Monday, November 30, 2009

The jobs imperative

By PAUL KRUGMAN
New York Times

If you’re looking for a job right now, your prospects are terrible. There are six times as many Americans seeking work as there are job openings, and the average duration of unemployment — the time the average job-seeker has spent looking for work — is more than six months, the highest level since the 1930s.

You might think, then, that doing something about the employment situation would be a top policy priority. But now that total financial collapse has been averted, all the urgency seems to have vanished from policy discussion, replaced by a strange passivity. There’s a pervasive sense in Washington that nothing more can or should be done, that we should just wait for the economic recovery to trickle down to workers.

This is wrong and unacceptable.

Yes, the recession is probably over in a technical sense, but that doesn’t mean that full employment is just around the corner. Historically, financial crises have typically been followed not just by severe recessions but by anemic recoveries; it’s usually years before unemployment declines to anything like normal levels. And all indications are that the aftermath of the latest financial crisis is following the usual script. The Federal Reserve, for example, expects unemployment, currently 10.2 percent, to stay above 8 percent — a number that would have been considered disastrous not long ago — until sometime in 2012.

And the damage from sustained high unemployment will last much longer. The long-term unemployed can lose their skills, and even when the economy recovers they tend to have difficulty finding a job, because they’re regarded as poor risks by potential employers. Meanwhile, students who graduate into a poor labor market start their careers at a huge disadvantage — and pay a price in lower earnings for their whole working lives. Failure to act on unemployment isn’t just cruel, it’s short-sighted.

So it’s time for an emergency jobs program.

How is a jobs program different from a second stimulus? It’s a matter of priorities. The 2009 Obama stimulus bill was focused on restoring economic growth. It was, in effect, based on the belief that if you build G.D.P., the jobs will come. That strategy might have worked if the stimulus had been big enough — but it wasn’t. And as a matter of political reality, it’s hard to see how the administration could pass a second stimulus big enough to make up for the original shortfall.

So our best hope now is for a somewhat cheaper program that generates more jobs for the buck. Such a program should shy away from measures, like general tax cuts, that at best lead only indirectly to job creation, with many possible disconnects along the way. Instead, it should consist of measures that more or less directly save or add jobs.

One such measure would be another round of aid to beleaguered state and local governments, which have seen their tax receipts plunge and which, unlike the federal government, can’t borrow to cover a temporary shortfall. More aid would help avoid both a drastic worsening of public services (especially education) and the elimination of hundreds of thousands of jobs.

Meanwhile, the federal government could provide jobs by ... providing jobs. It’s time for at least a small-scale version of the New Deal’s Works Progress Administration, one that would offer relatively low-paying (but much better than nothing) public-service employment. There would be accusations that the government was creating make-work jobs, but the W.P.A. left many solid achievements in its wake. And the key point is that direct public employment can create a lot of jobs at relatively low cost. In a proposal to be released today, the Economic Policy Institute, a progressive think tank, argues that spending $40 billion a year for three years on public-service employment would create a million jobs, which sounds about right.

Finally, we can offer businesses direct incentives for employment. It’s probably too late for a job-conserving program, like the highly successful subsidy Germany offered to employers who maintained their work forces. But employers could be encouraged to add workers as the economy expands. The Economic Policy Institute proposes a tax credit for employers who increase their payrolls, which is certainly worth trying.

All of this would cost money, probably several hundred billion dollars, and raise the budget deficit in the short run. But this has to be weighed against the high cost of inaction in the face of a social and economic emergency.

Later this week, President Obama will hold a “jobs summit.” Most of the people I talk to are cynical about the event, and expect the administration to offer no more than symbolic gestures. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Yes, we can create more jobs — and yes, we should.

Truthout 11/30

Henry A. Giroux | No Bailouts for Youth: Broken Promises and Dashed Hopes
Henry A. Giroux, Truthout: "It appears ever more unlikely that the Obama administration will undo the havoc wrought by the Bush administration (itself the culmination of a decades-long trend toward market deregulation) or reverse the effects of a rampant free-market fundamentalism now unleashed across the globe. As the financial crisis looms large in the lives of the majority of Americans, government funds are used to bail out Wall Street bankers rather than being used to address either the growing impoverishment of the many people who have lost homes, jobs and hope of a better future, or the structural conditions that created such problems. In this scenario, a privileged minority retains the freedom to purchase time, goods, services, and security, while the vast majority of people are relegated to a life without protections, benefits, and safety supports. For those populations considered expendable, redundant and invisible by virtue of their race, class and age, life becomes increasingly precarious."
Read the Article

Dina Rasor | War Fraud Whistleblowers Under Wraps
Dina Rasor, Truthout: "Recently, the Congressional Research Service released an amazing statistic - it will cost $1 million a year to support one soldier for one year in Afghanistan. This mind-blowing number partly includes the cost of private contractors who have moved into areas of support that have been strictly military in the past. Estimates for the numbers of contractors have been as high as one contractor for every soldier ... One of the reasons for the high costs of maintaining each soldier is the lack of oversight of private contractor billings over the course of these two wars ... So where are all the whistleblowers who have witnessed this fraud?"
Read the Article
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Art Levine | As Treasury Department Stumbles, Liberals Push Tougher Measures to Stem Foreclosures
Art Levine, Truthout: "With today's scheduled announcement by the Treasury Department of new efforts to pressure lenders to lower mortgage costs, progressive economists, advocacy groups and legislators are pushing for tougher measures to keep homeowners in their homes - and to force banks to take losses on their exploding mortgages. In contrast, the Obama administration's response to a crisis that is causing two million families a year to face the loss of their homes has been widely derided as ineffective."
Read the Article

Top UK Government Official Warned Tony Blair in 2002 Iraq Invasion Illegal
Mary Susan Littlepage, Truthout: "A previously undisclosed letter written by a top UK government official indicates that former British Prime Minister Tony Blair lied over the legality of the Iraq War, according to a report published Sunday by the Daily Mail. The Iraq Inquiry, also referred to as the Chilcot Inquiry, which is looking into the countryÕs role in the Iraq war, will interrogate Blair about the letter, which apparently warned him in blatant terms that entering the war was illegal."
Read the Article

An Open Letter to President Obama From Michael Moore
Michael Moore, MichaelMoore.com: "Do you really want to be the new 'war president'? If you go to West Point tomorrow night (Tuesday, 8 PM) and announce that you are increasing, rather than withdrawing, the troops in Afghanistan, you are the new war president. Pure and simple. And with that you will do the worst possible thing you could do - destroy the hopes and dreams so many millions have placed in you. With just one speech tomorrow night you will turn a multitude of young people who were the backbone of your campaign into disillusioned cynics. You will teach them what they've always heard is true - that all politicians are alike. I simply can't believe you're about to do what they say you are going to do. Please say it isn't so."
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Norman Solomon | The Hollow Politics of Escalation
Norman Solomon, Truthout: "An underlying conceit of the new spin about benchmarks and timetables for Afghanistan is the notion that pivotal events there can be choreographed from Washington. So, a day ahead of the presidentÕs Tuesday night speech, The New York Times quoted an unnamed top administration official saying, 'He wants to give a clear sense of both the time frame for action and how the war will eventually wind down.' But 'eventually' is a long way off. In the meantime, the result of Washington's hollow politics is more carnage."
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Fighting Extremism With Civility
E.J. Dionne Jr.: "President Obama's administration has largely ignored those accusing him of 'fascism' and 'communism,' presumably believing that restraint in defense of dignity is no vice. Republican politicians, worried about future primary fights, have been reluctant to pick a fight with a radical right that seems to be the most energized section of their party. Their 'moderation' has consisted of a non-benign neglect of the extremists, and of accusing the president merely of 'socialism.' And so it is that the first genuinely ringing call for moderation has come from a man who is effectively without a party, and whose own demeanor and career define temperance."
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Jeanne Theoharis: The Arrest and Torture of Syed Hashmi
Angola 3 News: "Jeanne Theoharis is the author of an April 2009 article in The Nation, entitled 'Guantanamo At Home,' which focuses on the arrest, prosecution and imprisonment of US citizen Syed Hashmi in a New York City prison with Guantanamo-like conditions. Theoharis holds the endowed chair in women's studies and is an associate professor of political science at Brooklyn College, City University of New York. Syed Hashmi's trial will begin tomorrow in New York City."
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Birthers and Birchers: Hiding Behind Stars and Stripes
Loretta J. Ross, On The Issues Magazine: "Sustaining a progressive movement based on shared politics requires not only unification on positive values, but an understanding of the opposition and their tactics. Analysis of the various elements of opposition can do much to improve our own eyesight and path forward. 'Birthers' may be the newest manifestation of right-leaning conspiracy theorists. It is unlikely that most of the 'birthers' who believe that President Barack Obama is not a US citizen belong to the John Birch Society (JBS). But I believe they are at least sympathizers with the nativist, racist tendencies of the John Birch Society, which has been stirring animosity and paranoia, often with coded language and convoluted theories, for over 50 years."
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Housing Meltdown, Ground Zero: The American Home-Owning Dream on Life Support
Andy Kroll, TomDispatch.com: "At the end of a week in mid-October when the Dow Jones soared past 10,000, Goldman Sachs recorded 'just another fantastic quarter' with a $3.2 billion quarterly profit, JPMorgan Chase raked in a cool $3.6 billion, and a New York Times headline declared 'Bailout Helps Revive Banks, And Bonuses,' I spent a Saturday evening with about 100 people camped out in a northern California parking lot ... These people, and thousands more like them who had streamed into the arena all day long from as far away as Los Angeles, Phoenix and Las Vegas, were unemployed, broke, bankrupt or at their wit's end. They were here waiting for help - for their chance to make it inside the warm arena to participate in 'America's Best Mortgage Program.'"
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Hondurans Elect Pepe Lobo as President
Frances Robles and Laura Figueroa, The Miami Herald: "A cattle rancher and former congressman appeared headed for an easy victory Sunday in presidential elections that Hondurans hope would end the worst political crisis here in decades. Early official poll results showed that conservative businessman Porfirio 'Pepe' Lobo, 61, had received 52.09 percent of the votes, trouncing former Vice President Elvin Santos of the Liberal Party. The preliminary count showed Santos with 34.4 percent. The largely peaceful election was a boon for the acting Honduran government, which was under heavy criticism here and abroad for holding a regularly scheduled presidential election under controversial circumstances."
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Climate Change: Commonwealth Champions Adaption Fund
Peter Richards, Inter Press Service: "The Port of Spain Climate Change Consensus that Commonwealth leaders adopted was reached at the end of a special meeting also attended by French President Nicolas Sarkozy, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Danish Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen. The Commonwealth is an association of mostly former British colonies in Asia, Africa and the Caribbean. Participants said they want the United Nations Conference on Climate Change, to be held in Copenhagen early next month, to address the urgent needs of developing countries by providing new financing, support for adaptation, technology transfer, capacity building and incentives for reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation."
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Washington's Newest Gravy Train: High-Speed Rail
Matthew Lewis, The Center for Public Integrity: "The US High Speed Rail Association's October conference opened like any large Washington gathering. The congressmen were seated in the front row. A powerhouse Beltway law firm laid out prints of its lobbyists' biographies on a display table. And as the upscale J.W. Marriott meeting room went dark, a short film offered romantic visions of bullet trains in America's future."
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Times headlines 11/30

Obama Issues Order for More Troops in Afghanistan

President Obama told military leaders of his decision late Sunday afternoon and will spend Monday speaking with foreign leaders.

Prescriptions Blog

Health Care Premiums May Change Little, Budget Study Finds

A much-awaited budget analysis of health care legislation indicates premiums for most people would be little affected.

House Panel to Hold Hearing on State Dinner Breach

The House Homeland Security Committee has requested testimony from both the couple that snuck into last week's state dinner and the Secret Service.

http://thecaucus.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/11/30/chelsea-clinton-is-engaged/?nl=us&emc=politicsemailema3

Chelsea Clinton Is Engaged

The daughter of the former president and the secretary of state said she plans to marry.

Poli-Book Best Sellers

The latest most popular political books.

More Politics News

Treasury Pushes Mortgage Firms for Loan Relief

The administration said Monday that it would increase the pressure on banks to help troubled homeowners permanently lower mortgage payments.

White House Memo

Vital Tests for Obama on Mandate for Change

The president's handling of health care reform and Afghanistan will challenge the depth of his support.

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/30/us/politics/30jobs.html?nl=us&emc=politicsemailema4

Debate on Creating Jobs, Without Raising Deficit

Democrats in Congress are eager to come up with ways to spur hiring, but at odds over the scope of new measures.

From the Magazine

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/29/magazine/29Biden-t.html?nl=us&emc=politicsemailema5

After Cheney

Sounding board, sage on foreign policy, twister of senatorial arms: Joe Biden could be the second-most-powerful vice president in history.

Questions for James Inhofe
http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/29/magazine/29fob-q4-t.html?nl=us&emc=politicsemailema5

Global Warning

The Oklahoma senator talks about why he is planning a trip to Copenhagen.

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/29/magazine/29FOB-wwln-t.html?nl=us&emc=politicsemailema5

Why Women Can't Let Sarah Palin Go

If life is like high school, then today's educated, ambitious women are the student-council presidents and Sarah Palin is the head cheerleader.

A million dollars per soldier, per year

http://messenger.truthout.org/ss/link.php?M=253153&N=390&C=8fe8bdcce7192170d8f0ce88823895e0&L=2

In this exclusive Truthout investigative report, Dina Rasor writes: "Recently, the Congressional Research Service released an amazing statistic - it will cost one million dollars a year to support one soldier for one year in Afghanistan. This mind-blowing number partly includes the cost of private contractors who have moved into areas of support that have been strictly military in the past. Estimates for the numbers of contractors have been as high as one contractor for every soldier. As President Obama prepares to announce his decision on Afghanistan, the price of this war is also on his mind since he included Peter Orszag, the director of the Office of Management and Budget, in his last war council. One of the reasons for the high costs of maintaining each soldier is the lack of oversight of private contractor billings over the course of these two wars. The Department of Defense (DOD), and especially the Army, has fought the auditors and the investigators in the military who have attempted to expose fraud, waste, overbillings and other abuses of costs in contractor contracts. The contractors, using contingency contracting, which is similar to the old cost plus contracts, knew that their profits and, more important, their future task orders and contracts would be priced based on what they spend in the beginning of the wars. So the contractor billing meter, especially in labor costs, spun vigorously in the first years of the war with little oversight."

Read the full report and Digg this story

FP morning post 11/30

Iran vows to build 10 new enrichment sites

Top story: Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad dramatically escalated the international confrontation over his country's nuclear program on Sunday by announcing plans to construct 10 new nuclear enrichment plants. The Iranian parliament voted to begin construction of five new plants within the next two months. The annoucement came two days after Iran was censured by the International Atomic Energy Agency for refusing to stop uranium enrichment.

"We are ready to be friendly and kind toward the whole world, but at the same time we won't allow the smallest violation of the rights of the Iranian nation," Ahmadinejad said.

The IAEA's decision to censure Iran provoked widespread anger in the country's leadership, including members of the opposition. Former President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani said the agency's decision had been made "out of sheer spite."

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said the Iranian government's plans to build new centrifuges was, if true, "another example of Iran choosing to isolate itself.”

Nonetheless, some experts believe Ahmadinejad's announcement is more political posturing than anything else, questioning whether the country has the infrastructure of the uranium supply for such an ambitious building project.

Afghanistan: Administration officials say President Obama's speech on Tuesday will include not only a plan for a troop escalation in Afghanistan, but a time frame for winding down the war as well.


Americas

Africa

Middle East

  • Dubai's stock market opened to huge losses after the Emirate asked for its debt to be suspended last week.
  • Israel's settlers are vowing to resist a temporary moratorium on new housing construction in the West Bank.
  • Saudi Arabia says it has cleared Yemeni rebels from a mountain region on its southern border.

Europe


Asia

  • Filipinino journalists marched to protest last week's election massacre in Mindanao, which killed 30 reporters.
  • Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari transferred control of his country's nuclear arsenal to his prime minister.
  • China charged 50 people with covering up a mining disaster last year.
http://link.email.foreignpolicy.com/r/WLL1UIH/MRH0/MUKX/FR8D/XUGK/4O/h

-By Joshua Keating

Spencer Platt/Getty Images

McClatchy Washington report 11/30

  • Sen. Maria Cantwell wants to use state gambling laws to regulate parts of Wall Street, saying someone needs to police financial markets where "casino capitalism" involving highly speculative trades she likens to sophisticated betting continue unabated and threaten to create yet another financial crisis.

  • Maurice Clemmons, the key person of interest in the Sunday slayings of four police officers, is a career criminal with a history of violence against law enforcement officers who compares himself to Jesus and the Messiah, and who once received clemency from then-Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.

  • Victor Ruiz has been looking for work since January. An Air Force pension helps, but it's not enough to keep his family afloat. His house is in foreclosure, and he and his two teenage children are leaving Fircrest, Wash., to live with his parents in Chicago.

  • A ballot initiative that sponsors hope will outlaw abortion in Alaska by declaring fetuses to be "legal persons" appears headed for a court fight. The effort is part of a nationwide push to put "personhood" initiatives on state ballots. The movement focuses on writings by Justice Harry Blackmun in the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court Roe v. Wade decision that established abortion rights nationally. Blackmun indicated that a fetus would be protected if its personhood were established.

  • South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint is using his rising national profile among conservative activists to support and bankroll Republican Senate candidates around the country, some of them underdogs challenging GOP establishment favorites.

  • On Friday, shoppers hit the malls. On Monday, they'll hit their keyboards. If past patterns follow, "Cyber Monday" will be one of the biggest online shopping days of the year — and a prime time for identity theft and other scams.

  • Top Florida lawmakers are balking at Congress' plans to help more poor people get health care, though they've protected an entitlement of their own: free insurance premiums. Taxpayers have been stuck with covering the premiums — at a cost of about $45 million a year — even while lawmakers pledged to scrimp as they grappled with three straight years of budget shortfalls.

  • Republicans and Democrats have their prey in sight as they target races to contest in the 2010 elections. The focus of many is not on members of the other party. It's on officeholders within their own party — whether Republican or Democrat — who they say have strayed from the party base on hot-button issues, raising questions about their loyalties.

  • Charter schools have come into vogue as an attractive alternative for parents and kids looking for innovative learning environments and higher test scores. They've also become a priority in President Barack Obama's plan to overhaul the nation's education system.

  • Early official poll results in Honduras' presidential election showed that conservative businessman Porfirio "Pepe" Lobo, 61, had received 52.09 percent of the votes, trouncing former Vice President Elvin Santos of the Liberal Party.

  • Jamaican dog musher Newton Marshall arrived in Alaska on Sunday to begin a kind of three-month Iditarod boot camp with reigning champ Lance Mackey. Mackey is a blunt-talking cancer survivor who's won the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race three years in a row. Marshall took up the sport on a Caribbean island where it never snows. Singer Jimmy Buffett is his main sponsor. Hollywood might as well start casting the movie now.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

On Stimulating The Future, Or, "It's The Ytterbium, Stupid!"

We’re diving deep into “geek world” today with a story that combines economic hardball, the periodic table of the elements, and a barely noticed provision of the Defense Authorization Act that seeks to break a monopoly which today gives China near-absolute control over the materials that make cell phones, electric cars, wind turbines, and pretty much every other tool of modern life possible.

If we successfully break the monopoly, we’ll be able to create millions of new manufacturing jobs in this country—and if we don’t, somebody else owns the 21st Century.

Ironically, the global warming we’re trying to fight with new green technologies might be an ally in our efforts to make those very same green technologies happen.

There’s a revolution in industrial processing going on, rare earths are at the center of it all...and in today’s story, the revolution will be televised.

“Everything in the Universe comes out of nothing.
Nothing—the nameless is the beginning...”

--Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching, Chapter One
(Translated by Man-Ho Kwok, Martin Palmer and Jay Ramsay)


So What Are Rare Earths?

Rare earths are materials that are, as it turns out, not always especially rare; nonetheless, they all have properties that are quite rare, indeed. You’ll find them hanging out in their own special section of the Periodic Table of the Elements, kept well isolated from all the others.

For example, your television and computer monitor rely upon the element europium, which makes the color red appear on your screen. There is nothing else known to exist that can be used for the same purpose. Therefore, the ability to make TVs and computer monitors is entirely dependant on access to this material.

Cerium is the most effective agent available for polishing glass, and if it wasn’t for cerium, your eyeglasses—and everything else in the world with a lens—would be a lot tougher to produce...and they would be lenses of lower quality, to boot.

Erbium lasers work better than carbon dioxide (CO2) lasers for facial surgery, and its unique ability to emit and amplify light under optical excitation makes it essential (and, at the moment, irreplaceable) when producing either fiber optic cable for transmitting data or the optoelectronic “building blocks” of the next-generation data storage systems that will eventually replace every hard drive and memory chip on the planet today.

And what is the rare earth application with which you are probably the most familiar?

Magnets.

As it turns out, if you mix the rare earth element neodymium with iron and boron, you get what is by far the most powerful magnetic material available—and it’s easily fabricated into lots of useful shapes.

computer in a box1.jpg

These magnets have found their way into the headphones and speakers you listen to, the hard drive in your computer, your DVD player, every power everything in your car (they’re used in electric motors), and, eventually, into the electric motors that are likely to be actually propelling your car.

(Driving a Prius or some other hybrid vehicle? You’re driving around with about a kilo of neodymium under the hood, a number that’s soon expected to double.)

Of course, I could be wrong.

The rare earth application you’re most familiar with might be...batteries.

The nickel metal hydride battery (NiMH) has been the rechargeable battery of choice for about a decade now, turning up in everything from your cell phone to your camera to hand tools. This type of battery can be fabricated using several chemical formulations; the key here is that either cerium or another rare earth element, lanthanum, are essential to whatever formulation is chosen. Other rare earths are used as additives to make these batteries work better in high-temperature applications.

(Just for the record, that hybrid or “all-battery” vehicle you’re driving has at least 25 pounds of lanthanum on board.)

“New and improved” in rechargeable battery circles means lithium ion batteries; they also require lanthanum (although europium, yttrium, and protactinium are being considered as experimental additives).

These materials are also critically important if you’re in the business of building missiles or rockets or military communications systems—or civilian communications systems, for that matter.

So Why Is All Of This Such A Big Deal?

It’s a big deal because there is, shall we say...a bit of a supply problem.

"There is oil in the Middle East; there is rare earth in China...."

--Deng Xiaoping, 1992


You may recall that europium is the only thing that can make the color red on a TV set, and from the 1960s until the 1980s the only place in the world that was producing any rare earth element (REE) in any quantity was Molycorp’s Mountain Pass mine, in California’s Mojave Desert.

All of that changed in the 1990s as China decided to “...[i]mprove the development and applications of rare earth, and change the resource advantage into economic superiority", to quote Chairman Jiang Zemin. Since that time China has worked to expand ore production at its two major deposits as well as to expand the associated refining and fabrication industries that actually turn raw metals into finished products.

China was able to do this primarily because of two big cost advantages: cheap labor and access to REE as a byproduct of other mining activities (which basically means that if your copper mine’s ore also contains trace elements of REE, you do it cheaper than digging for just the REE). REE, we should mention, do not readily “gather” in large and easily mined “veins”, unlike other minerals, making mining more difficult.

Because of environmental problems at the Mountain Pass operation and price competition from the Chinese, there has been no US mining for REE since 2002, and today, more than 95% of the world’s REE production is based in China.

And all of a sudden, the Chinese might not have any spare REE for the rest of us.

What’s happened is that all those companies moving to China to do fabrication of REE material are raising the local demand, and it’s now being suggested that exports of REE from China could soon end. (A quick example: lanthanum and neodymium demand and supply were equal in 2008; this means supply will have to increase before lots of new hybrid or battery-only cars can hit the road.)

Some are suggesting there may be additional motives on the part of the Chinese Government, but I was unable to substantiate those rumors.

(The complete supply picture is a bit more complex; this because scrapping today’s consumer products for tomorrow’s REE is also an option, but at some currently unknown cost and efficiency.)

So Now What?

So that was the bad news; here’s the (potential) good news, located about 850 pages deep in a conference report that finalized the Legislative Branch’s work on the 2010 National Defense Authorization Act:

“...Report on rare earth materials in the defense supply chain (sec. 843)

The House bill contained a provision (sec. 828) that would require a report on the usage of rare earth materials in the supply chain of the Department of Defense.
The Senate amendment contained a similar provision (sec. 837).
The House recedes with an amendment combining the requirements of the two provisions..."


Of course, we better do more than just write a report, as all too often “write a report” is actually just another way of saying “ignore problem for now”—especially if, as the not enacted Rare Earth Supply-Chain Technology And Resources Transformation (RESTART) Act Of 2009, said:

“China’s ability—and willingness—to export REE’s is eroding due to its growing domestic demand, its enforcement of environmental law on current producers, and its mandate to consolidate the industry by decreasing its number of mining permits. The Chinese government’s draft rare earths plan for 2009 to 2015 proposes an immediate ban on the export of dysprosium, terbium, thulium, lutetium and yttrium, the “heavy” REE and a restriction on the exports of all the other, light, rare earth metals to a level well below that of Japan’s 2008 demand alone.”


Another source of good news: we have friends who also have access to REE, including Canada, Iceland, and in what has to be a “silver lining, dark cloud” moment, Greenland, who is just about a month away from gaining control over its natural resources from Denmark and assessing what, for the moment, appears to be the world’s largest known find of REE on the country’s southwest coast.

(This good news is, of course, balanced against the fact that access to the site will be much, much, easier...thanks to global warming.)

Of course, access to ore isn’t enough, and whatever supply is located, we’ll still need the ancillary capabilities that we lack today to refine and fabricate these metals into the American-made products we want to produce over the course of the next several decades.

So how’s that for a tale of geekiness?

The entire world that we know today—and the one we want for the future—depends on a small batch of odd metals, 95% of which currently come from China, who appears to be leveraging that advantage in a way that is not just an economic threat, but a National Security threat as well.

We have the potential to fix the problem, if we are so inclined, but we better get to it, and quickly, as our clock seems to be running a bit short.

And we need to do more than just dig holes in the ground. We need to establish an entire production chain—otherwise we’ll be mining ore that we’ll be shipping to...China...which is what we’re trying to avoid in the first place.

You know, a green economy is one thing...but a green economy that trades Big Oil for Big Battery is quite another—and if you’re just trading one “resource master” for a different one, what's the point?

Truthout 11/29

Will Nuclear Power Blow Up Obama's Climate Goals for Copenhagen?
Art Levine, Truthout: "With Wednesday's announcement that President Obama plans to personally visit the UN-sponsored Copenhagen climate change conference next month, there are mounting hopes that his pledge that the US will cut greenhouses gases by 17 percent over a decade will jump-start world action on climate change... Yet even that modest proposed reduction may not be met."
Read the Article

Joe Conason | Understanding Our Hollow "Centrists"
Joe Conason, Truthout: "The puzzling thing about politicians of either party who claim to be 'centrist' or 'moderate' is how much they sometimes sound like party-line right-wing Republicans. Distinguishing among these species of politicians can be almost impossible during the current struggle over health care reform, especially when a senator like Blanche Lambert Lincoln of Arkansas tries to explain herself."
Read the Article

Winslow Myers | Flying Blind
Winslow Myers, Truthout: "Predator drones kill al-Qaeda leaders without risk to American soldiers; dangerous plotters of terror are efficiently annihilated; and those not yet killed are kept off-balance, in a constant state of fear. What's not to like? For starters, the moral indecency of it."
Read the Article

Study Shows Government Contract Fraud Is Hitting Disabled Veterans
Jim Wyss, The Miami Herald: "A government investigation found that fraud and abuse are diverting millions of dollars in contracts intended to go to businesses owned by service-disabled veterans. Millions of dollars worth of government contracts designated for service-disabled veterans are being siphoned off by fraud and abuse, according to a recent government report."
Read the Article

Angry Greenhouse Gas Victims Demand Action
Paul Virgo, Inter Press Service: "'Angry' is not the adjective that comes to mind when you first meet Nelly Damaris Chepkoskei. The immaculately dressed 53-year-old Kenyan is generous with her time and with the smiles that light up her beautiful face and never misses a chance to crack a joke before punctuating it with hearty chuckles. But the rage wells up when she speaks about how her life as a farmer in the Kericho District of Western Kenya has changed over the last 20 years."
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Shattering Canada's Collective Myths
Sandro Contenta, GlobalPost: "There are moments in a country's history when collective myths become so divorced from reality that almost everyone can hear them burst with a pop. It happened last week in Canada, when stories in the media proclaimed the end of a national identity as peacekeepers, and the birth of one as warriors. This is no small change."
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Saturday, November 28, 2009

Truthout 11/28

Argentine Dirty War Victims Cautiously Embrace Trials, Hope for More
Sam Ferguson, Truthout: "On Tuesday, November 24, more than 33 years after the dictatorship took power and forcibly disappeared between 9,000 and 30,000 citizens like Careaga in Argentina's 'Dirty War,' 15 defendants accused of operating the Atletico and two other secret prisons appeared in court. The defendants, mostly retired police officials, have been charged on an array of counts against 181 victims, including kidnapping, torture and murder."
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White House Moving Toward New Iran Sanctions
Margaret Talev and Nancy A. Youssef, McClatchy Newspapers: "The United Nations nuclear agency blasted Iran in a resolution Friday for obstructing investigations into its suspected nuclear-weapons program and demanded that the Islamic Republic stop enriching uranium at a once-secret facility. In response, the Obama administration suggested that world powers might be moving closer to imposing international sanctions on Iran."
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Jeff Cohen | Get Ready for the Obama/GOP Alliance
Jeff Cohen, Truthout: "With Obama pushing a huge troop escalation in Afghanistan, history may well repeat itself with a vengeance. And it's not just the apt comparison to LBJ, who destroyed his presidency on the battlefields of Vietnam with an escalation that delivered power to Nixon and the GOP."
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Why Debt at Dubai World Is Shaking World Financial Markets
Ron Scherer, The Christian Science Monitor: "How can Dubai, a tiny emirate on the Persian Gulf, shake financial markets from Shanghai to New York? The answer is familiar to tens of thousands of Americans struggling to make payments on their mortgages or credit cards: too much debt."
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Philippe Vuaillat and Horacio Lejarraga | Good for Children, Good for Society
Philippe Vuaillat and Horacio Lejarraga, Liberation: "'Children's development is the wealth of nations.' The expression, borrowed from Adam Smith, has a strange resonance when children's development is ever less a priority for our rulers whose policies call into question the fundamentals of solidarity that have enabled our collective wealth, our development in the broader sense, understood as the evolution of psycho-motor behaviors, language, intelligence, learning and sociability."
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Ellen Goodman | A Backlash of Mistrust
Ellen Goodman: "Is there such a thing as communications malpractice? If so, we might consider the case of Women v. the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. I'm not talking about medical malpractice. The scientists who surveyed the mammogram studies did their job honorably.... They went on to recommend that women start having mammograms at 50 and then have them every other year instead of annually. But then they dropped these guidelines onto an unprepared public like leaflets from a helicopter of experts who didn't understand the conditions on the ground."
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Friday, November 27, 2009

Taxing the speculators

Should we use taxes to deter financial speculation? Yes, say top British officials, who oversee the City of London, one of the world’s two great banking centers. Other European governments agree — and they’re right.

Unfortunately, United States officials — especially Timothy Geithner, the Treasury secretary — are dead set against the proposal. Let’s hope they reconsider: a financial transactions tax is an idea whose time has come.

The dispute began back in August, when Adair Turner, Britain’s top financial regulator, called for a tax on financial transactions as a way to discourage “socially useless” activities. Gordon Brown, the British prime minister, picked up on his proposal, which he presented at the Group of 20 meeting of leading economies this month.

Why is this a good idea? The Turner-Brown proposal is a modern version of an idea originally floated in 1972 by the late James Tobin, the Nobel-winning Yale economist. Tobin argued that currency speculation — money moving internationally to bet on fluctuations in exchange rates — was having a disruptive effect on the world economy. To reduce these disruptions, he called for a small tax on every exchange of currencies.

Such a tax would be a trivial expense for people engaged in foreign trade or long-term investment; but it would be a major disincentive for people trying to make a fast buck (or euro, or yen) by outguessing the markets over the course of a few days or weeks. It would, as Tobin said, “throw some sand in the well-greased wheels” of speculation.

Tobin’s idea went nowhere at the time. Later, much to his dismay, it became a favorite hobbyhorse of the anti-globalization left. But the Turner-Brown proposal, which would apply a “Tobin tax” to all financial transactions — not just those involving foreign currency — is very much in Tobin’s spirit. It would be a trivial expense for long-term investors, but it would deter much of the churning that now takes place in our hyperactive financial markets.

This would be a bad thing if financial hyperactivity were productive. But after the debacle of the past two years, there’s broad agreement — I’m tempted to say, agreement on the part of almost everyone not on the financial industry’s payroll — with Mr. Turner’s assertion that a lot of what Wall Street and the City do is “socially useless.” And a transactions tax could generate substantial revenue, helping alleviate fears about government deficits. What’s not to like?

The main argument made by opponents of a financial transactions tax is that it would be unworkable, because traders would find ways to avoid it. Some also argue that it wouldn’t do anything to deter the socially damaging behavior that caused our current crisis. But neither claim stands up to scrutiny.

On the claim that financial transactions can’t be taxed: modern trading is a highly centralized affair. Take, for example, Tobin’s original proposal to tax foreign exchange trades. How can you do this, when currency traders are located all over the world? The answer is, while traders are all over the place, a majority of their transactions are settled — i.e., payment is made — at a single London-based institution. This centralization keeps the cost of transactions low, which is what makes the huge volume of wheeling and dealing possible. It also, however, makes these transactions relatively easy to identify and tax.

What about the claim that a financial transactions tax doesn’t address the real problem? It’s true that a transactions tax wouldn’t have stopped lenders from making bad loans, or gullible investors from buying toxic waste backed by those loans.

But bad investments aren’t the whole story of the crisis. What turned those bad investments into catastrophe was the financial system’s excessive reliance on short-term money.

As Gary Gorton and Andrew Metrick of Yale have shown, by 2007 the United States banking system had become crucially dependent on “repo” transactions, in which financial institutions sell assets to investors while promising to buy them back after a short period — often a single day. Losses in subprime and other assets triggered a banking crisis because they undermined this system — there was a “run on repo.”

And a financial transactions tax, by discouraging reliance on ultra-short-run financing, would have made such a run much less likely. So contrary to what the skeptics say, such a tax would have helped prevent the current crisis — and could help us avoid a future replay.

Would a Tobin tax solve all our problems? Of course not. But it could be part of the process of shrinking our bloated financial sector. On this, as on other issues, the Obama administration needs to free its mind from Wall Street’s thrall.

