexual activity are no longer and many no longer even experience same-sex attraction. Dr. Robert Spitzer, a psychiatrist and a professor at Columbia University who led the political actions of the APA to declassify homosexuality as a disorder, reported that there is no evidence for the biologic theory after reviewing all available data.

I agree with the first sentence. Mr. Mangan doesn't get to decide what constitutes a protected class. But if his definition were to hold, his argument fails immediately. He tips his hand when he puts the term "former homosexuals" in quotation marks - though it is completely appropriate punctuation.

I've re-read the paragraph several times, and I still don't understand what Mr. Mangan wants claim that Dr. Spitzer thinks. It seems contradictory. But if Dr. Spitzer thinks that sexual orientation and gender identity are completely chosen (optional) traits, then he is at odds with the American Psychiatric Association - which earlier this week reiterated their position that they are not.

The second premise is that the proposed protected class has been excluded from the educational opportunities afforded to the rest of society. As almost any homosexual activist will tell you, the educational attainment of those practicing homosexuality is in fact above the average educational attainment of the rest of our society. You can't have it both ways. You can't claim superior educational attainment and a victim status at the same time.

Again, his straw man.

Finally, it must be demonstrated that the proposed protected class has been excluded from economic opportunity. This too is countered by homosexual activists everywhere who chant the mantra of the buying power of those who embrace same-sex sexuality and cite above-average income attainment levels. Once again, the two truths are exclusive.

More of the same.

But the greatest myth of all is that of alleged violence against those in the gay lesbian bisexual transgender movement. There is significant evidence of violence in society against those in the GLBT movement from other homosexuals. The Family Research Institute reports that for a woman, living with a man in marriage is close to 10 times less dangerous than having an on-going sexual relationship with a woman. For men, the number was 18 times less dangerous than living in a male —male homosexual relationship.

Right. Propaganda from Don Wildmon's in-house "think tank" constitutes evidence?

But never mind the overwhelming preponderance of the evidence, just consider the common sense reality.

Common sense tells us that the cry of victim status is just simply not true. At best, those experiencing same-sex attraction constitute about 1 to 3 percent of the population. Kinsey's own folks admitted that that nonsense about one in 10 was for propaganda purposes. But even if it was as many as 10 percent, is there any doubt that this tiny minority has one of the loudest and biggest megaphones in society?

Since we've established there is no evidence to support his claim, its time to deal with his attempts at distraction. Setting aside the nonsense claim - for which he offers no evidence - this has no bearing on whether we should extend protections against employment and housing discrimination for our GLBT citizens.

Pro-homosexual speech is not squelched. It is those who lovingly disagree who are ridiculed and even attacked as we saw in the aftermath of the vote in California which rejected the premise of so called gay marriage. Homosexual activists raided churches, damaged property and threatened the lives of ministers who disagreed with them. And they promised retribution.

I hope I don't seem like an alarmist, but this strikes me as an attempt to dehumanize GLBT citizens. And again, I don't see what this has to do with establishing the right to file a complaint against bad treatment.

What Obama, Luecke and many homosexual activists want is a right to not be disagreed with. They cannot win the argument (as 30 states have demonstrated in voting down special rights for homosexuals) so they want a trump card to silence the opposition. That is the whole point of "hate crimes" legislation and "special rights" legislation that attempts to criminalize thoughts. I wonder if the ACLU would defend the free speech rights of all people to disagree with homosexuality as those who they have defended who burned the American flag in protest?


Bizarro alert!

Bizarro alert!

You really have to wonder if he actually believes this stuff, or if it's just an exercise in cynicism.

The homosexual agenda is a "special rights movement" masquerading as a civil rights movement. The price tag for granting special rights to homosexuals and the GLBT movement would be to undermine the First Amendment rights of the rest of us to speak our conscience in the public square.

No, special rights for homosexuals is not the civil rights movement of the 21st century. The merciless deaths of nearly 50,000,000 babies to abortion since Roe v Wade testifies otherwise. The right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness is the great civil rights movement of the 21st century. When a baby is safe in its mother's womb in America, we will have the foundation for true social justice. Those trying to hijack the nobility of the civil rights movement for their own purposes to promote the homosexual agenda are on the wrong side of history.

And just to throw some red meat to his allies, he tosses in the abortion issue - which, of course, wouldn't seem to have much to do with protecting our GLBT neighbors from discrimination via the opportunity to present complaints to an already established body. That is, after all, the subject we're supposed to be discussing.

If there is a serious argument in oppositions, I've yet to hear it. One thing's for sure...we won't hear it from this guy.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

These are all our children

Don Wheeler

VIEWPOINT - South Bend Tribune

I'm sure, when you read the June 18 article in The Tribune about a guy who passes out in a gas station parking lot and is found with his 3-year-old daughter trying to wake him up, you wondered what happened to that little girl. I'm seriously hoping that your curiosity may spur you to action. More on that later ...

Here's my (I'm sure imperfect) understanding how our system works.

It's nearly certain that the responding police officer filed a neglect complaint with the Department of Child Services to be heard by the Probate Court.

It is the law in Indiana that we are all required to report instances we suspect are possible cases of child abuse and/or neglect. DCS is charged with investigating the complaints and presenting them to the court for a ruling of validity.

I've not been a big fan of Gov. Mitch Daniels' administration, but in this area I claim a gaudy exception. Daniels has imposed a new philosophy and provided additional needed resources.

It used to be (I'm told) that there was a standard set of hoops presented that "offending" parents had to jump through in order for them to be reunited with their kids. Nothing was customized to the situation. Additionally, caseworkers had loads in the 40 to 60 case range that they were supposed to manage. All this has changed.

Caseworkers now have a target range of fewer than 20 cases. And all case plans start with the objective of reunifying the children with their family. This isn't always the outcome, but the strategy is to try to help parents shore up their weak areas so that the family can be reunited. This news was quite heartening to me as I was going through CASA -- Court Appointed Special Advocate -- training during the past two months.

Let's return to our 3-year-old's dilemma.

Assuming a complaint was filed, the child would likely have been deemed a temporary ward of the state -- subject to a determination hearing. She would be placed, possibly in a foster home, pending the outcome of the hearing.

The parent(s) could decide to not contest the complaint or they would ask for a hearing of cause. If cause was not found by the Probate Court, the child would return home. Other outcomes would mean the child would continue in his or her placement (as a CHINS -- Child In Need of Services), and DCS would be charged with the responsibility of devising a case plan designed to reunify the family.

Elements typically included are individual and family counseling, substance abuse counseling (if needed), parenting and/or anger management classes, etc. Supervised visitation is a standard feature. Although it's not strictly true, generally a parent who follows the case plan will be reunified with his or her child(ren).

Once a CHINS determination has been made, the target date for a permanent situation for the child is 15 months hence. Often it doesn't turn out that way.

The case I have recently been assigned will soon reach its third anniversary. Actually, it's four cases -- each child is a "case." As a CASA, it is my responsibility to advocate for the interests of each of these children. And it may well be that each one needs a different advocacy.

A CASA meets with the parties involved and studies the paper record. The CASA asks for clarification of the recommendations of counselors, caseworkers and the like, and in the end will face Judge Peter Nemeth in Probate Court with the CASA's own recommendation.

The people in my training class came from all walks of life. It's true that some may have some advantages over others, but I suspect the qualities needed are (some) toughness, determination and, mostly, a big heart.

There currently are more than 1,000 children in the St. Joseph County system. There currently are fewer than 100 CASAs available to assist them. If you care about this, you are needed.

Fall classes are forming now. Find out more by going to index.asp. Or stop by the basement of the Juvenile Justice Center, 1000 S. Michigan St., South Bend.


Don Wheeler is a South Bend resident.

Republican death trip

New York Times

“I am in this race because I don’t want to see us spend the next year re-fighting the Washington battles of the 1990s. I don’t want to pit Blue America against Red America; I want to lead a United States of America.” So declared Barack Obama in November 2007, making the case that Democrats should nominate him, rather than one of his rivals, because he could free the nation from the bitter partisanship of the past.

Some of us were skeptical. A couple of months after Mr. Obama gave that speech, I warned that his vision of a “different kind of politics” was a vain hope, that any Democrat who made it to the White House would face “an unending procession of wild charges and fake scandals, dutifully given credence by major media organizations that somehow can’t bring themselves to declare the accusations unequivocally false.”

So, how’s it going?

Sure enough, President Obama is now facing the same kind of opposition that President Bill Clinton had to deal with: an enraged right that denies the legitimacy of his presidency, that eagerly seizes on every wild rumor manufactured by the right-wing media complex.

This opposition cannot be appeased. Some pundits claim that Mr. Obama has polarized the country by following too liberal an agenda. But the truth is that the attacks on the president have no relationship to anything he is actually doing or proposing.

Right now, the charge that’s gaining the most traction is the claim that health care reform will create “death panels” (in Sarah Palin’s words) that will shuffle the elderly and others off to an early grave. It’s a complete fabrication, of course. The provision requiring that Medicare pay for voluntary end-of-life counseling was introduced by Senator Johnny Isakson, Republican — yes, Republican — of Georgia, who says that it’s “nuts” to claim that it has anything to do with euthanasia.

And not long ago, some of the most enthusiastic peddlers of the euthanasia smear, including Newt Gingrich, the former speaker of the House, and Mrs. Palin herself, were all for “advance directives” for medical care in the event that you are incapacitated or comatose. That’s exactly what was being proposed — and has now, in the face of all the hysteria, been dropped from the bill.

Yet the smear continues to spread. And as the example of Mr. Gingrich shows, it’s not a fringe phenomenon: Senior G.O.P. figures, including so-called moderates, have endorsed the lie.

Senator Chuck Grassley, Republican of Iowa, is one of these supposed moderates. I’m not sure where his centrist reputation comes from — he did, after all, compare critics of the Bush tax cuts to Hitler. But in any case, his role in the health care debate has been flat-out despicable.

Last week, Mr. Grassley claimed that his colleague Ted Kennedy’s brain tumor wouldn’t have been treated properly in other countries because they prefer to “spend money on people who can contribute more to the economy.” This week, he told an audience that “you have every right to fear,” that we “should not have a government-run plan to decide when to pull the plug on grandma.”

Again, that’s what a supposedly centrist Republican, a member of the Gang of Six trying to devise a bipartisan health plan, sounds like.

So much, then, for Mr. Obama’s dream of moving beyond divisive politics. The truth is that the factors that made politics so ugly in the Clinton years — the paranoia of a significant minority of Americans and the cynical willingness of leading Republicans to cater to that paranoia — are as strong as ever. In fact, the situation may be even worse than it was in the 1990s because the collapse of the Bush administration has left the G.O.P. with no real leaders other than Rush Limbaugh.

The question now is how Mr. Obama will deal with the death of his postpartisan dream.

So far, at least, the Obama administration’s response to the outpouring of hate on the right has had a deer-in-the-headlights quality. It’s as if officials still can’t wrap their minds around the fact that things like this can happen to people who aren’t named Clinton, as if they keep expecting the nonsense to just go away.

What, then, should Mr. Obama do? It would certainly help if he gave clearer and more concise explanations of his health care plan. To be fair, he’s gotten much better at that over the past couple of weeks.

What’s still missing, however, is a sense of passion and outrage — passion for the goal of ensuring that every American gets the health care he or she needs, outrage at the lies and fear-mongering that are being used to block that goal.

So can Mr. Obama, who can be so eloquent when delivering a message of uplift, rise to the challenge of unreasoning, unappeasable opposition? Only time will tell.

Truthout 8/15

Obama Says Insurance Companies Holding US Hostage
Jeff Mason and Matt Spetalnick, Reuters: "US President Barack Obama, pushing for healthcare reform during a trip to the West, said on Friday the country was 'held hostage' by insurance companies that deny coverage to sick people. Obama, on a multi-state swing to tamp down vociferous opposition to his top domestic priority, targeted insurance companies for dropping customers who become sick or forcing patients to cover huge costs. 'We are held hostage at any given moment by health insurance companies that deny coverage or drop coverage or charge fees that people can't afford,' Obama told a crowd of some 1,000 people in Montana."

Afghanistan's Women Yearn for More
Laura King, The Los Angeles Times: "One is the face of despair; the other, of hope. Zeinab, 22, believed that only death could provide an escape from her husband's merciless beatings. So she set herself on fire, leaving one-third of her body covered with oozing, blistering burns. She faces a lifetime of disfigurement and, unless she returns to her abusive husband, the likely loss of her two children. Twelve-year-old Nazira's classroom is a sweltering tent, and her desk is a plastic mat on the ground. But her teachers say she is one of their brightest pupils, encouraged by a mother and father who want her to get as much education as she can. Her eyes sparkle when she describes her ambition: to become a doctor."

Seven Die, Ninety-One Wounded in Blast Near NATO HQ in Kabul
Rahim Faiez And Jason Straziuso, The Associated Press: A suicide car bomb exploded Saturday outside the main gate of NATO's headquarters five days before Afghanistan's presidential election, killing seven and wounding 91 in the biggest attack in the Afghan capital in six months. The bomber evaded several rings of Afghan police and detonated his explosives on the doorstep of the international military headquarters, an assault possibly aimed at sending the message that the Taliban can attack anywhere as Afghans gear up for their second-ever direct presidential election. Militants have warned Afghans not to vote and have threatened to attack voting sites.

Friction Among Iran Authorities Heats Up
Borzou Daragahi and Ramin Mostaghim, The Los Angeles Times: "Rival camps within Iran's corridors of power intensified their threats against each other Friday, signaling potentially dangerous clashes within elite circles and the security establishment after the disputed June 12 reelection of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Hard-line clerics close to Ahmadinejad called for prominent reformist Mehdi Karroubi, a former speaker of parliament and a presidential candidate, to stand trial for making allegations of jailhouse rape and torture in the country's detention centers."

"Sensitive" Oil Industry Memo Lays Out Plan For Astroturf Rallies Against Climate Change Bill
Zachary Roth, Talking Points Memo: "A leaked memo sent by an oil industry group reveals a plan to create astroturf rallies at which industry employees posing as 'citizens' will urge Congress to oppose climate change legislation. The memo - sent by the American Petroleum Institute and obtained by Greenpeace, which sent it to reporters - urges oil companies to recruit their employees for events that will 'put a human face on the impacts of unsound energy policy,' and will urge senators to 'avoid the mistakes embodied in the House climate bill.'"

Radical Muslim Cleric Among 21 Killed in Gaza Clashes
CNN: A radical Muslim sheikh's call for the creation of an Islamic emirate in Gaza sparked clashes with Hamas forces that left 21 people dead and injured at least 121 others. Members of Jund Ansar Allah surround Sheikh Abu al-Nour al-Maqdessi in Rafah on Friday. Hamas forces blew up the home of Sheikh Abu al-Nour al-Maqdessi, leader of the radical group Jund Ansar Allah, or Soldiers of the Partisans of God, Hamas sources said."

Honduras Charges Zelaya Supporters With Sedition
Kathia Martinez, The Associated Press: "Two dozen supporters of Honduras' ousted president were charged with sedition Friday in an intensifying crackdown on protests against the coup-installed government. Protests to demand the return of ousted President Manuel Zelaya turned violent in the Honduran capital this week, with police firing tear gas and demonstrators fighting back with sticks and stones. Some protesters attacked the vice president of Congress, although he wasn't injured."

