Saturday, October 31, 2009

Truthout 10/31

Jason Leopold Cheney Could Not Recall Key Events About His Role in CIA Leak
Jason Leopold, Truthout: "A month before Valerie Plame Wilson's covert status as a CIA operative was revealed, Vice President Dick Cheney told his then-chief of staff, I. Lewis 'Scooter' Libby, and his press secretary, Cathie Martin, that Plame Wilson worked at the CIA. But according to a 28-page summary of Cheney’s May 8, 2004 interview with the special prosecutor probing the leak, Cheney did not recall having that conversation." Read the Article

William Rivers Pitt Hilarious Halloween
William Rivers Pitt, Truthout: "Everyone expects to see and hear some strange stuff whenever Halloween comes around. The costumes, the parties, the old ghost stories that always make the rounds and that ever-present breed of individual who takes the season a little too seriously and decides they'll actually try to be a vampire for a night. 'Tis the season. The definition of 'strange,' however, tends to get bent into all sorts of bizarre new shapes whenever the GOP gets into the game, and several of that party's members have apparently decided to make this Halloween something truly special for the rest of us." Read the Article

Bill Moyers Interview with James Galbraith
Bill Moyers, Bill Moyers Journal. Bill Moyers interviews James Galbraith on the economy. Read the Article

White House: Economic Stimulus Accounts for 640,000 Jobs.
Mark Trumbull, The Christian Science Monitor: "The White House says the economic stimulus accounts for 640,000 jobs. But the picture is mixed across the US." Read the Article

Obama Scores Regional Points with Zelaya's Return
Matthew Berger, Inter Press Service: "Following months of dithering on the part of the US, a delegation from the US State Department brokered a deal Thursday between the ousted and interim governments of Honduras... – the restoration of ousted president Manuel Zelaya to the presidency for the remaining two plus months of his term." Read the Article

Pakistanis to Clinton: War on Terror Is Not Our War
Saeed Shah, McClatchy Newspapers: "After three days of encounters with America-bashing Pakistanis - who rejected her contention that the US and Pakistan face a common enemy - Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Friday that 'we're not getting through.'" Read the Article

Mark Weisbrot Ecuador, Bolivia Show That Even Small Developing Countries Can Pursue Independent Economic Policies, Stand Up for Their Rights, and Win
Mark Weisbrot, The Center for Economic and Policy Research: "Among the conventional wisdom that we hear every day in the business press is that developing countries should bend over backwards to create a friendly climate for foreign corporations, follow orthodox (neo-liberal) macro-economic policy advice, strive to achieve an investment-grade sovereign credit rating so as to attract more foreign capital... Guess what country is expected to have the fastest economic growth in the Americas this year? Bolivia." Read the Article

Luers and Luers It's Liberty at Stake in a Warming World
William H. Luers and Amy L. Luers, GlobalPost, "President Barack Obama opened a new chapter in America’s role in solving global problems in his speech to the UN General Assembly. By calling for the US to re-engage in the global community, he has set us on a new course to preserve American liberty. The preservation of liberty has been the most powerful unifying political commitment for generations of Americans. With global warming, the threats to our liberty are now tied more than ever before to the actions of all nations. The climate change negotiations in Copenhagen this December and in DC provide a critical opportunity for the US to start down this new path." Read the Article

Ellen Hodgson Brown J.D. Cut Wall Street Out! How States Can Finance Their Own Economic Recovery
Ellen Hodgson Brown J.D., Truthout: "Pouring money into the private banking system has only fixed the economy for bankers and the wealthy; it has not done much to address either the fundamental problem of unemployment or the debt trap so many Americans find themselves in." Read the Article

Friday, October 30, 2009

State school superintendent not on track to help students

South Bend Tribune


In a pretty stunning Tribune story Oct. 7, reporter Joseph Dits summarized presentations made by state education officials and their consultants at a Chamber of Conference of St. Joseph County summit.

I call it stunning because, though Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett revealed he had some quibbles with state policy, he chiefly laid the blame for poor results at the feet of local schools and their boards. And this exchange reported by Dits was very troubling:

"Businessman Perry Watson III told the leaders they failed to speak of the importance of preschool and primary education. He also said he believed they need to talk about educating parents, saying, 'There's a disproportionate burden on the system, and parents always get a pass.'

Bennett said he is a proponent of preschool but doesn't think it's a cure for what's ailing education in kindergarten through 12th grade."

If Bennett really believes that, then he needs to be introduced to the vast number of studies which will pretty much unanimously confirm he has no idea what he's talking about. He can start with the National Institute of Early Education at Rutgers University. They routinely cover the results of state-sponsored universal pre-kindergarten programs, which invariably provide measurably improved outcomes. The states of Oklahoma, New Mexico and others have had such programs in place for years. And Indiana?

This state won't even fund universal full-day kindergarten. Heck, kindergarten attendance in Indiana is optional. Don't feel like enrolling your kid? No problem.

Additionally, Indiana cuts off admittance to grade level (by birth date) earlier than any other state. This means children in Indiana begin their state-provided education later than in anywhere else in the country. Add this all up, and it's clear that one of the hardest jobs in the world is being a first-grade teacher in Indiana. In your classroom you'll find children with two years of pre-school — plus kindergarten — under their belts and children who possibly are in a school setting for the first time in their lives. There will be at least 20 of them altogether.

I wonder how Bennett figures these children who start late will make up these deficits. Does he think that it's the job of these valiant first grade teachers to even the odds by the year's end? Does he think these kids need to pull themselves up by their book straps? Neither will happen.

And this wisdom comes from a man who proposes that it isn't that important to know how to teach in order to teach. His claim is that people who major in the subject area they plan to teach will learn more about the subject than an education major will. (I guess he thinks folks will figure out that teaching stuff on the job.) This was neatly refuted by the dean of the School of Education of Indiana University who pointed out that it is often the case that education majors are required to take more hours on the given subject than is required of students majoring in the subject.

And, of course, Bennett has tried to be helpful in so many other ways. Like insisting that school corporations can no longer have any half days in lieu of full days. This effectively eliminated the twice-a-year parent teacher conferences, because it would have required renegotiating teacher contracts in order to add days to the school calendar. As my daughter's first-grade teacher pointed out, if what he wanted was to make sure children received a minimum time period in classes in a given year, he could have instituted an hour requirement — as Michigan uses. All a school system would need to do is lengthen the school day by a few minutes — not subject to contract amendment.

And you'd think if Bennett were looking for success for students, he'd advocate that all school systems use programs with proven track records — and admonish the legislature to fund such programs. Wouldn't you?

The Wilson/LiPS reading program, which focuses on the decoding and encoding of English words and stimulating phonemic awareness, has a stunning record of success. Introduced to the South Bend Community School Corp. by Hay Primary Center Principal Craig Haenes through private donations, it has become available in three other schools — but the school corporation has no money to take it systemwide. On the other hand, Wilson LiPS might be useful to our high schoolers if we ignore early education.

In short, Bennett inspires little confidence that he's up to the task of improving our schools.

Forrest Church: Five things I've learned about the ministry

I found these videos recently of a sermon given by the late Forrest Church of All Souls Church in New York City, sometime in early 2008. We lost Dr. Church late last month, and it was a bad loss indeed for Unitarian Universalists as well as many other people - both famous and unknown.

What I found remarkable about this particular work was the way it not only provided a guide for faith leaders, it also translates well for the rest of us who try to do good works - large and small. I hope you enjoy it half as much as I do.

FP morning post 10/30

Top story:

Manuel Zelaya to return to power. The interim government of Roberto Micheletti signed an agreement with Zelaya that would put Zelaya's fate into the hands of Honduras's Congress, which is largely filled with Micheletti loyalists. If Zelaya can win over the congress, he would hold the presidency until election on Nov. 29.

"We are optimistic that my reinstatement is imminent," said Zelaya. The embattled leader said he now has no plans to run for president, which would be prohibited by Honduras's constitution. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who has supported Zelaya's reinstatement, praised the deal.

No deal with Iran?

U.S. and EU officials tell the New York Times that Iran has rejected the international deal negotiated last week, that would involve sending the countries uranium abroad for enrichment. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad yesterday praised the international community's cooperation on the nuclear issue, but negotiators say Iran has refused to accept the central feature of the agreement.

"The key issue is that Iran does not agree to export its lightly enriched uranium," one official said. "That’s not a minor detail. That’s the whole point of the deal."

Middle East
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will meet with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Abu Dhabi this weekend.
An al Qaeda-linked Lebanese group claimed responsibility for this week's rocket attack on Israel.
Israel marked the fourteenth anniversary of Yitzhak Rabin's assassination.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told Pakistani journalist she believes the country is still doing too little to fight al Qaeda.
South Korea announced plans to send troops to Afghanistan to protect its civilian aid workers.
China has invited North Korea's reclusive leader Kim Jong Il for a visit.

The African Union is planning to impose sanctions on Guinea's leaders.
A Liberian Government investigation has concluded that the Firestone Rubber Company polluted local water sources.
At least 47 policemen were killed after trying to intervene in an ethnic clash in the D.R. Congo.

Haiti's Prime Minister has been fired by the senate.
The U.S. and Colombia signed a controversial agreement to increase the U.S. military
Buenos Aires have been paralyzed by strikes of teachers, doctors and, transit employees.

Former French President Jacques Chirac has been ordered to stand trial for embezzlement.
On the last day of their summit, EU leaders are working to reach an agreement on climate change funding.
A U.N. Human Rights Council report condemned Russia's failure to protect its journalists.

Truthout 10/30

William Fisher Psychologist Accused of Complicity in Torture
William Fisher, Truthout: "The state board responsible for licensing - and disciplining - psychologists in Louisiana is 'fighting awfully hard to turn a blind eye to serious allegations of abuse' brought against one of its members, who is being accused of complicity in beatings, religious and sexual humiliation, rape threats and painful body positions during his service as a senior adviser on interrogations for the US military in Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib. Read the Article Digg! This Story

Honduras Deal: Ousted President Zelaya Can Return to Office
Sara Miller Llana, The Christian Science Monitor: "The deal would include the creation of a powersharing government and the promise on both sides that presidential elections slated for November 29 will be respected. It also would establish a truth commission and signal an end to international sanctions - slapped on Honduras by countries, including the US - in protest of Zelaya's removal from office." Read the Article

UN Can't Account for Millions Sent to Afghan Election Board
T. Christian Miller and Dafna Linzer, ProPublica: "The United Nations cannot account for tens of millions of dollars provided to the troubled Afghan election commission, according to two confidential UN audits and interviews with current and former senior diplomats. As Afghanistan prepares for a second round of national voting, the documents and interviews paint the fullest picture to date of the finances of the election commission, which has been accused of facilitating election fraud and operating ghost polling places. The new disclosures also deepen the questions about the UN's oversight of money provided by the United States and other nations to ensure a fair election in Afghanistan." Read the Article

Stephen Rohde Habeas Corpus: Vessel to Safe Harbor
Stephen Rohde, The Los Angeles Daily Journal: "Setting the stage for the next major challenge to the power of the president, this time Barack Obama rather than George W. Bush, the Supreme Court has agreed to consider whether a federal judge can order the release of Guantanamo Bay detainees into the United States. The case involves 13 Chinese Uighurs, captured in Pakistan and Afghanistan and imprisoned since 2002, whom American officials determined four years ago were not a threat to the United States. They cannot be safely returned to China because they are members of a Muslim separatist minority, who have been repressed by the central Chinese government." Read the Article

Dean Baker Cash for Clunkers Drives Third-Quarter GDP Growth
Dean Baker The Center for Economic and Policy Research: "GDP grew at a 3.5 percent annual rate in the third quarter, driven by a 22.4 percent jump in car sales, the result of the Cash for Clunkers (C4C) program. This increase in car sales accounted for 42.0 percent of the growth in the quarter. Consumption as a whole, which grew at a 3.4 percent annual rate, added 2.36 percentage points to growth. Other components making large contributions to growth were inventories, which added 0.94 percentage points; national defense, which added 0.45 percentage points; and residential construction, which added 0.53 percentage points, its first positive number since the fourth quarter of 2005. The surge in car buying will be reversed in the current quarter, as the main effect of the C4C was to pull car purchases forward. As a result, the auto sector will be a substantial drag on growth in the current quarter. Apart from the auto sector, consumption grew at a 1.0 percent annual rate." Read the Article

Lack of Health Care Led to 17,000 US Child Deaths
Agence France-Presse: "Lack of adequate health care may have contributed to the deaths of some 17,000 US children over the past two decades, according to a study released by the Johns Hopkins Children's Center. The research, to be published Friday in the Journal of Public Health, was compiled from more than 23 million hospital records from 37 states between 1988 and 2005. The study concluded that children without health insurance are far more likely to succumb to their illnesses than those with medical coverage." Read the Article

Robert Scheer Lieberman Twists the Knife
Robert Scheer, Truthout: "Is there a more hypocritical figure in American politics than Joe Lieberman? The Connecticut senator declared Tuesday that he would support a filibuster of any health care reform bill that has a public option - even the version with the 'trigger' compromise accepted by Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe - because it might cost money. 'I think that a lot of people may think that the public option is free,' said Lieberman, one of the Senate's big spenders, in a suddenly frugal mood. 'It's not. It's going to cost the taxpayers and people that have health insurance now, and if it doesn't, it's going to add terribly to our national debt.'" Read the Article

Lawrence S. Wittner What Savvy Leaders Could Do to Move Toward a Nuclear-Free World
Lawrence S. Wittner, Truthout: "Addressing a UN Security Council Summit on September 24, 2009, President Barack Obama observed that the resolution unanimously adopted by the Security Council earlier that day 'enshrines our shared commitment to the goal of a world without nuclear weapons.' But the enthusiasm for this measure among the representatives of major nations should not obscure the fact that securing their commitment to a nuclear-free world was for years an uphill struggle - one that began, with some political sleight-of-hand, in a nuclear superpower, the Soviet Union." Read the Article Digg! This Story

El Pais (Spain) "A" for Abortion: Latin America's Scarlet Letter
El Pais (Translation: Ryan Croken): "The political projects currently underway in Latin America come in all shapes and sizes, but one thing that most all of the governments have in common is their flat-out refusal to even discuss the legalization of abortion. In spite of the silence, the statistics are alarming: four million back-alley abortions a year, and 4,000 women who die (in appallingly unsanitary conditions) trying to get one. Aside from Cuba and the Federal District in Mexico, where abortion is legal upon request within the first several months of pregnancy, many countries in Latin America only provide legal abortions in cases of rape, incest and serious fetal defects, and these limited exceptions are only available in countries with the most progressive - relatively speaking - laws. For the most part, punishment is not enforced only when the mother's life is in danger." Read the Article

Herve Kempf Climate Change a Distant Problem for Americans
Herve Kempf, Le Monde (Translation: Leslie Thatcher): "What do Americans think about climate change? The success of Al Gore's film, 'An Inconvenient Truth,' may have allowed us to imagine this phenomenon had become a major concern. However, at the same time, the strength of 'climate skeptics' and of the opposition to the proposed climate change law in Congress show that the question is far from settled. A team of sociologists has been studying American attitudes on the subject for several years. Their final report ... is based on an in-depth questionnaire submitted to 2,189 citizens at the end of 2008." Read the Article

The defining moment

New York Times

O.K., folks, this is it. It’s the defining moment for health care reform.

Past efforts to give Americans what citizens of every other advanced nation already have — guaranteed access to essential care — have ended not with a bang, but with a whimper, usually dying in committee without ever making it to a vote.

But this time, broadly similar health-care bills have made it through multiple committees in both houses of Congress. And on Thursday, Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House, unveiled the legislation that she will send to the House floor, where it will almost surely pass. It’s not a perfect bill, by a long shot, but it’s a much stronger bill than almost anyone expected to emerge even a few weeks ago. And it would lead to near-universal coverage.

As a result, everyone in the political class — by which I mean politicians, people in the news media, and so on, basically whoever is in a position to influence the final stage of this legislative marathon — now has to make a choice. The seemingly impossible dream of fundamental health reform is just a few steps away from becoming reality, and each player has to decide whether he or she is going to help it across the finish line or stand in its way.

For conservatives, of course, it’s an easy decision: They don’t want Americans to have universal coverage, and they don’t want President Obama to succeed.

For progressives, it’s a slightly more difficult decision: They want universal care, and they want the president to succeed — but the proposed legislation falls far short of their ideal. There are still some reform advocates who won’t accept anything short of a full transition to Medicare for all as opposed to a hybrid, compromise system that relies heavily on private insurers. And even those who have reconciled themselves to the political realities are disappointed that the bill doesn’t include a “strong” public option, with payment rates linked to those set by Medicare.

But the bill does include a “medium-strength” public option, in which the public plan would negotiate payment rates — defying the predictions of pundits who have repeatedly declared any kind of public-option plan dead. It also includes more generous subsidies than expected, making it easier for lower-income families to afford coverage. And according to Congressional Budget Office estimates, almost everyone — 96 percent of legal residents too young to receive Medicare — would get health insurance.

So should progressives get behind this plan? Yes. And they probably will.

The people who really have to make up their minds, then, are those in between, the self-proclaimed centrists.

The odd thing about this group is that while its members are clearly uncomfortable with the idea of passing health care reform, they’re having a hard time explaining exactly what their problem is. Or to be more precise and less polite, they have been attacking proposed legislation for doing things it doesn’t and for not doing things it does.

Thus, Senator Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut says, “I want to be able to vote for a health bill, but my top concern is the deficit.” That would be a serious objection to the proposals currently on the table if they would, in fact, increase the deficit. But they wouldn’t, at least according to the Congressional Budget Office, which estimates that the House bill, in particular, would actually reduce the deficit by $100 billion over the next decade.

Or consider the remarkable exchange that took place this week between Peter Orszag, the White House budget director, and Fred Hiatt, The Washington Post’s opinion editor. Mr. Hiatt had criticized Congress for not taking what he considers the necessary steps to control health-care costs — namely, taxing high-cost insurance plans and establishing an independent Medicare commission. Writing on the budget office blog — yes, there is one, and it’s essential reading — Mr. Orszag pointed out, not too gently, that the Senate Finance Committee’s bill actually includes both of the allegedly missing measures.

I won’t try to psychoanalyze the “naysayers,” as Mr. Orszag describes them. I’d just urge them to take a good hard look in the mirror. If they really want to align themselves with the hard-line conservatives, if they just want to kill health reform, so be it. But they shouldn’t hide behind claims that they really, truly would support health care reform if only it were better designed.

For this is the moment of truth. The political environment is as favorable for reform as it’s likely to get. The legislation on the table isn’t perfect, but it’s as good as anyone could reasonably have expected. History is about to be made — and everyone has to decide which side they’re on.

The tenacity question

New York Times

Today, President Obama will lead another meeting to debate strategy in Afghanistan. He will presumably discuss the questions that have divided his advisers: How many troops to commit? How to define plausible goals? Should troops be deployed broadly or just in the cities and towns?

For the past few days I have tried to do what journalists are supposed to do.

I’ve called around to several of the smartest military experts I know to get their views on these controversies. I called retired officers, analysts who have written books about counterinsurgency warfare, people who have spent years in Afghanistan. I tried to get them to talk about the strategic choices facing the president. To my surprise, I found them largely uninterested.

Most of them have no doubt that the president is conducting an intelligent policy review. They have no doubt that he will come up with some plausible troop level.

They are not worried about his policy choices. Their concerns are more fundamental. They are worried about his determination.

These people, who follow the war for a living, who spend their days in military circles both here and in Afghanistan, have no idea if President Obama is committed to this effort. They have no idea if he is willing to stick by his decisions, explain the war to the American people and persevere through good times and bad.

Their first concerns are about Obama the man. They know he is intellectually sophisticated. They know he is capable of processing complicated arguments and weighing nuanced evidence.

But they do not know if he possesses the trait that is more important than intellectual sophistication and, in fact, stands in tension with it. They do not know if he possesses tenacity, the ability to fixate on a simple conviction and grip it, viscerally and unflinchingly, through complexity and confusion. They do not know if he possesses the obstinacy that guided Lincoln and Churchill, and which must guide all war presidents to some degree.

Their second concern is political. They do not know if President Obama regards Afghanistan as a distraction from the matters he really cares about: health care, energy and education. Some of them suspect that Obama talked himself into supporting the Afghan effort so he could sound hawkish during the campaign. They suspect he is making a show of commitment now so he can let the matter drop at a politically opportune moment down the road.

Finally, they do not understand the president’s fundamental read on the situation. Most of them, like most people who have spent a lot of time in Afghanistan, believe this war is winnable. They do not think it will be easy or quick. But they do have a bedrock conviction that the Taliban can be stymied and that the governments in Afghanistan and Pakistan can be strengthened. But they do not know if Obama shares this gut conviction or possesses any gut conviction on this subject at all.

The experts I spoke with describe a vacuum at the heart of the war effort — a determination vacuum. And if these experts do not know the state of President Obama’s resolve, neither do the Afghan villagers. They are now hedging their bets, refusing to inform on Taliban force movements because they are aware that these Taliban fighters would be their masters if the U.S. withdraws. Nor does President Hamid Karzai know. He’s cutting deals with the Afghan warlords he would need if NATO leaves his country.

Nor do the Pakistanis or the Iranians or the Russians know. They are maintaining ties with the Taliban elements that would represent their interests in the event of a U.S. withdrawal.

The determination vacuum affects the debate in this country, too. Every argument about troop levels is really a proxy argument for whether the U.S. should stay or go. The administration is so divided because the fundamental issue of commitment has not been settled.

Some of the experts asked what I thought of Obama’s commitment level. I had to confess I’m not sure either.

So I guess the president’s most important meeting is not the one with the Joint Chiefs and the cabinet secretaries. It’s the one with the mirror, in which he looks for some firm conviction about whether Afghanistan is worthy of his full and unshakable commitment. If the president cannot find that core conviction, we should get out now. It would be shameful to deploy more troops only to withdraw them later. If he does find that conviction, then he should let us know, and fill the vacuum that is eroding the chances of success.

Gen. Stanley McChrystal has said that counterinsurgency is “an argument to win the support of the people.” But it’s not an argument won through sophisticated analysis. It’s an argument won through the display of raw determination.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

FOX News Isn't News. It's a Political Operation.

Truthout 10/29

William Fisher Secrets Claim Faces Another Review in Torture Case
William Fisher, Truthout: "The long road to the proverbial 'day in court' just got longer for five men who claim they were 'disappeared' and tortured by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency." Read the Article

Jason Leopold Pelosi Unveils Historic Health Care Reform Bill, Touts Public Option
Jason Leopold, Truthout: "House Speaker Nancy Pelosi unveiled an $894 billion health-care reform bill Thursday that includes a government-run insurance program, otherwise known as a 'public option,' that is far stronger than the public plan unveiled earlier this week by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid." Read the Article Digg this story

Robert Corsini Reinventing Paradise; New Orleans and the Invisible Coast
Robert Corsini, Truthout: "The great and growing global angst among all peoples has everything to do with how we build and maintain our paradise on earth. And today as we live in an era of profound uncertainty, strange and complex states of war, climatic flux and economic dystopia, how different locales wealthy or not, rethink, redesign and rebuild their lives with an eye toward a different future is the issue before all humanity. Can a greener, less greedy, less angst-filled world be reinvented? Can we learn from our mistakes and live with compassion for all, or do we descend further into chaos and ultimate irrelevancy?" Read the Article

Yana Kunichoff Significant Changes to Bush-Era Military Commissions Signed Into Law
Yana Kunichoff, Truthout: "President Barack Obama signed a Defense Department spending bill into law Wednesday, which includes a provision that will change the way military commissions are structured. Human rights organizations and legal advocacy groups believe these controversial Bush-Era commissions primarily deny defendants the protections that federal courts provide and have responded with disappointment to their inclusion in defense legislation by a president who, during his presidential campaign, was quoted as saying he would 'reject the Military Commissions Act.'" Read the Article

Bill Quigley and Deborah Popowski When Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib Come Home
Bill Quigley and Deborah Popowski, Truthout: "The Louisiana board that licenses psychologists is facing a growing 1legal fight over torture and medical care at the infamous Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib prisons. In 2003, Louisiana psychologist and retired Col. Larry James watched behind a one-way mirror in a US prison camp while an interrogator and three prison guards wrestled a screaming, near-naked man on the floor." Read the Article

Dilip Hiro Why Obama's Iran Policy Will Fail: Stuck in Bush Mode in a Changed World
Dilip Hiro, "While the tone of the Obama administration is different from that of its predecessor, and some of its foreign policies diverge from those of George W. Bush, at their core both administrations subscribe to the same doctrine: Whatever the White House perceives as a threat -- whether it be Iran, North Korea, or the proliferation of long-range missiles -- must be viewed as such by Moscow and Beijing." Read the Article

America's Real Death Panels
Diana Novak, In These Times: "Next spring, Texas will decide whether or not to become the first state to admit it executed an innocent man." Read the Article

Vigilante Justice Spreads Across Mexico
Ioan Grillo, GlobalPost: "The torture video of the five alleged house burglars was posted on the internet last week. It is the latest sign of brutal vigilante justice spreading across Mexico. As kidnappings, muggings and car jackings spiral out of control, and the authorities appear increasingly impotent, shadowy groups have been advocating justice by the sword." Read the Article

Subverting Evaluation?
Vacarme: "How do you judge the procedures that have made possible a fair evaluation of your professional competencies, of your children's future, of your chances of being accepted in a health care cooperative, of your investments? Cruel, but necessary, first-rate because they are demanding?" Read the Article

Bahe Rock Ceremony Is More Than a Self-Help Session
Bahe Rock, Truthout: "When I first read about the deaths in a hotel parking lot sweat lodge in Arizona a couple of weeks ago I was saddened, but not surprised. I was dismayed over the abuse of Native American sacred ceremony in such a dreadful and destructive way. As a Dine raised to respect and participate in our spiritual teachings and ceremonies, and as a person who has observed an increase in the co-optation of our religion, I am compelled to speak out." Read the Article

Bill Moyers Journal Economic Recovery in Review
Bill Moyers Journal: "The Dow's up, but why are Main Street Americans still reeling from last year's economic collapse? With Americans still facing rising unemployment, foreclosures and declining property values, renowned economist James K. Galbraith speaks on whether we've averted another crisis and how to get help for the middle class." Read the Article

As Honduran Elections Near, US Diplomats Seek End to Leadership Crisis
Sara Miller llana, The Christian Science Monitor: "US envoys are in Honduras trying to broker a last-minute deal between ousted President Manuel Zelaya and interim President Roberto Micheletti ahead of presidential elections Nov. 29. Many nations have threatened not to recognize the results of the Nov. 29 race if constitutional order is not first restored. On Tuesday, 16 members of the US Congress sent a letter to President Obama urging him to do the same - which could indefinitely prolong Central America's worst political crisis in decades." Read the Article

FP morning post 10/29

Top story:

In a speech today, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad seemed to suggest that Iran is open to cooperation on a U.N.-backed nuclear enrichment plan, taking a far more positive tone toward the West than he has in the past. Some accounts suggest that Iran has already delivered its formal response to the International Atomic Energy Agency, but this cannot yet be confirmed.

“Fortunately, the conditions for international nuclear cooperation have been met,” Ahmadinejad said. "We are currently moving in the right direction and we have no fear of legal cooperation, under which all of Iran’s national rights will be preserved, and we will continue our work."

However, state-run newspapers report that Iran will seek changes to the U.N. plan, which involves Iran shipping its low-enriched uranium to Russia for processing. It has been reported that Iran will insist that the uranium be delivered gradually, rather than all at once. France's government has already stated that such a change would be unacceptable, and undermine the entire agreement.

The cost:

President Barack Obama visited Delaware's Dover Air Force Base last night to view the returning coffins of U.S. troops killed in Afghanistan.

Afghanistan is planning to open more polling stations in for the Nov. 7 runoff than were open during the original election, against the advice of the U.N.
U.S. and Chinese officials are holding talks in China on climate change and recent trade disputes.
Mongolia's parliament confirmed a new prime minister.

Middle East
Iraq has made dozens of arrests in connection with the recent bombings in Baghdad.
An employee of the British embassy in Iran has reportedly been sentenced to four years in jail.
Kuwait's supreme court ruled that female lawmakers are not required to wear a head scarf.

Zimbabwe has expelled a U.N. human rights investigator.
Kenya will carry out a controversial census of its gay population.
A French court threw out a lawsuit by Transparency International against three former African leaders.

E.U. leaders are meeting for a two-day summit in Brussels to discuss climate change and the Lisbon treaty.
U.S. National Security Adviser James Jones met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to discuss nuclear disarmament and Iran.
Germany's unemployment rate fell, prompting hopes of an economic recovery.

Nicaragua's congress decided not to discuss a controversial court ruling allowing President Daniel Ortega to run for another term.
The U.N. General Assembly overwhelmingly voted to condemn the U.S. embargo on Cuba.
A visiting U.S. mission urged both sides in Honduras's ongoing political standoff to show more "flexibility".

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Truthout 10/28

William Rivers Pitt Motivation
William Rivers Pitt, Truthout: "George W. Bush made his debut as a motivational speaker to a packed house of adoring fans in Fort Worth, Texas, on Monday. Mr. Bush, who has been all but invisible since last January's inauguration of Barack Obama, is apparently trying to raise his profile before the release of his book. He spoke about prayer, challenges and walking his dog. 'I can tell you that one of the most amazing surprises of the presidency was the fact that people's prayers affected me. I can't prove it to you. But I can tell you some days were great, some days not so great. But every day was joyous.'" Read the Article

Jason Leopold Democrats: CIA Lied to or Misled Congress at Least Five Times Since 2001
Jason Leopold, Truthout: "Democratic lawmakers said Tuesday that the CIA misled and/or lied to Congress at least five times since 2001 about it's intelligence programs, including one previously alleged instance in which the agency failed to disclose to top members of the House and Senate intelligence committees that the CIA tortured war on terror detainees." Read the Article Digg this story

Melvin A. Goodman Defense Secretary Gates Is Not a Diplomat
Melvin A. Goodman, Truthout: "Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates has played the 'ugly American' in Tokyo, cast in a role he should not be given. This performance speaks to the need for a demilitarized national security policy. It is the role of the secretary of state to conduct delicate overseas missions. Japan is experiencing extreme economic pressures, and the new Japanese government is preparing to withdraw from its commitment to refuel Western warships in the Indian Ocean and to become less active in positioning military forces against China." Read the Article

Sam Ferguson Uruguayan Voters Reject Chance to Prosecute Dictators
Sam Ferguson, Truthout: "During Uruguay's last dictatorship, which ruled from 1973 to 1985, approximately 200 Uruguayans were forcibly disappeared. Thousands more were held as political prisoners and tortured. In this small country of 3.5 million people, hundreds of thousands fled into exile. Last Sunday, October 25, voters here had the chance to repeal a controversial amnesty law, which has shielded many officials from prosecution for these crimes. The measure failed, garnering only 48 percent support." Read the Article Digg this story

Yana Kunichoff Congress Expands Hate Crime Bill Despite Right-Wing Opposition
Yana Kunichoff, Truthout: "In a landmark decision coming on the tail of decades of fierce debate, Congress passed a bill to widen federal protection against hate crimes to those victimized because of their sex or sexual orientation. This broadening of the hate crimes definition to lesbian, gay and transgender people has been a long time coming, according to gay rights advocates who saw several hate crime provisions fail due to strong Republican opposition in the last decade." Read the Article

Jim Hightower Health Care Hypocrites
Jim Hightower, Truthout: "How do you spell 'hypocrisy'? Try this: 'H-Y-P-O-C-O-N-G-R-E-S-S.' The hypocongress consists of those Republicans and Blue Dog Democrats who have risen up on their hind legs in recent weeks to snarl and howl at any mention of a government role in meeting America's health care needs. 'Socialism,' they bark -- we won't allow Barack Obama and the liberals to create a Washington-run, big-government intrusion into the hallowed private market. Sen. Jim DeMint, a South Carolina Republican, even pledged to fight so ferociously that the health care battle would be Obama's 'Waterloo.'" Read the Article

Brother of Afghan Leader Is Said to Be on CIA Payroll Dexter Filkins, Mark Mazzetti and James Risen, The New York Times: "Ahmed Wali Karzai, the brother of the Afghan president and a suspected player in the country's booming illegal opium trade, gets regular payments from the Central Intelligence Agency, and has for much of the past eight years, according to current and former American officials. The agency pays Mr. Karzai for a variety of services, including helping to recruit an Afghan paramilitary force that operates at the C.I.A.'s direction in and around the southern city of Kandahar, Mr. Karzai's home." Read the Article

Martha Rosenberg What's So Scary About Michael Pollan? Why Corporate Agriculture Tried to Censor His University Speech
Martha Rosenberg, AlterNet: "Even if agribusiness could shut Michael Pollan up, the outspoken author of Omnivore's Dilemma and a journalism professor at University of California, Berkeley, it still has the Los Angeles Times to contend with. Last week, the Times blasted California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo for downgrading a scheduled Pollan lecture because it received pressure from David E. Wood, a university donor who happens to be chairman of the Harris Ranch Beef Co." Read the Article

Pakistan Hit by Car Bomb Hours After Clinton's Arrival
Saeed Shah, McClatchy Newspapers: "A devastating bomb ripped through a busy market in the north western city of Peshawar Wednesday, just hours after US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrived in Pakistan. Officials put the death toll at more than 80, with over 200 wounded. Many of the victims thought to be women and children who were out shopping in the bazaar. Dozens of people were feared to be buried under the rubble." Read the Article

Gilles Chantraine and Ariane Chottin Irregular Childhood
In Vacarme, Gilles Chantraine and Ariane Chottin track the French government's last five years' legal proposals to deal with childhood 'irregularity' and lay bear the underlying tendencies that 'reduce childhood to the risk or the danger that it bears or incurs.'" Read the Article

NOW Green Energy and Electric Cars
NOW Programing Note: "On Friday, October 30, at 8:30 PM (check local listings), 'NOW' investigates how the Danish government and Better Place are working together to put electric cars into the hands of as many Danish families as possible. The idea is still having trouble getting out of the garage here in America, but Denmark could be an inspiration. Will so much green enthusiasm bring about a 'Copenhagen Protocol'? This show is part of a series on social entrepreneurs at work that we call 'Enterprising Ideas.'" Read the Article

FP morning post 10/28

Top story:

A pair of brutal terrorist attacks on Wednesday highlighted the increasing ability of Taliban militants to carry out major operations, despite crackdowns in both Afghanistan and Pakistan.

A car bomb tore through a crowded market in Peshawar, killing at least 80 people. The bombing was in roughly the same area as another that killed dozens earlier this month, but today's attack involved three times the amount of explosives as the earlier attack. Intelligence officials say that there had been rumors of two cars packed with explosives being the in city the day before.

The attack came just hours after U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrived in Islamabad to reaffirm U.S. support for Pakistan's crackdown on the Taliban, particularly the recent offensive in South Waziristan. Referring to the planners of the Peshawar bombing, Clinton said, "They know they are on the losing side of history. But they are determined to take as many lives with them as their movement is finally exposed for the nihilistic, empty effort it is."

In Afghanistan, meanwhile, Taliban gunmen broke into a guesthouse in central Kabul killing six U.N. employees and two Afghan security guards. Many of the U.N. employees staying in the guesthouse were working to prepare for Afghanistan's presidential runoff on Nov. 7. In taking responsibility for the attack, a Taliban spokesman said, "We have already informed that anyone who works for the second round will be targeted."

EU Presidency:

The race to be EU president is heating up with Luxembourg's prime minister joining the race as well as Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy planning to discuss Tony Blair's candidacy.

Middle East
Lebanese militants fired rockets into Israel but the attack was stopped by the Lebanese military.
Yemen's government says it has intercepted an Iranian ship carrying arms to its Shiite rebels.
Relatives of imprisoned Iranian opposition activists held a rally in Tehran.

The New York Times reports that Afghan President Hamid Karzai's brother -- a suspected narco-trafficker -- is on the payroll of the CIA.
Australia has refused to accept dozens of Tamil refugees from Sri Lanka.
China's government says it has rescued 2,000 children from kidnapping in the last six months.