Truthout 11/27

Ray McGovern | Obama's Profile in Courage, or Cave-In?
Ray McGovern, Truthout: "'It took a lot of courage on Kennedyís part to defy the Pentagon, defy the military - and do the right thing,' said Col. Larry Wilkerson, USA (ret.), according to Robert Dreyfuss in his recent Rolling Stone article 'The Generalsí Revolt.' ... Wilkerson, who was chief of staff at the State Department (2002-2005) and now teaches at George Washington University, was alluding to President John F. Kennedyís courage in 1962, when he faced down his top generals and refused to bomb Cuba and risk nuclear war."
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Bailed-Out AIG Forcing Poor to Choose Between Running Water and Food
Yasha Levine, AlterNet: "What are we getting in return for the bailout? So far, predatory credit card rates, exorbitant bank fees and obscene Wall Street bonuses. But we're being robbed in other, sneakier ways, too. It seems that taxpayers in the poorest, most vulnerable parts of the county are getting plundered by the same institutions they bailed out. One example is AIG's underhanded fleecing of residents of rural Kentucky."
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Eugene Robinson | Purloined E-mails Don't Change the Facts
Eugene Robinson: "Stop hyperventilating, all you climate change deniers. The purloined e-mail correspondence published by skeptics last week - portraying some leading climate researchers as petty, vindictive and tremendously eager to make their data fit accepted theories - does not prove that global warming is a fraud."
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Diplomats: Iran Censured at UN Nuclear Meeting
George Jahn, The Associated Press: "The board of the UN nuclear watchdog censured Iran on Friday, with 25 nations backing a resolution that demands Tehran immediately freeze construction of its newly revealed nuclear facility and heed Security Council resolutions calling on it to stop uranium enrichment."
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Venezuela vs. Colombia: Two Leaders Seek Outside Mediation
Sibylla Brodzinsky and Sara Miller Llana, The Christian Science Monitor: "After bridge explosions, Venezuela's Hugo Ch·vez and Colombia's Alvaro Uribe agree on one thing: current conflict won't be resolved without outside mediation."
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Jim Lobe | State Department Backpedals on Landmine Treaty
Jim Lobe, Inter Press Service: "One day after the State Department announced that the administration of US President Barack Obama will not sign the 10-year-old treaty banning anti-personnel landmines, it insisted that Washington's policy on the issue was still being reviewed."
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McClatchy Washington report 11/27

  • For the first time in nine meetings over months of deliberations on Afghanistan strategy, Obama on Monday invited Budget Director Peter Orszag to sit in, a sign that the White House was weighing the budget consequences of a troop surge that could cost a trillion dollars over 10 years. Some say the time has come to levy higher taxes to pay for the war.

  • S.C. Attorney General Henry McMaster said Wednesday his involvement in the investigation into allegations against Gov. Mark Sanford is not a political conflict of interest. McMaster, who is seeking the 2010 Republican nomination for governor, is reviewing the 37 ethics charges against Sanford.

  • Carly Fiorina launched her U.S. Senate campaign this month in a Garden Grove warehouse not with a promise or policy statement, but a simple question: "What's with the hair?" Fiorina, the former CEO of Hewlett-Packard who hopes to unseat Sen. Barbara Boxer, had short, cropped hair after undergoing chemotherapy this summer, telling supporters she was a breast cancer survivor and making it clear she planned to embrace her experience during the campaign.

  • A federal law, the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008, or GINA, goes into effect Dec. 7, prohibiting insurance companies from using family medical histories or genetic testing to deny medical insurance or set rates. The federal law expands on a Texas law that prohibits use of genetic test results in determining large group medical insurance coverage and in hiring.

  • Most retailers shy away from talking about how they choose the items they put on sale. For Black Friday, most select their most steeply discounted items a year or more in advance. Some are specially manufactured for sale at super low prices - and don't have all the features of the more common models. Circulars must be printed in advance. Then there's the buzz that must be generated.

  • Due to city budget cuts, the thousands of people who routinely ride the Anchorage bus system on Black Friday will need another way to get to their destination.For the first time in its 35-year history, People Mover will not run buses on Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, and city officials say it might not next year either.

  • From Enron to Madoff, bear markets to financial crises, bubbles to bailouts, jobless recovery to double-digit unemployment — this has been an economically brutal first decade for the new millennium. After all, the 1990s were a jobs machine, a deficit destroyer, a stock market utopia. We even deflated the Y2K threat.

  • President Barack Obama will unveil his long-awaited Afghanistan strategy in a prime-time address from West Point, N.Y., on Dec. 1, the White House said Wednesday, but the administration's advance remarks have sparked concern that talk of an eventual U.S. withdrawal will encourage Islamist insurgents to persevere.

  • The special state prosecutor who is overseeing a major part of the investigation of former North Carolina Gov. Mike Easley says he is consulting federal authorities and expects it will take many months before he reaches any conclusion on the case.

  • As snow begins to blanket Lake Tahoe, the region finds itself facing a new kind of development battle: green vs. green. Roger Wittenberg, an inventor and developer, wants to tear down the cavernous old Tahoe Biltmore Lodge & Casino and replace it with a $140 million eco-friendly resort he says will work environmental miracles by shrinking carbon emissions and reducing the flow of sediment into the lake. But some environmentalists and area residents are wary.

  • Details on how South Florida will fare under the latest health care proposals are becoming known. Overall, the benefits could be huge for South Florida, where 28.1 percent of residents in Miami-Dade and 21.8 percent of Broward are uninsured. Still, rumors about the bills are flying.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Truthout 11/26

William Rivers Pitt | Unhappy Thanksgiving
William Rivers Pitt, Truthout: "Ten months after the inauguration of Barack Obama, those 'Yes We Can' and "Hope" slogans have begun to ring more than a little hollow. Of course, the man inherited a vast array of ongoing catastrophes from his predecessor, and it is a dead-bang certainty that ten months under a McCain administration would have left us in far worse shape than we find ourselves in today, but the realization that matters are only slightly better than they would have been under the worst-case scenario doesn't go very far anymore. Some things are better, but the fact of the matter is that some things are worse, and most things are exactly the same."
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Michael Winship | A Jane Goodall Thanksgiving
Michael Winship, Truthout: "Give thanks. Because this isn't one of those Thanksgiving lists of things for which we should be grateful - although health, family, friends, laughter etc. would certainly all be on mine.... And Jane Goodall."
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Jim Hightower | Giving Thanks for America's Good Food Movement
Jim Hightower, Truthout: "It began in earnest in the 1980's and 1990's as an 'upchuck rebellion' - ordinary folks rejecting the industrialized, chemicalized, corporatized and globalized food system. Farmers wanted a more natural connection to the good earth that they were working, just as consumers began demanding edibles that were not saturated with pesticides, injected with antibiotics, ripened with chemicals, dosed with artificial flavorings and otherwise tortured."
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J. Sri Raman | A Year After Mumbai
J. Sri Raman, Truthout: "On November 26, 2009, India marks the anniversary of a nightmare. Around 9.30 p.m. this day last year began the terrorist strike in Mumbai (formerly Bombay), a tragedy watched on the television by the rest of the country and etched in its memory ever since. We can look back upon the event today only as an undeclared war, by other means, launched by enemies of South Asian people and peace."
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Tax Credit Gives Temporary Boost to Home Sales, Prices
Dean Baker, The Center for Economic and Policy Research: "There continues to be enormous excess supply in the housing market; the overall vacancy rate is at an all-time high.... Existing home sales jumped 10.1 percent in October, while the Case-Shiller 20-City Index showed a rise of 0.3 percent for September, its fourth consecutive monthly increase. (The Case-Shiller data is a three-month average centered on September.) Both increases were driven by the expiration of the first-time homebuyers tax credit at the end of November."
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C.M. Sennott | Obama Has a Hard Sell on Afghanistan Troop Increase
C.M. Sennott, Global Post: "When President Obama announced Tuesday night that he will 'finish the job' in Afghanistan and the White House began its hard sell to the media on the idea of a troop increase of approximately 30,000, there is one looming question that rises above all others. What does 'finish the job' mean?"
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McClatchy Washington report 11/26

  • Getting the ingredients for Golf Company's one-day-early Thanksgiving dinner was a military operation. But buying the $68 worth of chicken, hot peppers, potatoes, rice and flat bread turned out to be the easy part. It was the cooking Wednesday night that nearly caused a squad of casualties.

  • For the first time in nine meetings over months of deliberations on Afghanistan strategy, Obama on Monday invited Budget Director Peter Orszag to sit in, a sign that the White House was weighing the budget consequences of a troop surge that could cost a trillion dollars over 10 years. Some say the time has come to levy higher taxes to pay for the war.

  • Most retailers shy away from talking about how they choose the items they put on sale. For Black Friday, most select their most steeply discounted items a year or more in advance. Some a specially manufactured for sale at super low prices — and don't have all the features of the more common models. Circulars must be printed in advance. Then there's the buzz that must be generated.

  • President Barack Obama will unveil his long-awaited Afghanistan strategy in a prime-time address from West Point, N.Y., on Dec. 1, the White House said Wednesday, but the administration's advance remarks have sparked concern that talk of an eventual U.S. withdrawal will encourage Islamist insurgents to persevere.

  • As the health care battle rages on, one central question keeps popping up: How would legislation affect the premiums paid by individuals and small businesses, two groups that currently face unpredictable year-to-year rate increases?

  • One of the White House's biggest boasts about the health care legislation now moving through Congress is that it should reduce health care costs for both government and society. Many prominent experts are skeptical, however, and some say that the Obama administration's wrong.

  • It was 10 years ago Thanksgiving day that Elian Gonzalez was found drifting alone in an inner tube by two fishermen off Fort Lauderdale. The little Cuban boy would become the center of an international custody battle that ended when the Bill Clinton administration sent INS agents bursting into his uncle's home. Elian returned to Cuba, but his uncle has worked to preserve Elian's time in Miami.

  • When Susan Marx was awoken before dawn last month with word that United Nations colleagues across town were under attack, the 32-year-old human rights researcher did the only thing she could think of to calm her nerves: Bake.

  • The decision by U.S. District Judge Bob Conrad sent Royce Mitchell, 36, back to prison for 30 months for violating his parole. Mitchell had been a "person of interest" in the shooting death earlier this year of his adopted sister, Tiffany Wright, 15. Tiffany was pregnant when she was killed and she'd said she believed Wright was the father. A DNA test showed he wasn't, but Judge Conrad said he still believed the two had had sex.

  • Three times this decade Markus D. Lee, 25, has been charged with committing a murder and all three times he's avoided conviction. Win No. 3 came Wednesday when a judge in Kansas City ordered him freed. The judge said he ordered Lee's release because he felt prosecutors and police conspired to force a mistrial in a case that wasn't going well.

  • When Currituck County High School in North Carolina qualified for the state playoffs' opening round because of a technicality, the coach and several of the team's best players suggested they forfeit -- afterall, they hadn't won but two games all season and their first game would be against the best team in the state. But then other players said they wanted to play and their opponents proved what good sportsmanship can be.

  • Army Staff Sgt. Christian Hughes fingers his scar, the first of four. One bullet, he says, went in here. He points. Another went here. That's it for his right leg, the relatively intact one. Then the 23-year-old infantryman peels back a bandage from his left thigh, a grave revelation.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Truthout 11/25

Jason Leopold | Obama's Plans to Increase Afghanistan Troop Levels Would Leave US With No Reserve
Jason Leopold, Truthout: "President Barack Obama intends to announce next week that he will deploy tens of thousands of additional US troops to Afghanistan, according to numerous published reports citing unnamed administration officials, to fight an eight-year-old war that a majority of Americans do not support and numerous Democratic lawmakers say is no longer worth waging."
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Art Levine | Elizabeth Warren: Taxpayers Are "Involuntary Investors" in "Shaky" Banks
Art Levine, Truthout: "As financial reforms face new delays in Congress, the chair of the Congressional oversight panel on the TARP program, Elizabeth Warren, told Truthout Tuesday that the nation's financial institutions still pose major risks for taxpayers - and the economy."
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George Lakoff | Give Thanks to Kathleen Sebelius for Saving 47,000 Women
George Lakoff, Truthout: "Cost-benefit analysis can kill. The failure to distinguish statistics from arithmetic can kill. In the current debate over mammograms, the number of women projected to be at risk of death due to cost-benefit analysis is about 47,000."
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Andy Worthington | UK Judges Compare Binyam Mohamed's Torture to That of Abu Zubaydah
Andy Worthington, Truthout: "Binyam Mohamed is a British resident, seized in Pakistan in April 2002, who was held in Pakistani custody, supervised by US agents, until July 2002, when he was sent by the CIA to be tortured for 18 months in Morocco, and was tied in with a 'dirty bomb plot' that never even existed. After his ordeal in Morocco, he spent four months in the CIA's 'Dark Prison' in Kabul, and was then flown to Guantanamo in September 2004."
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Peter Stern | Time to Quell Excessive Power of Credit Bureaus, Sometimes Ruling Life or Death
Peter Stern, Truthout: "During the past several decades in the US, three credit bureaus have become so powerful, they can make or break American lives. They are Equifax, Experian and Trans Union. Any one of them has the capability to cause many sleepless nights of worry for American citizens, and on many levels their power and control rival that exerted by the dreaded IRS."
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Dallas Darling | From Radical Republicans to Rich Republicans?
Dallas Darling, Truthout: "Many would not know it today, but at one time in our nation's existence the Republican Party was on the right side of history. After the Civil War, the Radical Republicans, a formidable group in Congress, fought hard to grant freedom and political rights to newly freed slaves. Although some had ulterior motives, like wanting to win future elections by securing the black vote and preventing Confederate leaders from regaining power, they still battled a racist president and past by overriding vetoes and passing the Thirteenth, Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the US Constitution."
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Obama Denounces Mugabe's Rule, Honors Zimbabwean Women Activists
Andrew Meldrum, GlobalPost: "President Barack Obama denounced President Robert Mugabe as a 'dictator' and said the 85-year-old leader is on the wrong side of history. The US president made the comments when he gave a human rights award to a group of Zimbabwean women activists Monday."
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Forget 2012: I Don't Believe in the End of the World
Hector Manuel Castro, El Diario de El Paso (Translation: Ryan Croken): "As the days pass, so grows the fear of the arrival of December 21, 2012, the end date of the Mayan calendar, and the day on which many people believe that the world will come to an end."
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Kentucky Court: No Executions Until Death Penalty Process Changed
Jack Brammer, The Lexington Herald-Leader: "Kentucky may not execute anyone until it adopts regulations in compliance with the law, the Kentucky Supreme Court ruled Wednesday. The court ruling came in the case of three Death Row inmates - Thomas C. Bowling, Ralph Baze and Brian Keith Moore - who were challenging the state's lethal injection protocol."
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Rebecca Solnit | Learning How to Count to 350
Rebecca Solnit, TomDispatch.com: "Next month, at the climate change summit in Copenhagen, the wealthy nations that produce most of the excess carbon in our atmosphere will almost certainly fail to embrace measures adequate to ward off the devastation of our planet by heat and chaotic weather. Their leaders will probably promise us teaspoons with which to put out the firestorm and insist that springing for fire hoses would be far too onerous a burden for business to bear. They have already backed off from any binding deals at this global summit."
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NOW | Drowning Nations
NOW: "The Maldives, a nation of roughly 1,200 low-lying islands in the Indian Ocean, could be underwater by the end of this century if climate change causes ocean levels to rise. On the eve of the big climate summit in Copenhagen, the country's president, Mohamed Nasheed, is warning of a massive exodus from the Maldives if drastic global action is not taken."
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FP morning post 11/25

Pakistan charges seven for Mumbai attack

Top story: Pakistan has charged seven men with involvement in last year's Mumbai terrorist attacks. The indictments come just before the first anniversary of the attacks. The seven suspects -- all alleged members of the banned militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba -- have pleaded not guilty. They could face the death penalty if convicted.

Those indicted include Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, one of the founders of Lashkar and, according to India, the mastermind of the attack. Hamid Amin Sadiq, also arrested, was the main handler of the attackers according to Pakistan's interior ministry.

The seven were charged largely based on evidence given by Ajmal Qasab, the lone surviving attacker, who is currently on trial in India. More than 170 people were killed in the attacks.

Coming up: President Obama is expected to announce his decision on troop levels for Afghanistan next week, probably on Tuesday. Most reports indicate he's settled on somewhere near 30,000 troops.


Middle East

  • Israeli-Palestinian prisoner swap talks have stalled over the names put forward by Hamas.
  • The annual Hajj pilgrimage has begun, with lower numbers this year due to fears of swine flu.
  • A double bombing in Karbala injured 25 civilians ahead of the Islamic holiday of Eid al-Adha.

Asia

Americas

Europe

Africa

This is the last Morning Brief for the week. See you Monday and have a very happy Thanksgiving.

-Joshua Keating

http://link.email.foreignpolicy.com/r/BMM7ZH4/CXJM/3MTL/1MEM/70A0/ID/h

Human rights for Native Americans should be a priority

It didn't get much fanfare around here and I missed any mention on TV, but on Nov. 5, hundreds of Native American tribal leaders gathered in Washington, D.C., fulfilling a campaign promise President Barack Obama made.

One representative from each of the 564 federally recognized tribes was invited and nearly 400 came to the White House Tribal Nations Conference.

As perhaps the most forgotten Americans, they came hoping to be recognized, acknowledged and helped.

In his opening address, Obama called the leaders "our first Americans," and acknowledged that this country and this government had a violent history with Indians, one that was filled with broken treaties and broken promises.

In recent years, Washington decided what was best for the tribes, he said, without consulting them.

Because of that, "some of your reservations face unemployment rates of up to 80 percent," Obama said, telling them what they already knew. "Roughly a quarter of all Native Americans live in poverty. More than 14 percent of all reservation homes don't have electricity. And 12 percent don't have access to safe water supply.

"In some reservations, as many as 20 people live together just to get by," he said.

This is America. How can that be?

True enough, this is an America that is struggling economically, but our struggles as a whole look pretty good to some Native Americans.

According to official population figures, there are fewer than 5 million Indians in the U.S., and they have a life expectancy nearly five years shorter than other Americans. They die from pneumonia, influenza, diabetes, tuberculosis and alcoholism at a far higher rate than the rest of the country.

High school and college dropout rates for Native Americans are higher than for any other group in the U.S. And the suicide rate for American Indians and Alaska Natives is about 70 percent higher than for Americans in general. Suicide is the second leading cause of death for American Indians age 15 to 24 years of age and two thirds of those suicides in that age range are males.

Why aren't we doing anything about that?

And the worse statistic Obama cited was that one in three Indian women will be raped in their lifetimes.

The reservations, run by autonomous governments, need better educational facilities, better access to health care, and better public safety.

To get the ball rolling, Obama signed an executive order giving all federal agencies three months to submit proposals that would lead to "regular and meaningful consultation and collaboration" with Native Americans when decisions are being made that affect them.

The time limit was set because President Bill Clinton signed a similar order 10 years ago, but there were no parameters for accountability. Very little happened during President George W. Bush's administration.

Now, if nothing happens in 90 days, tribal leaders can knock on Obama's door and demand answers.

I like that.

Black people know from our experiences during the civil rights movement that we had to have a voice in how policies were made regarding our treatment. We had to have a say in what was good for us. And there had to be accountability for the government in order for anything substantive to get done.

It is so scary to see this being played out again with different players.

We demand quick reactions from the government when utilities are disabled because of storms or hurricanes. Some of these folks have been without electricity for years, if they ever had it.

We demand police protection when one person is threatened, raped or murdered in our cities. Can you imagine what we'd do if 33 percent of our women were raped?

Mercy.

There are a lot of issues to be worked out as there always is between governments. But those negotiations can't be as difficult as the ones this country tries to mediate in the Middle East or with various African nations.

This embarrassment can be cleaned up. It should be cleaned up. And, hopefully, it will be cleaned up.

That's what the champion of human rights would do.

McClatchy Washington report 11/25

  • Most economists agree that the nation's deep recession is over, yet that isn't bringing much cheer to retailers. For the second consecutive holiday season, they're bracing for declining sales, despite what will be a huge promotional push for the day after Thanksgiving.

  • For a crowd of 400 Marines, soldiers, sailors, airmen and contractors Tuesday, Gary Sinise and his Lt. Dan Band, named for the character Sinise played in the movie Forrest Gump, might as well have been U2. The crowd roared and snapped photos as the band ripped through a long set of high-energy cover tunes that for a couple of hours drove off the dust, the danger and the boredom that characterizes fighting in Afghanistan.

  • In a preview of his speech next week announcing his plan to send more than 30,000 additional U.S. troops to Afghanistan, President Barack Obama Tuesday vowed that he'll "finish the job" of stabilizing the country and destroying the al Qaida terror network.

  • Embattled South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford has a second layer of legal protection — at taxpayers' expense. The governor's office has hired Connecticut-based attorney Ross Garber to represent its interests as lawmakers begin deliberations on whether to impeach the two-term Republican governor.

  • For decades, the baddest of the bad stared out from FBI wanted posters in post offices nationwide. Seeing the faces on a post office wall is a rarity now. They have disappeared over the past decade. Call it the 'Wal-Marting' of the post office. The walls are prime product display space now.

  • California's inspector general for American Recovery Act Funds said Tuesday that state agencies should use "common sense" when describing how many new jobs federal stimulus money has created. She also said the federal government must improve its reporting criteria to ensure that job figures are accurate.

  • Millions of dollars worth of government contracts designated for service-disabled veterans are being siphoned off by fraud and abuse, according to a recent government report. In a case-study of 10 firms, the Government Accountability Office found ineligible companies had won about $100 million worth of contracts earmarked for service-disabled veteran-owned companies.

  • Americans could pay billions of dollars more in new taxes for a few years before they're likely to see significant change in the nation's health care system under legislation that Congress is considering. Some analysts said that's not necessarily bad. Delaying major health care changes until at least 2013, as the pending Senate and House of Representatives bills would do, would give the government sufficient money and time to get things right.

  • A slew of South Florida political scandals have uncovered "a culture of corruption" that must be stamped out, freshman Florida Sen. George LeMieux said Tuesday.

  • Alaska victims of sexual abuse by Catholic priests and volunteers from the Fairbanks diocese could finally receive payments early next year for the damage done long ago, though many of the details of the bankruptcy settlement have yet to be worked out.

  • A range of political groups in South Florida view Honduras as a symbol worth fighting over. Since the populist President Manuel Zelaya was toppled in June, groups representing various ideologies have sought to wield influence over Honduras as the country prepares for national elections Sunday.

  • It didn't get much fanfare around here and I missed any mention on TV, but on Nov. 5, hundreds of Native American tribal leaders gathered in Washington, D.C., fulfilling a campaign promise President Barack Obama made.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Truthout 11/24

Yana Kunichoff | Senate Gears Up for Epic Battle Over Health Care Bill
Yana Kunichoff, Truthout: "Now that the Senate voted in favor of beginning debate on a health care reform bill, despite an attempted Republican filibuster and attacks from moderate Democrats, the hard work begins. Debate on the legislation will begin after Thanksgiving, but Republicans as well as some conservative Democrats have said that they will take steps to keep the bill from being passed."
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William Fisher | Obama's Fifth Category: The "Untriable"
William Fisher, Truthout: "In his talk at the National Archives in May, President Obama referred to five categories of prisoners currently held at Guantanamo Bay. First, there are those who have violated American criminal laws and will be tried in federal courts. There may be as many as a dozen men in this category, five of whose trials were announced last week, including that of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed."
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Tom Loudon | United States Backs Illegal Elections in Honduras
Tom Loudon, Truthout: "After five months of political chaos in Honduras, repeated attempts to reach a negotiated agreement for restoration of constitutional order have failed due to the defiant recalcitrance of the Roberto Micheletti coup regime and the complicity of the State Department. Given this impasse and the deepening human rights crisis, it is widely recognized that conditions for holding free, fair and transparent elections on November 29, just days from now, do not exist."
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President Obama and the Intelligence Community: An Interim Report Card
Melvin A. Goodman, Truthout: "President Obama has had nearly a year to make necessary changes in the intelligence community and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). While he has been successful in addressing the CIA's renditions, detentions and interrogations programs, he has failed to appoint leaders willing to address the culture of cover-up that exists at the CIA and to make the necessary strategic changes. Until President Obama is willing to address the militarization and centralization of the intelligence community, he will retain his grade of C+ in managing the community."
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Ray McGovern | McChrystal Testing the Limits
Ray McGovern, Truthout: "It's not too late for President Barack Obama to follow the example of Harry Truman, who fired Gen. Douglas McArthur in 1951 for insubordination. Then, as now, the stakes were high. Then it was Korea; now it is Afghanistan.
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Philippines Massacre: State of Emergency Declared
Donald Kirk, The Christian Science Monitor: "Philippines President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo declared a state of emergency for parts of the southern island of Mindanao on Tuesday, after a political massacre there left at least 46 people dead."
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Manola Antonioli | Guattari's Relevance
Manola Antonioli, La vie des idees (Translation: Leslie Thatcher): "'Les Annees d'hiver,' ['Winter Years'] a volume of articles published between the end of the 1970's and the end of the 1980's, constitutes an interesting entree into Felix Guattari's thought: his reflections on the crisis, democracy, new technologies and ecology have lost none of their relevance."
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The Lonely Soldier
Helen Benedict, ColorLines: "Mickiela curled up on her grandmother's couch, tucked her feet under her and stroked her belly. Her long red hair was pulled into a high ponytail, and her pretty freckled face was free of makeup. She was twenty-one, a year out of her tour in Iraq, and pregnant."
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Bill Moyers Journal | Dr. Jane Goodall
Bill Moyers Journal: "Despite dire warnings for our endangered planet, Jane Goodall says all is not yet lost - we can change course if we act now. And she should know. Her tough-minded optimism comes from her work as the world's foremost authority on chimpanzees in Tanzania's Gombe National Park."
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Eugene Robinson | My Medical Care and Yours
Eugene Robinson, Truthout: "The uproar over the on-again, off-again guidelines on when women should have mammograms is proof of the blindingly obvious: Health care reform that actually controls costs - rather than just pretending to do so - would be virtually impossible to achieve."
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FP morning post 11/24

Election massacre shocks the Philippines

Top story: The Filipino government has declared a state of emergency in its southern region after 46 people were killed in politically motivated violence that it calls "a gruesome massacre of civilians unequaled in recent history."

Around 50 lawyers, journalists and relatives of Esmael Mangudadatu, a local politician and candidate for governor of Maguindanao province, were on their way to file his candidacy papers when they were abducted by a group of 100 gunmen. Mangudadatu had been warned that he would be attacked if he tried to file the papers himself and the convoy consisted mostly of women, including his wife and sister, in hopes that it would deter militants from attacking.

The Mindinao region, of which Magindanao is a part, is in the grips of an Islamist insurgency and largely outside the central government's control. Political violence is common. Nonetheless, the brazen massacre has shocked the nation and the militay has been deployed to prevent further escalation. Mangudadatu's supporters are blaming the killing on a rival political clan.

A large number of journalists were part of the convoy, prompting the advocacy group Reporters Without Borders to issue a statement saying, "Never in the history of journalism have the news media suffered such a heavy loss of life in one day."

Decision time: After a final meeting with his national security team last night, President Obama is expected to announce his new Afghan strategy within days.


Middle East

Asia

Europe

Africa

Americas

http://link.email.foreignpolicy.com/r/M99QEZJ/95ER/45HT/OH0V/ZLBM/MQ/h

-By Joshua Keating

On Giving Thanks The European Way, Or, Freedom: It's The New Black!

I have a Thanksgiving story for your consumption that has nothing to do with turkeys or pumpkin pie or crazy uncles.

Instead, in an effort to remind you what this holiday can really stand for, we’ll meet some people who are thankful today for simply being free.

It’s a short story today, but an especially touching one, so follow along and we’ll take a little hop across the Atlantic for a trip you should not miss.

It is 20 years now since a series of events began in Europe that culminated in the fall of the Soviet Union and the dictatorial governments in numerous other neighboring countries, and the European Commission has produced a series of eleven three-minute films to mark the occasion.

Each is particular to one country, and each tells personal stories from people who were on the ground at the time...and each will help you fill out a history that today might not extend further then the memory of what happened over the course of a few evenings at Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate.

I’ll describe a few of the films below, but I want you to go to the website of an ad agency to see them (something you’ll rarely hear me say...); that ad agency being Belgium’s Tipik.

Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania were the first to declare their freedom, but before that occurred each had organized unique protests, including one that involved all three countries.

Estonia’s film describes how environmentalists were at the forefront of revolution; in a time when writing about environmental pollution could get you arrested, Rein Sikk and Raivo Riim did it anyway.

Latvia’s “Singing Revolution” is chronicled in the words of attorney Romualds Ražuks, who swears the birth of his daughter united the re-emerging nation...which, in my opinion, is a lot of pressure to put on a little girl.

Lithuanians, in an homage to Hands Across America, gathered 2.1 million people, in Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia, to hold hands as a form of protest one afternoon. “The Baltic Way” is described to us by social scientist Dr. Aldona Pocienè and sculptor Vladas Vildžinus.

Two border guards, one Hungarian and one Austrian, recount a day when they allowed 120 men, women, and children heading for a picnic in Austria to cross their checkpoint just ahead of the Hungarian Army, who had orders to shoot border crossers.

Hana Bošková and Jiří Hollan were on Prague’s Národní Avenue November 17th, 1989, the day armored vehicles tried, literally, to crush a crowd of protesters—and a revolution. Eventually both became citizens of the Czech Republic following the dissolution of Czechoslovakia as a nation.

Two days later, in what is today Bratislava, Slovakia, people took to the streets; although the revolution was successful in removing the Government in place at the time, there are those who are still learning the lessons of how hard it is to be free.

“...Now we try to deserve the democracy and the love we create...”

--Zuzana Cigánová


I promised a short story today, so I’ll point you to just one more little holiday clip—and its mine. Over the weekend, I ran into a car with, shall we say...remarkable...decorations, as you can see from the video...



...and who doesn’t feel thankful for fun?

So that’s it for today: enjoy the holiday ahead, don’t scorch the marshmallows, and when the talk gets around to “what are you thankful for...?” you can answer with: “I’ll do you one better...here’s what a whole continent’s thankful for”.

After the holiday we have a lot of new ground to cover, and not much time; our weekend homework will be a conversation about unusual metals and the American economy...and how, just like oil, one will come to a dead stop without the other.

McClatchy Washington report 11/24

  • President Barack Obama met Monday evening with his national security team to finalize a plan to dispatch some 34,000 additional U.S. troops over the next year to what he's called "a war of necessity" in Afghanistan, U.S. officials told McClatchy. Obama is expected to announce his long-awaited decision on Dec. 1.

  • For the first time in 10 years, the national credit card delinquency rate fell from the second to the third quarter, more evidence that Americans are trying to pay down their debt as the recession continues to claim jobs.

  • Former Gov. Sarah Palin's book, "Going Rogue," blames her first legislative director for moves early in her term that helped poison her relationship with state lawmakers. But the ex-aide, John Bitney, calls Palin's account a fabrication and said he wishes his former boss would leave him alone.

  • California's Air Resources Board today plans to unveil a preliminary draft of the nation's first "cap and trade" program for cutting emissions of greenhouse gases. The release will lay out a framework for the plan, but will leave many key details to be decided over the coming year.

  • The South Carolina Ethics Commission has charged Gov. Mark Sanford with 37 counts of breaking state ethics laws. The commission filed its charges last week but only released them Monday. The charges largely surround Sanford's personal travels and involve either using state aircraft or booking business-class fare on commercial airlines at state expense.

  • Of all of Bank of America's problems, paying back the government's $45 billion loan is perhaps the most consequential. The bank is eager to free itself from the aid, which came from the government's Troubled Asset Relief Program, and all the strings that are attached. But it's not clear when the government will grant permission.

  • Kansas U.S. Rep. Dennis Moore said his unexpected decision not to seek re-election next year was all part of an earlier plan to serve for about 12 years. In the meantime, the rush to be his replacement kicked into overdrive.

  • Luis Angel Ortiz was being driven to a party in Medellin when the car came to a halt and a man in the back seat put a gun to his head. Time to pay up, Ortiz was told. The threat came from the chief of a Medellin drug trafficking gang. So began a 48-hour drama in Colombia that kept Ortiz — a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent who had infiltrated the gang — teetering on the edge of death.

  • When it comes to complying with California traffic laws, the first couple are having a rough fall. First there was first lady Maria Shriver's cell phone faux pas. Then photographers snapped Shriver illegally parking her Escalade in a red zone. Now, the celebrity gossip hounds over at TMZ have posted several pictures of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger hopping in a Porsche he had left parked in a Beverly Hills red zone.

  • Many view Honduras' presidential election as the only way out of its current political crisis; others say the vote will legitimize the coup that caused the crisis.

  • If critics of Attorney General Eric Holder's decision to try 9-11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed and his terrorist confederates in a New York City courtroom would be honest with themselves, they'd admit that revenge is what drives their condemnation, not questions of security, fears of acquittal or other obfuscatory concerns they've raised.

  • The whole phenomenon of Sarah Palin, I admit, is a mystery to me. She has built a large following. She has powerful supporters in talk radio. She is incontestably sincere. She is driven and gutsy. In Alaska, she took on the old bulls in her own party and won. For many, she embodies that strain of populism that believes an ordinary person, plucked from obscurity, can sometimes do extraordinary things. And yet in Palin's case, some vital element is missing. For example, the last chapter of her book, the one charting "the way forward," should have been the most important.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Truthout 11/23

Art Levine | Gingrich, Palin, GOP Offer Magic Jobs Solution: More Tax Cuts Now!
Art Levine, Truthout: "With the economy still reeling from unemployment at 10.2 percent, Democrats and progressives are battling a barrage of GOP-driven misinformation about the first $787 billion stimulus plan as they look to create a new, targeted, fast-acting jobs program, possibly before Christmas. Aiming to cash in - literally - on growing public anger over joblessness, Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich separately returned this week to the Republican nostrum of wide-ranging tax cuts, mostly for the rich, as the answer to every problem under the sun - in this case, unemployment."
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Ellen Hodgson Brown J.D. | Lessons From the Japanese: Time to Stop Borrowing Money and Start Printing It
Ellen Hodgson Brown J.D., Truthout: "Miners used to keep canaries in coal mines as an early warning device. If the air was so bad that it killed the canary, the miners would soon be next. Japan may be the canary for the out-of-control deficit spending policies now being pursued in the United States and the United Kingdom."
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Scott Galindez | Thousands Demand Closure of Fort Benning's School of the Americas
Scott Galindez, Truthout: "This weekend, thousands of people gathered at the gates of Fort Benning to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the killings of 14-year-old Celia Ramos, her mother Elba Ramos and the six Jesuit priests with whom she worked at the Central American University in San Salvador. Nearly 5,000 people are gathered in the pouring rain, according to Larry White, a protester who spoke to Truthout."
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Nick Turse | The Pentagon Garrisons the Gulf
Nick Turse, TomDispatch.com: "Despite recent large-scale insurgent suicide bombings that have killed scores of civilians and the fact that well over 100,000 US troops are still deployed in that country, coverage of the US war in Iraq has been largely replaced in the mainstream press by the (previously) 'forgotten war' in Afghanistan. A major reason for this is the plan, developed at the end of the Bush years and confirmed by President Obama, to draw down US troops in Iraq to 50,000 by August 2010 and withdraw most of the remaining forces by December 2011. Getting out of Iraq, however, doesn't mean getting out of the Middle East."
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Dr. Wilmer J. Leon III | Sarah, Don't Go Rogue; Go Home
Dr. Wilmer J. Leon III, Truthout: "With the release of her new book, 'Going Rogue: An American Life,' former Alaskan Governor and Republican Party vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin is once again being given a spotlight she does not deserve. Under normal circumstances, Palin would have drifted into obscurity by now; a political has-been, who never was. Instead, a sub-par politician with no substantial constituency, no command of relevant issues and no solutions to substantive problems is being given air and face time as though she really matters. The simple reality that few are willing to articulate is, if she were not relatively attractive, of European ancestry and a woman, Sarah Palin would be day-old bread."
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Dean Baker | The Budget Crisis: The Blame Is Bipartisan
Dean Baker, Truthout: "The country is being bombarded with stories claiming that record budget deficits threaten our children's future and jeopardize the credibility of the dollar. These stories are a serious problem - they have hugely confused the public about the nature of the country's economic crisis. And both parties share the blame."
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David Bacon | Should We Defend Undocumented Workers?
David Bacon, Truthout: "A year ago in Los Angeles, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents ('the migra') arrived at Micro Solutions, a circuit board assembly plant in the San Fernando Valley. Unsuspecting workers were first herded into the plant's cafeteria. Then immigration agents told those who were citizens to line up on one side of the room. Then they told the workers who had green cards to go over to the same side. Finally, as one worker said, 'it just left us.' The remaining workers - those who were neither citizens nor visa holders - were put into vans, and taken off to the migra jail. Some women were later released to care for their kids, but had to wear ankle bracelets, and couldn't work. How were they supposed to pay rent? Where would they get money to buy food?"
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Realities Collide at Halifax "War Conference"
Anthony Fenton, Inter Press Service: "While the world's top military elites gather inside a fortified hotel to discuss NATO's future, protesters question the organization's legitimacy, secrecy, and the lack of democratic debate about the increasingly unpopular war in Afghanistan."
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Senate Health Care Bill About to Enter a Political Minefield
David Lightman, McClatchy Newspapers: "The Senate is ready to begin a volatile, high-stakes health care debate that's sure to be punctuated by tense and unpredictable battles over some of the most incendiary issues in American politics today. Debate on the $848 billion bill to overhaul the nation's health care system is expected to start next week, after the Senate returns from its Thanksgiving recess, and many lawmakers already consider it a golden opportunity to win long-sought projects and local aid for their constituents."
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Naomi Klein on Climate Debt: Why Rich Countries Should Pay Reparations to Poor Countries for the Climate Crisis
Amy Goodman, Democracy Now!: "With the Copenhagen climate summit in two weeks, best-selling journalist Naomi Klein examines the grass-roots movement behind the climate debate proposal that argues all the costs associated with adapting to a more hostile ecology - everything from building stronger sea walls to switching to cleaner, more expensive technologies - are the responsibility of the countries that created the crisis. Klein also discusses the 10th anniversary of the Seattle WTO protests and the 10th anniversary of her first book, 'No Logo.'"
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David Scribner | A Tale of Two Immigrants: Deportation of Popular Businessman Shocks Massachusetts Community
David Scribner, Truthout: "Until this fall, Albaro Francisco was living the classic American dream: A penniless immigrant, he came to this country as a teenager, worked hard, made his way up the economic ladder and became the owner of a successful business. Seemingly, he had a great future ... But Albaro, 38, had a secret, known only to Pascual and his American-born wife: All these years, he was undocumented."
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FP morning brief 11/23

Iran holds drill to protect nuclear sites

Top story: Iran is holding what it describes as its largest ever air-defense drill to prepare for an attack on the country's nuclear sites. Both Iran's conventional forces and the revolutionary guards participated.