FOCUS: Michael Winship The Gorilla Dust of Health Care
Michael Winship, Truthout: The attacks on Bill and Hillary Clinton's plan for health care reform back in the '90s were a tiptoe through the tulips compared to the current assault. That's because it's about a lot more than attempting to ease the financial pain of illness - or a socialist government takeover of medicine, depending on your point of view. Organizers (such as former Republican Majority Leader Dick Armey's FreedomWorks), special interests and people who are just plain mad as hell have turned it into a shrill national referendum, reigniting age-old prejudices and fears that bubbled at the surface during last year's presidential campaign."

On Disarmament, Or, How Congressman Larsen Made A "Town Hall" Work

We’ve all been hearing the “Town Hall Meeting” stories the past few days, and the images presented have been of gatherings where you might see some current or former official “death panel” for the benefit of the crowd, where the few people who shout the loudest bully the rest into silence, and where threats of physical intimidation are part of the debate.

I attended one of these meetings, and based on what I saw I’m here to tell you that it is possible to hold an event that features none of the images previously described.

Instead, what I say was an event where people asked their questions, the Congressman answered—and from time to time the angry members of the audience got their shout on, too...but not in a way that was able to ever take control of the venue.

There were helpful lessons that can be applied by others who want to have these meetings, and today’s conversation examines what can be done to make them work for you, too.

Let’s start by meeting the players:

Rick Larsen is the Member of Congress representing Washington State’s Second District. A Democrat, he first won his seat in the 2000 election, and in 2008 he defeated former Snohomish County Sheriff Rick Bart by a 62-38% margin.

The (mostly rural) Second District is bordered by Puget Sound on the west, British Columbia to the north (Vancouver is just a short drive from the I-5 border crossing at Blaine, Washington), the Cascade Mountains to the east, and Seattle’s northern suburbs to the south.

From south to north, major cities include Everett (former fishing, lumber and harbor town), Mount Vernon (the largest town in a region known for tulips and eagles and agriculture and formerly, commercial fishing and lumber), and Bellingham (college town, and, again, former fishing and lumber town). All three towns grew substantially as a result of the Alaska Gold Rush of the 1890s.

There are numerous Indian Tribes within the District, as well as two significant military installations: Naval Air Station Whidbey Island and Naval Station Everett.

Larsen had held a previous Town Hall in Mount Vernon that attracted a crowd that was several times the capacity of the venue, so at the last minute Everett Memorial Stadium was booked for this event.

(Fun Fact: this stadium is the home of the minor-league Everett AquaSox, one of the few sports teams to ever take the field in tie-dye uniforms.)

By my count, roughly 2500 were present—but there was an interesting distribution: it appeared to me that the “Diamond Club” seats right behind home plate, and the two sections on either side, were thickly populated with supporters of reform, with opponents “flanking” them to the left and right. The main entrance is on the third base side, and the seats filled up from that side as well, with the seats out past first base being the most empty.

It was not “high summer”, by any means, and at “game time” (5 PM) we had a cloudy sky and a temperature of roughly 65 degrees.

Larsen stood on the field near home plate, and as soon as he started speaking you could see he had three advantages: the large outdoor venue meant that no single person could shout down the meeting, Larsen’s access to the PA system meant that he could always be heard even if a group tried to “chant out” the meeting, and his use of “runners” to take the microphone to each questioner meant no “in your face” screaming matches were going to take place.

Another smart move: Larsen limited his discussion to one specific bill (HR 3200), which allowed him to avoid having to speculate as to what might or might not be in any other possible proposal.

Beyond that, he made it clear in his opening remarks that he would be willing to spend up to 2 ½ hours to answer questions and that the microphone would be getting to every section, in turn, as much as needed; this seemed to remove much of the concern that people would be shut down and left unable to ask questions.

Additionally, he was more than willing to challenge those with whom he disagreed, as evidenced by his answer to one question from the crowd:

“I’ve got facts on my side and you’ve got Glenn Beck on your side...”

At the same time, he was able to use the PA and personal attention to his advantage during questioning. The “runners with mic” system made sure that all questions, from supporters and opponents, could not be drowned out, and by giving real attention to each questioner and presenting a “non form-letter” response (the PA assuring that his answer also could not be drowned out), Larsen was able to show that this was indeed a conversation and not a shouting match.

The crowd also acted as a moderating influence. A number of the questions came from people who seemed as reasonable as they could be, and when some extremist language was presented, the crowd exerted its own influence.

Here’s an example: a questioner asked the Congressman and the crowd to try to come up with one example of Government ever doing anything right, or words to that effect. The crowd offered some supportive cheers.

A couple of questioners later, a man stood up and told the crowd that he did not appreciate the last 20 years of his life being disrespected. He pointed out that the United States Navy, in which he serves, is the finest military force of its kind on the planet (this, in what is today very much a Navy town)...and all of a sudden, the “Government can’t do anything right” supporters, many of whom appeared to be military retirees (based on their age and choice of hats), found themselves...moderated.

About 90 minutes in Larsen called for a “7th inning stretch”, but much of the crowd took that as an invitation to leave, particularly as it was beginning to get cold, and it was starting to rain. Within a few minutes roughly 1500 of the original 2500 people had left.

The event, all in all, was kept under control, and those who came to disrupt were unsuccessful in creating an environment where that could happen...and a lot of that was because of the efforts of Larsen and his staff.

The goal of this exercise is not to go through all the questions and answers and crowd reactions, but I will tell you that I heard a woman behind us asking out loud about what would happen to senior citizens if the Government ever took over Medicare, which I found both profoundly humorous and profoundly sad.

So what can we make from all of this?

First off, a large venue makes it much tougher for any individual or group to take over the event.

Getting your people into a cohesive group near the center of the action is also quite helpful.

Ensuring that the PA is loud enough to always overpower any “disrupters” is vital.

Making sure the crowd understands that nearly everyone who wants to will get to ask questions matters—and it also matters if you appear to be giving reasonable answers to reasonable questions.

Be a bit of a parent, and call the kids out when they deserve it.

Finally, if a questioner says Government can’t do anything right—ask ‘em why they want to disrespect the brave men and women of our Armed Forces. If you’re in Texas...or North Carolina...or California...or Florida—ask ‘em twice.

If you are going to have to campaign for office every two years (and as a Member of Congress, you do), creating a positive image that transcends electoral cycles can be a great thing. These Town Halls offer that opportunity—and if you do it right, you’ll be able to say that you “listened to the voters” and “stood up for the People” and “made the tough decisions”, despite the efforts of special interests to “hijack the process”, for years to come.

And that, Future Candidates, is not a bad image to take on the campaign trail.

SPECIAL NOTE: We note today the recent passage of Les Paul. Many will remember him as the man who made the electric guitar famous, and still others will remember his work with Mary Ford...but if you have ever stood behind turntables or made a mix or a mashup, you should know that everything you’re doing today also came straight from the mind of Les Paul, who was just about the only person on the planet Earth making 24-track overdub recordings all the way back in 1951.

Friday, August 14, 2009

FP morning brief 8/14

Top Story:

U.S. Sen. Jim Webb, a Democrat of Virginia, has traveled to Myanmar (Burma) to meet with the military junta and lobby for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi, the imprisoned dissident leader. Webb is the first high-ranking U.S. official to meet with General Than Shwe in more than a decade. The Obama administration and State Department said that Webb is visiting "independently" -- rather than carrying the administration's message. (Similarly, former President Bill Clinton visited North Korea "independently" to seek the release of two imprisoned journalists.) But Webb is a U.S. foreign-policy heavyweight. The former secretary of the Navy is chair of the subcomittee on East Asian affairs in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

To watch:

A poll of Afghan voters by the International Republican Institute shows President Hamid Karzai winning 44 percent and his chief rival, Abdullah Abdullah, 26 percent.

Middle East
Mehdi Karroubi, an opposition candidate defeated in Iran’s July 12 election, said the regime had tortured protesters to death in prison.
Israel said it had accounted for all its soldiers after rumors of a kidnapping sparked a security operation.
German police confirmed that a cache of documents found in Cairo, Egypt, belonged to Nazi fugitive Aribert Ferdinand Heim, who allegedly died in Egypt in 1992.

President Ma Ying-jeou of Taiwan said more than 500 had died in the typhoon that hit the country Wednesday.
North Korea released a South Korean it had held for months on charges of “denouncing the government,” signaling a possible easing in the stalled relations between the two countries.
Clashes between the Army and dissidents led by Islamist Abu Sayyaf killed 43 in the southern Philippines.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton completed her trip to Africa, meeting with President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf of Liberia on her final stop.
Forty Egyptian fisherman overpowered and escaped from the Somali pirates holding their ship captive.
Congolese politician Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo will have interim release before his trial at the International Criminal Court in the Hague.

The United States said it would resume training Georgian soldiers for counterinsurgency operations in Afghanistan, over Russian objections.
Libyan Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, convicted in the Lockerbie bombing, said he would abandon his appeal to be released from British prison due to terminal cancer.
Germany and France returned to growth in the second quarter, surprising analysts and improving economic prospects in the continent.

U.S. President Barack Obama heads to Montana and Colorado for town hall meetings on health insurance reform. Nationwide, the town halls have met with fierce protests.
A Bloomberg survey found more than 150 U.S. lenders still own a percentage of non-performing loans high enough to destabilize them.
The Philadelphia Eagles football team signed a one-year deal with Michael Vick, the former player, who had been imprisoned for two years for running a dog-fighting ring.

Truthout 8/14

William Rivers Pitt Howl
William Rivers Pitt, Truthout: "If you've ever wondered what lurks at the very bottom of the American political barrel, look no further than the scenes that have been playing out in health care town hall forums across the nation over the last couple of weeks. Members of Congress who favor President Obama's health care reform program returned to their districts to speak to their constituents about the details of the president's plan, and were greeted with howls, screams and shrieks from right-wing protesters bent on blowing the whole process to pieces."

Memoirs to Reveal Dick Cheney Thought Bush Had Gone Soft on War on Terror
Mark Tran, The Guardian UK: "The former vice-president, Dick Cheney, grew increasingly disenchanted with George Bush in the latter's second term as president, believing his boss was going soft in the so-called war on terror, it emerged today."

Denis Olivennes Let My Pipole Go
Denis Olivennes, Le Nouvel Observateur: "This influence of familiarity, with its fascination for the private lives of public characters, especially when one penetrates those lives through hacking or other forms of breaking and entering, is the exact formula for 'tyrannies of intimacy.' This pressing need to venerate the icons that are in our likeness and this cult that, by so doing, we devote to ourselves, is the pattern for the 'culture of narcissism.'"

Man Who Made Threats Against the White House Arrested After Standoff
The Associated Press: "A man suspected of making threats against the White House was pulled from his car Thursday after an hours-long standoff in the parking lot of the Federal Building in West Los Angeles."

Nomi Prins Time to Do Something About "Too-Big-to-Fail" Banks
Nomi Prins, Newsday: "A Wall Street Journal survey this week found that a majority of economists back the idea of Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke sticking around for another term. Their support hinges on the belief that Bernanke averted a larger economic catastrophe with his actions last fall."

Australian Parliament Rejects Carbon Trade Plan
Rob Taylor, Reuters: "Australia's parliament rejected a plan for the world's most ambitious emissions trade regime as expected on Thursday, bringing the nation closer to a snap election and prolonging financial uncertainty for major emitters."

Obama Asks Court to Block Forest Road Building
The Associated Press: "The Obama administration says it will defend a 2001 rule imposed by President Bill Clinton that blocked road construction and other development on tens of millions of acres of remote national forests."

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Truthout 8/13

Dr. Wilmer J. Leon III Is Health Care Reform on Life Support?
Dr. Wilmer J. Leon III, Truthout: "According to 2008 US Census Bureau data, approximately 47 million, or 15.8 percent of the US population, were without health insurance during 2006 - a 4.9 percent increase. In 2005, census figures showed that 44.8 million people, or about 15.3 percent of the population, lacked health insurance coverage. According to a report released by the Institute on Medicine, the average cost of family health care coverage more than doubled from 1999 to 2008, from $1,543 to $3,354."

Blackwater (Xe) Accused in Afghan Murders
David Zucchino, The Los Angeles Times: "Mirza Mohammed Dost stood at the foot of his son's grave, near a headstone that read, 'Raheb Dost, martyred by Americans.' His son was no insurgent, Dost said. He was walking home from prayers on the night of May 5 when he was shot and killed on a busy Kabul street by U.S. security contractors. 'The Americans must answer for my son's death,' Dost said as a large crowd of young men murmured in approval."

Le Monde Fatah's Metamorphosis
Le Monde's editorialist sees hope for peace in the Middle East as a result of Fatah's recent convention and Israel's Minister of Minority Affairs Avishay Braverman argues for the release of a Fatah leader serving five consecutive life sentences in Israel.

Seth Sandronsky Rethinking US Penal Policy
Seth Sandronsky, Truthout: "The proportion of US citizens behind bars far exceeds that of every other nation on Earth. Further, there is a class and race dimension to US incarceration: blacks and Latinos are imprisoned at a much higher rate than are whites."

US Might Use Colombia's Military Bases
Gerardo Reyes, The Miami Herald: "Colombia's armed forces chief Wednesday said negotiations could conclude this weekend on an agreement to increase the U.S. military presence in the South American country - a vaguely explained deal that has sparked strong protests in the hemisphere."

Pelosi, Frank Urge Clampdown on Executive Pay
Silla Brush, The Hill: "House Democrats are urging the Obama administration to clamp down on corporate pay at seven large companies that rely on billions of dollars in federal bailout money. Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank (D-Mass.) said Wednesday they are concerned about reports that the firms continue to pay lavish bonuses."

Mike Elk Lobbyists Paid Off by China vs. 30,000 US Workers: Which Side Will Obama Choose?
Mike Elk, Campaign for America's Future: "As the International Trade Commission considers comments on its recommendation to impose tariffs on Chinese tire imports, President Obama stands at a crossroads in the fight to rebuild the American economy. President Obama has made a commitment in the past to uphold previously signed trade agreements. China, however, is violating these agreements by flooding the market with a massive 300 percent increase in tire imports in an attempt to wipe out American tire manufacturers."

Jason Leopold Rove "Driving Force" Behind US Attorney Firings
Jason Leopold, Truthout: "Political adviser Karl Rove and other officials inside George W. Bush's White House pushed for the firing of a key federal prosecutor because he wasn't cooperating with Republican plans for indicting Democrats and their allies before the 2006 election, according to internal documents and depositions. The evidence was released Tuesday and turned over to a special prosecutor by House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers."

Olbermann: "Death Panel" Palin Dangerously Irresponsible
Keith Olbermann, MSNBC "Countdown": "Finally as promised a Special Comment on this terrible moment in American history, and those unfortunate and irresponsible Americans who have brought us to it. 'The America I know and love,' the quitter governor of Alaska Sarah Palin began, 'is not one in which my parents or my baby with Down Syndrome will have to stand in front of Obama's "death panel" so his bureaucrats can decide, based on a subjective judgment of their "level of productivity in society," whether they are worthy of health care. Such a system is downright evil.' Of course it is, Ms. Palin, and that is why it does not exist, has not existed, and would never, under this president, nor any other president, ever exist, in this country."

Bombs Kill 14 Afghan Civilians, One US Soldier
Bronwen Roberts, Agence France-Presse: "Bomb blasts in southern Afghanistan killed 14 Afghan civilians, including 11 members of one family, and a US soldier, officials said Thursday, in new attacks threatening elections next week. In an increasingly violent north, Afghan security forces fought off Taliban in a battle an official said left eight militants and two policemen dead."

