Thursday, December 31, 2009

Truthout 12/31

Pentagon's Military "Mentoring" Program Closely Linked With Defense Contracting Firm
Mary Susan Littlepage, Truthout: "The military's senior mentor programs are part of a high-level review ordered by Defense Secretary Robert Gates and the subject of a report in USA TODAY. Earlier in December, Gates asked Deputy Secretary William Lynn to review whether mentors are overpaid and whether their work is a conflict of interest."
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Iran: Heading for More Violence?
Liberation's Jean-Pierre Perrin interviews Iran analyst Azadeh Kian Thiebaut, who predicts there will be more violence in Tehran, and Humanite's Maurice Ulrich warns against Western interference.
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Montana's "Clean-Coal" Governor's Climate Change Blunder
Joshua Frank, Truthout: "Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer and other members of the State Land Board, all Democrats, voted 4 to 1 on December 21 to open up Otter Creek, an approximately 10,000-acre checkerboard of public lands, to coal development in Montana's region of the Powder River Basin. An estimated 572 million tons in all will be auctioned off to coal companies for 25 cents a ton, with a small percentage of the money to be funneled to public schools. 'The main beneficiaries of leasing Otter Creek coal won't be coal miners or schools or the Northern Cheyenne or the residents of Powder River County,' wrote local residents Bill and Judy Musgrave in the Billings Gazette leading up to the vote. 'It will be coal speculators and the proposed Tongue River Railroad.'"
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The Need to Help Labor Radio Survive
Stephen Crockett, Truthout: "In these terrible economic times, it is hard for most working families to keep the bills paid. We all are struggling to stay in our homes, keep our old cars on the road and food on the table. Americans are certainly worried with good reason about keeping their jobs and affording health care. All of these problems can be traced more or less directly to excessive corporate power in America, both economically and politically."
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Jason Leopold | Eight CIA Agents, Five Canadians Killed in Afghanistan
Jason Leopold, Truthout: "Eight CIA agents were killed Wednesday when a suicide bomber detonated a vest laced with explosives at a military base in eastern Afghanistan, US officials confirmed late Wednesday. The explosion occurred at Forward Operating Base Chapman near the Afghanistan/Pakistan border."
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Jean Athey | Gaza Freedom March
Jean Athey, Truthout: "We are in the Middle East, seeking a nonviolent solution to the blockade of Gaza. Free Gaza actions are occurring all over Cairo, and so the police, who are often in riot gear, have had a busy day - they show up wherever we go. They are incredibly young, maybe 18 or 19. Typically, they surround us with movable steel fences, which they line up behind, and they watch us with what seems to be curiosity, not malice. However, their innocent appearance doesn't mean they won't become aggressive; police today were very rough with several Spanish protesters. As internationals, though, we have great protection not enjoyed by locals."
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Steve Early | Green Mountain Mustering for the War at Home or Abroad?
Steve Early, Truthout: "Earlier this month, the 'People's Republic of Burlington' had a busy weekend mustering its 'troops' for active duty on several fronts, one at home and the other abroad. On Saturday, December 5, two hundred labor and progressive activists gathered at the University of Vermont to plan more effective resistance to job cuts and contract give-backs demanded by recession-ravaged employers. The title of their conference, 'Turning Crisis Into Opportunity: Building Democratic, Fighting Unions and Defending Public Services in Hard Economic Times,' was almost as long as the list of domestic challenges its participants face."
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Deb Price | The 2010 Forecast: More Delays for Gays
Deb Price, Truthout: "Imagine looking up at an airport monitor. Next to the list of flights scheduled for departure is 'delayed,' 'delayed,' 'delayed.' Got the image? Then you have a fairly good feel for how gay Americans ended 2009, a year in which Democrats ran the control towers. Long-promised flights toward equality were, well, you got it, largely delayed."
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Court Says US Can Stay Mum About Guantanamo Surveillance
Warren Richey, The Christian Science Monitor: "A federal appeals court in New York ruled on Wednesday that US government agencies may refuse to confirm or deny the existence of records when faced with a Freedom of Information Act request that might disclose sensitive intelligence activities, sources or methods. The ruling by a three-judge panel of the Second US Circuit Court of Appeals was in connection with a lawsuit seeking information about whether the US conducted secret surveillance of lawyer communications with detainees at the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, prison camp."
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Plotting the Decade on an X-Y Axis
Emily Badger, Miller-McCune: "With the close of a decade, it's invariably time to take stock of superlatives: best-selling artists, worst fashion trends, brightest ideas and lowest political moments. But how do you measure the whole decade itself?"
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China Loses Steel Dumping Case, a Sign of Things to Come
Kevin G. Hall, McClatchy Newspapers: "A ruling Wednesday by the US International Trade Commission in favor of domestic steelmakers and against Chinese exporters of tubular steel points to a likely trend in 2010 - more trade action against the export powerhouse. 'There's steam on China, and it's not just the United States,' said Michelle Applebaum, a steel expert who publishes the Steel Market Intelligence report."
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US Arms Feed Yemen's Gun Culture
Thalif Deen, Inter Press Service: "When Yemen refused to vote in support of a US-sponsored Security Council resolution against Iraq during the 1990-1991 Gulf War, a visibly angry US delegate turned to the Yemeni diplomat and said: 'That will be the last time you will ever vote against a US resolution.' Washington's subsequent retaliation, in the aftermath of that negative vote, was predictable ... But since that much-talked-about confrontation in the Security Council chamber, there has been a dramatic turnaround in the fluctuating love-hate relationship between the two countries. And this week's aborted attempt to blow up a US plane by a Nigerian student, with ties to a terrorist group in Yemen, has brought the political spotlight back on a country which is proud of its gun culture."
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What Iranian Women Do in Hard Times
Iran GlobalPost Correspondent, Global Post: "It's an all-too-common sight in the metros of Tehran. Since the subway system was put into use in 2000, and with its rapid expansion, more and more of these women vendors have taken to plying their wares inside the carriages. Their emergence coincides with the downturn in the Iranian economy over the past few years and the corresponding rise in living costs."
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McClatchy Washington report 12/31

  • When Goldman Sachs joined some of its Wall Street rivals in late 2005 in secretly packaging a new breed of offshore securities, it gave prospective investors little hint that the deals were so risky that they could end up losing hundreds of millions of dollars. Not only were investors buying shaky securities backed by mortgages, but they also were agreeing to pay Goldman if the risky home loans nose-dived in value — as Goldman was betting they would.

  • Somewhere tonight, people will sadly note the end of the first decade of the 21st century. People who met the loves of their lives, perhaps. Had children. Got their first jobs - and held on to them. Men and women who will define the last 10 years by personal triumphs. They, however, will be in the minority. Most Americans will look back on the decade and say, "Good riddance."

  • Faux car bombs designed to check the ability of Iraqi police to spot explosives are just one of the efforts that the Iraqi government, with U.S. help, is making to protect Baghdad, a city of roughly 6 million. There are nearly 1,500 fixed and mobile checkpoints; blast walls; controversial hand-held explosive detectors; and armed security personnel on virtually every corner.

  • The decision as the clock strikes midnight is: Should we say "Happy two thousand ten" or "Happy twenty ten." In this new digital decade, which technically isn't a new decade, comes the analog question of what the masses will call the new year.

  • A state senator says Alaska oil refineries have been gouging Alaskans at the gas pump for more than a year, reaping profit margins unparalleled to ones in the Lower 48, and he is once again calling for government to step in. Profits for Alaska refineries are twice the national average, a nonpartisan report finds.

  • When Bank of America CEO Ken Lewis steps down today, he might not even come into the office. Lewis leaves with a mixed legacy. He was twice named Banker of the Year by the American Banker trade publication. In 2007, he made Time magazine's list of 100 most influential people. But he also made enemies who didn't like how he laid off thousands of workers or his sometimes-brusque demeanor. And shareholders have suffered: The stock closed Wednesday down 45 percent from his first day as CEO, April 25, 2001. This year, the once-lucrative dividend was slashed to a penny.

  • Dust is everywhere, burrowing under beds, piling up on windowsills, clogging guns and machinery, irritating eyes, noses and lungs. It soars thousands of miles over continents and oceans, sometimes obliterating the sky. Now scientists are beginning to have new respect for the way dust alters the environment and affects the health of people, animals and plants.

  • Seizing on the claim that ex-Guantanamo detainees were linked to the foiled Christmas Day terror attack, Republican leaders on Wednesday called on the White House to stop sending captives home to Yemen from the detention center in southeast Cuba.

  • The effort to enlarge and train the Afghan army is critical to the Obama administration's plan to defeat the Taliban and al Qaida, pacify much of Afghanistan and begin to withdraw at least some U.S. forces in 2011. Success, however, is far from guaranteed: The Afghan military remains plagued by corruption, ethnic rivalries and illiteracy, and by its almost complete dependence on American logistical and intelligence support.

  • After months of hammering Gov. Rick Perry's record on transportation, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison outlined her own plan to keep Texas traffic moving. Hutchison's proposal included vows to reform the Texas Department of Transportation and support toll roads less often than Perry. But she provided no details on how future transportation improvements would be funded if she becomes governor.

  • Fifteen years ago, Kansas City police officers Patrick Brown and Larry Schoen fought for their lives on New Year's Eve. Now they are fighting to prevent early parole for the man who emerged from a shadow and shot them both at point-blank range. A protective vest saved Brown from the bullet that slammed into his chest. Schoen was hit in the leg and hip.