The drill comes after Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said last week that Iran was not interested in a Western proposal that it ship its uranium abroad for enrichment. U.S. President Barack Obama responded to Mottaki's statement with a new threat of sanctions and Israel warned that it would take military action to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon.

"If the enemy tries its luck and fires a missile into Iran, our ballistic missiles would zero in on Tel Aviv before the dust settles on the attack," said one Revolutionary Guard official in response.

Business: Rupert Murdoch's News Corp is in talks with Microsoft over a Web partnership that could potentially allow the company to remove its news content from Google.


Asia

Middle East

Americas

Europe

Africa

http://link.email.foreignpolicy.com/r/HDDKX0I/0O7T/FSZA/VCAQ/OE9X/LE/h

-By Joshua Keating

Death to BPA!

We only have one more week to tell the FDA they must protect kids from toxic BPA.

Join us in signing CREDO Action's petition to FDA Commissioner Hamburg Today!

http://momsrising.democracyinaction.org/dia/track.jsp?v=2&c=34PYZPSFGkqyQs8/9qBxErgEiPEy1IHM
Take Action


At MomsRising, we've been working for years to keep kids safe from toxic Bisphenol-A (BPA) in food containers and bottles. We've generated tens of thousands of letters to Congress and state legislatures, and sent pages of petition signatures to manufacturers. We've made progress -- but we still have a ways to go!

The Food and Drug Administration is reviewing BPA, and they will release their recommendations next week. The more of us working together right now to finally rid food containers of toxic BPA, the better.

That's why we're partnering with CREDO Action on this last-minute push to keep our food safe. There's nothing quite as good as doubling down to increase the odds of getting toxics out of our food containers.

It's time for action. Join us in signing CREDO Action's petition to FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg urging a ban of BPA in all food packaging!

http://act.credoaction.com/campaign/fda_no_bpa/

Did you know that Bisphenol-A (BPA) has been implicated in everything from miscarriages to cancer to sexual dysfunction? And it can be found in your food containers! BPA is in a broad range of food packaging including baby bottles, water bottles, almost all soda can liners and many other types of packaging.

Make no mistake, BPA gets into our food: Consumer Reports and the Environmental Working Group have both studied the issue and found BPA in many of the canned products they tested, including infant formula, vegetables, soda and soup. And we are what we eat. BPA is present in detectable levels in over 90% of Americans' bodies.

Hundreds of studies have confirmed the dangers of even low-level doses of BPA. The risks are severe enough that the prestigious Endocrine Society released a special statement last summer explicitly warning that low-level exposure to BPA can adversely affect female and male reproduction, thyroid function, and metabolism, and could even increase obesity. 1

There is already overwhelming evidence that BPA is dangerous to our health. It has no place in our food, or our children's food, even at the lowest levels. It's time for the FDA to put people's safety above corporate profits. When the FDA releases its BPA review on November 30, the agency should call for an immediate ban on the use of BPA in any and all food packaging, including baby bottles and can linings, and should further require companies to fully test and disclose the nature of all chemical ingredients used in food packaging and linings.

Let the FDA know it's not OK for bottles or food packaging to contain dangerous chemicals. Tell FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg that enough is enough, join us in signing CREDO Action's petition, which they'll deliver to the FDA.

http://act.credoaction.com/campaign/fda_no_bpa/

Have a great Thanksgiving week!

-- Kristin, Joan, Mary, Ariana, and the whole MomsRising.org Team


P.S. Make sure to forward this important petition to your family and friends! We only have a few more days to collect signatures for this important message.

[1] http://www.endo-society.org/journals/scientificstatements/upload/edc_scientific_statement.pdf


Like what we're doing? Donate: We're a bootstrap, low overhead, mom run organization. Your donations make the work of MomsRising.org possible--and we deeply appreciate your support. Every little bit counts. Donate today on our new, secure website.

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McClatchy Washington report 11/23

  • The outcome of the upcoming global climate negotiations in Denmark could hinge on whether the United States offers to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by a certain amount in the next decade.

  • Sarah Palin, the hottest name in the Republican Party, took a detour from her book-signing tour Sunday to dine with Billy Graham at his mountaintop home in Montreat, N.C. She quizzed him on the presidents he's known and wanted his take on what the Bible says about Israel, Iran and Iraq.

  • There's no need to go to Washington to hear the increasingly shrill arguments over phantom congressional districts and the number of jobs created by the $787 billion economic-stimulus plan.

  • California Republican Rep. Tom McClintock says the federal government has wasted enough money subsidizing solar power, voted against the House health care bill and extending unemployment benefits. In a Democratic-led Congress, McClintock hasn't had much of a chance to shape policy in his freshman year. But that hasn't stopped him from flexing his conservative muscles. Ten months after coming to Congress, McClintock has emerged as one of its most outspoken and consistently reliable conservatives.

  • A day after Alaska's senators voted against each other on health care reform, both said that plans to offer people the option to buy government-run health insurance won't survive the upcoming Senate fight as written. As the Senate prepares for combat over overhauling national health care, this so-called "public option" is a key battleground.

  • U.S. Rep. Dennis Moore, a Democrat who confounded the GOP by winning six consecutive elections in a heavily Republican district, will not seek re-election next year, key Democrats said Sunday. Moore will issue a statement today explaining his decision and outlining his plans. Moore, 64, is expected to finish out his term, which ends in January 2011.

  • Word about North Carolina's shoddy representation on the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals reached U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan last year the way such political concerns often do: by way of a friend of a friend.

  • As the undeclared Democratic front-runner in California's governor's race, Jerry Brown keeps a low profile and stays mum on divisive issues, saying he'll talk more if and when he actually runs. What's clear is Brown's official position has let him take the high road on a wide range of issues while he avoids the rhetorical skirmishes of the governor's race.

  • With her campaign-style bus and adoring crowds, Sarah Palin's swing through red zones of bluish states to promote her new book has appeared to be something more than a book tour.

  • I didn't know we had so many scared conservative leaders. There are a fair number of scared liberal ones as well, given the rhetoric from Washington, Columbia and New York. But I thought conservative leaders and pundits were the "Bring it on!" types who crave confrontations with terrorists.

The phantom menace

New York Times

What happened? To be sure, “centrists” in the Senate have hobbled efforts to rescue the economy. But the evidence suggests that in addition to facing political opposition, President Obama and his inner circle have been intimidated by scare stories from Wall Street.

A funny thing happened on the way to a new New Deal. A year ago, the only thing we had to fear was fear itself; today, the reigning doctrine in Washington appears to be “Be afraid. Be very afraid.”

Consider the contrast between what Mr. Obama’s advisers were saying on the eve of his inauguration, and what he himself is saying now.

In December 2008 Lawrence Summers, soon to become the administration’s highest-ranking economist, called for decisive action. “Many experts,” he warned, “believe that unemployment could reach 10 percent by the end of next year.” In the face of that prospect, he continued, “doing too little poses a greater threat than doing too much.”

Ten months later unemployment reached 10.2 percent, suggesting that despite his warning the administration hadn’t done enough to create jobs. You might have expected, then, a determination to do more.

But in a recent interview with Fox News, the president sounded diffident and nervous about his economic policy. He spoke vaguely about possible tax incentives for job creation. But “it is important though to recognize,” he went on, “that if we keep on adding to the debt, even in the midst of this recovery, that at some point, people could lose confidence in the U.S. economy in a way that could actually lead to a double-dip recession.”

What? Huh?

Most economists I talk to believe that the big risk to recovery comes from the inadequacy of government efforts: the stimulus was too small, and it will fade out next year, while high unemployment is undermining both consumer and business confidence.

Now, it’s politically difficult for the Obama administration to enact a full-scale second stimulus. Still, he should be trying to push through as much aid to the economy as possible. And remember, Mr. Obama has the bully pulpit; it’s his job to persuade America to do what needs to be done.

Instead, however, Mr. Obama is lending his voice to those who say that we can’t create more jobs. And a report on Politico.com suggests that deficit reduction, not job creation, will be the centerpiece of his first State of the Union address. What happened?

It took me a while to puzzle this out. But the concerns Mr. Obama expressed become comprehensible if you suppose that he’s getting his views, directly or indirectly, from Wall Street.

Ever since the Great Recession began economic analysts at some (not all) major Wall Street firms have warned that efforts to fight the slump will produce even worse economic evils. In particular, they say, never mind the current ability of the U.S. government to borrow long term at remarkably low interest rates — any day now, budget deficits will lead to a collapse in investor confidence, and rates will soar.

And it’s this latter claim that Mr. Obama echoed in that Fox News interview. Is he right to be worried?

Well, spikes in long-term interest rates have happened in the past, most famously in 1994. But in 1994 the U.S. economy was adding 300,000 jobs a month, and the Fed was steadily raising short-term rates. It’s hard to see why anything similar should happen now, with the economy still bleeding jobs and the Fed showing no desire to raise rates anytime soon.

A better model, I’d argue, is Japan in the 1990s, which ran persistent large budget deficits, but also had a persistently depressed economy — and saw long-term interest rates fall almost steadily. There’s a good chance that officials are being terrorized by a phantom menace — a threat that exists only in their minds.

And shouldn’t we consider the source? As far as I can tell, the analysts now warning about soaring interest rates tend to be the same people who insisted, months after the Great Recession began, that the biggest threat facing the economy was inflation. And let’s not forget that Wall Street — which somehow failed to recognize the biggest housing bubble in history — has a less than stellar record at predicting market behavior.

Still, let’s grant that there is some risk that doing more about double-digit unemployment would undermine confidence in the bond markets. This risk must be set against the certainty of mass suffering if we don’t do more — and the possibility, as I said, of a collapse of confidence among ordinary workers and businesses.

And Mr. Summers was right the first time: in the face of the greatest economic catastrophe since the Great Depression, it’s much riskier to do too little than it is to do too much. It’s sad, and unfortunate, that the administration appears to have lost sight of that truth.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Truthout 11/22

Scott Galindez | Health Care Reform Passes First Senate Hurdle
Scott Galindez, Truthout: "In a party line vote of 60-39, the Senate voted Saturday evening to proceed with debate on a health care reform bill. All 58 Democrats and both Independents voted in favor of the motion while every Republican voted against it. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid closed debate and urged Republicans to support debate of the bill, arguing that the framers of the Constitution didn't intend for the rules to limit a healthy debate."
Read the Article

Michael Winship | New York's Tough Enough for Terrorist Trials
Michael Winship, Truthout: "If you want to royally tick off New Yorkers, try telling us what to do. That's probably why the police stopped trying to enforce the jaywalking laws here years ago (as opposed to Washington, D.C., where I once got one too many tickets and was sent to pedestrian school). And that's why in the weeks after 9/11, my favorite sign was the one that appeared in the windows of Italian-American neighborhoods near where I live downtown. In bright red, white and blue, it read: 'One nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all. You got a problem with that?'"
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Laurie Mazur | Population & Environment: a Progressive, Feminist Approach
Laurie Mazur, On the Issues Magazine: "In 'The 'New' Population Control Craze: Retro, Racist, Wrong Way to Go", Betsy Hartmann implies that everyone working on population-environment issues is part of a misogynistic plot to bring back 'population control.' I'm here to tell you she is wrong. I am a lifelong, card-carrying feminist and political progressive. I am passionately committed to sexual and reproductive health and rights, to environmental sustainability, and to closing the inequitable divide between men and women, rich and poor."
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Raed Jarrar and Erik Leaver | Iraq Throws Obama a Curve Ball, Key 2010 Elections in Peril
Raed Jarrar and Erik Leaver, The Institute for Policy Studies: "Reminiscent of the political problems in Afghanistan that have plagued the Obama White House, on Monday Iraqi Vice-President Tareq al-Hashemi vetoed a set of amendments to Iraq’s election law approved by the Iraqi parliament. The veto may lead to a delay of the Iraqi elections, currently scheduled for January 21, 2010, and could trigger a debate over US plans to withdraw from Iraq. The elections law amendment, commonly referred to as the 'new elections law' was under consideration for almost a year before its final passage on November 8th."
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Gena Corea | Table in the Clearing
Gena Corea, Truthout: "The convicts and I, a volunteer, sit in a circle in the prison. We do this every Thanksgiving. Eyes closed, we imagine sitting around a table in a clearing surrounded by a woods in which the parts of ourselves we have exiled live a furtive life. We sense inside for any exile who might feel safe enough with us now to step out of the woods and join us at the feast. We also sense for whoever else with which we want to reconnect."
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Roberto Rodriguez | Commemorating Victories
Roberto Rodriguez, Truthout: "November 7 marked 30 years since I won my first police brutality trial in East LA. After all these years, I have come to understand the meaning of resilience. Equally important, I have come to understand that the attempt to silence me was an act of political violence. I'm not sure why this knowledge eluded me. Perhaps because for so many years, people would always ask me if my skull had been cracked by sheriff's deputies during the 1970 Moratorium against the Vietnam War in East LA."
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Silicon Sweatshops
Jonathan Adams and Kathleen E. McLaughlin, The Global Post: "Hourly wages below a dollar. Firings with no notice. Indifferent bosses. Labor brokers that leech away months of a worker's hard-earned wages. A corporate shell game that leaves no one responsible. Such conditions are widespread at the contract factories cranking out some of the most popular gadgets on the holiday season’s gift lists, according to labor rights activists and workers interviewed by GlobalPost."
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Saturday, November 21, 2009

Truthout 11/21

Dahr Jamail | Iraq War Veteran on a Mental-Health Mission
Dahr Jamail, Truthout: "Chuck Luther, who served 12 years in the military, is a veteran of two deployments to Iraq, where he was a reconnaissance scout in the 1st Cavalry Division. The former sergeant was based at Fort Hood, Texas, where he lives today. 'I see the ugly,' Luther told Truthout. 'I see soldiers beating their wives and trying to kill themselves all the time, and most folks don't want to look at this, including the military.'"
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Steven Hill | America's House of Lords Debates Health Care
Steven Hill, Truthout: "The health care debate has been like a tennis match, bouncing from the Senate to the House and back again. Now it's back in the Senate, as the United States tries to end its status as the only advanced economy without universal health care for its people. One hundred senators from 50 states will decide what lives and what dies, health-care wise. With so much at stake, it makes sense to ask: who are these 100 senators? Might that give us a clue as to what to expect from America's upper chamber?"
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Conservative Democrat Nelson Will Vote to Let Health Bill Proceed
David Lightman, McClatchy Newspapers: "Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska, one of three moderate Democratic senators wavering on whether to allow debate on health care legislation to proceed, said Friday that he'd vote to move the bill forward. Nelson's decision inches the Democrats closer to the 60 votes they need to authorize the bill to proceed to full Senate floor debate. Democrats control 60 seats, and are thought now to have 58 committed votes."
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Connie Schultz | Women's Reproductive Health Is Not a Social Issue
Connie Schultz, Truthout: "Language matters, so let's be clear: Women's reproductive health is not a 'social issue.' Deciding whether to carry the red purse or the black bag to dinner Saturday night? That's a social issue. Wondering why your child wasn't invited to her classmate's birthday party? That, too, is a social issue. Attempting to limit women's access to legal and safe abortions? Not even remotely a social issue, so let's stop calling it that as we debate the Stupak-Pitts amendment, which is the latest effort in Congress to prohibit insurance coverage for abortion."
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VIDEO: GRITtv on Immigration in Arizona and Sherrif Joe Arpaio
GRITtv host Laura Flanders interviews immigrants rights activist Salvador Reza about the recent developments in the ongoing battle over immigration in Maricopa County, AZ. The notorious Sherrif Joe Arpaio and the latest policy moves by the Obama administration are examined."
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Robert Reich | Harry Reid, and What Happened to the Public Option
Robert Reich, Robert Reich's Blog: "First there was Medicare for all 300 million of us. But that was a non-starter because private insurers and Big Pharma wouldn't hear of it, and Republicans and "centrists" thought it was too much like what they have up in Canada -- which, by the way, cost Canadians only 10 percent of their GDP and covers every Canadian. (Our current system of private for-profit insurers costs 16 percent of GDP and leaves out 45 million people.)"
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Obama Returns to Greater Middle East Mess
Jim Lobe, Inter Press Service: "As Barack Obama arrives home from his weeklong tour of East Asia, he confronts a growing list of ever more urgent problems in the Greater Middle East that he inherited from George W. Bush's 'global war on terror'. From Palestine to Pakistan, Obama, who also faces a major fight in getting his top legislative priority – health care reform – through Congress, must make a series of critical decisions within a relatively short time."
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Friday, November 20, 2009

To love Glen Beck

Truthout 11/20

William Fisher | Military Tribunals - Justice Lite?
William Fisher, Truthout: "While Sarah Palin and other right-wing opportunists create a cottage industry in drumming up public hysteria about Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four other terror suspects from Guantanamo coming to New York for trial, many legal experts and human rights groups are being equally outspoken in their criticism of the 'new and improved' Military Commissions designated to try five other detainees."
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Hoping for Cloture: Senate Liberals Drop Reconciliation Weapon in Fight for Health Reform
Art Levine, Truthout: "What happens if Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid can't get the votes he needs from conservaDems and Joe Lieberman to shut down a filibuster before a final vote on health care reform? For months, many strategically savvy progressives have pointed to the obscure budget reconciliation process as an end-run around a filibuster, a weapon to hold in reserve."
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Andy Worthington | Obama's Failure to Close Guantanamo by January Deadline Is Disastrous
Andy Worthington, Truthout: "President Obama's admission in China that he will miss his self-imposed deadline for the closure of Guantanamo is disastrous for the majority of the 215 men still held in the detention facility, and for those who hoped, ten months ago, that the president would move swiftly to close this bitter icon of the Bush administration's lawless detention and interrogation policies in the 'war on terror.'"
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Jeffrey Kaye | Murder at Guantanamo?
Jeffrey Kaye, Truthout: "With recent news reports centering on Attorney General Eric Holder's announcement that some Guantanamo detainees would be prosecuted in federal court and revamped, albeit flawed military commissions, important stories from previous months related to the prison facility continue to sink ever deeper into the swamp of our collective amnesia."
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Rick Cabral | Protests Don't Stop UC Regents' 32 Percent Fee Hike
Rick Cabral, Truthout: "Surrounded by campus police dressed in protective riot gear and armed with beanbag guns, hundreds of student protesters at UCLA today chanted 'Shame on You, Shame on You' toward the building where the UC Regents had just voted to raise tuition and fees by $2,500 over the next year."
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Vietnam Vet Stages Hunger Strike in Front of White House to Raise Awareness About PTSD
Mary Susan Littlepage, Truthout: "Since Veterans Day, Thomas E. Mahany, a 62-year-old Vietnam War veteran, has been on a hunger strike in front of the White House to raise awareness about post-traumatic stress disorder and protest the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan."
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Who's Afraid of World Government?
Lawrence S. Wittner, Truthout: "A few weeks ago, Glenn Beck of the Fox News Channel, with that hysterical flourish that has made him the darling of right-wing extremists, proclaimed: 'America, if . . . you're not really into that whole One World Government thing, watch out.' This kind of warning, regularly issued on Fox News, seems rather absurd today, given the obvious weakness of the United Nations and the failure of mainstream political figures to even suggest that this international organization might be strengthened to provide more effective world governance."
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Paul Zimmerman | Depleted Uranium and the Medical Mismanagement of Gulf War Veterans
Paul Zimmerman, Truthout: "The United States insists that weapons containing depleted uranium (DU) pose no health hazards to exposed populations. This charade persists because an artful propaganda matrix has infiltrated and corrupted certain aspects of the radiation and biological sciences. The facts which follow will introduce how our debilitated veterans are being misinformed of the possible role played by uranium in their illnesses."
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Nick Turse | Violent Deaths Are Now Following Evictions, Foreclosures and Job Losses
Nick Turse, AlterNet: "In 2007, Jason Rodriguez was fired from his position at an Orlando, Florida engineering firm and ended up taking a job as a 'sandwich artist' at a Subway restaurant. His salary was cut nearly in half and his debts mounted until, last May, he filed for bankruptcy, listing his assets at just over $4,600 and his liabilities at nearly $90,000. Although he lived only 30 minutes away, according to his former mother-in-law, America Holloway, Rodriguez barely saw his son. When the boy asked why his father didn't visit, Holloway said Rodriguez told him: 'Because I don't have any money. I don't have a job. I don't have anything to eat. When things get better, I'll come see you.'"
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Remembering My Lai

In what amounts to a farewell interview, the photographer who broke the story of the most well known massacre by us in the Viet Nam War, recounts his experience with a reporter from the newspaper who broke the story - The Cleveland Plain Dealer


Photographer remembers My Lai Massacre


Common Dreams has the full story here:


http://www.commondreams.org/headline/2009/11/20-6


FP morning post 11/20

The EU picks its president

Top Story: Late yesterday evening in Brussels, leaders from the European Union named Belgian Prime Minister Herman Van Rompuy and EU Trade Commissioner Catherine Ashton to two top posts created by the Lisbon Treaty -- president and high representative for foreign policy, respectively. Both accepted the appointments, which were decided unanimously; numerous other EU and European Central Bank posts will be filled in the next weeks.

Already, the appointments have caused considerable controversy, given that the two posts, hashed out over the course of eight years of negotiations, were designed to give the EU a bigger voice in international affairs and Van Rompuy and Ashton are relatively staid leaders and relatively unknown abroad.

Belgian rift?: Van Rompuy’s acceptance of the EU post has raised questions that the country’s French-Flemish rift might widen.

Middle East

  • Palestinian leaders said Israel's building of 900 new housing units in East Jerusalem might kill the peace process.
  • As six-party talks on sanctioning Iran commence, the International Atomic Energy agency is pressing Iran to accept U.N.-brokered terms for its uranium.
  • Israel continued airstrikes on tunnels between its territory and the Gaza Strip.

Europe

  • Today, Italian prosecutors are expected to complete their closing arguments against American student Amanda Knox, indicted for murdering her roommate.
  • Russia agreed to a gas deal with Ukraine, easing European fears over disruptions.
  • FIFA has denied an Irish request for a replay of a World Cup qualifying soccer game against France, in which the game-winning goal appears to be a hand-ball.

Asia

  • 15 died in a suicide attack via motorcycle in southwestern Afghanistan.
  • During U.S. President Barack Obama's trip to Seoul, South Korean leaders indicated the country would not agree to a free-trade pact with the United States.
  • Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will meet with Obama in Washington next week.

Americas

  • Honduran President Roberto Micheletti will temporarily step down during the country's Nov. 29 presidential election.
  • U.S. Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman bashed the press criticism of Obama's China trip.
  • Venezuela has destroyed its bridges to Colombia.

Africa

  • An Egyptian protest at the Algerian embassy over the latter country's World Cup-qualifying soccer win turned violent; Egypt has also recalled its Algerian ambassador.
  • The European Union has agreed to a $1 billion pact with Nigeria to fight corruption.
  • Nearly 50 have died in clashes over livestock in a violence- and poverty-stricken area of southern Sudan.
http://link.email.foreignpolicy.com/r/2668GR0/5AXI/SG9Q/DSYN/80CW/28/h

The big squander

Earlier this week, the inspector general for the Troubled Asset Relief Program, a k a, the bank bailout fund, released his report on the 2008 rescue of the American International Group, the insurer. The gist of the report is that government officials made no serious attempt to extract concessions from bankers, even though these bankers received huge benefits from the rescue. And more than money was lost. By making what was in effect a multibillion-dollar gift to Wall Street, policy makers undermined their own credibility — and put the broader economy at risk.

For the A.I.G. rescue was part of a pattern: Throughout the financial crisis key officials — most notably Timothy Geithner, who was president of the New York Fed in 2008 and is now Treasury secretary — have shied away from doing anything that might rattle Wall Street. And the bitter paradox is that this play-it-safe approach has ended up undermining prospects for economic recovery. For the job of fixing the broken economy is far from done — yet finishing the job has become nearly impossible now that the public has lost faith in the government’s efforts, viewing them as little more than handouts to the people who got us into this mess.

About the A.I.G. affair: During the bubble years, many financial companies created the illusion of financial soundness by buying credit-default swaps from A.I.G. — basically, insurance policies in which A.I.G. promised to make up the difference if borrowers defaulted on their debts. It was an illusion because the insurer didn’t have remotely enough money to make good on its promises if things went bad. And sure enough, things went bad.

So why protect bankers from the consequences of their errors? Well, by the time A.I.G.’s hollowness became apparent, the world financial system was on the edge of collapse and officials judged — probably correctly — that letting A.I.G. go bankrupt would push the financial system over that edge. So A.I.G. was effectively nationalized; its promises became taxpayer liabilities.

But was there any way to limit those liabilities? After all, banks would have suffered huge losses if A.I.G. had been allowed to fail. So it seemed only fair for them to bear part of the cost of the bailout, which they could have done by accepting a “haircut” on the amounts A.I.G. owed them. Indeed, the government asked them to do just that. But they said no — and that was the end of the story. Taxpayers not only ended up honoring foolish promises made by other people, they ended up doing so at 100 cents on the dollar.

Could things have been different? Some commentators argue that government officials had no way to force the banks to accept a haircut — either they let A.I.G. go bankrupt, which they weren’t ready to do, or they had to honor its contracts as written.

But this seems like a naïve view of how Wall Street works. Major financial firms are a small club, with a shared interest in sustaining the system; ever since the days of J.P. Morgan, it has been common in times of crisis to call on the big players to forgo short-term profits for the industry’s common good. Back in 1998, it was a consortium of private bankers — not the government — that put up the funds to rescue the hedge fund Long Term Capital Management.

Furthermore, big financial firms have a long-term relationship, both with the government and with each other, and can pay a price if they act selfishly in times of crisis. Bear Stearns, the investment bank, earned itself a lot of ill will by refusing to participate in that 1998 rescue, and it’s widely believed that this ill will played a major factor in the demise of Bear Stearns itself, 10 years later.

So officials could have called on bankers to offer a better deal, for their own sake, and simultaneously threatened to name and shame those who balked. It was their choice not to do that, just as it was their choice not to push for more control over bailed-out banks in early 2009.

And, as I said, these seemingly safe choices have now placed the economy in grave danger.

For the economy is still in deep trouble and needs much more government help. Unemployment is in double-digits; we desperately need more government spending on job creation. Banks are still weak, and credit is still tight; we desperately need more government aid to the financial sector. But try to talk to an ordinary voter about this, and the response you’re likely to get is: “No way. All they’ll do is hand out more money to Wall Street.”

So here’s the real tragedy of the botched bailout: Government officials, perhaps influenced by spending too much time with bankers, forgot that if you want to govern effectively you have retain the trust of the people. And by treating the financial industry — which got us into this mess in the first place — with kid gloves, they have squandered that trust.

What Geithner got right


The criticism of his plan to stabilize the financial system came from all directions. House Republicans called it radical. Many liberal economists thought the plan was the product of hapless, zombie thinking and argued that only full bank nationalization would end the crisis. The Wall Street Journal asked 49 economists to grade Geithner. They gave him an F.

It’s amazing to go back and read what people were saying about Timothy Geithner in the spring. Many people said he looked terrified as the Treasury secretary, like Bambi in the headlights. The New Republic ran an essay called “The Geithner Disaster.” Portfolio magazine ran a brutal, zeitgeist-capturing profile that concluded by comparing Geithner to Robert Redford’s hollow man character in “The Candidate.”

Well, the evidence of the past eight months suggests that Geithner was mostly right and his critics were mostly wrong. The financial sector is in much better shape than it was then. TARP money is being repaid, and the debate now is what to do with the billions that were never needed. It now seems clear that nationalization would have been an unnecessary mistake — potentially expensive and dangerously disruptive.

The course of events has vindicated the administration’s handling of its first big challenge. Obama could have flinched when the torrent of criticism was at its peak. But the president’s support for Geithner never wavered. Geithner never lost confidence in his policy. Rahm Emanuel mobilized to improve the presentation of the policy. The political team worked hard to deflect criticism from Geithner onto themselves.

In retrospect, their performance during this trial was impressive.

Events also vindicate Geithner’s basic policy instincts. The criticism back then was that Geithner was neither bold nor visionary. He was too cautious, too much the insider and bureaucrat.

But this prudence was the key to his effectiveness. In interviews and testimony, Geithner uses the word “balance” a lot. He talks about finding the right balance point between competing priorities. He also talks like a historian who sees common tendencies in certain contexts, not a philosopher who seeks clear general principles that apply across contexts.

This mentality makes it hard for him to project bold conviction, but it makes him flexible in the face of specific problems. When financial confidence is cratering, Geithner concluded, government should generally be as aggressive as possible, as early as possible. At the same time, it should try not to do things that the market does better, like set prices or run companies.

Geithner’s path was a middling one, but it helped the country muddle toward recovery.

If you wanted to step back and define Geithner’s philosophy, you’d probably say that he starts with a set of fairly conservative instincts about the role of government, which put him on the centrist edge of the Democratic Party.

In an interview on Wednesday, for example, I asked Geithner what government could do to help promote innovation. Usually when I ask leaders that, they reel off some cool technologies that government should promote — windmills, nanotechnology, etc. Often they sound like children trying to play at being entrepreneurs. Geithner didn’t do that. He said that government’s limited job was to get the underlying incentives right so the market could figure out what innovations work best. That suggests a pretty constrained view of government’s role.

On the other hand, you would also have to say that Geithner, like many top members of the Obama economic team, is extremely context-sensitive. He’s less defined by any preset political doctrine than by the situation he happens to find himself in.

In the next few months, Geithner will be confronted with a cross-cutting set of pressures. First, the need to reduce the deficits, which is uppermost on his mind. Second, the rising populism in Congress, which has to be battled sometimes and appeased sometimes by an administration that hopes to get things passed. Third, intense public cynicism about government, which means that every debate is washed in negativity.

Most important, there’s the jobs situation. If job growth returns, that will be a sign that the recovery is normal and Geithner and the administration can return to a more moderate path. If employment does not rebound or the economy double dips, that will be a sign of systemic problems. Geithner and his colleagues will probably adopt a much more activist posture and have to throw their lot in with the left.

I hate to rely on the most overused categories in punditry, but they really do apply here. Some administrations are staffed by hedgehogs, who are guided by a few core principles. But this one is staffed by foxes, who respond flexibly to situations. In the administration’s first big test, that sort of pragmatism paid off.

McClatchy Washington report 11/20

  • America's once clear dominance in space is eroding as other nations, including China, Iran and North Korea, step up their activities, a panel of experts told the House subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics Thursday.

  • The Senate Thursday began what promises to be a bitter, lengthy battle over the future of health care in America, and taxes, abortion, affordability and federal deficits emerged as key flashpoints.

  • Fort Bragg has asked Sarah Palin, who will make a stop at the base on her book tour on Monday, not to make a speech at the public book-signing. The base also wanted to bar reporters from the event because it determined that by keeping out the media, the base would prevent Palin, a Republican and possible candidate in 2012, from having a platform from which to attack President Barack Obama, a Democrat.

  • The Confederate flag must be removed from the State House grounds if South Carolina is to attract jobs, according to one Democrat running for governor. Mullins McLeod, a Charleston attorney, released a plan to create jobs and reopened an old S.C. wound about whether it's appropriate to fly the flag on Capitol grounds.

  • Facing a hail of criticism, Goldman Sachs' top officer has offered a halting apology for the premier investment bank's role in the subprime mortgage crisis that sank the nation's economy.

  • During a heated forum for U.S. Senate candidates Thursday at a Kentucky Association of Counties conference, Republicans Trey Grayson and Rand Paul exchanged sharp words on the issue of Guantanamo Bay, and Democrats Jack Conway and Daniel Mongiardo squabbled about their alliances with coal.

  • Pay for California's top elected officials will be slashed by 18 percent next month, one year earlier than expected, to abide by an opinion issued Thursday from Attorney General Jerry Brown. Just in time for the holiday season, lawmakers will have their salaries cut by $20,917 annually while California's 12 top state officials will see reductions of at least $28,644 apiece.

  • President Hamid Karzai began his second term Thursday under international pressure to select a Cabinet that can regain the trust of disillusioned Afghans, quash widespread government corruption and build a reliable military that can take charge of his country's defense.

  • The Kansas City area has violated the federal Clean Air Act, exceeding the ozone standard eight times over the summer, Missouri officials said Thursday. That makes Kansas City a habitual violator because it has exceeded the federal standard for three consecutive summers.

  • Hotel chains like to tout their large, comfortable beds as a selling point, but those 125-pound mattresses are likely causing greater injury to female, Hispanic and Asian hotel workers, according to a study to be published in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine in January.

  • Secretary of Defense Robert Gates announced Thursday that he's appointed two former heads of the Army and the Navy to review what happened at Fort Hood, amid questions about whether political correctness and a shortage of mental health professionals drove the military to keep Army psychiatrist Maj. Nidal Hasan in the Army longer than it should have.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

On Murdoch And Google, Or, Hey, Rupert, Where’s My Check?

Our favorite irascible media tyrant is in the news once again, and once again it’s time for me to bring you a story of doing one thing while wishing for another.

In a November 6th interview, Sky News Australia’s David Speers spent about 35 minutes with the CEO of NewsCorp, Rupert Murdoch; the conversation covering topics as diverse as software piracy, world economics, the role of Fox News (and Fox NewsPinion©) in American politics, a strange defense of Glenn Beck, and, not very long afterwards, an even stranger defense of immigration.