Europe: Financial Crisis Leads to Rapes
Pavol Stracansky, Inter Press Service: "Several groups across Eastern Europe have called for a crackdown on mafia-run job agencies amid reports that their members are raping and torturing migrant workers who have lost their jobs in the economic crisis. Media in the Czech Republic have carried reports that thousands of foreign workers in the eastern European country who have become unemployed are becoming virtual slaves to semi-legal 'job brokers.'"

"Death to Obama" Sign Holder in Maryland Detained
David Dishneau, The Associated Press: "The Secret Service is investigating a man who authorities said held a sign reading 'Death to Obama' outside a town hall meeting on health-care reform in western Maryland. The sign also read, 'Death to Michelle and her two stupid kids,' referring to the first name of President Barack Obama's wife, said Washington County Sheriff's Capt. Peter Lazich."

Americans Working Much Harder - for Less Pay
John W. Schoen, "Feel like you're working a lot harder these days, putting in longer hours for the same pay - or even less? The latest round of government data on worker productivity indicates that you probably are."

Tom Engelhardt Biking Out of Iraq
Tom Engelhardt, "The Bush administration invaded Iraq in March 2003 with a force of approximately 130,000 troops. Top White House and Pentagon officials like Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz were convinced that, by August, those troops, welcomed with open arms by the oppressed Iraqis, would be drawn down to and housed in newly built, permanent military bases largely away from the country's urban areas. This was to be part of what now is called a 'strategic partnership' in the Middle East."

Bill Moyers Journal A Conservative Plan for Health Care?
Bill Moyers Journal, Truthout: "Conservative journalist David Frum worries that Republicans would only win a failing status quo in their fight to kill health care reform. Bill Moyers sits down with the former special assistant to George W. Bush, who is calling on Republicans to come up with a plan for health care reform and suggests changes that conservatives can favor."

FP morning post 8/13

Top story:

The World Trade Organization has ruled that China must drop its import restrictions on foreign media products. The ruling is a victory for the United States, which had filed the complaint, saying that China's rules stipulating that imports of books, films, and music be routed through state-owned companies were in violation of free trade rules.

The Chinese government can still appeal the decision.The issue is a sensitive one for China, which sees state control over private media as essential for maintaining power.

U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk hailed the ruling, saying, "Today, a WTO panel handed a significant victory to America's creative industries." However, U.S. media companies will still face major obstacles in China including a law that caps the number of foreign films released in China at 20 per year and a flourishing black market for movies and music.

Coming up:

U.S. Senator Jim Webb will visit Burma and hold talks with junta leaders this week. He will be the first high-ranking U.S. official to meet with Gen. Than Shwe in more than a decade.

Middle East
Yemen has continued its attacks on Shiite rebels for a second day.
Human Rights Watch has accused the Israeli military of deliberately firing on civilians carrying white flags during last year's war in Gaza.
Five members of Iraq's presidential guard will be charged with attempted bank robbery.

North Korea freed a South Korean worker it has held since March.
Philippine troops have taken two camps from al Qaeda-linked militants.
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations signed a free trade agreement with India.

On her second to last stop in Africa, Hillary Clinton visited Liberia to voice support for President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.
Clinton also warned that Al Qaeda could establish a foothold in Nigeria.
A mayor accused of orchestrating the deaths of 2,000 people during Rwanda's genocide was captured after 15 years in hiding.

The economies of France and Germany both grew by .3 percent, ending their recessions.
The operators of the cargo shipped that disappeared off the coast of Europe last month now believes it was the victim of a pirate attack.
The British media has reported that Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi will be freed from prison in Scotland.

Three people were killed when gunmen attempted to assassinate the director of a prison in Chihuahua, Mexico.
Cuba released new photos showing former President Fidel Castro looking healthier.
Supporters of ousted President Manuel Zelaya clashed with police in Honduras.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Truthout 8/12

Dahr Jamail Another Soldier Refuses Afghanistan Deployment
Dahr Jamail, Truthout: "Sgt. Travis Bishop, who served 14 months in Baghdad with the 3rd Signal Brigade, faces a court-martial this Friday for refusing to deploy to Afghanistan."

In New Hampshire, Obama Defends Health Care Plan
Deborah Tedford, NPR News: "Pressing ahead with efforts at a health care overhaul, President Obama told a town-hall style meeting in New Hampshire Tuesday that special interest groups are misrepresenting the facts to scare Americans and kill proposed legislation."

American Psychology Declares Homosexuality Can't Be "Cured"
Jean-Claude Leclerc, Le Devoir: Homophobia's "persistence is often attributed to archaic dogmas that hold such an orientation in horror. The major religions, certainly, stigmatize homosexuals less and less, but the justice system in several countries still continues to persecute them. Even circles that purport to be modern, scientific, even secular, are not exempt. Medicine has only recently rejected the diagnosis of mental illness it once applied to this subject."

US Marines Storm Taliban-Held Town in Afghanistan
Alfred de Montesquiou, The Associated Press: "Helicopter-borne U.S. Marines backed by Harrier jets stormed into a Taliban-held town in southern Afghanistan before dawn Wednesday and exchanged heavy fire with insurgents, killing at least seven."

A Vindication for Iglesias?
Michael Isikoff, Newsweek: "The former federal prosecutor at the center of the controversy over the 2006 U.S. attorney firings said today that he feels fully vindicated by newly disclosed e-mails from the Bush White House showing that Karl Rove and his deputies were actively involved in arranging his dismissal from the Justice Department. 'This confirms my worst nightmares,' David Iglesias, the former U.S. attorney in New Mexico, said in an interview with NEWSWEEK. 'There were improper and potentially illegal - as in criminally illegal - reasons for my removal.'"

Anti-Whistleblower Track Record Continues
Nick Schwellenbach, The Center for Public Integrity: "One of two whistleblowers to win even a temporary victory before a government whistleblower review board under a Bush administration appointee lost last week after the board's February reversal was upheld by the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals."

Bosnia Is Back on the Brink of Ethnic Conflict, Warns Hague
Nigel Morris, The Independent UK: "Bosnia is on the brink of collapsing back into chaos and violence as its ethnic tensions escalate, the shadow Foreign Secretary William Hague warned yesterday."

FP morning post 8/12

Top story:

One year after the war between Georgia and Russia, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin is visiting the disputed region of Abkhazia, where he pledged to bolster the Russian military presence. It is Putin's first visit since Russia officially recognized Abkhazia, and its fellow breakaway Georgian region, South Ossetia. To date, Russia and Nicaragua are the only two countries that recognize the two territories as states.

Putin said that Russia plans to spend $500 million next year on reinforcing its military presence in the region. The Abkhaz government has proposed its coastline as an alternative home for Russia's Black Sea fleet, which is currently hosted by Russia's regional rival Ukraine. However, Georgia views the growing Russian military presence in Abkhazia as an ongoing violation of its sovereignty.

When asked if he could foresee further conflict between Russia and Georgia, Putin said: "Given today's Georgian leadership it is impossible to exclude anything."

Stat of the day:

The amount of money sent home by Latin American expatriates in the U.S. will drop by 11 percent this year.

Middle East
Yemeni forces bombed Shiite rebel camps near the Saudi border.
Iranian Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani denied reports that opposition protesters had been raped in prison.
Another double car bombing killed eight in a Shiite area of Baghdad.

U.S. marines have entered a Taliban-controlled town in Southern Afghanistan.
DNA reports show Indonesian terrorist leader Noordin Top was not killed in a shootout with authorities last week, as had previously been reported.
Hundreds remain stranded by mudslides in Taiwan after last weekend's deadly typhoon.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton pressed Nigeria's government on curbing corruption.
Five Pakistani preachers were killed in Somalia.
A leader of Niger's political opposition was abducted just hours after he was cleared of charges by a court.

The construction minister of the Russian North Caucasus republic of Ingushetia was shot dead.
Coast guards are still searching for a ship that was apparently hijacked in northern European waters and has disappeared.
British unemployment has hit a 14-year high.

A U.S. soldier has been arrested and accused of working as a hitman for a Mexican drug cartel.
Two Peruvian generals were charged with murder of the deaths of indigenous demonstrators in May.
Thousands demonstrated in Honduras's capital, demanding the return of ousted President Manuel Zelaya.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Truthout 8/11

Dahr Jamail Endless War: The Suicide of the United States
Dahr Jamail, Truthout: "Sergio Kochergin, back home from his second deployment in Iraq, held a gun in his mouth, trying to muster the courage to pull the trigger. Untreated post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and accompanying nightmares and insomnia, heavy substance abuse, and several failed attempts at self-medication had taken their toll on him."

Blackwater Heir Wants to Keep State Dept. Security Contract
Spencer Ackerman, The Washington Independent: "Even as a wrongful-death lawsuit moves forward against the controversial private security company formerly known as Blackwater, the firm seeks to renew its contract with the State Department to guard diplomats when the deal expires next year. And the State Department shows no signs of ruling the company out of competition, despite a high-profile incident in 2007 that left 17 Iraqi civilians dead."

Marie-France Calle The "Mehsud Case" Reveals the Complexity of US-Pakistan Relations
Marie-France Calle, Le Figaro: ""Noise and confusion surround the presumed death of Baitullah Mehsud. The Pakistani press talks of nothing else. An exaggeration? Beyond what this Taliban chief incarnates - or incarnated - the manner in which he was eliminated illuminates the complexity of the relations between Washington and Islamabad in the fight against terrorism in South Asia."

Within Health Care Hides Massive, Avoidable Death Toll
Cathleen F. Crowley and Eric Nalder, Hearst Newspapers: "Richard Flagg drowned in his own blood. Stanley Stinnett choked on his own vomit. Both were victims of the leading cause of accidental death in America - mistakes made in medical care. Experts estimate that a staggering 98,000 people die from preventable medical errors each year. More Americans die each month of preventable medical injuries than died in the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001."

Pelosi, Hoyer: Protesters' Behavior "Un-American"
Erica Werner, The Associated Press: "The House's top two Democrats on Monday called some of the behavior of health care overhaul opponents 'simply un-American.' The White House disagreed."

McChrystal Wants Huge Boost in US Civilians in Afghanistan
Nancy A. Youssef and Warren P. Strobel, McClatchy Newspapers: "In addition to requesting some 45,000 additional U.S. troops in Afghanistan, the country's top American military commander will ask the Obama administration to double the number of U.S. government civilian workers who are in the country."

US Religious Left Wades Into Health Care Fight
Ed Stoddard, Reuters: "Liberal religious groups announced on Monday they are teaming up with President Barack Obama in a national campaign to counter the surprisingly vehement conservative opposition to his plan for overhaul of the U.S. healthcare industry this year."

Eunice Kennedy Shriver Leaves Legacy of Hope
John Sutter, CNN: "[Eunice Kennedy] Shriver, who died Tuesday, started the organization as a sports camp for special-needs kids and adults in her backyard in Maryland in 1962. Since then, the Special Olympics has grown into a global organization that helps 3 million athletes with Down syndrome, autism and other intellectual disabilities compete for medals in an array of sports."

VIDEO Town Hall Meeting With Rep. Kathy Castor (D- Florida)
A town hall meeting in Tampa, Florida, with Rep. Kathy Castor (D-Florida) turned violent and was disrupted by aggressive protesters on August 6.

FP morning brief 8/11

Top story:

Burmese dissident Aung San Suu Kyi was found guilty of violating the terms of her house arrest and sentenced to 18 more months under house arrest. Suu Kyi was initially sentenced to three years of hard labor but the sentence was commuted by a special order from Burma's leader, General Than Shwe.

The Nobel Prize winner was charged with receiving and unauthorized visit from an American man named John Yettaw, who swam to her lakeside house in Rangoon in order to meet with her in May. Yettaw was sentenced to seven years of hard labor.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton joined western leaders including Nicolas Sarkozy and Gordon Brown in publicly condemning the conviction and demanding Suu Kyi's release.

“She should not have been tried, and she should not have been convicted. We continue to call for her release,” Clinton said.

The guilty verdict was not a surprise, though Suu Kyi had been preparing for the possibility of a prison sentence.

On, Delphine Schrank explains why, despite her long absence from public life, Suu Kyi remains a threat to the Burmese regime.

International justice:

A Thai court denied a U.S. extradition request for alleged international weapons trafficker Viktor Bout.

Taliban gunmen and suicide bombers attacked a government office building in Eastern Afghanistan.
U.S. drones again attacked the area of South Waziristan where Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud was believed to have been killed last week.
Taiwan's military rescued 300 people from mudslides set off by last weekend's typhoon.

Middle East
The Palestinian Fatah party elected a group of younger leaders to its highest council.
The Iranian opposition says at least 69 people were killed in the demonstration's following June's disputed election.
Kuwaiti authorities say they have broken up a terrorist plot to attack a U.S. military base.

Two prominent Chechen human rights activists have been found murdered.
A former Nazi infantry commander was sentenced to life in prison for murdering Italian civilians during World War II.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev accused Ukrainian President Viktor Yuschenko of "anti-Russian behavior."
In a significant reversal, hard-line generals loyal to Zimbabwe president Robert Mugabe saluted Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai.
Visiting war-torn eastern Congo, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton denounced the country's epidemic of sexual violence.
The Sudanese woman on trial for wearing pants has been banned from leaving the country.

In a meeting with fellow North American heads of state, President Barack Obama said immigration reform is unlikely to be passed this year.
Ecuador's Rafael Correa began a second term as president.
Concerns about the U.S. military's basing agreement with Colombia were expressed at a summit of South American leaders.

Obama, Lipton, To Seize World's Teabags

WASHINGTON (FNS) – In a startling development related to the recent disruptions of town hall meetings, FNS is now able to confirm that the Obama Administration, with the assistance of Unilever Group and Queen Beatrix, both of the Netherlands, PepsiCo, Skull And Bones, and the Bilderberg Group, is unleashing a secret plot to dispatch fleets of unmarked aircraft and helicopters to prevent teabag protesters from having access to teabags.

The goal of the plot: to disrupt protesters’ plans to save America from the destruction of our health care system.

FNS reporters have been following a trail of information that includes airport noise abatement records, classified documents, and the testimony of insiders, some of whom are now willing to be publicly identified.

We’ll begin our story by reporting on three events that occurred the evening of Friday, August 8th.

Residents near the Suffolk Plaza complex in Suffolk, Virginia reported seeing unmarked black helicopters landing in the industrial area just to the east of the Suffolk Golf Course. According to our informant, the helicopters settled in behind the truck parking area of the Unilever/Best Foods distribution center. This facility, in addition to distributing Lipton Tea products, is the largest tea processing plant in the United States.

It’s reported that the helicopters spent nearly five hours loading inventory at the location before departing just before sunrise, and that before they left certain records had been erased from the memories of the Markem SmartLase systems used at the plant to encode lot, packdate, and expiration date data onto boxes of teabags before distribution.

A similar sighting was reported the same evening at another Lipton distribution center, the International Food Solutions facility in Wichita, Kansas. In this case, however, after the helicopters landed an unmarked locomotive and three box cars moved to a position just outside the plant gates. Several forklifts carried pallets out the entrance normally reserved for employee parking to the train, which was located roughly 100 feet north of the driveway on South Water Street.

The loading process took almost seven hours, we are told, after which the helicopters and the train left the area. Security guards at the Pepsi plant across the street reportedly kept plant workers away from the west side of the building during the operation.

The third Lipton distribution center to be hit that evening was the Unilever/Best Foods facility in the City of Industry, California. An eyewitness sighted two helicopters, landing at the very end of Otterbein Street. A few minutes later several unmarked tractor-trailers approached the loading docks. Two hours later, the trucks drove away, heading for the Pomona Freeway.