Mozambique holds presidential elections today.
Zimbabwe's government blocked a visit from a U.N. torture investigator.
A Washington lobbyist allegedly worked secretly for Sudan's government, in violation of an embargo.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel was formally reelected by parliament.
Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov has opened a libel case against one of Russia's most prominent human rights campaigners.
An attack by gunmen wounded six Greek police officers.

Honduras's interim president Roberto Micheletti wants to end talks on his country's political crisis until after Nov. 29 elections.
Venezuela claims to have captured two Colombian spies.
The U.N. General Assembly will vote, as it does every year, to condemn the U.S. embargo on Cuba today.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

FP morning post 10/27

Top story:

Iran's state-controlled al-Alam TV channel reported on Tuesday that Iran will accept a UN brokered deal on uranium enrichment with some "very important changes" and would deliver its official response within 48 hours. Under the original deal, Iran would ship its low-enriched uranium to Russia for higher processing.

It is not known what changes the regime may insist on. Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki has suggested that Iran may ship some of its uranium abroad in addition to purchasing processed nuclear fuel from other countries.

Iran missed a Friday deadline for responding to the initial proposal. French Foreign Minsiter Bernard Kouchner accused the Iranians, Mottaki in particular, of wasting times, warning, "One day it will be too late."

In a meeting with Turkish Prime Minsiter Recep Tayyip Erdogan today, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad avoided specific reference to the enrichment proposal but reiterated his country's right to pursue nuclear power.

Bye bye big mac:

McDonald's is pulling out of Iceland due to slumping business since the country's economic collapse.

Middle East
An al Qaeda-linked group known as the Islamic State of Iraq claimed responsibility for Sunday's bombing in Baghdad.
Israel ruled out setting up an independent body to investigate allegations of war crimes by the IDF in Gaza.
Amnesty International accused Israel of withholding water from the West Bank.

China executed two Tibetans for their role in organizing last year's deadly riots.
Pakistan claims to have killed 42 Taliban in a major offensive in South Waziristan.
The foreign ministers of China, India, and Russia held talks on trade, security and climate change.

A Czech constitutional court is hearing a legal challenge to the Lisbon treaty, possibly the last obstacle to the integration treaty's ratification.
The European Union dropped its last remaining sanctions against Uzbekistan.
The Church of Scientology was convicted of fraud France, but will still be allowed to operate in the country.

Ecuador's president is in Europe to propose that his country be paid not to drill for oil in the Amazon.
Hugo Chavez's government accused Colombia of spying on Venezuela.
Haitian senators are demanding the ouster of the country's prime minister over his handling of government finances.

The EU imposed an arms embargo on Guinea.
Opposition parties walked out of Sudan's parliament to protest a measure giving expanded powers to security forces.
Nigeria signed an $875 million pipeline deal with China.

Truthout 10/27

Lieberman Pulls the Brakes on the Public Option
Scott Galindez, Truthout NewsWire: "Liberal and progressive Democrats were ecstatic yesterday when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced there would be a public option in the Senate version of health care reform legislation. Reid said he was confident that he could hold his caucus together and get the 60 votes needed to clear procedural hurdles in the Senate." Read the Article

Bill Moyers Amy Goodman: Breaking the Sound Barrier
Bill Moyers, Truthout: "You can learn more of the truth about Washington and the world from one week of Amy Goodman's 'Democracy Now!' than from a month of Sunday morning talk shows. Make that a year of Sunday morning talk shows. That's because Amy, as you will discover on every page of her new book, 'Breaking the Sound Barrier,' knows the critical question for journalists is how close they are to the truth, not how close they are to power." Read the Article

Steve Weissman Obama's AfPak War: "It's the Mission, Creep"
Steve Weissman, Truthout: "Dick Cheney and his neoconservative fringe are showing true gall and no grit in accusing President Obama of 'dithering' and 'waffling' on Afghanistan. They are, after all, the deep thinkers who rushed the Bush administration into Iraq, which diverted troops and other resources from their earlier mission to defeat the Afghan Taliban and catch or kill Osama bin Laden. Still, the shameless critics raise an intriguing question. Why has the president taken so much time to announce how many more troops he will send?" Read the Article

US Official Resigns Over Afghan War
Karen DeYoung, The Washington Post: "When Matthew Hoh joined the Foreign Service early this year, he was exactly the kind of smart civil-military hybrid the administration was looking for to help expand its development efforts in Afghanistan. A former Marine Corps captain with combat experience in Iraq, Hoh had also served in uniform at the Pentagon, and as a civilian in Iraq and at the State Department. By July, he was the senior U.S. civilian in Zabul province, a Taliban hotbed. But last month, in a move that has sent ripples all the way to the White House, Hoh, 36, became the first U.S. official known to resign in protest over the Afghan war, which he had come to believe simply fueled the insurgency." Read the Article

Tolu Olorunda The Death of Privacy
Tolu Olorunda, Truthout: "There is something immeasurably insidious about a government that spies on its citizens. And if there is one universal truth, it is that no country has a monopoly on such activities. Whenever a ruling class, from whatever region, begins to feel threatened by the unforeseen, emerging independence of the underclass, one of the next steps taken is to monitor conversations, document strategies and invade privacies. It's an inevitable impulse that bears witness to the fierce determination of Struggle." Read the Article

Mary Susan Littlepage Hundreds Gather to Talk About Foreclosures, Financial Struggles
Mary Susan Littlepage, Truthout: "Hundreds of people from around the country gathered in Chicago for three days of events dubbed 'Showdown in Chicago,' intended to draw attention to the foreclosure crisis and related financial problems and to call for more regulation in the financial industry. While some protesters waved signs that read 'Put people first' and 'Wanted: Wall Street bankers,' others chanted, 'Bust up big banks!' and 'Bailout? No thanks!'" Read the Article

Eight More US Troops Die in Afghanistan as America Suffers Deadliest Month
Jerome Starkey and Tim Reid, The Times UK: "Eight American servicemen were killed in a series of explosions today, making October the deadliest month for US troops in Afghanistan since the 2001 invasion. Officials said that several soldiers were injured in 'multiple, complex' bomb attacks in southern Afghanistan, just a day after 14 Americans were killed in two separate helicopter crashes in the south and west of the country. An Afghan civilian working with the military was also killed." Read the Article

Dan Bacher Cultural Genocide Disguised as Marine "Protection" - From the Colorado River Delta to the North Coast
Dan Bacher, Truthout: "I wrote the following article for Counterpunch in April 2007 when I covered La Otra Campana (the Other Campaign) of the Zapatistas in Mexico. Subcomandante Marcos and the Zapatistas organized a 'peace camp' from February to May of 2007 to defend Cucapa Tribe members on the Colorado River Delta against a Marine Protected Area (MPA) like the ones Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, California's head oil industry lobbyist and corporate 'environmentalists' are installing on California's North Coast through the corrupt Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) process." Read the Article

Obama Urged to Fully Comply With Anti-Torture Treaty
William Fisher, Inter Press Service: "The fifteenth anniversary of the U.S. ratification of the United Nations Convention Against Torture passed last week with little fanfare and virtually no press attention from the mainstream media here. But according to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), 'U.S. policy continues to fall short of ensuring full compliance with the treaty.'" Read the Article

Robert Reich Why the Big Banks Should Be Broken Up, but Why the White House and Congress Don't Want to
Robert Reich, Robert Reich's Blog: "And now there are five - five Wall Street behemoths, bigger than they were before the Great Meltdown, paying fatter salaries and bonuses to retain their so-called 'talent,' and raking in huge profits. The biggest difference between now and last October is these biggies didn't know then that they were too big to fail and the government would bail them out if they got into trouble. Now they do. And like a giant, gawking adolescent who's just discovered he can crash the Lexus convertible his rich dad gave him and the next morning have a new one waiting in his driveway courtesy of a dad who can't say no, the biggies will drive even faster now, taking even bigger risks." Read the Article

Frank proposes death panels for banks

By Kevin G. Hall
McClatchy Newspapers

WASHINGTON — The chairman of a key congressional panel Monday scaled back important parts of the Obama administration's plan to dismantle financial institutions that are deemed "too big to fail."

Lawmakers won't give the independent Federal Reserve as many powers as President Barack Obama had proposed, according to a senior congressional staffer, sharing details with McClatchy on the condition of anonymity because the emerging bill hasn't been made public. The measure, which tackles some of the thorniest issues of bank oversight, is intended to rewrite seven decades of financial regulation.

Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., the chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, worked over the weekend and throughout Monday to draft the legislation. It would provide the government with first-ever authority to shut down large globally interconnected financial institutions.

Full story

Monday, October 26, 2009

Truthout 10/26

Health Care for All
Truthout: "We at Truthout don’t think health care should be so confusing. We believe it is a human right and should be available to everyone. We also believe the same level of care should be available across the board, regardless of ability to pay for treatment. What if the fire department decided to not send its newest equipment to a particular house because the homeowner didn't have 'Cadillac' insurance?" Read the Article

Discovering the World With Sy Montgomery
Sy Montgomery talks with Truthout: "I write about the relationship between people and the rest of animate creation and I write about it because I think things have gone askew ... I try to offer different models of how to love and honor the rest of the animate world." Read the Article

Dean Baker People Power Matters: The Public Option Lives!
Dean Baker, Truthout: "In spite of the best efforts of the insurance industry and their followers in Congress and the media, it is still very possible that the health reform bill passed by Congress will include a robust public plan. This is a case where the simple facts and persistent grassroots pressure may overcome the political power of a major industry." Read the Article

Winslow Myers The Middle East: Victory Is Obsolete
Winslow Meyers, Truthout: "In his October 14 op-ed piece in the Boston Globe, Jeff Jacoby affirms his agreement with Daniel Pipes that 'wars end not through good will but through victory, defining victory as one side compelling the other to give up its war goals. Since 1948, the Arabs' goal has been the elimination of Israel; the Israelis' to win their neighbors' acceptance of a Jewish state in the Middle East. If the conflict is to end, one side must lose and one side win.' This way of putting the dilemma has the virtue of clarity. But there virtue ends." Read the Article

In Afghanistan, NATO Helicopter Crashes Kill 14 Americans
Jonathan Adams, The Christian Science Monitor: "Fourteen Americans were killed and more injured in two separate incidents of helicopter crashes Monday in Afghanistan, underscoring the risks of the increasingly controversial US-led war." Read the Article

Bill McKibben Mr. Obama, Be Tough on Climate Change
Bill McKibben, The Boston Globe: "The negotiation that really counts is not between Republicans and Democrats or industry and the greens, or even between the United States and China. The real bargaining is happening between human beings and physics and chemistry, and that's a tough negotiation." Read the Article

Michael T. Klare Welcome to 2025: American Pre-Eminence Is Disappearing 15 Years Early
Michael T. Klare, "Memo to the CIA: You may not be prepared for time-travel, but welcome to 2025 anyway! Your rooms may be a little small, your ability to demand better accommodations may have gone out the window, and the amenities may not be to your taste, but get used to it. It's going to be your reality from now on." Read the Article

Fareed Zakaria A Third Surge? The Troops Need a Smarter Vision
Fareed Zakaria: "Dick Cheney has accused Barack Obama of 'dithering' over Afghanistan. I suppose if the president were to quickly invade a country on the basis of half-baked intelligence, that would demonstrate his courage and decisiveness to Mr. Cheney." Read the Article

More Spending on Afghan War Could Hurt the Dollar
David R. Francis, The Christian Science Monitor: "Could an expanded war in Afghanistan be the costly straw that breaks the dollar's back, exacerbating already high concerns around the world over its value and damaging its central role in global commerce?" Read the Article

Jonathan Alter The PDQ Presidency the Oath of Office Notwithstanding, the Obama Presidency Began November 4 - Not January 20
Jonathan Alter: "Normally a new presidency begins with the inauguration in January. But Barack Obama's tenure really started in November, a full year ago, when he became the de facto co-president of the United States. Obama couldn't yet sign bills or issue executive orders. He and his family couldn't sleep in the White House. Having resigned from the Senate, he was technically a private citizen- a man with no constitutional authority. But these were formalities. For the first time in modern American history, an incoming president made some of the most important decisions of his term-about the economy, mainly, but also about energy, education, and health care-before taking office." Read the Article

Eli Clifton Pro-Israel Group's Money Trail Veers Hard Right
Eli Clifton, Inter Press Service: "StandWithUs - an 'organization that ensures that Israel's side of the story is told' - has become increasingly aggressive in challenging the 'pro-Israel' credentials of moderate Jewish-American groups, going so far as to suggest that receiving money from Arab donors and supporters of Human Rights Watch undermines a group's commitment to Israel and peace .. But an IPS investigation into the tax records of the donors to StandWithUs, which professes to be ideologically neutral, found a web of funders who support organisations that have been accused of anti-Muslim propaganda and encouraging a militant Israeli and U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East." Read the Article

FP morning post 10/26

Top story:

A day after their country's deadliest terrorist attacks in over two years, Iraqis mourned the more than 155 dead and raised questions about the government's ability to keep the country safe with elections approaching and U.S. troops continuing to pull out.

Two synchronized suicide car bombings on Sunday targeted Justice Ministry and the Provincial Administration building, injuring more than 500. No group has yet claimed responsibility for the attacks. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki blamed the attacks on Al Qaeda and remnants of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party.

Maliki has largely staked his political reputation on his ability to keep Iraq safe and his claims that Iraqi forces can provide security without U.S. help. There are now widespread fears of more attacks like Sunday's in the run-up to national elections in January.

Clone king:

Controversial South Korean cloning scientist Hwang Woo-suk was convicted of embezzling research funds, but given a suspended sentence. James Card profiled Hwang's attempts to reinvent himself through pet-cloning for FP last February.

Four U.S. troops were killed in a helicopter collision in Afghanistan.
South Korea has agreed to give a small amount of food aid to North Korea for the first time in two years.
Mongolia's prime minister wants to resign for health reasons.

Middle East
IAEA inspectors reportedly visited the recently disclosed Iranian nuclear plant at Qom.
More than 18 people were arrested after rioting at Jerusalem's Temple Mount.
The Palestinian chief negotiator says no talks with Israel are likely in the near term.

The war crimes trial of former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic has begun, despite his refusal to appear.
A prominent opposition leader was murdered in Ingushetia.
Scottish police have opened a new investigation of the 1988 Lockerbie bombing.

Nigeria's MEND rebels declared an indefinite ceasefire.
Tunisian leader Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was overwhelmingly reelected, and threatened legal action against anyone who said the vote was unfair.
Human Rights NGOs are criticizing Nigeria's decision to invite President Omar al Bashir of Sudan to an African Union meeting.

Uruguay's presidential election will go to a runoff after neither candidate earned over 50 percent of the vote.
Venezuela has increased security on the Colombian border after a series of murders.
President Barack Obama reportedly asked Spain's prime minister to pass along a message to Cuba's government, urging democratic reform.

On A New System (Sort Of), Or, Referendum 71 And Mail-In Voting

We are now about two weeks away from the November election in Washington State, and one item on the ballot that has national attention is Referendum 71, the so-called "everything but marriage" proposal that would give same-sex couples more rights and protections than they have today.

There has been a lot of conversation about whether it will or won't pass--and a lot of conversation about whether it should pass.

I hope it does, and if you live here I encourage you to vote "yes" November 3rd.

But that said, you may not be aware that Washington has an electoral system in transition, and that as a result of the transition Washington has some idiosyncrasies that will make forecasting the results a bit tougher, and determining the results a bit slower.

We'll talk about that today, and by the time we're done you should have an appreciation of the odd way in which things can work out--and that, absent a landslide, we aren't likely to know the results on Election Day.

These Are Not Normal Times

We have the strangest weather here: it is not quite 50 degrees F. as I write this, in midafternoon; but by tonight it’s expected to get warmer as the rain moves in.

In normal times, this is the kind of thing experts would be considering as they tried to estimate what turnout might be in the upcoming election—but these are not normal times. After the November ’08 election, Washington, following Oregon’s lead, became the second “vote-by-mail” state, and now the question has become not whether weather will impact the turnout…but if it will matter at all.

“Democracy is only an experiment in government, and it has the obvious disadvantage of merely counting votes instead of weighing them.”

--Dean William Ralph Inge, Possible Recovery?

The first unusual thing about Election Day in Washington is that there no longer is an Election Day. Voting now begins when the ballots begin to arrive in voters’ homes (20 days before Election Day), and as of Sunday, October 25th, King County Elections (Washington’s largest county; the county that includes Seattle and almost 1/3 of the State’s population) reports that 8.59% of the ballots are already in. All ballots with a postmark before November 4th will be counted, which means there will be new ballots arriving for several days after the “polls close”.

(As you may have guessed, each county operates their own elections office. All elections in the State are regulated by the Washington Secretary of State, which is also the office that handles paperwork for State-level candidates, initiatives, and referenda.)

This is driving the professional political community nuts, because it means every day there is a smaller pool of voters to influence, even though the cost of advertising time isn’t going down. Additionally, it is at the moment unclear exactly who has voted and how; over time, I think we’ll begin to see patterns emerge.

For example, in King County in this election cycle, the locations most likely to have already voted are, for the most part, the wealthiest regions of the county. A group of six communities clustered around Bill Gates’ house all have “in” rates above 10.5%, including three above 13%. The Town of Beaux Arts Village is at the top of that pack, running almost double the countywide rate at 16.74%.

The other communities most likely to have already voted are among the most rural in the County. Skykomish has 16.31% in, Enumclaw 12%. Unincorporated rural King County, however, is only running 8.49%, suggesting that the trend to vote early among the wealthy is more predictable than that same trend among the rural voters.

Among the many communities with average “in rates”, however, are clusters of low- and upper-income housing—and that’s where it is impossible to determine precisely who’s voted already and who is left to influence. With polling reports on Election Day you can track by precinct (and that type of tracking will be available after November 3rd), but for now an effective method of tracking has not emerged.

We assume that over time we’ll see the development of some form of “exit polling” of those who have already voted…but this is the first significant election since all-mail voting began, and prediction tools are as of yet untested.

“Message, We Have A Problem”

All of this is affecting advertising—after all, if you don’t know what portion of the electorate has already voted, how do you target your message to the remaining voters? When we get a week out, if we have 20% or more of the ballots in, this question will begin to loom very large as campaigns have to decide whether they have spent enough campaign dollars to buy airtime…or not…and whether the target audience they seek to influence is actually responding to the message…or not.

This all becomes even tougher to figure out because it’s a series of state and local races that are being contested in this election; as a result there is no daily tracking poll data available from which we might draw some near real-time conclusions.

Speaking of polling data: here’s some. A Survey USA poll conducted October 3rd and released October 6th of 548 likely voters suggests R-71 was winning 45%-42%. Women were both more likely to vote for the measure and more unsure as to how they would vote, relative to men (48% yes, 36% no, 16% unsure for females; 42% yes, 46% no, 12% unsure for males).

Voters 35-49 were simultaneously the least supportive of the measure and the most unsure as to how they’ll vote (35% approve, 49% reject, with 20% unsure). Voters over 65, the group most likely to vote, were supporting the measure (44%-40%, 16% unsure) as of October 6th.

The poll has a 4% margin of error, and some of these results are within that range, so as of October 6th this was still a race that’s very much up for grabs.

There are no Federal or State offices being contested in this election, and the only other statewide ballot issue, Initiative 1033, seeks to limit the growth of State income. The presence of the two ballot measures is likely to increase voting by 3% to 8%. It is suggested that a lower turnout will help the anti-71 crowd, a higher turnout, the pro-71 crowd.

All of this has had a major impact on “get out the vote” efforts as well—for example, no one volunteers to drive voters to polling places anymore…because there aren’t any polling places left. (There are a few exceptions for the disabled.) Instead, the effort here is to make sure those ballots get in mailboxes before Election Day.

It is possible to construct ads that attempt to “close the deal”: suggesting, in the last 20 days, that voters vote right now for or against the candidate or issue, but I haven’t seen ads of that type yet.

Finally, a few words about the “after Election Day” action. If this election is close, the number of votes that are in the mail in the days following the close of voting (and where they’re from) will be critical—and in the ‘08 cycle 50% of the total votes cast were in that “in the mail” category.

(Washington has been moving to voting by mail for some time, and in the 2008 cycle more than 90% of the votes cast were mail-in ballots. At that time 37 of the State’s 39 counties were voting entirely by mail.)

The bad news: it could take anywhere from several days to several weeks before we absolutely know the results. This process may include “reevaluation” of votes after Election Day and efforts by either party to disallow votes based on what they think they can get away with, and the result could be litigation.

The good news: there are no electronic voting machines in this system, and every ballot is a paper ballot. This means we can determine, eventually, exactly how the votes were cast—and if it takes a few recounts before we know the results, well, that’s what it will take.

So as of right now, that’s where we’re at: it’s the first major election since mail-in voting was adopted statewide, we are not sure of exactly how the impact of early voting is being felt, even though we know that almost 10% of the votes are in, professionals are still not exactly sure of what’s going on, and there should be a higher turnout due to the fact that we have two questions on the ballot for the entire voting public to consider.

Don’t expect a final result on Election Night, and if we do have to go to a recount, there won’t be any electronic voting machines to screw things up. Instead, every vote will be on a paper ballot. Most importantly of all: this ain’t Florida, we’ve been through recent close elections and recounts before—and we were able to work things out just fine.

After reform passes

New York Times

So, how well will health reform work after it passes?

There’s a part of me that can’t believe I’m asking that question. After all, serious health reform has long seemed like an impossible dream. And it could yet go all wrong.

But the teabaggers have come and gone, as have the cries of “death panels” and the demonstrations by Medicare recipients demanding that the government stay out of health care. And reform is still on track. Right now it looks highly likely that Congress will, indeed, send a health care bill to the president’s desk. Then what?

Conservatives insist (and hope) that reform will fail, and that there will be a huge popular backlash. Some progressives worry that they might be right, that the imperfections of reform — what we’re about to get will be far from ideal — will be so severe as to undermine public support. And many critics complain, with some justice, that the planned reform won’t do much to contain rising costs.

But the experience in Massachusetts, which passed major health reform back in 2006, should dampen conservative hopes and soothe progressive fears.

Like the bill that will probably emerge from Congress, the Massachusetts reform mainly relies on a combination of regulation and subsidies to chivy a mostly private system into providing near-universal coverage. It is, to be frank, a bit of a Rube Goldberg device — a complicated way of achieving something that could have been done much more simply with a Medicare-type program. Yet it has gone a long way toward achieving the goal of health insurance for all, although it’s not quite there: according to state estimates, only 2.6 percent of residents remain uninsured.

This expansion of coverage has tremendous significance in human terms. The Kaiser Commission on Medicaid and the Uninsured recently did a focus-group study of Massachusetts residents and reported that “Health reform enabled many of these individuals to take care of their medical needs, to start seeing a doctor, and in some cases to regain their health and control over their lives.” Even those who probably would have been insured without reform felt “peace of mind knowing they could obtain health coverage if they lost access to their employer-sponsored coverage.”

And reform remains popular. Earlier this year, many conservatives, citing misleading poll results, claimed that public support for the Massachusetts reform had plunged. Newer, more careful polling paints a very different picture. The key finding: an overwhelming 79 percent of the public think the reform should be continued, while only 11 percent think it should be repealed.

Interestingly, another recent poll shows similar support among the state’s physicians: 75 percent want to continue the policies; only 7 percent want to see them reversed.

There are, of course, major problems remaining in Massachusetts. In particular, while employers are required to provide a minimum standard of coverage, in a number of cases this standard seems to be too low, with lower-income workers still unable to afford necessary care. And the Massachusetts plan hasn’t yet done anything significant to contain costs.

But just as reform advocates predicted, the move to more or less universal care seems to have helped prepare the ground for further reform, with a special state commission recommending changes in the payment system that could contain costs by reducing the incentives for excessive care. And it should be noted that Hawaii, which doesn’t have universal coverage but does have a long-standing employer mandate, has been far more successful than the rest of the nation at cost control.

So what does this say about national health reform?

To be sure, Massachusetts isn’t fully representative of America as a whole. Even before reform, it had relatively broad insurance coverage, in part because of a large union movement. And the state has a tradition of strong insurance regulation, which has probably made it easier to run a system that depends crucially on having regulators ride herd on insurers.

So national reform’s chances will be better if it contains elements lacking in Massachusetts — in particular, a real public option to keep insurers honest (and fend off charges that the individual mandate is just an insurance-industry profit grab). We can only hope that reports that the Obama administration is trying to block a public option are overblown.

Still, if the Massachusetts experience is any guide, health care reform will have broad public support once it’s in place and the scare stories are proved false. The new health care system will be criticized; people will demand changes and improvements; but only a small minority will want reform reversed.

This thing is going to work.

Report shows income inadequacy of Hoosiers growing

Indianapolis, IN - The Self-Sufficiency Standard for Indiana 2009 released by the Indiana Institute for Working Families (Institute), a program of the Indiana Community Action Association (IN-CAA), shows that more Hoosiers are lacking the resources needed to meet their basic needs. The Self-Sufficiency Standard measures how much income is needed for a family of a certain composition in a specific geographic location to adequately meet their basic needs without public or private assistance.

The Self-Sufficiency Standard is a more accurate measure of income adequacy compared to the Federal Poverty Guidelines (FPG). According to the FPG, families are characterized as "poor" if their income is below the FPG and "not poor" if their incomes are above them. The most significant shortcoming of the FPG is that for most families, in most places, they are simply not high enough. The Self-Sufficiency Standard varies by both family type and by geographic location because the amount of money families need to be economically self-sufficient depends on family size, composition, children's ages, and the state and county of residence.

For example, the FPG for a family of three in 2009 is $18,310 annually, the equivalent of earning or $8.80 an hour for full-time employment. According to the 2009 Self-Sufficiency Standard, a family of three - consisting of one adult, one preschooler, and one schoolage child - is $42,117 annually - the equivalent of earning $19.94 an hour and approximately 230 percent of the FPG. This Standard Wage incorporates the cost of a two bedroom housing unit, the cost of full-time child care, food, health care, transportation, and taxes in Marion County. For this family type in Marion County, they must earn wages that are almost three times the current Federal Minimum Wage of $7.25 per hour.

Earlier this month the U.S. Census Bureau released 2008 American Community Survey data showing that Indiana's median household income has declined to $47,699 and is lower than it was in 2000. Additionally, the number of Hoosiers living in poverty has increased as reflected in the state's poverty rate of 13.1 percent. "However, if a more accurate measure of the amount of income needed by families was used, as opposed to the FPG, we would find even more Hoosiers are not earning enough to meet their basic needs," said Lisa Travis, with the Institute.

The Self-Sufficiency Standard shows family earnings that are well above the official FPG are nevertheless far below what is needed for families to meet their basic needs. The 2009 Self-Sufficiency Standard is a tool intended to be used in a wide variety of ways to benchmark, evaluate, educate, and illuminate. It is currently being used throughout the nation to better understand issues of income adequacy, to analyze social and economic policy, and to help individuals create pathways to economic self-sufficiency.

Self-Sufficiency Standard Wages are available on an hourly, monthly, and annual basis for over 70 different family types in all 92 counties in Indiana. Hamilton County has the highest Self-Sufficiency Standard in the state at $49,407 (one adult, one preschooler, and one schoolage), due to the highest housing and child care costs in the state for this family type. Vermillion County has the lowest Self-Sufficiency Standard at $26,348 for this same family type.

This report was made possible with generous support from the Richard M. Fairbanks Foundation and the Indianapolis Foundation, a CICF affiliate. This is the fourth edition of the Standard, which was previously released in 1999, 2002, and 2005. To view the full report, please visit the News and Update section on IN-CAA's homepage at

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Truthout 10/25

Kelpie Wilson Genesis Gets the Crumb Treatment
Kelpie Wilson, Truthout: "I confess that I am one of those feminists who finds a lot to like in the work of Robert Crumb. If his early work in the underground comics movement expressed a 'sexual rage' as he calls it, well those were the times to get it all out of your system.... So, it came as a surprise to learn that this warrior of the id and defender of the flesh has produced an illustrated version of Genesis. That's right, the Bible. What would he do with it?" Read the Article

Death Toll Reaches 132 in Baghdad Bombings
Reuters: "Twin car bombs targeting two government buildings killed at least 132 people and wounded more than 500 in Baghdad Sunday, police and health officials said, in one of the bloodiest days in the Iraqi capital this year." Read the Article

Latinos to CNN: Are You With Us or Against Us?
Manuel Avendaño, El Diario La Prensa (Translated by Ryan Croken): "New York - Dozens of angry demonstrators gathered in Manhattan on Wednesday to demand that the cable news network CNN fire its prime-time anchor Lou Dobbs for his denigration of Hispanic immigrants. Similar protests took place in 18 other cities across the country Wednesday afternoon, shortly before CNN aired its first installment of the four-hour series 'Latino in America,' a documentary intended to highlight the accomplishments of Latinos and to illustrate some of the challenges that they face here in the United States." Read the Article

Pelosi Disputes Reports She’ll Drop Public Option
Yana Kunichoff, Truthout: "The debate to fix the health care ills of the nation took a subtle turn Friday, with Nancy Pelosi disputing reports that she will drop the strongest public option in favor of a weaker one she hopes will garner more support when the Senate votes on the health care bill later this year." Read the Article

Iran Nuclear Deal: How Serious Is Tehran's Balk?
Howard LaFranchi, The Christian Science Monitor: "Is Iran doing its customary diplomatic haggling - or preparing to slam the door on the international community? By balking at a Friday deadline for a decision on a plan to move much of its enriched-uranium stockpile out of the country, Iran may be playing for better terms in a deal it will ultimately accept. But by standing up the three world powers - the United States, Russia, and France - that had already accepted the deal negotiated with Iranian officials earlier this week, Iran may be unwittingly laying the groundwork for tougher international sanctions aimed at its nuclear program." Read the Article

William Fisher A Simpleton Tries to Understand the Health Care Debate
William Fisher, Truthout: "Over these past months, I have been drowning in seas of data and analysis and opinions and lies and spin about health. But very little of it has actually been about health. A lot of it has been about process, such as the process in the sausage factory through which legislation gets crafted. But mostly it has been about money - money headed for so-called health insurance companies. Now, maybe I have a simplistic mind, but frankly I don't understand why health care and insurance companies keep appearing in the same sentences." Read the Article

Robert Reich Why Wall Street Reform Is Stuck in Reverse
Robert Reich, Robert Reich's Blog: "Eight months ago it looked as if Wall Street was in store for strong financial regulation - oversight of derivative trading, pay linked to long-term performance, much higher capital requirements, an end to conflicts of interest (i.e. credit rating agencies being paid by the very companies whose securities they're rating), and even resurrection of the Glass-Steagall Act separating commercial from investment banking. Today, Congress is struggling to produce the tiniest shards of regulation that would at least give the appearance of doing something to rein in the Street. What happened in the intervening months?" Read the Article

Saturday, October 24, 2009

On Being A Government DJ, Or, “Torture? You Call That Torture?”

It's become more or less common knowledge that US forces have been using music as an operational tool for some time now, and I've begun seeing lists of the songs that are being used either to inflict pain, to demoralize, or to just generally disorient various people in various sorts of situations.

There are others, wiser than I, who will opine as to the questions of efficacy and the moral issues surrounding these kinds of operations; I will opine, instead, as to the quality of the songs used.

Frankly, had anyone asked, I could have put the torturers onto much better musical choices, just by selecting from my own "My Music" folder--which left me thinking: "hey, it's the weekend...why not do exactly that?"

Got any psychological warfare mission planned for the weekend? Expecting to have to direct amplified sound at an angry mob in a defensive maneuver Saturday night? Planning a Halloween haunted house that goes a bit...fuurther?

Come along with me then, soldier, and I'll provide you a playlist that should do the trick in almost any foreseeable emergency.


Before we go any further, a word of warning: some of the links in this story will lead to material that is extraordinarily offensive and, in some cases, exceptionally distressing in nature.

If you are reading this, and you're, say, eleven years old, go get your parents and make them read this with you so that they can also learn about some sweet death metal; later on you can all listen to better music in the car on family outings.

What's On Guantanamo's iPod?

So the obvious first question: what songs are the government using?

If the lists that I've been seeing can be believed, there is a fair collection of songs being used to create "environmental manipulation", including songs like Eminem's "White America" and "Kim", the obvious choices like "Born in the USA", songs from the super-patriotic county song genre like that "boot in your ass" song, sexually suggestive songs like Christina Aguilera's "Dirrty" (which has a waaaay dirtier video than lyrics...), and a heavy diet of heavy metal. (According to Justine Sharrock's reporting at Mother Jones, MPs on duty in the detention facilities would often be making the choices about what detainees would hear.)

"The healthy man does not torture others -- generally it is the tortured who turn into torturers."

--Carl Jung

The odd thing about the metal: most of the songs seem to be far more tame than what they could have found--and a lot of the songs are actually among my "Rocktober" favorites...although at least one song was new to me, and I liked it, too.

Examples included Nine Inch Nail's "March of the Pigs", AC~DC's "Hell's Bells", Drowning Pool's "Bodies", Mettalica's "Enter Sandman", and a song by Deicide that I had never heard before...but, to borrow from "American Bandstand", it had a great death metal beat and you could mosh to it.

Now if it had been me in there, I would have suggested, for starters, some good old New Orleans Goatwhore, like "Alchemy of the Black Sun Cult", or maybe some delightful Cannibal Corpse ("Barbaric Bludgeonings" being a good place to start), or perhaps something that draws from Phil Spector's "Wall of Sound" concept, like "Upper Decker", by The Red Chord.

One of my friends suggested I consider a Norwegian Black Metal band (which is a good choice due to the Satanic messages that are literally at the core of the music); and you can't go wrong with either Gorgoroth's most excellent "Carving a Giant" or a selection from Emperor's "The Nightside Eclipse" (which should also be mandatory for any haunted house soundtrack anywhere).

Did You Say Sex?

Songs with gay-oriented themes work in both PsyOps and "friendly" haunted house environments; my suggestions would include two long-time favorites: The Mike Flowers Pops' rendition of "Don't Cry for Me Argentina" (which actually manages to be amazingly perky, unabashedly "pop", samples "The Macarena", and, despite all that, doesn't suck), or, when you're ready for the big guns, the Keta-Men's super-masculine, give-it-a-beat, four-part-harmony reworking of Sheryl Crow's "Strong Enough"; which should be effective, as I said, for any PsyOps you may have planned--or any friendly haunting.

As for other songs with a sexual connection: well, you could do a lot better than Christina Aguilera. How about, just to get things rolling, 20 Fingers and Gilette's "Short Dick Man" ...and then, after midnight, you gotta dig up the impotent sea snakes' "Kangaroos (Up the Butt)" (which is, indeed, about an Australian lifestyle choice gone horribly, horribly, wrong).


Apparently songs like "Wind Beneath My Wings", "Mandy", Air Supply's "Lost in Love", the entire Celine Dion catalog, and Morris Albert's unforgettable "Feelings" (unforgettable? After you hear it, you wish you could forget it...) did not make the list (although the public record is incomplete, and that may yet prove to be incorrect). The "Saturday Night Fever" soundtrack apparently did make the cut, which confirms some theories I've had about the Brothers Gibb and torture that date back to the 1970s...but that's a subject for another day.

It also appears that no one went for the industrial/dance bands, and as far as I'm concerned, no serious haunted house (or PsyOps mission) is complete until the Negativland comes out to play--but there's a lot of other top-quality disorienting and jarring music available, including music from :wumpscut: and ohGr and Einstürzende Neubauten...or even Twink's "Pussy Cat".

Finally, a few words about what might be the cruelest songs to make it on the list.

The theme from the Meow Mix commercials made the list.

The Sesame Street theme song made the list.

And, finally, in what might be the most barbaric act ever perpetrated by the American Government...Barney the purple dinosaur's "I Love You", a song you always said was torture to have to listen to, has now actually been used to soften up detainees for interrogation at Guantanamo Bay.

Amazingly, the song that might be the worst ever to have deployed against you in any PsyOps operation--or any haunted house, for that matter--is not on any list I've seen so far: the theme from the Disney ride "It's a Small World". I can testify to this personally: as a kid at Disneyland I was stuck on the ride, one summer day, for about an hour-and-a-half.

All I can that it changes you.