We have heard a lot about the…how can I put this politely…challenges Murdoch seems to face associating factual reality with his reality, and we could have lots of fun going through his factual misstatements—but instead, I want to take on one specific issue today:

Rupert Murdoch says he hates it when people steal his content from the Internet to draw readers to their sites…which is funny, if you think about it, because he has no problem at all stealing my content (and lots of yours, as well) for his sites.

(To begin, a quick note: all the Rupert Murdoch quotes you’ll see today came from the YouTube, specifically the Sky News Australia interview, which is there posted in its entirety. Although each quote presents Mr. Murdoch’s words exactly, they aren’t necessarily in their original order; that’s so we don’t go jumping around from topic to topic too much in this story. When that happens the quotes will be split into separate paragraphs, each with their own set of quotation marks. Words in italics were words Mr. Murdoch himself emphasized.)

David Speers began the interview by asking Murdoch about the concept of public access to free news content online:

“Well they shouldn’t have had it free all the time, I think we’ve been asleep, ar, and, it costs a lot of money to put together good newspapers, good content, and you know they’re very happy to pay for it when they’re buying a newspaper…and I think when they read it elsewhere they’re going to have to pay…”


And it’s not just the public, either. Murdoch is particularly incensed at the idea that one news organization would intentionally steal content from another:

“Well…the people who just simply pick up everything and run with it…and steal our stories, ahh, we say they steal our stories they just take them, ummm, without payment…”


“…if you look at them, most of their stuff is stolen from the newspapers now, and we’ll be suing them for copyright. Ummm, they’ll have to spend a lot more money on reporters, to cover the world…when they can’t steal from newspapers…”


Mr. Murdoch is, after all, running a business…but beyond that, he acknowledges that the News Corporation “experience” is also critical, and that creating that experience requires him to deploy top-notch talent.

For that reason he is dismissive of the suggestion that he might establish a free site augmented by a “premium” site that charges for…well, premium content:

“…there’s also, in in a newspaper, uh we got a newspaper, or a news service, there’s a thing called editorial judgment, there’s a thing called quality of writing, um, quality of reporting, and, ah just to say you know we’ll take what’s average stuff that comes from an agency and uh, not charge for that, it’s okay but I think you’re really degrading the whole experience if you do that…”


And this is the part of the story where I come in.

It was with great surprise that I heard Mr. Murdoch saying all this, because, for the longest time, Murdoch’s own newspaper, “The Wall Street Journal”, has been carrying my stories (along with hundreds of others daily) on their WSJ.com website. In fact, my most recent story, “On Determining Impact, Or, How Stimulative Is Stimulus?” ran on their site just a couple of days ago, on November 18th.

Now don’t get me wrong: in contrast to Mr. Murdoch, I like being carried in as many places as possible, even if I don’t always know about it, and I’m glad the WSJ likes the work, so I am surely not complaining…it’s just that I was surprised to discover that News Corporation’s editors, exercising on a regular basis what can only be considered fine judgment, had apparently recognized the “quality of writing, um, quality of reporting” that I bring to the table, and, in an effort to enhance the experience they provide their clientele, have been regularly posting that writing…and Mr. Murdoch hates news organizations that steal content…and yet, despite all that, News Corporation never seems to send me a check.

So, Rupert…where’s my money?

But it’s not just bloggers and the WSJ: the movie review site Rotten Tomatoes is owned by IGN Entertainment, which is owned by FIM, which is part of…wait for it…News Corporation.

And what is the Rotten Tomatoes business model, exactly?

That would be to be the website that gathers movie reviews from a community of reviewers, posting them all in one space, and to use those reviews as the basis for the “Tomatometer” ratings they apply to movies…the Tomatometer being the central brand identity around which the entire franchise is built.

What's not included in the business model?

Paying money for those reviews, a fact I was able to confirm after an exchange of email today with the folks at Rotten Tomatoes.

So, Rupert…where’s their money?

We could end this story right here, but there is one other quote from the Sky News interview that deserves to be put in the record, not only because it’s a comment on Murdoch’s view of the newspaper business, but also because it may be instructive as to how he views television as well:

“…people who have been buying papers for 20 years, um, even bad newspapers, it’s hard to see them, um…can’t stop buying all papers or even changing newspapers…”


(For the record, I attempted to obtain a comment for this story from Dan Berger, who is News Corporation’s primary press contact, but that effort was not successful as of the time this went to print.)

And with that, we come to the “wrap it up” part of the story:

Murdoch is quite upset at the idea that other news organizations will steal the stories that he invests time and effort and money into creating, and yet at the same time he’s absolutely dependent on acquiring content for his own sites that he doesn’t pay for—and my guess is that virtually every one of the people who have been providing him this content, myself included, are at least reasonably happy with the process that got us here…but we’d be even happier if he would get those checks out to us in time for a bit of extra Christmas shopping.

Oh, yeah, and one other thing: when it comes to news, Murdoch believes that brand loyalty is apparently capable of trumping quality of content in the eyes of at least some beholders…and in truth, I think he’s right.

Truthout 11/19

William Rivers Pitt | Not So Funny After All!
William Rivers Pitt, Truthout: "I've been writing roughly once a week for months now about the insane circus that is today's Republican Party, mostly to make fun of them. It's difficult to do otherwise; how does one write seriously about people like Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck and GOP Chairman Michael Steele? Try it sometime: failure is all but guaranteed ... The problem, however, is that people like Palin stopped being funny a while ago."
Read the Article

Jason Leopold | DOJ Report on Yoo, Bybee's Legal Work on Torture to Be Released by Month's End
Jason Leopold, Truthout: "A long-awaited Justice Department watchdog report that is said to be highly critical of the legal work three attorneys who worked at the agency's powerful Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) conducted for the Bush administration will be released at the end of the month, Attorney General Eric Holder said Wednesday during testimony before a Senate committee."
Read the Article

Mary Susan Littlepage | Report: Bush Officials Knew AIG Would Use Bailout Funds to Pay Counterparties
Mary Susan Littlepage, Truthout: "Government officials were aware that billions of dollars used to bail out American International Group (AIG) last year were used by the insurance giant to pay off its creditors, according to a newly released government watchdog report."
Read the Article

Yana Kunichoff | Army Suicide Rates Hit Record and May Continue to Rise
Yana Kunichoff, Truthout: "Suicides among veterans and soldiers have reached a record high this year and are set to continue rising, a Pentagon press conference confirmed Tuesday. The announcement, coming on the day that the suicide rate for 2009 reached the record number of 2008, leaves advocates worrying about the troop escalation of the Obama administration and the measures the Army has in place to deal with the combat scars which leave no physical trace."
Read the Article

Art Levine | Showdown: Ron Paul, Alan Grayson Take On Fed in House Committee Today
Art Levine, Truthout: "The fight by financial reformers to hold the secretive Federal Reserve accountable for its role in allowing Wall Street and big banks to spiral out of control - and then keeping secret how it bailed them out - faces its first major test today. The House Financial Services Committee will consider two competing amendments on auditing the Fed. They can't come too soon. Earlier this week, for instance, Citizens for Ethics and Responsibility in Washington (CREW) even filed a lawsuit over the Fed's continuing refusal to disclose the financial institutions that have received federal funds in the last six months - and the terms, if any, of federal assistance."
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Dick Meister | The Man Who Didn't Die
Dick Meister, Truthout: "It's November 19, 1915, in a courtyard of the Utah State Penitentiary in Salt Lake City. Five riflemen take careful aim at a condemned organizer for the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), Joe Hill, who stands before them straight and stiff and proud. 'Fire!' he shouts defiantly. The firing squad didn't miss. But Joe Hill, as the folk ballad says, 'ain't never died.' On this 94th anniversary, he lives on as one of the most enduring and influential of American symbols."
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Walter Brasch | Rush to Judgment: Talk Radio's "Truth Detector" Blows a Fuse - Again
Walter Brasch, Truthout: "It wasn't unusual that Rush Limbaugh went ballistic on his show on November 13. He does that several times a day. It wasn't unusual that he mixed a few facts with opinion and outright lies in his three-hour daily show. Fact checking for the man who calls himself 'America's Truth Detector' is as rare as union organizers working for Wal-Mart. What is unusual is that Rush Limbaugh, whose web site shows a picture of him carrying a large, gold-fringed American flag on a six-foot staff, spoke out against the Constitution of the United States."
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Betsy Hartmann | The "New" Population Control Craze: Retro, Racist, Wrong Way to Go
Betsy Hartmann, On the Issues Magazine: "It's back to the bad old days of the population bomb. That was the title of an alarmist book by Stanford biologist Paul Ehrlich that appeared in 1968. He suggested that world catastrophe would ensue unless women in poor parts of the world were prevented from having too many children. This fall's junk mail carried an alarmist appeal from Population Connection, using its former name of Zero Population Growth (ZPG). According to ZPG, you can blame just about everything on population growth, from traffic congestion, overcrowded schools and childhood asthma to poverty, famine and global warming.
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Eric Stoner | A Conversation About Nonviolence
Eric Stoner, Yes! Magazine: "Despite the amazing string of victories that 'people power' movements have chalked up over recent decades, it's surprising how little-known many of these stories still are, even to folks who are politically aware in many other respects. That is why 'Weapons of Mass Democracy,' Stephen Zunes' article in the Fall 2009 issue of Yes! Magazine, is so important, especially for those just discovering the hidden history and potential of nonviolence."
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Even Fidel Has a (Political) Crush on Obama
El Siglo (Argentina) (Translation: Ryan Croken): "The whole world appears to be fascinated by Barack Obama, and Fidel Castro is no exception. The former Cuban leader can't seem to stop himself from talking about the first African-American president of the United States, writing almost obsessively about Obama's policies, his youthfulness and his energy. In stark contrast to Castro's appraisals of former US presidents (he referred to George W. Bush, for example, as a genocidal drunk), he seems to be quite taken by Barack."
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"For Youth: A Disciplinary Discourse Only"
Jean-Marie Durand, lesinrocks.com, interviews anthropologist Alain Bertho about the global phenomenon of popular riots (Translation: Leslie Thatcher): "There is something serious in this move to action by the individuals involved. They put their bodies - their lives - in danger with the virtual certainty of losing. The repetition of the phenomenon must test us, question us. It clearly tells us about the overall global collapse of political space as space for the representation of popular suffering and hopes ... Youth is no longer considered the world's future, but as a threat to its present."
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Army Corps Liable for Katrina Damage, US Court Finds
Patrik Jonsson, The Christian Science Monitor: "Confirming what many New Orleanians already knew in their hearts, a federal judge ruled late Wednesday that the Army Corps of Engineers - and thus the US government - is liable for a big chunk of the damage caused when hurricane Katrina pushed ashore on Aug. 29, 2005. The landmark ruling awards $719,000 to four plaintiffs from the city's Lower Ninth Ward and neighboring St. Bernard Parish who filed suit in 2006 ... More important, the ruling - which called the Army Corps 'myopic' in its maintenance of the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet canal (aka Mr. Go) - now puts pressure on President Obama to help the region settle claims that could reach into the billions of dollars."
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Tom Engelhardt | The Afghan Speech Obama Should Give (But Won't)
Tom Engelhardt, TomDispatch.com: "Sure, the quote in the over-title is only my fantasy. No one in Washington - no less President Obama - ever said, 'This administration ended, rather than extended, two wars,' and right now, it looks as if no one in an official capacity is likely to do so any time soon. It's common knowledge that a president - but above all a Democratic president -- who tried to de-escalate a war like the one now expanding in Afghanistan and parts of Pakistan, and withdraw American troops, would be so much domestic political dead meat. This everyday bit of engrained Washington wisdom is, in fact, based on not a shred of evidence in the historical record."
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Senate Democrats Introduce $849 Billion Health Care Reform Bill
Brad Knickerbocker, The Christian Science Monitor: "Though the congressional debate and legislative sausage-making are far from over, the Senate took a major step Wednesday in putting forth a $849 billion healthcare reform bill. The bill, launched by Senate majority leader Harry Reid - and vigorously opposed by Republicans - aims to provide health insurance for 94 percent of all Americans, including 31 million people now uninsured. The measure reportedly would require most Americans to carry health insurance, require large companies to provide coverage for their employees, and prohibit insurance companies from denying coverage because of preexisting medical conditions."
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Guns for Cash! No Background Check, no ID, AND IT'S ALL LEGAL!

Surviving near-death experiences often yields new perspectives in life. My eyes were opened after I was shot and almost killed at Virginia Tech on April 16, 2007.

No matter how hard it is to discuss that day, it is worth it if it brings greater awareness to some of the issues surrounding school shootings in this country.

With my story I try to convey the reality of the situation I faced in my classroom, as well as the reality that our nation's gun laws are woefully inadequate.

Did you know, in most states, people can walk into gun shows and purchase firearms — from Glocks to AK-47s — from unlicensed sellers without a Brady criminal background check? This is legal and a currently glaring loophole within America's background check system.

I've learned that the Columbine shooters obtained their guns through this same loophole in the law.

So now I ask you to help me deliver a petition to Congress of 100,000 signatures by April 16, 2010, the third anniversary of the shooting, demanding that this gun show loophole be closed.

Please click here to view my video and sign the petition. Once you have signed it, I ask that you forward it on to friends and family.

Other fellow Virginia Tech survivors and families are working with me. Million Mom March and Brady Chapters have joined me in this ambitious effort, as well as students and other organizations in the gun violence prevention movement.

You can help even more by sharing the video on your Facebook page. Talk, tweet, and blog about it too.

We have to increase public awareness on issues like these if we hope to move toward a safer America. Congress needs to hear a new perspective.

Colin Goddard [pic] Sincerely,
Colin's Signature [image]
Colin Goddard

FP morning post 11/19

Obama's stern words for Pyongyang in Seoul

Top Story: U.S. President Barack Obama's much-watched three-day trip to China ended with more of a whisper than a bang. Obama and Chinese President Hu Jintao reportedly discussed a number of sensitive issues, including North Korea and the U.S. debt held in China. But their many public statements indicated few policy advances.

Obama is now visiting South Korea. In Seoul, he made a strong pronouncement against Iran and North Korea. He also said the U.S. envoy to North Korea will travel to Pyongyang for bilateral talks.

Europe Uniting: Today, European leaders meet to select an E.U. president and foreign-policy chief.


Americas

  • The U.S. Congressional Budget Office estimated a Senate bill on health care will cost just under $850 billion over 10 years, clearing the way for a vote.
  • Senate staffers said they might consider paring back a cap-and-trade bill to include limits only on emissions from power plants.
  • Mexico's congress might consider altering its laws to declare that life begins at conception.
  • A supervisor of Fort Hood shooter Maj. Nidal Hasan at Walter Reed warned the Army about him in 2007.

Asia

  • Afghan authorities locked down Kabul in advance of President Hamid Karzai's swearing-in ceremony.
  • U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton traveled to Kabul to stress the need for a reduction in corruption to Karzai.
  • A monthlong standoff between Sri Lankan refugees and the Australian government ended.

Africa

  • The three-day Rome U.N. summit on hunger ended with African nations disappointed over the lack of funds committed to emergency food aid.
  • The head of the U.S. agency PEPFAR, an AIDS initiative, said the recession had not dampened efforts to eradicate the disease on the African continent.
  • Qatar launched Darfur peace talks in Doha without representatives of the Sudanese government or the rebel force present.

Europe

  • ABC News has reportedly uncovered a secret U.S. CIA "black site" prison at a horse-riding academy in Lithuania.
  • The European Union and Russia completed a one-day summit, where they agreed to cooperate on climate change.
  • Ukranian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko said she has struck a deal with Moscow, guaranteeing the Ukrainian transport of Russian gas to Europe for 2010.
  • NATO will delay a decision on troop levels for Afghanistan until Obama makes a determination on the U.S. troop level.

Middle East

  • Iran rejected a U.N.-brokered deal to send its uranium abroad for enrichment, making U.S. sactions likely.
  • Israel broke ground on new East Jerusalem settlements, despite condemnation from the Palestinian Authority, United States, and United Nations.
  • Hamas said Israeli airstrikes wounded three in the Gaza Strip.
http://link.email.foreignpolicy.com/r/WLL1UIH/QPBQ/K3W4/XVUB/80ON/50/h

McClatchy Washington report 11/19

  • Senate Democratic leaders Wednesday unveiled a sweeping $849 billion plan to overhaul the nation's health care system, a proposal likely to trigger an epic Senate battle over how consumers will buy and maintain coverage. The Senate could vote as early as Saturday to begin debate on the measure, and Majority Leader Harry Reid is confident he has the votes.

  • U.S. special envoy Stephen Bosworth will travel to North Korea on Dec. 8 for talks aimed at getting the totalitarian regime to give up its nuclear weapons program, President Barack Obama said Thursday during a visit to South Korea on the final day of his weeklong Asia tour.

  • The George W. Bush Presidential Center will tip its hat to the former president's home state, from the pecan wood paneling inside to the wildflowers, bluebonnets and prairie outside.

  • A state ethics panel has found evidence South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford may have broken state law, charging him with "several" undisclosed violations after an investigation into his travel and campaign spending. State Ethics Commission director Herbert Hayden on Wednesday said details of the violations would be released Monday.

  • The Jerry Moran campaign is seeing red over an e-mail from Senate rival Todd Tiahrt's campaign that implies Moran is a fellow traveler of the Communist Party. The e-mail subject line asserts — falsely — that Moran has been endorsed by the Communist Party USA.

  • An investigation by Anchorage, Alaska's chief attorney concludes that former Mayor Mark Begich knew and failed to tell the Anchorage Assembly that the city wasn't going to have enough money to cover all its budgeted expenses last year and this year.

  • New Florida Sen. George LeMieux's first foray into foreign relations has drawn brickbats from former high-ranking State Department officials who say his effort to block the Obama administration's new ambassador to Brazil is damaging U.S. relations with Latin America.

  • Barbara Ann Radnofsky, a Houston lawyer and Democratic candidate for attorney general, says that a 22-word clause in a 2005 constitutional amendment designed to ban gay marriages erroneously endangers the legal status of all marriages in the state.

  • More than 100 of U.S. Sen. Jesse Helms' family members, friends and associates gathered Wednesday night to see the senator's portrait unveiled in one of congressional Republicans' most distinguished enclaves, the private Capitol Hill Club.

  • The man credited with giving Sarah Palin a national platform is lying low in Sacramento as Palin snipes at him from Oprah Winfrey's couch. Steve Schmidt is a Sacramento-based political operative who was the top strategist in Sen. John McCain's failed presidential bid last year — a campaign best known for tapping Palin as McCain's improbable running mate. Now he's Palin's punching bag.

  • Two Anchorage men who told investigators they were horsing around with a "redneck flamethrower" set a 5-year-old boy's head on fire and have been charged with felony assault and reckless endangerment, according to police and court records.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Truthout 11/18

Leslie Thatcher | Russ Baker: Multiply Your Force!
Truthout's Leslie Thatcher interviews investigative journalist and author of "Family of Secrets" Russ Baker: "So, 'Family of Secrets' is definitely part of a larger mission to convince the American public, journalists and potential funders that we need to get the larger picture here; we need journalism that takes into account those actual events that are shaping our destiny, but that we don't know anything about. If we don't confront institutional roadblocks we can't get anywhere. Many people are doing positive things, meaningful work, but we need to get someone to unclog the central drainpipe of American life."
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Art Levine | Can New AFL-CIO Plan Save Two Million Jobs - and the Dems in 2010?
Art Levine, Truthout: "Democratic leaders yesterday sent their strongest signals yet that they were eager to pass a jobs-creation and benefits-extension package to help stop the economic and political bleeding caused by a 10 percent official unemployment rate, the worst in a generation. They have to promote job growth, in part, to stem looming anti-incumbent rage. That anger is also being fed by the faux populism of the 'tea baggers' and GOP-driven attacks, no matter how distorted, on the credibility and impact of President Obama's original $787 billion stimulus bill."
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Allen McDuffee | Air Force Adds Kids to Pentagon's Mandatory H1N1 Vaccine Program
Allen McDuffee, Truthout: "About 25,000 children in on-base Air Force daycare centers will be forced to receive the H1N1 vaccine or face being barred from school, Truthout has learned following reports from concerned parents. When a number of Air Force parents opened the November Child Development Center newsletter, they were outraged to learn that their children must receive the H1N1 vaccine. The newsletter article indicates that the Air Force is considering the H1N1 vaccine as part of the required seasonal flu vaccination."
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Rick Cabral | California's Medical Marijuana Law - Just a Smokescreen?
Rick Cabral, Truthout: "The medical marijuana debate is gathering steam in California, as two disparate engines are catapulting headlong down parallel paths that appear destined to collide in the distance. The impending collision could chart the future course on legalization of marijuana in America. In just the past year, California has seen a proliferation of 'pot doc'; clinics sprouting up like wild mushrooms. And prospective medical marijuana patients are flocking to these clinics like Deadheads to a Furthur concert."
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Brendan Smith and Jeremy Brecher | Will Climate Protection Legislation Protect Workers Too?
Brendan Smith and Jeremy Brecher, Truthout: "One great fear is blocking public support for climate protection: The fear that protecting the planet will destroy millions of jobs. Without a bold program to protect workers from the effects of climate protection, the struggle against global warming can all too easily come to be perceived as a struggle against American workers."
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Robert Naiman | Our Corrupt Occupation of Afghanistan
Robert Naiman, Truthout: "Is it just me, or is the pontification of Western leaders about corruption in Afghanistan growing rather tiresome? There is something very Captain Renault about it. We're shocked, shocked that the Afghans have sullied our morally immaculate occupation of their country with their dirty corruption. How ungrateful can they be? But perhaps we should consider the possibility that our occupation of the country is not so morally immaculate - indeed, that the most corrupt racket going in Afghanistan today is the American occupation."
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Michael Winship | In a Chilly London November, War and Remembrance
Michael Winship, Truthout: "In Great Britain, Remembrance Sunday falls on the second Sunday of November, the one closest to November 11, the anniversary of the end of the First World War in 1918. Once, the world called November 11 Armistice Day. Now, here in the States at least, it is Veterans Day. As coincidence and travel itineraries would have it, twice over the last four years I've been in London on Remembrance Sunday. This time, my girlfriend Pat and I were on our way home from Greece, stopping off for a couple of days to see old friends."
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Jacques Attali | Thieves We Like
Jacques Attali, L'Express: "Two extraordinary heists made the headlines this week: A security guard in Lyon absconded with 11 million euros after ten years of good and faithful service; and a postal worker calmly departed with a million euros. Heists without any violence, both pulled off by people of modest circumstances, apparently without any fuss, acting openly, having perfectly prepared their moves, evaporating immediately after them into the woodwork. Robberies where, in fact, no one was robbed except the banking institution."
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Christina Esquivel | Unsettling Revelations Regarding US Lease of Colombian Military Bases
Christina Esquivel, Council on Hemispheric Affairs: "On Friday, October 30, US and Colombian officials signed the controversial Defense Cooperation Agreement (DCA), granting the US armed forces access to seven Colombian military bases for the next ten years. The deal has been the subject of anxious speculation and heated debate since talks were first confirmed over the summer, as many policymakers throughout the hemisphere are now grappling with the reality of a heightened US military presence in South America."
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Jim Hightower | The Worthiness of Banker Charity
Jim Hightower, Truthout: "'Repent,' the preacher cried out, startling those who heard him. This was no street evangelist ranting at the passing crowd, but the archbishop of Canterbury, head of the Church of England. His sharp admonition was pointed directly at a particular set of sinners, who undoubtedly had never given any thought to the morality of their actions: the barons of global banking."
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NOW | America's New Wounded Warriors
NOW: "The Pentagon estimates that as many as one in five American soldiers are coming home from war zones with traumatic brain injuries, many of which require round-the-clock attention. But lost in the reports of these returning soldiers are the stories of family members who often sacrifice everything to care for them."
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Early learning challenge fund

Almost every parent has a story about trying to find childcare or the mad dash to pick your child up on time. But this one really takes the cake: Sgt. Kimberly D. Munley, mother of two, and a first responder at the scene of the shooting at Fort Hood last week, was shot three times while trying to stop the carnage. She later reported in an interview on the "Today Show" that her first thought as she was lying on the ground was to reach for her cell phone to find someone to pick up her daughter from childcare.1

Fortunately, for most of us, our childcare worries are not this dramatic, but we all know that finding quality, affordable, safe childcare is a struggle more and more families are facing. Thankfully right now, our U.S. Senate is considering the Early Learning Challenge Fund which would invest $1 billion a year for 10 years in early care and education.

Tell the Senate to step up to the challenge and pass the Early Learning Challenge Fund today:
http://momsrising.democracyinaction.org/o/1768/t/9251/p/dia/action/public/?action_KEY=926

High-quality early learning programs for children under age 5 matter in today's economy more than ever. As the Wall Street Journal reported last week, more and more women are returning to work to support their families and consequently, across the country, child care centers are seeing their enrollment rise.2

The Early Learning Challenge Fund would invest $1 billion a year -- in the form of competitive grants to states -- to build comprehensive, high-quality early learning systems for children from birth to age 5.

Savings from streamlining the federal student loan program would fund these grants, which would be used to help programs improve quality and hold them accountable for meeting high standards. It would also provide more training for teachers and better screening systems for children with disabilities and health needs.

This is a unique opportunity to invest in our country's youngest learners and make sure that all children start kindergarten with the skills they need to succeed. Decades of research by economists and scientists has proven that investing in early education programs pays off for all of us because it produces better education, health, and social outcomes and more capable and productive citizens.

The Early Learning Challenge Fund already passed the U.S. House and its fate is now up to our Senators. We need every Senator's vote in support of the Challenge Fund. Because it is included in legislation about reforming lending practices for student loans, Senators are hearing opposition from big banks that have profited from the old, inefficient system.

Remind your Senators that you're watching to make sure they choose children over corporate lobbyists:

http://momsrising.democracyinaction.org/o/1768/t/9251/p/dia/action/public/?action_KEY=926

Spread the word! The more people that speak out, the better. Together we can make sure parents have one less thing to worry about and every child gets the high-quality care they deserve.

Thanks!

Sarah, Kristin, Donna and the whole MomsRising.org Team

FP morning post 11/18

Obama's last day in China

Top Story: U.S. President Barack Obama is on his third and final day of touring China. His meetings with President Hu Jintao and other leaders have focused on economic issues, and Obama plans to continue to press Chinese leaders for changes, particularly on currency, today. Obama leaves for Seoul, South Korea, where he will discuss North Korea policy, later this afternoon.

During one of many press conferences, Obama said he is close to a decision on the level of troops for Afghanistan. He also said he hopes the Copenhagen climate change conference "[rallies] the world."

Getting hotter: British scientists project the world's average temperature will rise 6 degrees Celcius by the end of the century.


Asia

  • Oxfam released a survey of Afghans showing that they consider poverty and unemployment the driving forces behind conflict in the country.
  • Five Papua New Guineans were rescued after two months adrift at sea; three others died.
  • A leader of a Pakistani Taliban group believed injured or dead has fled to Afghanistan.

Americas

  • The Honduran congress said it will vote on whether to reinstate ousted leader Manuel Zelaya after elections later this month.
  • A Cuban dissident in the United States ended her hunger strike.
  • Leaders from Peru and Chile continued a barbed back and forth over Chile's alleged spying on Peru.

Middle East

  • Iraq's vice president has vetoed a new election law, possibly causing voting delays.
  • The United States and United Nations denounced Israel's authorization of the expansion of an East Jerusalem settlement.
  • Iran sentenced five to death and more than 80 to jail terms for taking part in the June protests of the presidential election.

Africa

  • German police arrested two Rwandans alleged to have fought for the main rebel army in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
  • Somali pirates released a Spanish tuna-fishing boat they had captured 400 miles off of the Seychelles after receiving a handsome ransom.
  • Clashes in southern Sudan over whether to declare independence left 12 dead and a government minister injured.

Europe

  • Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the secretary-general of NATO, said he anticipated increasing its troop presence in Afghanistan.
  • A U.S. official said Algerian pressure on the North African branch of al Qaeda had reduced the chance of it attacking targets in Europe.
  • Speaking at the U.N. hunger summit in Rome, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said more than 17,000 children die per day of hunger-related causes.
http://link.email.foreignpolicy.com/r/6VVC0PA/3V5X/W0FR/9YOI/CACZ/LE/h

McClatchy Washington report 11/18

  • Citing a wide belief that "Wall Street does not play by the same rules as Main Street," Attorney General Eric Holder announced Tuesday the creation of a sweeping state-federal task force to uncover crimes contributing to the recent financial crisis or threatening to cause one in the future.

  • The morning air at Kandahar Airfield in southern Afghanistan was crisp and clear, with a chill to it, and Sgt. Jeffrey Sherwood was excited. Sherwood, the crew chief of the Army's workhorse CH-47F Chinook helicopter, wasn't excited about the day's mission. He was excited about his new thermos.

  • The federal Web site that tracks spending from the Obama administration's $787-billion economic stimulus program reports that the program has created thousands of jobs in congressional districts that don't exist. According to the site, California has seven congressional districts more than the 53 it actually has. In South Carolina, the site reported $40.7 million in stimulus spending in seven districts, including the 00 and 25. South Carolina has six House districts.

  • Sarah Palin's book, "Going Rogue," came out Tuesday, a best-selling compilation of anecdotes, political prescriptions and score settling. One critic has called the book "an exercise in blaming others," while Sen. John McCain's former campaign manager called it "total fiction."

  • President Barack Obama on Wednesday visited the Great Wall of China, capping off his three-day visit before heading to South Korea.

  • South Carolina's State Ethics Commission will decide as early as today whether there is sufficient evidence to try Gov. Mark Sanford for violating state ethics laws in his travel and use of campaign money or to refer his case to prosecutors for possible criminal charges. The panel's conclusions could prove critical as to whether lawmakers pursue removing Sanford from office. Republican state representatives have already filed an impeachment resolution.

  • Thirty-three banks across the country that received federal bailout money didn't pay the government a dividend this summer — and one-third of them are based in California, federal data show. Two of the 11 California banks that didn't pay dividends — which can indicate they are short on cash — were seized by state and federal regulators in the past two weeks. The failures left taxpayers with $302 million in losses under the government bailout, known as the Troubled Asset Relief Program.

  • Federal investigators said they have found improprieties in the bidding process that helped insurance giant Aetna land a $16 billion military health contract at the expense of California-based Health Net Federal Services.

  • Rene Dickerson's abstract, brilliantly colored paintings depict joyful scenes of African-American culture. He paints jazz, Motown, beautiful women and scenes of love. Last spring, though, a friend in Washington invited him to lunch at the tony Capitol Hill Club, a social enclave for Republican lawmakers. The friend asked, 'Would you like to paint a portrait of U.S. Sen. Jesse Helms?'

  • Scientists funded by Shell and six other oil companies say that cleaning up oil spills in Arctic ice is in many respects easier than cleaning it from open water. The researchers' preliminary findings conflict with the conventional wisdom about how spills in Arctic ice would be difficult, if not impossible, to clean up.

  • Burgeoning trade between Latin America and China is spurring Chinese banks to step up their focus on the region, a panel of representatives from three Chinese banks said Tuesday. Language and cultural barriers, differences in business practices and styles, and the sheer geographic distance are all obstacles to trade between China and Latin America, according to the panelists. Still, the market dynamics are spawning fast-growing ties.

  • Facing a group of presidents loudly critical of Washington, the U.S. government's Voice of America broadcast is expanding its audience in Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador and Nicaragua, VOA officials say.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Truthout 11/17

Henry A. Giroux | Zombie Politics and Other Late Modern Monstrosities in the Age of Disposability
Henry A. Giroux, Truthout: "At present, Americans are fascinated by a particular kind of monstrosity, by vampires and zombies condemned to live an eternity by feeding off the souls of the living. The preoccupation with such parasitic relations speaks uncannily to the threat most Americans perceive from the shameless blood lust of contemporary captains of industry, which Matt Taibbi, a writer for Rolling Stone, has aptly described as 'a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money.'"
Read the Article

Andy Worthington | The Logic of the 9/11 Trials, the Madness of the Military Commissions
Andy Worthington, Truthout: "With just over two months to go until President Obama's deadline for the closure of Guantanamo, the administration has finally woken up to the necessity of actually doing something to facilitate the prison's closure by announcing on Friday that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four other prisoners accused of involvement in the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, will be brought to New York to face federal court trials."
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Legislation to Limit Use of State Secrets Privilege an Uphill Battle
William Fisher, Truthout: "A court case accusing the government of indiscriminately wiretapping ordinary American citizens - coupled with legislation now making its way through Congress - could produce another major headache for President Obama."
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Jacqui Patterson | Natural Disasters, Climate Change Uproot Women of Color
Jacqui Patterson, On The Issues Magazine: "The effects of climate change threaten everyone, but they do not threaten all people equally. Women are disproportionately affected by natural disasters, which are on the increase, as they experience higher rates of mortality, morbidity and post-disaster diminishment in their livelihoods."
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Jon Letman | Lowering the Bar: Kindergarten Recruitment
Jon Letman, Truthout: "How old is old enough for students to be approached by military recruiters? High school? Junior high? Fourth grade? How about ten weeks into kindergarten? Last week at the dinner table, my five-year-old son announced blithely, 'Soldiers came to school today.' He then added, 'They only kill bad people. They don't kill good people.'"
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Sarah Palin Makes Another Fraudulent Claim About Alaska
Dahr Jamail, Truthout: "As former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin launches her national book tour, a former consultant questions more specifics from her record as governor. Palin, the former running mate to Sen. John McCain during the 2008 presidential elections, continues to claim that she effectively protected Alaska's environment, but a National Academies peer review panel has blasted her oil and gas risk assessment plan, calling her environmental credentials into question."
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Herve Kempf and Clement Lacombe | "All the Conditions Are Assembled for a New Food Crisis"
Herve Kempf and Clement Lacombe, Le Monde (Translation: Leslie Thatcher): "Hunger, still and always. And at levels never touched before: Under the impact of the economic crisis, the threshold of a billion people suffering from malnutrition was crossed in 2009. A situation to which the Global Summit on Food Security, taking place in Rome from Monday, November 16, to Wednesday, November 18, under the aegis of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), will - once again - attempt to bring elements of a response. United Nations Rapporteur for Food Rights since 2008, Belgian Olivier de Schutter, is alarmed by the situation."
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Paying Off the Warlords: Anatomy of an Afghan Culture of Corruption
Pratap Chatterjee, TomDispatch.com: "Every morning, dozens of trucks laden with diesel from Turkmenistan lumber out of the northern Afghan border town of Hairaton on a two-day trek across the Hindu Kush down to Afghanistan's capital, Kabul. Among the dozens of businesses dispatching these trucks are two extremely well-connected companies -- Ghazanfar and Zahid Walid -- that helped to swell the election coffers of President Hamid Karzai as well as the family business of his running mate, the country's new vice president, warlord Mohammed Qasim Fahim."
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Nearly One in Six Citizens Went Hungry in 2008
Jim Lobe, Inter Press Service: "As the World Food Security Summit got under way in Rome Monday, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) disclosed that nearly one in six US households went hungry at some time during 2008, the highest level since it began monitoring food security levels in 1995."
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Eleanor J. Bader | Beginning With the Children: To Teach Peace
Eleanor J. Bader, On the Issues Magazine: "It is the third week of classes at P.S. 130, The Parkside School in Brooklyn, New York. A group of fourth graders sits on the floor, watching five others - a mix of nine- and 10-year-olds from other classes in the school - take seats in front of the room."
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McClatchy Washington report 11/17

  • The number of U.S. households that are struggling to feed their members jumped by 4 million to 17 million last year, as recession-fueled job losses and increased poverty and unemployment fueled a surge in hunger, a government survey reported Monday.