There are rumors that other facilities were being targeted, but we were unable to obtain official comment from representatives of Unilever/Best Foods, nor from Celestial Seasonings, who operate a processing and distribution facility Boulder. Colorado, nor from R.C. Bigelow, Inc, who process both the “Constant Comment” brand and their line of herbal teas from their Boise, Idaho location.

We were able to obtain noise abatement records from the Ontario International Airport and the Wichita Mid-Continent Airport that confirm that aircraft were operating at the times reported by our informants, and that no other air traffic was operating in the area at that time.

Who is organizing all this? That information was recently provided to us by an informant who has only recently agreed to come forward. Harry Paratestes, an Assistant Program Manager who was previously employed by FEMA but now works for the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Administration and Management (ASAM) at the Department of Health and Human Services:

“I was assigned to the ASAM Program Support Center (PSC) in March, after the Tax Day protests. The ASAM PSC is a clandestine office that was charged with coordinating with another clandestine office (the Administrative Services Division of the Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Economic Analysis), the HHS Office of Global Health Affairs, FEMA, and the White House to shut down any efforts by citizens to prevent the Obama Administration from socializing the larger American economy; and we had finalized the plans that were used Friday night in early June.

From the beginning we were aware of the powerful impact of the Tea Party protests, and we knew we would have to block access to those tea bags if we were going to nip this in the bud.”

Who stands to profit from all of this?

There are rumors that Queen Beatrix and members of the Bilderberg Group hold enormous investments in Sanofi-Aventis, AstraZeneca, and Hoffmann-La Roche, three of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies, and that the Queen influenced Netherlands-based Unilever to cooperate.

In addition, confidential sources have reported to us that during President Obama’s spring visit to Europe he was offered membership in the Bilderberg Group, as well as a multimillion-dollar “recruitment package”, in a late-night meeting at the US Embassy in Paris (along with agreements to allow “rendition” of Tea Party protesters to secret French tropical prisons if necessary) in return for guarantees of future access to the US market on favorable terms.

To summarize: so far we have been able to substantiate that the President has ordered secret seizures of a major portion of the national tea bag supply in just one night, that the plan is part of a larger Federal program to shut down the Tea Party protests, that France has agreed to accept “renditioned” Tea Party protesters, and the this President has agreed to join the Bilderberg Group as part of his plan to “internationalize” American health care.

The best advice we can offer to patriotic Americans is to immediately purchase any remaining tea bags at your local grocery store and to make the purchases in cash, in case Government agents use Federal Reserve Bank records to direct FEMA agents in their future home seizures of the tea bags—and Tea Party protesters.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Your help is needed!

An amendment that will add protections for LGBT people to Goshen's Civil Rights and Housing Ordinances is going before the City Council on TUESDAY, AUGUST 18th.


Write, call, or email your District Rep as well as the At Large Council members and the mayor. Let them know that as a citizen of Goshen you support an amendment to the city's Civil Rights and Housing Ordinances that prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in matters of employment and housing. For contact info and district map, click on the link below:


at the Council Chambers (Police Station), 111 E. Jefferson St., Downtown Goshen and allow your presence to send a message that Goshen values a diversity of opinions and beliefs, but does not tolerate discrimination!

Averting the worst

New York Times

So it seems that we aren’t going to have a second Great Depression after all. What saved us? The answer, basically, is Big Government.

Just to be clear: the economic situation remains terrible, indeed worse than almost anyone thought possible not long ago. The nation has lost 6.7 million jobs since the recession began. Once you take into account the need to find employment for a growing working-age population, we’re probably around nine million jobs short of where we should be.

And the job market still hasn’t turned around — that slight dip in the measured unemployment rate last month was probably a statistical fluke. We haven’t yet reached the point at which things are actually improving; for now, all we have to celebrate are indications that things are getting worse more slowly.

For all that, however, the latest flurry of economic reports suggests that the economy has backed up several paces from the edge of the abyss.

A few months ago the possibility of falling into the abyss seemed all too real. The financial panic of late 2008 was as severe, in some ways, as the banking panic of the early 1930s, and for a while key economic indicators — world trade, world industrial production, even stock prices — were falling as fast as or faster than they did in 1929-30.

But in the 1930s the trend lines just kept heading down. This time, the plunge appears to be ending after just one terrible year.

So what saved us from a full replay of the Great Depression? The answer, almost surely, lies in the very different role played by government.

Probably the most important aspect of the government’s role in this crisis isn’t what it has done, but what it hasn’t done: unlike the private sector, the federal government hasn’t slashed spending as its income has fallen. (State and local governments are a different story.) Tax receipts are way down, but Social Security checks are still going out; Medicare is still covering hospital bills; federal employees, from judges to park rangers to soldiers, are still being paid.

All of this has helped support the economy in its time of need, in a way that didn’t happen back in 1930, when federal spending was a much smaller percentage of G.D.P. And yes, this means that budget deficits — which are a bad thing in normal times — are actually a good thing right now.

In addition to having this “automatic” stabilizing effect, the government has stepped in to rescue the financial sector. You can argue (and I would) that the bailouts of financial firms could and should have been handled better, that taxpayers have paid too much and received too little. Yet it’s possible to be dissatisfied, even angry, about the way the financial bailouts have worked while acknowledging that without these bailouts things would have been much worse.
The point is that this time, unlike in the 1930s, the government didn’t take a hands-off attitude while much of the banking system collapsed. And that’s another reason we’re not living through Great Depression II.

Last and probably least, but by no means trivial, have been the deliberate efforts of the government to pump up the economy. From the beginning, I argued that the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, a k a the Obama stimulus plan, was too small. Nonetheless, reasonable estimates suggest that around a million more Americans are working now than would have been employed without that plan — a number that will grow over time — and that the stimulus has played a significant role in pulling the economy out of its free fall.

All in all, then, the government has played a crucial stabilizing role in this economic crisis. Ronald Reagan was wrong: sometimes the private sector is the problem, and government is the solution.

And aren’t you glad that right now the government is being run by people who don’t hate government?

We don’t know what the economic policies of a McCain-Palin administration would have been. We do know, however, what Republicans in opposition have been saying — and it boils down to demanding that the government stop standing in the way of a possible depression.

I’m not just talking about opposition to the stimulus. Leading Republicans want to do away with automatic stabilizers, too. Back in March, John Boehner, the House minority leader, declared that since families were suffering, "it’s time for government to tighten their belts and show the American people that we ‘get’ it." Fortunately, his advice was ignored.

I’m still very worried about the economy. There’s still, I fear, a substantial chance that unemployment will remain high for a very long time. But we appear to have averted the worst: utter catastrophe no longer seems likely.

And Big Government, run by people who understand its virtues, is the reason why.

FP morning brief 8/10

Top story:

A double truck bombing decimated an entire Shiite village near Mosul, Iraq this morning killing 23 and injuring over 100. Two separate bombings targeted Shiite districts in Baghdad bringing the total death toll to 43. Today's attack follows a similar series of bombings targeting Shiite pilgrims during a religious ceremony last Friday. No one has claimed responsibility for the attacks but they bear the hallmark of Al Qaeda in Iraq and similar groups.

The attacks raise some concerns about the ability of Iraqi security forces to maintain order after the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraqi cities. But Iraq's government insists that Iraqi forces have the situation in hand and that the insurgency is on its last legs.

The U.S. military has pointed out that Iraq's Shiites far more restraint this time than after a similar series of attacks two years ago that provoked a round of deadly ethnic violence.

Quote of the day:

"We have less than 10 years to halt the global rise in greenhouse gas emissions if we are to avoid catastrophic consequences for people and the planet. It is, simply, the greatest collective challenge we face as a human family," -U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon

U.S. Commander, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, warned that the Taliban has gained the upper hand in the conflict in Afghanistan.
National Security advisor James L. Jones said that former President Bill Clinton discussed North Korea's nuclear program during his meeting with Kim Jong Il last week.
Hundreds are missing after a massive typhoon hit China and Taiwan.

Middle East
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is purging his country's intelligence ministry and appointing loyalists into leadership positions.
The Iranian government has fired the director of a prison accused of abusing detainees during the post-election demonstrations.
Israeli jets attacked a smuggling tunnel on the Egypt-Gaza border.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton signed a new agreement on AIDS funding in Angola. Next stop: Congo.
Nigeria's Niger Delta rebels say the government is still attacking them, despite an amnesty agreement.
Seven months after a military coup, Madagascar's feuding leaders have reached a power-sharing agreement.

Presidents Barack Obama and Felipe Calderon, and Prime Minister Stephen Harper are meeting in Guadalejara for a North American "three amigos" summit. Expect agreement on combating swine flu but not drugs or trade.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez ended a subsidy on fuel for Colombia after accusing the neighboring country of sending troops into Venezuela's territory.
Honduras's interim government will allow a visit by OAS delegates seeking to negotiate an end to the country's post-coup political crisis.

Three bombs exploded on the Spanish island of Mallorca yesterday. The Basque group ETA has claimed responsibility.
Italian Prime Minsiter Silvio Berlusconi said it was "unacceptable" for state controlled media to attack the government.
The head of Britain's MI6 denied that the intelligence organization was complicit in the torture of terrorism detainees.

Truthout 8/10

Dean Baker Governor Palin's Crazed Health Care Rant
Dean Baker, Truthout: "As a basic rule, politicians will say anything they can get away with.... This basic truth must be kept in mind in understanding the health care debate. The debate has trailed off into loon tune land, and it's the media's fault."

Whistleblower Speaks Out Against Health Care Industry
Amy Goodman, Democracy Now!: "As the healthcare reform debate intensifies on Capitol Hill, we spend the hour today with a former top executive from one of the nation's largest health insurance companies who has begun exposing some of the industry's dirty secrets."

Dahr Jamail and Sarah Lazare Echo Platoon: Warehousing Soldiers in the Homeland
Dahr Jamail and Sarah Lazare, "Echo Platoon is part of the 82nd Replacement Detachment of the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Soldiers in the platoon are relegated to living quarters in a set of dimly lit concrete rooms. Pipes peep out of missing ceiling tiles and a musty smell permeates beds placed on cracked linoleum floors. For soldiers who have gone AWOL (Absent Without Leave) and then voluntarily turned themselves in or were forcibly returned, the detention conditions here in Echo Platoon only serve to reinforce the inescapability of their situation."

Obama Sharpens War Goals
Mike Allen, Politico: "President Barack Obama next month will send Congress a new plan for measuring progress in Afghanistan and Pakistan, in an effort to build confidence among wavering Democrats and give sharper direction to a costly and increasingly bloody war, White House officials told POLITICO on Saturday."

Serious Injuries After US Prison Riot
Damien Pearse, The Guardian UK: "A California prison was in lockdown last night after a riot and fire left 250 inmates injured, some critically. At least 55 of the prisoners at the California institution for men in the city of Chino were taken to hospital with injuries including stab wounds. Foam projectiles were fired by 80 prison guards who also used pepper spray and batons in a bid to restore order at the jail, 35 miles east of Los Angeles."

In Ciudad Juarez, Young Women Are Vanishing
Ken Ellingwood, The Los Angeles Times: "The streets of Juarez are swallowing the young and pretty.... Two dozen teenage girls and young women have gone missing in this violent border city in the last year and half, stirring dark memories of the killings of hundreds of women that made Ciudad Juarez infamous a decade ago."

VIDEO Whistleblower Speaks Out Against Health Care Industry
Former insurance exec Wendell Potter tells the insurance industry's secrets, exposing the underbelly of the huge lobbying machine and its attempts to sabotage health care reform.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Truthout 8/9

Sara Robinson Is the US on the Brink of Fascism?
Sara Robinson, The Campaign for America's Future: "In tracking the mileage on this trip to perdition, many of us relied on the work of historian Robert Paxton, who is probably the world's pre-eminent scholar on the subject of how countries turn fascist. In a 1998 paper published in The Journal of Modern History, Paxton argued that the best way to recognize emerging fascist movements isn't by their rhetoric, their politics, or their aesthetics. Rather, he said, mature democracies turn fascist by a recognizable process, a set of five stages that may be the most important family resemblance that links all the whole motley collection of 20th Century fascisms together ... It's odd that I haven't been asked for quite a while; but if you asked me today, I'd tell you that if we're not there right now, we've certainly taken that last turn into the parking lot and are now looking for a space.

President Barack Obama Necessary Reform, Absurd Attacks
President Brarack Obama addresses the economy and the spin and lies of the opponents of health care reform in his weekly address.

Pakistani Taliban Appears in Turmoil After Shootout
Nasir Jaffry, Agence France-Presse: "Pakistan's Taliban appeared in turmoil Sunday after reports of a deadly shootout between contenders to replace the shadowy movement's leader, who is believed to have been killed in a US drone attack."

Weiner and Osserman The Prognosis for Health Reform
Robert Weiner and Jordan Osserman, The Palm Beach Post: "The differences between the House and Senate health care reform bills aren't just for wonky policy experts. They translate to real differences in Americans' lives."

Geithner Asks Congress for Higher US Debt Limit
David Lawder, Reuters: "US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner formally requested that Congress raise the $12.1 trillion statutory debt limit on Friday, saying that it could be breached as early as mid-October."

Joseph L. Galloway What This Country Needs Is an Outburst of Common Sense
Joseph L. Galloway, McClatchy Newspapers: "If ever there were a time for comprehensive health care reform, it's now, and yet the forces of darkness are lining up against this urgent need, buttressed by lies, mobs inflamed by those lies and millions of dollars changing hands and changing votes in Washington, DC."

Medvedev Says Georgian Army Buildup Causes "Concern"
Torrey Clark, Helena Bedwell and Denis Maternovsky, Bloomberg News: "Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said Georgia's actions, including a troop buildup on the borders of two separatist Georgian regions, are cause for 'serious concern' a year after a war between the two countries."

FOCUS Death Threats, "Mob Tactics" Disrupt Health Care Forums
Dina Cppiello, The Associated Press: "As they head home to their congressional districts for the August recess, lawmakers who support health care reform are bracing for protests and demonstrations that threaten to turn violent."

Holder Close to Naming "Abuse" Prosecutor
Greg Miller and Josh Meyer, The Los Angeles Times: "U.S. Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. is poised to appoint a criminal prosecutor to investigate alleged CIA abuses committed during the interrogation of terrorism suspects, current and former U.S. government officials said."

British Contractor in Iraqi Custody After Killings
Kim Gamel, The Associated Press: "Iraqi authorities arrested a British contractor Sunday over the shooting deaths of two co-workers in Baghdad's protected Green Zone. The suspected gunman could be the first Westerner to face an Iraqi trial on murder charges since a security pact lifted the immunity that had been enjoyed by foreign contractors for most of the war."

Where Did that Bank Bailout Go? Watchdogs Aren't Sure
Chris Adams, McClatchy Newspapers: "Although hundreds of well-trained eyes are watching over the $700 billion that Congress last year decided to spend bailing out the nation's financial sector, it's still difficult to answer some of the most basic questions about where the money went."

Effort to End Honduras Political Crisis Hits a New Roadblock
Tyler Bridges, McClatchy Newspapers: "Efforts to return deposed Honduran President Manuel Zelaya to power hit a new roadblock Sunday when the country's de facto government canceled an upcoming visit by foreign envoys who're seeking to resolve the Central American nation's six-week-old political crisis."

Hamid Karzai's Government Using State Resources to Swing Afghan Election
Ben Farmer, The Telegraph UK: "An election report released said monitors had received increasing reports officials were biased and were using their resources to campaign for Mr Karzai. Rival candidates were being denied access to national state television and government cars or lorries were being used to ship people to rallies."