  • "The main thing is the facts were pretty well undisputed," Texas Tech Chancellor Kent Hance said in an ESPN interview Wednesday. "Mike [Leach] acknowledged that he had [James] locked up, he acknowledged that he had given him a pretty good cussing and did not work with us to try to solve the problem. . . . Mike was adamant that he wasn't going to have anyone second-guessing him, and it just went downhill."

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Truthout 12/30

Jason Leopold | AIG Executives Failed to Repay Majority of Bonuses
Jason Leopold, Truthout: "Despite previous promises, beleaguered insurance giant American International Group (AIG) has failed to return tens of millions of dollars in bonus payments the firm doled out to executives following the company's spectacular unraveling and subsequent multibillion government bailout, according to a recent report by the special inspector general for the government's Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP)."
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Why Obama Must Continue Releasing Yemenis From Guantanamo
Andy Worthington, Truthout: "The weekend before Christmas, 12 prisoners were released from Guantanamo. In two previous articles, I told the stories of six of these men - two Somalis and four Afghans - and in this final article I look at the stories of the six Yemenis who were also released. These releases were enormously important because Yemenis make up nearly half of the remaining 198 prisoners in Guantanamo, and until these six men were repatriated, only 16 Yemenis had been freed from Guantanamo throughout the prison's long history."
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Report Says ACORN Didn't Commit Voter Fraud or Misuse Federal Funding
Mary Susan Littlepage, Truthout: "The Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) did not commit voter fraud, and it didn't misuse federal funding in the last five years, according to a recently released report prepared by the Congressional Research Service (CRS), a nonpartisan investigational arm of Congress."
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Iraq Veteran Finds Sanctuary in Canadian Church
Gerry Condon, Truthout: "Rodney Watson is one of the bravest and nicest men I have had the pleasure of meeting. He is an African-American from Kansas City, Kansas. He is a very religious young man, 32 years old. His dream was to one day have his own restaurant. In 2004, when an Army recruiter told him he would be trained as a cook, he signed up for a three-year hitch. When Watson was deployed to Iraq in October 2005, his superiors told him he would be supervising the dining facility."
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New Year's Memo to South Asia: Don't Trust Everyone
J. Sri Raman, Truthout: "'There is one safeguard known generally to the wise, which is an advantage and security to all, but especially to democracies as against despots. What is it? Distrust.' This maxim of Athenian orator and statesman Demosthenes (384 - 322 BC) can serve as a New Year's message to millions in South Asia."
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Eugene Robinson | Cheney in Winter
Eugene Robinson: "It's pathetic to break a New Year's resolution before we even get to New Year's Day, but here I go. I had promised myself that I would do a better job of ignoring Dick Cheney's corrosive and nonsensical outbursts..."
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Uncle Sam's Signature
Bruno Odet in an editorial and Cathy Ceibe in an interview with scholar Julio Navarro, both for L'Humanite, decry the continuing usurpation of power in Honduras: "The death squads are circulating once more. A week does not go by without atrociously mutilated corpses of militants from the various democratic organizations gathered together in the Resistance Front against the Coup d'Etat (FRCG) being found. The mutilations prove that they were tortured before being killed."
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Senator Reid Vows to Force Vote on TSA Nominee Blocked by DeMint
McClatchy Newspapers: "Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) will force a vote on President Obama's nominee to lead the Transportation Security Administration when Congress reconvenes in three weeks."
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Are Environmentalists an Endangered Species?
Stephan Faris, GlobalPost: "Way back during the first decade of this century, the Earth was roamed by a beast that will soon be extinct. Environmentalists, it seemed, were everywhere: at the supermarket, plucking at organic produce; at the stoplight, breaking in their hybrid cars; on your neighbor's roof, putting up solar panels. Even oil companies got in on the action, smiling green from the pages of your magazine."
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Jim Hightower | Six Things to Do in 2010
Jim Hightower, Truthout: "In my travels, I've heard many cries of despair from you good folks about the timorous Obama presidency. On issue after issue, it's been go-slow and don't-rock-the-corporate boat. 'Where's the 'audacity of hope?" people are asking. 'Where's the 'change you can believe in?'"
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The Foreign Policy of Optimism
Rubrick Biegon, Foreign Policy in Focus: "Times are trying for American exceptionalism, that peculiar notion that the United States is unique in its attributes and qualitatively different from the rest of the international community. For many Americans, the Great Recession, set against the military quagmires in Iraq and Afghanistan, has clouded their view of the United States as a beacon of progress and anchor of stability in a turbulent world."
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Ray McGovern | Are Presidents Afraid of the CIA?
Ray McGovern, Truthout: "In the past I have alluded to Panetta and the Seven Dwarfs. The reference is to CIA Director Leon Panetta and seven of his moral-dwarf predecessors - the ones who sent President Barack Obama a letter on September 18 asking him to 'reverse Attorney General Holder's August 24 decision to reopen the criminal investigation of CIA interrogations.'"
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Anti-Mining Activists Killed in El Salvador
Amy Goodman, Democracy NOW!: "For the second time in a week, a prominent anti-mining activist has been assassinated in El Salvador. On Saturday, thirty-two-year-old Dora 'Alicia' Recinos Sorto was shot dead near her home. One of her children was injured in the shooting. Sorto was an active member of the Cabanas Environment Committee, which has campaigned against the reopening of a gold mine owned by the Vancouver-based Pacific Rim Mining Company."
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McClatchy Washington report 12/30

  • The foiled Christmas Day plot to blow up a jetliner over Detroit has thrown up a major roadblock to President Barack Obama's pledge to close the prison camps at Guantanamo. Reports that alleged would-be bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab trained in Yemen and that the plot was hatched by two former Guantanamo detainees have even supporters of emptying the prison predicting a new impediment to their effort. Half the current detainees are from Yemen.

  • Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has offered a 10-month freeze on new settlement construction in the West Bank to get the Palestinians back to peace negotiations, but he's vowed to continue expanding the settlements around East Jerusalem. For the Americans who are the strongest supporters of the settler movement, there's no room for compromise.

  • Obama blamed the intelligence community for failing to share "bits of information" that would have resulted in Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab being placed on a no fly list after his father warned U.S. officials of his son's extremist views. "It now appears that weeks ago this information was passed to a component of our intelligence community but was not effectively distributed so as to get the suspect's name on a no-fly list," Obama said.

  • Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid will force a vote on President Barack Obama's nominee to lead the Transportation Security Administration when the Senate reconvenes in three weeks. Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., who blocked an earlier effort to confirm TSA nominee Erroll Southers, accused Reid of "grandstanding." A Reid spokesman called DeMint "petty and vindictive."

  • Some legislators argue that the machines, which cost about $170,000 each and are in use at 19 U.S. airports, could have detected the explosive powder a 23-year-old Nigerian was carrying and should be approved for widespread use. Others, however, call a whole-body scan a "virtual strip search" that should be used only if there's probable cause.

  • The White House provided this transcript of Obama's remarks Tuesday on the attempted bombing of a Detroit-bound airliner in which he blamed the intelligence community for missing signs that might have prevented the suspect, Nigerian Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, from boarding the place.

  • The three-pronged attack began at about 10 a.m. when a car bomb exploded at a busy intersection outside the Anbar government and police compound in the provincial capital of Ramadi, about 70 miles west of Baghdad — just as Anbar Gov. Qasim al Fahdawi prepared to leave the compound for a ground-breaking on a new project. At least 24 people died.

  • Tech officials suspended Mike Leach on Monday amid allegations he mistreated backup wide receiver Adam James after the James suffered a concussion during a Dec. 16 scrimmage. Leach's attorney, Ted Liggett, filed a motion for a temporary restraining order Tuesday in Lubbock. Tech plays Michigan State in the Alamo Bowl on Saturday, and Leach wants to coach the game.

  • Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum directed his staff Tuesday to investigate the legality of requiring people to buy health insurance or face a penalty, a provision included in the federal health care reform bills before Congress. McCollum said the requirement sounded like a tax on living.

  • Beginning Friday, new semi-automatic handguns sold in California are supposed to include an innovative firing pin that stamps microscopic characters onto cartridge cases. It was intended to ensure that every bullet casing at a crime scene has a license number on it, traceable to a statewide gun database. But the law is on hold over details and patent fights.

  • A Kentucky Lottery official announced Tuesday a law firm representing the potential winner or winners of a $128.6 million Powerball jackpot has contacted the lottery. Chip Polston, vice president of communications for the Kentucky Lottery, said the attorneys did not give lottery officials any information about the winner, but did have the date and time the winning ticket was purchased.