  • Chinese President Hu Jintao said the U.S. must shun protectionist trade policies toward China while President Barack Obama called on China to embrace "universal" human rights and reopen talks with Tibet, in a joint appearance Tuesday that underscored the tensions between the two nations.

  • The Republican who heads up the federal agency overseeing the proposed construction of Alaska's natural gas pipeline is stepping down at the request of President Barack Obama. Drue Pearce, a former president of the Alaska Senate, was asked to leave her job as the head of the small agency known as the Office of the Federal Coordinator. Her resignation takes effect Jan. 3.

  • The Taliban had set a trap for the tiny company of Afghan soldiers here, its handful of U.S. mentors and the American helicopters that they expected would rush in help. U.S. and Afghan troops didn't take the bait, however, and instead waited in a village near the base for air cover. It arrived more quickly than the Taliban expected. Firing Hellfire missiles and 30 mm cannons, the pilots of two Apache helicopters made so many passes that they lost track and nearly ran out of ammunition.

  • Palin's next "new normal" began Monday with the Oprah interview, in which she discussed why she quit the governorship in Alaska, her daughter Bristol's pregnancy, and what caused the GOP loss last November. Today, a series of interviews with Barbara Walters begins airing on ABC. Her book tour officially kicks off in Grand Rapids, Mich., on Wednesday.

  • About 60 S.C. National Guard soldiers have left for Afghanistan to help local farmers grow bigger crops and raise healthier livestock. Providing technical expertise to Afghan farmers is key to the military's effort to win the hearts and minds of the people. Officials say a successful agriculture mission can bring stability and prosperity to Afghanistan.

  • Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger visited troops Monday in Iraq at a military camp outside Baghdad for the first time as California governor, signing autographs and recounting his own experience as an Austrian tank driver.

  • Kansas City residents are finding that it's darn tough to figure out who has any of the more than 200 jobs in the area that have been created or saved thanks to federal stimulus spending. Officially, at the end of Sept., 207.39 Kansas City-area jobs had been directly created or saved by stimulus spending, according to 72 employers' reports posted at Recovery.gov. The seemingly senseless total reflects the difficulty that government, or more precisely employers, have had identifying the impact of the $787 billion that Congress appropriated last year.

  • In the midst of the longest economic downturn since the Great Depression, retailers this holiday shopping season plan to place added emphasis on "value" dollars. But don't expect the wild 75 percent off discounts of last year, when retailers got caught with an inventory backlog and were forced to take major markdowns to get the merchandise off the shelves. Retailers this year have planned better and slimmed down inventory in expectation of a sluggish holiday season.

  • I kept waiting to feel something when news came that John Allen Muhammad had been executed in Virginia. As a staunch opponent of capital punishment, I wanted some nugget of remorse at the knowledge that the government had taken his life.

    So I could not manage remorse. Indeed, what I felt was an unsettling, appalling satisfaction that Muhammad is no longer in the world.

  • Try your hand at political cartooning — at least the portion that doesn't require pen and ink. Suggest a short caption for this image to enter our McClatchy cartoon contest and compete to win a signed cartoon from Rex Babin of the Sacramento Bee.

On Determining Impact, Or, How Stimulative Is Stimulus?

We strive to be, if anything, a participatory space around here, and I’ve had a question come to my inbox that is very much deserving of our attention.

To make a long story short, our questioner wants to know why, on the one hand, despite the passage of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA, also known as the “stimulus”), unemployment in the construction industry continues to increase, and, on the other hand, why there is such a giant disparity, on a state-by-state basis, in the cost of saving a job?

They’re great questions, and, having done a bit of research, I think I have some cogent answers.

A few facts will help set the stage:

I post on numerous sites, one of those being Blue Oklahoma, and about ten days ago I received an email from a reader who wanted me to know that he had data up regarding how effective stimulus dollars are at creating construction jobs.

He also wondered if I would be willing to blog about his work, which is itself posted in the form of a blog, with handy charts and graphs; I’ll quickly summarize what he had to say for your dining and dancing pleasure:

Although the goal of the stimulus was to create construction jobs, today’s data suggests that roughly 10 times as many jobs were lost in the construction industry in the recent past 12 months (September 2008 – September 2009) than were created by the stimulus efforts this year to date.

“The major question surrounding the ARRA and the construction industry on this reporting deadline is: How many construction jobs has the stimulus bill actually created or retained?

--Chris Thorman, State by State: Is the Stimulus Bill Creating Construction Jobs? [emphasis is original]


In the blog he reports that if you were to go to the Recovery.gov website, download the state summary data located there, and then do a bit of quick math, you’d find that:

“…the ARRA has created or saved 73,352 construction jobs across the nation at a total cost of $15.8 billion since the bill was signed into law.

That’s $222,107 per construction job.”


He has also created a chart, that is intended to show, on a state-by-state basis, the cost per job—and there is enormous variation in the results, from a low of $47,536 in Minnesota to a high of $535,171 in California.

As a result, he’s come to this conclusion:

“Jobs are being created and saved but nowhere near a rate that will allow the stimulus bill to claim victory over construction unemployment.”


So the question for us becomes: how solid is his analysis?

In order to get a better answer, I decided to examine some of the underlying data supporting his conclusions—and to put it as gently as possible, the numbers that we’re seeing today are a bit…squishy.

There are a couple of reasons why, which, naturally, require a couple of quick explanations. (This is a “quick and dirty” education; there are exceptions to some of what you’ll see described below.)

Right off the bat, it appears that identifying exactly how many jobs are being saved is more difficult than it seems—but before we can really understand that, we need to take a moment and understand exactly how jobs are counted.

If you work 40 hours a week, which is the equivalent of a full-time job, you would equal one (warning: technical term ahead) “Full Time Equivalent”, also known as an FTE. Two people, each working 20 hours a week, are also one FTE, as are any other combinations that you can come up with that get you to 40 hours a week. From here on, when we use the word “jobs”, we also mean FTEs, and vice versa.

The rules of the stimulus program are unique unto themselves, and one of the unique rules, at least for the moment, is that overtime hours don’t count when counting FTEs; since we’re talking about the number of construction jobs the stimulus might be creating, and about 25% of construction jobs involve overtime work, this rule is probably distorting the outcome.

States are also having problems translating FTE tracking systems they already have in place into the new Federal FTE definitions being used to figure out how many jobs are being created with stimulus funds.

An example of this problem is laid out in a document from the University of Connecticut (UConn) describing how their FTE reporting is going. The State FTE tracking system uses “cumulative” reporting, the Federal system, “incremental” reporting; the only thing you need to know about the two systems is that, quoting from the report:

“…At no time would the state and federal FTE figures match.”


There’s another issue in play here: this is a brand-new bureaucracy, and everyone is still “finding their way”, on both the State and Federal sides. Here’s another quote from the same UConn progress report:

“Note #2: We have experienced challenges in reporting, primarily with formatting issues. Solutions include working directly with OPM [the State’s Office of Policy and Management] and the respective OSPs [the University’s Office for Sponsored Programs] to enhance timeliness and formatting accuracy. The reports submitted June through September 2009 were definitely part of the learning process. Currently, we are working directly with the respective OSPs to ensure the correct reporting templates are used for state reporting purposes.


Put all that together, and you have a collection of “structural” issues that will probably cause the “real” construction FTE numbers to be somewhat different from today’s “reported” numbers by some currently unknown amount that can probably be “estimated out” later on.

The biggest distortion in statistics, however, is a “timeline” issue, and it’s because trying to estimate the “cost per FTE” at the beginning of construction projects is inherently problematic.

To illustrate this point, let’s drill down to one individual project and see how things work:

Award number OK56S09550109 was granted to the City of Shawnee's Housing Authority to modernize the HVAC (Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning) system at a public housing development. The current reporting is that $856,585 was awarded for the work, for which 2.5 FTEs have been reported.

However, as of the reporting date only $61,674 has been expended (or $70,084--both numbers appear on the same webpage); that money going to Childers-Childers, Architects.

The 2½ FTEs are .5 each of two administrators and 1.5 architects.

Obviously there will be more jobs created as this project moves from design to construction, and the estimate of roughly $340,000 per FTE that could theoretically be cited as accurate today will no longer be valid once a bunch of people show up and actually start installing stuff.

In fact, it could be reasonably argued that the "correct" number is $24,669 per FTE (or $28,034), based on the amount expended and jobs created to date.

This “timeline issue” is a statistical problem that Thorman himself acknowledges in his blog:

“With 73,352 jobs created/saved during this reporting period, the number will undoubtedly go up in future months as more projects begin and as more projects enter more labor-intensive phases. The construction jobs created/saved by the stimulus will likely get better before they get worse.”


(Just for the record, a third method you could use to count FTEs would be to divide total grant awards against total estimated construction employment throughout the lifetime of these projects.)

You may recall that the reason we’re having this discussion is because we are trying to come to some conclusion about what impact the stimulus is having on creating jobs—or, alternatively, creating even more geeky FTEs.

Well, having looked at the thing all the way down to the individual project level, it may be that the best answer that’s available…is that there’s no answer yet available.

With that in mind, my conclusion is that we will need some time to create a large enough “statistical universe” of completed or nearly-completed projects before we can begin to make useful extrapolations about the stimulus’ future success, and my guess is that it will be six to 12 months before that threshold is reached…which means I have no idea whether the stimulus is creating or will create a sufficient number of construction jobs relative to its budget, and It may well be summer of 2010 before we do know.

And that, my fellow political observers, has the potential to make the ’10 Congressional midterms very, very, interesting.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Truthout 11/16

William Rivers Pitt | The Decision
William Rivers Pitt, Truthout: "The decision looming largest over president Obama at present does not concern health care reform or the economy. He has a call to make soon regarding our present and future role in Afghanistan. What to do about an eight-year war that has accomplished little? This is the largest, and worst, Hobson's Choice Obama has faced, for there are no bloodless and peril-free decisions in this one, no matter how many generals and advisers and pundits pitch in with their opinions."
Read the Article


Dean Baker | Hostage-Takers in the Senate
Dean Baker, Truthout: "As most of us are preparing for the holidays a small clique in the Senate, with their collaborators in the Washington punditry, are planning for a dramatic hostage-taking event. Their target of opportunity is a bill to increase the nation's debt limit. The hostage takers propose to obstruct the bill's passage unless the rest of the country gives into their demands to cut Social Security and Medicare and takes other steps to meet their warped sense of fiscal responsibility."
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Yana Kunichoff | Silence Requests Crosses Constitutional Bounds
Yana Kunichoff, Truthout: "An over-broad subpoena and a legally invalid gag order on an independent activist news site are pushing the bounds of First Amendment constitutional rights - and raising big questions about press freedom and personal privacy in the near-uncharted legal territory of new media. The recently publicized case of Indymedia.us, in which the US government subpoenaed the organization for the IP addresses of all visitors to the web site on a specific day as well as ordering the recipient not to disclose the government demand, and dropped it after it was challenged by Indymedia and the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), highlights the lack of transparency and scope for abuse in what advocates say is under-regulated territory - privacy controls on Internet information."
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Phil Wilayto | Good Cop, Bad Cop Strategy? Clinton Appoints Former Embassy Hostage as Point Person on Iran
Phil Wilayto, Truthout: "When the Iranian Revolution exploded on the world scene three decades ago, John Limbert was a greenhorn diplomat assigned to the US Embassy in Tehran. After that station was taken over by revolutionary students, he spent 14 months as a political hostage in the building that came to be known as the 'Nest of Spies.' Today, Limbert is the newly appointed deputy assistant secretary for Iran in the State Department's Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs. That makes him Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's point person on Iran, just as pressure is building in Congress to impose more sanctions on the Islamic Republic ... At first glance, it might look like the Obama administration is reinforcing its stated goal of pursuing dialogue over confrontation. On second glance, not so much."
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The Palin Effect: How Sarah Palin Destroyed the Republican Party
Max Blumenthal, TomDispatch.com: "Sarah Palin's heavily publicized book tour begins in earnest this Monday, but weeks before, her ghostwritten memoir, Going Rogue: An American Life, had already vaulted into the number one position at Amazon. Warming up for a tour that will take her across Middle America in a bus, Palin tested her lines in a November 7th speech before a crowd of 5,000 anti-abortion activists in Wisconsin. She promptly cited an urban legend as a 'disturbing trend,' claiming the Treasury Department had moved the phrase 'In God We Trust' from presidential dollar coins ... In a Republican Party hoping to rebound in 2010 on the strength of a newly energized and ideologically aroused conservative grassroots, Palin's influence is now unparalleled."
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Norman Solomon | Biggest State Party to Obama: Get Out of Afghanistan
Norman Solomon, Truthout: "This week begins with a significant new straw in the political wind for President Obama to consider. The California Democratic Party has just sent him a formal and clear message: Stop making war in Afghanistan. Overwhelmingly approved on Sunday by the California Democratic Party's 300-member statewide executive board, the resolution is titled 'End the US Occupation and Air War in Afghanistan.'"
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Jonathan Alter | Bazooka Joe: Lieberman's Comic Health-Care Ploy
Jonathan Alter: "A decade ago, Joe Lieberman was a source of great pride for American Jews. Now Jews (who voted 78 percent for Barack Obama) are debating a critical question: why is Joe such a putz? Tough crowd. 'Putz' is a Yiddish word for the male anatomy. Al D'Amato lost his Senate seat to Chuck Schumer in 1998 after he called him one. But Lieberman is wrong if he thinks it's only hard-core lefties who are mad at him. Everyone is tired of how the junior senator from Connecticut is giving acts of conscience a bad name."
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Global Warming Threatens Lake Titicaca, Imperils Millions of Bolivians
Univision.com (Spanish Translation: Ryan Croken): "Global warming has accelerated the evaporation of Lake Titicaca, the water level of which has dropped to the lowest point in years, Carlos Andretti, of the Binational Autonomous Authority of Lake Titicaca (ATL), told The Associated Press last week. 'Water levels have fallen 88 cm (nearly 3 feet) this year, far exceeding normal lows,' Andrade said. 'This is the biggest loss in decades, and it is definitely attributable to global warming,' he added."
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Attempt to Push Transparency for Mortgage Modifications Falls Short
Paul Kiel, ProPublica: "For months, housing advocates have complained that mortgage servicers are wrongfully denying homeowners' applications for the administration's $50 billion mortgage modification program. Last week, the Treasury Department took a step to address those concerns: For the first time, it issued guidelines requiring mortgage servicers to give homeowners details about why they've been denied. But the required disclosure will only be partial, and housing advocates say that means servicers' denials of loan modifications will still be shrouded in secrecy and protected from scrutiny."
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World out of balance

World Out of Balance

Published: November 15, 2009

International travel by world leaders is mainly about making symbolic gestures. Nobody expects President Obama to come back from China with major new agreements, on economic policy or anything else.

Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times

Paul Krugman

But let’s hope that when the cameras aren’t rolling Mr. Obama and his hosts engage in some frank talk about currency policy. For the problem of international trade imbalances is about to get substantially worse. And there’s a potentially ugly confrontation looming unless China mends its ways.

Some background: Most of the world’s major currencies “float” against one another. That is, their relative values move up or down depending on market forces. That doesn’t necessarily mean that governments pursue pure hands-off policies: countries sometimes limit capital outflows when there’s a run on their currency (as Iceland did last year) or take steps to discourage hot-money inflows when they fear that speculators love their economies not wisely but too well (which is what Brazil is doing right now). But these days most nations try to keep the value of their currency in line with long-term economic fundamentals.

China is the great exception. Despite huge trade surpluses and the desire of many investors to buy into this fast-growing economy — forces that should have strengthened the renminbi, China’s currency — Chinese authorities have kept that currency persistently weak. They’ve done this mainly by trading renminbi for dollars, which they have accumulated in vast quantities.

And in recent months China has carried out what amounts to a beggar-thy-neighbor devaluation, keeping the yuan-dollar exchange rate fixed even as the dollar has fallen sharply against other major currencies. This has given Chinese exporters a growing competitive advantage over their rivals, especially producers in other developing countries.

What makes China’s currency policy especially problematic is the depressed state of the world economy. Cheap money and fiscal stimulus seem to have averted a second Great Depression. But policy makers haven’t been able to generate enough spending, public or private, to make progress against mass unemployment. And China’s weak-currency policy exacerbates the problem, in effect siphoning much-needed demand away from the rest of the world into the pockets of artificially competitive Chinese exporters.

But why do I say that this problem is about to get much worse? Because for the past year the true scale of the China problem has been masked by temporary factors. Looking forward, we can expect to see both China’s trade surplus and America’s trade deficit surge.

That, at any rate, is the argument made in a new paper by Richard Baldwin and Daria Taglioni of the Graduate Institute, Geneva. As they note, trade imbalances, both China’s surplus and America’s deficit, have recently been much smaller than they were a few years ago. But, they argue, “these global imbalance improvements are mostly illusory — the transitory side effect of the greatest trade collapse the world has ever seen.”

Indeed, the 2008-9 plunge in world trade was one for the record books. What it mainly reflected was the fact that modern trade is dominated by sales of durable manufactured goods — and in the face of severe financial crisis and its attendant uncertainty, both consumers and corporations postponed purchases of anything that wasn’t needed immediately. How did this reduce the U.S. trade deficit? Imports of goods like automobiles collapsed; so did some U.S. exports; but because we came into the crisis importing much more than we exported, the net effect was a smaller trade gap.

But with the financial crisis abating, this process is going into reverse. Last week’s U.S. trade report showed a sharp increase in the trade deficit between August and September. And there will be many more reports along those lines.

So picture this: month after month of headlines juxtaposing soaring U.S. trade deficits and Chinese trade surpluses with the suffering of unemployed American workers. If I were the Chinese government, I’d be really worried about that prospect.

Unfortunately, the Chinese don’t seem to get it: rather than face up to the need to change their currency policy, they’ve taken to lecturing the United States, telling us to raise interest rates and curb fiscal deficits — that is, to make our unemployment problem even worse.

And I’m not sure the Obama administration gets it, either. The administration’s statements on Chinese currency policy seem pro forma, lacking any sense of urgency.

That needs to change. I don’t begrudge Mr. Obama the banquets and the photo ops; they’re part of his job. But behind the scenes he better be warning the Chinese that they’re playing a dangerous game.

FP morning post 11/16

Obama visits China

Top Story: U.S. President Barack Obama landed in Shanghai on Sunday night for the start of a historic three-day visit to China, part of an eight-day tour of Asia. It is the president's first trip to China. Obama and Chinese President Hu Jintao plan to discuss the global recession, including trade and currency issues, as well as environmental policies related to the upcoming Copenhagen summit on climate change. Obama also plans to press China to agree to sanctions or other measures to punish Iran if it does not capitulate to an agreement to export its uranium for processing abroad. Obama met with youth groups this morning and heads to Beijing later today.

Copenhagen in trouble: Obama and leaders at the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit said separately that they would not agree to binding targets at the U.N. climate change summit in Copenhagen, which starts next month.


Americas

  • The El Salvadorean government said at least 192 people died in mudslides and floods last week.
  • Colombia released four Venezuelan national guard troops arrested on its territory.
  • A nearly empty jail in Illinois might accept detainees from the U.S. military facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Asia

  • NATO forces in Afghanistan are starting an FBI-type unit to rout corruption.
  • In a meeting with the Burmese prime minister, Obama called for the release of pro-democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi.
  • At least five were injured in a Sunday rally in Thailand against ousted leader Thaksin Shinawatra after Cambodia named him as an economic adviser.

Middle East

  • Palestinian officials said they might appeal for the United Nations Security Council to unilaterally declare Palestinian statehood.
  • Iranian news sites reported that a deputy defense minister who has been missing for three years is in Israeli custody.
  • Russian President Dmitri Medvedev signaled that Russia is considering sanctioning Iran if it does not quickly accept a deal on its uranium enrichment facilities.

Africa

  • Fighting bewteen Houthi rebels, the Yemenese government, and Saudi Arabia continues in northern Yemen.
  • A Niger Delta rebel group described negotiations with Nigerian President Umaru Yar'Adu as productive. The group is currently in a cease fire with the government.
  • Morocco detained and deported a prominent rights activist for the Western Sahara, a semi-autonomous region under its control.

Europe

  • The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization started a summit on hunger in Rome today.
  • Kosovo held peaceful city council and mayoral elections, the first since independence from Serbia.
  • Italian police captured a fugitive leader of the Cosa Nostra crime syndicate.
http://link.email.foreignpolicy.com/r/KEEIY29/J9N5/W0FR/RGXD/7OBK/7V/h

McClatchy Washington report 11/16

  • President Barack Obama on Monday prodded the Chinese government to end its censorship practices, using a question at a town-hall style meeting to advocate unfettered access to the Internet, twitter and general news and information.

  • Supporters of the U.S. embargo against Cuba have contributed nearly $11 million to members of Congress since 2004 in a largely successful effort to block efforts to weaken sanctions against the island, a new report shows.

  • Texas Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison says she will remain in the Senate while she runs against Gov. Rick Perry in the 2010 governor's race and will not resign her seat until after the March 2 Republican primary. Hutchison, who had been expected to leave the Senate before year's end, is retooling her timetable to stay in Washington to oppose President Barack Obama's health care plan and environmental legislation.

  • After demanding for months that deposed Honduran President Manuel Zelaya be restored to power, senior State Department officials now say they'll accept the outcome of Nov. 29 elections in the Central American country even if Zelaya doesn't reclaim his post. Why the turnaround? Thank, or blame, South Carolina Republican Jim DeMint.

  • Administration officials acknowledge that the Jan. 22 deadline President Obama set for Guantanamo's closure probably won't be met. But the decision announced Friday to send five accused 9/11 plotters to New York for trial was another step toward the all-but-certain shuttering of Guantanamo. Meanwhile, Rear Adm. Tom Copeman, the current prison commander, is tasked to figure out: what can stay, what can go, and what can be destroyed.

  • Work on the F-35 joint strike fighter program is far behind schedule and over budget despite the completion Saturday of a milestone test flight. Reports prepared by the Defense Contract Management Agency for Defense Department officials show that Lockheed and other contractors are months late on deliveries of test airplanes and components for future production aircraft.

  • It's a bit like tangling with the National Rifle Association. The AARP has 40 million members, including nearly 940,000 in Washington state, it's a potent lobbying force in Washington, D.C., highly visible nationwide and its members vote more often than just about anyone else.

  • Alaska House Democrats confirmed Neal Foster on Sunday as the replacement for his father, Rep. Richard Foster, who died in October. Like several rural lawmakers the elder Foster was a registered Democrat but regularly voted with Republicans in the House majority. The younger Foster says he's joining the smaller Democratic caucus instead.

  • Millions of Americans are now engaged in a familiar ritual: signing up for next year's health insurance coverage. But roughly half of those millions, according to a recent survey, are worried. They think the health care reform plan may force them to make major changes in their health plans quickly — perhaps within weeks — if it passes. However, that might not be the case since many of the major components of health reform won't take effect until 2013.

  • Something as sweeping as health care reform, we're being told, should have bipartisan support. Well, no kidding. Of course health care reform should have bipartisan support — just as so many of our Republican congressmen are insisting. As they work feverishly to keep any trace of bipartisanship from seeping into the vote counts.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Truthout 11/15

Gates Invokes New Authority to Block Release of Detainee Abuse Photos
Jason Leopold, Truthout: "Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has blocked the release of photographs depicting US soldiers abusing detainees in Iraq and Afghanistan, invoking new powers just granted to him by Congress that allows him to circumvent the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and keep the images under wraps on national security grounds."
Read the Article

Army Sends Infant to Protective Services, Mom to Afghanistan
Dahr Jamail, Inter Press Service: "US Army Specialist Alexis Hutchinson, a single mother, is being threatened with a military court-martial if she does not agree to deploy to Afghanistan, despite having been told she would be granted extra time to find someone to care for her 11-month-old son while she is overseas."
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Mary Susan Littlepage | Girldrive: Talking to 200-Plus Women About the F Word
Mary Susan Littlepage, Truthout: "Chicago-based author Nona Willis Aronowitz says that her mom, Ellen Willis, 'raised me feminist,' and 'I grew up thinking that I could do anything.' It wasn't, though, until after her mom - who was a feminist, journalist with The Village Voice and cultural critic in New York - died on November 9, 2006, that Nona was inspired to go road-tripping with friend Emma Bee Bernstein across the country. While road-tripping they set out to interview women about feminism, their goals and worries and then turn their experiences into a book."
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Gloria Feldt | The Democrats’ Dilemma: Their Own Trojan Horse Kicks Free
Gloria Feldt, The Women's Media Center: "House Democrats broke into a paroxysm of self-congratulation for passing a health reform bill. By embracing the Stupak-Pitts amendment, however, they entered the women’s hall of shame. They had promised no more limitations based on preexisting conditions. But House leadership allowed a codicil: Except if you are a woman."
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British Authorities Probing New Claims Soldiers Tortured, Raped Iraqi Prisoners
Jason Leopold, Truthout: "Britain's Ministry of Defense has launched an investigation into new claims that soldiers sexually abused Iraqi detainees and subjected them to mock executions, hooding, and used dogs to incite fear-interrogation methods that were also used by US soldiers and personally approved by former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld."
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Herve Kempf | Meat, Culture and Climate
Herve Kempf, writing for Le Monde, in both a review of Fabrice Nicolino's "Bidoche" and a consideration of the cultural basis for diet, ponders the consumption of meat.
Read the Article

Leaders Agree to Delay a Deal on Climate Change
Elene Cooper, The New York Times: "President Obama and other world leaders have decided to put off the difficult task of reaching a climate change agreement at a global climate conference scheduled for next month, agreeing instead to make it the mission of the Copenhagen conference to reach a less specific 'politically binding' agreement that would punt the most difficult issues into the future."
Read the Article

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Truthout 11/14

Ira Chernus | Israel's "Pathology"
Ira Chernus, Truthout: "Nobody seems to know just what Barack Obama said to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu when the two met recently at the White House. In fact, when it comes to Middle East policy, nobody seems to know much of anything about what goes on inside the White House. I've heard more than one Washington insider say that this administration is totally tight-lipped on the subject."
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Dallas Darling | Afghanistan and the "Other" Vietnam War
Dallas Darling, Truthout: "When discussing the Vietnam War or comparing it to America's other conflicts, such as the current one in Afghanistan, the 'other' Vietnam War is rarely mentioned. This is very unfortunate, because it might be just the correct path to pursue in seeking a peaceful solution."
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Frank Joseph Smecker | Native Americans in the Wake of Health Care Reform
Frank Joseph Smecker, Truthout: "While the health care reform debate continues throughout the country, America's indigenous peoples suffer from some of the worse conditions imaginable. Comprising only 1.6 percent of the general population, American Indians and Native Alaskans have not, do not, and more than likely will not receive adequate, if any, health care by the time the Democrats and Republicans are finished."
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Robert Reich | An Open Letter to Harry Reid on Controlling Health Care Costs
Robert Reich, Robert Reich's Blog: "I know you're in a tough spot. It would be bad enough if you only had to get Ben Nelson, Evan Bayh, Mary Landrieu, and Blanche Lincoln on board, but anyone who has to kiss Joe Lieberman's derriere deserves a congressional medal of honor. But Harry, you really need to take on future health-care costs."
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Obama China Trip: Human Rights Activists Face Detention, Warnings
Peter Ford, The Christian Science Monitor: "While President Obama meets Chinese leaders and converses with handpicked groups of youths on his visit to China next week, another group of citizens expect to be staring at the walls of their apartments."
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Antonia Juhasz | Did Big Oil Win the War in Iraq?
Antonia Juhasz, AlterNet: "Last week, ExxonMobil became the first U.S. oil company in 35 years to sign an oil-production contract with the government of Iraq. As I write, several other contracts with the world‚'s largest oil companies are being finalized, and more are expected when a new negotiating round kicks off in Baghdad on Dec. 11."
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Huge Rise in Birth Defects in Falluja
Martin Chulov, The Guardian UK: "Doctors in Iraq's war-ravaged enclave of Falluja are dealing with up to 15 times as many chronic deformities in infants and a spike in early life cancers that may be linked to toxic materials left over from the fighting."
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What does the city of South Bend own?

Stop Stupak!

Women's rights are on the line, and we need your help.

I believe you and I have something in common: Last year, we both worked to elect progressive women candidates dedicated to making change. And now, their work in Washington is under attack. When the House passed the health care reform bill, the legislation included the Stupak/Pitts Amendment, which would deny millions of women access to safe, affordable reproductive health care. It would prohibit millions of women from getting coverage for abortion in their health insurance, even if they pay for it themselves!

This amendment goes further than any previous federal law to restrict access to abortion -- and flies in the face of an important principle of health care reform: that no one would lose benefits they already have. EMILY's List helped elect pro-choice Democratic women who are working to ensure this amendment does not pass. But our women in Congress need our support to make that happen. Every single one of us needs to speak out in opposition to this amendment -- and, with deals being cut left and right in the Senate right now, we must act immediately.

Add your name to the petition at STOPSTUPAK.com today and tell Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid that the Senate bill must not include new restrictions on a woman's ability to get coverage for abortion in her insurance plan.

The health care bill would make significant progress for women -- ending gender inequalities in health care costs, halting discriminatory practices such as treating domestic violence as a "pre-existing condition," and making coverage more affordable for American families. That's why it's so crucial this bill not include a provision that would set women back. Every EMILY's List woman in the House voted against the Stupak/Pitts Amendment. And we know our candidates in the Senate will also fight tooth and nail to prevent this new restriction on women's rights. They are the firewall against any new restrictions on a woman's right to choose, but they need our voices to join with theirs if we are going to win this battle.

Sign the petition today and send a message loud and clear to Congress: this amendment must be removed before this legislation is enacted into law.

Sign the petition at STOPSTUPAK.com right now to take action against this dangerous restriction on women's reproductive rights. There's no point in passing a health care reform bill that makes women less healthy, less safe and less able to exercise their constitutional rights -- and that's why we must join together today to prevent that from happening.

Warmest regards,
Ellen R. Malcolm
President
Emily's List

For how long?


Palin vs. Couric - You make the call!


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Friday, November 13, 2009

Truthout 11/13

Scott Galindez | The Ghost of Jesse Helms Haunts Health Care Debate
Scott Galindez, Truthout: "Here we go again. Whenever conservative stalwart Jesse Helms didn't like something in a bill, he would pull out an abortion amendment to slow things down. Helms is dead and gone but the tactic is alive and well and may just kill health care reform. On the Senate side, the hurdle is the public option. For 30 years, Jesse Helms, the former senator from North Carolina, was the biggest thorn in the Democrats' side. Now that title goes to the senator that many call 'Traitor Joe' Lieberman."
Read the Article

Jason Leopold | ACORN Sues Federal Government Over Congress' "Unconstitutional" Move to Defund Group
Jason Leopold, Truthout: "Last September, just as Congress was getting ready to pass a Republican-sponsored initiative to withhold federal funds from the community advocacy group ACORN, Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-New York), warned that the measure was wholly unconstitutional. The 'Defund ACORN Act,' sponsored by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-California), 'is in blatant violation of the Constitution's prohibition against Bills of Attainder,' said Nadler, the chairman of the Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties. A bill of attainder is a legislative act that singles out an individual or group for punishment without a trial or judicial hearing."
Read the Article

Mary Susan Littlepage | Advocates for the Mentally Ill Criticize Illinois Nursing Homes, Housing Options
Mary Susan Littlepage, Truthout: "Advocates for the mentally ill say that mixing felons, mentally ill people, the elderly and disabled people at nursing homes in Illinois doesn't help serve any of those groups. Recent Chicago Tribune stories also have reported that some residents have been attacked, raped and murdered in nursing homes."
Read the Article

William Fisher | Another Problem for Obama: Prison Corruption in Afghanistan
William Fisher, Truthout: "Amid the near-constant speculation over President Barack Obama's strategy for Afghanistan, there appears to be virtually universal consensus that rooting out corruption has to be a top priority if the US and its NATO allies are to have a 'credible partner' in the Afghan government. But corruption takes many forms and is found at many levels. To the lawyers of Human Rights First (HRF), understanding the relationship between corruption, how prisoners are treated and the rule of law is 'critical to the success of any strategy' the Obama administration may decide to pursue."
Read the Article

Sari Gelzer | NYT: Blackwater Bribed Iraqi Government Officials
Sari Gelzer, Truthout: "In September 2007, Blackwater Worldwide security guards fatally shot 17 Iraqi civilians in Baghdad's Nisour Square. The New York Times is reporting that following the massacre Blackwater Worldwide executives bribed Iraqi officials with secret payments of about $1 million in an attempt to maintain the company's endangered ability to operate in the country. The deadly shooting marked a turning point in the Iraqi government's growing concern over the reckless actions of the security firm and led to their refusal to allow them to continue operating in the country."
Read the Article

Eugene Robinson | Bring Them Home, Mr. President
Eugene Robinson: "The most dreadful burden of the presidency -- the power to send men and women to die for their country -- seems to weigh heavily on Barack Obama these days. He went to Dover Air Force Base to salute the coffins of fallen troops. He gave a moving speech at the memorial service for victims of last week's killings at Fort Hood. On Veterans Day, after the traditional wreath-laying at Arlington National Cemetery, he took an unscheduled walk among the rows of marble headstones in Section 60, where the dead from our two ongoing wars are buried. As he decides whether to escalate the war in Afghanistan, Obama should keep these images in mind."
Read the Article

Alfred W. McCoy | Welcome Home, War! How America's Wars Are Systematically Destroying Our Liberties
Alfred W. McCoy, Tom Dispatch.com: "In his approach to National Security Agency surveillance, as well as CIA renditions, drone assassinations, and military detention, President Obama has to a surprising extent embraced the expanded executive powers championed by his conservative predecessor, George W. Bush. This bipartisan affirmation of the imperial executive could 'reverberate for generations,' warns Jack Balkin, a specialist on First Amendment freedoms at Yale Law School. And consider these but some of the early fruits from the hybrid seeds that the Global War on Terror has planted on American soil."
Read the Article

Jason Leopold | Court Rules CIA Did Not Violate Valerie Plame's First Amendment Rights
Jason Leopold, Truthout: "By now, most people can admit to the fact that former covert CIA operative Valerie Plame Wilson had a decades-long career with the spy agency before high-level officials in the Bush administration leaked her undercover status to reporters six years ago. That is, most people except for Valerie Plame Wilson. On Thursday, the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, in New York, ruled that the CIA did not violate Wilson's First Amendment rights when it refused to allow the former covert CIA operative to reveal that she worked for the agency prior to 2002 in her memoir, 'Fair Game: My Life as a Spy, My Betrayal by the White House.'"
Read the Article

Mark Weisbrot | US Must Solve Its Own Economic Problems
Mark Weisbrot, The Center for Economic and Policy Research: "President Obama will go to Asia next week and has promised to say something about the exchange rate between the Chinese yuan and the U.S. dollar. It would be good if some enterprising journalist asked him why the United States is worried about the Chinese dumping their dollars, and why U.S. Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner recently said that the United States is committed to a 'strong dollar.' As a matter of accounting, a 'strong dollar' is the same as an 'undervalued yuan.' So it makes no sense to be worried about the great 'power' that the Chinese are holding over us -- that they can dump a few hundred billion dollars of their reserve holdings and cause the dollar to fall."
Read the Article

Le Monde | A Fiasco
Le Monde's editorialist: "It's time to stop the verbal pretense. In the Near East, there is no negotiation 'process' underway. Furthermore, there is also no prospect for peace. The situation is nonetheless not in a state of status quo: it is regressing. Dangerously. The United States bears the primary responsibility."
Read the Article

Last week, Truthout launched our Latest Stories feature, devoted to providing up-to-the-minute news and developing stories surrounding the health care debate, Afghanistan and other hot-button political issues. You can find it along the top right column of our homepage at www.truthout.org. Please be sure to visit Latest Stories - and hit the refresh button regularly!