Check out the link. It's almost 11 minutes long, and I challenge you to sit through the whole thing. If you do make it, I challenge you to get that song out of your head...ever...again. Good luck.

Truthout 10/24

Bill Moyers and Michael Winship Texas, the Eyes of Justice Are Upon You
Bill Moyers and Michael Winship, Truthout: "On October 13, we lost a resolute champion of the law, a man who left his impact on the lives of untold numbers of Americans. His very name made his life's work almost inevitable, a matter of destiny. William Wayne Justice was a federal judge for the Eastern District of Texas. That's right, he was 'Justice Justice.' And he spent a distinguished legal career making sure that everyone - no matter their color or income or class - got a fair shake. As a former Texas lieutenant governor put it last week, 'Judge Justice dragged Texas into the 20th century, God bless him.'" Read the Article

Multiple Deployments May Raise Risk of Military Spouse Suicide
Stacy Bannerman, Truthout: "As the effects of eight years of war accumulate in Army families, a growing number of military spouses suffering stress, depression and thoughts of suicide can't get the care they need. There is 'a severe shortage of mental-health-care facilities for families, both on post and off, especially as post-behavioral health centers are already filled to capacity with soldiers,' according to Army psychiatrist Col. Kris Peterson." Read the Article

Pentagon Speeding Up Production of Bunker Busters
Scott Canon, The Kansas City Star: "Even as Washington emphasizes walking softly to pry Iran away from its nuclear ambitions, the Pentagon is speeding the manufacture of its own big stick. This month, the Defense Department awarded $51.9 million to McDonnell Douglas to more quickly adapt a 30,000-pound bunker buster to the B-2 stealth bomber. The GBU-57 bomb and the fleet of B-2s - stationed at Whiteman Air Force Base with occasional deployments to Guam and an outpost in the Indian Ocean - are widely seen as the likeliest U.S. military option for setting back Tehran's hopes for building nuclear weapons." Read the Article Can the Peace Movement Reach President Obama?
Robert Naiman, Truthout: "If there were ever a time when the peace movement should be able to have an impact on US foreign policy, that time should be now. If there were ever a time for extraordinary effort to achieve such an impact, that time is now.... Such a time calls for extraordinary efforts to mobilize public opinion to move policy." Read the Article

Freddie Mac, Given Oversight of Mortgage Mod Program, Falls Down on
Job Paul Kiel, ProPublica: "Since its March launch, the government's $50 billion program to prevent foreclosures has been marked by confusion, delays and doubts. A little-noticed conclusion in a government report released on Wednesday reveals that the program's auditor is no different: Freddie Mac - yes, that Freddie Mac - has been given responsibility for auditing the program. And it turns out, Freddie is stuck at square one." Read the Article

Eugene Robinson Stop the Getaway Car
Eugene Robinson: "Slashing executive salaries, bonuses and perks at the seven bailed-out companies that gorged most gluttonously at the public trough is emotionally satisfying, but it shouldn't be. It's like arresting jaywalkers while ignoring the bank robbery that's happening in broad daylight down the block.... All this is just a sideshow. The main event is the limited, far-too-modest attempt by the Obama administration and Congress to curb the irresponsible Wall Street practices that led to the financial meltdown -- and, if unaddressed, will lead inexorably to the next crisis." Read the Article

Trade Your Job
Valerie Saturen, Yes! Magazine: "In the last 30 years, wages have dropped for people without college degrees. But in Pierce County, Washington, high school students who aren't headed for college are learning to retrofit houses; they stand to make up to $50 an hour once they're experienced journeymen. In Lansing, Michigan, unemployed auto workers can get up to $10,000 to train for new careers in renewable energy. These people, and others nationwide, are part of a rapidly expanding market for green-collar workers." Read the Article

The Chinese disconnect

New York Times

Senior monetary officials usually talk in code. So when Ben Bernanke, the Federal Reserve chairman, spoke recently about Asia, international imbalances and the financial crisis, he didn’t specifically criticize China’s outrageous currency policy.

But he didn’t have to: everyone got the subtext. China’s bad behavior is posing a growing threat to the rest of the world economy. The only question now is what the world — and, in particular, the United States — will do about it.

Some background: The value of China’s currency, unlike, say, the value of the British pound, isn’t determined by supply and demand. Instead, Chinese authorities enforced that target by buying or selling their currency in the foreign exchange market — a policy made possible by restrictions on the ability of private investors to move their money either into or out of the country.

There’s nothing necessarily wrong with such a policy, especially in a still poor country whose financial system might all too easily be destabilized by volatile flows of hot money. In fact, the system served China well during the Asian financial crisis of the late 1990s. The crucial question, however, is whether the target value of the yuan is reasonable.

Until around 2001, you could argue that it was: China’s overall trade position wasn’t too far out of balance. From then onward, however, the policy of keeping the yuan-dollar rate fixed came to look increasingly bizarre. First of all, the dollar slid in value, especially against the euro, so that by keeping the yuan/dollar rate fixed, Chinese officials were, in effect, devaluing their currency against everyone else’s. Meanwhile, productivity in China’s export industries soared; combined with the de facto devaluation, this made Chinese goods extremely cheap on world markets.

The result was a huge Chinese trade surplus. If supply and demand had been allowed to prevail, the value of China’s currency would have risen sharply. But Chinese authorities didn’t let it rise. They kept it down by selling vast quantities of the currency, acquiring in return an enormous hoard of foreign assets, mostly in dollars, currently worth about $2.1 trillion.

Many economists, myself included, believe that China’s asset-buying spree helped inflate the housing bubble, setting the stage for the global financial crisis. But China’s insistence on keeping the yuan/dollar rate fixed, even when the dollar declines, may be doing even more harm now.

Although there has been a lot of doomsaying about the falling dollar, that decline is actually both natural and desirable. America needs a weaker dollar to help reduce its trade deficit, and it’s getting that weaker dollar as nervous investors, who flocked into the presumed safety of U.S. debt at the peak of the crisis, have started putting their money to work elsewhere.

But China has been keeping its currency pegged to the dollar — which means that a country with a huge trade surplus and a rapidly recovering economy, a country whose currency should be rising in value, is in effect engineering a large devaluation instead.

And that’s a particularly bad thing to do at a time when the world economy remains deeply depressed due to inadequate overall demand. By pursuing a weak-currency policy, China is siphoning some of that inadequate demand away from other nations, which is hurting growth almost everywhere. The biggest victims, by the way, are probably workers in other poor countries. In normal times, I’d be among the first to reject claims that China is stealing other peoples’ jobs, but right now it’s the simple truth.

So what are we going to do?

U.S. officials have been extremely cautious about confronting the China problem, to such an extent that last week the Treasury Department, while expressing “concerns,” certified in a required report to Congress that China is not — repeat not — manipulating its currency. They’re kidding, right?

The thing is, right now this caution makes little sense. Suppose the Chinese were to do what Wall Street and Washington seem to fear and start selling some of their dollar hoard. Under current conditions, this would actually help the U.S. economy by making our exports more competitive.

In fact, some countries, most notably Switzerland, have been trying to support their economies by selling their own currencies on the foreign exchange market. The United States, mainly for diplomatic reasons, can’t do this; but if the Chinese decide to do it on our behalf, we should send them a thank-you note.

The point is that with the world economy still in a precarious state, beggar-thy-neighbor policies by major players can’t be tolerated. Something must be done about China’s currency.

The quiet revolution

New York Times

A few weeks ago, “Saturday Night Live” teased President Obama for delivering great speeches but not actually bringing change. There’s at least one area where that jibe is unfair: education.

When Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan came to office, they created a $4.3 billion Race to the Top fund. The idea was to use money to leverage change. The administration would put a pile of federal money on the table and award it to a few states that most aggressively embraced reform.

Their ideas were good, and their speeches were beautiful. But that was never the problem. The real challenge was going to be standing up to the teachers’ unions and the other groups that have undermined nearly every other reform effort.

The real questions were these: Would the administration water down their reform criteria in the face of political pressure? Would the Race to the Top money end up getting doled out like any other federal spending program, and thus end up subsidizing the status quo? Would the administration hold the line and demand real reform in exchange for the money?

There were many reasons to be skeptical. At the behest of the teachers’ unions, the Democrats had just shut down a successful District of Columbia voucher program. Moreover, state legislatures around the country were moving backward. They were passing laws prohibiting schools from using student performance as a criterion in setting teacher pay.

But, so far, those fears are unjustified. The news is good. In fact, it’s very good. Over the past few days I’ve spoken to people ranging from Bill Gates to Jeb Bush and various education reformers. They are all impressed by how gritty and effective the Obama administration has been in holding the line and inciting real education reform.

Over the summer, the Department of Education indicated that most states would not qualify for Race to the Top money. Now states across the country are changing their laws: California, Illinois, Ohio, Wisconsin and Tennessee, among others.

It’s not only the promise of money that is motivating change. There seems to be some sort of status contest as states compete to prove they, too, can meet the criteria. Governors who have been bragging about how great their schools are don’t want to be left off the list.

These changes mean that states are raising their caps on the number of charter schools. When charters got going, there was a “let a thousand flowers bloom” mentality that sometimes led to bad schools. Now reformers know more about how to build charters and the research is showing solid results. Caroline Hoxby of Stanford University recently concluded a rigorous study of New York’s charter schools and found that they substantially narrowed the achievement gap between suburban and inner-city students.

The changes also will mean student performance will increasingly be a factor in how much teachers get paid and whether they keep their jobs. There is no consensus on exactly how to do this, but there is clear evidence that good teachers produce consistently better student test scores, and that teachers who do not need to be identified and counseled. Cracking the barrier that has been erected between student outcomes and teacher pay would be a huge gain.

Duncan even seems to have made some progress in persuading the unions that they can’t just stonewall, they have to get involved in the reform process. The American Federation of Teachers recently announced innovation grants for performance pay ideas. The New Haven school district has just completed a new teacher contract, with union support, that includes many of the best reform ideas.

There are still many places, like Washington, where the unions are dogmatically trying to keep bad teachers in the classrooms. But if implemented well, the New Haven contract could be a sign of perestroika even within the education establishment.

“I’ve been deeply disturbed by a lot that’s going on in Washington,” Jeb Bush said on Thursday, “but this is not one of them. President Obama has been supporting a reform secretary, and this is deserving of Republican support.” Bush’s sentiment is echoed across the spectrum, from Newt Gingrich to Al Sharpton.

Over the next months, there will be more efforts to water down reform. Some groups are offering to get behind health care reform in exchange for gutting education reform. Politicians from both parties are going to lobby fiercely to ensure that their state gets money, regardless of the merits. So will governors who figure they’re going to lose out in the award process.

But President Obama understood from the start that this would only work if the awards remain fiercely competitive. He has not wavered. We’re not close to reaching the educational Promised Land, but we may be at the start of what Rahm Emanuel calls The Quiet Revolution.

Friday, October 23, 2009

GOOD LOOK: EXO Reaction Housing

Commentary: Limbaugh reaps what he has sown

By Leonard Pitts Jr.
The Miami Herald

We are gathered here today in sympathy with our brother, Rush Limbaugh.

As you are no doubt aware, these have been difficult days for Brother Limbaugh. There he was, happily revealing that he was part of an investment group that had submitted a bid to purchase the St. Louis Rams of the National Football League. Next thing you know, Al Sharpton is on him like ugly on King Kong, urging the NFL to reject him.

And NFL players, not previously known for commenting on or even visibly caring, who owns a team so long as the paychecks clear, are saying they would not play for him.

And owners, who must vote to approve him, are telling reporters they will not.

It all came to a head last week as the talk show host was dumped by his fellow investors. Whose heart is so stony that it does not weep for Brother Limbaugh to find himself humiliated so? Put yourself in his shoes.

You're a college dropout and OxyContin junkie who somehow managed to climb to the top of the media pile. You've made yourself one of the most popular and influential voices in the national dialogue and that, in turn, has made you rich beyond dreams of avarice. How satisfying must that be.

And you're an avid sports fan, too, so naturally you jump at a chance to fulfill every sports fan's dream — to buy yourself a team. You picture yourself watching games from the luxury box with a babe or two on your arm, evaluating talent and signing off on trades, partying in the locker room, champagne stinging your eyes, at the end of a championship game.

How cruel to have it all snatched away from you. And why? Because a bunch of black African-American Negroes start making noise? What reason do they have to be upset with you?

Just because you once called Philadelphia Eagles star Donovan McNabb overrated, the victim of media too eager to see a black quarterback do well?

Just because you referred to Barack Obama and Halle Berry as "Halfrican Americans"?

Just because you told your listeners Obama's economic program is "reparations"?

Just because you called Obama "the little black man-child"?

Just because you said the NFL "all too often looks like a game between the Bloods and the Crips"?

Just because you once told a black caller to "take that bone out of your nose and call me back"?

For those trifles the sensitive pansies of the NFL don't want to have anything to do with you? Why do they even care? Just because 65 percent of their players are black African-American Negroes? Oh, the shame! Oh, the humanity!

So yes, the rest of us should rally around Brother Limbaugh. If they can deny one rich, racially inflammatory media lout his constitutional right to own a football team, what's to stop them from denying another? This is a clear and present danger. Pat Buchanan, Glenn Beck . . . none of us are safe while this injustice stands.

And besides, what lesson does this teach our children?

That there are things (like respectability) even money can't buy? That there are doors (like the one to the owner's box) even fame can't open? That you only have one reputation and it's not stain-resistant, so you'd better not soil it? That karma is a female dog?

Do you really want your children to learn that sort of socialist claptrap? I don't. How dare the high and mighty NFL act like the things we say carry consequences?

So let's stand up for Brother Limbaugh. Indeed, here and now, I am starting a legal fund to help him carry on the fight. I will make the first contribution — a shiny new Franklin Roosevelt dime.

What about you? Wouldn't you like to see poor Rush get what he deserves?

Please give generously.

Truthout 10/23

William Rivers Pitt Not Dead Yet
William Rivers Pitt, Truthout: "For the last several weeks, politicians, political action groups and pundits have been declaring the 'Public Option' portion of President Obama's health care reform push all but dead. Republicans, with typical shoulder-to-shoulder unanimity, have been shouting it down with bull-throated ferocity. Well-heeled interest groups have been spraying the airways with anti-public-option propaganda." Read the Article

US Strikes at Mexican Cartel's Drug-and-Gun Trade
Warren Richey, The Christian Science Monitor: "Federal agents have launched a massive assault on the US-based distribution network of a major Mexican drug cartel in an effort to disrupt the flow of drugs into the US and the counter-flow of military-grade firearms to Mexico." Read the Article

Dahr Jamail Cyber Resistance
Dahr Jamail, Truthout: "If technology has transformed warfare into a spectacle of shock and awe, its contribution to the cause of dissent has been no less remarkable. It has enabled solidarities across borders and facilitated networks and forums dedicated to impartial communication of ground realities beyond the sanitized projection of mainstream news. True, technological advances have not brought an end to either occupation, but it has certainly helped alternative voices and views to be heard." Read the Article

Daniel Gewertz BS at BU: The O'Reilly Factor
Daniel Gewertz, In These Times: "Last month I received an e-mail from my alma mater, Boston University, containing the following invitation: 'Save the Date! Alumni Weekend! October 23. A Conversation with Bill O'Reilly: A Bold Fresh Look at the Future of News.' The BU college hosting the event? The College of Communication (COM), home to the university's Department of Journalism." Read the Article

What Might Derail the Iran Nuclear Deal?
Robert Marquand, The Christian Science Monitor: "Negotiators for President Barack Obama and other powers may have a breakthrough deal on Iran's nuclear program. But while they wait for Tehran's Friday answer, some worry that Iran won't deliver." Read the Article

Republicans Oppose Franken on Rape Legislation
Mary Susan Littlepage, Truthout: "After Minnesota Sen. Al Franken's amendment to the 2010 defense appropriations bill passed by a 68-30 vote, rape victim Jamie Leigh Jones thanked Franken and said, 'It means the world to me.' That's because the amendment calls for withholding defense contracts from companies like KBR (a former Halliburton subsidiary) if they restrict their employees from taking workplace sexual assault, battery and discrimination cases to court." Read the Article

Dan Pearson and Kathy Kelly The Rotten Fruits of War
Dan Pearson and Kathy Kelly, Truthout: "Five months ago, shortly after the Pakistani government had begun a military offensive against suspected Taliban fighters in the northernmost area of the country, we arrived in Islamabad, the capital, as part of a small delegation organized by Voices for Creative Nonviolence ( Our initial travel plans had focused on learning more about civilian suffering caused by US drone attacks." Read the Article

J. Sri Raman Trading on Sino-Indian Tensions
J. Sri Raman, Truthout: "As President Barack Obama prepares for a major Asian diplomatic offensive away from the Middle East, manufacturers and merchants of arms are preparing to make the occasion profitable for themselves." Read the Article

Jim Hightower A Corporate Monster vs. "the Vermonster"
Jim Hightower, Truthout: "Chance are that you've seen ads, letters-to-the-editor, op-ed pieces and other materials put out by outfits with such civic-sounding names on Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse. By whatever name, the message is always the same, usually delivered in a sort of urgent, basso profundo voice saying something like this: 'Bloodsucking lawyers are constantly filing frivolous lawsuits against beleaguered corporations. Stop these lawyers and their loser clients -- demand that your lawmakers cut them off from the courthouse.'" Read the Article

An Unprecedented Number of Death Threats Against Obama
Mary Susan Littlepage, Truthout NewsWire: "A recent Boston Globe article stated that an unprecedented number of death threats against President Obama, an increase in racist hate groups, and more antigovernment passion have put much pressure on the US Secret Service. On the other hand, Secret Service spokesman Ed Donovan said there hasn't been an unusually large number of death threats against the president." Read the Article

Senate Passes Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Act
Ben Pershing, The Washington Post: "The Senate cleared a historic hate crimes bill Thursday for President Obama's signature, approving new federal penalties for attacks on gay men and lesbians." Read the Article

FP morning post 10/23

Top story:

Meeting in Slovakia, NATO defense ministers agreed to support the broader counterinsurgency strategy laid out by U.S. Gen Stanley McChrystal, though they largely side-stepped the issue of committing more troops to Afghanistan.

"There is a support of this counter-insurgency strategy which means that ministers agree that it does not solve the problems of Afghanistan just to hunt down and kill individual terrorists," NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said.

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said that NATO countries are moving toward sending more troops to Afghanistan. "There were a number of allies who indicated they were thinking about, or were moving toward, increasing either their military or their civilian contributions, or both," Gates said.

An estimated 104,000 NATO troops -- two thirds of them American -- are expected to be in Afghanistan by the end of the year. Gates also assured allies that the U.S. would remain in the fight. "We're not pulling out," he said. "I think that any reduction is very unlikely." He said that a specific decision on troop levels was coming up in the next several weeks.

NATO countries seem, for the most party, to be waiting for a decision from Washington before making any troop commitments. "I think most countries are waiting for the Americans," said Dutch Defense Minister Eimert Van Middelkoop.

Coming up:

Iran's decision on a proposed nuclear enrichment compromise is expected today.

Japan's foreign minister said his government supports keeping a U.S. military base in Okinawa.
A suicide bomber attacked a Pakistani air force facility, killing seven.
Despite protests from Beijing, the Dalai Lama is planning on visiting an Indian border district claimed by China.

Middle East
Thousands of schools have been closed in Iraq due to fears of swine flu.
Israel and the United States began a combined air defense drill.
Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman asked UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to quash the Goldstone report.

After meeting with Vice President Joe Biden, Czech Prime Minister Jan Fisher said the Czech Republic supports the new U.S. missile defense plan.
Czech President Vaclav Klaus says he is satisfied with a Lisbon treaty compromise proposed by the EU.
Defusing a growing nepotism scandal, French President Nicolas Sarkozy's son withdrew his bid to run a Paris business district.

Somalia's Shabaab rebels threatened to attack the capitals of Uganda and Burundi in retaliation for actions by AU peacekeepers.
Two more women in Sudan have been arrested for wearing pants.
A French aid worker was kidnapped by gunmen in Darfur.

Uruguay's last dictator, Gregorio Alvarez, was sentenced to 25 years in prison for killings carried out under his regime.
Talks to resolve Honduras' political crisis collapsed again, as the two sides failed to reach agreement over the return of ousted President Manuel Zelaya.
Hundreds of members of the Mexican La Familia cartel were arrested throughout the United States in a two-day raid.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Truthout 10/22

William Rivers Pitt Catching Up With the Crazy
William Rivers Pitt, Truthout: "So, I got married two weekends ago, and spent all of last week honeymooning with my wife in front of a stone fireplace in a tiny cabin by a tiny lake in the woods of New Hampshire. No cell phone reception; no TV channels because the tube was still hooked up to an analog antenna on the roof that looked to have been there since the Truman administration; no Internet access whatsoever; the only newspapers to be found were at the end of several miles of a rutted, rock-strewn, dirt road, and since neither of us felt particularly compelled to deal with anything except each other, my wife and I pretty much fell completely off the planet." Read the Article

Bill That Would Block Release of Torture Photos Expected to Be Signed Into Law
Yana Kunichoff, Truthout: "In an unprecedented move, Congress passed legislation Tuesday including an amendment which would maintain one of the most contentious hangovers of the Bush administration, allowing the Department of Defense to exempt torture photos of US detainees overseas from public access under Freedom of Information Act requests." Read the Article

Nick Mottern A Letter to Members of the US Military on Their Way to Afghanistan
Nick Mottern, Truthout: "When you lace up your boots and head for the plane that will carry you to Afghanistan, you will be joining Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, ExxonMobil chief Rex Tillerson and Gurbangulu Berdimuhamedov in what has been described in the US Congress as 'the new great game'." Read the Article

Norman Solomon Uncle Sam in Afghanistan: Good Help Is Hard to Find
Norman Solomon, Truthout: "Almost eight years after choosing Hamid Karzai to head the Afghan government, Uncle Sam would like to give him a pink slip. But it's not easy. And the grim fiasco of Afghanistan's last election is shadowing the next." Read the Article

Documents in Bank of America Probe Show CEO Apparently Misled Federal Officials
Sue Reisinger, "New documents in the Bank of America Corp. investigation show that chief executive Ken Lewis apparently misled federal officials when he asked them to cough up $20 billion and other financial incentives to keep him from canceling the bank's merger with Merrill Lynch & Co. Inc." Read the Article

Melvin A. Goodman The Washington Post Creates Its Own Facts to Support Afghan Nation-Building
Melvin A. Goodman, Truthout: "The Washington Post is creating its own facts in order to support its argument for US nation-building in Afghanistan. In its lead editorial on Saturday, the Post asserted that the United States is capable of building a strong government in Afghanistan at the national and local levels. The Post claimed that Afghanistan had had a 'working national government through most of the 1970s and 1980s.' This is simply not so." Read the Article

Supreme Court Agrees to Hear Case of Wrongfully Detained Guantanamo Prisoners
Mary Susan Littlepage, Truthout NewsWire: "The Supreme Court announced Tuesday that it will hear the case of 13 men who still are imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay despite being cleared for release since 2004. The court also will address the issue of whether a court can order the men released into the United States when there is no other remedy. The men, Uighurs from China, are represented by the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and co-counsel Bingham McCutchen LLP, Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel LLP, Miller & Chevalier, Baker & McKenzie LLP, Reprieve, and Elizabeth Gilson." Read the Article

Nick Turse Obama's Choice: Failed War President or the Prince of Peace?
Nick Turse, "When the Nobel Committee awarded its annual Peace Prize to President Barack Obama, it afforded him a golden opportunity seldom offered to American war presidents: the possibility of success. Should he decide to go the peace-maker route, Obama stands a chance of really accomplishing something significant. On the other hand, history suggests that the path of war is a surefire loser. As president after president has discovered, especially since World War II, the US military simply can't seal the deal on winning a war." Read the Article

La Jornada How to Stop Violence in Brazil's Favelas
La Jornada (Translated by Ryan Croken): "Last weekend, a clash between two drug-trafficking gangs led to an escalation of violence in the Morro dos Macacos favela, just north of Rio de Janeiro. The fighting, which lasted several hours, left 17 dead, two police officers among them. In light of the seriousness of the situation, this past Sunday, local authorities ordered the deployment of 4,500 additional officers to provide surveillance support in the area." Read the Article

Investigating the Attacks in Gaza
Bill Moyers Journal: "A damning report from the UN Human Rights Council on the violence in Gaza late last year has put Israel on the defensive. Bill Moyers talks with the man at the center of the storm, Justice Richard Goldstone, who, despite working with many pro-Israel groups and Israeli institutions in the past, has drawn intense criticism from some of Israel's supporters for his report, which said Israel's Defense Forces, as well as Hamas, may have committed war crimes in Gaza earlier this year." Read the Article

FP morning post 10/22

Top story:

Somali pirates attacked two ships within minutes of each other off the coast of East Africa today. A group of pirates took control of a Panamanian-flagged vessel near the Seychelles. Shortly after that pirates began firing on an Italian ship off the Kenyan coast, though that attack was thwarted by a nearby Belgian warship.

A foreign ministry spokesman said that China would make "all-out efforts" to rescue the crew of a Chinese ship captured by pirates on Monday, though experts said the government would likely negotiate for the ship's release. The attack -- over 700 miles off the Somali coast -- may show that pirates are traveling farther afield to avoid the growing international naval fleet in the Gulf of Aden, their traditional hunting ground.

A report released Wednesday by the International Maritime Bureau shows more pirate attacks in the first nine months of this year than all of last year. However, thanks to the increased military presence in the area, the number of successful attacks has gone down.

Growing hunger:

The number hungry people in the world rose this year to 10.2 billion -- or 1 in 7 people -- according to the United Nations.

The United Nations began distributing ballots in Afghanistan for the Nov. 7 runoff election.
Japan's government said it will not sign off on a new military basing agreement with the U.S. until President Obama visits next month.
The U.S. is planning to send a delegation on a fact-finding mission to Burma.

Middle East
Israeli and Iranian negotiators briefly spoke at a regional nuclear disarmament conference.
Six suspected al Qaeda members were arrested in Iraq.
Iran's deputy parliament speaker rejected the internationally-brokered agreement to have Iran's uranium enriched in Russia.

Ethiopia is requesting emergency food aid for 6.2 million people.
An artillery battle in downtown Mogadishu killed at least 30 people yesterday.
The EU voted to impose sanctions and an arms embargo on Guinea's military junta.

Vice President Joe Biden visited Romania and discussed Afghanistan and missile defense with President Traian Basescu.
Former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic plans to boycott his war crimes trial next week.
Britain's postal workers have gone on strike.

New polls show Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez's popularity beginning to slip.
Rio De Janeiro police are expanding their crackdown on the city's out of control gang violence.
More than 18,000 gallons of oil was spilled into the Gulf of Mexico after a ship collision on Tuesday night.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Truthout 10/21

Leslie Thatcher It Begins in Wonder: Sy Montgomery's World
Truthout's Leslie Thatcher discovers the work of journalist ethologist Sy Montgomery: "'Science and Adventure' captures the ostensible subjects of these four books, each of which involve journeys to what most of us would consider remote and dangerous locations on missions of scientific research and discovery. But they might equally well be classified with works of 'religion,' 'anthropology' or 'philosophy,' so deeply does that primary religious impulse - wonder - run through these four and all of Ms. Montgomery's books, so profound is her respect for all the living beings she encounters: the scientists, photographers and guides she works with, the government officials and indigenous people she comes to know in her travels, members of her community at home, the creatures she studies, the creatures she lives among - both domesticated and wild - and life forms in all their imbricated complexity and wild individuality." Read the Article

Jason Leopold Diaries Recounting Zubaydah's Torture Should Be Given to Defense Attorneys, Judge Rules
Jason Leopold, Truthout: "Guantanamo detainee Abu Zubaydah is expected to finally gain access to diaries he wrote during the years while he was being tortured by CIA interrogators. A federal court judge has ordered the government to turn over unredacted volumes of the diaries and other 'specified' writings to defense attorneys representing Zubaydah. Zubaydah was the first high-value detainee captured after 9/11. He was repeatedly waterboarded and subjected to brutal torture techniques by CIA interrogators at secret black-site prisons. Although the order issued by US District Court Judge Richard Roberts on September 30 was filed under seal, Zubaydah's attorney, Brent Mickum, said in a Truthout interview that while he could not discuss the substance of the ruling, it was his opinion that the order 'should have been made public from the get-go' because 'there's nothing in [the order] that should be considered classified.'" Read the Article

Scott Galindez Obama Flexes Political Muscle
Scott Galindez, Truthout: "Congressional switchboards were bombarded on Tuesday with over 300,000 calls from supporters of Barack Obama's plan for health care reform. After the day of calls, Obama addressed his supporters in a webcast from the Hammerstein Ballroom in New York City. Obama reminded his supporters that it has only been nine months since he took office; he then forcefully defended his accomplishments, and called on those on the sidelines to stop rooting for failure and pick up a mop and help clean up the mess that he inherited." Read the Article

Tom Loudon A Time of No Time
Tom Loudon, Truthout: "For the last week and a half, negotiations between President Manuel Zelaya and the coup government have dominated the news in Honduras. Last week, it appeared that a negotiated solution might emerge. However, Zelaya's 'absolute deadline' of midnight October 15 came and went and absolutely nothing changed. The 'negotiations' have the entire country suspended in a sort of time warp. Everyone waits for an outcome from the talks, which never emerges." Read the Article

John O'Connor The Value of Life
John O'Connor, Truthout: "Have you ever wondered what value government agencies place on your life? You may be flattered to learn that up to now, as an average US citizen, you have generally been considered pretty valuable. That may be changing. The Environmental Protection Agency has long assigned a dollar value to the life of a US citizen as a means for estimating the costs of disease or loss of life due to exposure to pollution. The agency routinely conducts cost-benefit analyses based on the estimated impacts of pollutants on life and health (e.g., is it worth the additional cost of treatment to regulate arsenic in drinking water at 10 - rather than 50?)." Read the Article

Senators Ask Obama to Review Personality-Disorder Discharges
David Goldstein, McClatchy Newspapers: "In the Senate, Barack Obama fought for better mental-health care for troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. Now that he's president, some of his former colleagues want him to pick up the gauntlet once more and make sure troops are getting the benefits they deserve. 'In 2007, we were partners in the fight against the military's misuse of personality disorder discharges,' four senators - Democrat Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas and Republicans Charles Grassley of Iowa, Kit Bond of Missouri and Sam Brownback of Kansas - wrote in a letter this week asking Obama for a report to Congress on the current use of the discharges. 'Today we urge you to renew your commitment to address this critical issue facing thousands of returning service members.'" Read the Article

Democrats Go After Antitrust Exemption for Insurers
David Espo, The Associated Press: "Democrats launched a drive at both ends of the Capitol on Wednesday to strip the insurance industry of its decades-old exemption from federal antitrust laws, part of an increasingly bare-knuckled struggle over landmark health care legislation sought by President Barack Obama. If enacted, the change would put an end to 'price-fixing, bid-rigging and market allocation in the health and medical malpractice' insurance areas, said Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Leahy said he would seek a vote on the plan when the Senate debates health care legislation in the next few weeks." Read the Article

Support For "Robust" Public Option Builds Among House Dems
Jennifer Lubell, Modern Health Care: "Congressional Democrats are leaning in the direction of including a "Robust" public insurance option that would set reimbursement rates at 5 percent above what Medicare pays, members of the House Democratic Caucus told reporters. Emerging from a caucus meeting late Tuesday, Rep. Robert Andrews (D-New Jersey) said the 'chemistry was there' to support the robust option in the House health reform bill. Many in the caucus believe it would be the most fiscally responsible approach to a government-run insurance plan." Read the Article

US Congress Votes to Allow Guantanamo Transfers to US
Agence France-Presse: "The US Congress on Tuesday gave President Barack Obama the green light to bring Guantanamo Bay detainees to US soil for trial, in a boost to his efforts to close the notorious facility. The legislation, part of a $42.7 billion bill to fund the US Department of Homeland Security in 2010, cleared the Senate 79-19 after sailing through the House of Representatives last week. Obama vowed on his second day in office to shutter the facility, a magnet for global criticism of US tactics in the 'war on terrorism,' by January 22, though White House aides say they face an uphill fight to keep that promise." Read the Article

Jo Comerford Cashing In the War Dividend: The Joys of Perpetual War
Jo Comerford, "So you thought the Pentagon was already big enough? Well, what do you know, especially with the price of the American military slated to grow by at least 25 percent over the next decade? Forget about the butter. It's bad for you anyway. And sheer military power, as well as the money behind it, assures the country of a thick waistline without the cholesterol. So, let's sing the praises of perpetual war. We better, since right now every forecast in sight tells us that it's our future." Read the Article /font>

Art Levine The Battle Against Letting Wall Street Continue to Make a Killing on Derivatives
Art Levine, AlterNet: "Early in the morning, outside the House Financial Services Committee hearing room in the Rayburn House Office Building last week, there were scruffy ex-homeless and other low-income folks, wearing their dreadlocks or sloppy jeans, mixed in with the pinstriped reps for the financial industry. They all seemed to be lining up to see what $223 million in financial lobbying in the first six months of this year could buy in thwarting real reform on Capitol Hill. And they were hoping to get the few dozen of the public seats available inside the room, for a critical 10 a.m. hearing marking up a bill that was supposed to regulate the now-private market in complex 'derivatives.'" Read the Article

FP morning post

Top story:

The International Atomic Energy Agency says Iranian negotiators have agreed to a draft proposal to ship most of its uranium to Russia for enrichment. The deal must still be accepted by Tehran, as well as the government of France, Russia, and the United States.

Details have not been released, but the agreement likely involves Iran shipping 75 percent of its enriched uranium stockpile to Russia for further enrichment. If Iran followed through, this would reduce its stockpile to below what would be required to create a nuclear weapon. However, Iran could likely replace that stockpile "in little over a year," according to David Albright of the Institute for Science and International Security.

"I very much hope that people see the big picture, see that this agreement could open the way for a complete normalization of relations between Iran and the International community," said IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei

Toxic site:

Italian investigators are investigating a possible organized crime conspiracy to dump nuclear waste in the Mediterranean.

Afghan election runner-up Abdullah Abdullah has accepted a Nov. 7 runoff with Hamid Karzai.
All school and universities in Pakistan have been shut down after an attack on an Islamic University in Islamabad.
U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates is pressuring the Japanese government to accept a reorganization of the U.S. troop presence.

Middle East
Iran sentenced an Iranian-American academic to 12 years in jail for his alleged role in anti-government protests.
President Mahmoud Abbas set a Jan. 24 date for the next Palestinian elections.
Kuwait has granted women the right to obtain a passport without spousal consent.

Polish Prime minister Donald Tusk says his country is ready to participate in the United States' new missile defense arrangement as Vice President Joe Biden arrives in the country.
Bosnia has rejected a package of constitutional reforms proposed by U.S. and EU leaders.
Prosecutors have requested a $67,300 fine in the trial of former Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin but no jail time.

Riots have broken out in response to high unemployment and housing shortages in Algiers.
The U.S. is providing more than $5 million in military aid to Mali.
The U.S. is providing drone spy planes to the Seychelles to help in the fight against piracy.

Honduras has lifted a broadcast ban on opposition TV and radio stations.
The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear the appeal of a group of Uighur prisoners from Guantanamo Bay seeking to be released into the United States.
Nicaragua's Supreme Court granted President Daniel Ortega the right to run for another term in office.

On Using Mr. Bullhorn, Or, DC Health Summit Thursday: Come Say Hi...Loudly

It was a long hot August for those who would like to see health care reform, as rabid "Town Hall" protesters proffered visions of public options that would lead to death panels and socialism and government tax collectors with special alien mind control powers that would use sex education and child indoctrination and black helicopters as the means for gay people to impose their dangerous agenda on the innocent, God-fearing citizens of someplace in Mississippi that I'm not likely to ever visit.

Part of the reason that opposition was so rabid was because health care interests were spending millions upon millions of dollars doing...well, doing whatever the opposite of giving a distemper shot to the angry mob might be, anyway.

So wouldn't it be great if all the CEOs of all those health care interests were to gather at one time and place so you could, shall we say, gently express your own thoughts regarding the issues of reform and public options?

By an amazing coincidence, that's exactly what's going to happen Thursday in Washington, DC, as the Patient Centered Primary Care Cooperative (PCPCC) holds its Annual Summit.