Climate Change to Challenge US Military: Report
Agence France-Presse: "Climate change will pose profound strategic challenges to the United States in coming decades, raising the prospect of military intervention to deal with the effects of violent storms, drought, mass migration and pandemics, The New York Times reported."

Immigrant Detainees Staging Hunger Strikes to Protest Deplorable Confinement
Aura Bogado, AlterNet: "When more than 60 prisoners at the South Louisiana Correctional Center in Basile, LA, began a hunger strike last week, in protest of the facility's deplorable conditions, guards at the immigrant detention center placed at least six of them in solitary confinement for 60 days. The planned 72-hour strike was the fifth of its kind in one month at the facility, whose parent company, LCS Corrections Services, holds a contract with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to manage the detention center."

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Truthout 8/8

Sotomayor Takes Oath as Supreme Court Justice
CNN: "Sonia Sotomayor made history Saturday when she was sworn in as the nation's first Hispanic Supreme Court justice."

Five US Troops Killed as Afghan Violence Swells
Laura King, The Los Angeles Times: "The pace of American combat deaths in Afghanistan has quickened anew as roadside bombs killed five U.S. troops in 24 hours in the same western province, the American military said Thursday."

Jeremy Scahill US Still Paying Blackwater Millions
Jeremy Scahill, The Nation: "Just days before two former Blackwater employees alleged in sworn statements filed in federal court that the company's owner, Erik Prince, 'views himself as a Christian crusader tasked with eliminating Muslims and the Islamic faith from the globe,' the Obama administration extended a contract with Blackwater for more than $20 million for 'security services' in Iraq, according to federal contract data obtained by The Nation. The State Department contract is scheduled to run through September 3. In May, the State Department announced it was not renewing Blackwater's Iraq contract, and the Iraqi government has refused to issue the company an operating license."

David Sirota The Me-First, Forget-Everyone-Else Crowd
David Sirota, Summit Daily: "I know I should be mortified by the lobbyist-organized mobs of angry Brooks Brothers mannequins who are now making headlines by shutting down congressional town hall meetings. I know I should be despondent during this, the Khaki Pants Offensive in the Great American Health Care and Tax War. And yet, I'm euphorically repeating one word over and over again with a big grin on my face. Finally."

Isaiah J. Poole You're Wrong, Eric Cantor: The Stimulus Is Working
Isaiah J. Poole, Campaign for America's Future: "It's surprising that it took a full 69 minutes from the moment the Bureau of Labor Statistics July jobs report was released for the condemnatory news release from House Republican Whip Eric Cantor to reach my inbox. No doubt it was written hours of even days before, the message being so predictable - and wrong."

GOP Sen. Martinez Tells Supporters He's Resigning
Mike Schneider, The Associated Press: "Republican Sen. Mel Martinez of Florida said Friday he will resign from the Senate as soon as a replacement can be appointed, leaving the seat more than a year before his term ends."

UK Embassy Worker in Iran Court
BBC: "A decision by the Iranian authorities to put a British Embassy worker on trial in Tehran has been condemned as an 'outrage' by the [UK] Foreign Office. It confirmed Iranian Hossein Rassam - the embassy's chief political analyst - was among the accused at a mass trial which began on Saturday morning."

Jewish Groups Assail Nazi Comparisons Made by Conservatives in Health Care Debate
Jake Tapper, ABC News: "'Regardless of the political differences and the substantive differences in the debate over health care, the use of Nazi symbolism is outrageous, offensive and inappropriate,' said Abraham H. Foxman, ADL National Director and a Holocaust survivor. 'Americans should be able to disagree on the issues without coloring it with Nazi imagery and comparisons to Hitler. This is not where the debate should be at all.'"

FOCUS Michael Winship Neighborhood Watch on Planet Earth
Michael Winship, Truthout: "For a bit of change, let's talk about a different kind of health care reform - the kind that affects the health of the planet."

Friday, August 7, 2009

The story of Commander Cody

I'm a huge fan of Commander Cody and the Lost Planet Airmen. I used to smoke (a lot) and what smoker couldn't love "Tell St. Peter at the golden gate that I just hate to make him wait but I just gotta have another cigarette" (Smoke, Smoke That Cigarette).

But my favorite is Hot Rod Lincoln.

Our daughter Sarah was not inclined to sleep or be calm in the evening when she was very young. I would sing to her for hours to induce the desired outcome. When all else failed, I could count on that old Commander Cody song to relax her. The faster I sang it, the better she liked it.

Have you heard the story of the hot race race

Where Fords and Lincolns were settin' the pace

That story is true I'm here to say

I was driving that Model A

Its got a Lincoln motor - its really souped up

That Model A body makes it look like a pup

'S got eight cylinders and uses 'em all

Got overdrive - just won't stall

With a four barrel carb and dual exhaust

And 4:11 gears - you can really get lost

Got safety tubes - but I ain't scared

The brakes are good, the tires fair

Went out of San Pedro late one night

The moon and stars were shinin' bright

We were driving up Grapevine Hill

Passing cars like they were standing still.

All of a sudden in a wink of an eye a

Cadillac sedan passed us by

I said "Boys, there's a mark for me"

By then the taillights was all you could see

Now the fellas ribbed me for being behind

So I thought I'd let that Lincoln unwind

Took my foot off the gas and man alive

I shoved it on down into overdrive

Wound it up to one hundred and ten

My speedometer said that I'd hit top end

My foot was glued like lead to the floor

That's all there is and there ain't no more

Now the boys all thought I'd lost my sense

And telephone poles looked like a picket fence

They said "Slow down, I see spots

The lines on the road just look like dots!"

Took a corner, sideswiped a truck

Crossed my fingers just for luck

My fenders were clicking the guardrail posts

The guy beside me was white as ghost

Smoke was coming out of the back

When started to gain on that Cadillac

Knew I could catch 'em, thought I could pass

Don't you know by then we'd be low on gas

Flames were comin' out of the side

Feel the tension - Man, what a ride

I said "Look out boys, I've got a license to fly"

And that Caddy pulled over and let us by

But all of a sudden she started to knockin'

And down in the dips she started to rockin'

I looked in the mirror - a red light was blinkin'

The cops were after my hot rod Lincoln

They arrested me and put me in jail

And called my Pappy to throw my bail

And he said "Son, you're gonna drive me to drinkin'

If you don't stop drivin' that hot rod Lincoln!"

Somehow, teeny Nissans don't work well for this song.

A question of balance

Don Wheeler

Last month's post Judge vs. Judge evoked a spirited rebuttal from commenter timlahrman . For those who may have missed it, the post dealt with my views about the attempt to usurp the authority of the Probate Court by an end run via the Circuit Court system. Circuit Court Judge Gotsch ended up rebuffing the attempt, though Mr. Lahrman assures us this is only a temporary setback.

Our friendly fake consultant joined the battle - where Mr. Lahrman asserts the Probate court has no authority to do anything. If you can get past Mr. Lahrman's invective and attempts at intimidation - it's an interesting read.

My purpose here is to describe, as I am able, how the Probate system of St. Joseph County, Indiana is supposed to work.

I'm sure you've wondered, when you read an article in the South Bend Tribune about a guy who passes out in a gas station parking lot and is found with his three year old daughter trying to wake him up, what happens to that little girl. It's nearly certain that the responding police officer filed a neglect complaint with the Department of Child Services (DCS) to be heard by the Probate Court.

It is the law in Indiana that we are all required to report instances we suspect are possible cases of child abuse and/or neglect. DCS is charged with the responsibility of investigating the complaints and presenting them to the court for a ruling of validity.

I've not been a big fan of the Mitch Daniels administration, but in this area we find a gaudy exception. Governor Daniels has imposed a new philosophy and provided additional needed resources.

It used to be (I'm told) that there was a standard set of hoops presented that "offending" parents had to jump through in order for them to be reunited with their kids. Nothing was customized to the situation. Additionally, case workers had loads in the 40 - 60 (case) range that they were supposed to manage. All this has changed.

Case workers now have a target range of under 20. And all case plans start with the objective of reunifying the children with their family. This isn't always the outcome, but the strategy is to try to help parents shore up their weak areas so that the family can be reunited. This news was quite heartening to me as I was going through Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) training over the past two months.

Let's return to our three-year-old's dilemma.

Assuming a complaint was filed, the child would likely have been deemed a temporary ward of the State - subject to a determination hearing. She would be placed (probably in a foster home) pending the outcome of the hearing. The parent(s) could decide to not contest the complaint or ask for a hearing of cause. If cause was not found by the Probate Court, the child would return home. Other outcomes would mean the child would continue in foster care (as a Child In Need of Services - CHINS), and DCS would be charged with the responsibility of devising a case plan designed to reunify the family. Elements typically included are individual and family counseling, substance abuse counseling (if needed), parenting and/or anger management classes, etc. Supervised visitation is a standard feature. Though it's not strictly true, generally a parent who follows the case plan will be reunified with his or her child(ren).

Once a CHINS determination has been made, the target date for a permanent situation for the child is 15 months hence. Often it doesn't turn out that way.

The case I have recently been assigned will soon reach its third anniversary. Actually it's four cases - each child is a "case". As a CASA, it is my responsibility to advocate for the interests of each of these children. And it may well be that each one needs a different advocacy.

There are currently over one thousand children in the St. Joseph County "system". There are currently less than one hundred CASAs available to assist them. If you care about this, you are needed.

Fall classes are forming now. Find out more here.


Truthout 8/7

James Kwak You Do Not Have Health Insurance
James Kwak, The Baseline Scenario: "Right now, it appears that the biggest barrier to health care reform is people who think that it will hurt them. According to a New York Times poll, '69 percent of respondents in the poll said they were concerned that the quality of their own care would decline if the government created a program that covers everyone.' Since most Americans currently have health insurance, they see reform as a poverty program - something that helps poor people and hurts them. If that's what you think, then this post is for you. You do not have health insurance. Let me repeat that. You do not have health insurance. (Unless you are over 65, in which case you do have health insurance. I'll come back to that later.)"

Senate Approves $2 Billion More for "Cash for Clunkers"
David Lightman, McClatchy Newspapers: "The Senate voted 60-37 on Thursday to approve another $2 billion for the 'cash for clunkers' program, giving new life and money to the federal government's most wildly popular economic stimulus program. The public's eager embrace of the initial $1 billion program stunned lawmakers, who as recently as Monday doubted that they could muster the votes to keep it alive."

John H. Richardson The Last Abortion Doctor
John H. Richardson, Esquire: "For thirty-six years, Warren Hern has been one of the few doctors in America to specialize in late abortions. George Tiller was another. And when Dr. Tiller was murdered that Sunday in church, Warren Hern became the only one left."

Senators Block Obama Nominees, Protest Guantanamo
Lolita C. Baldor, The Associated Press: "Kansas' two U.S. senators are blocking 10 of President Barack Obama's nominees for senior administration posts at the Pentagon and Justice Department in protest over a proposal to house Guantanamo detainees at the Fort Leavenworth prison. The list of blocked nominees includes a fellow Republican member of Congress - Obama's pick for Army secretary, Rep. John McHugh of New York."

Clinton: It Is a "Great Regret" the US Is Not in International Criminal Court
Ewen MacAskill, The Guardian UK: "Hillary Clinton has signalled a significant shift by the US in favour of the international criminal court, the world body that pursues war criminals but was strenuously opposed by the Bush administration. In the most public expression of support yet from Barack Obama's administration, the US secretary of state expressed regret that the US has not yet joined the ICC."

First Up for Sotomayor: A Case With Partisan Edge
Liz Halloran, NPR News: "Sonia Sotomayor made history Thursday, winning approval from the Senate to become the next Supreme Court justice - and the first Hispanic to sit on the nation's mightiest bench. Sotomayor's confirmation came despite strong Republican opposition and on a mostly party line vote of 68-31. But the partisan bickering surrounding Sotomayor isn't likely to end once she is sworn in on Saturday morning. In less than a month, the court is scheduled to rehear arguments in a high-profile campaign finance case that could rewrite rules that restrict political campaign spending by corporations and unions."

Marie-France Calle NATO's Problems in Afghanistan Weigh on Pakistan
Marie-France Calle, Le Figaro: "Most experts agree: the Pakistani army's operation against the Taliban in the Malakand region is a success and the military have the wind in their sails once again. But the reverses suffered by NATO troops in Afghanistan risk cutting short this distinct momentum. A vast offensive by the Pakistani army against the rebels in the Waziristan tribal region is already out of the question."

FP morning brief 8/7

Top story:

Pakistani intelligence officials and top Taliban aides have both confirmed earlier reports that Taliban commander Baitullah Mehsud was killed in a U.S. drone attack on Wendesday morning. Mehsud had reportedly been seeking treatment for his diabetes at his father in law's house when the drone attacked the village in South Waziristan, also killing his wife and several bodyguards.

Mehsud has long been considered Pakistan's top terrorist leader. He is believed to have organized numerous suicide bombing attacks inside Pakistan and against international troops across the border in Afghanistan. He is also accused of playing a role in the assassination of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto. The U.S. has a $5 million price on his head.

Intelligence officials also reported that leaders of the various Taliban factions plan to meet somewhere in Waziristan today to pick a new leader. But Mehsud's shoes may be tough to fill.

"It is quite a setback for the Taliban movement. He is the one man who really organized Taliban, kept unity among them and really forwarded the agenda with a lot of ... strategic thinking," retired Brigadier Mehmood Shah told Reuters.

Global energy:

Turkey and Russia inked a new energy deal that would allow state monopoly Gazprom access to the Black Sea coast in exchange for Russian assistance in building conventional power plants and potentially nuclear reactors.

Middle East
A series of bombings targeting Shiite worshippers during Friday prayers exploded in Karbala.
In a leaked memo, a senior Israeli diplomat warned that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's confrontational stance toward the United States was hurting Israel's strategic interests.
New opposition protests have broken out in Tehran.

Visiting South Africa, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urged the government to do more to pressure Zimbabwe.
Eritrea denied Clinton's accusation that it is supplying weapons to the Somali insurgency.
Niger's president is claiming victory in a referendum that would allow him to extend his term.

Sri Lankan authorities have arrested the new leader of the Tamil Tigers.
One of the two journalists recently released from North Korea admitted that they did briefly cross into North Korean territory.
China executed the director of the Beijing airport on embezzlement charges.

Georgia marked the one-year anniversary of its war with Russia.
Germany's own "cash for clunkers" scheme has been mired by abuse and organized crime.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy is cracking down on banker bonuses.

Barack Obama heads to his first "three amigos" summit with Mexico and Canada this weekend. The drug war and trade are on the agenda.
The leader of Brazil's senate is under pressure to step down over corruption allegations.
Demonstrators clashed with U.N. troops in rural Haiti.

The Town Hall mob

New York Times

There’s a famous Norman Rockwell painting titled “Freedom of Speech,” depicting an idealized American town meeting. The painting, part of a series illustrating F.D.R.’s “Four Freedoms,” shows an ordinary citizen expressing an unpopular opinion. His neighbors obviously don’t like what he’s saying, but they’re letting him speak his mind.

That’s a far cry from what has been happening at recent town halls, where angry protesters — some of them, with no apparent sense of irony, shouting “This is America!” — have been drowning out, and in some cases threatening, members of Congress trying to talk about health reform.