  • Hemmed in by cars on both sides of the railroad tracks, Deborah Bingham backed into the path of a speeding Amtrak train that killed her sleeping sons at a rail crossing in East Durham, N.C., according to a police report of the Dec. 9 incident released Tuesday. Four crossing gates descended after Bingham drove across three railroad tracks in heavy afternoon traffic a little after 5 p.m. One gate struck her windshield.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Truthout 12/29

Gaza Freedom March Rumbles Into Egyptian Security Services
Max Ajl, Truthout: "Lines of black-clad Egyptian riot police descended upon hundreds of French activists lining up in front of a rank of riot barriers separating the street and the sidewalk in front of the French Embassy in Cairo, locking the French activists into place. Dozens of police troop carriers lined the far side of the boulevard. Red water cannons sat behind them - palpably menacing. The French activists are part of the European Palestine solidarity group, EuroPalestine. They number about 300."
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Dahr Jamail | Tracking the Sound of Revolution
Dahr Jamail, Truthout: "The band Junkyard Empire does not differentiate among music, message and life. Political Affairs magazine said, 'A jazz version of Rage Against the Machine, Minnesota-based Junkyard Empire blends jazz instrumentals, hip hop, and socially conscious lyrics to create a fresh sound ... this new Midwestern band has something to say.'"
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US Intelligence Found Iran Nuke Document Was Forged
Gareth Porter, Inter Press Service: "US intelligence has concluded that the document published recently by the Times of London, which purportedly describes an Iranian plan to do experiments on what the newspaper described as a 'neutron initiator' for an atomic weapon, is a fabrication, according to a former Central Intelligence Agency official."
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What Was Really Decided in Copenhagen?
Brian Tokar, Truthout: "Detailed accounts from participants in the recent Copenhagen climate summit are still coming in, but a few things are already quite clear, even as countries step up the blame game in response to the summit's disappointing conclusion."
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Who's Running the TSA? No One, Thanks to Sen. Jim DeMint
Margaret Talev, McClatchy Newspapers: "An attempt to blow up a trans-Atlantic flight from Amsterdam to Detroit on Christmas Day would be all-consuming for the administrator of the Transportation Security Administration - if there were one. The post remains vacant because Sen. Jim DeMint (R-South Carolina) has held up President Barack Obama's nominee in opposition to the prospect of TSA workers joining a labor union."
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Alexander Cockburn | A Decade Dies, a Movement Dies
Alexander Cockburn, Truthout: "Hazlitt got gloomily drunk for a fortnight after the battle of Waterloo, accurately anticipating that decades of reaction lay ahead, now that Boney had been definitely put away, with the Holy Alliance in the saddle and the French contagion safely bottled up. Smart fellow, that Hazlitt. He should have stayed drunk for a month."
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Robert Naiman | US Press Ignores Egyptian Suppression of Gaza Freedom March
Robert Naiman, Truthout: "The government of Egypt is taking a spectacularly hard line against international solidarity efforts in support of civilians in Gaza on the one-year anniversary of the Israeli invasion, blocking peace marchers from the US, Canada and Europe from even approaching the Egyptian border with Gaza, and blocking an aid convoy that has the support of the Turkish government from entering Egypt at Nuweiba. Even a peaceful protest at UN offices in Cairo was largely walled off from public view by Egyptian police."
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A Convenient Delusion
Earnest Partridge, The Crisis Papers: "The same sort of public relations wizardry that once convinced a sizable portion of Americans that cigarette smoking was harmless, that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and had a hand in the 9/11 attacks, that Al Gore claimed to have invented the internet, and that John Kerry's war record was fraudulent, is now convincing an increasing number of our citizens that global warming is at least of little consequence, or, at most, a massive hoax."
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Federal Appeals Court Sets Limits on Police Use of Tasers
Hudson Sangree and Kim Minugh, Sacramento Bee: "A federal appeals court on Monday issued one of the most comprehensive rulings yet limiting police use of Tasers against low-level offenders who seem to pose little threat and may be mentally ill. In a case out of San Diego County, the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals criticized an officer who, without warning, shot an emotionally troubled man with a Taser when he was unarmed, yards away, and neither fleeing nor advancing on the officer."
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Emmanuel Todd: "What Sarkozy Proposes Is Hatred of the Other"
Jean-Baptiste de Montvalon and Sylvia Zappi interview Emmaneul Todd for Le Monde: "A leader on the issue of social fracture that was taken up by Jacques Chirac during his 1995 presidential campaign, Emmanuel Todd has long observed the disconnect between the elite and working classes. For the first time, he confides his analysis of the debate over national identity. Without dissimulating his anger: 'If you are in power and you don't get anything accomplished on the economic front, the search for scapegoats at any price becomes second nature,' he deems."
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Robert Parry | What the New Year Demands
Robert Parry, Consortium News: "The US political battle lines for 2010 are already clear. Despite having caused many of the severe problems the country faces, the Republicans and the Right are again in the ascendancy, having shifted the blame for most of the troubles onto President Barack Obama and the Democrats."
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US Military Is Meeting Recruitment Goals With Video Games - but at What Cost?
Jamie Holmes, The Christian Science Monitor: "For the first time since the establishment of all-volunteer forces in 1973, the US military has met all of its recruiting goals. This success can be attributed in part to the new video games and graphic novels aimed at America's youth. It may sound like the US military has solved a major recruitment problem, but there may be a high cost."
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The Sydney Awards II

McClatchy Washington report 12/29

  • An attempt to blow up a trans-Atlantic flight from Amsterdam to Detroit on Christmas Day would be all-consuming for the administrator of the Transportation Security Administration — if there were one. Instead, the post remains vacant because Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., has held up President Barack Obama's nominee in an effort to prevent TSA workers from joining a labor union.

  • When justices return on Jan. 11 for their next oral arguments, they'll be dealing with the cases for which the term is likely to be remembered. Some of the disputes the court will hear: Do restrictions on corporate political donations violate the First Amendment? Do cities and states violate the Second Amendment when they ban gun possession? Can Congress prohibit videos that purportedly depict animal cruelty, such as one that shows pit bulls attacking a domestic pig? Does the National Football League's tightly controlled licensing of hats and apparel violate antitrust laws?

  • As the Obama administration and its European allies face dwindling public and political support for the eight-year-old Afghan war, the Taliban now have what a top intelligence official in Afghanistan called a "government-in-waiting," complete with Cabinet ministers, that could assume power if the U.S.-backed government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai fails. The Taliban now have shadow governors in 33 of Afghanistan's 34 provinces, including those in the north, where U.S. and other officials had thought the Islamic extremists posed less of a threat.

  • The ruling, which applies only to the western United States, is one of the harshest to date in questioning the increasing use of Tasers by police departments. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said a police officer in San Diego County, Calif., employed "excessive force" when without warning he shot an emotionally troubled man with a Taser when the man was unarmed, yards away, and neither fleeing nor advancing.

  • A judge last week ruled against a request by Bristol Palin that the case be kept sealed. Palin filed a petition for full legal and physical custody Nov. 4. She argued that she and her family provided almost all of the care anyway and asserted that "Levi is not yet mature enough to take on significant parental responsibilities." She also is seeking court-ordered child support.

  • Two University of California, Davis, professors have concluded that investors in firms that sponsored Tiger Woods lost $12 billion in the stock market in the days after Woods' love troubles became public. They reached that conclusion by comparing what happened to nine sponsors' stock prices to the market in general and their closest competitors and found the decline unlikely to stem from ordinary price variations.

  • Larry Allen Legans, 43, of North Highlands, Calif., faces a single felony charge of animal cruelty for allegedly shooting the sea lion Nov. 11 while fishing from his boat on the Sacramento River near Verona, Calif. The case became a cause celebre after dozens of people saw the injured sea lion on a dock near the Old Sacramento waterfront.

  • On Monday, the Thai military loaded more than 4,300 Hmong asylum seekers — residents of one of that country's largest refugee camps — into trucks and sent them home to their native Laos, forcibly repatriating them to a country many of them fear. In Sacramento, their relatives worried.

  • Robin Whiteley was an infant when his parents adopted him and brought him to Texas. But the complicated immigration paperwork wasn't done properly and he never became a U.S. citizen. Now 35, Whiteley was deported to Mexico afer a drug conviction. Now his sister is fighting to get him back.

  • Augusta Cannon was arrested Monday after the pastor of a south Kansas City church and several congregation members told authorities they recognized him from a bank surveillance photo published in The Kansas City Star.

  • Miami's commercial real estate market is already on the ropes, but it's likely to get worse: Two behemoth office towersare to be completed next year and another tower might open in 2011. That will dump hundreds of thousands of square feet of office space on the market and drag down any hopes of job-generating new construction.