Follow along, and I'll tell you everything you need to know.

The Who, The What

There are two important bits of setting up that are required to make this story work; and the first is to explain who the PCPCC is, exactly. To quote their website:

"The Patient Centered Primary Care Collaborative is a coalition of major employers, consumer groups, patient quality organizations, health plans, labor unions, hospitals, clinicians and many others who have joined together to develop and advance the patient centered medical home. The Collaborative has well over 500 members.

The Collaborative believes that, if implemented, the patient centered medical home will improve the health of patients and the viability of the health care delivery system. In order to accomplish our goal, employers, consumers, patients, clinicians and payers have agreed that it is essential to support a better model of compensating clinicians."

The "patient centered medical home"?

Is that anything like "precious bodily fluids"?

Actually, the original idea was to create a "home" where a patient's scattered medical records could be gathered. Forty years later, the concept has evolved to a "home doctor" who coordinates all your health and wellness care from all your providers.

This is a huge shift in how care is delivered (and how healthcare dollars would be distributed), which is why the Collaborative has so many members...including seven of the top ten health insurers in the country.

The Why

paint the town red.jpg

I've been getting emails that tell me CEOs such as Stephen Helmsley of UnitedHealth and Angela Braly of WellPoint (insert booing and hissing here) will be present--and these are the exact people that you should be giving a "Town Hall-like" welcome of their own when they hit Washington.

Groups such as Democracy for America and TrueMajority will be working together to bring people who have been personally affected by the insurance crisis to the meeting--even though we're not invited inside to support something like, oh, I don't know...maybe a public option?

They want you to attend as well, to make lots of noise, and to send the message that we won't be ignored. It's a critical time in the debate, as there are Democrats yet to be convinced, and if you can be at this meeting it will capture media attention that could help move those Democrats to our positions.

The Where, The When

The event takes place in Washington DC all day Thursday (from 9-4:30) at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center, conveniently located at 801 Mount Vernon Place NW; just six blocks from the Executive Office Building and the White House complex...and, on its south side, just 50 feet from K Street, the "Glitter Gulch" of lobbying.

There's a handy Metro station, and if you walk to the south end of the Convention Center (the Mt. Vernon Square end of the building) you'll find that the American Federation of Labor occupies a building across the street from the Square on the west side--and National Public Radio occupies a building diagonally across the Square on the east side.

So if you're planning to be in Washington Thursday--or you've been looking for an excuse to visit--make a day of it: stroll by the White House, see lobbyists and unions and National Public Radio at work...and most importantly of all, make sure the CEOs of the health insurers in attendance get the same kind of rousing "Town Hall" welcome at the Convention Center that they spent millions of dollars to create in our own home towns.

In other words, bring Mr. Bullhorn--and the extra batteries.

Of course, I don't want to make this too much of a hard sell.

After all, it's not as if your life depends on you attending some--hey, wait a minute...actually, I guess it kind of does.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Truthout 10/20

Henry A. Giroux Schools and the Pedagogy of Punishment
Henry A. Giroux, Truthout: "The shift to a society now governed through crime, market-driven values and the politics of disposability has radically transformed the public school as a site for a civic and critical education. One major effect can be seen in the increasingly popular practice of organizing schools through disciplinary practices that closely resemble the culture of prisons." Read the Article

Anne Elizabeth Moore Women Are Diamonds: A Brilliant Future for Cambodia Means Creating Female Employment Opportunities Now
Anne Elizabeth Moore, Truthout: "Women, according to the Cambodian maxim, are rice. Men, however, are diamonds. In a country in which 75 percent of residents farm rice for subsistence, this would seem a positive sign." Read the Article

Melvin A. Goodman The Urgent Need to Demilitarize the National Security State
Melvin A. Goodman, Truthout: "The president has addressed the problem incrementally, reducing growth in spending in his first defense budget, establishing a timeline for withdrawal of American military forces in Iraq, returning to arms control negotiations with Russia and supporting international diplomacy in dealing with such problems as Iran's nuclear program." Read the Article

Discriminatory Housing Lockouts Amid Post-Katrina Rebuilding
Jordan Flaherty, ColorLines: "Rebuilding efforts in St. Bernard Parish, a small community just outside New Orleans, have recently gotten a major boost. One nonprofit focused on rebuilding in the area has received the endorsement of CNN, Alice Walker, the touring production of the play The Color Purple, and even President Obama. But an alliance of Gulf Coast and national organizations is now raising questions about the cause these high-profile names are supporting." Read the Article

Max Fraser Labor's Love Lost: Is the Battle for EFCA a Quixotic Crusade?
Max Fraser, New Labor Forum: "After eight disastrous years of Republican rule, it was no wonder that union members voted for Barack Obama by a two-to-one margin last November. And during the first months of his presidency, Obama did much to repay organized labor for its impressive electoral support. He made compelling public statements about the role of unions in improving the lives of working people; issued a quick flurry of pro-labor executive orders on federal contracts; and, in the first major bill he signed into law after taking office, reversed a 2007 Supreme Court decision that imposed onerous restrictions on workers attempting to sue for pay discrimination." Read the Article

Karzai Accepts New Election; Pakistan Battle Intensifies
William Rivers Pitt, Truthout Newswire: "Afghanistan and Pakistan, two nations that share both a long border and a long and troubled history, are braced for the outcome of two very different kinds of battles. In Afghanistan, the resolution of a disputed presidential election may be close at hand even as the outcome remains deeply uncertain. In Pakistan, a fierce fight between government forces and Taliban militants appears to be reaching a crescendo in the southern portion of that country." Read the Article

Public Option Gains Support
Dan Balz and Jon Cohen, The Washington Post: "A new Washington Post-ABC News poll shows that support for a government-run health-care plan to compete with private insurers has rebounded from its summertime lows and wins clear majority support from the public." Read the Article

Le Monde Bad Vibes
Le Monde's editorialist (French Translation: Leslie Thatcher): "Is cell phone usage dangerous to health? Worrying public health signals already exist, absent irrefutable proof. Do mobile phone relay tower antennae cause disturbances? Mapping the dark spots where the density of their emissions is worrying would, in any event, be worth the effort. In the face of the official report and the 'uncertainties' it reveals, the experts at the French Agency for Health, Environmental and Workplace Security have opted for caution: they recommend research be continued and that, as of now, 'the public's exposure to radiofrequencies be reduced.'" Read the Article

US Gives Shell Green Light for Offshore Oil Drilling in the Arctic
Ed Pilkington, The Guardian UK: "Conservation groups based in Alaska have accused the Obama administration of repeating the mistakes of George Bush after it gave the conditional go-ahead for Shell to begin drilling offshore for oil and natural gas in the environmentally sensitive Beaufort Sea." Read the Article

Good Health Care Policy Makes Good Politics - And Vice Versa
David Sirota, Truthout: "I don't get it. I know that's the simplistic refrain of every 10-year-old, but I'm 33 and I mean it: I just don't get it. Specifically, I don't get why Maine Sen. Olympia Snowe (R) - or any Republican senator, for that matter - is attracting so much attention." Read the Article

FP morning post 10/20

Top story:

Afghan President Hamid Karzai is expected to announce today that he will concede to holding a runoff in Afghanistan's disputed election. Karzai's government had initially rejected the findings of an internationally-backed panel that stripped him of nearly a third of his votes due to fraud, leaving him below the 50 percent mark required for outright victory. Second-place finisher Abdullah Abdullah will challenge Karzai in the runoff.

Karzai's reversal came after a round of intense lobbying from his international allies. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair John Kerry and Amb. Karl Eikenberry met with Karzai on Monday and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown reportedly put in a phone call as well.

With winter approaching, it will be difficult to hold an election soon and a government may not be in place until spring, further complicating the U.S. administration's decision on troop levels.


The Pope has created a new church structure for disaffected Anglicans who wish to join the Catholic Church.

Suicide bombers attacked a university in Islamabad as Pakistan's military offensive in South Waziristan continued.
Eight South Asian nations agreed not to be part of any climate agreement that includes binding emissions cuts.
Kyrgyzstan's government resigned over proposed reforms by President Kurmanbek Bakiyev.

Middle East
Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki is meeting with Barack Obama at the White House today.
Iran is threatening to pull out of international nuclear talks if France is not excluded from plans to enrich its uranium.
Eight Kurdish rebels crossed over the border from Iraq to give themselves up to Turkish authorities.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev visited Serbia, bringing a $1 billion loan.
France arrested a senior Eta political leader.
A Swiss court denied bail to jailed director Roman Polanski.

Somali pirates seized a Chinese ship 700 miles off the coast, the farthest from shore they have ever struck.
Peacekeepers are warning of a new military buildup in Sudan's Darfur region.
Niger is holding parliamentary elections today, but the opposition is boycotting the proceedings.

A deadline for resolving Honduras's political standoff passed on Monday with no agreement on reinstating ousted President Manuel Zelaya.
The Brazilian government has allocated $60 million for Rio De Janeiro to increase security.
Uruguay's government ruled out amnesty for those accused of human rights violations during the country's dictatorship.

Monday, October 19, 2009

FP morning brief 10/19

Top story:

A suicide bombing by a Sunni militant group killed six commanders of Iran's Revolutionary Guard plus 36 others in southeastern Iran on Sunday. The bomber disguised himself in tribal dress and detonated the explosion at a meeting of local tribal leaders. The attack highlighted the growing instability of the Sistan-Baluchistan region on the Pakistani border.

Revolutionary Guard Chief Mohammad Ali Jafari said that members of the Sunni group Jundallah -- which claimed responsibility for the attack and has targeted the Iranian military for years -- were likely hiding across the border. He also blamed foreign powers for playing a role in the attack.

"Evidence shows that U.S., British and Pakistani intelligence supported the group," he said, claiming that the Iranian government would present the evidence soon.


U.S. crude reached a year-high $79 per barrel in early trading before receding.

Pakistani ground forces are moving deeper into South Waziristan.
Afghan electoral authorities are refusing to accept the findings of an investigative panel that widespread was committed, necessitating a runoff.
China plans to relocate 15,000 people from their homes near a lead smelter after thousands of children tested positive for lead poisoning.

Middle East
Jordan's King Abdullah II warned the Obama administration against ignoring the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Iran released Newsweek reporter Maziar Bahari almost four months after his arrest.
Iraq's parliament ratified deals with Britain's BP and China's CNPC to developed the giant Rumaila oil field.

No one will be given this year's Ibrahim prize for good governance in Africa, as the backers say they can't find a suitable candidate.
Botswana's long-ruling Democratic Party was returned to power in this weekend's elections.
The first Darfur-related trial to reach in the International Criminal Court at the Hague has begun.

Two thousands police have been deployed to the streets of Rio De Janeiro after a gang shootout that left 14 dead.
El Salvador got its first Cuban ambassador since the 1960s as the two countries restored diplomatic relations.
The internationally-backed crisis talks in Honduras remain deadlocked.

The E.U. has boosted aid to dairy farmers after weeks of protest.
Ukraine has begun campaigning for next year's presidential election.
Czech President Vaclav Klaus may be wavering in his opposition to the Lisbon treaty.

Truthout 10/19

Scott Galindez Republicans Are Irrelevant to Health Care Reform
Scott Galindez, Truthout: "Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) voted for the weakest of the five health care bills passed by Congressional committees. Big deal. If the bill that goes to the Senate floor is weak enough for her to vote for, then the insurance companies will win and the American people will lose." Read the Article

Andy Worthington UK Judges Order Release of Details About the Torture of Binyam Mohamed by US Agents
Andy Worthington, Truthout: "In August 2008, while British resident Binyam Mohamed still languished in a prison cell in Guantanamo, two British High Court judges attempted to inform the public about what, in May 2002, the CIA had told their British counterparts about how they had treated him while he was being held in Pakistani custody, shortly before a British agent interrogated him." Read the Article

Dean Baker Insurers Argue for Public Option
Dean Baker, Truthout: "The insurance industry trade association put out a study last week that emphasized the need for a strong Medicare-type public plan if insurance is to be affordable. The study predicted that the plans being debated by Congress would lead insurers to raise their prices by an additional 18 percent over the next decade. This would put the cost of an average family plan at $25,900 in 2019. There were several important flaws in the industry's study." Read the Article

Tensions, Violence Rise in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran
William Rivers Pitt, Truthout: "A series of bombings in Iran over the weekend has rekindled long-standing resentments between that nation and the West. With a nuclear deal hanging in the balance, the Obama administration may hold off on sending more troops to Afghanistan until that nation's disputed election is settled, and Pakistan's military has opened a major offensive against militants after a series of deadly suicide attacks that left scores dead and wounded." Read the Article

Tom Engelhardt Who's Next? Lessons From the Long War and a Blowback World
Tom Engelhardt, "Is it too early - or already too late - to begin drawing lessons from 'the Long War'? That phrase, coined in 2002 and, by 2005, being championed by Centcom Commander General John Abizaid, was meant to be a catchier name for George W. Bush's 'Global War on Terror.' That was back in the days when inside-the-Beltway types were still dreaming about a global Pax Americana and its domestic partner, a Pax Republicana, and imagining that both, once firmly established, might last forever." Read the Article

CodePink Founder Jodie Evans Challenges Obama Up Close and Personal on His Afghanistan Policy
Don Hazen, AlterNet: "Everyone in the universe by now knows that the progressive anti-war group CodePink has plenty of chutzpah. But co-founder Jodie Evans really doesn't mess around. She went straight to the top and challenged Barack Obama face-to-face on his visit to San Francisco on Thursday night at a high-priced fund raiser at the Westin St. Francis hotel." Read the Article

Jonathan Alter Post-Bush Stress Disorder
Jonathan Alter, Newsweek: "In 'The Godfather,' Sonny talks about going 'to the mattresses,' meaning war with rival Mafia families. Now President Obama and the Democrats are holing up together on their Posturepedics as they work out battle plans on health care, banking reform, and Afghanistan. The question is whether they'll be daring soldiers of the future or content to fight the last war." Read the Article

Suicide Bomber Kills 31 in Attack on Iran Guards
Fredrik Dahl and Reza Derakhshi, Reuters: "A suicide bomber killed six senior Revolutionary Guards commanders, including two of its top officers, and 25 other people on Sunday in one of the boldest attacks against Iran's most powerful military institution." Read the Article

El Diario La Prensa Fire Lou Dobbs
El Diario La Prensa (Spanish Translation: Ryan Croken): "Latinos, immigrants, and others have, for a long time now, put up with the hateful lies of Lou Dobbs. Using the platform that CNN provides him every night, Dobbs has crossed the line far too many times. His actions have now triggered a backlash that is growing in the United States and throughout Latin America." Read the Article

Iraq: US Diplomatic Adviser's Troubling Role in Oil Politics
Helena Cobban, Inter Press Service: "In 2003, U.S. diplomatist Peter Galbraith resigned at the end of a distinguished, 24-year government career. Over the years that followed, he worked as a contract-based adviser to leaders in Iraq's Kurdish community, while also arguing passionately in public media that Iraq's Kurds should be given maximum independence from Baghdad - including full control over any new sources of oil. But in June 2004, more quietly, Galbraith also established a small, U.S.-registered company, Porcupine, that held a five percent stake in a newly exploited oilfield in Iraqi Kurdistan, a Norwegian daily revealed last Saturday." Read the Article

The banks are not alright

New York Times

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. O.K., maybe not literally the worst, but definitely bad. And the contrast between the immense good fortune of a few and the continuing suffering of all too many boded ill for the future.

The lucky few garnered most of the headlines, as many reacted with fury to the spectacle of Goldman Sachs making record profits and paying huge bonuses even as the rest of America, the victim of a slump made on Wall Street, continues to bleed jobs.

But it’s not a simple case of flourishing banks versus ailing workers: banks that are actually in the business of lending, as opposed to trading, are still in trouble. Most notably, Citigroup and Bank of America, which silenced talk of nationalization earlier this year by claiming that they had returned to profitability, are now — you guessed it — back to reporting losses.

Ask the people at Goldman, and they’ll tell you that it’s nobody’s business but their own how much they earn. But as one critic recently put it: “There is no financial institution that exists today that is not the direct or indirect beneficiary of trillions of dollars of taxpayer support for the financial system.” Indeed: Goldman has made a lot of money in its trading operations, but it was only able to stay in that game thanks to policies that put vast amounts of public money at risk, from the bailout of A.I.G. to the guarantees extended to many of Goldman’s bonds.

So who was this thundering bank critic? None other than Lawrence Summers, the Obama administration’s chief economist — and one of the architects of the administration’s bank policy, which up until now has been to go easy on financial institutions and hope that they mend themselves.

Why the change in tone? Administration officials are furious at the way the financial industry, just months after receiving a gigantic taxpayer bailout, is lobbying fiercely against serious reform. But you have to wonder what they expected to happen. They followed a softly, softly policy, providing aid with few strings, back when all of Wall Street was on the ropes; this left them with very little leverage over firms like Goldman that are now, once again, making a lot of money.

But there’s an even bigger problem: while the wheeler-dealer side of the financial industry, a k a trading operations, is highly profitable again, the part of banking that really matters — lending, which fuels investment and job creation — is not. Key banks remain financially weak, and their weakness is hurting the economy as a whole.

You may recall that earlier this year there was a big debate about how to get the banks lending again. Some analysts, myself included, argued that at least some major banks needed a large injection of capital from taxpayers, and that the only way to do this was to temporarily nationalize the most troubled banks. The debate faded out, however, after Citigroup and Bank of America, the banking system’s weakest links, announced surprise profits. All was well, we were told, now that the banks were profitable again.

But a funny thing happened on the way back to a sound banking system: last week both Citi and BofA announced losses in the third quarter. What happened?

Part of the answer is that those earlier profits were in part a figment of the accountants’ imaginations. More broadly, however, we’re looking at payback from the real economy. In the first phase of the crisis, Main Street was punished for Wall Street’s misdeeds; now broad economic distress, especially persistent high unemployment, is leading to big losses on mortgage loans and credit cards.

And here’s the thing: The continuing weakness of many banks is helping to perpetuate that economic distress. Banks remain reluctant to lend, and tight credit, especially for small businesses, stands in the way of the strong recovery we need.

So now what? Mr. Summers still insists that the administration did the right thing: more government provision of capital, he says, would not “have been an availing strategy for solving problems.” Whatever. In any case, as a political matter the moment for radical action on banks has clearly passed.

The main thing for the time being is probably to do as much as possible to support job growth. With luck, this will produce a virtuous circle in which an improving economy strengthens the banks, which then become more willing to lend.

Beyond that, we desperately need to pass effective financial reform. For if we don’t, bankers will soon be taking even bigger risks than they did in the run-up to this crisis. After all, the lesson from the last few months has been very clear: When bankers gamble with other people’s money, it’s heads they win, tails the rest of us lose.

Much to learn from state's FSSA mistake

The Editors
South Bend Tribune
October 18, 2009

There have been many concerns voiced throughout Gov. Mitch Daniels' experiment in privatizing the Family and Social Services Administration intake process. Undoubtedly there will be many more in the months to come.

But now, as Indiana pulls the plug on its $1.34 billion, 10-year contract with IBM to deliver crucial welfare services, the top priority must be the transition back to a state-operated system. It must go smoothly. The 1.2 million Hoosiers who rely on the FSSA to meet life-sustaining needs must not suffer any more than they already have.

Daniels has announced a plan for a "hybrid" FSSA. It will be subject to state management, will restore face-to-face caseworker-client relationships on the county level, but also will utilize the paperless computerized record system operated by Affiliated Computer Services, a Dallas-based company that partnered with IBM in the 2006 contract.

There is no doubt that Indiana's Medicaid, food stamps and welfare application process was in serious need of modernization when Daniels took office in 2005. The fact that the wholesale privatization experiment has failed does not mean that some of the changes made over the last two years aren't worth keeping.

Above all, we're glad there is a transition plan in place — even one that has come together very quickly. We also believe that it is important that the

transition be reviewed by experts on state welfare administration outside the FSSA team. An oversight commission should include authorities on state assistance distribution from past administrations and members of the General Assembly who have been monitoring the problem-plagued privatization process.

After all, the possibility of scrapping the IBM deal was raised only a few months ago. The seriousness of the giant retooled agency's problems wasn't acknowledged by the Daniels administration until well after former FSSA Secretary Mitch Roob was replaced in January by his deputy, Anne Murphy.

Disentangling FSSA from the IBM-managed operation in just two more months, when the contract will cease to exist, and returning 1,500 privatized welfare caseworkers to state supervision is bound to be challenging. The administration ought to get all the help it needs.

In general, it is a relief that the governor finally has so frankly admitted that the experiment "just did not work" — that it was a "failed concept." It was a plan based on a theory, not on any successful model. Indiana now has become one more state to attempt highly automated welfare privatization and give it up. There is much to be learned from this experience — possibly by other states, and most definitely by Indiana.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Truthout 10/18

Sam Ferguson In Pursuing Human Rights, Argentina Displays a Broken Justice System
Sam Ferguson, Truthout: "Buenos Aires' Comodoro Py judicial building is situated far from the city's municipal core, sandwiched between the city's busy bus terminal and the country's main port. Long distance buses and semis go rumbling by on a 12-lane road outside. The building is a nine-story, concrete behemoth surrounded by seven-foot high, temporary, riot-control fencing. It is about three times as wide as it is high, with rickety, rusting air conditioners dotting the gray, imposing facade. Behind closed doors lining the dirty corridors of this house of justice, the largest human rights case against Argentina's dictatorship is being investigated." Read the Article

Roberto Rodriguez Health, War, Hypocrisy & Taxes
Roberto Rodriguez, Truthout: "Over the past several months, conservatives seemingly made headway convincing a good portion of the US public that Congress may not be able to produce a national health care plan that will not bust the budget - something that President Barack Obama has promised not to sign. And then came Afghanistan." Read the Article

Gordon P. Erspamer The Stain of Dishonor and the Prerequisites for Redemption
Gordon P. Erspamer, Truthout: "Despite the passage of four decades, America and its military have never come to grips with its own ghastly programs of using soldiers as guinea pigs to test chemical or biological weapons such as LSD, sarin, nerve gases, plague, mescaline, anthrax and hundreds of others. At the same time, they also conducted mind-control experiments, as soldiers and others were administered drugs, and septal implants were inserted in the sinus cavities a la 'The Manchurian Candidate.'" Read the Article

US-Iran: Congress Begins Pressing Sanctions Legislation
Jim Lobe, Inter Press Service: " As the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama prepares for a critical series of talks about the fate of Iran's nuclear programme, Congress has begun moving long-pending legislation to impose new unilateral sanctions against the Islamic Republic." Read the Article

2010 Census Faces Challenges on Immigrants, Undercounted Groups
Desiree Evans, Facing South: "Lawmakers and community advocates continue to work to ensure accuracy in the rapidly approaching 2010 Census. The count will play an important role in determining the amount of dollars flowing to communities across the nation and in the South over the next decade, as well as political representation. But the Census continues to face challenges on several fronts." Read the Article

Advocates Say Being a Woman Is Not a "Pre-Existing Condition"
Tresa Baldas, "Is having a uterus a pre-existing condition? The insurance companies seem to think so, says the National Women's Law Center, an advocacy group for women's legal rights that is on a mission to end unfair insurance company practices toward women. And it believes it's making some headway." Read the Article

India: The Next Detroit?
Saritha Rai, GlobalPost: "Late last month, Ford Motor, the lone major U.S. carmaker to fend off bankruptcy, announced it will make and sell its first small car in India - the Figo, or Italian for 'cool.' Unveiling the Figo in New Delhi, Ford's CEO Alan Mulally said the company's Chennai factory would produce the Figo next year for both domestic and export markets." Read the Article

Robert Parry Obama and the Left's Old Schism
Robert Parry, Consortium News: "My article mildly defending Barack Obama's Nobel Peace Prize drew a number of critical comments from readers who felt I was letting the President off too easily, essentially excusing his reluctance to fully reverse George W. Bush's wars and crimes. Some readers thought I was giving Obama a pass, too, when I faulted the American Left for its lack of an effective media infrastructure to challenge the Right in making a case with the American people - and thus making it easier for politicians (like Obama) to act more courageously." Read the Article

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Truthout 10/17

Jason Leopold White House "Ordered" Lawmakers to Amend FOIA in Order to Conceal Torture Photos
Jason Leopold, Truthout: "The Obama administration will likely drop its Supreme Court petition challenging the release of photographs showing US soldiers abusing prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan now that lawmakers are set to pass legislation authorizing the government to continue to keep the images under wraps." Read the Article

Healthcare Reform "Public Option" Still Alive in Senate?
Peter Grier, The Christian Science Monitor: "Is the public option still alive? Sen. Tom Harkin insists that it is. The Iowa Democrat, chairman of the Senate health committee, told reporters Friday that his chamber's final version of health reform legislation will include a government-run insurance plan intended to compete with private insurers - the so-called 'public option.'" Read the Article

Stacy Bannerman Military Children in Crisis
Stacy Bannerman, Truthout: "A seven-year-old second-grader attempted suicide while his father was serving yet another tour in Iraq. Seven years old. Seven. His mother was one of half a dozen military spouses I have spoken with about soldiers' kids who have attempted suicide during their fathers' deployments. She trembled when she told me." Read the Article

Afghan Economy Stumbles Amid Election Uncertainty
Hal Bernton and Hashim Shukoor, McClatchy Newspapers: "Gulbuddian Arabzada has a small factory that turns scrap aluminum into shiny new pans that Afghan families use for washing clothes, making bread and other tasks. His products are hardly luxury items, yet amid all the uncertainty surrounding this country's presidential election, even these pans are a hard sell. Since the Aug. 20 vote, Arabzada has slashed his daily production in half and laid off 15 of his 50 workers." Read the Article

Michael Winship The Nobel Prize With an Asterisk
Michael Winship, Truthout: "Despite the graciousness of his speech at the White House last Friday, President Obama's acceptance of the Nobel Peace Prize did have an air slightly reminiscent of Lincoln's story about the man who was tarred, feathered and ridden out of town on a rail - if it wasn't for the honor of the thing, he'd just as soon walk." Read the Article

UN Vote to Endorse Goldstone Report Increases Pressure on Israel
Joshua Mitnick, The Christian Science Monitor: "The United Nations Human Rights Council's decision Friday to adopt the controversial Goldstone report on the Gaza war increases the pressure on Israel to conduct its own investigation into alleged war crimes." Read the Article

Harvey Wasserman Is the Climate Bill Being Fossil/Nuked?
Harvey Wasserman, The Free Press: "Is the Climate Bill morphing into an excuse to promote fossil fuels and new nuclear power plants? Sen. John Kerry's (D-MA) recent promotion of a pro-nuke/pro-drilling/pro-coal agenda in the name of Climate Protection has been highlighted in a New York Times op ed co-authored with Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-SC). The piece brands nuke power 'our single largest contributor of emissions-free power.' It advocates abolishing 'cumbersome regulations' so utilities can 'secure financing for more plants.' And it wants 'serious investment' to 'find solutions to our nuclear waste problem.'" Read the Article

A hatchet job so bad, it's good

New York Times

In the past, the insurance industry’s power has been a major barrier to health-care reform. Most notably, the industry paid for the infamous “Harry and Louise” ads that helped kill the Clinton plan. But times have changed.

Last weekend, the lobbying organization America’s Health Insurance Plans, or AHIP, released a report attacking the reform plan just passed by the Senate Finance Committee. Some news organizations gave the report prominent, uncritical coverage. But health-care experts quickly, and correctly, dismissed it as a hatchet job. And the end result of AHIP’s blunder may be a better bill than we would otherwise have had.

For 2009, it turns out, is not 1993. Once again, Republicans have tried to kill reform with smears and scare stories. But all they seem to have killed with their cries of “socialism” and warnings about “death panels” is their own credibility. Some form of health-care reform is highly likely to pass.

So it’s a different game than it was 16 years ago. And it’s a game that the insurance industry apparently doesn’t know how to play.

The motivation for the AHIP report seems to have been the decision by the Finance Committee to weaken the penalties for individuals who don’t sign up for insurance, even as it retains regulations requiring that insurers offer the same policies to everyone, regardless of medical history. The industry worries that some people will game the system, remaining uninsured as long as they’re healthy, then signing up when they get sick.

This is, believe it or not, a valid concern. Many health-care economists believe that a strong individual mandate, requiring that almost everyone sign up, will be needed to make health reform work. And the Finance Committee probably did weaken the mandate too much.

But AHIP, apparently unable to help itself, didn’t stop there. Instead, the report threw every anti-reform argument the authors could think of at the wall, hoping that something would stick.

One argument was particularly striking: the claim that attempts to limit Medicare spending would lead to higher insurance premiums. In fact, the report assumes that 100 percent of any reduction in Medicare payments to hospitals will translate into higher costs for patients with private insurance.

The only way to justify this claim is to assume that all hospitals are purely charitable institutions, charging as little as they possibly can. Now, some hospitals may fit this description. But all of them?

What’s more, this argument stands the usual logic of markets on its head: if you believe AHIP’s story, competition raises prices instead of reducing them. And it doesn’t matter where the competition comes from: anyone who gets a better deal, whether it’s Medicare or a private insurer, makes life worse for everyone else. I don’t believe that, and neither should you.

Of course, the report doesn’t mention these implications. The only bad competition it talks about is competition from the government. Specifically, it claims that a public insurance option would be a bad thing — not because it would be inefficient, but because the public plan would negotiate better prices. Isn’t that an argument for, not against, such a plan?

Which brings us to the ways in which AHIP may have done health reform a favor.

As I said, the individual mandate probably should be stronger than it is in the Finance Committee’s bill. But there’s a reason the mandate was weakened: fear that too many people would balk at the cost of insurance, even with the subsidies provided to lower-income individuals and families. So why not address that cost?

Aside from making the subsidies larger, which they should be, there are at least two changes to the legislation that would help limit costs. First, health exchanges — special, regulated markets in which individuals and small businesses can buy insurance — can be made stronger, in effect giving small buyers a better bargaining position. Second, the public option — missing from the Finance Committee’s bill — can be brought back in, giving private insurers some real competition.

The insurance industry won’t like these changes, but that matters less than it did a week ago.

There’s also another point, which House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has stressed. Part of the opposition to a strong individual mandate comes from the sense that Americans will be forced to buy policies from a greedy insurance industry. Giving people, literally, another option — the right to buy into a public plan instead — would defuse that opposition.

Even with stronger exchanges and a public option, health reform would probably increase, not reduce, insurance industry profits. But the insurers wanted it all. The good news is that by overreaching, they may have ensured that they won’t get it.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Truthout 10/16

N.O. Sanity, No Peace: Hurricane Katrina and the Mental Health Care Crisis
Rob Corsini, Truthout: "The impact of Hurricane Katrina and subsequent human failures instead of engineering and disaster relief four years ago are vast and far-reaching. The only way anyone can begin to grapple with what has occurred along the Gulf Coast is to go there. See it. Feel it. Live a little bit side by side with those fellow Americans who have literally endured hell on earth." Read the Article

Resisting Injustice in Guantanamo: The Story of Fayiz Al-Kandari
Andy Worthington, Truthout: "Fouad al-Rabiah was a humanitarian aid worker caught up in the chaos of Afghanistan following the US-led invasion in October 2001, and his own protestations of innocence came to an end when he was subjected to some of the notorious 'enhanced interrogation techniques' used in Guantanamo. These were torture techniques reverse engineered from those taught in US military schools to train US personnel to resist interrogation if captured, and were modeled on techniques used on captured US pilots during the Korean War to produce false confessions." Read the Article

Ira Chernus What's Obama's Score on Mideast Peace?
Ira Chernus, Truthout: "Barack Obama: a. Deserves the Nobel Peace Prize for pointing the world toward peace b. Hardly deserves the Prize, since he has no concrete achievements yet to merit it. The right answer? Take your pick." Read the Article

Veteran Army Officer Urges Afghan Troop Drawdown
Gareth Porter, Inter Press Service: "A veteran Army officer who has served in both the Afghanistan and Iraq wars warns in an analysis now circulating in Washington that the counterinsurgency strategy urged by Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal is likely to strengthen the Afghan insurgency, and calls for withdrawal of the bulk of US combat forces from the country over 18 months." Read the Article

Financial Regulation Bill Passed Despite Financial Lobbying
Yana Kunichoff, Truthout: "The Obama administration achieved one small step Thursday, successfully passing legislation that would guarantee oversight of the financial derivatives market. This bill, passed by the House Financial Services Committee on a 43-26 vote, would be the first time the market would be forced to rein in this multi-trillion-dollar industry." Read the Article

Worker at Kansas Company Claims He Was Fired for Supporting Obama
Diane Stafford, The Kansas City Star / McClatchey News: "Elliot Snell believes he was fired from KK Office Solutions in Kansas City, Kansas, because he voted for Barack Obama. As evidence, in a lawsuit filed this month in Wyandotte County District Court, is an e-mail sent by the company's president and CEO, Matt Brandt." Read the Article

David Swanson Presidential Power Grows
David Swanson, "Presidential power has been on a pathway of expansion beyond what the Constitution outlined, and what a government of, by, and for the people requires, since George Washington was president. That expansion, which hit the highway after World War II, got a turbo boost during the co-presidency of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney." Read the Article

Next Nuclear Worry for US: Kazakhstan?
Peter Grier, The Christian Science Monitor: "Does Kazakhstan want to increase its nuclear commerce - doing deals with other nations that have mixed records when it comes to weapons proliferation? That is a sensitive issue which US intelligence appears to be following closely." Read the Article

Unclean Energy
Laurent Joffrin, Liberation: "The cult of secrecy is decided inscribed in the genes of the nuclear industry. Certainly, much progress has been accomplished in that domain under militant and democratic pressure. Certainly, the facts that we reveal were not the object of any organized and absolute deceit, but rather of a lie by omission. However, finally, thanks to the investigation by Laure Noualhat, to director Eric Gueret and to the film that Arte is devoting to the subject, we learn that France is subcontracting the storage of nuclear waste to Russia, waste that is supposed to be recycled and reused, but is not." Read the Article

Sri Lankan Refugees: Victims or Pawns?
J. Sri Raman, Truthout: "They form the single biggest mass of refugees today, and they face an uncertain fate as a factor in a geopolitical game involving two Asian giants and allied players. For the about 400,000 fugitives from tiny Sri Lanka's Tamil-speaking areas of less than 18,000 square kilometers together, the outlook has only become more unsettling over the past few weeks." Read the Article

FP morning post 10/16

Top story:

Zimbabwean Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai announced that his Movement for Democratic Change will boycott Zimbabwe's unity government over the jailing of one of his top allies. Tsvangirai has been working in an unstable coalition government with President Robert Mugabe since February.

Tsvangirai says the MDC is "not really pulling out officially," but would not attend cabinet meetings or collaborate on any work with Mugabe's Zanu-PF. "We don't have a problem with that," remarked a Zanu-PF spokesman.

Tsvangirai is protesting terrorism charges against his political ally Roy Bennett, who was released on bail seven months ago but then ordered back to jail this week, the day he was sworn in as deputy agriculture minister. "Roy Bennett is not being prosecuted, he is being persecuted," Tsvangirai said Friday. The United States and European Union have both condemned Bennett's arrest as politically motivated.

"Until confidence has been restored we can't continue to pretend that everything is well," Tsvangirai said.


Bill Gates says his foundation will shift its focus from health issues to agriculture and malnutrition.

Afghanistan's U.S. ambassador said that his government is preparing for a runoff election.
Maoist rebels in the Philippines have declared a truce in the wake of devastating typhoon.
Another bomb targeting a police station was detonated in Pakistan, this time in Peshawar.

Middle East
The U.N. Human Rights Council voted to refer the Goldstone report on Gaza war crimes to the Security Council.
A suicide attack killed 8 and wounded 30 at a mosque is Iraq's restive Nineveh province.
Iraqi parliamentary elections could be delayed after parliament missed a deadline to pass an election law.

A hardline faction of Nigeria's MEND rebels says it is ending a three-month ceasefire.
Botswana's ruling party -- which has been in power for over four decades -- appears set to win today's election.
Madagascar's political factions have agreed to meet in Geneva to form a new power-sharing government.