Some commentators have tried to play down the mob aspect of these scenes, likening the campaign against health reform to the campaign against Social Security privatization back in 2005. But there’s no comparison. I’ve gone through many news reports from 2005, and while anti-privatization activists were sometimes raucous and rude, I can’t find any examples of congressmen shouted down, congressmen hanged in effigy, congressmen surrounded and followed by taunting crowds.

And I can’t find any counterpart to the death threats at least one congressman has received.

So this is something new and ugly. What’s behind it?

Robert Gibbs, the White House press secretary, has compared the scenes at health care town halls to the “Brooks Brothers riot” in 2000 — the demonstration that disrupted the vote count in Miami and arguably helped send George W. Bush to the White House. Portrayed at the time as local protesters, many of the rioters were actually G.O.P. staffers flown in from Washington.

But Mr. Gibbs is probably only half right. Yes, well-heeled interest groups are helping to organize the town hall mobs. Key organizers include two Astroturf (fake grass-roots) organizations: FreedomWorks, run by the former House majority leader Dick Armey, and a new organization called Conservatives for Patients’ Rights.

The latter group, by the way, is run by Rick Scott, the former head of Columbia/HCA, a for-profit hospital chain. Mr. Scott was forced out of that job amid a fraud investigation; the company eventually pleaded guilty to charges of overbilling state and federal health plans, paying $1.7 billion — yes, that’s “billion” — in fines. You can’t make this stuff up.

But while the organizers are as crass as they come, I haven’t seen any evidence that the people disrupting those town halls are Florida-style rent-a-mobs. For the most part, the protesters appear to be genuinely angry. The question is, what are they angry about?

There was a telling incident at a town hall held by Representative Gene Green, D-Tex. An activist turned to his fellow attendees and asked if they “oppose any form of socialized or government-run health care.” Nearly all did. Then Representative Green asked how many of those present were on Medicare. Almost half raised their hands.

Now, people who don’t know that Medicare is a government program probably aren’t reacting to what President Obama is actually proposing. They may believe some of the disinformation opponents of health care reform are spreading, like the claim that the Obama plan will lead to euthanasia for the elderly. (That particular claim is coming straight from House Republican leaders.) But they’re probably reacting less to what Mr. Obama is doing, or even to what they’ve heard about what he’s doing, than to who he is.

That is, the driving force behind the town hall mobs is probably the same cultural and racial anxiety that’s behind the “birther” movement, which denies Mr. Obama’s citizenship. Senator Dick Durbin has suggested that the birthers and the health care protesters are one and the same; we don’t know how many of the protesters are birthers, but it wouldn’t be surprising if it’s a substantial fraction.

And cynical political operators are exploiting that anxiety to further the economic interests of their backers.

Does this sound familiar? It should: it’s a strategy that has played a central role in American politics ever since Richard Nixon realized that he could advance Republican fortunes by appealing to the racial fears of working-class whites.

Many people hoped that last year’s election would mark the end of the “angry white voter” era in America. Indeed, voters who can be swayed by appeals to cultural and racial fear are a declining share of the electorate.

But right now Mr. Obama’s backers seem to lack all conviction, perhaps because the prosaic reality of his administration isn’t living up to their dreams of transformation. Meanwhile, the angry right is filled with a passionate intensity.

And if Mr. Obama can’t recapture some of the passion of 2008, can’t inspire his supporters to stand up and be heard, health care reform may well fail.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

FP morning post 8/6

Top story:

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is holding talks in Nairobi today with President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed of Somalia. Before the meeting, Clinton vowed to continue U.S. support for Somalia' fragile interim government. Large areas of Somalia are out of Mogadishu's control and the radical Islamist al Shabaab militia continues to further threaten the country's stability.

"They are trying to create areas that are conflict-free zones," Clinton said. "We have made clear we want to be supportive. We want to support the African intervention into Somalia."

The U.S. plans to increase its military aid to Somalia's government, doubling an initial shipment of 40 tons of arms. The U.S. has also begun a program to train Somali security forces in neighboring Djibouti.

Clinton also paid tribute today to victims of the Nairobi and Dar es Salaam U.S. embassy bombings which happened 11 years ago this week. (Pictured.)

Global energy:

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin is in Turkey to discuss construction of the planned South Stream pipeline, which would deliver gas to southern Europe, bypassing Ukraine.

Middle East
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was sworn in for a second term as president of Iran.
The Palestinian Fatah Party's conference has been extended for another day to resolve a procedural dispute.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan met for the first time with the head of his country's largest Kurdish party.

A bombing at a wedding in Southern Afghanistan killed 21 guests.
A man was convicted of murder in Japan's first postwar jury trial.
India has sentenced three people to death for their role in the 2003 Mumbai bombings.

Irish Prime Minister Brian Cowen lost his parliamentary majority after two lawmakers resigned.
A member of the Basque separatist group Eta has been arrested in Spain. He is suspected of killing six people.
Russian and Georgian officials are downplaying the possibility of new conflict between the two countries on the anniversary of last year's war.

The U.S. has decided not to impose sanctions on Honduras over the ouster of Manuel Zelaya.
The Obama administration will announce a plan to reform the U.S. immigration detention system today.
Venezuela is planning to buy more tanks to counter the U.S. growing U.S. military presence in Colombia.

Nigeria has begun a period of amnesty for Niger Delta militants.
Facing widespread rioting, South African President Jacob Zuma is creating a new training program for unemployed workers.

Truthout 8/6

Lawrence S. Wittner The Ongoing Danger of Nuclear War
Lawrence S. Wittner, Truthout: "This August, when hundreds of Hiroshima Day vigils and related antinuclear activities occur around the United States, many Americans will wonder at their relevance. After all, the nuclear danger that characterized the Cold War is now far behind us, isn't it? Unfortunately, it is not."

Jeffrey Kaye Former Top Navy Psychologist Involved in Prisoner Abuse Case
Jeffrey Kaye, Truthout: "A well-known spokesman for ethical interrogations by psychologists in national security settings was himself accused in 2001 of unethical behavior for his part in the interrogation of a suspect in an espionage case."

Norman Solomon The Incredible Shrinking Health Care Reform
Norman Solomon, Truthout: "Like soap in a rainstorm, 'health care reform' is wasting away. As this week began, a leading follower of conventional wisdom, journalist Cokie Roberts, told NPR listeners, 'This is evolving legislation. And the administration is now talking about a glide path towards universal coverage, rather than immediate universal coverage.'"

Fort Hood Soldier Refused Deployment to Afghanistan
Angela K. Brown, The Associated Press: "A Fort Hood soldier was sentenced Wednesday to a month in jail for refusing to deploy to Afghanistan over his beliefs that the war violates international law."

Favilla The Scorpion Syndrome
The authors writing as Favilla for France's premier business paper, Les Echos, use an ancient fable to try to understand Wall Street's "incorrigible obsession with bonuses, which has resumed like a wildfire."

Federal Judges Order California to Release 43,000 Inmates
Carol J. Williams, The Los Angeles Times: "California must shrink the population of its teeming prisons by nearly 43,000 inmates over the next two years to meet constitutional standards, a panel of three federal judges ruled Tuesday, ordering the state to come up with a reduction plan by mid-September."

Johann Hari The Hidden Truth Behind Drug Company Profits
Johann Hari, The Independent UK: "This is the story of one of the great unspoken scandals of our times. Today, the people across the world who most need life-saving medicine are being prevented from producing it. Here's the latest example: factories across the poor world are desperate to start producing their own cheaper Tamiflu to protect their populations - but they are being sternly told not to. Why? So rich drug companies can protect their patents - and profits. There is an alternative to this sick system, but we are choosing to ignore it."

Bill Moyers Journal Change, Growth and New Learning
Bill Moyers Journal: "'Change, growth, and new learning' - there's a cultural shift in America, says Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot. This Friday, Bill Moyers speaks with one of America's leading educators and author of 'The Third Chapter: Passion, Risk, and Adventure in the 25 Years After 50.'"

Dahr Jamail and Jason Coppola Militarizing the Homeland
Dahr Jamail and Jason Coppola, Truthout: "The process of brainwashing and desensitization by the military begins affecting children in the US from a very early age. It is not insignificant that little boys wear camouflage and run around playing with toy guns whenever they get an opportunity."

Obama Administration to Reform Immigrant Detention
Suzanne Gamboa and Eileen Sullivan, The Associated Press: "The Homeland Security Department intends to put federal employees in charge of monitoring the treatment of detainees in the country's largest immigration detention facilities, two years after the government turned that job over to a private company. The Obama administration plans to place 23 Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials at the largest detention facilities to supervise how the detention centers are managed, according to people briefed on the plan."

Mark Weisbrot Free Press? Venezuela Beats the US
Mark Weisbrot, The Guardian UK: "There is a much more oppositional media in Venezuela than in the US, and a much greater range of debate in the major media. This can be seen simply by looking at the most important media in both countries. In the US, for example, not even the most aggressive rightwing commentators such as Rush Limbaugh or Sean Hannity would present the idea that the president should be lynched. But Globovision, one of the largest-audience TV networks, had a show where a guest did just that."

Blast Walls on Major Baghdad Streets to Come Down
Sinan Salaheddin, The Associated Press: "The towering concrete blast walls that have both protected and suffocated Baghdad streets for the past two years will come down within 40 days, Iraq's government announced Wednesday. Although the walls helped reduce violence, they are unsightly towering reminders for Baghdad residents that their riverside capital of leafy neighborhoods and palm-lined boulevards has turned into a prison-like city of shadows separating one community from another."

About Half of US Mortgages Seen Underwater by 2011
Al Yoon, Reuters: "The percentage of U.S. homeowners who owe more than their house is worth will nearly double to 48 percent in 2011 from 26 percent at the end of March, portending another blow to the housing market, Deutsche Bank said on Wednesday. Home price declines will have their biggest impact on prime 'conforming' loans that meet underwriting and size guidelines of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the bank said in a report."

William Jefferson Verdict: Guilty on 11 of 16 Counts
Jonathan Tilove and Bruce Alpert, The Times-Picayune: "Former Democratic Congressman William Jefferson was found guilty of 11 of 16 corruption charges today by a federal jury. In the 16-count indictment, Jefferson was charged with soliciting bribes and other crimes for a series of schemes in which he helped American businesses broker deals in West African in exchange for payments or financial considerations to companies controlled by members of his family, including his brother Mose, his wife, Andrea, their five daughters and a son-in-law."

Desiree Evans Unlocking the Vote
Desiree Evans, Facing South: "Nationally, an estimated 5.3 million people are denied the right to vote in federal elections because of state laws that prohibit voting by people with felony convictions. Some 35 states currently disenfranchise people with felony convictions, even after they have been released from prison. That amounts to some 4 million who are out of prison and living in the community, but unable to vote."

On Making Money, Or, Art Can Help New Orleans

The long, lazy days of summer are upon us, and it’s time to have a little fun—but it’s also a great opportunity to volunteer a bit of spare time for a good cause.

So imagine how cool it would be if you could combine the two...and even better, do it in a way that doesn’t take a bite out of your wallet...and even better yet, if it was something you and the kids could do together.

Imagine no more, because it has been done; which is why today we are going to be talking about lead in the soil of New Orleans, Operation Paydirt...and Fundred Dollar Bills.

So here’s what’s up: in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina all sorts of specialists went to New Orleans to see how they might help. Among those were environmental artist Mel Chin (who had previously participated in the GALA Committee’s project to “sneak” original works of conceptual art into the show “Melrose Place”).

Chin studied the community, and came to the conclusion that a huge problem existed that had nothing to do with Katrina: lead had contaminated the soil...and it was collecting in the blood of the children living there.

This is not good: lead poisoning in children has been linked to anemia, permanent nerve damage, mental retardation...and behavioral disorders that can result, literally, in a life of crime.

As it turns out, lead had been accumulating since the 1920s, either as lead paint scrapings or paint dust had fallen to earth or as the exhaust smoke from automobiles burning leaded gasoline settled to the ground. (It’s estimated that every year as much as five tons of lead were deposited in New Orleans’ soil as a result of the volume of vehicle traffic before leaded gasoline was banned.)

Hotspots exist throughout the city, but the worst contamination is to be found in the city’s Uptown, Downtown, and French Quarter Districts, with levels as high as 1200 parts per million (ppm) reported in some soil samples (levels below 150 ppm are considered “lead-free”).

The Department of Health and Human Service’s Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry reports that in 1993 nearly half of the city’s children (44%) were designated as “lead poisoned” by virtue of having blood lead levels above 10 micrograms per deciliter (ug/dL). 14% of the children tested had levels above 20 ug/dL, double the “not poisoned” standard.

“The disaster was in the soil before the disaster.”

--Mel Chin, March 2008

Are you thinking “I’m glad that’s not my city’s problem?” Are you sure about that? Boston, Baltimore, and Minneapolis/St. Paul are among the many US cities known to have serious contamination issues. (The locations most likely to be affected are older cities with higher traffic volumes.)

Until now, no one has been willing to provide the money to get a cleanup underway...and that’s where Mel Chin—and you, Gentle Reader—come into the picture.

Chin has begun a project that seeks to gather 3,000,000 “signatures”, if you will, to an “art petition” that he intends to present to Congress this fall in an effort to shake the money loose.

Art petition, you say?

That’s exactly correct: Chin wants you to create what he calls “Fundred Dollar Bills”, which are made from blank "templates" that resemble US $ 100 bills. You, the kids, and more or less 3,000,000 of your closest friends do your part by first downloading and then filling in the templates with designs, drawings, personal statements...pretty much any darn thing you can fit into a seven by four inch space...and then returning the completed bills to the nearest collection center.

The bills will be collected and transported to Washington, DC. Chin hopes to “exchange” the $300,000,000 represented by the Fundreds for $300,000,000 in real live Congressional appropriations to start the cleanup process in New Orleans (“Operation Paydirt”, as he’s calling it).

This had been promoted, in a big way, as a classroom project, and lots of schools and arts organizations around the country are joining in the effort.

“...we’re asking children [to produce the art] not because we want to use them, but they are the most affected by lead, and they have a right to have some expression in this.”

--Mel Chin, March 2008

The pickups are scheduled to begin in November, which means it’s time to get out the crayons, or gel pens (or, if you really take your conceptual art seriously, a garden pond pump, bucket, hose, sprinkler, and several colors of acrylic paint; the idea being to create the perfect Jackson Pollock effect), design some Fundreds, and let’s see if we can’t help make lives better for some kids that have been dealing with this for so long that some of them are today collecting Social Security.

So how about that?

A project that seeks money to clean up soil that is causing brain damage to the kids of New that, as far as I can see, is the truest form of “stimulus spending” there could ever be...and you get to help create the art petition that could really make a difference in deciding whether this happens or not.

All in all, that’s a pretty good way to spend a lazy summer day.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Truthout 8/5

Maya Schenwar Postponing Iraqi Public Opinion
Maya Schenwar, Truthout: "When Iraq's Parliament ratified its security pact with the US last year, allowing the presence of US troops until the end of 2011, it built in a provision for a public referendum vote to take place. This would let the Iraqi people decide the ultimate future of the pact. If the public voted to negate it, the US withdrawal deadline would have been shifted up to next summer. The vote, scheduled to take place by July 30, never happened."

Bill Clinton Departs North Korea With Two Freed US Journalists
Warren P. Strobel, McClatchy Newspapers: "North Korean leader Kim Jong Il pardoned two American journalists and ordered them released Tuesday during an extraordinary visit to the country by former president Bill Clinton, the country's state-run media reported. The two journalists, Laura Ling and Euna Lee, had been detained since March 17 when, according to North Korea, they crossed the country's border with China. In June, they were sentenced to 12 years of hard labor for illegal entry into the country and 'hostile acts.'"