  • Social media is constantly evolving, and tools like Twitter were new for tons of people this year -- especially folks trying to jump on the trend and use it as a business and customer relations tool. So today we count down the five worst (and most frequently committed) online faux pas that we witnessed in 2009. Hopefully, history won't repeat itself in 2010.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Truthout 12/28

Scott Galindez | We Won Round One on Health Care
Scott Galindez, Truthout: "There are widespread opinions out there on the Senate version of health care reform. I understand people's frustration with how 'Traitor Joe' Lieberman and 'Ben Arnold' Nelson held the Senate bill hostage. A robust public option would have been a great start to the real reforms needed to fix our broken health care system. Traitor Joe and Ben Arnold succeeded; there will not be a robust public option ... Many are saying it's better to just let the bill die and start over. I disagree, and here is why."
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After Sunday Clashes in Iran, "Green Movement" Supporters Take Stock
Iason Athanasiadis, The Christian Science Monitor: "The young, unemployed college graduate joined Sunday’s bloody anti-regime protests in Tehran even after an army friend of his warned him that Iran's security forces might use live rounds. After several hours on the Iranian capital’s smoky streets, he returned home in a daze. 'People took the fight to the police in several places, attacking them with stones for the first time,' he said, asking that his name not be used. 'We saw them overturn a police jeep and set it alight.' The pace of change in demonstrators' attitudes has accelerated, he said."
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Afghanistan Escalation a Bad Sign for the Country's Environment
Joshua Frank, Truthout: "Shipping off 30,000 more troops to the land of the Taliban may be infuriating to devoted antiwar activists, but the toll the Afghanistan war is having on the environment should also force nature lovers into the streets in protest. Natural habitat in Afghanistan has endured decades of struggle, and the War on Terror has only escalated the destruction."
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Peter Phillips and Mickey Huff | Inside the Military-Industrial-Media Complex: Impacts on Movement for Social Justice
Peter Phillips and Mickey Huff, Truthout: "Among the most important corporate media censored news stories of the past decade, one must be that over one million people have died because of the United States' military invasion and occupation of Iraq. This, of course, does not include the number of deaths from the first Gulf War nor the ensuing sanctions placed upon the country of Iraq that, combined, caused close to an additional one million Iraqi deaths."
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Dean Baker | Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac: Just a Four-Letter Word?
Dean Baker, Truthout: "The TARP, along with the much larger lending programs from the Federal Reserve Board and the FDIC, succeeded in preventing the financial system from collapsing. The banks are now back on their feet, with near-record profits and near-record bonuses for the executives who are so skilled in getting public money. The largest banks have now repaid their TARP money, with many smaller banks anxious to follow suit in order to avoid troubling questions about how they have used their taxpayer dollars. The major exception to the happy picture in the financial sector is the plight of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac."
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Tobacco: The (Small) Photo Shock
G.V., Le JDD: "Already employed in several countries, photos showing the dangers of tobacco will soon ornament cigarette packs sold in France. Nonetheless, the minister of health has settled for replicating the measures taken by our European neighbors."
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Dick Meister | Rights, Finally, for Airport Screeners
Dick Meister, Truthout: "The underpaid, overworked and otherwise poorly treated airport screeners, who are essential to air passenger safety, may finally be winning their long struggle for the badly needed union rights guaranteed other federal employees."
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Stephen Rohde | We Want Our Flag Back
Stephen Rohde, LA Daily Journal: "'If you had told me ten years ago that our government would be deliberately holding people in captivity on a naval base outside the US mainland so that we could do whatever we wanted to them without the intervention of US courts, I would have told you that you had been watching too many miniseries on TV.' These outraged words from Julia Tarver Mason, a partner at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison in New York City, are typical of the over 100 personal narratives written by lawyers, translators and others who have represented and assisted the detainees at the US prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, which have been collected in the new book 'THE GUANTANAMO LAWYERS: Inside a Prison Outside the Law.'"
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Froma Harrop | The Future of Paper
Froma Harrop, Truthout: "All through the long winter night, my digital gadgets lay snug in their recharging docks as Enya crooned on the iPod. It was on such a wintertide eve last December that I resolved to figure out all the things these wonderful devices could do - other than have me tend to their ravenous energy needs and update their programs. Some of them seemed to be taking advantage of my gentle nature."
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Jim Hightower | Hoping for a New Ethic in 2010
Jim Hightower, Truthout: "This special season got me to thinking about America's spirit of giving, and I don't mean this overdone business of Christmas gifts. I mean our true spirit of giving - giving of ourselves. Yes, we are a country of rugged individualists, yet there's also a deep, community-minded streak in each of us."
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Michael N. Nagler | Afghanistan: What Would a Real Policy Look Like?
Michael N. Nagler, Truthout: "At a Washington meeting some years back, Rep. Jim Moran of Virginia said to a group of us who had come to discuss Mideast policy, 'All foreign policy is domestic politics.' The recently announced 'surge' of 30,000 additional troops for Afghanistan was designed to placate political pressures on the president, which, even if it were possible, is not the right way to formulate a policy. What would be?"
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In New Gas Wells, More Drilling Chemicals Remain Underground
Abrahm Lustgarten, ProPublica: "For more than a decade, the energy industry has steadfastly argued before courts, Congress and the public that the federal law protecting drinking water should not be applied to hydraulic fracturing, the industrial process that is essential to extracting the nation's vast natural gas reserves. In 2005 Congress, persuaded, passed a law prohibiting such regulation. Now an important part of that argument - that most of the millions of gallons of toxic chemicals that drillers inject underground are removed for safe disposal, and are not permanently discarded inside the earth - does not apply to drilling in many of the nation's booming new gas fields."
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Race to Replace Missouri's Kit Bond Becoming One to Watch
Steve Kraske and Dave Helling, The Kansas City Star: "The likely pairing of Democrat Robin Carnahan and Republican Roy Blunt in a race for a seat in the US Senate is fully under way, with general agreement that it will be among the most-watched races in the nation next year. After a year of primping and posing by both candidates, the race is close. Very close. 'It's a 50-50 race in a 50-50 state,' Blunt said."
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The Big Zero

New York Times

Maybe we knew, at some unconscious, instinctive level, that it would be an era best forgotten. Whatever the reason, we got through the first decade of the new millennium without ever agreeing on what to call it. The aughts? The naughties? Whatever. (Yes, I know that strictly speaking the millennium didn’t begin until 2001. Do we really care?)

But from an economic point of view, I’d suggest that we call the decade past the Big Zero. It was a decade in which nothing good happened, and none of the optimistic things we were supposed to believe turned out to be true.

It was a decade with basically zero job creation. O.K., the headline employment number for December 2009 will be slightly higher than that for December 1999, but only slightly. And private-sector employment has actually declined — the first decade on record in which that happened.

It was a decade with zero economic gains for the typical family. Actually, even at the height of the alleged “Bush boom,” in 2007, median household income adjusted for inflation was lower than it had been in 1999. And you know what happened next.

It was a decade of zero gains for homeowners, even if they bought early: right now housing prices, adjusted for inflation, are roughly back to where they were at the beginning of the decade. And for those who bought in the decade’s middle years — when all the serious people ridiculed warnings that housing prices made no sense, that we were in the middle of a gigantic bubble — well, I feel your pain. Almost a quarter of all mortgages in America, and 45 percent of mortgages in Florida, are underwater, with owners owing more than their houses are worth.

Last and least for most Americans — but a big deal for retirement accounts, not to mention the talking heads on financial TV — it was a decade of zero gains for stocks, even without taking inflation into account. Remember the excitement when the Dow first topped 10,000, and best-selling books like “Dow 36,000” predicted that the good times would just keep rolling? Well, that was back in 1999. Last week the market closed at 10,520.

So there was a whole lot of nothing going on in measures of economic progress or success. Funny how that happened.

For as the decade began, there was an overwhelming sense of economic triumphalism in America’s business and political establishments, a belief that we — more than anyone else in the world — knew what we were doing.

Let me quote from a speech that Lawrence Summers, then deputy Treasury secretary (and now the Obama administration’s top economist), gave in 1999. “If you ask why the American financial system succeeds,” he said, “at least my reading of the history would be that there is no innovation more important than that of generally accepted accounting principles: it means that every investor gets to see information presented on a comparable basis; that there is discipline on company managements in the way they report and monitor their activities.” And he went on to declare that there is “an ongoing process that really is what makes our capital market work and work as stably as it does.”

So here’s what Mr. Summers — and, to be fair, just about everyone in a policy-making position at the time — believed in 1999: America has honest corporate accounting; this lets investors make good decisions, and also forces management to behave responsibly; and the result is a stable, well-functioning financial system.

What percentage of all this turned out to be true? Zero.

What was truly impressive about the decade past, however, was our unwillingness, as a nation, to learn from our mistakes.

Even as the dot-com bubble deflated, credulous bankers and investors began inflating a new bubble in housing. Even after famous, admired companies like Enron and WorldCom were revealed to have been Potemkin corporations with facades built out of creative accounting, analysts and investors believed banks’ claims about their own financial strength and bought into the hype about investments they didn’t understand. Even after triggering a global economic collapse, and having to be rescued at taxpayers’ expense, bankers wasted no time going right back to the culture of giant bonuses and excessive leverage.

Then there are the politicians. Even now, it’s hard to get Democrats, President Obama included, to deliver a full-throated critique of the practices that got us into the mess we’re in. And as for the Republicans: now that their policies of tax cuts and deregulation have led us into an economic quagmire, their prescription for recovery is — tax cuts and deregulation.

So let’s bid a not at all fond farewell to the Big Zero — the decade in which we achieved nothing and learned nothing. Will the next decade be better? Stay tuned. Oh, and happy New Year.

McClatchy Washington Report 12/28

  • President Barack Obama has ordered an investigation into possible U.S. security gaps that enabled a Nigerian man of known extremist leanings to keep his U.S. visa, smuggle explosives aboard a Christmas Day passenger flight and ignite them. Members of Congress said Friday's foiled attack exposed apparent security weaknesses.

  • A 562-foot smokestack that spewed a plume of arsenic, lead and other heavy metals over 1,000 square miles of Washington state's Puget Sound for nearly a century remains a fitting symbol of the largest environmental bankruptcy in U.S. history. However, it also tells a cautionary tale of how a company that's intent on shedding its environmental liabilities could manipulate the nation's bankruptcy system.

  • California will bar restaurants from cooking with trans fat beginning New Year's Day, becoming the first state to crack down on the substance tied to clogged arteries, strokes and coronary heart disease. The ban is hailed by supporters as a way to protect diners who routinely have not been aware of consuming trans fat at some restaurants because they don't see the meals cooked or the ingredients used.