Anti-Islamic Dutch politician Geert Wilders has been allowed to enter Britain.
French farmers shut down Paris' Champs Elysees to demand government aid.
Former Czech President Vaclav Havel attacked his successor Vaclav Klaus for refusing to sign the Lisbon treaty.

A negotiator for ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya said a deal to resolve the country's political crisis appeared closer.
Tens of thousands marched in Mexico City to protest the closure of a state electric company.
A drought is causing widespread malnutrition in Guatemala.

Moms Rising campaign for kid care

Today--right now--MomsRising is delivering a pacifier lapel pin to each and every member of Congress, along with healthcare stories from members. Why a pacifier on the pin? Well, we're asking every member of Congress to join us in not being pacified until our broken healthcare system is fixed for kids and families! I just sent a letter to my Congressional Representatives telling them to look on their desks for their pin today, to pin it on their lapel, and to send MomsRising a photo of themselves wearing it so they can post the photo on their website. Can you send a letter, too?

Wouldn't it be great to see members of Congress in the halls of the Capitol wearing patriotic pacifiers along with flags on their lapels will undoubtedly generate some great discussions about how health reform will impact kids? I'd ask why they are wearing a pacifier pin. Wouldn't you? And by collecting photos of members of Congress wearing their pacifier pin, we'll have their public commitment to make sure that the needs of kids are not forgotten in health reform.

Moms and dads across the country know how important children's health insurance coverage is for their families -- wonderful moms like Natalie from Oklahoma who almost made the tragic mistake of not taking her critically ill daughter, Sophie, to the emergency room because her insurer refused to cover Sophie's "pre-existing" pulmonary/respiratory issues until she could show that she had gone two years without needing medication.

Natalie writes: "We almost didn't take our baby girl, Sophie, who was in severe respiratory distress, to the doctor because we knew that it would hurt her chances of getting insurance. I'm going to ask you to sit for a moment and imagine being in our shoes in that situation. Imagine the shame and guilt of almost keeping your child home from the hospital until it was too late. Now imagine the horror of seeing your child naked in ICU, hooked up to a variety of machines. There is no way to describe how this felt."

No parent should be faced with this kind of heartbreaking decision. Thanks to healthcare coverage provided by Oklahoma's Medicaid program for kids, Sophie is now thriving. With all of our voices, we can make sure that every child and family has the promise of healthcare.

Send a quick note now to tell your Congressional Representatives that we're pinning our hopes on them to keep kids and families at the top of their priority list--and ask them to wear the pin we're delivering today to show that they are standing up for our children and families:

Thanks! Don

P.S. To see more of Sophie's story, check out this wonderful PBS special on health reform.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Truthout 10/15

Greg Palast The S-Word and Dr. Kevorkian's Accountant
Greg Palast, Truthout: "Until the 1990s, insurers skimmed only about a nickel on the dollar for their 'service,' Wendell Potter told me. Potter is the CIGNA insurance company PR man who came in from the cold to tell us about what goes down inside the health insurance gold mine. Today, Potter notes (and I've checked his accuracy), porky operators like AIG have kicked up their Loss Ratio by nearly 500 percent." Read the Article

Special to Truthout:
Listen to Greg Palast interview health insurance company whistleblower Wendell Potter about the "public option," Olympia Snowe and the recent Senate Finance Committee vote, by clicking here.Robert Naiman McChrystal's 40,000 Troop Hoax Robert Naiman, Truthout: "General McChrystal says that if President Obama does not approve 40,000 more US troops for Afghanistan, and approve them right away, 'our mission' - whatever that is - will likely 'fail' - whatever that is. But even if President Obama were to approve General McChrystal's request, the 40,000 troops wouldn't arrive in time to significantly affect the 12-month window McChrystal says will be decisive." Read the Article

E.J. Dionne Jr. The President and the Senator
E.J. Dionne Jr.: "However policy experts judge the final product, reform will be sustainable only if beleaguered citizens feel more secure, not less, and more confident than they are now that health insurance will be priced within their reach. Obama has said he will own this thing in the end. He's right, and he has to make clear what kind of system he wants to buy. So does Olympia Snowe." Read the Article

Still a Long Way to Go Before Health Bill Becomes Law
David Lightman, McClatchy Newspapers: "Now comes the hard part of crafting a new health care system - hard not just because a lot of corporate, consumer and political interests want to be satisfied, but because the next steps will proceed in secret." Read the Article

Sheila Samples Charge of the Beckerheads ...
Sheila Samples, Truthout: "I didn't know Van Jones. I didn't know Van Jones was a friend of mine - at least not until the stench billowing from the Fox Hate Channel became so foul I was forced to take a closer look at this terrifying creature. No - not Jones, whom President Obama wisely had hired as special adviser for green jobs at the Council on Environmental Quality - but the sobbing, lying, deliriously insane Glenn Beck." Read the Article Did a US "Hit" Create an Afghan Hero? Jean MacKenzie and Mustafa Saber, GlobalPost: "Yahya was killed in a raid by U.S. and Afghan forces on Oct. 8. For the past year he had been the target of numerous American efforts to neutralize him and his fighters, who, by most accounts, never numbered more than 200. But until he found himself firmly in U.S. sights, Yahya was just one of many rebel commanders in western Afghanistan, little known outside his native Gozara district. Repeated U.S. assassination attempts conferred upon him a certain notoriety." Read the Article

Calderon Tries to Turn Out the Lights on Mexico's Unions
Michael E. Miller, Truthout: "Late Saturday night, as Mexicans celebrated their national soccer team's qualification for the World Cup, President Felipe Calderon sent hundreds of federal police to surround Luz y Fuerza. Hours later, he ordered the liquidation of the state-run company, claiming it was financially 'unsustainable' due to corruption and waste." Read the Article

Why Pakistanis Would Reject $7.5 Billion in US Aid
Ben Arnoldy, The Christian Science Monitor: "The United States is offering $7.5 billion to Pakistan for development - but only 15 percent of Pakistanis support accepting it, according to a Gallup Pakistan survey released Wednesday." Read the Article

Marie-Noelle Lienemann, David Cayla and Paul Quiles The Banks Have Learned They Can Do Anything
Marie-Noelle Lienemann, David Cayla and Paul Quiles, Liberation: "If bank profits had any connection to the activity of the real economy, it would be good news. Instead, with unemployment growing (the American private sector destroyed another 250,000 more jobs in September), companies are not investing and households strangled by debt are legion. In such a context, in which banking practices have not changed, it is illusory to hope, as the government does, for lending that would be likely to relaunch production and consumption to resume." Read the Article

Bill Moyers Redefining the United States
Bill Moyers Journal: "Barack Obama was elected on a message of change, promising a new era of diplomacy and international cooperation - but can the president deliver a new vision of America?" Read the Article

Michael Hittleman The New Confederacy of Republicans
Michael Hittleman, Truthout: "South Carolina Sen. Jim Demint travels to Honduras to endorse the military coup. Illinois Congressman Mark Kirk tells China not to believe our government's figures. Oklahoma Sen. James Inhofe will tell the upcoming Copenhagen climate summit that global warming is a hoax as he shadows President Obama. South Carolina Congressman Joe Wilson shouts, 'You lie!' at the president at a joint session of Congress. What do these events have in common?" Read the Article

Foreign Policy Hawks Launch New Campaign Against Obama
Jim Lobe, Inter Press Service: "Just days after the Nobel Committee in Oslo awarded Barack Obama its coveted peace prize, two of Washington's most prominent foreign policy hawks launched a new group and ad campaign designed to depict the president as weak and defend the more aggressive policies of his predecessor, George W. Bush." Read the Article

FP morning post 10/15

Top story:

In the latest in a string of terrorist attacks in Pakistan, militants dressed as police officers simultaneously attacked three law enforcement agencies in Lahore. Over 30 people were killed in the attacks, which combined gunmen and suicide bombers.

Pakistan's latest wave of violence appears to be in response to preparations for a military assault on the Taliban stronghold of South Waziristan. Pakistani authorities say the sophistication of the latest attacks suggests that new Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud is, like his predecessor Baithullah Mehsud, receiving training from al Qaeda.

Just prior to the Lahore attacks, a car bomber attacked a police station in Kohat killing 10. The Pakistani air force and U.S. drones also continued to strike targets in Waziristan on Thursday.

United Nations:

The U.N. General Assembly is expected to elect Brazil, Gabon, Lebanon, Nigeria, and Bosnia to seats on the Security Council today.

China has sentenced six more people to death for instigating last summer's rioting in Xinjiang.
North Korea accused the South Korean navy of entering its territorial waters and warned of possible naval confrontation.
South Korea and the European Union have signed a multibillion dollar trade deal.

Middle East
Hamas rejected a Fatah reconciliation proposal.
Around 85,000 Iraqis were killed between 2004 and 2008 according to the country's Human Rights Ministry.
The United Arab Emirates is tightening immigration controls over fears of Iranian infiltrations.

The International Criminal Court has launched an investigation into last month's massacre of protesters in Guinea.
Zimbabwean opposition politician Roy Bennett has been imprisoned again.
South African policy fired rubber bullets at antigovernment protesters.

A grenade attack in Moldova wounded over 40 people. Authorities are calling it terrorism.
In a speech at Moscow State University, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton criticized Russia's human rights record.
As a diplomatic gesture, Armenian President Serge Sarkisian joined Turkish President Abdullah Gul at a World Cup qualifying soccer game in Turkey.

Despite reports of a breakthrough, rivals remain pessimistic about reaching a political compromise in Honduras.
Honduran police say drug smuggling has increased since the crisis began.
Cuba is allowing U.S. representatives to visit with jailed U.S.-Cuban citizens.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Truthout 10/14

Truthout Video Interview Ralph Nader: "Only the Rich Can Save Us"
Truthout reporter Jason Leopold interviews Ralph Nader to discuss his latest book, "Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us," a fictional account involving real-life public figures, including Warren Buffet, Ted Turner, Yoko Ono and Phil Donahue, who set off to start a progressive revolution using their enormous wealth. In addition, Nader gives analysis on President Obama's job performance thus far and on the debate surrounding health care reform. Watch the Interview and Digg this Story!

Andy Worthington Judge Confirms Detainee Tortured to Make False Confessions
Andy Worthington, Truthout: "A declassified ruling by a federal court judge reveals that Fouad al-Rabiah, an innocent Kuwaiti prisoner who was ordered released from Guantanamo last week, was brutally tortured into making false confessions by US interrogators and repeatedly threatened until he confessed to terrorist activities in which he was not involved. In the summer of 2002, a CIA analyst interviewed al-Rabiah at Guantanamo and concluded that he was an innocent man caught at the wrong time and in the wrong place. Although al-Rabiah had said that he had met bin Laden and had been present in the Tora Bora mountains, he had provided an acceptable explanation." Read the Article

Steve Weissman Let's Get Real About Israel and Iran
Steve Weissman, Truthout: "The military option for dealing with Iran remains on the table, President Obama repeatedly reminds us. The Pentagon hustles to modify our B-2 stealth bombers to carry a newly developed bunker-busting bomb that can destroy hardened underground targets, such as Iran's newly acknowledged enrichment facility near the holy city of Qom. Israeli President Netanyahu promises that 'Iran will not acquire nuclear arms, and this implies everything necessary to carry this out.'" Read the Article

Jason Leopold US Supreme Court to Hear Appeal by Former Enron CEO Jeff Skilling
Jason Leopold, Truthout: "The US Supreme Court agreed Tuesday to take up former Enron Chief Executive Jeffrey Skilling's appeal of his conviction on securities fraud, conspiracy and insider trading stemming from the high-flying energy company's implosion in late 2001. In his petition filed with the high court, Skilling claims he received an unfair trial due to searing media attacks and the negative publicity surrounding Enron's demise, which resulted in a Houston jury that was hostile and biased. Enron's headquarters was based in the city and when the company collapsed in a wave of accounting scandals it took a severe economic toll on the city." Read the Article

Robert Scheer A War of Absurdity
Robert Scheer, Truthout: "There is no indication that any of the contending forces in Afghanistan, including the Taliban, are interested in bringing al-Qaeda back. On the contrary, all the available evidence indicates that the Arab fighters are unwelcome and that it is their isolation from their former patrons that has led to their demise. Every once in a while, a statistic just jumps out at you in a way that makes everything else you hear on a subject seem beside the point, if not downright absurd." Read the Article

Barbara Ehrenreich Do Women Have the Blues?
Barbara Ehrenreich, "Feminism made women miserable. This, anyway, seems to be the most popular takeaway from 'The Paradox of Declining Female Happiness,' a recent study by Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers that purports to show that women have become steadily unhappier since 1972. Maureen Dowd and Arianna Huffington greeted the news with somber perplexity, but the more common response has been a triumphant: I told you so." Read the Article

US Rep. Robert Wexler to Step Down
Beth Beinhardt, The Miami Herald: "US House of Representatives member Robert Wexler of Boca Raton, a self-described "fire-breathing liberal," defender of Israel and friend of both President Barack Obama and Gov. Charlie Crist, is quitting Congress to head a think tank seeking peace in the Middle East. In a conference call Tuesday night with Democratic leaders, Wexler said he will become director of the Washington-based Center for Middle East Peace and Economic Cooperation." Read the Article

Bush-Era EPA Document on Climate Change Released
Jim Tankersley and Alexander C. Hart, The Los Angeles Times: "The Environmental Protection Agency on Tuesday released a long-suppressed report by George W. Bush administration officials who had concluded - based on science - that the government should begin regulating greenhouse gas emissions because global warming posed serious risks to the country. The report, known as an 'endangerment finding,' was done in 2007. The Bush White House refused to make it public because it opposed new government efforts to regulate the gases most scientists see as the major cause of global warming." Read the Article

Philippe Brochen A Decent Job Allows You to Earn a Living Without Losing Your Life
For Liberation, Philippe Brochen interviews a variety of demonstrators about what constitutes a decent job, while in L'Humanite, Doctor of Psychology Marie Peze writes about "the centrality of work in the individual construction of identity." Read the Article

Seniors and Their Doctors On Friday, October 16, at 8:30 PM (check local listings), learn how private discussions between seniors and their doctors about end-of-life choices for the very ill or dying become a flash point in the national health care debate. Read the Article

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

On Same-Sex Inheritance, Or, "'Til Death Do We Part" Comes To Boyzone

There was a time, in the 1990s, when “boy bands” walked tall in the musical world. New stars with names like “BoyzIIMen” and “Backstreet Boys” and “*NSYNC” were everywhere to be seen, and positioned prominently within this firmament of stars was an Irish band, “Boyzone”.

One of the five members of Boyzone’s most famous lineup, Stephen Gately, died over the weekend in Mallorca, aged 33, much to the dismay of the group’s fans and friends.

Because Gately came out at the height of his career, and at considerable risk to his (and the group’s) “brand” prospects, the LBGT community is experiencing considerable dismay over the loss as well.

Today’s story, however, isn’t about any of that.

Instead, we’ll consider what’s likely to happen to Gately’s estate.

The point of the exercise? With this being one of the most prominent deaths of a gay celebrity to occur since civil commitment came to pass, and with Mr. Gately being legally committed to husband Andrew Cowles at the time of his death, it seems like a good time to examine how the law responds to these situations in the UK—and how it could work in the United States.

To get things started, a quick acknowledgement: I was unaware of Stephen Gately’s death until I saw Prince Gomolvilas’ story at the Bilerico Project (“daily experiments in LBGTQ”) describing the event. His story covers topics we won’t be covering here; I would encourage you to stop by and have a look. (Full disclosure: I’m also a continuing contributor to the Bilerico Project site.)

For those completely unaware of Boyzone’s body of work, you might wish to start with the song for which they are probably the most famous, No Matter What, an Andrew Lloyd Weber composition.

“You’re ‘committed’? How’s that work, exactly?”

The preliminaries out of the way, let’s talk law:

In the UK, same-sex civil commitments are already enshrined in national law and the process is fairly simple. Before either a marriage or a civil commitment can take place, advance notice must be given by both parties, in person, at the register office (analogous to a city or county clerk’s office) where the couple resides.

The notice will be displayed for fifteen days, after which the grant of authority for the union can be issued by a minister or some comparable official at the wedding. (If you’re to be married in a Church of England or Church in Wales facility this requirement is waived.)

If one of the partners dies, UK law treats marriages and civil commitments identically. I won’t go into every nuance of the law here, but basically, it works like this:

There is an inheritance tax, and if you died this year it would be triggered if you were passing an estate larger than £325,000 (at today’s exchange rates, that’s about $514,000). You would be taxed 40% for anything over that threshold, and the amount you can pass without paying the tax goes up over time. (Gifts above £3000 per year that you gave in the past seven years are considered part of the estate, except gifts given to spouses and for other purposes, such as charitable giving.) Under certain circumstances it is possible to double the amount that can be passed, tax-free, to the next generation or to unrelated individuals.

The tax normally does not apply at all, regardless of the size of the estate, if the assets are passing from one spouse to another or to charity.

Love, American Style

So how do we contrast all this to the American experience?

Right off the bat, in the UK the law applies nationwide, unlike in the US, where states like Virginia have introduced bills that, if enacted, would void any same-sex civil unions granted by any other state, and relatives try to use the courts to prevent enforcement of arrangements entered into by same-sex partners.

This means Mr. Cowles can at least sleep under his own roof without fear that a lawsuit will emerge forcing him to either vacate his home or mount a costly legal defense to keep it—or worse yet, to have to mount a costly defense...and lose his home in the process, something that happens in the US on a regular basis.

Additionally, should Mr. Gately have chosen to direct his assets to Mr. Cowles, that decision will likely be carried out; and there would be no special legal hoops (other than the civil commitment process) through which anyone would have to jump to make such a decision carry the force of law.

It is also highly likely that Mr. Cowles will be given full authority to make any decisions about funeral arrangements that are required, and that he won’t have to fight the relatives for the physical custody of the body of his deceased partner.

There are two other interesting contrasts of which you should be aware: the divorce rate in England and Wales today, nearly 4 years after gay weddings first began in England and Wales, is at a 26 year low, and there is evidence to suggest that allowing same-sex marriages actually leads to those who marry living longer lives than those who want to marry today, but can’t.

And that’s where we’re going to end this for today: in the UK, a family like Stephen Gately’s and Andrew Cowles’ may suffer from an unexpected tragedy, but the law doesn’t conspire to make a bad situation a thousand times worse for the surviving member of the same-sex couple—unlike in the US.

Disgruntled relatives aren’t able to challenge the union, the spouse can be confident that the decisions they make will be protected in law, and no one’s being thrown out into the street solely because of the nature of their marriage.

Oh, and I almost forgot the math part of the deal: same-sex unions not only help the spouses live longer, it’s apparently helping to reduce the UK divorce rate for all couples at the same time.

And if you add all that up, aren’t we really saying that legalizing same-sex marriages equals nothing less than legalizing Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness?

So the next time someone claims gay marriage would somehow be threatening to the Nation...ask them: “why do you hate America, the Founding Fathers, the Constitution—and heterosexual marriages?”

Then stand back and let the stammering begin.
Henry A. Giroux Youth Beyond the Politics of Hope
Henry A. Giroux, Truthout: "As the counterrevolution that has gripped the United States since the late 1980s appears to be somewhat modified in the emerging presidency of Barack Obama, the dark times that befell us under the second Bush administration have far from disappeared. The assault that the second Bush administration waged on practically every vestige of the public good - from the Constitution to the environment to public education - appears to have lessened its grip as the Obama regime inches towards its first year in power." Read the Article

Jason Leopold Obama's DOJ May Appeal Ruling Ordering Release of Cheney's CIA
Jason Leopold, Truthout: "The Obama administration is weighing an appeal of a federal judge's ruling ordering the Justice Department to release portions of the transcribed interview between former Vice President Dick Cheney and Patrick Fitzgerald, the special prosecutor appointed to probe the roles Bush administration officials played in the leak of covert CIA operative Valerie Plame Wilson six years ago." Read the Article

Snowe Votes Yes on Finance Committee Health Care Bill
Truthout Newswire: "Senator Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) bucked her party and voted for the Senate Finance Committee version of health care reform. In a statement to the committee prior to the vote, Snowe said: 'Is this bill all that it can be? No, but when history calls, history calls.' Snowe stressed that her vote on the Committee's bill does not mean she will vote yes when the modified version comes up for a vote on the Senate floor." Read the Article

Dahr Jamail Attorney Reports Human Rights Abuses of GI Resisters
Dahr Jamail, Truthout: "Attorneys and veteran's groups are alarmed by recent reports that two US Army soldiers imprisoned at the Fort Lewis Regional Correctional Facility (RCF) have been subjected to human rights abuses and violations of their constitutional rights." Read the Article

Scott Galindez Insurance Companies Make Case for Public Option
Scott Galindez, Truthout: "The insurance industry is back in the game, fighting against the health care reform proposals emerging from Congress. They are playing their final card, threatening to raise everyone's premiums if the current bills prevail. They might actually be right about at least one committee's plan, but are dead wrong about the others. In fact, they are making a strong case for why the final version needs a strong public option." Read the Article

Obama Quietly Deploying 13,000 More US Troops to Afghanistan
Ewen MacAskill, The Guardian UK: "President Barack Obama is quietly deploying an extra 13,000 troops to Afghanistan, an unannounced move that is separate from a request by the US commander in the country for even more reinforcements." Read the Article

Europeans Press the US to End the Death Penalty
Howard LaFranchi, The Christian Science Monitor: "The United States does not often find itself in a league with China, Iran, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia. But as international human rights groups and a number of countries, particularly in the European Union [EU], prepare to mark World Day Against the Death Penalty Saturday, that list of the five countries where nearly all of 2008's executions were carried out is where the US finds itself." Read the Article

Herve Kempf The Crisis Is Beginning
Herve Kempf, Le Monde (French Translation: Leslie Thatcher): "In the phantasmagoric world of officials and economic analysts, good and evil boil down to the quivering of a totem: gross domestic product (GDP). It falls 2 percent; that's a catastrophe; it climbs - trembling - some 0.3 percent; the recovery is brewing. And the obsession is to return to the 'normal' 2-3-4 percent rates of growth, so that life may revert to its former splendor. This is no caricature: Dozens of statements and articles in The Wall Street Journal, The Financial Times, The Economist, Les Echos, La Tribune - and, of course, our own dear Monde - ratiocinate around this theme." Read the Article

Dr. Wilmer J. Leon III What the Neocons Can Learn From the Norwegian Nobel Committee
Dr. Wilmer J. Leon III, Truthout: "With a decision that has shocked many around the world, on Friday, October 9, 2009, the Norwegian Nobel Committee announced that President Barack Hussein Obama is the 2009 winner of the Nobel Prize for Peace. This announcement not only recognizes extraordinary accomplishments, but also brings with it extraordinary expectations." Read the Article

First Woman Wins Nobel Prize for Economics
David Usborne and Sean O'Grady, The Independent UK: "The grip enjoyed by men on the Nobel Prize for Economics was broken at last yesterday when Elinor Ostrom, a professor at the University of Indiana, became the first woman to be honoured with the award." Read the Article

La Jornada A Vaccination Campaign Without Vaccinations
La Jornada (Spanish Translation: Ryan Croken): "Amid an atmosphere of social unrest caused by the resurgence of the swine flu epidemic (the antigen for which is presently being administered in first world countries), the Mexican Health Department has recently launched what is being called the National Vaccination Campaign. There is, unfortunately, one small problem with a campaign of this name and nature: We don't have any swine flu vaccines in this country, and we don't even have a sufficient quantity of vaccines for the seasonal flu, the more benign and familiar strain of the virus." Read the Article

FP morning post 10/13

Top story:

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov held talks on Iran's nuclear program. It is Clinton's first visit to Russia as secretary of state. While Lavrov insisted "our positions coincide," on the issue, but there were some differences in tone between the two.

Clinton agreed ruled out immediate sanctions, she said they may be inevitable "in the absence of significant progress and assurance that Iran is not pursuing nuclear weapons". Lavrov meanwhile dismissed threats of sanctions as counterproductive. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev suggested last month, that further sanctions on Iran may be inevitable after the discovery of a previously unknown nuclear reactor near Qom.

Missile Defense was also on the agenda. Lavrov said that Russia had reviewed the United States' revamped missile defense plans but was noncommittal on proposals that the two countries cooperate. Lavrov and Clinton also reportedly discussed Afghanistan, NATO enlargement, and Georgia.

Nepotism scandal:

Nicolas Sarkozy's son Jean has caused an uproar in France after announcing he would take control of a powerful government agency.

China and Russia signed trade deals with $3.5 million.
North Korea has agreed to talks with South Korea on flood control even as it continues to test-fire missiles.
Pakistani planes bombed militant targets in South Waziristan in preparation for a planned ground assault.

Middle East
Iranian authorities have opened an investigation of former presidential candidate Mehdi Karroubi.
Kurdistan has halted oil exports in a dispute with the Baghdad government.
Iraq's parliament has approved the return of a small number of British troops.

Britian is considering privatizing a range of government services in order to raise funds.
An appeals panel rejected former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic's claim that he was granted immunity by U.S. envoy Richard Holbrooke.
Italian police have arrested three in connection with Monday's bombing of a Milan army barracks.

A new report says over 1,000 civilians have been killed in eastern Congo this year.
Guinea's military junta confirmed that it has signed a massive energy and mining deal with China.
Gabon's constitutional court upheld Ali Ben Bongo's victory in August's disputed election.

Amnesty International accused Honduras's interim government of a litany of human rights abuses.
Mexican workers are holding protests in response to the government's decision to close a state-owned power utility.
A tropical storm is likely to hit the Western Coast of Mexico today or tomorrow.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Truthout 10/12

Matt Renner Obama Administration Accused Again of Concealing Bush-Era Crimes
Matt Renner, Truthout: "On January 21, Obama signed an executive order instructing all federal agencies and departments to 'adopt a presumption in favor' of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests and promised to make the federal government more transparent ... But since that time, the Obama administration has sought to conceal information in several high-profile court cases, in an effort that civil libertarians say amounts to covering up crimes committed by the Bush administration." Read the Article

Dean Baker Trade in Health Care: When "Free Traders" Become Protectionists
Dean Baker, Truthout: "In Washington policy circles, being called a 'protectionist' is only slightly better than being called a criminal. Everyone agrees that protectionists are uneducated people who would do harm to the economy by reducing international trade. And everyone in Washington policy circles knows that trade is good, except when it comes to health care." Read the Article

Dahr Jamail and Jason Coppola The Myth of "America"
Dahr Jamail and Jason Coppola, Truthout: "In 1892, the National Council of Churches, the largest ecumenical body in the United States, is known to have exhorted Christians to refrain from celebrating the Columbus quincentennial, saying, 'What represented newness of freedom, hope, and opportunity for some was the occasion for oppression, degradation and genocide for others.' Yet America continues to celebrate 'Columbus Day.'" Read the Article

Bombings Kill 23, Wound 80 in Iraq's Anbar Province
Mohammad al Dulaimy and Jamal Naji, McClatchy Newspapers: "The bombers who attacked the western Iraqi city of Ramadi on Sunday seemed determined to make sure that none of their targets survived. First, they bombed a crowded parking lot outside the Anbar provincial government's headquarters. Seven minutes later, they detonated a car bomb aimed at the rescue workers. An hour later, a third bomb exploded outside the hospital where survivors were receiving treatment." Read the Article

Willian Astore Obama at the Precipice: Tough Guys Don't Need to Dance in Afghanistan
Willian Astore, "It's early in 1965, and President Lyndon B. Johnson faces a critical decision. Should he escalate in Vietnam? Should he say 'yes' to the request from U.S. commanders for more troops? Or should he change strategy, downsize the American commitment, even withdraw completely, a decision that would help him focus on his top domestic priority, 'The Great Society' he hopes to build?" Read the Article

Climate Change: New Financial Scheme Turns Heat on Rich Nations
Marwaan Macan-Markar, Inter Press Service: "A new financial mechanism to help the developing world deal with the challenges posed by climate change looms as a major hurdle on the road leading up to a United Nations summit in Copenhagen in mid-December." Read the Article

Evidence of Fraud Could Force Afghan Runoff Election
Hal Bernton, McClatchy Newspapers: "An Afghan member of the panel investigating the widespread allegations of fraud in Afghanistan's August 20 presidential election resigned Monday and charged that United Nations officials have interfered in the probe, a possible indication that Afghan Pres. Hamid Karzai may be forced into a runoff against his former foreign minister." Read the Article

Jerica Arents The Price of Peace
Jerica Arents, Truthout: "While waiting to be processed at the Anacostia Park Police Station, I was drawn to a mounted, post-9/11, Bush-era FBI reward poster. 'The Cost of Freedom is Eternal Vigilance,' propagated the sign. The unrestrained madness is as prevalent today as it was eight years ago: Obama is continuing Bush's war folly." Read the Article

Obama to Visit New Orleans for a Post-Katrina Survey
Margaret Talev, McClatchy Newspapers: "When President Barack Obama visits New Orleans next week to survey how its recovery is going four years after Hurricane Katrina, he'll have a lot to tout about the help his administration's given -- and plenty to worry about as the nation's top Democrat in a city quaking with political change." Read the Article

John Dodds Another Take on Solving the Foreclosure Crisis: Loans to Jobless Homeowners
John Dodds, Truthout: "The mortgage crisis remains a major problem for the US economy. Foreclosure rates are still at record levels and Making Home Affordable, the new Obama plan which requires lenders to modify mortgages, is off to a slow start as lenders have yet to gear up to do modifications. Foreclosures caused by unemployment are becoming a greater and greater portion of the foreclosure problem." Read the Article

Brigitte Perucca "Training Citizens Who Are Well-Informed About Scientific Choices"
Brigitte Perucca, Le Monde: "An astonishing convergence: A great number of countries, from China to India by way of Europe, worried by the decrease in scientific vocations, have undertaken an overhaul of their teaching of the sciences. With a change in perspective, however. The primary reason invoked to justify these reforms is no longer economic competitiveness, but the necessity of recreating a sort of democratic contract between citizens and scientific development." Read the Article

Andrew Stelzer He Won Because He Speaks of Peace
Andrew Stelzer, Truthout: "He won because he spoke about peace and people listened. That is rare. The whole world listened, and is still listening to this man who speaks of peace, who clearly believes in it, although his actions don't always seem to move towards that goal. Think of how few people have spoken about peace, from the heart, and had the world pay attention. It happens rarely. And it's part of why we fall so short of peace." Read the Article

" Good Hair " Official Trailer [ 2009 ]

It's funny - yet it isn't.

BPA in plastics linked to female aggression

The first study to examine the effects of bisphenol A (BPA) on children's behavior found that girls whose mothers had the highest levels of the chemical during pregnancy were more aggressive at age 2 than other girls. BPA is commonly used to make plastic bottles durable and reusable. The findings closely match previous animal studies.

Neurobiologist Louann Brizendine told USA Today she fears small amounts of BPA, which mimics estrogen, contribute to "masculinizing" the female brain at a critical point in its development.

Be careful at this crossing!

New invasive species threatening Canucks? Check the link.

Google Street View confirms Elephantitis strikes deer population in Canada ? Autoblog

FP morning post 10/12

Top story:

Despite Saturday's historic signing of an accord to normalize relations between Turkey and Armenia, signs emerged over the weekend that the nearly century-old hostility between the two countries remains far from resolved.

Saturday's signing in Zurich nearly didn't happen due to a disagreement over language, but was salvaged by last minute intervention from U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. The agreement restores normal diplomatic relations between the two countries and commits them to opening up their border and "begin dialogue" over the killing of 1.5 million Armenians by the Ottoman Empire in 1915.

On Sunday, however, Turkish Prime Minister said that the treaty would not be ratified unless Armenia withdrew its troops from the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh. "As long as Armenia does not withdraw from occupied territories in Azerbaijan, Turkey cannot take up a positive position," he said. Major disagreements also remain over how the historical record will be examined to determine whether the 1915 killings were, in fact, a genocide.

Armenian President Serzh Sarksyan will visit Turkey this week to watch a World Cup qualifying match. "Soccer diplomacy" has been a regular feature in the lead-up to Saturday's accord.


U.S. economists Elinor Ostrom and Oliver Williamson won the economics prize.

More than 40 people were killed in a bombing at a checkpoint in Pakistan's Swat Valley.
China sentenced six Uighur men to death for their role in July's riots in Xinjiang.
North Korea reportedly test-fired five shot-range rockets.

Middle East
Dozens were killed in a bombing targeting a sectarian reconciliation meeting in Iraq's Anbar province.
In a reversal, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will push for a U.N. vote on the Goldstone report.
A U.A.E. court convicted a U.S. citizen on terrorism charges.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited Belfast to address the Northern Irish parliament.
Pope Benedict canonized five new saints on Sunday.
A Libyan man attempted to blow up an Italian Army barracks in Milan but caused little damage.

A strike has been called in Guinea to protest the killing of dozens of demonstrators by the military two weeks ago.
The Zimbabwean state has renounced several of Robert Mugabe's top officials who have been accused of torture.
A Sudanese court upheld the death sentences of four men convicted of murdering a U.S. envoy and his driver in January.

Mexico is shutting down a major state-run energy company in the midst of a labor dispute.
Hundreds were left homeless by slum fires in Sao Paulo.
A Cuban man was arrested by U.S. authorities for a 1968 plane hijacking at Kennedy airport.

October early education news round-up

October 7, 2009 Pre-K'ers Are Stepping Out
This year Georgia will see the enrollment of its one-millionth pre-k student and the entire state is celebrating. This year, the Georgia pre-k program will serve 82,000 children in approximately 4,100 classrooms in Georgia, according to information provided by Dade Elementary School counselor Tinena Bice.

October 7, 2009 Commentary: Fund Early Childhood Education
Despite the impressive funding gains, though, less than 30% of the nation's 3- and 4-year-olds are served by publicly funded early education. Federal action is needed urgently to reinforce states' progress and accelerate the growth of early learning programs.

October 6, 2009 Tax shortfall means cut in Denver preschool tuition aid
A tax-supported program that helps Denver families pay for preschool will cut its tuition reimbursements by 25 percent next fall — another victim of the economy. Early-childhood education advocates also fear greater cuts to the statewide Colorado Preschool Program that pays for preschool for the state's neediest children.

October 6, 2009 Governor Jim Doyle signs mandatory kindergarten into law
It's a law that some hope will put more teeth into the effort to get kids in school, and get them there early. Supporters says early education pays off by not only preparing kids [for] the first grade, but higher graduation rates later.

October 5, 2009 Educators start children on computers as early as pre-school
For these 5- and 6-year-olds, technology is a way of life, no different than using a crayon for their writing lessons. Technology has become increasingly prominent in classrooms and ever more important for the young generation.

October 4, 2009 Initiatives promote reading skills
In August, nearly 200 kits in the "Reading for All: Born Learning Lending Library" program were provided to local child care providers. The purpose of the Lending Library kit is to encourage early literacy among the children in child care and to promote literacy within the child's home.

October 1, 2009 Teachers stand by early education
A joint House-Senate committee recommended last week to keep funding that is designated for Great Start Readiness and other specific programs, but if the proposal passes, school districts may eliminate or downsize these programs to make up for a $218 per pupil cut.

October 1, 2009 Panel: Early child care, education remains key
Early child care and education is a growing concern for people across the nation. Two local groups recently undertook a survey that identified various issues and needs surrounding early child care in the Yankton area.

September 29, 2009 Official: Preschool could be provided to all at same cost
Preschool programs could be made available to all of Arkansas' 3- and 4-year-olds without additional state funding, the state's new education commissioner said Monday.

September 27, 2009 It's never too young to learn, advocates say
Debra Lore, a nurse with the state Nurse-Family Partnership program, brought the book. Lore worked with [LaSarah] Todd through her pregnancy, helped her graduate from high school, and is now showing her how to give her daughter an early start on learning.

Pre-K works in New Mexico

from the Nation Institute of Early Education Research (NIEER) - Rutgers University

Continued Impacts of New Mexico PreK on Children's Readiness for Kindergarten: Results from the Third Year of Implementation

By Jason T. Hustedt, W. Steven Barnett, Kwanghee Jung, Alexandra Figueras-Daniel September 2009

The third report in NIEER's multi-year study of New Mexico's prekindergarten program shows that children who attended the New Mexico PreK initiative scored higher in early math, language, and literacy than children who did not attend the program.