FP morning post 11/13

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed to be tried in New York

Top story: Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the self-described mastermind of the 9/11 terror attacks and four of his co-defendants will be tried in a federal court in New York, according to a justice department official. Meanwhile, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, accused of orchestrating the 2000 USS Cole bombing, will be tried by military commission.

The decision of how to try Mohammed, who was captured in 2003, been especially tricky since his lawyers plan to argue that he was illegally tortured by the CIA during his imprisonment. Documents show that he was waterboarded 183 times in March 2003.

Speaking about the decision in Tokyo, President Barack Obama said, "I am absolutely convinced that Khalid Sheik Mohammed will be subject to the most exacting demands of justice. The American people insist on it, and my administration will insist on it."

Around 40 Guantanamo inmates are expected to be tried in either civilian or military courts. 90 have been cleared for release. Another 75 may continue to be held under the laws of war because of the security threat they pose.

Mending fences: Obama met with Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, who has been outspoken about his desire to make Japanese foreign policy more independent of Washington's influence. Obama agreed to reopen talks on the controversial relocation of a U.S. Marine base in Okinawa. Earlier this week, Hatoyama pledged $5 billion in new aid for Afghanistan.

The two leaders also discussed non-proliferation and climate change.


Asia

Middle East

  • Diplomats say the newly revealed Iranian nuclear plant at Qom is too small for a civilian nuclear program but large enough for a military one.
  • Iran's Revolutionary Court will put the brother-in-law of opposition leader Mir Hossen Moussavi on trial.
  • Palestinian election officials are urging the government to postpone the elections scheduled for January.

Europe

  • Germany dropped an investigation into a suspect in the 2006 murder of ex-KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko.
  • In a rare bit of good news for British Labour, the party won a special election in Glasgow.
  • The Netherlands will drop its objection to Serbia's EU membership bid if the country is found to be cooperating with the international war crimes tribunal.

Americas

  • Ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya accused the United States of weakening its position on the country's political impasse.
  • Brazil's government says deforestation rates have fallen to record lows.
  • Fort Hood shooter Nidal Malik Hussein was reportedly alert and lucid during his first meeting with his lawyer.

Africa

Free to lose

Published: November 12, 2009

Consider, for a moment, a tale of two countries. Both have suffered a severe recession and lost jobs as a result — but not on the same scale. In Country A, employment has fallen more than 5 percent, and the unemployment rate has more than doubled. In Country B, employment has fallen only half a percent, and unemployment is only slightly higher than it was before the crisis.

Don’t you think Country A might have something to learn from Country B?

This story isn’t hypothetical. Country A is the United States, where stocks are up, G.D.P. is rising, but the terrible employment situation just keeps getting worse. Country B is Germany, which took a hit to its G.D.P. when world trade collapsed, but has been remarkably successful at avoiding mass job losses. Germany’s jobs miracle hasn’t received much attention in this country — but it’s real, it’s striking, and it raises serious questions about whether the U.S. government is doing the right things to fight unemployment.

Here in America, the philosophy behind jobs policy can be summarized as “if you grow it, they will come.” That is, we don’t really have a jobs policy: we have a G.D.P. policy. The theory is that by stimulating overall spending we can make G.D.P. grow faster, and this will induce companies to stop firing and resume hiring.

The alternative would be policies that address the job issue more directly. We could, for example, have New-Deal-style employment programs. Perhaps such a thing is politically impossible now — Glenn Beck would describe anything like the Works Progress Administration as a plan to recruit pro-Obama brownshirts — but we should note, for the record, that at their peak, the W.P.A. and the Civilian Conservation Corps employed millions of Americans, at relatively low cost to the budget.

Alternatively, or in addition, we could have policies that support private-sector employment. Such policies could range from labor rules that discourage firing to financial incentives for companies that either add workers or reduce hours to avoid layoffs.

And that’s what the Germans have done. Germany came into the Great Recession with strong employment protection legislation. This has been supplemented with a “short-time work scheme,” which provides subsidies to employers who reduce workers’ hours rather than laying them off. These measures didn’t prevent a nasty recession, but Germany got through the recession with remarkably few job losses.

Should America be trying anything along these lines? In a recent interview, Lawrence Summers, the Obama administration’s highest-ranking economist, was dismissive: “It may be desirable to have a given amount of work shared among more people. But that’s not as desirable as expanding the total amount of work.” True. But we are not, in fact, expanding the total amount of work — and Congress doesn’t seem willing to spend enough on stimulus to change that unfortunate fact. So shouldn’t we be considering other measures, if only as a stopgap?

Now, the usual objection to European-style employment policies is that they’re bad for long-run growth — that protecting jobs and encouraging work-sharing makes companies in expanding sectors less likely to hire and reduces the incentives for workers to move to more productive occupations. And in normal times there’s something to be said for American-style “free to lose” labor markets, in which employers can fire workers at will but also face few barriers to new hiring.

But these aren’t normal times. Right now, workers who lose their jobs aren’t moving to the jobs of the future; they’re entering the ranks of the unemployed and staying there. Long-term unemployment is already at its highest levels since the 1930s, and it’s still on the rise.

And long-term unemployment inflicts long-term damage. Workers who have been out of a job for too long often find it hard to get back into the labor market even when conditions improve. And there are hidden costs, too — not least for children, who suffer physically and emotionally when their parents spend months or years unemployed.

So it’s time to try something different.

Just to be clear, I believe that a large enough conventional stimulus would do the trick. But since that doesn’t seem to be in the cards, we need to talk about cheaper alternatives that address the job problem directly. Should we introduce an employment tax credit, like the one proposed by the Economic Policy Institute? Should we introduce the German-style job-sharing subsidy proposed by the Center for Economic Policy Research? Both are worthy of consideration.

The point is that we need to start doing something more than, and different from, what we’re already doing. And the experience of other countries suggests that it’s time for a policy that explicitly and directly targets job creation.

McClatchy Washington report 11/13

  • The Obama administration's internal debate over Afghan policy has escalated into a battle of media leaks that's straining relations between officials who're seeking a major troop increase and those who want a more limited approach and a greater focus on domestic priorities.

  • Making his first stop in Alaska, President Obama offered thanks and tribute to hundreds of airmen and soldiers at Elmendorf Air Force Base. With today's refueling stopover in Alaska, Obama says he has now visited all 50 states. After the short layover, he left Anchorage for his first trip to Asia as president.

  • The federal government has moved to seize a Carmichael, Calif., mosque and seven other properties from Texas to New York owned by a nonprofit Muslim organization that federal prosecutors allege is a front for the Iranian government. The forfeiture action marks the latest step in a long-standing investigation by the U.S. attorney's office in Manhattan into the New York-based Alavi Foundation, which owns all the properties targeted in Thursday's complaint. Federal prosecutors allege that the Alavi Foundation for years has illegally funneled money to Iran from its financial holdings in the United States.

  • Self-proclaimed Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four other Guantanamo Bay detainees will be sent to New York to face trial in a civilian federal court, an Obama administration official said Friday.

  • Within 24 hours of a killing spree at Fort Hood, Texas, President Barack Obama, ordered a high-level review of how U.S. officials handled warning signs that might have pointed to last week's attack. The suspect, Army Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, has now been charged with murder.

  • Leading Cuban dissident Martha Beatriz Roque is extremely ill due to complications from her diabetes and a liquids-only fast launched to protest the government, another dissident reported Thursday. An economist, Roque is one of the most active and best-known dissidents in Cuba. She served three other years in prison, 1997-2000, for her role in the Dissidence Working Group and a keystone opposition document titled "The Country Belongs To All."

  • Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., was winning praise from consumer this week for the legislation he unveiled to create an independent Consumer Financial Protection Agency. Contrast that to last year, when Dodd came under fire for refinancing two home mortgages on favorable terms through his ties to a now-defunct lender.

  • California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Thursday defended $11.1 billion in new borrowing as a critical investment in the state's water future while at the same time insisting California must cut its way toward a balanced budget in the short term.

  • Senate Banking Committee Chairman Christopher Dodd's sweeping new financial overhaul legislation, which proposes to strip the Federal Reserve of its authority to regulate banks, threatens the central bank's time-honored independence and its premier international standing, experts warn.

  • Federal investigators are seeking information about possible payoffs to North Carolina officials, as well as four major coastal developments assembled by businessmen with ties to former Gov. Mike Easley.

  • Watching Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez call on his armed forces to "prepare for war" with Colombia, I couldn't help wondering whether he will end up like the late star of the TV series The Crocodile Hunter — a victim of his own addiction to headlines.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Truthout 11/12

Maya Schenwar | "Going Rouge" Takes On the Palin Nightmare
Maya Schenwar interviews Betsy Reed and Richard Kim, editors of the soon-to-be-released anthology "Going Rouge: Sarah Palin - An American Nightmare." They discuss their effort to debunk the "Sarah Palin branding machine," and what Palin as a figurehead might mean for the future of the Republican Party - and the country.
Read the Article

William Rivers Pitt | The New Wall
William Rivers Pitt, Truthout: "I was eighteen, and the world had changed beneath my feet. The cold war was all but over, fears of nuclear annihilation had receded, and from that point on the discussion turned from brinkmanship and superpower stare-downs to peace dividends and military draw-downs. Everything was going to change, of course, because the forty-year global paradigm represented by that wall was literally crumbling before our eyes. That was then, and this is now, and on balance, matters are exactly as polarized, bloody and costly now as they were then."
Read the Article

Yana Kunichoff | Abortion Amendment May Sink Health Care Bill
Yana Kunichoff, Truthout: "An amendment prohibiting both private and public health insurance plans which accept government subsidies from offering abortions as part of basic coverage risks sinking the fragile health bill passed Saturday, as President Obama and numerous Democrats say they will not support its passage with the Stupak-Pitts amendment included."
Read the Article

Dick Meister | Labor Hampered by Votes of Silence
Dick Meister, Truthout: "Nothing is more basic to our democratic society than the principle of majority rule. But what if the eligible voters who fail to cast ballots were automatically recorded as voting 'no'? Ridiculous as it sounds, that's exactly what the country's airline and railroad workers face when they vote on whether they want union representation."
Read the Article

Norman Solomon | The War Stampede
Norman Solomon, Truthout: "Disputes are raging within the Obama administration over how to continue the US war effort in Afghanistan. A new leak tells us that Washington's ambassador in Kabul, former four-star Gen. Karl Eikenberry, has cautioned against adding more troops while President Hamid Karzai keeps disappointing American policymakers. This is the extent of the current debate within the warfare state."
Read the Article

Ellen Goodman | The False Choice
Ellen Goodman: "It was one of those small shocks that come unexpectedly in the wake of a death. Just days after the country had buried Ted Kennedy, Cardinal Sean O'Malley took to his blog to defend himself from critics attacking him for presiding over the funeral of a pro-choice senator. The cardinal called for civility and then went on to explain how he'd used the occasion to lobby one of the mourners: the president of the United States."
Read the Article

Obama Wants Revised Afghanistan Options
Victoria Harper, Truthout: "Following a request by Gen. Stanley McChrystal for tens of thousands of new troops to fight in Afghanistan, US Ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry has advised President Obama against such troop increases due to the instability and corruption of the Afghan government. Likewise, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that she is 'concerned' about Afghan government corruption. President Obama now wants revised options for US commitments in Afghanistan."
Read the Article

Raul Benoit | Fear and Loathing in the Wake of Fort Hood
Raul Benoit, Diario La Prensa (Spanish Translation: Ryan Croken): "It should not come as a surprise to us that a US Army psychiatrist, stationed at a military base where soldiers come and go to fight in irrational and pointless wars, [allegedly] killed 13 people and left 30 others wounded, as happened Thursday, November 5, at Fort Hood, Texas. These wars themselves are insane, and the US military practice of plucking people from Hispanic, African-American, other minority and poor white communities to send them off to fight for 'freedom,' offering them the promise of a 'brighter future,' is abusive, offensive and harmful to the health of this nation and this world."
Read the Article

John B. Cobb, Jr. | Religion and Economics
John B. Cobb, Jr., religion-online.org: "I understand 'religion' in its root meaning of binding up. A religion is a system of beliefs and practices that commands personal and social devotion. The word is most often used for the great universal systems that arose two and a half millennia ago to supersede the local religions of the earlier epoch ... On the whole these traditions have lost the ability to organize the whole of individual and social life in the modern period. New religious systems have arisen."
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Pierre Puchot | Why Holocaust Denial Is on the Rise in the Arab World
Mediapart's Pierre Puchot interviews author and political scientist Gilbert Achcar (French Translation: Leslie Thatcher): "What pushes Arabs to deny the existence of the Holocaust? How and why does Israel continue to instrumentalize the memory of the destruction of European Jewry? What was the attitude of Arab intellectuals during the Second World War? Why does Ahmadinejad incessantly brandish the denial weapon while Hamas and Hezbollah turn away from it?" An exploration of two competing narratives of history.
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Deb Price | A Warming Trend Despite Maine's Icy Outcome
Deb Price: "Maine will go down in the history books as the gay heartbreaker of Election Day 2009: Voters vetoed gay marriage even though it had won the approval of their state legislature and governor. But elsewhere there were positive reminders of just how quickly the gay movement is progressing, even at the ballot box. This election also underscores how critical it is for those of us who are gay or gay-friendly to be out in all aspects of our lives -- not just with some relatives or a few colleagues."
Read the Article

The government's role

Fatal attraction?

FP morning post 11/12

Top story: U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry has expressed reservations about deploying additional troops to the country. In cables sent to the White House last week, Eikenberry warned that sending new troops would be unwise because of the corruption and weakness of Hamid Karzai's government.

Eikenberry, a retired general, oversaw the Afghan military mission from 2006 to 2007 and is one of the only senior military figures to express opposition to a troop increase. His advice puts him at odds with Gen. Stanley McChrystal, his successor as military commander in Afghanistan, who believes that an additional 40,000 troops are required to stabilize the country.

President Obama reportedly asked Eikenberry about his reservations during a meeting with his national security advisors yesterday. Obama is expected to announce a decision on Afghan troop levels after he returns from Asia next week.

Media: CNN host Lou Dobbs, known in recent years for his staunch anti-immigration views, has resigned from the network.


Asia

Middle East

  • Hezbollah's Hassan Nasrallah lashed out at President Obama, accusing him of bias toward Israel.
  • Israel has charged an American-born West Bank settler with murdering Palestinians and attackers left-wingers and gays.
  • Yemen urged Iran and Saudi Arabia to stay out of its fight with Houthi rebels.

Europe

  • The British government is planning to hand over control of Afghanistan's Helmand province to Afghan authorities over the next eight months.
  • Eleven suspected terrorists have gone on trial in Spain for an alleged plot to attack the Barcelona subway system.
  • Russian President Dmitry Medvedev called on Russia to modernize its economy in his annual address to parliament.

Americas

Africa

McClatchy Washington report 11/12

  • As job losses continue to slow the nation's economic recovery, labor experts and economists are urging Congress and the Obama administration to boost funding for a little-known program that 17 states are using to avert layoffs and keep workers in their jobs.

  • First came the Brezhnev Market. Then the Bush Market. Now Afghans are beginning to call their notorious bazaar full of chow and supplies bought or stolen from the vast U.S. military bases by the name of the current American president, a modest counterweight to his Nobel Peace Prize.

  • Complicated by a federal investigation into possible terrorist ties and the prospect of mental issues, the prosecution of Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan will likely be a lengthy and intricate process. A former Army staff judge advocate and military law expert at Texas Tech University suggests that it could take about two years to go to the military equivalent of a trial. And the outcome of the case would likely end up mired in complex appeals.

  • A California bank that received $298.7 million in federal bank bailout money last year has been seized and closed by state regulators, leaving U.S. taxpayers with a significant loss — the bailout program's first — and raising questions about why the lender received government help at all.

  • At a town hall meeting in Chugiak, Alaska, on Wednesday, U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski propped up a foot-high stack of paper next to her at the podium — the 1,900-page health care bill passed by the House last week. Murkowski, a Republican and an outspoken opponent of Democrat-led health care reform bills, wants much more limited legislation.

  • President Barack Obama's decision to close the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, military prison by Jan. 22 was followed by a series of mistakes and missteps by his administration that will delay the prison's closure for months, according to a report from a policy organization with close ties to the White House.

  • A Salvadoran man is being allowed to return to the United States to determine whether his deportation by federal authorities was valid. In a rare move, signaling a possible error on their part, U.S. immigration authorities have agreed to let Jose C. Rodriguez-Portillo return to Miami because of his claims that he was, in fact, lawfully in the country.

  • California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger will travel to Iraq early next week to visit U.S. troops. Schwarzenegger previously visited troops on United Service Organizations-sponsored tours in 2002 to Bosnia to preview his movie, "Collateral Damage," as well as in 2003 to Iraq to show "Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines."

  • South Carolina's first lady Jenny Sanford has endorsed Lexington state Rep. Nikki Haley in her five-way race for the 2010 Republican governor's nomination. Haley has been a legislative ally of Gov. Mark Sanford. But Haley has spent the weeks since Sanford's five-day June disappearance and later admission of an extramarital affair keeping her distance from the governor — including removing his photo from her campaign Web site.

  • The U.S. State Department has told Cuba it deplores last week's "assault" on blogger Yoani Sanchez, one of the toughest of several expressions of support for the Havana writer.

  • The roof of a North Sacramento plastics factory will host the biggest West Coast installation of a new type of solar panel. The racks of solar cells are roughly the size and shape of long fluorescent light tubes, which allows the panels to harvest sunlight from any angle, including what's reflected from the white rooftops common on large commercial buildings.

  • Outbursts from message boards and bloggers can be traced to the actions of Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, the Army psychiatrist and American Muslim accused of shooting 13 people dead and wounding 29 others in a rampage last week at Fort Hood, Texas. At this writing, we know next to nothing of why he did it.

    One wonders what the speak-first, think-later crowd would have to say about Cpl. Kareem Rashad Sultan Khan, U.S. Army, Muslim, American, killed by a roadside bomb in Iraq. Khan is just one of many Muslims killed in the service of his country.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Truthout 11/11

Dahr Jamail | A Morally Bankrupt Military: When Soldiers and Their Families Become Expendable
Dahr Jamail, Truthout: "The military operates through indoctrination. Soldiers are programmed to develop a mindset that resists any acknowledgment of injury and sickness, be it physical or psychological. As a consequence, tens of thousands of soldiers continue to serve, even being deployed to combat zones like Iraq and/or Afghanistan, despite persistent injuries. According to military records, over 43,000 troops classified as 'nondeployable for medical reasons' have been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan nevertheless."
Read the Article

Leslie Thatcher | "Everything You Thought You Knew Is Wrong"
Leslie Thatcher, Truthout: "There's alternative history and there's secret history. Generally, in the former, the invisible hand of the market and other presumed movers of events are revealed not to work exactly as advertised and the 'standard, orthodox, conventional and usually hierarchical ways of telling the story are overturned' as the perspectives of those at the margins of social and political life are given voice. In the latter, the invisible hands are revealed to have nothing whatsoever to do with the supposedly democratic forces of supply and demand, let alone other publicly acknowledged actors and forces. The generally accepted historical narrative is revealed to be not simply skewed, but flat-out wrong."
Read the Article

Rick Cabral | California State University System Plans for 10 Percent Enrollment Reductions
Rick Cabral, Truthout: "California is quickly losing its once-brilliant luster for its commitment to higher education with the announcement that the California State University (CSU) system plans to cut student enrollment by almost 10 percent in the face of a $564 million shortfall next fiscal year. This means 40,000 California students over a three-year period must look elsewhere for their higher education. Meanwhile, applications to CSU by secondary and community college transfer students this fall have risen off the charts."
Read the Article

Mary Susan Littlepage | Cash for Clunkers Program Nets 700,000 More Fuel-Efficient Vehicles
Mary Susan Littlepage, Truthout: "During the Car Allowance Rebate System (CARS program), better known as the Cash for Clunkers program, consumers turned in gas guzzlers and bought nearly 700,000 more fuel-efficient vehicles in less than 30 days, according to newly released government documents. Participating dealers for the 677,081 CARS submitted that were paid or approved for payment as of Friday, October 16, were for a total of $2.8 million."
Read the Article

Mike Elk | Ivy League Liberal Elitism Will Make Sarah Palin President - How Only Union Organizing Can Prevent It
Mike Elk, Truthout: "Conservatives win many votes saying that liberals are elitist. I am here to tell you that the liberal movement is indeed very elitist. Its organization's staffs are composed mainly of Ivy leaguers whose life experiences are dramatically different than the 70 percent of Americans that never graduate from college. Very few of them have any actual experience living with or knowing working-class people. As a graduate of Bucknell, I still feel out of a place and most glaringly underdressed when I get in a room with the Ivy Leaguers running our movement."
Read the Article

Jeff Leys | Admiral Mullen Announces Afghanistan Strategy: Activists Prepare to Nonviolently Resist
Jeff Leys, Truthout: "This past Wednesday, Adm. Mike Mullen (chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff) announced that the Pentagon will seek additional war funds for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars in 2010. While he did not give a firm dollar amount, The New York Times reported that defense budget analysts are kicking around the number of $50 billion. The Times also reported that Jack Murtha, chair of the Defense Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee, indicated on October 30 that he expects the supplemental spending bill for 2010 to be in the range of $40 billion. The final dollar amount won't be known until the White House submits its 'emergency' supplemental spending request to Congress, most likely around February 2. In the immortal words of Coach Vince Lombardi: 'What the hell is going on out there?'"
Read the Article

Tom Engelhardt | Drone Race to a Known Future: Why Military Dreams Fail - and Why It Doesn't Matter
Tom Engelhardt, Tom Dispatch: "For drone freaks (and these days Washington seems full of them), here's the good news: Drones are hot! Not long ago -- 2006 to be exact -- the Air Force could barely get a few armed unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) in the air at once; now, the number is 38; by 2011, it will reputedly be 50, and beyond that, in every sense, the sky's the limit. Better yet, for the latest generation of armed surveillance drones -- the ones with the chill-you-to-your-bones sci-fi names of Predators and Reapers (as in Grim) -- whole new surveillance capabilities will soon be available. Their newest video system, due to be deployed next year, has been dubbed Gorgon Stare after the creature in Greek mythology whose gaze turned its victims to stone."
Read the Article

Jim Hightower | Real Recovery Is Easy to Spell: J-O-B-S
Jim Hightower, Truthout: "The recession is over! The economy is growing! The Dow Jones is above 10,000! Bankers are pocketing profits and fat bonuses! Happy days are here again! Unless, of course, you're just a regular working stiff struggling with falling income and rising unemployment - and sensing that your family's grip on middle-class life is steadily slipping away. Welcome to America's tinkle-down economy."
Read the Article

Donna Bassin and Jan Barry | Listening to Veterans
Donna Bassin and Jan Barry, Truthout: "Wartime is a highly emotional time for everyone caught up in the fighting. These emotions remain high long after the battles. Among the most emotional of times for war veterans is Veterans Day. After the parades and solemn speeches, war's often angry turmoil and hidden injuries still haunt many veterans and their families. Supporting our troops requires more than welcoming them home, but also listening and responding to their concerns. A big concern for many soldiers and their families is how to handle the transition back to civilian life. A big concern for many older veterans and their loved ones is how to handle the emotional distress of flashbacks set off by current events."
Read the Article

Bob Richards | Veterans Day or Rulers Day?
Bob Richards, Truthout: "How is it that Veterans Day gets turned around into US Military Hegemony Day? The airwaves were buried under an avalanche of lip service about veterans, but the moving lips were all about the myth that the warfare decisions this country's rulers make have something to do with anyone's freedom. Just as soldiers and sailors are doing around the world today, I did in my time. I was there as a teenager, ignorant of the forces moving me, believing whatever line I was being fed. I grew up on the hundreds of war/propaganda movies that came out of WWI, WWII and Korea. Today we are deluged with more nationalistic propaganda than ever before in my lifetime. It can't be avoided. The TV spews the images nearly nonstop. Recruiters are in our schools, along with the pop machines."
Read the Article

Bill Moyers Journal | Anna Deavere Smith
Bill Moyers Journal: "PBS Airtime: Friday, November 13, 2009, at 9:00 p.m. EST. While politicians and the media war over 'the public option' and 'bending the cost curve,' acclaimed actress-playwright Anna Deavere Smith gives voice to questions of life and death, sickness and health care. Bill Moyers speaks with Smith, whose one-woman play, 'Let Me Down Easy' - nine years and more than 300 interviews in the making - has been applauded for spotlighting the real-life personal stories of people facing illness and mortality."
Read the Article

One of the best ads I've ever seen

Painfully Honest and Epic Mobile Home Commercial

FP morning post 11/11

Top story: As President Barack Obama meets with his national security team today to consider a new strategy for the war in Afghanistan, reports indicate that they have narrowed the decision down to four options.

According to the New York Times, one strategy would call for about 20,000 new troops to be sent. Another would follow Gen. Stanley McChrystal's recommendation of 40,000. A middle option, said to be favored by Obama's top advisors, would involve roughly 30,000 new troops.

A fourth option has been added in the last few weeks. The Wall Street Journal reports that this "hybrid" strategy would also involve around 30,000 to 35,000 troops but would include as many as 10,000 trainers to focus on boosting the capabilities of the Afghan military.

Obama is expected to reveal the new strategy shortly after he returns from Asia on Nov. 19.

Life in Tehran: The L.A.Times profiles members of Iran's hardline Basij.


Asia

Middle East

Europe

Americas

Africa

McClatchy Washington report 11/11

  • Senate Banking Committee Chairman Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., unveiled a sweeping 1,136-page bill Tuesday that, in enacted, would bring about the most comprehensive overhaul of financial regulation since the Great Depression. What upset bankers most was his call to strip the Federal Reserve and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. of their bank supervisory powers in favor of a new Financial Institutions Regulatory Administration. Dodd said that would stop banks for shopping for the regulator of least supervision. ;

  • Hundreds of residents who were evacuated from the Armed Forces Retirement Home in Gulfport, Miss., after Hurricane Katrina destroyed it are looking at their last Veteran's Day in Washington. For almost all of them, it couldn't come too soon. With 10 months to go before the rebuilt facility reopens on the Mississippi Coast, the veterans talk of little else but getting back to Gulfport.

  • President Barack Obama, on his first presidential visit to Fort Hood, the day before Veterans Day, memorialized 13 soldiers on Tuesday, all of them killed, authorities believe, by a fellow soldier Thursday afternoon.

  • Dorothy Goot and the thousand or so other women who served as pioneering pilots during World War II have been largely lost in history. During World War II, Goot and 1,102 women performed pilot duties stateside, allowing male military pilots to head to the Pacific and European battlegrounds.

  • Sarah Dillon spent part of Tuesday praying at her son's gravesite, asking for a last-minute miracle. Her desire: that the killing of her oldest son in 2002 would somehow be solved before convicted sniper John Allen Muhammad was executed in Virginia. It didn't happen. Authorities have said her son may have been among more than a dozen people whom Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo killed during a 2002 spree in the Washington, D.C., area and as many as nine other states, including Texas.

  • Barack Obama's push to revamp the nation's health care system is getting the cold shoulder from Southerners, according to a new poll by Winthrop University. But the president remains well-liked in the region, with solid majorities saying he is warm and friendly, trustworthy and concerned about people like those polled in South Carolina and 10 other Southern states.

  • Activists on both sides of the abortion issue say that despite his claims that his actions were necessary, Scott Roeder was unjustified in killing Wichita abortion provider George Tiller. Abortion-choice supporters called the act cold-blooded murder, while abortion opponents said it flies in the face of what their movement stands for.

  • Driving through western Kansas, you'll see hundreds of whirling wind turbines. But you won't see lots of people — or high-voltage power lines. And that is the big obstacle to realizing the wind-energy potential of Kansas and the Midwest: You can put up all the towers and turbines you like, but without more transmission lines, the added electricity won't get to the cities that could use it.

  • Alaska lawmakers are moving forward with obtaining cost estimates for a new legislative office building in Anchorage, although a representative with say over state spending is fighting the idea and argues it would be a "monument to legislative vanity."

  • While the federal government pours billions of stimulus dollars into the economy and bails out some of the country's biggest banks, some Miami businesses say they are ready to grow — if only they could get a loan. The Small Business Administration, which encourages commercial lending by providing banks with hefty guarantees, said total loan volume was down 70 percent in Miami-Dade and 64 percent in Broward during fiscal year 2009, which ended in September.

  • For Democratic Rep. Ben Chandler, controversial votes against a health care overhaul backed by the House Democratic leadership and for cap-and-trade energy policies that could lead to penalties for his state's leading industry are like floodlights signaling to critics that the once seemingly unbeatable congressman may have an exposed flank.

  • On Wednesday, Americans come together to honor and thank those who have safeguarded our nation in both peace and in war. Veterans Day is a time to renew our national commitment to those who have "borne the battle," as President Lincoln acknowledged in his second inaugural address. Our character as a nation is revealed by the honors we accord them and measured by the respect with which we care for them.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Truthout 11/10

Melvin A. Goodman Revisiting the Rehabilitation of Defense Secretary Robert Gates
Melvin A. Goodman, Truthout: " Michael Crowley of the New Republic is the latest journalist to give absolution to Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates for his long record of politicizing intelligence and undercutting conciliatory policy initiatives. In the current issue of the magazine, Crowley refers to Gates as 'one of Washington's most revered figures' and credits him with the completion of a 'years-long rehabilitation of his once-controversial image.' This is a good time to review that 'controversial image' and to consider whether and how much Mr. Gates has really changed." Read the Article

William Fisher Military Commissions Create "Second-Class" Justice System, Lawyers Charge
William Fisher, Truthout: "Critics of President Obama's changes to the regulations governing military commissions are characterizing these changes as 'cosmetic improvements,' amid a growing consensus among human rights organizations that these tribunals are designed to produce convictions, while trials in civilian courts are far more likely to produce justice." Read the Article

Michael Winship Don't Believe Everything the Oracle Tells You
Michael Winship, Truthout: "Last Sunday, we visited the ruins of ancient Delphi, two hours or so from here in the Greek capital, an extraordinary site at the base of Mount Parnassus overlooking the Pleistos Valley, almost half a mile below. You could see the acres of olive trees there. The Ionian Sea shimmered on the horizon." Read the Article

David Bacon Land of Day Laborers, Farm Workers and Guest Workers
David Bacon, Truthout: "In Oceanside, Carlsbad, Del Mar and north San Diego County, immigrant day laborers wait by the side of the road, hoping a contractor will stop and offer them work. Alberto Juarez Martinez slings his jacket over his shoulder while he waits. His hands show the effect of a lifetime of manual work, plus arthritis suffered as a child in Zapata, Zacatecas. The hands of Beto, a migrant from Uruachi, Chihuahua, also show the effect of a lifetime of manual work." Read the Article

Dick Meister The Endless Censoring of Labor
Dick Meister, Truthout: "Did you know about the Bush administration's rotten treatment of the air traffic controllers whose work is essential to air safety? That controllers were forced to work long, fatiguing shifts with little time to rest? That many quit because of that? Were you aware of the great potential for serious accidents that posed?" Read the Article

Labor Antiwar Group Refocuses on Afghanistan
Jane Slaughter, Labor Notes: "According to US Labor Against the War, the money spent in Iraq and Afghanistan could have paid for a year's worth of health care for 140 million people - almost every working person in the U.S. The wars have cost each U.S. family $12,750 so far." Read the Article

Marion Brady Education Reform: Wrong Diagnosis, So Wrong Cure
Marion Brady, Truthout: "Sooner or later, a reluctant Congress is going to have to do something about replacing No Child Left Behind. If senators and representatives will listen, they'll learn why Education Secretary Arne Duncan's 'Race to the Top' initiative is a really bad idea, and why thoughtful educators think politicians, business leaders and wealthy philanthropists are bulls in the education china shop." Read the Article

Joe Uehlein What the CBO Isn't Telling Congress: Climate Change Threatens Million of Jobs
Joe Uehlein, Truthout: "While fewer and fewer people are willing to publicly deny the validity of global warming science, those who oppose action to protect the climate have taken up a new strategy: Denying that climate change will have a major impact on the US economy." Read the Article

Key Oil Figures Were Distorted by US Pressure, Says Whistleblower
Terry Macalister, The Guardian UK: "The world is much closer to running out of oil than official estimates admit, according to a whistleblower at the International Energy Agency who claims it has been deliberately underplaying a looming shortage for fear of triggering panic buying." Read the Article

Robin Marty Will the Stupak Amendment Force Women Who've Miscarried to Lose Insurance Coverage?
Robin Marty, RH Reality Check: "This weekend, a group of male pro-life Democrats gambled with women's health, and women lost. By broadly writing in that insurers can chose whether or not to cover abortion services, pro-life amendments don't just affect their intended victims - women seeking a way out of an unwanted or medically harmful pregnancy. They also affect another group of victims - women whose pregnancies have already ended but have not yet miscarried." Read the Article

FP morning post 11/10

Top Story

North and South Korean vessels exchanged fire for several minutes on the countries' disputed sea border, today. The South Korean ship was lightly damaged with no casualties, but reports indicate that the North Korean vessel was on fire as it left the area. Both countries have accused the other side of violating the sea border. According to South Korea's navy, the South Korean vessel fired a warning shot after which the North Korean ship opened fire.

North Korea has accused South Korean ships of entering its waters several times in the last three months, but the two navies haven't exchanged fire since an incident in 2002. South Korean Commodore Lee Ki-sik said his navy will investigate whether the breach was intentional.

The incident comes just after the announcement that U.S. President Barack Obama will send envoy Stephen Bosworth to Pyongyang for direct talks with the North Korean government this year.

Busy week:

Check out the itinerary for Obama's upcoming Asia trip at FP's The Cable.

Asia
Yet another bombing near Peshawar killed 20 people in an outdoor market.
Former Thai prime minister Thakisan Shinawatra arrived in Cambodia to take up a government position, over protests from his own country.
Japan pledged $5 billion in new aid for Afghanistan ahead of Barack Obama's visit.

Middle East
Lebanon's rival political parties have agreed to form a unity government.
There were few signs of progress from last night's meeting between Benjamin Netanyahu and Barack Obama.
The three U.S. hikers arrested in Iran in July will face espionage charges.

Americas
Israeli President Shimon Peres is visiting Brazil ahead of a planned visit by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahamadinejad.
Venezuela and Russia say they are working to increase energy cooperation.
The leader of Honduras' Congress said there is no guarantee they will vote on the reinstatement of Manuel Zelaya before elections on Nov. 29.

Europe
Thousands gathered in Berlin to celebrate the anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Allies of Silvio Berlusconi will present a bill to cut short his trials for corruption.
British Foreign Minister David Miliband ruled out a bid to become the EU's foreign representative.

Americas
The African Union called on Madagascar's rival political faction for form a unity government.
Speaking at his war crimes trial at The Hague, former Liberian President Charles Taylor accused the United States of plotting to overthrow him.
The trial of former Rwandan minister Callixte Nzabonimana began in Tanzania.

McClatchy Washington report 11/10

Top Story
Fear and secrecy cloak Eritrea, Africa's hermit nation
In this lonely corner of the world, the first sign of distress is the luggage. When one of the few international flights that are still operating here touched down one recent afternoon, the returning passengers emerged from baggage claim as if from a big shopping trip. Old metal trolleys squealed under the weight of mundane items: tires, a laptop computer, tubs of detergent and duffel bags crammed so tightly with food that tin cans bulged through the fabric.