  • Tom Hudson, the chairman of the Republican Central Committee in Placer County, Calif., has been drafting candidates to run against sitting GOP officeholders in a local version of what's taking place at the national level as the party struggles between its conservative and moderate wings. Hudson says he's just trying to protect the brand by ousting people he says are liberals posing as Republicans.

  • Former Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle filed Friday to seek the Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor. Earle said he concluded that the governor is too encumbered by "ceremonial duties" and that the lieutenant governor has a much greater role in shaping policy. Outgoing Houston Mayor Bill White's decision to run for governor as a Democrat also likely helped shape Earle's plans.

  • Starting in December 2008, Tari Dudley tried to get financing for a woman-owned, woman-friendly auto repair garage by approaching a large national bank where she had been a customer for 24 years. She had $47,000 in assets and was told that her credit score was excellent. But the loan officer didn't bother to hand her an application. Two community banks also said "no."

  • Authorities have arrested four men in a Christmas night beating that left a Charlotte, N.C., man dead in Indian Land, S.C. All four were charged Saturday with first-degree lynching in the killing of Ronnie Wallace, 42. Under South Carolina law, first-degree lynching is defined as a mob attack by two or more people that results in the victim's death. It doesn't relate to the victim's race or actual hanging.

  • The medical conditions that drove University of Florida football coach to announce his resignation, then a leave of absence, just days ahead of Friday's Sugar Bowl game include chest pains and an arachnoid cyst on his brain. On Sunday, he wouldn't be specific about what medical procedures would be necessary to treat his ailments, but a stress-free environment seems to be a requirement.

  • 2009 was supposed to be the year that federal budgeting was finally done smoothly and efficiently. It didn't happen. Spending on discretionary items, or those under White House and congressional control, is expected to run about 4 percent higher than last year, well above the rate of inflation. Still, that's less than the 7.5 percent annual average increase of the last 10 years.

  • Just hours after federal agents charged banker Allen Stanford with fleecing investors of $7 billion, the disgraced financier received a message from one of Congress' most powerful members, Pete Sessions. Now the Justice Department is investigating millions of dollars Stanford and his staff contributed to lawmakers over the past decade while building his spectacular offshore bank in Antigua.

  • With visions of a Republican majority dancing in his head, California U.S. Rep. Kevin McCarthy is driving the back roads of America these days, looking for fresh faces to represent his party in 2010. To regain control of the House of Representatives, Republicans must pick up 41 seats. If they do, it will be at least partly because of McCarthy's recruiting efforts.

  • He's 95. She's 90. Roy and Marcia Zahrobsky met when he walked into her dad's grocery store in Hampton, Iowa, back in the '30s to get some lunch. Then one day he came up and asked her if she was going to the dance. Before you know it, a depression, a world war and a few decades later, here they are, celebrating their 70th wedding anniversary in a nursing home in Muldoon, Alaska.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Truthout 12/27

Kirk Nielsen | Autumn of the Republic?
Kirk Nielsen, Miller-McCune: "Did America slip into a semiliterate, polarized, pre-fascist state over the past decade or so, allowing greedy oligarchs and corporate elites to run the government? Two books I recently read offer reasonably persuasive evidence and arguments that the country did, and a third suggests that dictatorial mindsets could besiege Americans, with an assist from the Internet, if they don't come to their more deliberative senses."
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Joshua Holland | In (Very Reluctant) "Defense" of the Insurance Mandate
Joshua Holland, AlterNet: "I have no interest in defending the mandate that individuals buy an insurance policy. I think it's self-evident that coercing people to shell out their hard-earned cash to Big Insurance is a distinctly sucky thing."
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David Bacon | The Racial Diversity of Hunger
David Bacon, East Bay Express: "Everyone knows that Oakland is diverse. Probably more people from more races and nationalities live in the city than anywhere west of New York or north of Los Angeles. But before we celebrate diversity, think of its most diverse places. Some of them are surely the lines of hungry people lining up for food."
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The Lingering Bush Legacy: What to do About Those Tax Cuts
Kevin G. Hall, McClatchy Newspapers: "In the back of every Washington politician's mind is this sobering fact: Unless Congress acts, the temporary tax cuts it passed when George W. Bush was president will expire at the end of next year. If the Democrats who control Congress do nothing and let the tax rates on the highest income brackets return to their pre-2001 levels, their Republican rivals and many Americans will slam them as tax hikers."
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Tsunami Recovery Hit by Corruption, Apathy
Marwaan Macan-Markar, Inter Press Service: "Questions that have dogged the tsunami recovery effort through 2006 coalesced in a crop of media stories and critical reports as affected countries remembered in prayer and reflection the over 220,000 people killed in that December 2004 natural disaster. The Dec. 24 headline in the lead story of a Thai English Language daily, 'The Nation,' could not have expressed this concern more bluntly. 'Where did our tsunami cash go?'"
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Dick Meister | A Lesson Too Long Unlearned
Dick Meister, Truthout: "Despite the importance of unions in our lives, our schools pay only slight attention to that importance - or even to their existence. Little is done in the classroom to overcome the negative view of organized labor held by many Americans; little is done to explain the true nature of organized labor."
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The Sidney awards


New York Times

Every year, I give out Sidney Awards to the best magazine essays of the year. In an age of zipless, electronic media, the idea is to celebrate (and provide online links to) long-form articles that have narrative drive and social impact.

The first rule of the Sidneys is that they cannot go to any article that appeared in The Times. So David Rohde does not get a Sidney for his unforgettable series on being held captive by the Taliban. But those pieces possess exactly the virtues that the Sidneys are meant to honor, and they make one proud to be a journalist.

This year, magazines had a powerful effect on the health care debate. Atul Gawande’s piece, “The Cost Conundrum,” in The New Yorker, was the most influential essay of 2009, and David Goldhill’s “How American Health Care Killed My Father,” in The Atlantic, explained why the U.S. needs fundamental health reform. But special recognition should also go to Jonathan Rauch’s delightful essay, “Fasten Your Seat Belts — It’s Going to Be a Bumpy Flight,” in The National Journal.

Rauch described what the airline industry would look like if it worked the way the health care industry works. The piece takes the form of a customer trying to book a flight with a customer service representative. The customer wants to fly from Washington, D.C., to Oregon on Oct. 3, but the airline lady can squeeze him in only in January or February. He can call each of two dozen other airlines if he wants to check other availability.

When he finally gets on a flight, he finds that his airline will only take him to Chicago, since it’s an eastern-region specialist. He’ll have to find a western-region specialist to get to Eugene. In addition, he’ll have to fax in a 30-page travel history questionnaire, make arrangements with a separate luggage transport provider and see if he can find a fuelist who might be free to make fuel arrangements on that date. That is, if the airline is in his insurance company’s provider network, which it isn’t.

The most powerful essay I read this year was David Grann’s “Trial by Fire” in The New Yorker. Grann investigated the case of Cameron Todd Willingham, who was executed in 2004 for murdering his three children by setting their house on fire.

In the first part of the essay, Grann lays out the evidence that led to Willingham’s conviction: the marks on the floor and walls that suggested that a fire accelerant had been splashed around; the distinct smoke patterns suggesting arson; the fact that Willingham was able to flee the house barefoot without burning his feet.

Then, in the rest of the essay, Grann raises grave doubts about that evidence. He tells the story of a few people who looked into the matter, found a miscarriage of justice and then had their arguments ignored as Willingham was put to death. Grann painstakingly describes how bogus science may have swayed the system to kill an innocent man, but at the core of the piece there are the complex relationships that grew up around a man convicted of burning his children. If you can still support the death penalty after reading this piece, you have stronger convictions than I do.

I try not to give Sidneys to the same people year after year, but the fact is, talent is not randomly distributed. Some people, like Matt Labash of The Weekly Standard, just know how to write. His piece, “A Rake’s Progress” was a sympathetic and gripping profile of Marion Barry, the former Washington, D.C., mayor, crack-smoker and recent girlfriend-stalker.

At the start of his first interview, Labash, making small talk, asked Barry if he still has a scar from an old bullet wound: “ ‘Let’s see,’ he says, lifting his shirt, so that within ten minutes of arriving, I’m eyeball to areola with Barry’s left nipple. It’s a move that’s very Barry. Most times, he reveals nothing at all. Then he reveals too much.”

Labash delights in Barry’s rascally nature, but also captures why the voters of Barry’s ward don’t merely vote for him, they possess him and cherish him.

The region around Afghanistan is now regarded as a global backwater, but S. Frederick Starr’s “Rediscovering Central Asia,” in The Wilson Quarterly, is an eye-opening look at what once was. A thousand years ago, those mountains were the intellectual center of the world. Central Asians invented trigonometry, used crystallization as a means of purification, estimated the Earth’s diameter with astonishing precision and anticipated Darwin’s theory of evolution. Starr describes glittering cities and a flowering of genius. He also describes the long decline — the Sunni-Shia split played a role — and modern glimmers of revival.