The authors of the report found that:

Children who attended New Mexico PreK during the 2007-2008 school year scored higher on assessments of early math and literacy skills in comparison to children who did not attend. These skills include addition and subtraction, telling time, knowledge of letters, and familiarity with words and book concepts. Gains in early math and literacy at kindergarten entry can be attributed to participating in New Mexico PreK programs the previous year.

Separate sets of analyses conducted for PreK programs offered by the New Mexico Public Education Department (PED) and the Children, Youth and Families Department (CYFD) show that PED and CYFD PreK programs produce similar results.

When the researchers combined child assessment data from the first three years of the New Mexico PreK program, they found further evidence that New Mexico PreK produces positive impacts on children's early math, language, and literacy skills.

Read the complete report

Misguided monetary mentalities

New York Times

One lesson from the Great Depression is that you should never underestimate the destructive power of bad ideas. And some of the bad ideas that helped cause the Depression have, alas, proved all too durable: in modified form, they continue to influence economic debate today.

What ideas am I talking about? The economic historian Peter Temin has argued that a key cause of the Depression was what he calls the “gold-standard mentality.” By this he means not just belief in the sacred importance of maintaining the gold value of one’s currency, but a set of associated attitudes: obsessive fear of inflation even in the face of deflation; opposition to easy credit, even when the economy desperately needs it, on the grounds that it would be somehow corrupting; assertions that even if the government can create jobs it shouldn’t, because this would only be an “artificial” recovery.

In the early 1930s this mentality led governments to raise interest rates and slash spending, despite mass unemployment, in an attempt to defend their gold reserves. And even when countries went off gold, the prevailing mentality made them reluctant to cut rates and create jobs.

But we’re past all that now. Or are we?

America isn’t about to go back on the gold standard. But a modern version of the gold standard mentality is nonetheless exerting a growing influence on our economic discourse. And this new version of a bad old idea could undermine our chances for full recovery.

Consider first the current uproar over the declining international value of the dollar.

The truth is that the falling dollar is good news. For one thing, it’s mainly the result of rising confidence: the dollar rose at the height of the financial crisis as panicked investors sought safe haven in America, and it’s falling again now that the fear is subsiding. And a lower dollar is good for U.S. exporters, helping us make the transition away from huge trade deficits to a more sustainable international position.

But if you get your opinions from, say, The Wall Street Journal’s editorial page, you’re told that the falling dollar is a terrible thing, a sign that the world is losing faith in America (and especially, of course, in President Obama). Something, you believe, must be done to stop the dollar’s slide. And in practice the dollar’s decline has become a stick with which conservative members of Congress beat the Federal Reserve, pressuring the Fed to scale back its efforts to support the economy.

We can only hope that the Fed stands up to this pressure. But there are worrying signs of a misguided monetary mentality within the Federal Reserve system itself.

In recent weeks there have been a number of statements from Fed officials, mainly but not only presidents of regional Federal Reserve banks, calling for an early return to tighter money, including higher interest rates. Now, people in the Federal Reserve system are normally extremely circumspect when making statements about future monetary policy, so as not to step on the efforts of the Fed’s Open Market Committee, which actually sets those rates, to shape expectations. So it’s extraordinary to see all these officials suddenly breaking the implicit rules, in effect lecturing the Open Market Committee about what it should do.

What’s even more extraordinary, however, is the idea that raising rates would make sense any time soon. After all, the unemployment rate is a horrifying 9.8 percent and still rising, while inflation is running well below the Fed’s long-term target. This suggests that the Fed should be in no hurry to tighten — in fact, standard policy rules of thumb suggest that interest rates should be left on hold for the next two years or more, or until the unemployment rate has fallen to around 7 percent.

Yet some Fed officials want to pull the trigger on rates much sooner. To avoid a “Great Inflation,” says Charles Plosser of the Philadelphia Fed, “we will need to act well before unemployment rates and other measures of resource utilization have returned to acceptable levels.” Jeffrey Lacker of the Richmond Fed says that rates may need to rise even if “the unemployment rate hasn’t started falling yet.”

I don’t know what analysis lies behind these itchy trigger fingers. But it probably isn’t about analysis, anyway — it’s about mentality, the sense that central banks are supposed to act tough, not provide easy credit.

And it’s crucial that we don’t let this mentality guide policy. We do seem to have avoided a second Great Depression. But giving in to a modern version of our grandfathers’ prejudices would be a very good way to ensure the next worst thing: a prolonged era of sluggish growth and very high unemployment.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Truthout 10/11

Bill Moyers and Michael Winship In Washington, The Revolving Door Is Hazardous to Your Health
Bill Moyers and Michael Winship, Truthout: "On Tuesday, October 13, the Senate Finance Committee finally is scheduled to vote on its version of health care insurance reform. And therein lies yet another story in the endless saga of money and politics." Read the Article

Obama Vows Unqualified Support for Gay-Rights Agenda
Steven Thomma, McClatchy Newspapers: "President Barack Obama vowed his unwavering support for the full gay rights agenda Saturday night, saying that he'll push Congress to repeal the ban on gays serving openly in the military." Read the Article

Bombings Kill 14 in Iraq's Anbar Province
The Associated Press: "A series of bombings killed at least 14 people and wounded dozens more today in the western Iraqi city of Ramadi, said police and hospital officials, a worrying sign that violence may be on the rise in this former hotbed of the insurgency." Read the Article

Doctored Information
Erik Hayden, Miller-McCune: "A new study concludes that carefully crafted informed consent laws, rather than discouraging women to forgo an abortion, have zero impact on the amount of abortions performed in the states that choose to mandate these 'scary briefings.'" Read the Article

Why France Telecom Employees Are Killing Themselves
Mildrade Cherfils, GlobalPost: "The men and women who committed suicide while employed by communications giant France Telecom sent a clear message in the letters they left behind: They unequivocally blame the company for their demise. The deaths have provoked outrage over the firm's management practices and have led to the resignation of the company's deputy CEO." Read the Article

Biodiversity: Dwindling Fish Catch Could Leave a Billion Hungry
Stephen Leahy, Inter Press Service: "Fish catches are expected to decline dramatically in the world's tropical regions because of climate change, but may increase in the north, said a new study published Thursday. This mega-shift in ocean productivity from south to north over the next three to four decades will leave those most reliant on fish for both food and income high and dry." Read the Article

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Truthout 10/10

Howard Zinn Nobel Prize for Promises?
Howard Zinn, Truthout: "I was dismayed when I heard Obama was given the Nobel Peace Prize. A shock, really, to think that a president carrying on wars in two countries and launching military action in a third country (Pakistan), would be given a peace prize. But then I recalled that Woodrow Wilson, Theodore Roosevelt and Henry Kissinger had all received Nobel Peace Prizes. The Nobel Committee is famous for its superficial estimates and for its susceptibility to rhetoric and empty gestures, while ignoring blatant violations of world peace." Read the Article

Civilian Contractor Toll in Iraq and Afghanistan Ignored by Defense Department
T. Christian Miller, ProPublica: "As the war in Afghanistan entered its ninth year, the Labor Department recently released new figures [1] for the number of civilian contract workers who have died in war zones since 9/11. Although acknowledged as incomplete, the figures show that at least 1,688 civilians have died and more than 37,000 have reported injuries while working for U.S. contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan." Read the Article

Health Insurers Threaten Rate Hikes
Robert Parry, Consortium News: "Industry representatives put Congress and the Obama administration on notice that if health-reform legislation doesn't send even more new customers the industry's way or if a windfall profits tax is included, the industry would hit businesses, individuals and the government with higher premiums, effectively defeating one of the initiative's top goals, reining in ever-rising costs." Read the Article

Gunmen Assault Pakistan Army Headquarters, at Least 6 Troops Dead
Shaiq Hussain and Haq Nawaz Khan, The Washington Post: "Gunmen disguised as soldiers staged a bold attack on Pakistan's army headquarters Saturday morning, sparking a shootout that left at least six soldiers and four militants dead, Pakistani authorities said." Read the Article

World Leaders, Nobel Laureates Offer Obama Praise, Skepticism
Margaret Talev, McClatchy Newspapers: "Some reactions to President Barack Obama's winning of the Nobel Peace Prize ... " Read the Article

Mark Weisbrot A New Role For the IMF?
Mark Weisbrot, The Center for Economic and Policy Research: "Rescued from a state of near-irrelevance by the world recession and an infusion of hundreds of billions of dollars (mostly from the U.S., Europe, and Japan), the International Monetary Fund (IMF) is now thinking of expanding its role into previously uncharted territory. In Istanbul for the fall meetings of the IMF, Managing Director Dominique Strauss-Kahn said: 'Given the costs associated with reserves accumulation, there is clearly a need for reliable emergency financing and hence for a global lender of last resort. The fund has the potential to serve as an effective and reliable provider of such insurance.'" Read the Article

The Economic Revolution Is Already Happening - It's Just Not on Wall St.
Maria Armoudian, AlterNet: "America is in the midst of a new revolution. But this revolution is quiet, incremental, nonviolent and traveling beneath the mainstream media's radar. The new American revolution challenges the current notions of dog-eat-dog capitalism - through the building of a parallel economic system that shares, co-operates, empowers and benefits fellow workers and community members." Read the Article

Friday, October 9, 2009

FP morning post

Top story:

In a stunning upset, the Norwegian Nobel Committee has awarded U.S. President Barack Obama the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize, only nine months into his presidency. The committee cited Obama's efforts at nuclear nonproliferation, his outreach to the Muslim world, and emphasis on multilateralism saying, “Obama has as president created a new climate in international politics.”

The choice of Obama is even more surprising given that he had assumed office only two weeks before the Feb. 1 deadline for nominations. When asked whether the award was, perhaps, premature, Norwegian Nobel Committee

Chairman Thorbjorn Jagland compared Obama to Willy Brandt and and Mikhail Gorbachev, two leaders whose reforms had not come to fruition when they had received the prize.

“The question we have to ask is who has done the most in the previous year to enhance peace in the world,” Jagland said. “And who has done more than Barack Obama?”

All the same, even the White House seemed shocked by the decision with Obama's Chief of Staff Rahm Emmanuel saying “There has been no discussion, nothing at all.” Though he couldn't help later quipping, "Oslo beats Copenhagen."


The latest round of U.N. climate change talks ended with no deal on the table.

Around 50 people were killed in a car bombing in the Pakistani city of Peshawar.
South Korea and Japan say North Korea should not be granted any more aid until it dismantles its nuclear weapons program.
After weeks of heavy rain, hundreds have been killed by mudslides in the Philippines.

U.S. and EU representatives are meeting with Bosnian leaders to discuss the country's EU membership process.
A former Guantanamo detainee has arrived in Belgium, where he has been granted residency.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton leaves on a six-day trip to Europe and Russia today.

Britain is calling for U.N. sanctions against Eritrea.
The European Union backed away from sanctioning Guinea's military junta.
Japan has obtained rights to develop platinum mines in South Africa and Botswana.

Middle East
Jerusalem police are on alert for protests during Friday prayers over the ongoing tensions at the al Aqsa mosque.
At the request of Libya, the UN security council will hold a meeting to discuss the Goldstone report on human rights abuses in Gaza.
Saudi King Abdullah and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad jointly called for the creation of a unity government in Lebanon.

Representatives from the two sides of the Honduras political crisis have held direct talks for the first time.
The mayor of the Mexican border town of Palomas was murdered on Thursday.
Bolivian President Evo Morales paid tribute to Che Guevara on the anniversary of his death.

Truthout 10/9

Scott Galindez GOP Leaders Support Health Care Reform?
Scott Galindez, Truthout: "Senate Majority Leaders Bob Dole and Bill Frist along with the Health and Human Services Secretaries for both Bush's, Louis Sullivan and Tommy Thompson, support health care reform." Read the Article

Nobel Committee, Strategic as Ever, Taps Obama for Peace Prize
Robert Naiman, Truthout: "The Norwegian Nobel Committee has awarded the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize to President Obama. Some initial commentary has called the award unprecedented and wondered why the committee would give President Obama the award when he 'hasn't done anything yet.' But anyone who thinks this award is unprecedented hasn't been paying attention." Read the Article

Melvin A. Goodman The Prospect of Change in US Relations With Russia, Iran and Afghanistan Alarms the Washington Post
Melvin A. Goodman, Truthout: "The Washington Post is running scared these days with its editorial writers having great difficulty coming to terms with the possibility of improved US relations with Russia and Iran. They also can't understand why the Obama administration might decide that additional US military forces in Afghanistan will not solve the political and military problems there. There have been several editorials and op-eds this week that distort developments in each of these situations and predict failure for President Barack Obama. The fact that a 'reset' button is needed and may offer the promise of success in our relations with Russia, Iran and even Afghanistan appears to be anathema to the Post." Read the Article

Public Option Still Alive - Believe It
Robert Weiner and Rebecca Vander Linde, The San Francisco Chronicle: "Opponents' caricatures have become commonplace - the Republican National Committee video puts House Speaker Nancy Pelosi side by side with James Bond's villainess, Miss Galore. The Iowa Republican, a party newsletter, on Sept. 18 called Pelosi 'inept at her job.' Actor and former Sen. Fred Thompson labeled her 'naive.'" Read the Article

Eugene Robinson Rangel's Revealing Portrait
Eugene Robinson: "House Democrats had better start taking the ethics allegations against Rep. Charlie Rangel seriously. I know it's difficult for those steeped in Capitol Hill's hermetic culture to understand, but a verdict of 'mistakes were made' -- which a lot of Democrats would like to reach -- doesn't cut it in the real world. Strange as it seems. Seriously." Read the Article

Tom Engelhardt War of the Worlds: London, 1898; Kabul, 2009
Tom Engelhardt, "To see Earth from the heavens, that's the classic viewpoint of the superior being or god with the ultimate power of life and death. Zeus, that Greek god of gods, used lightning bolts to strike down humans who offended him. We use missiles and bombs. Zeus had the knowledge of a god. We have 'intelligence' often fallible (or score-settling). His weapon of choice destroyed one individual. Ours take out anyone in the vicinity." Read the Article

Watchdog: Obama's Mortgage Relief Efforts Aren't Good Enough
Kevin G. Hall, McClatchy Newspapers: "The Obama administration's efforts to force the modifications of distressed mortgages, while laudable, is likely to fall far short because the foreclosure crisis has grown and threatens to dwarf government efforts to relieve it, a special congressional watchdog panel warned in a report released Friday." Read the Article

Senate Panel Extends Controversial Patriot Act Provisions
Jason Leopold, Truthout: "The Senate Judiciary Committee narrowly passed a bill Thursday to extend several controversial provisions of the USA Patriot Act, the counterterrorism law hastily drafted in the aftermath of 9/11." Read the Article

Unions Need to Sever All Ties With Anti-Climate Bill Groups
Brendan Smith, Jeremy Brecher and Tim Costello, Truthout: "Under escalating pressure from activists, Nike, the utility giant Pacific Gas & Electric Company, and others have publicly resigned from the US Chamber of Commerce over its opposition to climate protection policies. It's time for labor unions to follow suit by cutting all ties with groups opposing climate legislation like the Chamber-funded Energy Citizens." Read the Article

Jobs To Come
Le Monde's Editorialist: "Work sometimes gets a bad press - as the prominence of the suicides at France Telecom demonstrates - but jobs are more indispensable than ever - a social priority. Such are the contradictions of the present situation. Political officials know this: It will not be economists who decree the end of the crisis, but the unemployment curve." Read the Article

UN Climate Talks: Rich and Poor Countries Spar on Their Roles
Simon Montlake, The Christian Science Monitor: "With little agreement at the Bangkok UN climate meeting of 180 nations, the agenda for the crucial December Copenhagen conference is still up for heated debate." Read the Article

Bill Moyers Journal America's Economy Reformed?
Bill Moyers Journal: "Just over a year after economic calamity brought promises of reform to Washington, many now say that the recession is nearing an end. But is it business as usual for Wall Street, and have future financial crises been averted?" Read the Article

A pre-emptive Nobel?

Don Wheeler

I'm sure I'll take a lot of heat for this, but I'm not altogether comfortable with President Obama being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Put simply, it seems premature - particularly in view of the February 1 nomination deadline.

Nobels are generally handed out to folks with lengthy records of accomplishments or stunning breakthrough achievements. Jimmy Carter brokering a peace deal between Israel and Egypt. Al Gore relentlessly forcing climate change to become a dominant issue that most, if not all, governments take seriously. Barack Obama....using more conciliatory rhetoric with other nations than we've become used to? If not, then what exactly? There is no record of accomplishment yet.

Perhaps in a reversal of giving awards posthumously, this award is intended as a prehumous honor. The committee feels that Mr. Obama, by the time of his death, will compile a record of accomplishment worthy of this honor. So why wait?

While I think Mr. Obama has done many helpful things to work towards peace, I think it is entirely reasonable to wait until some fruit is born before conferring what is arguably the most important and prestigious award available to a human being on planet Earth. I might be wrong, I might be crazy, but that's what I think. This looks overtly political.

And I don't think it's all that helpful to Mr. Obama. This tends to feed the impression that he is the anointed one, with miracles in his pockets to dispense. I'm impressed by the way he seems to hold his ego in check, but sooner or later he may be talked into the aforementioned view.

I'll go further. It's disservice, not an honor. Let Mr. Obama learn his chops as world leader and compile his record. I would not be at all surprised if it turns out to be impressive. But accomplishment should precede reward.

The uneducated American

New York Times

If you had to explain America’s economic success with one word, that word would be “education.” In the 19th century, America led the way in universal basic education. Then, as other nations followed suit, the “high school revolution” of the early 20th century took us to a whole new level. And in the years after World War II, America established a commanding position in higher education.

But that was then. The rise of American education was, overwhelmingly, the rise of public education — and for the past 30 years our political scene has been dominated by the view that any and all government spending is a waste of taxpayer dollars. Education, as one of the largest components of public spending, has inevitably suffered.

Until now, the results of educational neglect have been gradual — a slow-motion erosion of America’s relative position. But things are about to get much worse, as the economic crisis — its effects exacerbated by the penny-wise, pound-foolish behavior that passes for “fiscal responsibility” in Washington — deals a severe blow to education across the board.

About that erosion: there has been a flurry of reporting recently about threats to the dominance of America’s elite universities. What hasn’t been reported to the same extent, at least as far as I’ve seen, is our relative decline in more mundane measures. America, which used to take the lead in educating its young, has been gradually falling behind other advanced countries.

Most people, I suspect, still have in their minds an image of America as the great land of college education, unique in the extent to which higher learning is offered to the population at large. That image used to correspond to reality. But these days young Americans are considerably less likely than young people in many other countries to graduate from college. In fact, we have a college graduation rate that’s slightly below the average across all advanced economies.

Even without the effects of the current crisis, there would be every reason to expect us to fall further in these rankings, if only because we make it so hard for those with limited financial means to stay in school. In America, with its weak social safety net and limited student aid, students are far more likely than their counterparts in, say, France to hold part-time jobs while still attending classes. Not surprisingly, given the financial pressures, young Americans are also less likely to stay in school and more likely to become full-time workers instead.

But the crisis has placed huge additional stress on our creaking educational system.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the United States economy lost 273,000 jobs last month. Of those lost jobs, 29,000 were in state and local education, bringing the total losses in that category over the past five months to 143,000. That may not sound like much, but education is one of those areas that should, and normally does, keep growing even during a recession. Markets may be troubled, but that’s no reason to stop teaching our children. Yet that’s exactly what we’re doing.

There’s no mystery about what’s going on: education is mainly the responsibility of state and local governments, which are in dire fiscal straits. Adequate federal aid could have made a big difference. But while some aid has been provided, it has made up only a fraction of the shortfall. In part, that’s because back in February centrist senators insisted on stripping much of that aid from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, a k a the stimulus bill.

As a result, education is on the chopping block. And laid-off teachers are only part of the story. Even more important is the way that we’re shutting off opportunities.

For example, the Chronicle of Higher Education recently reported on the plight of California’s community college students. For generations, talented students from less affluent families have used those colleges as a stepping stone to the state’s public universities. But in the face of the state’s budget crisis those universities have been forced to slam the door on this year’s potential transfer students. One result, almost surely, will be lifetime damage to many students’ prospects — and a large, gratuitous waste of human potential.

So what should be done?

First of all, Congress needs to undo the sins of February, and approve another big round of aid to state governments. We don’t have to call it a stimulus, but it would be a very effective way to create or save thousands of jobs. And it would, at the same time, be an investment in our future.

Beyond that, we need to wake up and realize that one of the keys to our nation’s historic success is now a wasting asset. Education made America great; neglect of education can reverse the process.

The Baucus conundrum

New York Times

The longer the health care debate goes on, the more I become convinced that the American system needs fundamental reform. We need to transition away from a fee-for-service system to one that directs incentives toward better care, not more procedures. We need to move away from the employer-based system, which is eroding year by year. We need to move toward a more transparent system, in which people see the consequences of their choices.

I’ve also become convinced that the approach championed by Senator Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon, is the best vehicle for this sort of change. The Wyden approach — first introduced in a bill with Robert F. Bennett, Republican of Utah, and now pared down to an amendment to the current bills—would combine choice with universal coverage.

People with insurance could stay with their existing health plans. But if they didn’t like the plans their employer offered, they could take the money their employer spends, add whatever they wanted to throw in, and shop for a better option on a regulated exchange. People without insurance would get subsidies to shop at the exchanges.

Americans would have real choices. The vigorous exchanges would reward providers and insurers that are efficient, creative and innovative.

But barring a legislative miracle, the Wyden approach was effectively killed in committee last week. The business and union lobbies worked furiously against it. They want to control their employees’ and members’ benefit packages. Many politicians support it in principle but oppose it in practice. They fear that if they try to fundamentally reform the system, voters will revolt.

So what we are going to get is health insurance reform, not health care reform. We’ll be adjusting and expanding the current system, not essentially changing it.

At this point people like me could throw up our hands and oppose everything. But that’s not what adulthood is about. In the real world, you often don’t get to choose what your options will be. You have to choose from a few bad options. The real health care choice now is between the status quo and the bill primarily authored by Senator Max Baucus, Democrat of Montana, that is emerging from the Senate Finance Committee.

The Baucus bill centralizes power, in contrast to the free choice approach, which decentralizes it. The Baucus approach aims to reduce costs, expand coverage and improve efficiency by empowering regulators to write a better set of rules. It aims to rationalize the current system from the top down.

This approach has many weaknesses. It entrenches a flawed system. It creates greater uniformity and rigidity. It redistributes income from the politically disorganized young to the politically organized old. It squeezes people into a Rube Goldberg complex of bureaucracies based on their income level. It will impose huge costs on people as they rise up the income ladder, distorting the whole economy.

The biggest problem is that it will retard innovation. Top-down systems just don’t innovate well, no matter how many Innovation Centers you put in the Department of Health and Human Services. The bill will retard innovation by using monopoly power to squeeze costs. It will also retard innovation by directing resources toward current care (and current voters) and away from future technologies and future beneficiaries.

But the Baucus bill has some advantages over the status quo as well. It would insure an additional 29 million people, a social benefit critics never grapple with.

It is also more fiscally responsible than any other committee bill. It courageously cuts Medicare benefits by hundreds of billions. It raises taxes on the upper and middle classes in many necessary (and covert) ways. The bill will not really be budget neutral, but the authors have taken fiscal responsibility seriously. They’ve earned that good score from the Congressional Budget Office.

Most impressively, the Baucus bill includes many provisions to make government-run health care more rational. It would bundle payments to hospitals and encourage doctors to work in efficient teams. It would punish hospitals that have to readmit patients. It would create a commission to perpetually squeeze costs. It would improve information technology. It would measure the comparative effectiveness of different treatments. No one knows how much savings would be produced by these changes in payment method, but they could be significant.

If you asked me to compare the Baucus approach with the Wyden approach, the answer is easy. But if you asked me to compare it with the status quo, the answer is hard. The Baucus bill contains hidden bombs that could lead to a rigid bureaucratic system that still doesn’t address the fundamental problems. On the other hand, it contains hidden experiments that could lead to new models that might spread across the system.

If I were in Congress, I’d figure there’s an 80 percent chance of something like this passing anyway. I might as well get engaged as a provisional supporter to fight to make it better, or at least to fight off the coming onslaught to make it worse.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

On Learning To Love Homegrown, Or, Baucus' Fundraising Considered

So we are now finding out the answers to some of our questions about which members of Congress actually represent We, the People...and which ones represent, Them, the Corporate Masters.

We have seen a Democratic Senator propose a policy that would put people in jail for not buying health insurance and a Democratic President who has taken numerous public beatings from those on the left side of the fence for his inability to ram something through a group of people...and yes, folks, the entendre was intentional.

But most of all, we’ve been asking ourselves: “why would Democratic Members of Congress who will eventually want us to vote for them vote against something that nearly all voting Democrats are inclined to vote for?”

Today’s conversation attempts to answer that question by looking at exactly how money and influence flow through a key politician, Montana’s Senator Max Baucus—and in doing so, we examine some ugly political realities that have to be resolved before we can hope to convince certain Members of Congress to vote for what their constituents actually want when it really counts.

“The idea of covering even the early stages of the cynical and increasingly retrograde campaign has already plunged me into a condition bordering on terminal despair, and if I thought I might have to stay with these people all the way to November I would change my name and seek work as a professional alligator poacher in the swamps around Lake Okeechobee.”

--Hunter S. Thompson, Jimmy Carter and the Great Leap of Faith

Now any normal person trying to analyze last year’s election would have said something like “the fact that Obama was promoting a new type of politics—and that a large majority of the public liked what they were seeing—should have meant that politicians would finally do what the public wanted”...and if you’re as cynical as I am, you might have thought that the fact that Obama is the most successful fundraiser in the history of politics would have made other candidates figure that supporting Obama, politically, would be the easy way to put more cheddar in their own pockets.

But here’s the thing: Senator Baucus has been in Washington, in the same job, since 1978, which is about three years short of half of his entire life (and he spent those three years in the House), and unless he wakes up dead one morning or Montana secedes from the Union he’s pretty much guaranteed to be there until at least January 2015.

In those three decades he’s been able to create, and then “outsource”, his own independent fundraising operation—and he’s been so good at doing this that he can donate money from his own Political Action Committee (Glacier PAC) to other Democrats, which is the Congressional version of acquiring really cool “Magic: The Gathering” cards now in an effort to both control votes today and become a more powerful player later on.

He did it by cultivating people in his own office who later went on to become lobbyists. At least 24 of ‘em. Since Baucus now runs the Senate Finance Committee and every bill in the Senate that needs money has to pass through his Committee for approval, all those hard working lobbyists now lobby...wait for it...their former boss.

This creates a fundraising “virtuous circle”: “Baucus-affiliated” lobbyists sell access to Baucus...and part of the price of that access is donating to Baucus...which, since “the fix is in”, creates legislative successes that lead to more people wanting more access for bigger favors...which makes the prices all go up, creating more power and influence for Baucus and his orbiting constellation of homegrown lobbyists.

And now that the enterprise has reached the point where the entourage has gone on to have their own entourages, Obama’s vision of “change you can believe in” is sounding more like a promise to screw up a perfectly good hustle than it is a way to run a country.

So how does all this influence the healthcare debate?

At the moment, Baucus could literally coach a basketball team of former staff members who now lobby Baucus on behalf of health care clients:

--David Castagnetti of Mehlman Vogel Castagnetti, Inc. is the vertically integrated busy beaver of the group, representing drug powerhouses Abbot, AstraZeneca, and Biogen, device manufacturers like GE Medical, service providers like Humana and the American Clinical Lab Association, and AHIP, the trade association of health insurers, among others.

--Jeff Forbes, who is currently self-employed, is representing drug maker Roche Group, Manor Care (who provides long-term care services in nursing homes and other environments), and the Advanced Medical Technology Association (AdvaMed), a group which includes many of the big players in the medical business.

--Roger Blauwet (he of DC’s Canfield and Associates), is representing Wyeth and Pfizer (two more major drug manufacturers), the Association of Financial Guaranty Insurers, who are the “reinsurers” who help carry risk for other insurers (in return for a piece of the action), and the Rx Benefits Coalition, which reports that it represents companies that support “market solutions” to make prescription drugs available.

Some clients feel that their needs require more than one “Baucus alumnus” on the payroll, which is why Scott Olsen and Jeff Forbes are working for biotech giant Amgen (along with about 150 other lobbyists), David Castagnetti and Angela Hofmann are slogging it out for Wal-Mart, and Roger Blauwet and Castagnetti are both hoofing it for the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), who is, literally, the “Big PhRMA” that everyone talks about.

Drug manufacturer Merck hired three of the anointed: Forbes, Blauwet and Castagnetti.

All of this effort is working—and working well. According to, somewhere in the range of $4.5 million has been donated to Baucus during his career by insurance and healthcare interests.

It isn’t just health care, either. Because somewhere around two dozen former Baucus staffers turned lobbyists are “home on the Washington range”, no matter what is being debated in Congress, Baucus gets paid (two quick examples of his Committee’s jurisdiction: changes in tax policy and financial industry regulation—or the lack of it).

In truth, “Baucus gets paid” is probably a bit too cynical.

What I really should say is that Baucus has been exceptionally successful in listening to all points of view when considering ways to make the lives of every American all they can be, that the people who get listened to are exceptionally grateful for this attention, that millions and millions of dollars worth of gratitude have been funneled to Baucus over the years because he’s such a good listener, and that, from now until at least 2015, if you need a Senator to support “status quo you can believe in” you might want to try launching a great big brick of cheddar into the Senator’s constellation.

So the next time someone asks you how “change you can believe in” could have possibly morphed into “buy insurance or we’ll put you in jail”...well, now you know—and given the choice, wouldn’t you rather watch someone make sausage?

Zero tolerance (for) education

Don Wheeler

In a pretty stunning story October 7, 2009 in the South Bend Tribune, reporter Joseph Dits summarized presentations made by state education officials and their consultants at a Chamber of Conference of St. Joseph County summit (of some sort). The dominant theme was that citizens need a better education to ensure better futures for themselves.

Who knew?!

So what great wisdom was imparted by the omniscientia?

Here are some comments attributed to Carol D'Amico, a consultant to the Indiana Department of Education and a senior adviser to Conexus Indiana, which aims to make the state a leader in high-tech, high-growth jobs.

Sadly, D'Amico said, there are many workers in Elkhart County who lost jobs but haven't been able to take advantage of training to retool their careers because they lack basic academics.

In a 2006 study of adults age 18 to 64, about 350,000 (she meant 524,370) were found to lack a high school diploma, she said.

"We do a good job of getting young people to go to college; we are one of the top states in the nation," D'Amico said. "The problem is they don't finish. If we are going to grow the work force, we are going to have to work on this issue."

These observations back to back are pretty confusing.

So what does retired lounge singer (aka State Superintendent of Education) Tony Bennett propose?

Bennett set goals for Indiana for the next four years, which he likens to President John F. Kennedy's lofty claim in 1962 that the United States would put a man on the moon within 10 years of his announcement.
Bennett said these are doable:

90 percent of Indiana students will pass the state's standardized tests by 2012. He hailed Penn-Harris-Madison School Corp. as one that has hit that mark.

25 percent of students will leave high school with courses in advanced placement, the International Baccalaureate program or dual college credit. Only 10 percent of students now have advanced placement credits.

90 percent of students will graduate with a "meaningful" high school diploma.

Aha! And how will this occur?

Bennett said he wants more competition among schools and districts. That's why the state lifted the caps on developing charter schools in Indiana, he said. He also wants more freedom for schools and districts so they can compete. He believes there are too many restrictions on schools.

By the end of the 2011 school year, he said 23 schools may face serious consequences — including state takeover — because of poor performance on the ISTEP tests under state standards. That includes a few
schools in South Bend. The state "won't blink" in carrying that out, he said, adding, "Your (school) boards should be very aggressive about making sure they do something."

"We can't blame the fact that kids come from poor households," he said. "We can't blame the fact that kids come from single-parent families."

Having people who think like this in charge of day-to-day operations is a pretty scary thought indeed. The last sentence is pretty perplexing. We also can't ignore that this is the case and that it will always be more expensive to educate children from these backgounds - assuming our objective is good outcomes for them.

Oh, and this is a pretty revealing exchange.

Businessman Perry Watson III told the leaders they failed to speak of the importance of preschool and primary education. He also said he believed they need to talk about educating parents, saying, "There's a disproportionate burden on the system, and parents always get a pass."

Bennett said he is a proponent of preschool but doesn't think it's a cure for what's ailing education in kindergarten through 12th grade.

If Bennett really believes that, then he needs to be introduced to the vast number of studies which will pretty much unanimously confirm he has no idea what he's talking about. He can start with the National Institute of Early Education at Rutgers University. They routinely cover the results of state sponsored universal pre-kindergarten programs, which invariably provide measurably improved outcomes. The state of Oklahoma has had such a program in place for over ten years and they brag about it with good reason. And Indiana....?

This state won't even fund universal full-day Kindergarten. Heck, Kindergarten attendance in Indiana is optional. Don't feel like enrolling your kid? No problem.

Additionally, Indiana cuts off admittance to grade level (by birthdate) earlier than any other state in the country. This means children in Indiana begin their state provided education later than in any other state in the country. Add this all up, and its clear that one of the hardest jobs in the world is being a First Grade Teacher in Indiana. In your classroom you'll find children with two years of pre-school plus Kindergarten under their belts and possibly children who are in a school setting for the first time in their lives. There will be at least twenty of them altogether. All I can say is "Good luck".

And of course this wisdom comes from a man who proposes that it isn't that important to know how to teach in order to teach. His claim is that people who major in the subject area they plan to teach, will learn more about the subject than an education major will. (I guess he thinks folks will figure out that teaching stuff on the job). This was neatly refuted by the Dean of the School of Education of Indiana University who pointed out that it is often the case that education majors are required to take more hours on the given subject than is required of students majoring in the subject.

And of course Mr. Bennett has tried to be helpful in so many other ways. Like insisting that school corporations can no longer have any half days in lieu of full days. This effectively eliminated the twice a year parent teacher conferences, because it would have required renegotiating teacher contracts in order to add days to the school calendar. As my daughter's first grade teacher pointed out, if what he wanted was to make sure children received a minimum time period in classes in a given year, he could have instituted an hour requirement - as Michigan uses. All a school system would need to do is lengthen the school day by a few minutes - not subject to contract amendment.

But it doesn't look as though that's what Mr. Bennett had in mind at all. It looks like he wanted to put unionized teachers in awkward position and make them look bad.

And you'd think if Mr. Bennett was looking for success for students, he'd advocate that all school systems utilize programs with proven track records - and admonish the legislature to fund such programs. Wouldn't you?

The Wilson/LiPS reading program, which focuses on the decoding and encoding of English words and stimulating phonemic awareness, has a stunning record of success. Locally introduced by Hay Primary Center Principal Craig Haenes, through private donations it has become available in three other schools - but the School Corporation has no money to take it system wide.

Wouldn't you think the state would want to fund things they absolutely know will work?

Oh I forgot. Early education really doesn't matter, per Mr. Bennett. On the other hand, Wilson LiPS might be useful to our High Schoolers if we ignore early education. I hadn't thought of that.

When our daughter was very little and we suspected a diaper change was indicated, we would typically ask her "How your diaper?"

She would gain a poker face and say "I think its fine".

Well, I think Mr. Bennett is fine.