Military Lawyer Claims US Paid Guantanamo Prosecution Witnesses
Daphne Eviatar, The Washington Independent: "In a startling accusation, defense lawyers in the case of an adolescent arrested and brought to Guantanamo Bay six years ago claim the Justice Department may bring a criminal case against the young man based on testimony from witnesses paid by the U.S. government for their cooperation. Mohammed Jawad was as young as 12 when he was arrested by Afghan police in 2002 and accused of throwing a grenade at U.S. soldiers. Although he confessed to the crime after Afghan officials threatened to kill him and his family, his statements were later ruled inadmissible by two U.S. judges because they were coerced."

Michael M. Rachlis A Canadian Doctor Diagnoses US Health Care
Michael M. Rachlis, The Los Angeles Times: "Universal health insurance is on the American policy agenda for the fifth time since World War II. In the 1960s, the U.S. chose public coverage for only the elderly and the very poor, while Canada opted for a universal program for hospitals and physicians' services. As a policy analyst, I know there are lessons to be learned from studying the effect of different approaches in similar jurisdictions. But, as a Canadian with lots of American friends and relatives, I am saddened that Americans seem incapable of learning them."

Cyber-Security Czar Quits After Administration's Delay in Finding Successor
Alejandro Martinez-Cabrera, The San Francisco Chronicle: "For several months, the Obama administration's promise to make cyber-security a national priority has felt like a New Year's resolution to start going to the gym: you really mean to start, but you just never get to it. And as a result of that, now the country's top cyber-security seat is going to start getting dusty. The Obama administration cyber-security czar Melissa E. Hathaway announced on Monday she will resign, apparently fed up of waiting for the president to name her successor."

Cathy Ceibe "The Media: A Weapon of Mass Destruction"
In an interview with L'Humanite's Cathy Ceibe, president of the Romulo Gallegos Foundation Center for Latin American Studies in Venezuela, Roberto Hernandez Montoya, denounces a totalitarian traditional media that is corporate controlled and adopts a uniform political ideology.

US Consumers Spared Big Costs in Climate Bill
Timothy Gardner, Reuters: "A new U.S. government study on Tuesday adds to a growing list of experts concluding that climate legislation moving through Congress would have only a modest impact on consumers, adding a bit more than $100 to household costs in 2020. Under the climate legislation passed by the House of Representatives in June, electricity, heating oil and other bills for average families will rise $114 in 2020 and $288 in 2030, according to the Energy Information Administration, the country's top energy forecaster."

FP morning post 8/5

Top story:

U.S. journalists Laura Ling and and Euna lee are on their way home after an unusual visit by former President Bill Clinton to secure their release from North Korea. Clinton's visit was the culmination of months of negotiations, which U.S. officials now say began almost immediately after the two were arrested in March.

North Korea told the two women in mid-July that they would be released if Clinton came to request amnesty for their crimes, after which former Vice President Al Gore, the founder of Current TV, Lee and Ling's employer, asked Clinton to undertake the trip.

North Korea is treating the negotiations as a major propaganda victory, saying that Clinton apologized for Lee and Ling's crimes. His wife, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, has denied that Bill offered any apology.

While administration officials are careful to characterize Clinton's trip as purely a humanitarian mission, there were clearly hopes that it could help restart talks with North Korea over its nuclear program. Clinton's former chief North Korea negotiator Robert Galluci told the New York Times, "It would be someplace between surprising and shocking if there wasn’t some substantive discussion between the former president, who is deeply knowledgeable about the nuclear issue, and Kim Jong-il."

Story to watch:

A pair of Russian submarines has been spotted off the coast of the United States.

Visiting Kenya, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton criticized the country's culture of corruption.
Nigeria's president has ordered an investigation into the death of an Islamist leader while in police custody.
South African President Jacob Zuma paid a surprise visit to a township that has recently experienced rioting.

Middle East
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was sworn in for a second term as President of Iran.
The U.S. says a leader of Iraq's Sunni insurgency was captured last month in Mosul.
Contradicting earlier reports, Iran's foreign ministry said it can't confirm the arrest of three three Americans who crossed the border from Iraq.

Villagers in Southern Afghanistan say three boys were killed in an airstrike by foreign planes.
The wife of Pakistani Taliban leader Baithullah Mehsud was reportedly killed in a Predator drone attack.
There are major discrepancies in China's reported Gross Domestic Product figures.

U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy is blocking a State Department report that is positive about Mexico's human rights record, delaying the release of anti-drug aid.
In a televised address, Honduras's top generals explained their role in the country's recent coup.
The Manuel Zelaya supporters who were camping out on the border to welcome him home are starting to disperse.

A Swiss drug maker has begun human trials on a swine flu vaccine.
Georgia and the breakaway province of South Ossetia have each accused each other of violating their ceasefire agreement.
A new trial has begun for three men accused of killing journalist Anna Politkovskaya.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Truthout 8/4

Bill Clinton Arrives in North Korea
Tania Branigan, The Guardian UK: "Bill Clinton arrived in North Korea today on a surprise visit to seek the release of two American journalists serving 12 years for 'grave crimes', in the highest profile visit to the country by an American for nearly a decade."

Keith Olbermann Legislators for Sale
Keith Olbermann, MSNBC Countdown: "Finally tonight, as promised, a Special Comment on Health Care Reform in this country, and in particular, the 'public insurance option.'"

Dozens of Guantanamo Cases Referred to US Prosecutors
Devlin Barrett, The Associated Press: "Dozens of Guantanamo Bay detainee cases have been referred to federal prosecutors for possible criminal trials in the nation's capital, Virginia and New York City, officials told The Associated Press on Monday as a second strategy for trying the detainees emerged within the Obama administration."
Schumer: Democrats Have "Contingencies" for Health Bill
Patrick Yoest, Dow Jones Newswires: "Democrats won't hesitate to forgo bipartisanship to pass a health overhaul bill if negotiations fail in the next month, U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said Monday."

Terrance Heath Death, Dishonesty and the GOP
Terrance Heath, Campaign for America's Future: "In an effort to defeat universal health care, conservatives are engaging in a campaign of lies that will ultimately cause more families to suffer needlessly at a most painful time. As someone who worked for years with end-of-life care issues, and spent years working in the HIV/AIDS community, I cannot let it pass."

Water Problems From Drilling Are More Frequent Than PA Officials Said
Abrahm Lustgarten, ProPublica: "When methane began bubbling out of kitchen taps near a gas drilling site in Pennsylvania last winter, a state regulator described the problem as 'an anomaly.' But at the time he made that statement to ProPublica, that same official was investigating a similar case affecting more than a dozen homes near gas wells halfway across the state."

Frida Berrigan For the Sixty-Fourth Time: No More Nuclear War: Reflections on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Our World
Frida Berrigan, "I can't help myself. I still think it's worth bringing up, even for the 64th time. I'm talking, of course, about the atomic obliteration, at the end of a terrible, world-rending war, of two Japanese cities, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, on August 6 and 9, 1945, whose anniversaries -- if that's even the appropriate word for it -- are once again upon us."

Le Monde Paths to Social Equity
When both Le Monde's editorialist and op-ed writers Laure Achard and Sebastien Bossu in France's premier business paper, Les Echos, excoriate the "exorbitant advantages" available to the privileged wealthy, it may be time to dust off the principles of "Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity" and to reinvent their implementation in society.

VIDEO Keith Olberman: Legislators for Sale
Keith Olbermann, MSNBC Countdown: "Finally tonight, as promised, a Special Comment on Health Care Reform in this country, and in particular, the 'public insurance option.'"

Jeremy Scahill Blackwater Founder Implicated in Murder
Jeremy Scahill, The Nation: "A former Blackwater employee and an ex-US Marine who has worked as a security operative for the company have made a series of explosive allegations in sworn statements filed on August 3 in federal court in Virginia. The two men claim that the company's owner, Erik Prince, may have murdered or facilitated the murder of individuals who were cooperating with federal authorities investigating the company. The former employee also alleges that Prince 'views himself as a Christian crusader tasked with eliminating Muslims and the Islamic faith from the globe,' and that Prince's companies 'encouraged and rewarded the destruction of Iraqi life.'"

North Korea Pardons US Journalists
The Associated Press: "Former President Bill Clinton met Tuesday with North Korean leader Kim Jong Il on the first day of a surprise mission to Pyongyang to negotiate the release of two Americans, holding 'exhaustive' talks on a wide range of topics, state-run media said."

David W. Moore Gallup's Anti-Health Care Bias
David W. Moore, The Beacon Broadside: "The Gallup Poll is without doubt one of the most influential media polls in the country, and as such one would hope that its analysis of public opinion would be objective. Usually that is the case. But on the current subject of health care reform, especially its most recent article that presents 'key findings from Gallup surveys' on the issue, the post reads like a conservative manifesto for delaying legislation until it succumbs to a slow death."

Report: Bank of America, Wells Fargo Have Modified Few Mortgages
Kevin G. Hall, McClatchy Newspapers: "The Obama administration on Tuesday offered the first of what will become monthly reports on mortgage modifications, including a name-and-shame approach that'll allow the public to see which banks are and aren't working to help keep struggling Americans in their homes."

Abbas's Big Move to Revamp Fatah
Ilene R. Prusher, The Christian Science Monitor: "For the first time in two decades, the most enduring force in Palestinian politics convened a partywide congress Tuesday to strengthen its position in negotiations with rival Hamas as well as with Israel."

Thomas B. Edsall For the Modern GOP, It's a Return to the "White Voter Strategy"
Thomas B. Edsall, The Huffington Post: "With Republican Party leaders so constrained by ideological blinders that none of their positions is likely to produce gains among non-white minorities, especially Hispanics, the GOP is finding it has no real alternative but to revert to a 'white voter' strategy."

Congress May Ease Law on College Aid for Drug Offenders
Carrie Wells, McClatchy Newspapers: "College students convicted of illegal drug possession could get federal financial aid for the first time in more than a decade under legislation aimed at overhauling the student loan system."

FP morning post 8/4

Top story:

Former President Bill Clinton has been dispatched to North Korea in an attempt to secure the release of U.S. journalists Laura Ling and Euna Lee. The two Current TV reporters were arrested near the North Korea-Chinese border in March and have been sentenced to 12 years of hard labor.

Clinton is North Korea's highest-level U.S. visitor since Secretary of State Madeline Albright in 2000. Former President Jimmy Carter also visited the country in 1994. This is Clinton's first visit to North Korea and his first major diplomatic mission on behalf of the Obama administration. Two weeks ago, North Korea's foreign ministry traded jibes with his wife, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, calling a "funny lady" who is "unaware of the elementary etiquette in the international community."
According to North Korea's Central News Agency, Clinton was greeted by Yang Hyong Sop, vice-president of the Presidium of the Supreme People's Assembly, and Kim Kye Gwan, vice-minister of Foreign Affairs. It is not clear who else he will meet on his visit.

International economy:

The International Energy Agency warned that the global economy cannot sustain another spike in oil prices. and that prices about $70 could dampen economic recover. Oil rose above $71 earlier today.

The Taliban fired rockets into Kabul, which landed near several major Western embassies.
Australian authorities say they have foiled a planned terrorist attack on an army base.
South Korean commandos stormed a factory to disperse laid off workers who had been occupying it.

Middle East
Ten members of an Al Qaeda-linked organization were arrested in Northern Iraq.
At a Fatah Party congress, President Mahmoud Abbas said "resistance" must remain an option for the Palestinian group.
Iraq is moving forward with a set of controversial censorship laws.

Niger is holding a referendum today on whether to extend the president's term by three years.
South Sudan has accused the north of arming local militias.
The trial of the Sudanese woman arrested for wearing pants -- which has become a test case for women's rights in the country -- has been postponed.

A high-ranking delegation from the Organization of American States is traveling to Honduras to lobby for the return of ousted President Manuel Zelaya.
Mexican police arrested 34 suspected members of the Mihoacana drug cartel.
Venezuela's government says it will look into how its weapons wound up in the hands of Colombia's Farc guerillas.

New NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen called for a larger European role in Afghanistan.
British MPs are calling for an investigation into whether the government was complicit in the torture of terrorism suspects.
In its latest military shakeup, the Kremlin removed the general in charge of Russia's strategic nuclear missile program.

Slip-sliding away - Indiana's FSSA


The last week has brought us quite a bit of news on the troubled privatization scheme that Governor Mitch Daniels forced on Indiana's Family and Social Services Administration two years ago. Unfortunately, none of it was encouraging for the hundreds of thousands of Hoosiers who depend on these vital services.

First, an Associated Press investigative report revealed that Governor Daniels has quietly signed over nearly $200 million in additional spending for the program, raising the total bill to $1.3 billion. Worse yet, he did all of this without notifying the General Assembly or telling the public, leaving taxpayers and legislators in the dark.

The cost of the $1.16 billion contract Gov. Mitch Daniels signed in late 2006 has risen 15 percent, to $1.34 billion, under changes made to the agreement with a group led by Armonk, N.Y.-based IBM Corp.Four top administration officials signed off on the additional money in April, shortly after Daniels told IBM officials they needed to fix a system that critics charge has erroneously canceled benefits even as the recession forces more people to seek food stamps, Medicaid and other government help.

This morning, the Indianapolis Star voiced their agreement, pointing out that while Mitch has hid from the mounting crisis over the last two years, things have continued to get worse, not better.

At the time, the chief selling points for privatizing the administration of
welfare benefits were improving service and saving money. It doesn't appear to have delivered on either count.

Welfare recipients -- Indiana's elderly, disabled, sick and poor -- and the advocates who represent
them have complained from the start that the new system is too cumbersome, too impersonal and often too slow to meet their needs.

State leaders initially rejected those complaints, arguing that the new automated operations would in time greatly improve the system's efficiency. The evidence is overwhelming, however, that the changes have yet to pay off.
The time has come for Mitch Daniels to stop the spin and start being open and honest about what is going on behind his closed doors. The secrecy and half-truths need to stop.

Call the Governor's Office today at 317-232-4567, or by email here, and tell Mitch Daniels that Hoosiers deserve transparency, and that begins with a full audit of the FSSA privatization project.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Rewarding bad actors

New York Times

Americans are angry at Wall Street, and rightly so. First the financial industry plunged us into economic crisis, then it was bailed out at taxpayer expense. And now, with the economy still deeply depressed, the industry is paying itself gigantic bonuses. If you aren’t outraged, you haven’t been paying attention.

But crashing the economy and fleecing the taxpayer aren’t Wall Street’s only sins. Even before the crisis and the bailouts, many financial-industry high-fliers made fortunes through activities that were worthless if not destructive from a social point of view.

And they’re still at it. Consider two recent news stories.

One involves the rise of high-speed trading: some institutions, including Goldman Sachs, have been using superfast computers to get the jump on other investors, buying or selling stocks a tiny fraction of a second before anyone else can react. Profits from high-frequency trading are one reason Goldman is earning record profits and likely to pay record bonuses.

On a seemingly different front, Sunday’s Times reported on the case of Andrew J. Hall, who leads an arm of Citigroup that speculates on oil and other commodities. His operation has made a lot of money recently, and according to his contract Mr. Hall is owed $100 million.

What do these stories have in common?

The politically salient answer, for now at least, is that in both cases we’re looking at huge payouts by firms that were major recipients of federal aid. Citi has received around $45 billion from taxpayers; Goldman has repaid the $10 billion it received in direct aid, but it has benefited enormously both from federal guarantees and from bailouts of other financial institutions. What are taxpayers supposed to think when these welfare cases cut nine-figure paychecks?