On Tuesday, we will publish another batch of Sidney winners, so turn off “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Read these today.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Truthout 12/26

Top Army Commander Rescinds Controversial Order Criminalizing Pregnancy
Jason Leopold, Truthout: "A controversial policy implemented last month by the Army general commanding soldiers in Northern Iraq that criminalized pregnancy was rescinded following an outcry from women's groups and fierce criticism by four Democratic lawmakers."
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Passengers Thwart Attempted Terrorist Attack on Plane
Matt Renner, Truhtout: "A man attempted to ignite an incendiary device aboard a Delta Airlines flight from Amsterdam to Detroit Friday, an incident government officials are classifying as 'an attempted act of terrorism,' according to an unnamed White House source quoted in various reports."
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David Sirota | What Happens When We Can't Trust the Verifiers?
David Sirota: "This month, a British government report admitted that one of the major rationales for invading Iraq - the claim that Saddam could deploy WMDs in 45 minutes - probably came from a cab driver. Had the public originally been told about this sketchy sourcing, there may have been a more, ahem, forceful mass opposition to pre-emptive war in the Middle East. It's a good lesson about the need for transparency."
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What Congress' Health Care Overhaul Likely Means for You
Jordan Rau, Kaiser Health News: "Now that the Senate has passed a hotly debated health care bill, Congress is headed to the next step: House of Representatives-Senate negotiations in January to hammer out a final version. Given the Senate's difficulty in passing a bill, the final legislation is likely to tilt strongly toward that chamber's version. Here's where things stand and how you might be affected."
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A Peek Inside Sarah Palin's Diary
Bernard Weiner, Truthout: "Dear Diary: It's been helter-skelter around here these days. Actually, there is no 'here.' I'm on the road every day, mostly at book signings for 'Going Rogue.' Turns out I'm real popular in the real America. You betcha."
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Argentina's "Disappeared:" Justice At Last or Reneging on Amnesty?
Sam Ferguson, The Christian Science Monitor: "Just outside Buenos Aires, in the depths of the Rio de la Plata and the South Atlantic, lie the remains of thousands of bodies. A generation ago, officials from Argentina's Naval Mechanics School, known by its Spanish acronym, ESMA, secretly loaded drugged prisoners into aircraft and threw them out over the brown and frigid waters. As many as 5,000 people were 'disappeared' at the hands of ESMA, perhaps the most horrifying symbol of South American repression in the 1970s."
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Tsunami Anniversary Marks Fragile Peace in Aceh

Peter Gelling, GlobalPost: "It was five years ago today that a tsunami, triggered by a 9.1-magnitude earthquake, ripped through Indonesia’s northernmost province of Aceh and 10 other countries, killing more than 226,000 people. It was Aceh that would bear the brunt of the tsunami’s force, which killed 170,000 people here, 35,000 of whom were never found."
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Friday, December 25, 2009

Tidings of comfort


New York Times

Indulge me while I tell you a story — a near-future version of Charles Dickens’s “A Christmas Carol.” It begins with sad news: young Timothy Cratchit, a k a Tiny Tim, is sick. And his treatment will cost far more than his parents can pay out of pocket.

Fortunately, our story is set in 2014, and the Cratchits have health insurance. Not from their employer: Ebenezer Scrooge doesn’t do employee benefits. And just a few years earlier they wouldn’t have been able to buy insurance on their own because Tiny Tim has a pre-existing condition, and, anyway, the premiums would have been out of their reach.

But reform legislation enacted in 2010 banned insurance discrimination on the basis of medical history and also created a system of subsidies to help families pay for coverage. Even so, insurance doesn’t come cheap — but the Cratchits do have it, and they’re grateful. God bless us, everyone.

O.K., that was fiction, but there will be millions of real stories like that in the years to come. Imperfect as it is, the legislation that passed the Senate on Thursday and will probably, in a slightly modified version, soon become law will make America a much better country.

So why are so many people complaining? There are three main groups of critics.

First, there’s the crazy right, the tea party and death panel people — a lunatic fringe that is no longer a fringe but has moved into the heart of the Republican Party. In the past, there was a general understanding, a sort of implicit clause in the rules of American politics, that major parties would at least pretend to distance themselves from irrational extremists. But those rules are no longer operative. No, Virginia, at this point there is no sanity clause.

A second strand of opposition comes from what I think of as the Bah Humbug caucus: fiscal scolds who routinely issue sententious warnings about rising debt. By rights, this caucus should find much to like in the Senate health bill, which the Congressional Budget Office says would reduce the deficit, and which — in the judgment of leading health economists — does far more to control costs than anyone has attempted in the past.

But, with few exceptions, the fiscal scolds have had nothing good to say about the bill. And in the process they have revealed that their alleged concern about deficits is, well, humbug. As Slate’s Daniel Gross says, what really motivates them is “the haunting fear that someone, somewhere, is receiving social insurance.”

Finally, there has been opposition from some progressives who are unhappy with the bill’s limitations. Some would settle for nothing less than a full, Medicare-type, single-payer system. Others had their hearts set on the creation of a public option to compete with private insurers. And there are complaints that the subsidies are inadequate, that many families will still have trouble paying for medical care.

Unlike the tea partiers and the humbuggers, disappointed progressives have valid complaints. But those complaints don’t add up to a reason to reject the bill. Yes, it’s a hackneyed phrase, but politics is the art of the possible.

The truth is that there isn’t a Congressional majority in favor of anything like single-payer. There is a narrow majority in favor of a plan with a moderately strong public option. The House has passed such a plan. But given the way the Senate rules work, it takes 60 votes to do almost anything. And that fact, combined with total Republican opposition, has placed sharp limits on what can be enacted.

If progressives want more, they’ll have to make changing those Senate rules a priority. They’ll also have to work long term on electing a more progressive Congress. But, meanwhile, the bill the Senate has just passed, with a few tweaks — I’d especially like to move the start date up from 2014, if that’s at all possible — is more or less what the Democratic leadership can get.

And for all its flaws and limitations, it’s a great achievement. It will provide real, concrete help to tens of millions of Americans and greater security to everyone. And it establishes the principle — even if it falls somewhat short in practice — that all Americans are entitled to essential health care.

Many people deserve credit for this moment. What really made it possible was the remarkable emergence of universal health care as a core principle during the Democratic primaries of 2007-2008 — an emergence that, in turn, owed a lot to progressive activism. (For what it’s worth, the reform that’s being passed is closer to Hillary Clinton’s plan than to President Obama’s). This made health reform a must-win for the next president. And it’s actually happening.

So progressives shouldn’t stop complaining, but they should congratulate themselves on what is, in the end, a big win for them — and for America.

Truthout 12/25

Anniversary of TVA Coal Ash Spill as Forgotten as the Disaster Itself
Glynn Wilson, Truthout: "On the third day before Christmas in 2008, the people living along the Emory River in East Tennessee were listening to songs about a 'white Christmas' like everybody else in the country, trying to look forward and not back. A new president was in the White House who promised 'hope' after eight years of war and unprecedented corruption, as well as the increasing economic hardship that was squeezing the middle class like a juggernaut. Instead of a white Christmas, though, people like Steve Scarborough of the Dagger Kayak and Canoe Company woke up to a black-gray mess of epic proportions, a river full of toxic coal ash from the Tennessee Valley Authority's coal-fired power plant at Kingston, Tennessee."
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GOP's McConnell Vows to Keep Battling Health Care Overhaul
Halimah Abdullah, McClatchy Newspapers: "Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell vowed to keep fighting efforts to pass a massive health care overall even as Democratic leaders declared victory following an early morning Christmas Eve vote on the Senate version of the legislation."
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Video: Pope Assaulted, but Not Injured at Christmas Mass
Truthout: "As Pope Benedict XVI entered St. Peter's Basilica to celebrate Christmas Eve Mass, a woman jumped the guard rail and dragged him to the ground. The Pope was not injured and preformed the ceremony and delivered the traditional Christmas message to the thousands gathered for the event."
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The Christmas Truce of 1914
Paul J. Magnarella, Truthout: "Although World War I ranks as one of the most horrific in history, causing about 40 million casualties and up to 20 million military and civilian deaths, it also included a famous and spontaneous peaceful interlude inscribed in chronicles as the unofficial Christmas truce of 1914."
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In Cuba, Christmas Makes Cautious Return
Nick Miroff, GlobalPost: "It’s been more than a decade since Christmas was restored to national holiday status on this communist-run island, but don’t confuse the kindly old man with the bushy white beard on government billboards for the jolly fellow in the flying sleigh. That’s Karl Marx up there, not Kris Kringle."
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Eugene Robinson | Christmas Cheer at Last
Eugene Robinson, Op-Ed: "Christmas came early for journalists this year. Thank you, Tareq and Michaele Salahi, for being the gift that keeps on giving. The gate-crashers who upstaged President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama at the administration's first White House state dinner turned out not to be mere garden-variety poseurs."
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In Romania, Ceausescu's Death Haunts Christmas
Sinziana Demian, GlobalPost: "Twenty years ago, as Romanians were celebrating their first free holiday in decades, they rejoiced at the news that dictator Nicolae Ceausescu and his wife Elena had been shot dead on Christmas day. It was the ultimate proof that the communist regime had crumbled irrevocably and that the late-December revolution had indeed succeeded."
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McClatchy Washington Report 12/25

  • Now that the Senate has passed a hotly debated health care bill, Congress is headed to the next step: House of Representatives-Senate negotiations in January to hammer out a final version. Given the Senate's difficulty in passing a bill, the final legislation is likely to tilt strongly toward that chamber's version. Here's where things stand and how you might be affected.