Truthout 10/8

Henry Giroux Painful Lessons in the Pedagogy of School Violence
Henry A. Giroux, Truthout: "On May 20, 2009, Marshawn Pitts, a 15-year-old African-American boy, who is also a special needs student, was walking down the corridor of the Academy for Learning High School in Dolton, Illinois. A police officer in the school noticed that the boy's shirt was not tucked in and started shouting and swearing at him. Pitts claims that he immediately started to tuck in his shirt, but it was too late. Within seconds, the police officer pushed him into the lockers, repeatedly punched him and then slammed him to the ground and pushed his face to the floor." Read the Article

Jason Leopold Spending Bill Includes Provision to Block Release of Abuse Photos
Jason Leopold, Truthout: "Congressional lawmakers moved a step closer Wednesday toward banning the Department of Defense from releasing photographs depicting US Soldiers abusing detainees held in prisons in Iraq and Afghanistan." Read the Article

Robert Naiman Obama Begins Meaningful Engagement With Iran
Robert Naiman, Truthout: "The relationship between the United States and Iran with respect to Iran's nuclear file is playing out at two levels. One level revolves around formal obligations and agreements and diplomacy. The second level is the long-running contest between the United States and its allies and Iran and its allies for power and influence in the region. The contest at the formal-obligations level on the nuclear program is a proxy for the contest for power and influence, and accommodation on the nuclear program likely implies some acceptance of Iran's power and influence in the region." Read the Article

Melvin A. Goodman Five Myths on Afghanistan
Melvin A. Goodman, Truthout: "President Barack Obama is entering a crucial decision-making phase on Afghanistan at a time when geopolitical mythology is dominating the debate, the Pentagon is requesting additional forces in Afghanistan." Read the Article

Health Care Bill Wouldn't Raise Deficit, Report Says
Lori Montgomery and Shailagh Murray, The Washington Post: "Congressional budget analysts gave an important political boost Wednesday to a Senate panel's health-care overhaul, projecting that the $829 billion measure would dramatically shrink the ranks of the uninsured and keep President Obama's pledge that doing so would not add 'one dime' to federal budget deficits." Read the Article

Lawmakers Agree to Holding Guantanamo Inmates in US
Lucile Malandain, Agence France-Presse: "Congressional leaders agreed for the first time that Guantanamo detainees could be sent to US soil for trial, boosting President Barack Obama's bid to close the prison. In two different draft bills, key Democratic lawmakers added clauses that would authorize detainees at the US naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba to be transferred to the United States to face trial under strict conditions." Read the Article

Indian Embassy Bombed in Afghanistan
Truthout NewsWire: "A powerful suicide car bomb exploded outside the Indian Embassy in Afghanistan on Thursday, killing at least 17 and wounding 83. It was the second attack against the Indian Embassy in that nation in two years. A Taliban spokesman claimed responsibility for the bombing, but the attack appeared similar to the first one, which took place in July of 2008 and which American intelligence officials believe Pakistan's intelligence agency helped to plan. Pakistan denied any involvement in the July 2008 attack." Read the Article

Joe Conason Why Obama Must Spend More
Joe Conason, Truthout: "The latest signals from the White House suggest that President Obama now realizes he must do more - and quickly - to ease the economic suffering of working families. He knows that most Americans believe his administration and Congress have so far provided more help to major banks and Wall Street investment firms than to workers and small companies, as a survey released by pollster Peter Hart reported recently." Read the Article

Honduras: Talks Seek Solution to 102-Day Crisis
Juan Ramon Duran, Inter Press Service: "Talks began Wednesday between delegates of ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya and de facto leader Roberto Micheletti, under international observation, to seek a solution to the crisis triggered by the Jun. 28 coup." Read the Article

Bill Fletcher Jr. What Is Not Being Discussed in the Iran Nuclear Story
Bill Fletcher Jr., The Black Commentator: " Last week's announcement of the discovery of a previously unknown but suspected nuclear research and production site became a major story in the Western media. The Obama administration, along with its allies in Europe, saw this as evidence of Iranian duplicity on the matter of its nuclear intentions. Though Iran admitted the existence of this facility, the manner in which it did so seemed to be directed at heading off the expose' from other sources." Read the Article

Are Pentagon Contracts Funding the Taliban?
Jean MacKenzie, GlobalPost: "It seemed like such a good idea at the time. At a staff meeting in 2006, Lt. Gen. Karl Eikenberry, who was then commander of Combined Forces Afghanistan, took a sip of bottled water. Then he looked at the label of one of the Western companies that were being paid millions of dollars a year to ship bottled water by the container load into Afghanistan." Read the Article

Americans Cutting Back on Health Care to Save Money
David Lightman, McClatchy Newspapers: "Many Americans have been putting off doctors' visits, forgoing medical tests and taking expired medications to save money over the past year, according to a new poll by Consumers Union. The survey by the nonpartisan organization found that 51 percent of Americans have 'faced difficult health care choices in the past year." Read the Article

FP morning brief 10/8

Top story:

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi says he feels "invigorated" by yesterday's ruling stripping him of immunity from prosecution and has vowed to serve his full term in office and fight the corruption charges against him. "I will defend myself in the courts, exposing the accusers to ridicule, showing all Italians what stuff they're made of and what stuff I'm made of," he said in a televised address. Berlusconi said the ruling did not surprise him because the courts were populated with "gentlemen of the left."

There are two separate cases pending against Berlusconi. One involves the alleged bribing of his British lawyer to give false testimony to protect his business interests. A second involves allegations of tax fraud against his television company, Mediaset. No date has been set for either trial.

Berlusconi, who once seemed politically invincible, has been substantially weakened by a series of sex scandals over the summer.


A new report shows that nearly 1 in 4 people in the world are Muslim.

A terrorist bombing outside the Indian embassy in Kabul killed 17 people.
A typhoon has made landfall in Japan, causing widespread damage.
Two huge earthquakes in the Pacific have the region on high alert for tsunamis.

Middle East
Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman says there is no chance for a peace deal with the Palestinians any time soon.
Saudi King Abdullah has arrived in Syria for talks with President Bashar al-Assad.
Iran has accused the U.S. of involvement in the disappearance of a prominent nuclear scientist.

The Romanian-German author Herta Mueller won the Nobel Prize for literature.
Police in Berlin conducted a citywide raid aimed at "violent Islamic extremists."
Three senior Polish officials resigned over corruption charges.

Nigeria's MEND rebels say they will resume their attacks after a ceasefire with the government ends next week.
Guinea's government has created a commission to investigate the mass killing of protesters last week.
Burundian troops fought with a group of Congolese refugees who were attempting to return home.

Interim Honduran leader Robert Micheletti rejected proposals from international mediators that he allow Manuel Zelaya to return to power.
Canada has asked the World Trade Organization to settle a dispute with the United States over labeling laws for agricultural products.
Colombia's ELN rebels broke one of their commanders out of prison.

Pulling for a proven winner

The Editors
South Bend Tribune

We know that there are plenty of folks who are rooting for the South Bend Community School Corp.

Now there's an opportunity to actively pull for SBCSC success, most notably in the crucial area of reading education.

As explained in a recent Tribune story, the Public Education Foundation is having a fundraiser — and it's not your typical event. No candy sales or 5K walks, here. Instead, on Saturday teams of 20 will take their turn at a truck pull. Teams earn the right to see who can pull fastest by raising at least $1,000 (or $500 each for teams of high school students).

If the fundraiser is a bit unusual, the cause couldn't be more basic and essential: The money raised goes to the foundation to pay for a literacy program called Wilson/Lips, which focuses on the decoding and encoding of English words and stimulating phonemic awareness.

The program was piloted six years ago at Hay Primary Center, which has seen significant ISTEP score increases since its implementation. That success led to the program's expansion to Wilson, Harrison and Madison primary centers. There, too, the effect of the program has been clear and positive, with all students gaining in their reading levels. This year, it's coming to Lincoln.

No one program offers all the answers to all learning deficiencies, but the documented success of Wilson/Lips is undeniable — and exciting. To keep that excitement going, the foundation needs to raise $138,000 — most of which will pay for tutors. This is hardly a small fundraising challenge, but one that's possible when a community pulls together.

Update from Dave Boundy

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Truthout 10/7

Truthout to Congress: Stop Funding Endless War
Truthout Staff: "On the war's eighth anniversary, we urge our president, our Congress and our country to cut the military purse strings and reject an escalation of violence in Afghanistan. Yesterday, the Senate passed $128 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. This appropriation could fuel a 'surge' in deployment of US troops to Afghanistan; Gen. Stanley McChrystal recommends an increase of up to 40,000 soldiers." Read the Article

Kim Bobo Overdue Confirmations for the Department of Labor
Kim Bobo, Truthout: "Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis, who faces a national crisis of wage theft, is working without her key enforcement staff. Last spring, President Obama announced nominations for solicitor of labor and wage and hour administrator - the two most important positions for enforcing the country's wage laws - but the Senate has yet to confirm either nominee. On Wednesday, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee (HELP) will vote on these critical Department of Labor (DOL) nominees." Read the Article

Camillo "Mac" Bica An Open Letter to President Barack Obama
Camillo "Mac" Bica, Truthout: "Dear President Obama: Afghanistan is the good war, you tell us, necessary to ensure that it not again become a training ground and base from which al-Qaeda can launch attacks against the United States. This is also what we heard from the Bush administration war criminals and from others who support continuing, even escalating, the AFPAK campaign." Read the Article

Jim Hightower Goofing Up Health Care Reform
Jim Hightower, Truthout: "America's shouting match over health care reform has turned completely goofy - and I'm not talking about confused seniors at teabag rallies getting red-faced with anger after being told by the right-wing scare machine that 'government is trying to taker over Medicare.' No, I'm talking about our United States senators. Take Max Baucus. Please! He's the lightweight Montana Democrat to whom President Obama entrusted the heavy job of shepherding health care reform through the upper chamber. It was like asking Tweety Bird to lift a bowling ball." Read the Article

Ira Chernus Obama Trapped Behind Wall of Mideast Containment: It's the Iranians, Stupid
Ira Chernus, Tom "And you thought 'don't ask, don't tell' was a U.S. law on gays in the military that Barack Obama has promised to change. As it turns out, the same phrase plays quite a different role in the Middle East, where Obama seems to have no intention of changing it at all. Successive administrations have adhered to a 'don't ask, don't tell' policy when it comes to Israel's sizeable arsenal of nuclear weapons. That country has never acknowledged their existence, adhering instead to another arcane formula: 'We will not introduce nuclear weapons into the Middle East.'" Read the Article

North Korea Ready for Six-Party Talks - With Caveat
Peter Ford and Donald Kirk, The Christian Science Monitor: "North Korea's new readiness to return to stalled international talks about its nuclear program - if prior negotiations with the United States go well - puts the diplomatic ball in Washington's court. 'This is a test for the Obama administration's policy on North Korea,' says Ryoo Kihl-jae, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul. Initial signs suggested that the US was prepared to pick the ball up." Read the Article

El Espectador The New Drug Czar Pays Us a Visit
El Espectador (Spanish Translation: Ryan Croken): "In his recent remarks to the press, Gil Kerlikowske, the former chief of the Seattle Police Department and the current head of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, stated that his country intended to implement 'a more balanced approach' in the fight against drugs, an approach that consisted of more than just prisons and soldiers. 'We want to take a look at methods that are helping people leave drugs behind and become productive members of society,' Kerlikowske said." Read the Article

Connie Schultz One Soldier Dies; Another Soldier's Mother Prays
Connie Schultz, Truthout: "Whenever she reads an online notice that another American has died in Iraq or Afghanistan, Donna Faye Caudill posts the same response: 'Praying for the soldier's family.' Every time I read her response, I know that she is thinking about her son Army Spc. Ben Caudill. This ritual began soon after I signed up for the Department of Defense 'casualty' alerts. I did this to force myself to be mindful of the sacrifices of the men and women serving in the Middle East and their families left behind." Read the Article

Firms Divided Over Obama's Emissions Cuts
Eli Clifton, Inter Press Service: "Momentum is building in Washington for an overhaul of climate policy, with President Barack Obama signing an executive order Monday directing federal agencies to monitor their greenhouse gas emissions and set targets to reduce their emissions by 2020. Meanwhile, tensions in the private sector flared as several major companies quit the US Chamber of Commerce to protest the federation's opposition to federal legislation to cap greenhouse gas emissions. 'As the largest consumer of energy in the U.S. economy, the federal government can and should lead by example when it comes to creating innovative ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, increase energy efficiency, conserve water, reduce waste, and use environmentally-responsible products and technologies,' Obama said in a statement." Read the Article

Jodie Evans Afghanistan: Will Obama Listen to the Women?
Jodie Evans, The Women's Media Center: "With the eighth anniversary of our invasion of Afghanistan upon us and a leaked letter from our general in Afghanistan that he wants another 40,000 troops before the funding for the last request of 21,000 has really been fully voted on, we felt it was time to go to Afghanistan and speak to the women. What do they want to say to President Obama? Nine of us arrived September 27 in the midst of an election scandal and reports of kidnapped Americans being held for a ransom of Taliban prisoners." Read the Article

What Really Happened in Rwanda?
Christian Davenport and Allan C. Stam, Miller-McCune: "In 1998 and 1999, we went to Rwanda and returned several times in subsequent years for a simple reason: We wanted to discover what had happened there during the 100 days in 1994 when civil war and genocide killed an estimated 1 million individuals. What was the source of our curiosity? Well, our motivations were complex. In part, we felt guilty about ignoring the events when they took place and were largely overshadowed in the U.S. by such 'news' as the O.J. Simpson murder case. We felt that at least we could do something to clarify what had occurred in an effort to respect the dead and assist in preventing this kind of mass atrocity in the future." Read the Article

Gregoire Allix "Europe Has Trouble Being a Destination for Immigration"
Gregoire Allix, Le Monde (French Translation: Leslie Thatcher): "Two weeks after France's closure of the Calais 'jungle' - a refuge for 800 illegal immigrants on their way to Great Britain - the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) published a veritable indictment against anti-migration policies. Presented Monday, October 5, the UNDP's annual report is entirely devoted to this theme, under the explicit title 'Lifting the Barriers, Migration, and Human Development.' Catherine Wihtol de Wenden, research director at the Center for International Studies and Research (CERI), which has just published 'Human Globalization' after a recent 'Global Atlas of Migrations' (published by Autrement), also deems that governments' preference for a security approach is mistaken." Read the Article

FP morning post 10/7

Top story:

At a bipartisan meeting with congressional leaders on Tuesday, President Barack Obama indicated that he has ruled out substantial troop reductions in Afghanistan but remains undecided on Gen. Stanley McChyrstal's request for 40,000 more troops.

A senior aide said the president was looking to “dispense with the straw man argument that this is about either doubling down or leaving Afghanistan,” but with congress divided on Afghan strategy, the president may not have much time for deliberation. “This should not be a leisurely process,” Sen. John McCain reportedly told the president at the meeting.

Senate Majority leader predicted after the meeting that Obama's strategy review would last "weeks not months."


Two American and one Israeli scientist were awarded the Nobel Prize in chemistry for their work on the ribosome.

Japan's new foreign minister will review the agreement allowing U.S. troops to base in Okinawa.
The Dalai Lama might not have gotten an audience with President Obama but he did receive an award from the U.S. Congress yesterday.
Pakistan's military raised concerns over a new U.S. aid bill.

Middle East
The Iranian government shut down three opposition newspapers.
A senior Palestinian official says the government erred in not pushing forward the controversial Goldstone Report on Israeli human rights abuses.
Saudi King Abdullah is making a rare visit to Syria this week to pressure the Assad government to cut ties with Iran.

Kenyan ethnic groups are rearming for the 2012 elections, the BBC says.
International mediators have agreed to let Madagascar coup leader Andry Rajoelina stay has head of state, but not run in upcoming elections.
Ugandan authorities briefly arrested Somalia's junior defense minister by mistake.

Diplomats from throughout Latin American have converged on Honduras to mediate talks on resolving the country's political standoff.
Ecuador's government is considering changing the resource laws that provoked violent protests from indigenous groups.
The Mexican State of Baja California is creating a special bilingual police force to protect tourists.

Greece's new socialist government was sworn in.
A Moscow court ruled that Russian human rights group Memorial defamed Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov by saying he killed activist Natalia Estemirova.
Director Roman Polanski lost his appeal to be released from jail in Switzerland.

Speaking up for Ibrahim

The Editors
South Bend Tribune

The organization Citizens for Ibrahim is collecting signatures for a petition that asks President Barack Obama, Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano and Attorney General Eric Holder to drop deportation proceedings against Ibrahim Parlak.

The group first said it hoped to collect 1,000 names in 100 days. But that was too easy. It got that many names in the first week. So it has upped the target to 2,000 names. We think the new goal, too, will be readily achieved. To sign, go to the Web site .

Word of Parlak's dilemma has spread far and wide. The federal government once gave Parlak asylum after he was imprisoned and tortured in Turkey for separatist activities. But in the aftermath of 9/11, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has been bent on deporting him. Most recently, he lost an appeal to the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and is contemplating his next move.

Among Parlak's many friends are U.S. Rep. Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph, and U.S. Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich. They are sponsoring federal legislation to grant Parlak permanent residency. The fact the bill is pending is keeping him safe for now. But the best solution would be an executive decision to call off this disproportionate war on Parlak.

The Harbert restaurateur also has friends who want to write personal letters on his behalf in addition to signing the Internet petition. We have heard from a number of them, requesting that we print mailing addresses. We are doing that today.

It might seem that letters and a petition wouldn't change the minds of such high-powered officials. Why should they care about one man, working hard at his business, raising his family, hoping for a future in the country he has grown to love?

The reason is clear to us: Anyone with so many people willing to stand up for him, to speak on his behalf, deserves their attention. If President Obama, Attorney General Holder and Secretary Napolitano do take note of the injustice that has been dealt Ibrahim Parlak, then they will see the rightness of dropping the deportation proceedings.

Indiana families fairing far worse than they did during the 2001 recession

A recent release from from the Indiana Institute for Working Families contained some sad, but unsurprising news.

The 2008 American Community Survey data released yesterday by the U.S. Census Bureau shows that Indiana families are fairing far worse than they did during the 2001 national recession. One of the most alarming statistics in the recently released data is that Hoosiers median household income has drastically decreased. In 2008, the median household income in Indiana was $47,966, below the national average of $52,029. This is a decrease from $49,271 (in 2008 dollars) in 2007. However, what is more concerning, the 2007 and 2008 median household incomes were lower than the Indiana median household income of $51,005 (in 2008 dollars) in 2000.

According to the ACS data, 807,506 Hoosiers were living at or below poverty in 2008 ($21,200 for a family of four). Although Indiana’s poverty rate of 13.1% was below the national average of 13.2% in 2008, it is a significant increase from 12.3% in 2007. The number of Hoosiers in poverty has increased significantly in Indiana since 2000, when Indiana’s poverty rate was 10.1%. This is reflective of the decrease seen in Hoosiers median household income, as well as, the impact of the recession, as reflected in the increased number of job losses and growing unemployment rate in Indiana.

Even more concerning is the growing number of children in poverty, which is the highest it has been in the last decade. The childhood poverty rate in Indiana is 17.9% in 2008 (276,430 children). This is a 1.2% increase from 2007. Childhood poverty has also steadily increased in Indiana since 2000 when the child poverty rate was 14.3%.

“This data is very concerning considering it only captures the first quarter of the national
recession, and the numbers for 2009 are certain to be worse as they will reflect an entire year of
the national and statewide economic decline,” said Lisa Travis, Program Director of the Indiana
Institute for Working Families, a program of the Indiana Community Action Association (INCAA).
“Within the Indiana Community Action Network alone, in 2008 we have served 712,916
low-income Hoosiers, an increase of 197,372 individuals from 2007. This data should be a
warning sign to state officials and community organizations that more needs to be done to help
working Hoosier families through these difficult economic times as the number of Hoosiers
living below the poverty guidelines continues to grow and the worse is yet to come.”

Read the full release here

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Sitting Bull's great-grandson to speak at Notre Dame

Ernie LaPointe will present his family’s oral history of Sitting Bull (Tatanka Iyotake) as describedin his book Sitting Bull: His Life and Legacy, published September 2009.

He will discuss contemporary Lakota culture as well as the repatriation process by which the Smithsonian Museum returned to him some of Sitting Bull’s personal belongings. His talk will be followed by a booksigning and the signing of DVDs in which he not only recounts Sitting Bull’s biography from a Native American point of view but also explains what it means to be Lakota in the time of Sitting Bull and now.

This event is co-sponsored by the Henkels Lecture Series, the Institute for Scholarship in theLiberal Arts, Multicultural Student Programs and Services, the Native American Student Associationof Notre Dame, the Department of American Studies, the Department of Anthropology, the Department ofHistory, and the Department of Romance Languages and Literatures.

The event is scheduled for Thursday, October 8th, 5:00-6:30 pm, at 117 Debartolo Hall on the Notre Dame campus.

Truthout 10/6

Jason Leopold Court Documents Reveal Existence of New Torture Tapes
Jason Leopold, Truthout: "A federal court judge on Monday revealed that the brutal interrogation of an alleged 'war on terror' detainee imprisoned at Guantanamo for more than seven years was videotaped and she ordered the government to turn over the materials to the prisoner's lawyers." Read the Article

Steve Weissman 500,000 Troops to Pashtunistan
Steve Weissman, Truthout: "Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the US commander in Afghanistan, talks of winning the hearts and minds of the Afghan people. He sees the need to get beyond standard military thinking and understand the political, religious, social and economic context. He also knows that kicking down doors, destroying homes and killing civilians turns the Afghans against us and creates more insurgents than we could ever kill." Read the Article

Tom Loudon Honduras - 100 Days of Repression and Resistance
Tom Loudon, Truthout: "Today marks 100 days since a military coup was carried out against President Zelaya in Honduras. It also marks 100 days of massive, sustained, nonviolent resistance on the part of the Honduran people who are saying no to this brazen attempt to return to the days of dictators." Read the Article

Report: Nations Seek to Dump Dollar as Oil Currency
Truthout, NewsWire: "Robert Fisk, writing on Tuesday for The Independent UK, has reported that a number of Arab states, along with several major world powers, have been holding secret meetings to formulate a plan that would eliminate the US dollar as the main form of currency in international oil transactions." Read the Article

Matt Bivens Cure Millions of Leprosy - or Just Give Hank Paulson a Tax Break?
Matt Bivens, "There are many possible responses to the news that we have committed more than four trillion public dollars to Wall Street. Mine is a roar of admiration. Four trillion dollars! Holy hell! I didn't even know that was possible!" Read the Article

Leaked Iran Paper Based on Intel That Split IAEA
Gareth Porter, Inter Press Service: "Excerpts of the internal draft report by the staff of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) published online last week show that the report's claims about Iranian work on a nuclear weapon is based almost entirely on intelligence documents which have provoked a serious conflict within the agency." Read the Article

Gates to Army: We'll Follow Obama's Orders on Afghanistan
Nancy A. Youssef, McClatchy Newspapers: "Amid tension between the military and President Barack Obama over military action in Afghanistan, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates told a gathering of Army officers Monday that the Pentagon would follow any strategy that Obama orders." Read the Article

Dr. Wilmer J. Leon III Observations of an African-American Father
Dr. Wilmer J. Leon III, Truthout: "On this past Saturday, October 3, 2009, a 16-year-old African-American honor student, Derrion Albert, was laid to rest in Chicago. This young man was beaten to death in the street while walking from school to the bus stop. Silvanus Shannon, 19; Eugene Riley, 18; Eric Carson, 16; and Eugene Bailey, 18, have all been charged with first-degree murder in Derrion's death." Read the Article

Sotomayor Shows She's No Clarence Thomas as Supreme Court Opens
Michael Doyle, McClatchy Newspapers: "A recast Supreme Court kicked off its new season Monday, with novice Justice Sonia Sotomayor immediately taking center stage. In just an hour, the court's newest justice asked more questions than Justice Clarence Thomas has asked over the course of several years. Sotomayor's aggressive role in a Fifth Amendment case, in turn, underscored how she could put her own stamp on a court whose 2009-2010 docket is still taking shape." Read the Article

Contractors in Iraq Are Hidden Casualties of War
T. Christian Miller, ProPublica: "A nurse rocked him awake as pale dawn light crept into the room. 'C'mon now, c'mon,' the nurse murmured. 'Time to get up.' Reggie Lane was once a hulking man of 260 pounds. Friends called him 'Big Dad.' Now, he weighed less than 200 pounds and his brain was severely damaged. He groaned angry, wordless cries." Read the Article

Jeremy Scahill NY Times Whines That "Rethink Afghanistan" Film Is Not "Balanced"
Jeremy Scahill, Rebel Reports: "Perhaps more than any other major corporate news outlet, The New York Times played a central role in promoting the Bush administration's fraudulent case for the invasion and occupation of Iraq. The 'reporting' of Judith Miller and Michael Gordon basically served as a front-page fiction laundering factory for Dick Cheney's fantasy of a 'mushroom cloud' threat from Saddam Hussein looming on the immediate horizon, topped off with a celebratory slice of yellowcake. More recently, the paper's propagandists, William Broad and David Sanger, have aimed their sights on reporting dubious claims about Iran's nuclear program." Read the Article

Herve Kempf The Oligarchy and the Titanic Syndrome
Herve Kempf, Le Monde (French Translation: Leslie Thatcher): "'The Titanic Syndrome,' the film by Nicolas Hulot and Jean-Albert Lievre, which will be out on [French] screens October 7, will upset people. This environmental documentary shows almost no nature: Breaking with the postcard aesthetic customary in the genre, the film confronts the hard reality of poverty and injustice. It attempts, uneasily, to say that the vertiginous deterioration of the biosphere is the result of a social order become insane, one which makes the weak, the poor and the exploited bear its consequences." Read the Article

FP morning post 10/6

Top story:

Several thousand police have been deployed on the streets of Jerusalem for the Jewish holiday of Sukkot after two days of rioting at the site known as the Temple Mount to Jews and Haram al-Sharif to Muslims.

Around 30 people were injured last week when Palestinian rioters threw stones a group of visitors entering the complex. The rioters believed the visitors were Jewish extremists seeking to take over the complex, which house the al Aqsa mosque. The Israeli government says they were just tourists.

Rioting broke out again on Sunday and Monday and police closed the site to male worshippers under 50 after finding stockpiles of stones. The war of words has escalated as well with the Palestinian Authority accusing Israelis of trying to "Judaize" Jerusalem and the city's chief of police calling Palestinians "ungrateful" for rioting during Sukkot while order was maintained during Ramadan.


Three scientists whose work on light led to the development of fiber optics shared the Nobel Prize for physics.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for Monday's attack on a World Food Program office in Pakistan.
Leader Kim Jong Il says North Korea may be willing to return to the six-party talks.
The Sri Lankan government says it is taking steps to protect Tamil refugee camps from incoming monsoon rains.

Middle East
Hamas leaders harshly criticized President Mahmoud Abbas for not pushing forward with the Goldstone Report on Israeli war crimes in Gaza.
The dollar fell on a report -- since denied -- that Gulf States were in talks to replace it as the main currency of the oil trade.
Two Lebanese men were jailed for planning to attack the Israeli embassy in Baku, Azerbaijan.

George Papandreou was sworn in as the new prime minister of Greece.
Italy's constitutional court began deliberating on the legality of a law granting Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi immunity from prosecution.
France and Kazakhstan signed a series of deals on military and energy cooperation.

The interim Honduran government lifted its ban on protest marches and restrictions on the media.
Former Costa Rican President Rafael Calderon was sentenced to five years in prison on corruption charges.
Four Chilean military officers were charged with murder and covering up an illegal weapons deal during the early 1990s.

Somali pirates freed a Turkish ship after receiving a $1.5 million ransom.
Former Rwandan intelligence chief Idelphonse Nizeyimana -- a top suspect in the 1994 genocide -- was arrested in Uganda.
Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe says his country is ready for more cooperative relations with the West.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Truthout 10/5

Sam Ferguson Argentina's Dirty War: How to Defend an Accused Mass Murderer?
Sam Ferguson, Truthout: "Prosecutors here in Argentina have framed former Gen. Jorge Olivera Rovere as Argentina's Adolf Eichmann: a mid-level official who dutifully helped execute orders to exterminate opponents of Argentina's last military dictatorship... Rovere's attorneys defended the aging military man, 83, saying that the trial of the former general threatened to disrupt the 'social peace' generated by amnesty laws and pardons passed in the 1980's." Read the Article

Scott Galindez Freshman Democrats Get It on Health Care
Scott Galindez, Truthout: "Out of the 33 senators who went through a rigorous campaign and heard from their constituents on a daily basis, eight are freshman Democrats. (Five more are freshman, but were appointed and did not campaign.) The perspective of these freshman senators is valuable since they recently were out campaigning in their states and thus have a fresh perspective on what their constituents want. I would urge all senators to listen to what they are saying about the public option." Read the Article

Dean Baker The Recovery: Can You Feel It Yet?
Dean Baker, Truthout: "Everything is bright and sunny again, unless you have to work for a living. The news here is less good. The economy lost more than 260,000 jobs in September, with the unemployment rate reaching 9.8 percent. The 10.3 percent unemployment rate for adult men is the highest rate since the Great Depression. And real wages are headed downward." Read the Article

General McChrystal Criticized for Afghanistan Comments
Fatima Shaik, In These Times: "Four years after Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans, the disaster continues ... According to the Greater New Orleans Community Data Center, about a quarter of the city's pre-Katrina population - more than 175,000 people - has not returned." Read the Article

Senate Health Care Bill May Be Finished, but Divisions Remain
David Lightman, McClatchy Newspapers: "Both houses of Congress are poised to start a historic debate on sweeping legislation to overhaul America's health care system, yet despite months of committee deliberations, some major issues remain unsettled." Read the Article

Fidel Castro Ruz A Triumph for the Third World
Fidel Castro Ruz, La Jornada: "Major economic powerhouses competed to host the 2016 Olympic Games, among them the two most industrialized nations on the planet: the United States and Japan. But in the end, it was Rio de Janeiro - a city in Brazil - that took home the prize." Read the Article

With Natural Gas Drilling Boom, Pennsylvania Faces an Onslaught of Wastewater
Joaquin Sapien, ProPublica: "Workers at a steel mill and a power plant were the first to notice something strange about the Monongahela River last summer. The water that U.S. Steel and Allegheny Energy used to power their plants contained so much salty sediment that it was corroding their machinery. Nearby residents saw something odd, too. Dishwashers were malfunctioning, and plates were coming out with spots that couldn't easily be rinsed off." Read the Article

Robert Reich The Truth About Jobs That No One Wants to Tell You
Robert Reich, Robert Reich's Blog: "The federal government should be spending even more than it already is. This is the only way to put Americans back to work. We did it during the Depression. It was called the WPA." Read the Article

Suicide Bomber Hits UN Food Office in Pakistan
Jonathan Adams, The Christian Science Monitor: "A suicide bomber blew himself up outside the United Nations World Food Programme office in Islamabad, Pakistan, Monday, killing at least four and wounding several others. The UN temporarily shuttered its Pakistan offices after the strike." Read the Article

Connie Schultz It's Not News That Working Mothers Feel Guilty
Connie Schultz, Truthout: "Tomorrow the majority of American mothers with young children will hug their little ones goodbye and rush to full-time jobs they wish could be part-time. Only 13 percent of these mothers think this is an ideal life for their children, but most of them feel they have no choice. Most of them feel they are rushing through their lives some of the time; 4 in 10 say they are rushing all the time." Read the Article

Graft the Next Great Hurdle to a "New" Iraq
Tom A. Peter, GlobalPost: "As violence in Iraq continues to decline overall, the top concern for many Iraqis has shifted from security to corruption, as they look to their government to restore long-absent central services, such as regular electricity and clean water." Read the Article

South Africa: We Have Land Rights, but No Water Rights - Farmers
Fidelis Zvomuya, Inter Press Service: "Thandi Sihadi stands next to a dry tap. As a maize and dairy farmer in one of South Africa's driest districts, the lack of running water is nothing new to her. In fact, she says, she is one of many new black farmers who may now be fortunate enough to have land, but who still have problems accessing water for farming." Read the Article

Early Education Hot Topics

from the National Institute of Early Education Research (Rutgers)

Early Learning Challenge Fund Passes House, Proceeds to Senate
The House of Representatives passed an initiative that would direct $8 billion over eight years to states that demonstrate they have plans to enhance early learning programs, improve workforce quality, and develop coordinated early learning systems for children ages 0 to 5. Introduced by House Committee on Education and Labor Chairman George Miller, the Early Learning Challenge Fund awards the money to states that apply for "Quality Pathways Grants." Press reports indicate the Senate is expected to pass similar legislation. Eric Karolak, executive director of the Early Care and Education Consortium, details the program in the article "Challenging States to Improve Quality: A New Federal Proposal."

New Mexico PreK Continues to Produce Results
The third report in NIEER's multi-year study of New Mexico PreK finds that kids who attended the program scored higher in early math, language and literacy than children who did not attend. The program is offered by both the New Mexico Public Education Department and the New Mexico Children, Youth and Families Department. NIEER conducted separate analyses of the two providers and found both produce similar results.

Pennsylvania's Budget Deal Likely Preserves Pre-K Funding
It was 80 days late, but when the Pennsylvania Legislature and Governor Ed Rendell recently agreed on a budget deal, there was $300 million in additional funding for education and an overall reduction in state spending of $400 million. A breakdown of figures is not yet available but one source says state pre-K is expected to be funded at levels similar to FY 2009. If so, kids waiting for the many state programs that canceled class to open their doors will finally get their wish. Pennsylvania will legalize table games at casinos and increase sales taxes on cigarettes and tickets to performing venues to help fill its budget gap.

Poll: 40 Percent of Parents Plan to Have Their Kids Receive H1N1 Flu Vaccine
The National Poll on Children's Health released this week by the University of Michigan shows how much remains to be done in educating parents about the threat H1N1 flu poses for children. Only 40 percent of parents plan to have their children receive the vaccine. That's far lower than the percentage of parents who plan to have their kids receive seasonal flu vaccine. Only about one-third of parents believe H1N1 flu will be worse for their children than seasonal flu. The Centers for Disease Control guidance for providers, parents and policymakers is available through NIEER's web site.

Big Ideas at Telluride Economic Summit on Early Childhood Investment
It isn't every day a congressman proposes an idea for funding early childhood education that few have entertained and yet intrigues many. That's what Colorado Congressman Jared Polis did at the Telluride Economic Summit when he proposed an investment product whereby investors would adopt a cohort of at-risk infants, underwrite the cost of their early childhood education, and recoup that investment plus variable interest over a 20-year period. Polis says such a product could potentially meet the entire early childhood investment needs of the nation through capital markets. The summit keynote speaker was none other than BusinessWeek chief economist Michael Mandel who said if we don't "fix early childhood education ... we will end up with a failed economic system." Mandel mentions Polis's idea in his Economics Unbound blog.

FP morning post 10/5

Top Story:

A suicide bomber struck the office of the World Food Program in Islamabad, Pakistan today, killing at least five people. The attacker was reportedly dressed as a security guard but questions still remain about how he evaded security. No group has yet claimed responsibility for the attack.

U.N. offices in Pakistan have been closed as a precaution. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called the attack a "heinous crime committed against those who have been working tirelessly to assist the poor and vulnerable."

Today's blast comes as the Pakistani military is planning a major offensive against Taliban strongholds in South Waziristan. The country's interior minister, Rehman Malik, said it was an indicationg that terrorist groups are growing desparate in response to government offensive. "They are injured snakes," he said.


Three U.S. researchers won the Nobel Prize in medicine for a key discovery on how cells age.

The Greek Socialist Party beat the ruling Conservatives in a landslide in elections on Sunday.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel will address the U.S. Congress next month.
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown traveled to Belfast to help break a political deadlock in Northern Ireland.

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao kicked off a three day visit to North Korea with a meeting with Kim Jong Il.
Authorities have called off the search for survivors of last week's earthquake in Sumatra.
China accused rich nations of trying to kill of the Kyoto climate change protocols.

Middle East
The United Arab Emirates passed a law regulating the development of a nuclear power program.
IAEA inspectors will visit Iran's newly revealed nuclear enrichment plant near Qom on Oct. 25.
Protesters clashed with Israeli police at Jerusalem's sacred sites.

Two senior Nigerian rebel leaders accepted a government amnesty offer.
South Africa's former police chief -- also the former president of Interpol -- pleaded not guilty to accepting bribes.
The Pope warned that materialism and extremism were endangering Africa's future at a meeting of African bishops.

The Venezuelan government is planning to outlaw violent video games and tows.
Around two thousand Venezuelans marched to protest the jailing of President Hugo Chavez's opponents.
Mexican police made the largest seizure of methamphetamines in the country's history.

The Cathedral Of The World

The final sermon, and the topic of the final book, of Reverend Forrest Church:

"Amen. I love you." - a tribute to Forrest Church

Celebrating the completed life of Forrest Church

The most fitting way, I think, is to have another listen to what he thought of as his seminal sermon.