Spotlight
You're being followed: Scientists track movement of living things
Almost 24 centuries after the Greek philosopher Aristotle wrote his book, "On the Movement of Animals," modern scientists are still struggling to understand how, why, when and where living creatures move.

Latest Headlines
Roeder admits to killing abortion doctor Tiller
Scott Roeder confessed Monday to killing Wichita abortion doctor George Tiller, saying he had no regrets because "preborn children were in imminent danger." Roeder, 51, said that he didn't consider what he did to be murder and that he had no intention of changing his plea to guilty. "There is a distinction between killing and murdering," he said. "I don't like the accusation of murder whatsoever, because when you protect innocent life, that's not murder."

N.C. Sen. Hagan facing pressure from all sides in health care debate
After an intense three-month campaign for the votes of North Carolina's House members, players in the health care debate are now likely to focus their full attention on Sen. Kay Hagan, a moderate, pro-business Democrat, who is regarded as one of a handful of senators who could play a pivotal role as the Senate takes up the landmark legislation to expand access to health insurance. Hagan has already been the subject of television commercials by the pharmaceutical industry, two mailers by Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina and hundreds of pickets at her Raleigh district office.

Schwarzenegger says California's budget gap might hit $7 billion
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger estimated Monday that California's budget will fall out of balance by $5 billion to $7 billion this fiscal year, on top of a $7.4 billion gap already projected for 2010-11.

South Florida man's battle with health insurer inspires 'Ian's Law'
Ian Pearl, a 37-year-old who lives in Southwest Ranches, Fla., is the inspiration for "Ian's Law," legislation being introduced by two New York state legislators that would require insurance companies to get approval from the state before dropping coverage plans for existing clients.

Some Cuban bloggers becoming more defiant of Castro government
Cuba's blogosphere has taken on a decidedly harsher face in recent months. Some Cubans whose blogs once focused largely on the frustrations of daily life are moving toward sharp-edged commentaries against the Castro government and activities that some fear will eventually lead to a crackdown by the communist government.

'Muslim Mafia' author ordered to remove documents from Web
A federal judge has taken the rare step of ordering self-described anti-terrorism investigator Paul David Gaubatz to remove from his Web site some 12,000 documents that his son allegedly stole from the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

Fla. Senate candidate Rubio takes tough stance on immigration
As an underdog U.S. Senate candidate courting the GOP's conservative wing, Marco Rubio takes a hard-line position against illegal immigration: no amnesty. But as the powerful speaker of the Florida House, presented with a slew of bills aimed at curbing illegal immigration, he didn't put a single proposal up for a vote.

Bank of America highlights consumer-friendly moves in report
Bank of America said Monday it has lent nearly $760 billion in the past year, or almost $17 for every dollar it has received in government loans. In its third-quarter Impact Report, the bank highlighted recent consumer-friendly changes, such as an effort to pull back on overdraft fees and a "clarity commitment" to mortgage and home-equity borrowers, giving them a one-page, plain-language summary of the terms of their loans.

Idaho prosecutor pleads guilty to stalking his ex, quits RNC
After pleading guilty to stalking a former girlfriend, Blake Hall, a leading figure in Idaho and national politics for 25 years, was fired Monday as a deputy prosecuting attorney in eastern Idaho and resigned from the Republican National Committee.

Commentary: Honor killing is an appalling act of cowardice
Let me tell you a few things I believe: I believe that in most cases, I have no right to judge your culture by the standards of mine. I believe what seems exotic to me might be enlightened to you. I believe no culture has a monopoly on morality.

But I also believe you don't run down your daughter because she has a page on Facebook and won't marry the guy you choose. That is not honor. It is, in fact, the opposite — an act of appalling cowardice suggestive not simply of religious extremism, but of a people in fear of the sexuality and independence of women.

On Paying For Immoral Things, Or, Is Stupak On To Something?

There has been a great wailing and gnashing of teeth over the past day or so as those who follow the healthcare debate react to the Stupak/Some Creepy Republican Guy Amendment.

The Amendment, which is apparently intended to respond to conservative Democrats’ concerns that too many women were voting for the Party in recent elections, was attached to the House’s version of healthcare reform legislation that was voted out of the House this weekend.

The goal is to limit women’s access to reproductive medicine services, particularly abortions; this based on the concept that citizens of good conscience shouldn’t have their tax dollars used to fund activities they find morally repugnant.

At first blush, I was on the mild end of the wailing and gnashing spectrum myself...but having taken a day to mull the thing over, I’m starting to think that maybe we should take a look at the thinking behind this...and I’m also starting to think that, properly applied, Stupak’s logic deserves a more important place in our own vision of how a progressive government might work.

It’s Political Judo Day today, Gentle Reader, and by the time we’re done here it’s entirely possible that you’ll see Stupak’s logic in a whole new light.

So let’s go back a moment and reconsider what Stupak wants: his religious beliefs are offended by the concept of abortion, and he is taking steps to ensure that the government is not using his taxpayer dollars to pay for the procedure.

This precedent is fascinating—and what I’m inviting you to do today is to consider, for a moment, what our government might look like if we take his logic and...extend it a bit.

“...In the game of life, the house edge is called Time. In whatever we do, Nature charges us for doing it in the currency of time...”

--Bob Stupak, Yes, You Can Win!


I always try to find common ground with those I oppose, and the most logical place to start would be to consider the fact that Stupak and I are both morally offended by the idea that we use taxpayer dollars to go around killing people.

So where do we differ?

For starters, I find it morally offensive that my taxpayer dollars are used, on a daily basis, to fund the actual killing of actual, living, people by my Government...so, Congressman Stupak, in the name of finding common ground, how about if the same day your Amendment goes into effect we also stop funding any military activities that might reasonably be expected to, as I hear people say, “stop a beating heart”, so as to prevent offending my religious sensibilities?

John Allen Muhammad, the so-called “Washington Sniper”, is scheduled to be executed today. Are you prepared to support legislation, Congressman Stupak, which will prevent his “post-term abortion” and the potential abortions of all those other human lives on Death Rows around this country if those state-sponsored abortions are as much of an affront to my religious beliefs as they should be to yours?

During the more or less four months worth of slow-walking and stalling that we have seen so far in this process 15,000 Americans have died...or, if you prefer, five 9/11s...simply because they have no health insurance—and unless your religion is a lot more bloodthirsty than mine, the abortions of 15,000 people because of the...what’s the word I’m looking for here...let’s see...could it be...sloth...of your colleagues should be an act as reprehensible as the greatest of blasphemies ever recorded in The Bible.

With that in mind, are you prepared to join me in cutting off the use of my taxpayer dollars to fund the salaries, the “public option” health care, and the office operations of those legislators who are behind these killings?

What else do we do that’s aborting lives on a daily basis that I’m sure Congressman Stupak would be glad to allow me, as a result of the offense to my conscience (and, presumably, his), to “negatively fund with extreme prejudice”?

There’s that Drug War, of course, and whatever we're doing in those secret prisons—and public ones—and subsidies for those who clear mountains and poison lands...not to mention the tax dollars I’ve been providing for a company who did electrical work that’s aborting soldiers.

So whaddaya think, Congressman Stupak?

Since you’re so proud of your pro-life credentials, are you ready to stand up with me and defend the principle that all human lives deserve to be protected, and that we have the right to withhold funding for all those activities that are morally repugnant...or are you just another one of those “enablers” who helped kill 15,000 people this past few months?

Enquiring minds want to know.

Monday, November 9, 2009

FP morning brief 11/9

Top story:

Tensions between Venezuela and Colombia increased over the weekend as President Hugo Chavez urged his country to prepare for war. Chavez ordered 15,000 troops to the border last Thursday. "Let's not waste a day on our main aim: to prepare for war and to help the people prepare for war, because it is everyone's responsibility," Chavez said on his weekly TV show. Such preparation is the "best way to avoid war," he said.

Chavez objects to a leasing agreement giving the U.S. military greater access to Colombian military, saying it could set the stage for a U.S. invasion of Venezuela. "Don't make a mistake, Mr. Obama, by ordering an attack against Venezuela by way of Colombia," Chavez said. A series of shooting along the border has also increased tensions in recent weeks.

Colombian President Alvaro Uribe is appealing to the United Nations and Organization of American States after Chavez's "threats of war."

20 years later:

World leaders have gathered in Berlin for the anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Middle East
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrived in Washington for talks with President Obama.
Saudi Arabia says it has successfully routed Yemeni rebels from its territory.
Iraq's Parliament passed a crucial law needed to hold elections in January.

Americas
Deadly floods have killed over 100 people and left thousands homeless in El Salvador.
After the U.S. House of Representatives passed a landmark health reform bill, President Obama urged the Senate to "bring this effort to the finish line."
The FBI is investigating whether Ft. Hood shooter Nidal Malik Hassan had ties to militants at a mosque in Virginia.
Asia
Two suicide bombings hit Pakistan's Peshawar region in less than 24 hours.
A French envoy is meeting with North Korean leaders in Pyongyang.
The Dalai Lama visited a disputed town on the China-India border, ignoring protests from Beijing.

Africa
Roy Bennett, a political ally of Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, has gone on trial for terrorism in Zimbabwe.
Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao pledged $10 billion in new loans to Africa over the next three years.
The Spanish government is refusing to negotiate with the Somali pirates holding 33 Spanish sailors hostage.

Europe
Russian energy giant Gazprom has seen a 50 percent drop in profits this year.
Russian president Dmitry Medvedev says he believes a nuclear arms control treaty with the U.S. can be reached this year.
Italian police arrested an influential mafia boss in Naples.

McClatchy Washington report 11/9

Top Story
Not so fast: House health care vote is just the first step

Democratic leaders were all smiles as they celebrated the passage of a sweeping overhaul of the U.S. health care system Saturday. But any momentum from Saturday's historic vote is likely to be short-lived as the focus moves to the Senate, where progress has been stalled for weeks.

Spotlight
Competing programs hamper Kentucky's prescription drug abuse fight

Kentucky lawmakers are at the center of a political feud over how to best derail the so-called "pain-pill pipeline" from Florida to the Bluegrass State, a multi-state trafficking scheme that has contributed heavily to the state's crippling prescription drug addiction epidemic. A program that bears a powerful Kentucky congressman's name has received four times more funding than another program backed by other less senior lawmakers from the state.

Latest Headlines
More evidence that Fort Hood gunman held radical beliefs
Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, the suspect in the Fort Hood shootings, once regularly attended a Falls Church, Va., mosque that the FBI has linked to two of the 9/11 hijackers, but the congregation's current spiritual leader Sunday insisted the government's claims of connections are wrong.

Supreme Court to review cases of juveniles sentenced to life in prison
Lawyers for two Florida men who were sentenced to life without parole as juveniles will argue to the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday that the penalty is cruel and unusual punishment.

Iraqis pass election law crucial to U.S. withdrawal plans
After nearly a dozen delays and a final, rowdy session, Iraq's parliament on Sunday passed a law setting national elections for January, averting for now a political crisis that threatened to unravel the country's slow progress toward stability. Two major issues were decided: Officials will use voter rolls from 2009 to decide who can vote in the conflicted Kirkuk area and candidates will be listed by name on the ballot so voters can vote for individuals, not parties.

Denali dog musher is rarest of government jobs
In the world of dog mushing, there aren't many jobs with a steady paycheck. Professional mushers live off the bounty of their race earnings, dog breeding skills and marketing savvy. And within a federal government that employs 19.7 million people, there is one — exactly one — dog mushing job. And it's open.

As oceans fall ill, Washington bureaucrats squabble
Off the coast of Washington state, mysterious algae mixed with sea foam have killed more than 8,000 seabirds, puzzling scientists. A thousand miles off California, researchers have discovered the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a swirling vortex roughly twice the size of Texas filled with tiny bits of plastic and other debris.

Obama meets with Native American leaders
Keeping a campaign promise, President Barack Obama hosted 386 heads of state — leaders from more than half of the United States' 564 federally recognized Indian tribes. Tribal leaders were able to ask questions and express concerns over issues, such as reservation shopping, that effect their tribes.

Alaska's gold production hits rate not seen since 1916
Miners are digging gold out of the ground in Alaska at a faster clip than they have in almost a century. Last year's gold production tipped the scales at 800,000 ounces. The last time that much gold was mined in Alaska was 1916.

To Afghanistan's many problems, now add the flu
As if the Taliban, car bombs, roadside bombs, leftover Soviet land mines, political unrest and errant NATO air attacks weren't enough, Afghans are facing a new killer: the H1N1 flu pandemic. The government has declared a state of emergency, and closed schools, universities and even wedding halls and public bathrooms for three weeks to slow the spread of the virus, which has killed 10 people in the capital in less than two weeks.

Bellerive nominated for Haiti prime minister
The Haitian Senate unanimously approved Jean-Max Bellerive, a longtime technocrat, as prime minister Friday, hoping that a man with long ties to Haiti's political power brokers and the international community can lead this nation through its fifth change of cabinets in five years.

Commentary: The poor have a wealth of worldly wisdom
A certain wisdom comes with being poor. Be grateful if you can't lay claim to it.
Miss enough paychecks, fall behind on enough bills and people get savvy quick to the ways of making do.

Paranoia strikes deep

By PAUL KRUGMAN
New York Times

Last Thursday there was a rally outside the U.S. Capitol to protest pending health care legislation, featuring the kinds of things we’ve grown accustomed to, including large signs showing piles of bodies at Dachau with the caption “National Socialist Healthcare.” It was grotesque — and it was also ominous. For what we may be seeing is America starting to be Californiafied.

The key thing to understand about that rally is that it wasn’t a fringe event. It was sponsored by the House Republican leadership — in fact, it was officially billed as a G.O.P. press conference. Senior lawmakers were in attendance, and apparently had no problem with the tone of the proceedings.

True, Eric Cantor, the second-ranking House Republican, offered some mild criticism after the fact. But the operative word is “mild.” The signs were “inappropriate,” said his spokesman, and the use of Hitler comparisons by such people as Rush Limbaugh, said Mr. Cantor, “conjures up images that frankly are not, I think, very helpful.”

What all this shows is that the G.O.P. has been taken over by the people it used to exploit.

The state of mind visible at recent right-wing demonstrations is nothing new. Back in 1964 the historian Richard Hofstadter published an essay titled, “The Paranoid Style in American Politics,” which reads as if it were based on today’s headlines: Americans on the far right, he wrote, feel that “America has been largely taken away from them and their kind, though they are determined to try to repossess it and to prevent the final destructive act of subversion.” Sound familiar?

But while the paranoid style isn’t new, its role within the G.O.P. is.

When Hofstadter wrote, the right wing felt dispossessed because it was rejected by both major parties. That changed with the rise of Ronald Reagan: Republican politicians began to win elections in part by catering to the passions of the angry right.

Until recently, however, that catering mostly took the form of empty symbolism. Once elections were won, the issues that fired up the base almost always took a back seat to the economic concerns of the elite. Thus in 2004 George W. Bush ran on antiterrorism and “values,” only to announce, as soon as the election was behind him, that his first priority was changing Social Security.

But something snapped last year. Conservatives had long believed that history was on their side, so the G.O.P. establishment could, in effect, urge hard-right activists to wait just a little longer: once the party consolidated its hold on power, they’d get what they wanted. After the Democratic sweep, however, extremists could no longer be fobbed off with promises of future glory.

Furthermore, the loss of both Congress and the White House left a power vacuum in a party accustomed to top-down management. At this point Newt Gingrich is what passes for a sober, reasonable elder statesman of the G.O.P. And he has no authority: Republican voters ignored his call to support a relatively moderate, electable candidate in New York’s special Congressional election.

Real power in the party rests, instead, with the likes of Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin (who at this point is more a media figure than a conventional politician). Because these people aren’t interested in actually governing, they feed the base’s frenzy instead of trying to curb or channel it. So all the old restraints are gone.

In the short run, this may help Democrats, as it did in that New York race. But maybe not: elections aren’t necessarily won by the candidate with the most rational argument. They’re often determined, instead, by events and economic conditions.

In fact, the party of Limbaugh and Beck could well make major gains in the midterm elections. The Obama administration’s job-creation efforts have fallen short, so that unemployment is likely to stay disastrously high through next year and beyond. The banker-friendly bailout of Wall Street has angered voters, and might even let Republicans claim the mantle of economic populism. Conservatives may not have better ideas, but voters might support them out of sheer frustration.

And if Tea Party Republicans do win big next year, what has already happened in California could happen at the national level. In California, the G.O.P. has essentially shrunk down to a rump party with no interest in actually governing — but that rump remains big enough to prevent anyone else from dealing with the state’s fiscal crisis. If this happens to America as a whole, as it all too easily could, the country could become effectively ungovernable in the midst of an ongoing economic disaster.

The point is that the takeover of the Republican Party by the irrational right is no laughing matter. Something unprecedented is happening here — and it’s very bad for America.

Whose side is Senator Landrieu on?

From Democracy For America

Truthout 11/9

Dean Baker Massive Defense Spending Leads to Job Loss
Dean Baker, Truthout: "There is a major national ad campaign, funded by the oil industry and other usual suspects, to convince the public that measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) and slow global warming will result in massive job loss. This ad campaign warns of slower growth and the loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs, possibly even millions of jobs, if some variation of the current proposals being debated by Congress get passed into law ... However, the oil industry's scare stories about job loss never put it in any context." Read the Article

Anne Elizabeth Moore The Lessons of the Berlin Wall
Anne Elizabeth Moore, Truthout: "'I'd never seen it before!' he said, excited. The descriptive literature closest to his seat detailed shootings and escape attempts and Ronald Reagan's demands that Gorbachev eliminate the barrier to capitalism - exciting moments in the history of what, otherwise, was a slab of concrete people lived with for 28 years ... But what is to be learned from the Berlin Wall?" Read the Article

Mary Susan Littlepage Northwestern Journalism Students Harassed by Illinois State Prosecutor
Mary Susan Littlepage, Truthout: "The work of many Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism students, under the direction of investigative journalism professor David Protess as part of the Medill Innocence Project, has helped lead to the release of 11 wrongfully convicted inmates, and when former Illinois Gov. George Ryan dropped sentences of everyone on Death Row before he left office, he acknowledged that it was partly because of the wrongful convictions resulting from the research done by Protess and his students." Read the Article

Dahr Jamail and Sarah Lazare Where Will They Get the Troops? Preparing Undeployables for the Afghan Front
Dahr Jamail and Sarah Lazare, TomDispatch.com: "Hidden behind the gates of military bases across the U.S., troops facing AWOL and desertion charges regularly find themselves in the hands of a military that metes out informal, open-ended punishments by forcing them to wait months -- sometimes more than a year -- to face military justice. In the meantime, some of these soldiers are offered a free pass out of this legal limbo as long as they agree to deploy to Afghanistan or Iraq -- even if they have been diagnosed with severe post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)." Read the Article

David Bacon Hotel Workers Strike the San Francisco Grand Hyatt
David Bacon 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

Maya Schenwar Iraq's Election Date Set, US Withdrawal Reaffirmed
Maya Schenwar, Truthout: "Following months of postponements and derailed votes, Iraq's Council of Representatives finally passed the law governing the country's parliamentary elections. With that barrier cleared, Iraq's electoral commission announced today that elections will be held on January 21. The law's delayed passage provoked doubts that the US would keep its plans to end combat operations in Iraq by August 31, 2010. Its approval revives hope that the Obama administration will make good on its promise." Read the Article

William Fisher Is a Redo of Post-9/11 Paranoia the Best We Can Do?
William Fisher, Truthout: "The USA Patriot Act, rushed into law by a panicky US Congress in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, gave law enforcement sweeping new powers, including broad surveillance powers to spy on innocent Americans. But it also stipulated that three of its more controversial provisions should expire at the end of next month unless reapproved by lawmakers. And it appears that reapproval may be about to happen - evidently with a green light from the Obama administration and over strong objections from human rights and civil liberties groups." Read the Article

Seth Sandronsky After Mass Layoff, Reporter Sticks With His Labor Union
Seth Sandronsky, Truthout: "Walter Yost, 61, was an education reporter for The Sacramento Bee. But a layoff this March ended his career of over 16 years at the daily paper. Shaken but standing, Yost is laboring with his former co-workers in the California Media Workers Newspaper Guild of The Sacramento Bee. He is a non-voting staff person involved in bargaining talks with the McClatchy Company, his former employer, for a new labor contract to begin November 2. 'It might be the most important contract for Guild members at The Sacramento Bee since the strike days back in the 1970's,' Yost said." Read the Article

Julie R. Butler The Story Behind the Uruguayan Elections
Julie R. Butler, Truthout: "The international headlines all read something to this effect, 'In Uruguay: Ex-Guerrilla Fighter Headed for Runoff Vote in November.' Attention-grabbing as it is, that headline doesn't do justice to the complex story behind this ex-guerrilla fighter being on the verge of becoming Uruguay's next president. This story intertwines plot lines of economic hardship's goad towards anger, social inequity's call to action, violence's inevitable escalation, democracy's slide into dictatorship, impunity's lingerings and a society's tremendous capacity to persevere through it all, heal itself and ultimately advance." Read the Article

Bank Failure Friday Fells Another "Healthy Bank" Bailout Recipient
Jake Bernstein, ProPublica: "San Francisco-based United Commercial Bank has become the first recipient of TARP bailout money to be shut down by the FDIC. Last year, regulators approved a $299 million taxpayer funded injection into the bank. That money, which was supposed to go to only 'healthy banks,' is now gone. The FDIC estimates United Commercial's failure will cost the agency's deposit fund about $1.4 billion." Read the Article

Fort Hood Rampage: Shooter Acted Alone, Officials Say. But Why?
Patrik Jonsson, The Christian Science Monitor: "Army investigators have ruled out a terror plot in the gruesome rampage at Fort Hood, saying that Army Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, a veteran psychiatrist, acted alone in the shooting spree last Thursday. If a larger plot wasn't being carried out, then what was the motive?" Read the Article

Dick Meister A Warm Day in Berlin
Dick Meister, Truthout: "It was 20 years ago this month that the Berlin Wall finally fell, one of the last vestiges of the cold war. But though it's long gone, I, and I'm sure many others, have not forgotten that Soviet-erected barrier which had stood for 28 years as a nearly impenetrable divider between the Soviet East and the West." Read the Article

On Snow And Cameras, Or, Health Care Gets A Day Off

Whether you are deliriously happy, incredibly sad, or still uncertain about how you feel about what has emerged from the House this weekend, it’s probably safe to say that one thing everyone is...is sick of the whole thing.

Of course, we’re far from done—but just to give us all a break, I’m going to abruptly change the subject.

I have a Flip Video camera—which I am still getting used to—and last night we ran up the hill to Snoqualmie Pass, Washington, ostensibly to test the camera’s low-light capabilities...but really so we could drive around in all the fresh new snow.

There’s plenty of time to get back to the political wars in a bit; but for right now let’s head up the mountain, see some cool stuff, talk about what the camera can—and can’t—do, and, just for fun, we’ll answer the age-old Seattle question: “how long does it take to find three places that sell espresso at the top of a mountain pass in the middle of nowhere?”

Snoqualmie Pass is Seattle’s closest ski area (just take I-90 about 40 miles east, and when the road quits going up, you’re there). The Pass and the surrounding mountains are high enough that you can get a lot of snow on the ground—in fact, in an average winter 33 feet of snow will accumulate; in 1955-56 you could have stuck a stick 68 feet long in the snow...and the ground would have still been a foot out of reach.

When you have that kind of snow to deal with, you have to make certain adaptations, which is how we get to our first video. What you’ll see is a fire hydrant shed, which is basically a little A-frame cabin for a fire hydrant:



(This was lit by car headlamps.)

There is a “Travelers’ Rest” building that’s been there since 1938—but you won’t see it in the next video, because it’s behind me. What I want you to pay attention to, instead, is how the camera reacts as it pans, and also the how the camera responds to the varying light levels in the clip:



The Travelers’ Rest building now houses restrooms and (naturally) an espresso shop. Here’s the view through one of their windows:



You can see that if the image is well-lit, and the camera is nice and still, the results are surprisingly good...for a camera that fits in a pocket.

The Alpental Lodge is located a hundred feet or so above the Pass; this sodium-lit video shows snow falling in the Lodge’s parking lot:



There is a mountain gorge with a genuine babbling brook in front, and a covered wooden bridge gets you over to the Lodge from the parking lot. This next video shows how the camera reacts to low light combined with movement. It’s also a great example of how well the camera records sound, which it does pretty well. (As the video progresses, the light changes from ambient light to fluorescent to sodium lamps as the bridge ends.)



We are still a little ways from Alpental’s opening, but this is an “almost picture postcard perfect” image of the back of the Lodge—and again, you’ll note that if enough light is present, the results can be great:



People live up here, as you might imagine, but again, when you have this much snow, you have to adapt. In order to get in and out of the house in a place where the snow will probably pile up well past the second story windows before it’s all done, you need a plan. The two videos that follow show the “snow sheds” that people build just to get from the front door to the car.

In about four to six weeks, when serious snow is on the ground, these sheds will be completely buried, creating exit tunnels that are somewhat reminiscent of what you might see attached to an igloo.






We’re almost to the end, and it’s time to answer the question we posed at the beginning of the story: exactly how long does it take to find three places that sell espresso at the top of a mountain pass in the middle of nowhere?



Who picked the one minute, fifteen seconds square on the grid? If it was you...you’re the winner.

The final video of the story shows just what kind of a snow shovel works best when clearing the kind of snow that accumulates at the Pass. This video was taken at the front doors of the third espresso location you saw from the previous video.



See the yellow “caution” tape around the windows? Snow will be piled up at least that deep in a few weeks; they will have to cut holes in the snow banks to allow people to walk around the side of the building to get to that side of the parking lot.

Normally this would be the part of the story where I would wrap everything up, and to do that today I’m going to offer a few thoughts about the little Flip Video camera.

I bought this camera because it is so small that it can easily be carried in a shirt pocket, because with this camera it’s so quick to start shooting, and because it was capable of recording in 720p, which is a high-def format.

I knew, going in, that it would have a number of limitations, and we have seen those on display in the videos here. I did not buy this camera as a substitute for a Red Camera—but I did buy it as a camera that I could use for field interviews that could be put on the Web, and, as some of the video on display here testifies, the camera is fully capable of doing that and more.

So there you go: we saw some très cool snow video, you, perhaps, learned a few things about adaptation, and we managed to get in a camera review besides.

And the best part: for at least a few minutes—no health care!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Truthout 11/8

House Passes Sweeping Health Care Reform Legislation
Jason Leopold, Truthout: "This is the first time since 1965, when Congress passed legislation to create Medicare, that lawmakers have approved a bill to expand health care coverage." Read the Article

Obama Leaning Toward 34,000 More Troops for Afghanistan
Jonathan S. Landay, John Walcott and Nancy A. Youssef, McClatchy Newspapers: "President Barack Obama is nearing a decision to send more than 30,000 additional U.S. troops to Afghanistan next year, but he may not announce it until after he consults with key allies and completes a trip to Asia later this month, administration and military officials have told McClatchy." Read the Article

Robert Dodge Rethinking Afghanistan: Alternatives to War
Robert Dodge, Truthout: "President Obama is reviewing the way forward in Afghanistan. His decision will define his presidency much as Vietnam defined the legacy of President Johnson's presidency in the 1960s. At a time when so much opportunity and necessity for change is at stake from health care reform to climate change legislation, education and nuclear weapons policy and the economy, the war and its costs will trump all." Read the Article

J. Sri Raman South Asian Generals on US Sojourns
J. Sri Raman, Truthout: "The American public may have paid this little attention. But three prominent South Asian generals have just completed politically significant sojourns in the United States, raising dust and debates in this part of the world." Read the Article

World's Citizens to Politicians: Get Serious on Global Warming Now!
Richard Sclove, Yes! Magazine: "Around the world and in the US, nine out of ten participants believe that it is urgent for the UN COP15 climate summit to reach a new international agreement this year. Worldwide, 89 percent (87 percent in the US) want that deal to reduce year 2020 greenhouse gas emissions for developed nations 25-40 percent or more beneath 1990 levels. That’s more ambitious than proposals on the table for Copenhagen or than the pending Kerry-Boxer Senate bill, which would cut U.S. emissions only 20 percent below 2005 levels." Read the Article

Palestinian President Abbas, Critical of Peace Process, Says Won't Seek Reelection
Ilene R. Prusher, The Christian Science Monitor: "Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas says he's made up his mind once and for all: There will be elections in January - and he will not be a candidate in them." Read the Article

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Truthout 11/7

NATO Air Strike Kills at Least 8 Allied Afghans
BBC: "At least eight Afghans working with US forces have been killed in a NATO air strike in north-western Afghanistan, the defense ministry in Kabul says." Read the Article

Many House Democrats Still Resist Health Care Bill
David Lightman and William Douglas, McClatchy Newspapers: "Democrats in the House of Representatives struggled Friday to find enough votes to pass sweeping health care legislation, as lawmakers prepared for an all-day debate and perhaps a final vote on the bill Saturday." Read the Article

Ellen Hodgson Brown Tax the Traders! Make Wall Street Pay its Share With a "Tobin Tax"
Ellen Hodgson Brown, Truthout: "Wall Street bankers have been called today's 'welfare queens,' feeding at the public trough to the tune of trillions of dollars. They are taking from the taxpayers and not giving back. These banks were rescued so they could make loans, take deposits and keep our money safe. But while that is what banks used to do, today the big Wall Street money comes from short-term speculation in currency transactions, commodities, stocks and derivatives for the banks' own accounts." Read the Article

US Seeks to Limit Warlords in Karzai Cabinet
Gareth Porter, Inter Press Service: "The Barack Obama administration is talking tough to Afghan President Hamid Karzai about the need for decisive action on corruption and governance reform, but its main objective is to prevent particularly corrupt and incompetent warlords from getting plum ministries as rewards for helping clinch his fraudulent reelection, IPS has learned." Read the Article

Low-Power Radio and What the Media Won't Tell You About the Media
Amber Sands, Truthout: "There's a classic problem for progressives who want to change the media: the media doesn't like to cover itself. Especially not when it comes to issues that challenge the status quo of corporate control. It's like turning to the military for news about the peace movement, or asking Big Oil to report on climate change legislation." Read the Article

Ellen Goodman What Option for Afghan Women
Ellen Goodman, Truthout: "After 9/11, when we went after al-Qaeda and the Taliban who had hosted these terrorists, many saw collateral virtue in the liberation of Afghan women. Indeed, President Bush played this moral card in his 2002 State of the Union speech when he declared to thunderous applause: 'Today women are free, and are part of Afghanistan's new government.' Mission accomplished. Many women shed their burqas, opened schools, entered parliament. Equal rights were written into the constitution. But slowly, as America turned to the disastrous misadventure in Iraq, Afghan women's freedoms were casually traded in like chits for power." Read the Article

Adele Stan How Does a Religious Cult Have the Clout to Delay Health Care Vote?
Adele Stan, AlterNet: "Just when it seemed the stars were aligning for an historic vote tomorrow on health-care reform legislation in the House of Representatives, anti-choice Democrats are balking, saying that the plan would permit the indirect flow of federal dollars to fund abortion. Led by Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich., a member of the Capitol Hill religious cult known as The Family, and spurred on by the Catholic bishops, anti-abortion Dems are contesting the fact that some small number of private insurance plans offered via the bill's insurance exchange scheme may offer coverage for abortion -- even therapeutic abortion. Where the federal dollars come in is via the subsidies for which lower-income people would be eligible for buying insurance through the exchange." Read the Article

Broader Measure of U.S. Unemployment Stands at 17.5%

By DAVID LEONHARDT
New York Times

For all the pain caused by the Great Recession, the job market still was not in as bad shape as it had been during the depths of the early 1980s recession — until now.

With the release of the jobs report on Friday, the broadest measure of unemployment and underemployment tracked by the Labor Department has reached its highest level in decades. If statistics went back so far, the measure would almost certainly be at its highest level since the Great Depression.

In all, more than one out of every six workers — 17.5 percent — were unemployed or underemployed in October. The previous recorded high was 17.1 percent, in December 1982.

This includes the officially unemployed, who have looked for work in the last four weeks. It also includes discouraged workers, who have looked in the past year, as well as millions of part-time workers who want to be working full time.

The official jobless rate — 10.2 percent in October, up from 9.8 percent in September — remains lower than the early 1980s peak of 10.8 percent.

The rate is highest today, sometimes 20 percent, in states that had big housing bubbles, like California and Arizona, or that have large manufacturing sectors, like Michigan, Ohio, Oregon, Rhode Island and South Carolina.

The new benchmark is a sign of just how much damage financial crises tend to inflict. A recent book by Carmen M. Reinhart and Kenneth S. Rogoff, two economists, found that over the last century the typical crisis had caused the jobless rate in the country where it occurred to rise for almost five years. By that standard, the jobless rate here would continue rising for two more years, through the end of 2011.

The rest of the story


Indiana taxing working families further into poverty

from the Indiana Community Action Association

Indianapolis, IN - According to a new report, The Impact of State Income Taxes on Low-Income Families 2008, released by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), Indiana is one of six states that taxes families in severe poverty. This means a two-parent family of four earning less than three-quarters of the Federal Poverty Guidelines in 2008 ($16,513 for a family of four) pays more than $200 a year in state income taxes in Indiana.

Additionally, another important measure of the impact of taxes on low-income working families is the income tax threshold - the point below which a family owes no income tax. In 2008, Indiana's state tax threshold for a single-parent with two children was $14,500 and for a two-parent family of four was $15,500. This means Indiana is taxing low-income families that are far below the Federal Poverty Guidelines which were $17,165 for a family of three and $22,017 for a family of four in 2008.

These levels are also far below the average state income tax threshold in 2008 of $21,700 for a family of three or $25,500 for a family of four. Eliminating state income taxes on working families with incomes at the Federal Poverty Guidelines gives a boost in take-home pay that helps offset high costs of living and can make a meaningful contribution toward "making work pay."

However, this report only focuses on state income taxes. The 2009 Self-Sufficiency Standard for Indiana released earlier this month by the Indiana Institute for Working Families, a program of Indiana Community Action Association, 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.

According to the 2009 Standard in Marion County, the expenses for a family of four consisting of two adults, one preschooler, and one schoolage child amount to $4,359 a month. Taxes (including federal and state income tax, payroll taxes, and state and local sales tax where applicable) for this family type amounts to 15 percent of their income, which is the third highest expense for this family type after childcare (25 percent) and housing (17 percent). It is equivalent to the proportion of income budgeted for food. Other expenses for this family type include transportation (11%), health care (10%), and miscellaneous expenses (8%).

The tax burden on low-income families means they have less money in their pockets to pay for necessities such as childcare and transportation costs that families incur as they strive to become economically self-sufficient. Some ways to alleviate this burden on low-income working families include raising the state income tax threshold to the Federal Poverty Guidelines, increasing the state Earned Income Tax Credit (Indiana's EITC is currently set at 9% of the federal EITC), increasing standard deductions and personal exemptions to adequate levels to protect families in poverty from taxation, and enacting a "no-tax floor" (which sets a dollar level below which families owe no tax but does not affect tax liability for families above that level). A $20,000 no-tax floor, for example, means that a family making below that amount owes no taxes, but once income surpasses that level the tax is owed on all taxable income from one dollar up.

Given states' balanced budget requirements and current dire fiscal conditions, states will have limited opportunities to reduce taxes on low-income working families anytime soon. Nonetheless, removing the tax burden on low-income families should remain a priority for states that still have such taxes. Taxing the incomes of working-poor families runs counter to the efforts of policymakers across the political spectrum to help families work their way out of poverty. The federal government has exempted such families from the income tax since the mid-1980s, and a majority of states now do so as well.

To view CBPP's full report on state income taxes, please visit http://www.cbpp.org/files/11-4-09sfp.pdf.