  • The Obama administration and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid won a critical and protracted battle over the shape and scope of Senate health care legislation that raged for weeks. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said, however, he plans to make certain the Democratic victoryis not the last word on health care.

  • It's not just the so-called Nebraska compromise that has raised hackles about the Senate's version of health care overhaul. In addition to a provision to pay Nebraska's costs of expanded Medicaid coverage, won by Sen. Ben Nelson in exchange for his support of the bill, the Senate bill also has a provision that would let 800,000 Florida seniors keep their Medicare Advantage plans.

  • The center of the country awoke to a white Christmas — it was the first time more than a sprinkling of snow had fallen in the Dallas-Fort Worth area on Christmas Day since 1926 — amid warnings that travel would be hazardous. Air travel was disrupted throughout the Midwest on Thursday by snow and high winds.

  • California's budget coffers are emptier than a politician's promise, but there may be a silver lining to the state's dark financial clouds: Fewer new laws. Legislators approved only 872 bills in their 2009 regular session, and just 632 have become or will become law by Jan. 1. While that may seem like a lot of laws, it's the fewest bills passed in more than 40 years.

  • The investigation into the death of NFL wide receiver Chris Henry is still open, with Charlotte-Mecklenburg police planning to re-interview his fiancee and other witnesses who may have heard or seen the couple arguing. Loleini Tonga, 25, was driving the Ford F150 pickup Henry was standing in Dec. 16 just before he was injured and then later died.

  • Early Christmas Eve morning, thieves stole copper wire from light-rail tracks along the Gold line in Rancho Cordova, bringing train traffic to a standstill through much of Thursday. The thief or thieves appear to have used a cable cutter to cut sections of wire that normally carry 750 to 900 volts of electricity, meaning the theft was both costly and dangerous.

  • A 518-page report by the staff of the state's Public Service Commission rejected Florida Power & Light's argument that it needs more than $1 billion in rate hikes to pay for operations and avoid layoffs. The staff report says the company can get by with a third of that.

  • In this season of peace, disappointment fills the peace movement because of President Obama. People thought he'd be different from the cowboy who had occupied the White House. From the candidate of hope, people expected peace to at long last have a chance.

  • Every holiday season, people get nicer. Some of the edge comes off of us. We give people the benefit of the doubt. We let perceived slights roll off our backs. We reach out to those in need. We commit little acts of kindness. We feel better and others feel better, too. We recognize our friends — and we tell them how special they are to us.

  • When snow covers the mountains north of Kabul and temperatures drop below freezing, many residents of Afghanistan's capital rely on their bukhari stoves to heat their homes. The stoves burn wood, sawdust, diesel fuel and kerosene. Each is made by hand.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Truthout 12/24

It's Done: Senate Approves Health Care Overhaul, 60-39
David Lightman and William Douglas, McClatchy Newspapers: "The Senate Thursday voted 60 to 39 to overhaul the nation's health care system - President Barack Obama's top 2009 domestic priority - moving the nation closer to near-universal health care coverage early in the next decade. It was a vote, said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, 'to live a healthy life.'"
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Report: Obama Now Aims to Close Guantanamo by 2011
Jason Leopold, Truthout: "President Barack Obama's ambitious plan to shut down the Guantanamo Bay prison facility by 2010 was dealt a major blow when lawmakers refused to earmark funds in a military spending bill Congress approved last week that would have allowed the federal government to purchase a near-empty maximum security prison in Illinois to house some detainees. As a result, Guantanamo will not be shut down until 2011 at the earliest, according to a report published Wednesday in the New York Times."
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Michael Winship | Where Are the Snows - and Shovels - of Christmas Past?
Michael Winship, Truthout: "We had our first snowstorm of the winter in Manhattan this past weekend and it served to remind me that I have not actually shoveled snow in decades - the result of living in a city where other people are hired to do it for you. It once was said that the definition of a city was a place where one could keep a mistress and buy a violin; to me it's a place where someone else does the sidewalks."
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Ellen Hodgson Brown | Compulsory Private Health Insurance: Just Another Bailout for the Financial Sector?
Ellen Hodgson Brown, Truthout: "The health reform bills now coming through Congress are not focused on how to make health care cheaper or more effective, how to eliminate waste and fraud or how to cut out expensive middlemen. As originally envisioned, the public option would have pursued those goals. But the public option has been dropped from the Senate bill and radically watered down in the House bill. Rather than focusing on making health care affordable, the bills focus on how to force people either to buy health insurance if they don't have it, or to pay more for it if they do."
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Jeremy Brecher | Gloom and Doom
Jeremy Brecher, Truthout: "As world leaders return from Copenhagen without an agreement that will protect the earth's atmosphere from devastating climate change, we ordinary people are forced to confront not only what we think, but also what we feel. When I was in elementary school in the early 1950's, we had air raid drills. Sirens would sound and we would be instructed to 'duck and cover' under our desks. There were plenty of jokes among the kids about our instructions. 'In the event of nuclear attack bend over, put your head between your legs, and kiss your ass goodbye.' Such a blase attitude concealed the fact that I and my friends, like many of our contemporaries, took it for granted that we were likely to die in a nuclear war."
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Schools Have Trouble Tapping Stimulus Funds
Christopher Flavelle, ProPublica: "Jones Senior High School has one of the best boys' basketball teams in eastern North Carolina, but its gymnasium is on the verge of collapse..... After the federal stimulus passed in February, North Carolina school officials thought they had found a way to repair the 58-year-old gym and other crumbling school structures. The stimulus provided money for Qualified School Construction Bonds, which is intended to let school districts raise capital through interest-free bonds to fund construction. The program also was expected to boost North Carolina's construction industry. Ben Matthews, director of school support for North Carolina's Department of Public Instruction, estimated it would create 11,000 jobs. But the bond program has become entangled in financial and bureaucratic red tape."
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McClatchy Washington Report 12/24

  • Everyone around the Afghan capital seems to recognize his voice, but almost no one knows his face. In the weeks since Hamid Karzai secured his hold on a second term in the presidency after a dubious election, this anonymous Karzai impersonator has become the newest voice of underground political dissent in Afghanistan. The satire isn't sophisticated. Some might even say his impersonation is crass.

  • The health-care legislation scheduled for a Senate vote early Thursday is a complex grab-bag of ideas and strategies, and a lot of senators are just as confused about the impact as the general public. Nevertheless, the Senate Wednesday kept the political momentum going, agreeing 60 to 39 to once again cut off a Republican-led debate.

  • Tanning salon owners say a 10 percent tax on tanning bed use, proposed in the Senate health care overhaul bill, is anti-woman. Women make up 85 percent of tanning bed clients, according to the industry. The proposed tax was suggested after doctors objected to a tax on cosmetic surgery. Women comprise 93 percent of cosmetic surgery patients.

  • Henry McMaster said he's rounded up 10 state attorney generals — all Republicans — to challenge the health care legislation if it passes with the so-called Nebraska Compromise intact. McMaster is making the effort at the suggestion of South Carolina's U.S. senators, both Republicans.

  • Lloyd Blankfein, the chief executive of Goldman Sachs, will be among the first business leaders grilled by the bipartisan panel that Congress established to investigate the near meltdown of the nation's financial system. Last month, a four-part McClatchy investigative series detailed Goldman's profiting from risky mortgages.

  • First there was the MRAP, the Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle that was intended to blunt the effectiveness of insurgents in Iraq. Now there's the M-ATV — the Mine Resistant Ambush Protected All Terrain Vehicle — designed for use in Afghanistan, where the MRAP proved too cumbersome. The Pentagon has ordered 5,000 for the battlefield.

  • Texas gained 478,000 people between July 1, 2008, and July 1, 2009, the Census Bureau said. The next-biggest gainers were California (378,000), North Carolina (134,000), Georgia (131,000) and Florida (114,000). With 37 million residents, California remains the most populous state. Texas is second with 24.8 million, followed by New York (19.5 million), Florida (18.5 million) and Illinois (12.9 million).

  • The killing this week of a provincial governor by suspected leftist rebels suggests that a seven-year effort to rein in the violence that has plagued Colombia for decades could be in peril. For the first time since 2002, homicides, rebel attacks and paramilitary activity are on the rise.

  • Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger plans to save $1.6 billion in state employee costs by extending monthly furloughs past June, according to sources familiar with the governor's forthcoming budget proposal. The governor also is considering whether to seek a federal waiver to cut school funding below what stimulus guidelines allow.

  • Detectives in St. Petersburg, Fla., are trying to determine why a man from Davis, Calif., who was visiting relatives for the holidays, allegedly suffocated his 83-year-old father with a pillow and claimed it was self-defense. "We're still working on a motive. We have no idea why he did what he did," said Jennifer Dawkins, a spokeswoman with the St. Petersburg Police Department.