The politics of spite

New York Times

There was what President Obama likes to call a teachable moment last week, when the International Olympic Committee rejected Chicago’s bid to be host of the 2016 Summer Games.

“Cheers erupted” at the headquarters of the conservative Weekly Standard, according to a blog post by a member of the magazine’s staff, with the headline “Obama loses! Obama loses!” Rush Limbaugh declared himself “gleeful.” “World Rejects Obama,” gloated the Drudge Report. And so on.

So what did we learn from this moment? For one thing, we learned that the modern conservative movement, which dominates the modern Republican Party, has the emotional maturity of a bratty 13-year-old.

But more important, the episode illustrated an essential truth about the state of American politics: at this point, the guiding principle of one of our nation’s two great political parties is spite pure and simple. If Republicans think something might be good for the president, they’re against it — whether or not it’s good for America.

To be sure, while celebrating America’s rebuff by the Olympic Committee was puerile, it didn’t do any real harm. But the same principle of spite has determined Republican positions on more serious matters, with potentially serious consequences — in particular, in the debate over health care reform.

Now, it’s understandable that many Republicans oppose Democratic plans to extend insurance coverage — just as most Democrats opposed President Bush’s attempt to convert Social Security into a sort of giant 401(k). The two parties do, after all, have different philosophies about the appropriate role of government.

But the tactics of the two parties have been different. In 2005, when Democrats campaigned against Social Security privatization, their arguments were consistent with their underlying ideology: they argued that replacing guaranteed benefits with private accounts would expose retirees to too much risk.

The Republican campaign against health care reform, by contrast, has shown no such consistency. For the main G.O.P. line of attack is the claim — based mainly on lies about death panels and so on — that reform will undermine Medicare. And this line of attack is utterly at odds both with the party’s traditions and with what conservatives claim to believe.

Think about just how bizarre it is for Republicans to position themselves as the defenders of unrestricted Medicare spending. First of all, the modern G.O.P. considers itself the party of Ronald Reagan — and Reagan was a fierce opponent of Medicare’s creation, warning that it would destroy American freedom. (Honest.) In the 1990s, Newt Gingrich tried to force drastic cuts in Medicare financing. And in recent years, Republicans have repeatedly decried the growth in entitlement spending — growth that is largely driven by rising health care costs.

But the Obama administration’s plan to expand coverage relies in part on savings from Medicare. And since the G.O.P. opposes anything that might be good for Mr. Obama, it has become the passionate defender of ineffective medical procedures and overpayments to insurance companies.

How did one of our great political parties become so ruthless, so willing to embrace scorched-earth tactics even if so doing undermines the ability of any future administration to govern?

The key point is that ever since the Reagan years, the Republican Party has been dominated by radicals — ideologues and/or apparatchiks who, at a fundamental level, do not accept anyone else’s right to govern.

Anyone surprised by the venomous, over-the-top opposition to Mr. Obama must have forgotten the Clinton years. Remember when Rush Limbaugh suggested that Hillary Clinton was a party to murder? When Newt Gingrich shut down the federal government in an attempt to bully Bill Clinton into accepting those Medicare cuts? And let’s not even talk about the impeachment saga.

The only difference now is that the G.O.P. is in a weaker position, having lost control not just of Congress but, to a large extent, of the terms of debate. The public no longer buys conservative ideology the way it used to; the old attacks on Big Government and paeans to the magic of the marketplace have lost their resonance. Yet conservatives retain their belief that they, and only they, should govern.

The result has been a cynical, ends-justify-the-means approach. Hastening the day when the rightful governing party returns to power is all that matters, so the G.O.P. will seize any club at hand with which to beat the current administration.

It’s an ugly picture. But it’s the truth. And it’s a truth anyone trying to find solutions to America’s real problems has to understand.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Truthout 10/4

William Rivers Pitt "So Let Us Begin Again"
William Rivers Pitt, Truthout: "But as they say, that was then and this is now. Putting aside any and all grievances you and I may hold regarding the acts and activities of the Obama administration, you have to admit, it is a brighter day. I actually voted for President Obama twice - calm down, once in the primary and once in the general - for a variety of reasons, but none more than this: I don't think Obama can change everything that needs changing. I don't think any one election or any one president can repair the damage done over the last eight years, not to mention the damage done over the last half-century. I believe Obama has done much good work, and will do much good work in the years to come, but the challenges we face as a nation and planet are so daunting, it is fantasy to believe this president, or any one president, can address everything before us." Read the Article

Mike Elk Martin Luther King Would Have Loved the Teabaggers, Not Called Them Racists
Mike Elk, Truthout: "A few weeks ago, I attended the teabagger protests in DC. The thing I noticed the most about the folks there was that, for the most part, they were friendly, nice, hardworking people. Sure, there were some crazies; sure, there were some racists. For the most part, though, they looked like the type of folks I grew up with in the labor movement, coming to DC to enjoy a protest and spend the rest of the weekend taking in some monuments and museums. These weren't rich suburbanites; the teabaggers I saw were mainly poor people, whose trip to DC were probably the only the vacation they would be able to afford this year. Growing up in Pittsburgh, I had known many poor white people, but they all seemed to vote for Democrats because they had manufacturing jobs and were union members." Read the Article

Eight US Soldiers Dead in Bold Attack in Afghanistan
Sabrina Tavernise and Sangar Rahimi, The New York Times: "Insurgents besieged two American outposts in eastern Afghanistan on Saturday, American and Afghan officials said, killing eight Americans and two Afghan policemen in a bold daylight strike that was the deadliest for American soldiers in more than a year." Read the Article

Marcia G. Yerman Sakena Yacoobi's Vision for Afghanistan
Marcia G. Yerman, The Women's Media Center: "Sakena Yacoobi is on a mission. Her goal is to bring education to Afghanistan, a country that has a 70 percent illiteracy rate. Her main focus is girls and women. She believes education can ameliorate the ravages of 35 years—and counting—of war. She speaks with an urgency that emanates from that core conviction. To 'build a better future for Afghanistan,' she founded the Afghan Institute of Learning in 1995. “Empowerment” is the key word in all of her NGO’s literature. Yacoobi, who serves as the chief executive of A.I.L., was one of 1,000 women to be nominated as a joint recipient of the 2005 Nobel Peace Prize. She is featured in Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl DuWunn’s new book, Half the Sky: Turning Oppression Into Opportunities for Women Worldwide." Read the Article

US-Iran: Geneva Talks Seen as Potential Breakthrough
Jim Lobe, Inter Press Service: "While experts here are being deliberately tentative in their assessments of Thursday's meeting in Geneva between Iran and the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and Germany (P5+1), there appears to be a growing sense that the results could lay the basis for a long-sought diplomatic breakthrough. Much depends on whether Iran complies with its reported agreement to provide access to inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to its newly disclosed underground uranium-enrichment facility near Qom within two weeks. The director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Mohammed El-Baradei, is expected in Tehran this weekend to work out the details." Read the Article

Marching Round the World for Peace
Tito Drago, Inter Press Service: "Activists from many nations will set out from New Zealand Saturday on a march for peace and non-violence that will cover more than 90 countries on five continents, winding up on Jan. 2 at the foot of Mount Aconcagua, in western Argentina. The coordinator of the march activities in Spain, José Manuel Muñoz Felipe, told IPS celebrations were held simultaneously Friday in more than 300 cities in about 100 countries, 'calling for nuclear disarmament, an end to war and the elimination of all forms of violence, whatever pretext or argument is used to justify it.'" Read the Article

Firms are Getting Billions, But Homeowners Still in Trouble
Chris Adams, McClatchy Newspapers: "The federal government is engaged in a massive mortgage modification program that's on track to send billions in tax dollars to many of the very companies that judges or regulators have cited in recent years for abusive mortgage practices. The firms, called mortgage servicers, have been cited for badgering, manipulating or lying to their customers; sticking them with bogus fees, or improperly foreclosing on them. Mortgage servicers are the middlemen between homeowners and the investors that hold their mortgages, collecting homeowners' checks and disbursing payments for the mortgages, property tax and insurance. They're a necessary player for any modification. Read the Article

t r u t h o u t Video: William Rivers Pitt "So Let Us Begin Again"
William Rivers Pitt delivered the keynote address at the Jefferson County Democrats 35th Annual Eleanor Roosevelt Awards Dinner in Colorado on September 19, 2009. Watch the Video

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Truthout 10/3

Dean Baker Unemployment Rate Is Highest in 26 Years
Dean Baker, The Center for Economic and Policy Research: "The data in this report indicates that a turnaround in the labor market is not imminent. Continuing losses of jobs and declines in hours, coupled with stagnant or declining real wages, means that workers’ purchasing power is still falling. There are no further tax breaks scheduled to boost demand and state and local governments are cutting back and raising taxes to address budget shortfalls. The immediate future does not look good." Read the Article

Michael Winship Gelbart and Schulberg:
Two Writers Depart an Ever Stranger Land Michael Winship, Truthout: "You certainly can argue that the depths to which our so-called democratic dialogue has sunk are nothing new. Politicians and advocates have been slinging mud since the earth was cool enough to hurl. The undeniable difference today is the speed and variety of the compost being thrown. With the 24-hour instantaneous delivery systems offered by radio, TV and the Internet, people are feeling more and more compelled to say ludicrous, shameful things in public that just a short time ago they would have hesitated to say in private." Read the Article

David Sirota Who Are "The Deciders"?
David Sirota, Truthout: "Certainly, Obama and Democratic congressional leaders may still end up defying public will by making the lamentable choice to escalate the Afghanistan War. But after recent quagmires justified by knee-jerk subservience to military prerogative, America should at least applaud these lawmakers for refusing to immediately rubber stamp that course of action. In exploring all options, they are honoring the Constitution's separation of powers — and our nation's most democratic principles." Read the Article

New Doubt Cast on US Claim Qom Plant Is Illicit
Gareth Porter, Inter Press Service: "An Iranian assertion that construction on its second enrichment facility began only last year and further analysis of satellite photos of the site have cast fresh doubts on the Barack Obama administration's charge that the construction of the plant near Qom involved a covert decision to violate Iran's obligations to report immediately to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on any decision to build a new facility. At a Sep. 25 briefing on the site, senior administration officials refused to provide any specific information to back up the claim that construction had begun before the March 2007 Iranian withdrawal from an agreement requiring that it inform the IAEA immediately of any decision to build a nuclear facility." Read the Article

Afghans Criticize UN's Strong Hand in Their Election
Julius Cavendish, The Christian Science Monitor: "Before their country's fraud-riddled election in August, some Afghans complained it was the international community that would decide the result. With the United Nations having fired a top diplomat for urging a tougher stand against vote-rigging, a move made public Wednesday, they say they now have proof. Several Afghan analysts and opposition figures criticized the decision to sack Peter Galbraith, the UN's No. 2 person in Afghanistan, for accusing his boss, Kai Eide, of endorsing a decision by the Independent Election Commission to allow fraudulent ballots to be counted – a move he said gave the election to President Hamid Karzai." Read the Article

Climate Change: Food Supply Hangs in the Balance
Stephen Leahy, Inter Press Service: "Rocketing food prices and hundreds of millions more starving people will be part of humanity's grim future without concerted action on climate change and new investments in agriculture, experts reported this week. The current devastating drought in East Africa, where millions of people are on the brink of starvation, is a window on our future, suggests a new study looking at the impacts of climate change. 'Twenty-five million more children will be malnourished in 2050 due to effects of climate change,' such as decreased crop yields, crop failures and higher food prices, concluded the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) study." Read the Article

Friday, October 2, 2009

FP morning post 10/2

Top story:

After a rare day of international talks with the 5 permanent member of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany, Iran agreed to allow inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency to visit its new revealed nuclear enrichment site near Qom and to export most of its enriched uranium to Russia to be turned into nuclear fuel.

While the talks were considered constructive, many analysts believe that Iran still has other enrichment sites which have not been revealed. France, Germany, and the United States continue to insist that Iran halt all enrichment activity by December.

The talks in Geneva included informal bilateral meetings between Iran and members of the P5+1. A conversation between Under Secretary of State William Burns, and Iranian nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili was the highest level U.S. Iranian meeting in decades. The participants agreed to meet again this month for wide-ranging talks.


The International Olympic Committee will announce the site of the 2016 Olympics shortly before 1 p.m. today. President Barack Obama traveled to Copenhagen last night to advocate for Chicago's bid. Madrid, Rio de Janeiro and Tokyo are the other candidates.

Thousands in the Philippines are fleeing a new typhoon, just days after a storm killed over 400 people.
At least 1,100 people were killed in Indonesia's recent earthquakes, according to the United Nations.
Pakistan's military is readying an offensive into the Taliban stronghold of South Waziristan. Imtiaz Gul has more at the AfPak Channel.

Middle East
The Palestinian delegation to the U.N. Human Rights Council dropped its bid to have the Goldstone Report on Israeli human rights abuses in Gaza forwarded to the Security Council.
Hamas released a video of capture IDF soldier Gilad Shalit in return for 19 Palestinian prisoners.
Syria may be regaining its influence in Lebanese politics.

The Irish are headed to the polls today to vote, yet again, on the Lisbon Treaty on E.U. integration.
At least 13 were killed and dozens injured by mudslides in Sicily.
Greek elections on Sunday are expected to be tight.

The U.S. is delaying aid to Somalia over concerns that it is being funneled to terrorist groups.
Kenya has agreed to cooperate with International Criminal Court trials for perpetrators of the 2007 post-election violence.
Nestle has stopped buying milk from Robert Mugabe's wife's farm after threat of a worldwide boycott.

U.S. Senator Jim DeMint will meet with interim Honduran president Roberto Micheletti in Tegucigalpa today, in violation of U.S. administration policy.
Canada's government narrowly survived a vote of no confidence.
Venezuela has turned over a drug suspect wanted by the United States.

Mission not accomplished

New York Times

Stocks are up. Ben Bernanke says that the recession is over. And I sense a growing willingness among movers and shakers to declare “Mission Accomplished” when it comes to fighting the slump. It’s time, I keep hearing, to shift our focus from economic stimulus to the budget deficit.

No, it isn’t. And the complacency now setting in over the state of the economy is both foolish and dangerous.

Yes, the Federal Reserve and the Obama administration have pulled us “back from the brink” — the title of a new paper by Christina Romer, who leads the Council of Economic Advisers. She argues convincingly that expansionary policy saved us from a possible replay of the Great Depression.

But while not having another depression is a good thing, all indications are that unless the government does much more than is currently planned to help the economy recover, the job market — a market in which there are currently six times as many people seeking work as there are jobs on offer — will remain terrible for years to come.

Indeed, the administration’s own economic projection — a projection that takes into account the extra jobs the administration says its policies will create — is that the unemployment rate, which was below 5 percent just two years ago, will average 9.8 percent in 2010, 8.6 percent in 2011, and 7.7 percent in 2012.

This should not be considered an acceptable outlook. For one thing, it implies an enormous amount of suffering over the next few years. Moreover, unemployment that remains that high, that long, will cast long shadows over America’s future.

Anyone who thinks that we’re doing enough to create jobs should read a new report from John Irons of the Economic Policy Institute, which describes the “scarring” that’s likely to result from sustained high unemployment. Among other things, Mr. Irons points out that sustained unemployment on the scale now being predicted would lead to a huge rise in child poverty — and that there’s overwhelming evidence that children who grow up in poverty are alarmingly likely to lead blighted lives.

These human costs should be our main concern, but the dollars and cents implications are also dire. Projections by the Congressional Budget Office, for example, imply that over the period from 2010 to 2013 — that is, not counting the losses we’ve already suffered — the “output gap,” the difference between the amount the economy could have produced and the amount it actually produces, will be more than $2 trillion. That’s trillions of dollars of productive potential going to waste.

Wait. It gets worse. A new report from the International Monetary Fund shows that the kind of recession we’ve had, a recession caused by a financial crisis, often leads to long-term damage to a country’s growth prospects. “The path of output tends to be depressed substantially and persistently following banking crises.”

The same report, however, suggests that this isn’t inevitable: “We find that a stronger short-term fiscal policy response” — by which they mean a temporary increase in government spending — “is significantly associated with smaller medium-term output losses.”

So we should be doing much more than we are to promote economic recovery, not just because it would reduce our current pain, but also because it would improve our long-run prospects.

But can we afford to do more — to provide more aid to beleaguered state governments and the unemployed, to spend more on infrastructure, to provide tax credits to employers who create jobs? Yes, we can.

The conventional wisdom is that trying to help the economy now produces short-term gain at the expense of long-term pain. But as I’ve just pointed out, from the point of view of the nation as a whole that’s not at all how it works. The slump is doing long-term damage to our economy and society, and mitigating that slump will lead to a better future.

What is true is that spending more on recovery and reconstruction would worsen the government’s own fiscal position. But even there, conventional wisdom greatly overstates the case. The true fiscal costs of supporting the economy are surprisingly small.

You see, spending money now means a stronger economy, both in the short run and in the long run. And a stronger economy means more revenues, which offset a large fraction of the upfront cost. Back-of-the-envelope calculations suggest that the offset falls short of 100 percent, so that fiscal stimulus isn’t a complete free lunch. But it costs far less than you’d think from listening to what passes for informed discussion.

Look, I know more stimulus is a hard sell politically. But it’s urgently needed. The question shouldn’t be whether we can afford to do more to promote recovery. It should be whether we can afford not to. And the answer is no.

The Wizard of Beck

New York Times

Let us take a trip back into history. Not ancient history. Recent history. It is the winter of 2007. The presidential primaries are approaching. The talk jocks like Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity and the rest are over the moon about Fred Thompson. They’re weak at the knees at the thought of Mitt Romney. Meanwhile, they are hurling torrents of abuse at the unreliable deviationists: John McCain and Mike Huckabee.

Yet somehow, despite the fervor of the great microphone giants, the Thompson campaign flops like a fish. Despite the schoolgirl delight from the radio studios, the Romney campaign underperforms.

Meanwhile, Huckabee surges. Limbaugh attacks him, but social conservatives flock.

Along comes New Hampshire and McCain wins! Republican voters have not heeded their masters in the media. Before long, South Carolina looms as the crucial point of the race. The contest is effectively between Romney and McCain. The talk jocks are now in spittle-flecked furor. Day after day, whole programs are dedicated to hurling abuse at McCain and everybody ever associated with him. The jocks are threatening to unleash their angry millions.

Yet the imaginary armies do not materialize. McCain wins the South Carolina primary and goes on to win the nomination. The talk jocks can’t even deliver the conservative voters who show up at Republican primaries. They can’t even deliver South Carolina!

So what is the theme of our history lesson? It is a story of remarkable volume and utter weakness. It is the story of media mavens who claim to represent a hidden majority but who in fact represent a mere niche — even in the Republican Party. It is a story as old as “The Wizard of Oz,” of grand illusions and small men behind the curtain.

But, of course, we shouldn’t be surprised by this story. Over the past few years the talk jocks have demonstrated their real-world weakness time and again. Back in 2006, they threatened to build a new majority on anti-immigration fervor. House Republicans like J.D. Hayworth and Randy Graf, both of Arizona, built their re-election campaigns under that banner. But these two didn’t march to glory. Both lost their seats.

In 2008, after McCain had won his nomination, Limbaugh turned his attention to the Democratic race. He commanded his followers to vote in the Democratic primaries for Hillary Clinton because “we need Barack Obama bloodied up politically.” Todd Donovan of Western Washington University has looked at data from 38 states and could find no strong evidence that significant numbers of people actually did what Limbaugh commanded. Rush blared the trumpets, but few of his Dittoheads advanced.

Over the years, I have asked many politicians what happens when Limbaugh and his colleagues attack. The story is always the same. Hundreds of calls come in. The receptionists are miserable. But the numbers back home do not move. There is no effect on the favorability rating or the re-election prospects. In the media world, he is a giant. In the real world, he’s not.

But this is not merely a story of weakness. It is a story of resilience. For no matter how often their hollowness is exposed, the jocks still reweave the myth of their own power. They still ride the airwaves claiming to speak for millions. They still confuse listeners with voters. And they are aided in this endeavor by their enablers. They are enabled by cynical Democrats, who love to claim that Rush Limbaugh controls the G.O.P. They are enabled by lazy pundits who find it easier to argue with showmen than with people whose opinions are based on knowledge. They are enabled by the slightly educated snobs who believe that Glenn Beck really is the voice of Middle America.

So the myth returns. Just months after the election and the humiliation, everyone is again convinced that Limbaugh, Beck, Hannity and the rest possess real power. And the saddest thing is that even Republican politicians come to believe it. They mistake media for reality. They pre-emptively surrender to armies that don’t exist.

They pay more attention to Rush’s imaginary millions than to the real voters down the street. The Republican Party is unpopular because it’s more interested in pleasing Rush’s ghosts than actual people. The party is leaderless right now because nobody has the guts to step outside the rigid parameters enforced by the radio jocks and create a new party identity. The party is losing because it has adopted a radio entertainer’s niche-building strategy, while abandoning the politician’s coalition-building strategy.

The rise of Beck, Hannity, Bill O’Reilly and the rest has correlated almost perfectly with the decline of the G.O.P. But it’s not because the talk jocks have real power. It’s because they have illusory power, because Republicans hear the media mythology and fall for it every time.

Truthout 10/2

Norman Solomon Starting Another Year of War in Afghanistan
Norman Solomon, Truthout: "October 2009 has begun with The New York Times reporting that 'the president, vice president and an array of cabinet secretaries, intelligence chiefs, generals, diplomats and advisers gathered in a windowless basement room of the White House for three hours on Wednesday to chart a new course in Afghanistan.'"

Robert F. Dodge M.D. Obama at the UN: Securing Our Future
Robert F. Dodge M.D., Truthout: "President Obama re-established the United States global leadership role in creating a secure tomorrow as he made his UN debut this past week. Speaking before the General Assembly, he put forward 'four pillars' that he said are 'fundamental to the future that we want for our children' - for a safer America and world."

Insurance Industry Whistleblower Blasts Senate Panel Rejection of Public Option
Amy Goodman, Democracy NOW!: "Efforts to create a government-run health insurance plan were dealt a setback Tuesday after the Senate Finance Committee rejected a pair of amendments to create a public option. Both amendments were defeated when a group of Democrats, including Senate Finance Committee Chair Max Baucus, joined with Republicans to oppose the public option. We speak with Wendell Potter, the former chief spokesperson at CIGNA, one of the nation's largest private insurers, and now one of the health insurance industry's most prominent whistleblowers."

Pepe Escobar Iran and the Pipelineistan Opera
Pepe Escobar, "Oil and natural gas prices may be relatively low right now, but don't be fooled. The New Great Game of the twenty-first century is always over energy and it's taking place on an immense chessboard called Eurasia. Its squares are defined by the networks of pipelines being laid across the oil heartlands of the planet. Call it Pipelineistan. If, in Asia, the stakes in this game are already impossibly high, the same applies to the 'Euro' part of the great Eurasian landmass - the richest industrial area on the planet. Think of this as the real political thriller of our time."

Zach Carter Conservative Dems Are Killing the Consumer Protection We All Need
Zach Carter, AlterNet: "The House Financial Services Committee is full of loudmouthed conservative ideologues and right-wing eccentrics. Just about every time the panel meets, you can expect to hear a long sermon about anything from the price of gold to the sanctity of Wall Street CEOs' obscene paydays."

The Baltimore Sun Driving While Black
The Baltimore Sun: "African-American motorists are three to four times more likely to be stopped by police on Maryland roads than other drivers, yet they are no more likely to be carrying drugs or contraband. That suggests a pattern of illegal racial profiling, and in 1998 the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the American Civil Liberties Union sued the Maryland State Police to stop the practice. The case was settled by a federal consent decree in 2003 after Maryland agreed to change some procedures and investigate drivers' complaints of racial profiling."

Security Council Backs Advocate for Women in War Zones
Suzanne Hoeksema, Inter Press Service: "The UN Security Council Wednesday called on Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to appoint a special representative to intensify efforts to end sexual violence against women and children in conflict situations."

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Forrest Church was important to me

Don Wheeler

To those of you who know me at all, the title comes no surprise. It ranks up there with: I supported John Edwards, Martin Luther King, Jr. is my greatest hero, I strongly love and respect my wife, and that I am the classic besotted father.

Many, if not most, Unitarian Universalists will have little difficulty understanding my regard for Forrest - but when we lose someone of this import, I think we each need to tell our stories. Telling our stories doesn't just honor the one we've just lost - it helps all of us to think deeply about who we each may (and eventually will) lose. And in so doing, it grants us the potential gift of connecting with these people and thus an opportunity to express our appreciation in the present tense.

When I read that last paragraph, I see Forrest's fingerprints all over it. The words and thoughts are mine, but he helped me find these things which were already in me. His views about what really counts encouraged my better instincts.

Here's a bit of what his fellow Minister at All Souls, Galen Guengerich, observed:

As much as anyone, and more than most of us, Forrest had the courage to dive into the mystery of life—to luxuriate in uncertainty and cherish doubt, to wrestle with paradox and embrace irony.

In the pulpit as in the rest of his life, Forrest held up his failures as readily as he celebrated his successes; he acknowledged his errors as readily as he trumpeted his awards. He dove full in—nothing hidden and nothing held back. This approach to life made Forrest an inspiring preacher and reassuring pastor—precisely because we saw him as he saw himself: as fully human.

He could laugh at his own foibles, and often did. Time and again, Forrest recited his favorite etymology: "human, humane, humanitarian, humor, humility, humus. Dust to dust, the mortar of mortality binds us fast to one another. Truly we are one."

This too we have left. Beyond Forrest‟s eloquence on the page and in the pulpit, it was his humanity that kept him connected to the people and world around him.


One afternoon last spring, Forrest and I spent several hours talking our way around the world of everything that mattered to us. We happened upon the topic of how sermons end, and Forrest explained why he always ends by saying, "Amen. I love you. And may God bless us all."

"I think people understand what I‟m trying to communicate when I say „I love you‟ from the pulpit," Forrest said. He listed the three kinds of love that are described in the New Testament: romantic love, friendship, and divine love—agape, in Greek.

"People know I‟m not saying „I love you‟ in the romantic sense," Forrest explained, "or even in the sense that friends would say „I love you‟ to each other." He went on to say, in a typically self-deprecating observation, that he thought some people found him rather reserved in person.

"But when I say „I love you‟ from the pulpit," he said, "something connects—I get connected to the congregation and they get connected to each other. It‟s almost like, for a moment at least, we are all part of each other—of something larger than ourselves. It‟s the human form of love divine, as Blake put it."

"And besides," he added, "someone once told me that I‟m the only person in her life who ever says „I love you.‟ She comes to church to hear someone say that she matters." Forrest urged me to continue this tradition as part of my ministry at All Souls.

Naturally, Rev. Guengerich does exactly that when he ends his sermon about Forrest Church.

Forrest Church is the reason I am a Unitarian Universalist. I'll close with some of the things he said that really reached me.

"We are a deeds, not creeds religion. We're in some ways the most humble of faiths, because we don't have a metaphysic that gives the final answers to what I believe are unanswerable questions. We tend to focus on being saved in this world and for this world, not from this world, and that means that we have lots of people with different specific theologies gathering together."


"The key is to open your heart to love, and there are so many factors that contest this desire. I mean, our hearts are broken. When you open your heart, it's vulnerable, and you are vulnerable. It can be broken by the loss of death of course, broken by another, and our instinct is to say, "That hurt, that really hurt. I'm going to armor myself up. I don't want that to happen to me again."

And the problem is the better we get at protecting ourselves from being hurt, the more invulnerable we become to meaning, which is the meaning that comes when we connect heart to heart, or when we build the empathy and compassion with others, when we grow beyond our own tiny, little self-protected circle."

and most of all...

"I've come to believe that life's purpose is to live in such a way that our lives will prove worth dying for."

He did that in spades.

Amen. I love you.


Here's a link to tributes to Forrest Church - there's some pretty beautiful stuff here.

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from the South Bend Tribune 10/1/09

Why does Patrick Mangan put so much time and effort into making sure that gays in St. Joseph County cannot file a complaint to the Human Rights Commission?

As it stands now, you can discriminate against people legally by claiming they are being fired or denied housing for being gay. It doesn't matter if they are in or out of the closet or if they are having sex or even if they are actually gay. This leaves things wide open for abuse, and abuse will happen.

Mangan's Viewpoint (Aug. 13) followed the fine tradition of "The Malleus Maleficarum," Cotton Mather's "Memorable Providences" and "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion."

Like Mangan's data, these books were written with the intent to demonize and devalue a group of people using "facts" that we know are not true. The so-called facts against gays Mangan uses have been debunked time and again.

As for the "former homosexuals," in the same time as Mangan's piece was published, the American Psychological Association stated there is no such thing and that the so-called reparative therapy doesn't work and, in fact, can harm the patient.

Rick Leers

Remembering a "very human" life cut short by hatred

Deb Price

On a cold night 11 years ago, a 21-year-old University of Wyoming student was lured into a pickup truck and driven to the outskirts of Laramie, where as he begged for mercy, he was tied to a fence, kicked and pistol whipped so brutally that he lapsed into a coma. He later died.

He was a victim of hatred. He was also his mother's treasure. And Matthew Shepard's horrible death forced much of our nation to look at how anti-gay prejudice can explode into violence.

The meaning of Matthew Shepard's life and death is the subject of a moving book by his mother, Judy Shepard.

"Matt's murder wasn't horrific because it ended an angelic life but because it ended a very human life riddled with all the complexities and contradictions each of us face," she writes in "The Meaning of Matthew."

Details of that "very human life" will feel familiar to many gay readers:

We watch Matt come out to his mom, who'd early on figured out her sensitive oldest son was gay. We see him wrestle with depression and drinking too much, then begin to blossom into a self-respecting gay man as he joins his college's Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered Alliance, and pitches in for Gay Awareness Week.

But one night at Fireside, the closest thing Laramie had to a gay bar, he ran into Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson. A little tipsy and obviously gay, Matt was an easy target at 5 feet, 2 inches, 110 pounds.

Soon Matt found himself squeezed between McKinney and Henderson in a pickup. "Guess what?" McKinney reportedly announced. "We're not gay, and you're getting jacked."

That murderous night turned Judy Shepard's world upside down, ultimately making her name synonymous with the ongoing push to add sexual orientation, gender identity, disability and gender to the federal hate crimes law.

"I don't see myself as an advocate or activist," she told me. "I'm a mom who lost her child to hate. And I am mad it is still going on."

A quintessential mom until Matt's death, she'd never done public speaking and knew little about the civil-rights movement trying to end anti-gay discrimination. But we watch her decide to take her place at the microphones, embracing the very public role that tragedy created for her. It became "her saving grace," helping her channel her grief and feel connected to Matt through other gay people and their parents.

Judy Shepard had been living in Saudi Arabia with her husband when the telephone call came that Matt had been savagely beaten. In the whirl of getting to his hospital bedside, she saw a newspaper headline at an airport: "Gay Man Beaten and Left for Dead; 2 Are Charged."

That moment signaled the coming transformation of her life: Her family tragedy carried huge meaning for others -- from college students, to everyday Wyoming residents, and to countless other Americans forced to think about anti-gay violence.

Lessons about the appalling ripple effects of anti-gay prejudice didn't end with Matt's murder. McKinney's attorney tried the so-called homosexual panic defense, claiming Matt made sexual advances. And Matt's memorial service was marred by protest signs: "Matthew in Hell" and "God Hates Fags."

It's fitting that Judy Shepard is telling her family's story at a hopeful moment, when legislation to expand the nation's hate crimes law might finally pass. President Obama is eager to sign it.

Why is the Matthew Shepard Act needed? Judy Shepard states the reason quite simply: "Those two boys thought it was OK to hate and do that to Matt."

Deb Price of The Detroit News writes the first nationally syndicated column on gay issues.

Truthout 10/1

Henry A. Giroux The Powell Memo and the Teaching Machines of Right-Wing Extremists
Henry A. Giroux, Truthout: "This is not simply a story about the rise of mean-spirited buffoons such as Glenn Beck, Bill O'Reilly and Michael Savage. Nor is it simply a story about the loss of language, a growing anti-intellectualism in the larger culture, or the spread of what some have called a new illiteracy endlessly being produced in popular culture. As important as these tendencies are, there is something more at stake here which points to a combination of power, money and education in the service of creating an almost lethal restriction of what can be heard, said, learned and debated in the public sphere."

US Troops Call Afghan Region "Vietnam Without Napalm"
Hal Bernton, McClatchy Newspapers: "The men of Bravo Company have a bitter description for the irrigated swath of land along the Arghandab River where 10 members of their battalion have been killed and 30 have been wounded since the beginning of August. 'Like Vietnam without the napalm,' said Spc. Nicholas Gojekian, 21, of Katy, Texas."

Congressional Grumbling Won't Stop the War!
Carolyn Eisenberg, Truthout: "With General McChrystal requesting up to 45,000 more troops for the floundering military effort in Afghanistan, Democratic members of Congress are understandably agitated. Almost everyday, some new senator or representative goes before the television cameras to express grave concern about the apparent 'quagmire' that is emerging there. While such sentiments are to be welcomed, they are no substitute for effective action."

In Honduras, Signs of Hope Amid Turmoil
Sara Miller Llana, The Christian Science Monitor: "A group of powerful Honduran businessmen have floated a compromise plan. Meanwhile, neighbors cope with the presence of ousted Honduran President Zelaya in the Brazilian embassy."

"Patent Pool" Could Ease HIV Drug Prices
Andrea Borde, Inter Press Service: "Pharmaceutical giants like Pfizer and GlaxoSmithKline hold the future welfare of poor people living with HIV/AIDS in their hands, argues the humanitarian group Doctors Without Borders, which is urging the companies to release their patents on specific HIV drugs into a collective pool that will increase access and affordability to treatment in developing countries."

Why Getting Health Care Passed Is Insanely Difficult?
Brad Reed, AlterNet: "While our health care system threatens to bankrupt us all, it remains enormously profitable for insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies and hospital chains. Such key special interests have banded together to kill national health insurance plans time and time again, from the progressives' proposals during the Wilson era to Truman's health care plan in the 1940s to Clinton's failed reform effort in the 1990s."

Stereotypes Loom Larger as Our Brains Age
Tom Jacobs, Miller-McCune: "Two new studies suggest older people have difficulty suppressing stereotypes, which means many may become prejudiced against their will."

FP morning post 10/1

Top Story:

Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono is telling citizens to "be prepared for the worst" after a devastating earthquake in Sumatra last night. At least 500 people have died but government officials say the final tally will likely be in the thousands. The 7.6-magnitude earthquake began off the coast of Sumatra and the coastal town of Padang bore the brunt of the devastation.Tremors were felt as far away as Singapore.

More than 500 buildings were destroyed including schools, hospitals, hotels, and a shopping mall. A relief effort is currently underway with the Indonesian military assisting rescue workers, but a shortage of heavy machinery remains a problem.

A second powerful quake today caused damage but no reported fatalities.

No good options:

President Barack Obama met with senior advisors yesterday to consider possible new U.S. strategies in Afghanistan.

Middle East
Critical international talks over Iran's nuclear program have begun in Switzerland.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has created a political coalition that includes several Sunni groups.
The Israeli government has retained attorneys to dispute war crimes charges from last year's war in Gaza.

China celebrated 60 years of Communist rule with its biggest military parade ever.
A relief effort has begun in Samoa, where a deadly tsunami killed dozens of people and flattened villages yesterday. The earthquake that caused the tsunami was not directly related to the quake in Indonesia.
Assistant U.S. Secretary of State Kurt Campbell met with a Burmese minister in New York.

The fracturing of Romania's coalition government may be putting its IMF aid at risk.
Britain has sworn in a brand new supreme court.
Northern Ireland police arrested a suspected IRA member for the killing of a policeman seven months ago.

Fighting has broken out between rival Islamist rebel groups in Somalia.
The United Nations condemned this week's political violence in Guinea.
Kenya's controversial anti-corruption chief resigned.

Former Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori was sentenced to six years in jail on corruption charges.
Protests by indigenous groups over oil drilling in Ecuador left one dead and dozens wounded.
Venezuelan students ended a hunger strike after the Organization of American States agreed to hear their grievances against Hugo Chavez's government.