To view the 2009 Self-Sufficiency Standard, please visit http://www.incap.org/documents/FINAL%202009%20Indiana%20SSS%20Report%2010-26-09.pdf.

Town Hall for immigration reform

On November 18, people all across America will come together to get an exclusive perspective on the fight for immigration reform. Congressman Luis Gutierrez will lead a national town hall for a dialogue about why America needs to fix our broken system. He and other immigration reform leaders will lay out the ways families are hurting right now, and how our campaign for families, freedom and faith can make a difference.

This call will lay out how we're going to win the fight for immigration reform. And you're invited.

Join the Call

Across the country, people will be gathering at house parties on the 18th to join in on the call. But even if you can't make it to a party in person, you can still call in and learn more about what actions we can all take to ensure that our broken immigration system is fixed for good. Not only will you hear firsthand what we're already doing for immigration reform, you'll learn about what's next for this movement and how to take a stand.

Will you be there on November 18?

We can't do this without you.

Thanks,
Rich Stolz
Reform Immigration FOR America

p.s. We're hosting town halls in both English and Spanish - if you'd prefer to join the Spanish-language call, click here.

Congressman Joe Donnelly might vote "no"!

Congressman Joe Donnelly might vote "no" on the healthcare reform bill that's coming up for a vote in the House TODAY. Call Rep. Donnelly's office right now and tell him to vote "yes" for healthcare reform:

Washington, D.C. office: (202) 225-3915
South Bend office: (574) 288-2780
La Porte office: (219) 326-6808 ext. 2414
Michigan City office: (219) 873-1408 ext. 354

Click here to let us know you called.

This is going to be a critical vote, and we need to pull out all the stops. Thanks for everything you do,

-Tom

Tom De Luca, Indiana Public Option Organizer
Democracy for America

Friday, November 6, 2009

Truthout 11/6

Henry A. Giroux Market-Driven Hysteria and the Politics of Death
Henry A. Giroux, Truthout: "If we listen to the likes of Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck and an increasing number of their ilk, free-market fundamentalism is not only sexy, it is an argument against the very notion of politics itself and the power of the government to intervene and protect its citizens from the ravages of nature, corrupt institutions and an unregulated market. In this discourse, largely buttressed through an appeal to fear and the use of outright lies, free-market capitalism assumes an almost biblical status as an argument against the power of government to protect its citizens from misfortune and the random blows of fate by providing the most basic rights and levels of collective security and protection." Read the Article

Dahr Jamail Mass Shooting Indicates Breakdown of Military
Dahr Jamail, Truthout: "At approximately 1:30 p.m. CST Thursday, a soldier went on a shooting rampage at Fort Hood in Killeen, Texas, killing 12 people and wounding at least 31 others, according to base commander Lt. Gen. Bob Cone. Truthout spoke with an Army specialist who is an active-duty Iraq War veteran currently stationed at the base. The soldier spoke on condition of anonymity since the base is now on 'lockdown,' and all 'non-authorized' military personnel on the base have been ordered not to speak to the press." Read the Article

Dean Baker Unemployment Hits 10.2 Percent, Economy Sheds 190,000 Jobs
Dean Baker, The Center for Economic and Policy Research: "The strong wage growth reported for October was probably an aberration. The unemployment rate crossed 10.0 percent for the first time since early 1983, hitting 10.2 percent in October. The establishment survey showed the economy losing another 190,000 jobs, with most of the job loss in construction and manufacturing. The October unemployment rate is still below the 10.8 percent peak reached in December of 1982, but the workforce is considerably older now and in age cohorts where workers are less likely to be unemployed. If the workforce had the same age distribution as in 1982 but current unemployment rates for each age cohort, then the unemployment rate would be more than a percentage point higher. The 10.7 percent unemployment rate for men is 0.6 percentage points higher than the 10.1 percent peak in 1982. This is consistent with the massive job loss in construction and manufacturing." Read the Article

Dr. Wilmer J. Leon III A Social Agenda for all Americans
Dr. Wilmer J. Leon III, Truthout: "Early on the campaign trail, presidential candidate Barack Obama said, 'This country is ready for a transformative politics of the sort that John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan and Franklin Roosevelt represented.' Socially, President Obama is beginning to move in such a positive transformative direction. After 12 years of languishing in Congress, on Wednesday, October 28, President Obama signed into law the Matthew Shepard / James Byrd Hate Crimes Bill. By signing this bill, the president expands the federal definition of hate crimes to include those motivated by gender, sexual orientation, gender identity and disability." Read the Article

Capt. Paul K. Chappell, US Army How Patriotism Can Save America
Capt. Paul K. Chappell, Truthout: "As a soldier in the United States Army, I have often pondered what it means to be patriotic, what it means to serve our country and what it means to love America. In 'Will War Ever End?' I described a dangerous misconception of patriotism that I witnessed while deployed in Baghdad. When I was deployed in Iraq and had a chance to watch American news channels, I heard commentators say that if we question or criticize our government, we do not love America and are being unpatriotic. They believed that patriotism meant waving a flag and being blindly obedient, but this is not what it means to love our country." Read the Article

Eugene Robinson The GOP at War With Itself
Eugene Robinson: "Democrats have some thinking to do after Tuesday's elections, but Republicans don't have time to think. They're too busy trying to survive the party's internal purge and avoid being shipped off to political Siberia. Will loyal members inform on others for harboring suspiciously moderate views? Will anyone judged guilty have to wear a sign saying 'Republican in Name Only' as penance? Will there be re-education camps? Will deviationists face the Enhanced Interrogation Technique of being forced to listen to the wit and wisdom of Glenn Beck, at ear-splitting volume, for days on end?" Read the Article

Nick Turse 2014 or Bust: The Pentagon's Building Boom in Afghanistan Indicates a Long War Ahead
Nick Turse, TomDispatch.com: "In recent weeks, President Obama has been contemplating the future of US military operations in Afghanistan. He has also been touting the effects of his policies at home, reporting that this year's Recovery Act not only saved jobs, but also was 'the largest investment in infrastructure since [President Dwight] Eisenhower built the Interstate Highway System in the 1950's.' At the same time, another much less publicized US-taxpayer-funded infrastructure boom has been underway. This one in Afghanistan. While Washington has put modest funding into civilian projects in Afghanistan this year - ranging from small-scale power plants to 'public latrines' to a meat market - the real construction boom is military in nature. The Pentagon has been funneling stimulus-sized sums of money to defense contractors to markedly boost its military infrastructure in that country." Read the Article

Jon Letman Dead Last: Hawaii Gets an "F" in Education
Jon Letman, Truthout: "Hawaii's public schools are in crisis. Simply put, there isn't enough money to keep them open full-time. With the State of Hawaii facing a $1 billion budget deficit through the middle of 2011 and a $468 million budget cut to Hawaii's Department of Education, in September the Hawaii State Teachers Association (HSTA) voted to accept a two-year contract that includes 17 furlough days for both the 2009-2010 and 2010-2011 academic years." Read the Article

Senate Rejects Effort to Block Civilian Trials for 9/11 Victims
James Rosen, McClatchy Newspapers: "After an emotional debate over how to keep Americans safe, the Senate Thursday narrowly defeated an effort to prevent civilian trials in US courts for the accused planners of the 9/11 attacks. The Senate's 54-45 vote to reject the measure by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) opens the door for President Barack Obama to bring Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the self-professed mastermind of the September 11, 2001, attacks, to trial in federal court, rather than the military commissions Graham helped create." Read the Article

Bitta Mostofi Death to No One
Bitta Mostofi, Truthout: "Wednesday, November 4, marked the 30th year since the 444-day Iran hostage crisis began in 1979. On this day, the media traditionally offer us images of Iranians burning American flags and effigies of Uncle Sam. We are reminded of the great chasm of mistrust and misunderstanding that has marked the last three decades of US-Iranian relations. But in the past year, both Americans and Iranians have asked for something new. Americans have elected a president who promises to pursue diplomacy and Iranians have given birth to a popular democratic movement. So, we should not use this 30th anniversary of the hostage crisis to simply relive tragedy and tension. Rather, Americans have an opportunity to honestly reflect on our relationship with Iran and think about how to move forward. For the past 30 years, our government has dealt with Iran through policies of isolation and sanctions." Read the Article

Sylvain Lapoix The Big Banks Get Drunk, the Little Ones Wasted
Sylvain Lapoix, Marianne: "By refusing to increase its key interest rate, the Federal Reserve indirectly admits the fragility of the financial system: while the big banks - which have taken refuge in trading activities - are coping, the smallest banks - in contact with the real economy - pay the price for unemployment and bankruptcies." Read the Article

Obama faces his Anzio

By PAUL KRUGMAN
New York Times

Remember those Republican boasts that they would turn health care into President Obama’s Waterloo? Well, exit polls suggest that to the extent that health care was an issue in Tuesday’s elections, it worked in Democrats’ favor. But while health care won’t be Mr. Obama’s Waterloo, economic policy is starting to look like his Anzio.

True, the elections weren’t a referendum on Mr. Obama. Most voters focused on local issues — and those who did focus on national issues tended, if anything, to go Democratic. In New Jersey, voters who considered health care the top issue went for Gov. Jon Corzine by a 4-to-1 margin; Chris Christie won voters who were concerned about property taxes and corruption.

Yet there was a national element to the election. Voters across America are in a bad mood, largely because of the still-grim economic situation. And when voters are feeling bad, they turn on whomever currently holds office. Even Michael Bloomberg, the mayor of New York City, saw his supposedly easy reelection turn into a tight race.

And challengers did well even if they had no coherent alternative to offer. Mr. Christie never explained how he can reduce property taxes given New Jersey’s dire fiscal straits — but voters were nonetheless willing to take a flier.

This bodes ill for the Democrats in the midterm elections next year — not because voters will reject their agenda, but because all indications are that a year from now unemployment will still be painfully high. And Republicans may well benefit, despite having become the party of no ideas.

Which brings me to the Anzio analogy.

The World War II battle of Anzio was a classic example of the perils of being too cautious. Allied forces landed far behind enemy lines, catching their opponents by surprise. Instead of following up on this advantage, however, the American commander hunkered down in his beachhead — and soon found himself penned in by German forces on the surrounding hills, suffering heavy casualties.

The parallel with current economic policy runs as follows: early this year, President Obama came into office with a strong mandate and proclaimed the need to take bold action on the economy. His actual actions, however, were cautious rather than bold. They were enough to pull the economy back from the brink, but not enough to bring unemployment down.

Thus the stimulus bill fell far short of what many economists — including some in the administration itself — considered appropriate. According to The New Yorker, Christina Romer, the chairwoman of the president’s Council of Economic Advisers, estimated that a package of more than $1.2 trillion was justified.

Meanwhile, the administration balked at proposals to put large amounts of additional capital into banks, which would probably have required temporary nationalization of the weakest institutions. Instead, it turned to a strategy of benign neglect — basically, hoping that the banks could earn their way back to financial health.

Administration officials would presumably argue that they were constrained by political realities, that a bolder policy couldn’t have passed Congress. But they never tested that assumption, and they also never gave any public indication that they were doing less than they wanted. The official line was that policy was just right, making it hard to explain now why more is needed.

And more is needed. Yes, the economy grew fairly fast in the third quarter — but not fast enough to make significant progress on jobs. And there’s little reason to expect things to look better going forward. The stimulus has already had its maximum effect on growth. Even Timothy Geithner, the Treasury secretary, admits that banks remain reluctant to lend. Many economists predict that the economy’s growth, such as it is, will fade out over the course of next year.

The problem is that it’s not clear what Mr. Obama can do about this prospect. Conventional wisdom in Washington seems to have congealed around the view that budget deficits preclude any further fiscal stimulus — a view that’s all wrong on the economics, but that doesn’t seem to matter. Meanwhile, the Democratic base, so energized last year, has lost much of its passion, at least partly because the administration’s soft-touch approach to Wall Street has seemed to many like a betrayal of their ideals.

The president, then, having failed to exploit his early opportunities, is pinned down in his too-small beachhead.

If the Democrats lose badly in the midterms, the talking heads will say that Mr. Obama tried to do too much, this is a center-right nation, and so on. But the truth is that Mr. Obama put his agenda at risk by doing too little. The fateful decision, early this year, to go for economic half-measures may haunt Democrats for years to come.

FP morning post 11/6

Top story:

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas says he will not seek reelection, adding a new element of uncertainty to the Middle East peace process. “I have told my brethren in the P.L.O. that I have no desire to run in the forthcoming election,” he said in a televised address.

U.S. administration officials say that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton tried to convince Abbas -- considered a moderate pro-Western leader -- not to make the announcement. Abbas was reportedly angered and frustrated over the Obama administration's failure to push Israel to halt settlement construction on the West Bank. Palestinians were disappointed last week by Clinton's enthusiastic praise of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's offer to slow down, but not halt settlement construction.

Both the Arab League and the Israeli are reportedly urging Abbas to reconsider.

Tragedy in Texas:

Nidal Malik Hasan, an Army psychiatrist due to be deployed to Iraq, killed 13 people and wounded 30 in a shooting spree at the Ft. Hood military base in Texas.

Americas
The U.S. brokered pact to end Honduras's political crisis has failed, says ousted President Manuel Zelaya, as interim president Robert Micheletti announced he would form a cabinet without Zelaya's suporters.
Peru's Shining Path rebels attacked a military base, killing one soldiers.

Asia
Pakistani troops have entered what they call the "headquarters" of the Taliban.
China denounced U.S. protectionism a week before President Obama's visit.
Burmese troops launched an attack on rebels in the country's northwest.

Africa
Zimbabwean Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai has ended his boycott of cabinet meeting with President Robert Mugabe.
The world's diamond watchdog is giving Zimbabwe more time to comply with an order to clean up abuses in one of its fields.
The war crimes trial of former Congolese Vice President Jean-Pierre Bemba will begin in April.

Middle East
Saudi officials have denied widespread media reports that they attacked rebel bases inside Yemen.
Israel has rejected a U.N. General Assembly resolution urging it to investigate the findings of the Goldstone report.
Exxon-Mobile has signed a deal to develop a major oil field in Iraq.

Europe
Serbia charged six former fighters for war crims committed during the Bosnian war.
Russia has arrested two neo-nazi suspects for the January killing of a human rights activist and a reporter.
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown strongly condemned the corruption of Hamid Karzai's government.

McClatchy Washington Report 11/6

Top Story
Afghan insurgents learn to destroy key U.S. armored vehicle

Taliban-led insurgents in Afghanistan have devised ways to cripple and even destroy the expensive armored vehicles that offer U.S. forces the best protection against roadside bombs by using increasingly large explosive charges and rocket-propelled grenades, according to U.S. soldiers and defense officials.

Spotlight
Health care bill's supporters, opponents flock to Capitol

Gene Otto left his Olympia, Wash., bakery for a day, flew across the country to the nation's capital and told four members of Congress why it's important that they overhaul America's health care system.

Latest Headlines
Commentary: We need a Karzai strategy
The re-election of President Hamid Karzai creates new headaches for the Obama administration. But it also presents opportunities to be seized.

Commentary: After big bet on railroad, maybe Buffett can fix the job market
Feel better yet?
Last week, we learned that the recession had ended, and on Tuesday, Warren Buffett doubled down on America. They're two signs that better days are ahead. But until companies start hiring and paychecks get a bump, it won't feel like recovery in America.

Commentary: Recessions long-term repercussions on today's youth
All of us are keenly aware of the immediate struggles we face because of the current economic downturn. I'm sure many of your families are facing excruciating choices that, even a few years ago, would have been unimaginable. But what may be less appreciated is the long-term impact of this crisis — on our economy, on our fiscal situation and on our future.

Fort Hood no stranger to violent outbursts
The massive base -- one of the largest U.S. Army bases in the world -- has seen its share of incidents. Until the Virginia Tech shootings in 2007 -- ironically, the gunman in Thursday's bloodshed also attended Virginia Tech -- the Fort Hood area was the scene of the deadliest mass killing in U.S. history -- the 1997 Luby's Cafeteria killings that took 23 lives.

Senate rejects effort to block civilian trials for 9/11 suspects
The Senate's 54-45 vote to reject the measure by Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., opens the door for President Barack Obama to bring Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the self-professed mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, to trial in federal court, rather than the military commissions Graham helped create.

Fort Hood shooter was Army psychiatrist who treated stress
At least 12 people were killed and 31 wounded in a mass shooting at Fort Hood Army Base near Killeen, Texas, when at least one gunman opened fire on soldiers preparing to be deployed. The shooting broke out at the base's readiness center at about 1:30 p.m. The gunman, identified as Army Major Nidal Malik Hasan, was captured alive. Investigators were trying to determine if he had accomplices.

DeMint says Obama has changed Honduras policy
An outspoken critic of the Obama administration's handling of the crisis in Honduras late Thursday dropped his opposition to two State Department nominees, saying that the administration has reversed course. South Carolina Republican Sen. Jim DeMint said on the Senate floor that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had told him the U.S. would recognize Honduras' Nov. 29 election "regardless of whether former President Manuel Zelaya is returned to office."

Feeling heat from right, Crist shifts position on stimulus
Ever since his support of the $787 billion economic stimulus outraged conservatives, Florida Gov. Charlie Crist has tried to steer a middle course. Now his explanations are becoming extremely nuanced as his U.S. Senate opponent, Marco Rubio, has accused him of being a lackey of President Barack Obama.

Health care bill's supporters, opponents flock to Capitol
Gene Otto left his Olympia, Wash., bakery for a day, flew across the country to the nation's capital and told four members of Congress why it's important that they overhaul America's health care system.

Bill would ease San Joaquin Valley water swaps
San Joaquin Valley farmers could swap water more easily under a bill floated Thursday before a Senate panel.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Truthout 11/5

Twelve Killed, 31 Injured in Mass Shootings at Fort Hood Army Base
Jason Leopold, Truthout: "Twelve people were killed and at least 31 injured in a shooting at the Fort Hood Army base in Central Texas Thursday afternoon, according to news reports. Three gunmen dressed in Army fatigues and carrying M-16s opened fire at about 1:30 p.m. at a personnel and medical processing center at the massive military base. Two of those suspects are now in custody, the Associated Press reported, and the third gunman is still on the loose. An emergency alert posted on Fort Hood's website said, 'Effective immediately Fort Hood is closed. This is not a Drill. This is an Emergency Situation.'" Read the Article

William Fisher Wouldn't It Be Easier Just to Apologize?
William Fisher, Truthout: "A few years back, the FBI mistakenly linked an American lawyer's fingerprint to one found near the scene of a horrific terrorist bombing in Madrid, Spain. In the tragedy of errors that followed, the lawyer was jailed in Oregon as a 'material witness' for two weeks. And what did the FBI do? It apologized ... And maybe that's what should have happened long before Maher Arar's case ended up before a federal appeals court." Read the Article

Melvin A. Goodman President Obama's Timid Use of the "Reset Button"
Melvin A. Goodman, Truthout: "President Barack Obama's predecessor, George W. Bush, will go down in history as one of America's worst presidents, squandering diplomatic, international and economic assets that were bequeathed to him. As a result of the perfidy of President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, Obama inherited a great deal of low-hanging foreign policy fruit that he has been slow and even hesitant to pick." Read the Article

Rick Cabral Environmental Groups Battle Over Water Legislation
Rick Cabral, Truthout: "The California legislature has passed a comprehensive and complex package of water legislation with twin goals of protecting the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta while providing adequate water supplies in California. While some environmental groups supported the measure, others are already planning a future impediment to implementation." Read the Article

Yana Kunichoff Provision in Health Care Bill Governing Prayer Treatments May Be Unconstitutional
Yana Kunichoff, Truthout: "The debate over the health care bill has reached a new level - a spiritual level - with a provision in the health care legislation requiring the consideration of prayer treatments as medical expenses brought to light. This provision, quietly inserted, in an uncommon show of bipartisanism, by Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) with the support of Sen. John Kerry (D-Massachusetts), would require insurers to consider covering Christian Science prayer treatments in order to ensure that no one is discriminated against in seeking 'religious and spiritual healthcare.'" Read the Article Digg This Story

Norman Solomon The Next Phase of Health Care Apartheid
Norman Solomon, Truthout: "In Washington, 'health care reform' has degenerated into a sick joke. At this point, only spinners who've succumbed to their own vertigo could use the word 'robust' to describe the public option in the health care bill that the House Democratic leadership has sent to the floor ... At its best, 'the public option' was a weak remedy for the disastrous ailments of the health care system in the United States. But whatever virtues the public option may have offered were stripped from the bill en route to the House floor. What remains is a Rube Goldberg contraption that will launch this country into a new phase of health care apartheid." Read the Article

Barbara Ehrenreich The Swine Flu Vaccine Screw-Up: Optimism as a Public Health Problem
Barbara Ehrenreich, TomDispatch.com: "To its promoters, optimism is practically a miracle vaccine, so essential that we need to start inoculating Americans with it in the public schools - in the form of 'optimism training.' But optimism turns out to be less than salubrious when it comes to public health. In July, the federal government promised to have 160 million doses of H1N1 vaccine ready for distribution by the end of October. Instead, only 28 million doses are now ready to go, and optimism is the obvious culprit." Read the Article

Italy, the CIA and Rendition
Michael Moran, GlobalPost: "The label 'War on Terror' may be out of style as a description of American counterterrorism strategy, but Wednesday in Rome an Italian court served notice that some of its more controversial practices - including the abduction of alleged terrorists known as 'extraordinary rendition' - would not be forgotten as quickly as some Americans might prefer." Read the Article

Maria Elena Salinas Reflections on Being Latino in America
Maria Elena Salinas, Univision.com (Spanish Translation: Ryan Croken): "I finally saw myself on television. And no, I wasn't delivering the news in Spanish. I saw myself represented on CNN's documentary, 'Latino in America,' along with dozens of other Latinos who, like myself, make up the largest minority in this country, 50 million and growing. Soledad O'Brien's documentary, which was broadcast on October 21 and 22, has generated a lot of mixed reviews. I happen to be on the side of those who believe that she and her producers did a magnificent job ... But here's the question: are four hours of favorable programming enough to change the negative perception that some Americans have about Hispanics?" Read the Article Digg This Story

Jean-Marc Vittori Europe vs. the Mammoths
Jean-Marc Vittori, Les Echos (French Translation: Leslie Thatcher): "Yesterday, the City of London experienced a 'new Big Bang,' that wave of financial deregulation initiated by Margaret Thatcher, who allowed the British capital to impose itself as the world's premier financial center. This shock is of an entirely different character. The British want to see the series of announcements yesterday as the last act in the 2008 financial crisis." Read the Article

NOW Will Green Energy and Electric Cars Drive Climate Plans?
NOW, Programming Note: "Home to a worldwide summit on climate change in early December, Denmark is setting a global example in creating clean power, storing it and using it responsibly. The country's reliance on wind power to produce electricity without contributing to global warming is well-known, but now they're looking to drive the point home with electric cars. To do this, they've partnered with social entrepreneur Shai Agassi and his company, Better Place." Read the Article

Mary Susan Littlepage House Leaders Refuse to Reconsider Kucinich's Single-Payer Amendment
Mary Susan Littlepage, Truthout: "After Congressman Dennis Kucinich, (D-Ohio), lobbied throughout the past week to get his amendment calling for a single-payer health care system modeled after Medicare back on the table, the House rejected Kucinich's attempts to reinsert the amendment in the bill. That's after a committee stripped the amendment from the House health care bill without giving him any advanced explanation." Read the Article

On Projecting R-71's Outcome, Or, We Visit A Political Party

Over the past few days we have been talking about Washington State’s Referendum 71, which was voted on this week. If passed, the Referendum will codify in law certain protections for same-sex couples.

In the first story of our three-part series we discussed Washington’s unusual vote-by-mail system; in the second we examined the pre-election polling.

Today we talk about what happened Election Night at the R-71 event and where the vote count stands today...and where it might end up when we’re all done.

We have lots of geeky electoral analysis ahead—and as a special bonus, we have video of the event, including an exclusive interview with Charlene Strong, the woman who became one of the icons of the pro-71 campaign.

It’s a lot to cover, so we better get right to it.

The Big “Catch-Up”

If you are new to this story, we’ll give you a real quick “catch-up”:

On Tuesday’s ballot Washington voters were asked to consider Referendum 71, which is going to decide whether E2SSB 5688 (passed by the Legislature and “[e]xpanding the rights and responsibilities of state registered domestic partners”) shall be allowed to go into effect. (E2SSB, by the way, stands for "Engrossed Second Senate Substitute Bill".)

Voting to approve means the bill will go into law, voting to reject will prevent the bill from having any force or effect under law.

Washington State votes almost entirely by mail, and all ballots postmarked by midnight, November 3rd will be counted. Since lots of voters put their ballots in the mail on November 3rd (myself included), that means, when things are close, that the outcome of any particular question might not be known on Election Day.

About 2/3 of Washington’s population of 6.8 million is concentrated in the Western portion of the State; 3.5 million of those residents live in just three counties: King, Pierce, and Snohomish (Seattle, Tacoma, and Everett being the largest cities in those counties). 25% of the State’s population (1.9 million) resides in King County.

Clark County, which is immediately adjacent to Portland, Oregon (largest city: Vancouver), is slightly smaller in population than Eastern Washington’s largest county, Spokane, which has a population of roughly 450,000.

As it happens, the voting on R-71 is rather close, which is consistent with the pre-election polling...which means at this point you’re pretty well caught up and we’re ready to move on to new business.

The morning sun rose above the Cascades and reflected its dusky orange glow off the bottom of the thin clouds Wednesday morning, enveloping those who were awake with a blanket of soothing daylight.

The night before, however, supporters of same-sex marriage had gathered, in their goat leggings and leather, to engage in a horrifying bacchanal involving the setting of bonfires, the invocation of incantations, and the sacrifices of---

Well, actually, none of that ever happened...but it sounded like a lot of fun, didn’t it?

What Actually Happened

Instead, a crowd of roughly 250 gathered at Seattle’s Pravda Studios to wait for the results. The event was quite upbeat before results were announced, and that mood was reinforced when it was announced that seven Western Washington counties, including King County, were voting to approve the Referendum.



I was lucky enough to get some insight as to how that happened when I interviewed Charlene Strong, who tragically lost her partner three years ago. Her face and her story have figured prominently in this campaign—but as she pointed out to me, the seeds of whatever happens in this election were planted years ago:

...”...the citizens of Washington State...put a Governor in place that is all about equality and a Legislative team that is all about equality and I feel very proud tonight to be a citizen of Washington State, and I’m sure I’ll be feeling that way for quite some days to come...”





(I am not, and have never been, a camera operator for the MTV Networks. Instead, I’m still getting used to my little Flip Video camera...which is why much of the interview appears to have been conducted with the most gracious Ms. Strong’s shoulder. Mea culpa.)

Numbers, Numbers, Numbers

And with the stage having been set, let’s get geeky:

Washington’s Secretary of State keeps track of statewide ballot measures (including verifying the petition signatures), and it is on their site where we will find statewide results. At the moment (the moment being 6:24 PM, November 4th) 593,956 voters have voted to approve and 556,090 voted to reject, which means R-71 is leading 51.65-48.35%.

Ballots representing almost 33% of the State’s voters have been counted so far, and it is estimated that 394,482 ballots are on hand, around the State, waiting to be counted.

Here’s how the five largest counties are shaping up:

King County Elections reports that R-71 is passing by a 66-33% margin (202,125 to 101,403), with a total of 438,557 votes having been received so far from the County’s 1,079,842 registered voters. These numbers tell us that 135,029 votes are currently on hand, waiting to be counted. (63,446 votes came in today.)

It is likely that 90,000 of those uncounted votes are going to be “approved” votes, based on current trends. If a similar number of votes came in tomorrow, roughly 40,000 more votes would be “approve votes”, suggesting as many as 130,000 more “approved” votes could be waiting to be tallied up.

(Based on these numbers, we already know that King County will exceed the 51% statewide turnout rate that the Secretary of State projected before the election.)

Snohomish County Elections reports that 101,737 votes have been received so far, with 45,000 votes currently uncounted. Voters are approving the measure, but with a much closer margin: 51.72-48.28% (51,222-47,809). The remaining 45,000 votes should add about 1,000 votes to R-71’s lead.

We do not know how many votes were received today by the County, but if we assume that 50% of the total number of votes were in the mail in Election Day, then another 50,000 or so votes should be still on the way, which should also increase R-71’s lead by about 1,000 votes, if current trends hold.

(If we assume that the County will achieve a 50% turnout rate, roughly 40,000 Ballots should be in the mail, which only adds 800 additional votes, not the 1,000 estimated in the precious paragraph.)

The Pierce County Auditor reports that 90,367 votes are in, and the “rejected” votes are leading, 47,307 (53.08%) to 41,809 (46.92%). The estimate is that 50,000 ballots remain to be counted. 60,000 additional votes would be needed for the County to reach a 50% turnout rate, and if you projected that 110,000 votes onto the current trend the “approve 71” final vote should decline by about 6,500 votes.

Clark County Elections indicates that R-71 is losing there as well, with 36,206 (46.01%) voting to approve and 42,481 (53.99%) voting to reject. 13,000 ballots are reported to be uncounted. Clark County has 215,626 registered voters, and based on these numbers it would take an additional 14,450 votes to get to a 50% turnout. That suggests the “approve R-71” vote should decline by about another 2,000 votes.

Finally, Spokane County. There are 257,092 registered voters in the County, and they came out against R-71 in a big way, with 38,079 (39.98%) voting to approve and 57,169 (60.02%) voting to reject. The estimate is that 35,000 votes remain to be counted, and it’s likely those votes will decrease the “approve R-71” lead by about 6,000 votes.

The County has exceeded 50% turnout, and we do not know how many votes arrived today. If we assume 60% turnout, another 25,000 votes would be in the mail, reducing the “approve R-71” lead by another 5,000 votes.

The Big “Wrap-Up”

So what does all this mean?

How about this: I have forever told people that if the candidate or measure you support can win, with a reasonable margin, in Washington’s five largest counties, you’re gonna win the election.

With that in mind, let’s tally up the numbers and see where we are:

The King County tally, by my guess, will add another 130,000 “approved” votes to the statewide total. Snohomish County voters could add 2,000 more votes. Pierce, Clark, and Spokane Counties should reduce the “approve” votes by about 14,500 votes.

Add it all up, and I’m estimating that R-71 could gain 117,500 votes...but that number will certainly go down because of the votes of the rest of the State...so if I had to guess (and I guess I am) I would project that R-71 is going to pass with a margin of victory somewhere in the range of 80-100,000 votes, as opposed to the current margin of roughly 37,000 votes.

There are lots of caveats here: the estimates of incoming ballots could be off, the 50% turnout estimate could be inaccurate, and currently uncounted votes might not follow the trends of the votes counted so far.

Additionally, I will freely admit that I’m biased: I support R-71 (and to take it further, if same-sex couples want to marry...as long as I don’t have to buy all of them presents, I don’t see the problem), and this bias could be affecting my judgment.

So that’s today’s story: based on the return data that is known, and my own guess on what’s likely, I’m going way out on the proverbial limb and projecting that R-71 wins by somewhere between 80-100,000 votes, primarily on the strength of the uncounted King County vote and an estimate of votes that will arrive over the next 48 hours.

As with any modeling project, there are a lot of potential problems that might affect the model’s output—including my own biases—but I feel good about this estimate, and over the next week or so, we’ll see if I’m right.

Additionally, we got to have an inside look at the “process” of R-71...and we got to have an exclusive conversation with Charlene Strong’s shoulder—which, I promise, will become a “teachable moment” for yours truly as we grow, going forward, from a “words only” storytelling service into a video storytelling service.

It’s a great place to end Part Three—and it leaves us perfectly positioned to move on to a discussion of what we can learn from Tuesday’s skirmishes—but for now I have to go and strap on the goat leggings and get back to work.

After all, the doomed won’t sacrifice themselves, will they?

Fort Hood death toll now at 12; gunmen were U.S. soldiers

McClatchy News Service

WASHINGTON — At least 12 people have been killed and perhaps as many as 30 wounded in a shooting at Fort Hood Army Base near Killeen, Texas, that apparently began minutes before a graduation ceremony was to begin at a base sports complex, Pentagon officials said.

A statement from the Pentagon provided few details, saying only that "more than one shooter" fired into soldiers at the base's Soldiers Readiness Processing Center and the base's Howze Theater. "One shooter has been apprehended," it said.

Other accounts suggested that gunfire had been heard at several widely separated locations on the base, including the post exchange and base housing units.

The shooters were in uniform, U.S. Rep. John Carter, R-Texas, whose district includes Fort Hood, told CNN. U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, told MSNBC that 30 people had been wounded.

Fort Hood is the second largest military base in the United States, home to at least 4,929 active duty officers and 45,414 enlisted personnel. Civilian employees total nearly 9,000. Among the units based there are the 1st Cavalry Division and the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment. Most of the base's units are currently deployed to Iraq.

Pentagon officials said the shooting began at about 1:30 p.m. Central timem, at Howze Theater on the base, then moved to readiness center, where the graduation ceremony honoring soldiers who had obtained degrees from extension schools was scheduled to begin at 2 p.m.

The readiness center is frequently used for welcome and departure ceremonies for troops headed to Iraq or Afghanistan.

One gunman was reportedly in custody and another may have been cornered. It was unknown whether the victims were soldiers or civilians. Officials at the Pentagon said the wounded were taken to Darnell Army Hospital for treatment.

NBC affiliate KCEN in Waco reported that the second suspect may be holed up in a building on the post. The base was reportedly on lockdown. Two nearby school districts were also being locked down.

This story is being updated as information becomes available. Please check back.

The installation is locked down. the soldiers were at the base readiness center, where soldiers about to be deployed go for the final medical checkups and other. all the casualties took place at the soldier readiness facility. the individuals involved were U.S. soldiers.

Department of emergency services confirmed that more than one shooter fired shot into the soldiers readiness processing center and howze theater and emergency. of the shooters been apprehended.

FP morning post 11/5

Top Story:

The Saudi air force has launched attacks on rebel bases inside Yemen in response to a cross-border raid by the rebels, according to local media reports. The Saudi government has confirmed only that the air force attacked rebels inside Saudi territory, but Arab diplomats say the air force has been bombarding targets within Yemen since Wednesday afternoon and that army units have been sent to the area. The rebels launched an incursion into Saudi terroritory on Wednesday, which killed a Saudi security officer and wounded several others.

Yemen's Shiite rebels, known as Houthis, accuse Riyadh of backing Yemen's government. The Saudis, meanwhile, worry that Iran could gain influence in the region through the rebels. Around 150,000 people have been displaced by the fighting, which began in 2004.

U.S. officials worry that the instability could provide a new safe have for al Qaeda in Osama bin Laden's ancestral home. Al Qaeda claimed responsibility for the killing of three Yemeni security officials this week.

Infiltration:
Mexican drug gangs are increasingly growing marijuana on American Indian reservations.

Asia
The United Nations is relocated nearly half of its Afghanistan-based staff after last week's Taliban attack.
Two senior Indonesian officials resigned in a graft scandal.
The U.S. and EU filed a complaint at the WTO against China's high export tariffs.

Middle East
The UN General Assembly is due to call a vote on a resolution endorsing the findings of the Goldstone report.
Morocco has expelled a Swedish diplomat for passing document to rebels in Western Sahara.
Hezbollah has denied any connection to a weapons-carrying ship seized by Israel this week.

Europe
An Italian judge convicted 23 CIA agents in absentia for the 2003 kidnapping of an Egyptian cleric.
German Opel workers went on strike to protest GM's decision not to sell the company.
Croatia and Slovenia settled a long-running border dispute.

Africa
The International Criminal Court's prosecutor says he