But suppose we grant that both Goldman and Mr. Hall are very good at what they do, and might have earned huge profits even without all that aid. Even so, what they do is bad for America.

Just to be clear: financial speculation can serve a useful purpose. It’s good, for example, that futures markets provide an incentive to stockpile heating oil before the weather gets cold and stockpile gasoline ahead of the summer driving season.

But speculation based on information not available to the public at large is a very different matter. As the U.C.L.A. economist Jack Hirshleifer showed back in 1971, such speculation often combines “private profitability” with “social uselessness.”

It’s hard to imagine a better illustration than high-frequency trading. The stock market is supposed to allocate capital to its most productive uses, for example by helping companies with good ideas raise money. But it’s hard to see how traders who place their orders one-thirtieth of a second faster than anyone else do anything to improve that social function.

What about Mr. Hall? The Times report suggests that he makes money mainly by outsmarting other investors, rather than by directing resources to where they’re needed. Again, it’s hard to see the social value of what he does.

And there’s a good case that such activities are actually harmful. For example, high-frequency trading probably degrades the stock market’s function, because it’s a kind of tax on investors who lack access to those superfast computers — which means that the money Goldman spends on those computers has a negative effect on national wealth. As the great Stanford economist Kenneth Arrow put it in 1973, speculation based on private information imposes a “double social loss”: it uses up resources and undermines markets.

Now, you might be tempted to dismiss destructive speculation as a minor issue — and 30 years ago you would have been right. Since then, however, high finance — securities and commodity trading, as opposed to run-of-the-mill banking — has become a vastly more important part of our economy, increasing its share of G.D.P. by a factor of six. And soaring incomes in the financial industry have played a large role in sharply rising income inequality.

What should be done? Last week the House passed a bill setting rules for pay packages at a wide range of financial institutions. That would be a step in the right direction. But it really should be accompanied by much broader regulation of financial practices — and, I would argue, by higher tax rates on supersized incomes.

Unfortunately, the House measure is opposed by the Obama administration, which still seems to operate on the principle that what’s good for Wall Street is good for America.

Neither the administration, nor our political system in general, is ready to face up to the fact that we’ve become a society in which the big bucks go to bad actors, a society that lavishly rewards those who make us poorer.

FP morning brief 8/3

Top Story:

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei formally approved Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for a second term as Iran's president. The ceremony was not attended by former presidents Mohammad Khatami and Akbar Hashemi Rasfanjani, who supported the opposition during the election and the controversy that followed the vote.

Ahmadinejad, who has his work cut out for him presiding over a divided Iranian population and political elite, faces a number of immediate crises.

Iran is currently holding three U.S. hikers who illegally crossed the unmarked border into the country while hiking in Iraqi Kurdistan. Swiss diplomats have requested a meeting with the three. The hikers have not yet been charged.

Iran has also put more than 100 opposition supporters on trial on conspiracy charges related to Iran's post-election unrest. The defendants include members of parliament and a former vice president. A number of the accused have already given confessions, saying that President Ahmadinejad rightly won the election. The opposition calls the trial a sham and says the confessions were coerced.

Under the radar:

The remains of Capt. Michael Speicher, the only American missing in action from the first gulf war, have been found and positively identified in Iraq's Anbar province. Speicher, a Navy pilot, was shot down in the opening hours of the war.

Middle East
Israeli police recommended that Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman be indicted on corruption charges. Lieberman says he will resign if indicted.
A car bomb exploded in a crowded market in Haditha, Iraq.
Israel's gay community is in shock over the murder of two people by a masked gunman at a Tel Aviv nightclub on Saturday.

Pakistan's Christian community is in mourning after the massacre of eight people over the weekend, sparked by rumors that the Koran had be defiled.
A bomb attack targeting a police convoy killed 12 in Herat, Afghanistan.
China has sealed off a town of 10,000 after an outbreak of pneumonic plague.

New evidence has emerged showing links between the Venezuelan government and Colombia's Farc rebels.
A U.S. task force is studying the possibility of moving Guantanamo inmates to prisons in the United States.
Bolivia has enacted legislation allowing its indigenous communities political autonomy.

More than 700 people may have been killed in fighting between government troops and Islamist rebels in Nigeria.
A Canadian citizen was jailed for life on terrorism charges in Ethiopia.
The Lord's Resistance Army is launching new attacks on villages in Uganda and the Central African Republic.

Georgia accused Russian troops of crossing the border from South Ossetia in an attempt to seize more land.
Five police officers were killed by gunmen in Chechnya.
European stock markets rallied today on strong earnings from Britain's banks.

Truthout 8/3

Six US Troops Killed in Afghanistan
Laura King, The Los Angeles Times: "Six American soldiers were killed in a 48-hour period ending Sunday, their deaths coming on the heels of the most lethal month for U.S. and Western troops since the start of the war nearly eight years ago, military officials said."

David Sirota Thirteen in Congress Control Health Care Debate
David Sirota, "For those still clinging to quaint notions of the American ideal, these have been a faith-shaking 10 years. Just as evolutionary science once got in the way of creationists' catechism, so has politics now undermined patriots' naive belief that the United States is a functioning democracy."

US Terror Prison Eyed for Gitmo Detainees
The Associated Press: "The Obama administration is looking at creating a courtroom-within-a-prison complex in the US to house suspected terrorists, combining military and civilian detention facilities at a single maximum-security prison."

Remains of First US Gulf War Casualty Solve 18 Year Mystery
Gordon Lubold, The Christian Science Monitor: "The confirmation Sunday that remains found in Iraq are those of Capt. Michael 'Scott' Speicher – the first American casualty of the 1991 Gulf War – ends a veritable saga punctuated with hope, uncertainty, and despair for the past 18 years. The mystery befuddled the military and even lead to rumors of unconfirmed sightings."

Tensions Grow in Afghanistan as Villagers Get Rid of Opium, Fall into Poverty
Rukmini Callimiachi, The Associated Press: "For as long as anyone can remember, there was no need for paper money in this remote corner of the Hindu Kush. The common currency was what grew in everyone's backyard - opium."

Israeli Gays' Safe Haven Turns Deadly
Jeffrey Heller, Reuters: "Israel's gay community was rocked on Sunday by the killing of two people in a homosexual and lesbian youth centre and the possibility they fell victim to a hate crime in the Jewish state's most freewheeling city."

Merle Hoffman Selecting The Same Sex
Merle Hoffman, On the Issues Magazine: "There is one place where the definition of gender remains binary – in the womb. When it comes to sonograms, amniocentesis and standard pre-natal testing, there are no nuances. Here, the pronouncement, 'It’s a girl,' can translate into fierce and instant parental rejection. The fact is that when the issue is 'sex selection abortion,' the same sex is always being selected - female."

Henry A. Giroux Torturing Children: Bush's Legacy and Democracy's Failure
Henry A. Giroux, Truthout: "Nowhere is there a more disturbing, if not horrifying, example of the relationship between a culture of cruelty and the politics of irresponsibility than in the resounding silence that surrounds the torture of children under the presidency of George W. Bush - and the equal moral and political failure of the Obama administration to address and rectify the conditions that made it possible. But if we are to draw out the dark and hidden parameters of such crimes, they must be made visible so men and women can once again refuse to orphan the law, justice, and morality."

At Least 12 Killed in Afghan Bombing
BBC News: "A bomb attack in the western Afghan city of Herat has killed at least 12 people and injured at least 20, police officials say. They said the attack had targeted a police convoy, killing and wounding both police and civilians."
Michael Hiltzik What's so Great About Private Health Insurance?
Michael Hiltzik, The Los Angeles Times: "Throughout the heroic struggle in Congress to provide a 'public option' in health insurance, one question never seems to get answered: Why are we so intent on protecting the private option? The 'public option,' as followers of the debate know, is a government-sponsored health plan that would be available as an alternative to, and in competition with, the for-profit health insurance industry, otherwise known as the private option."

J. Sri Raman Battle in India Over Balochistan
J. Sri Raman, Truthout: "Hell has no fury like an offended far-right nationalist. And even a democracy can deny one the power to dissent when ultra-nationalists are out to exploit an issue involving a country's traditional 'enemy.' India provides a current illustration. For days now, the country's parliament has been rocked by a controversy over a joint statement of the prime ministers of India and Pakistan."

Clunker Trade-Ins to Boost July US Auto Sales
Soyoung Kim, Reuters: "The punishing four-year decline in U.S. auto sales may have reached a turning point this week -- just as Michael Papa handed over the keys to his 1996 Ford Explorer for a government-sponsored trade-in. Papa, a Detroit-area restaurant owner, and thousands of other Americans took advantage over the past week of the U.S. government's 'Cash for Clunkers' incentive of up to $4,500 to trade in older gas-guzzlers for newer, more fuel-efficient cars."

US to Seek More British Troops for Afghanistan
Patrick Wintour and Richard Norton Taylor, The Guardian UK: "Britain will come under fresh pressure to send more troops to Afghanistan this month when General Stanley McChrystal, the Nato commander in the country, tells President Barack Obama that a further troop surge by the military alliance is necessary."

Language Lawsuit Fails in California Appeals Court
Michelle Mitchell, The Desert Sun: "School achievement tests do not have to be offered in languages other than English, a state appeals court ruled on Thursday, rejecting arguments in a lawsuit filed by Coachella Valley Unified and other school districts. A vast majority of Coachella Valley Unified's students are considered English-language learners and the district is under state sanctions and an academic trustee for poor performance on standardized assessments."

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Truthout 8/2

Jason Leopold Holder Ponders Limited Torture Probe
Jason Leopold, Truthout: "If recent news reports are accurate, some form of that day of reckoning may soon be upon us as now-Attorney General Holder weighs the possibility of appointing a federal prosecutor to probe the Bush administration's use of torture during the interrogation of detainees captured in the "war on terror." But those same news reports, quoting unnamed sources, say that if Holder decides in the coming weeks to authorize a criminal investigation, it would be limited to the "few bad apples" at the CIA who exceeded interrogation limits set by Justice Department attorneys, in memos that authorized brutal acts of torture against suspected terrorists."

President Obama: GDP Numbers Show Recovery Act Working
President Barack Obama: "Today, I'd like to talk with you about a subject that I know is on everyone's mind, and that's the state of our economy. Yesterday, we received a report on our Gross Domestic Product. That's a measure of our overall economic performance. The report showed that in the first few months of this year, the recession we faced when I took office was even deeper than anyone thought at the time. It told us how close we were to the edge."

US Troops Now a "Coalition of One" in Iraq
Chelsea J. Carter The Associated Press: "The war in Iraq was truly an American-only effort Saturday after Britain and Australia, the last of its international partners, pulled out."

Benjamin Dangl Dissecting Utopia: New Book Assesses
Benjamin Dangl, Truthout: "The conflict in Honduras has been an ongoing challenge for governments across the political spectrum in Latin America. In the years leading up to this tense and decisive event, a number of leaders and social movements have pushed the region to the left. It is this regional shift that is the focus of 'The New Latin American Left: Utopia Reborn,' edited by Patrick Barrett, Daniel Chavez and Cesar Rodriguez-Garavito."

Congress' Own Health Care Benefits: Membership Has Its Privileges
Mark Z. Barabak and Faye Fiore, The Los Angeles Times: "Lawmakers can choose among several plans and get special treatment at federal medical facilities. In 2008, taxpayers spent about $15 billion to insure 8.5 million federal workers and their dependents."

Trials Start for 100 Reformists, Moderate Politicians in Iran
Borzou Daragahi, The Los Angeles Times: "Iran's hard-line judiciary today began trials of 100 prominent, moderate politicians and others, accusing the country's main reformist and moderate political groups of working with foreigners trying to foment a popular uprising against the government."

Obama Offers Job Back to US Attorney Fired by Bush
Marisa Taylor, McClatchy Newspapers: "One of the nine former US attorneys whose firing triggered a controversy leading to the resignation of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales may be returning to his old job."

VIDEO President Obama: GDP Numbers Show Recovery Act Working
In his weekly address, President Obama discusses the state of the economy following reports of positive signs from the GDP.

FOCUS Afghan Poll Workers Ambushed; US Soldiers Killed
Hamid Shalizi, Reuters: "A convoy of campaign workers for Afghan President Hamid Karzai was ambushed five times on Saturday, officials said, as Taliban insurgents step up efforts to disrupt the presidential election. The U.S. military also said three U.S. troops were killed in the south, while a French soldier died and two were wounded in fighting in Kapisa province in the east, French officials said."

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Truthout 8/1

Michael Winship Pay to Play Is Washington's Sport of Kings
Michael Winship, Truthout: "This week, the Center for Responsive Politics reported that in the second quarter of this year alone, the pharmaceuticals and health product industries spent $67,959,095 on lobbying, and the insurance industry $39,760,477. Another $25,552,088 was spent by lobbyists for hospitals and nursing homes. That's a total of $133,271,660 in just three months, and that's not even counting the lobbying money spent to fight health care reform by professional associations like the US Chamber of Commerce."

William Rivers Pitt But Here's the Funny Part
William Rivers Pitt, Truthout: "So the debate over health care reform has all but stalled out for the summer. Rep. Henry Waxman tried to keep the "public option" component of the package together, but wound up getting sold down the river by a bunch of Blue Cross Blue Shield Blue Dog Democrats who could give lessons to the GOP minority on how to thwart a presidential agenda."

House Votes to Clamp Limits on Wall Street Bonuses
Anne Flaherty, The Associated Press: "Bowing to populist anger, the House voted Friday to prohibit pay and bonus packages that encourage bankers and traders to take risks so big they could bring down the entire economy."

"The Cove": A Documentary of Dolphin Slaughter
Kenneth Turan, The Los Angeles Times: "'The Cove's' story of a quiet village in Japan that specializes in clandestine dolphin slaughter is quite consciously structured as a thriller by director Louie Psihoyos who won an audience award for it at Sundance."

Mark Weisbrot Restoring Democracy in Honduras
Mark Weisbrot, The Guardian: "Hillary Clinton's attempts to resolve the crisis in Honduras have failed. It's time for Latin America to take the lead."

Afghan War Spreads to Residential Areas: UN Report
Laura MacInnis, Reuters: "The Afghan battlefield is spreading into residential areas where more people are being killed by air strikes, car bombs and suicide attacks, according to a UN report published on Friday."

Eric R. Haren The Real Battle for the Federal Judiciary
Eric R. Haren, "After President Barack Obama wins confirmation of his first Supreme Court nominee, the Court will still lean conservative. And it will still decide only a handful of cases each year. The lower courts, in contrast, will have the final word in more than 99 percent of federal cases. These courts are up for grabs, and Obama's impact on them could be sweeping. Indeed, Obama may be able to completely reshape a conservative-dominated judiciary to one largely controlled by Democratic appointees -- even in a single term."

Right-Wing Harassment Strategy Against Dems Detailed in Memo
Lee Fang, Think Progress: "This morning, Politico reported that Democratic members of Congress are increasingly being harassed by 'angry, sign-carrying mobs and disruptive behavior" at local town halls. This growing phenomenon is often marked by violence and absurdity. The lobbyist-run groups Americans for Prosperity and FreedomWorks, which orchestrated the anti-Obama tea parties earlier this year, are now pursuing an aggressive strategy to create an image of mass public opposition to health care and clean energy reform. A leaked memo from Bob MacGuffie, a volunteer with the FreedomWorks website Tea Party Patriots, details how members should be infiltrating town halls and harassing Democratic members of Congress."