  • Sherry Johnston is back in her Wasilla home after a judge agreed to let her serve a three-year jail sentence with an ankle monitoring device, according to her attorney. Johnston is the mother of Levi Johnston, the father of former Gov. Sarah Palin's grandson, Tripp.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Truthout 12/23

Wednesday 23 December 2009

Henry A. Giroux | Reclaiming Public Values in the Age of Casino Capitalism
Henry A. Giroux, Truthout: "This is a difficult time in American history. The American people have every right to demand to live in peace, enjoy the comforts of economic security, have access to decent health care, be able to send their children to quality schools and live with a measure of security. And yet, at a time when public values are subordinated to the rationality of profits, exchange values and unbridled self interest, politics and the institutions and culture that support it become corrupt, devoid of agents and reduced to empty rituals largely orchestrated by those who control the wealth, income, media and commanding institutions of American society."
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Army General Who Implemented Pregnancy Policy Responds to Truthout Report
Jason Leopold, Truthout: "The Army general commanding US military personnel in northern Iraq who implemented a controversial policy last month that said female soldiers who become pregnant, and the men who impregnate them, could be court-martialed and sent to prison issued a lengthy response to Truthout explaining his order following the publication of our report on the matter Monday."
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William Fisher | One Court's Catch-22
William Fisher, Truthout: "Last August, a federal judge threw out a lawsuit challenging the government's right to spy on Americans' international emails and telephone calls without warrants or suspicion of any kind because the folks who brought the suit couldn't prove what may be unprovable."
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Norman Solomon | Flares in the Political Dark
Norman Solomon, Truthout: "The winter solstice of 2009 arrived as a grim metaphor for the current politics of health care, war, and a lot more. 'In a dark time,' wrote the poet Theodore Roethke, 'the eye begins to see.' After a year of escalation in Afghanistan, solicitude toward Wall Street and the incredible shrinking health care reform, we ought to be able to see that the biggest problem among progressives has been undue deference to the Obama administration."
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Probe Confirms CIA Operated Secret "Black Site" Prisons in Lithuania
Jason Leopold, Truthout: "Lithuanian government officials confirmed that the country's intelligence agency helped the CIA set up secret black site prisons in the country where alleged high-value al-Qaeda operatives were to be rendered for interrogation."
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Roguishly Rouge: A Review of "Going Rouge: Sarah Palin - American Nightmare" Entirely in Quotes
Leslie Thatcher, Truthout Book Review: "I am having Sarah Palin nightmares. Few things draw in readers and garner clicks more reliably than articles (or, even better, pictures) of Sarah Palin. We can't look away. Like everyone else, I can barely take the waves of embarrassment that come from watching someone do something so badly. My cringe reflex is exhausted."
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Michael Ferguson | Why Have an Estate Tax?
Michael Ferguson, Truthout: "Last year, I had a dream I was called before the Senate to testify on the 'reform' of the estate tax. Admittedly, the dream was odd. Although I've been practicing estate and trust law for more than 40 years, and teach the subject at Berkeley Law (formerly Boalt Hall), it seemed strange that they should call me. I'm no Washington insider, and what happens in Berkeley doesn't often have any significant national impact - much to our chagrin. But it was my dream, so I was in the spotlight."
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Tom Engelhardt | A Holiday Season of War
Tom Engelhardt, "Excuse the gloom in the holiday season, but I feel like we're all locked inside a malign version of the movie Groundhog Day. You remember, the one in which the characters are forced to relive the same 24 hours endlessly. Put more personally, TomDispatch started in November 2001 as an email to friends in response to the first moments of our latest Afghan War. More than eight years later ... well, you know the story."
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Herve Kempf | A Copenhagen Dictionary
Herve Kempf brings back a dictionary from Copenhagen (Translation: Leslie Thatcher): "American way of life: outmoded, disgusting or decadent? Banks: are doing very well, thank you...."
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Ray McGovern | Break the CIA in Two
Ray McGovern, Truthout: "After the CIA-led fiasco at the Bay of Pigs in April 1961, President John Kennedy was quoted as saying he wanted to 'splinter the CIA into a thousand pieces and scatter it into the winds.' I can understand his anger, but a thousand is probably too many."
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Wall Street's Fingerprints Evident on Financial Reform Bill
Gail Russell Chaddock, The Christian Science Monitor: "Since the near meltdown of Wall Street in late 2008, Congress has pledged to tighten regulations on the finance industry. That exercise is now half over, with the House approving a reform package Dec. 11."
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Save Social Security - Ten Questions for the Deficit Commission
Dave Johnson, The Campaign for America's Future: "It is possible that there is going to be a “deficit commission” to look for ways to reduce our country's budget deficits. I have some questions for them to ask to help get things started in the right direction."
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The "Official" response to GK

Merry Christmas, Garrison Keillor!

By Fred Small

I’m the pastor of First Parish in Cambridge, Unitarian Universalist, where we were honored to host Garrison Keillor last week. Many in my congregation attended and enjoyed his talk.

So we were hurt and disheartened to read his ill-tempered attack on our church and our faith in his syndicated column in newspapers throughout the country and at

As a longtime fan of A Prairie Home Companion, I’ve often laughed aloud in rueful recognition at Keillor’s ribbing of Unitarian Universalists. (Who wouldn’t giggle at his Unitarian monastery in New Hampshire? “The rule there is complete silence, but if you think of something really good you can go ahead and say it.”)

Most of Keillor’s jokes about us have been good-natured and fair-minded. But in his latest column, apparently it’s no more Mr. Nice Guy. He calls us out as “arrogant and unlovable people [who] imagine that their unpopularity somehow [is] proof of their greatness.” He accuses us of “spiritual piracy and cultural elitism.” (He isn’t very nice to “Jewish guys,” either.)

What launches Keillor ballistic is “Silent Night” as printed in our hymnal, Singing the Living Tradition, which closes each verse with “Sleep in heavenly peace.” Unfortunately, it had the opposite effect on Keillor.

As a folk music maven, Garrison Keillor knows the folk process. Music is constantly evolving, adapted by various communities with various needs. Somebody can copyright it (although “Silent Night” is in the public domain), but nobody ever owns it, not really.

Spirit is the same way.

Religions may try to dictate it in dogma or capture it in creed, yet “the wind blows where it wills, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know whence it comes or whither it goes; so it is with every one who is born of the Spirit” (John 3:8).

Unitarian Universalists welcome worshippers of every age, color, sexual orientation, and religious belief (or unbelief). At First Parish in Cambridge, you’ll sit next to Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Pagans, atheists, agnostics, and seekers of every variety. (No wonder we adapt our hymns!)

We have only one absolute requirement: We covenant to treat each other with respect.

As we call each other to spiritual growth, we also challenge each other to build Beloved Community—not just in our congregations, but in the wider world. We stand on the side of love—for marriage equality, for immigrant rights, for climate justice.

I invite Garrison Keillor to come back to First Parish in Cambridge this Christmas Eve for our Candlelight Service. On this holy night, we’ll relate the ancient Nativity story (using the King James Bible), light candles in the darkness, and sing “Silent Night”—the old-fashioned way, with “Christ the Savior is born” and “Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth.”

That’s one of the great things about Unitarian Universalism. Just as we don’t all pray from the same prayer book, we don’t all sing from the same hymnal!

While he’s in town, maybe Keillor can help out at our Tuesday Meals Program, which serves a free hot dinner to hungry and homeless people, or ring our church bell 350 times to sound the alarm on global warming, or stand vigil to protect immigrant families from raids that split them apart. We take seriously Jesus’s radical message of hospitality, justice, and compassion for “the least of these” (Matthew 25:40).

We close every Christmas Eve service with a benediction by the Rev. Howard Thurman, the great twentieth-century African-American preacher and theologian:

When the song of angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flock,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among the brothers [and sisters],
To make music in the heart.

Yup. We changed those words, too—for gender inclusiveness.

Amen, and Merry Christmas!

McClatchy Washington Report 12/23

  • With Senate passage of health-care legislation now virtually certain, Washington lawmakers and interest groups are scrambling to influence one of Congress' most mysterious but most powerful institutions — the conference committee.To most Americans, the conference process is an enigma, rarely taught in history or civics lessons. Even the "School House Rock" classic animated step-by-step primer, "I'm Just a Bill,'' skipped over the conference committee's role.

  • Thirty years ago this week, the Red Army began its invasion of Afghanistan, a move that sank the Soviet Union in a decade of guerrilla war and hastened the collapse of the Cold War empire. Today, as former Soviet soldiers watch American troops trying to pacify the same stretches of Afghan land they once fought for, aging Soviet generals and grunts alike are reminded of a war they'd rather forget.

  • The deal, which would have the federal government pick up Nebraska's Medicaid expansion costs forever, was critical to winning Sen. Ben Nelson's vote to break the Republican filibuster in the Senate. Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott says he and his GOP counterparts in six other states believe the arrangement, if it becomes law, would be unconstitutional.

  • The Senate health care bill is lengthy, more than 2,000 pages, and the so-called manager's amendment, which contains Majority Leader Harry Reid's compromises, is another 383 pages. That's a lot to read and digest. So here's an opportunity to help us. Take a look through the pages of the bill and let us know what strikes you as interesting or newsworthy.

  • Mississippi is, far and away, the most religious state in the country — ranking first among the 50 states in a nationwide poll in four categories: the importance of religion to residents; the frequency of prayer; the attendance at worship services and the certainty of a belief in God. Most Southern states ranked high in the poll, with New England and Alaska at the opposite end.

  • Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin's claim about so-called "death panels" has landed her on the political equivalent of Santa's naughty list: PolitiFact's "Lie of the Year." Joe Biden's claim that a sneeze could travel the length of the airplane was a very distant runner up.

  • A Kansas state judge ruled Tuesday that Scott Roeder's murder trial will begin next month in Wichita and limited the use of the so-called "necessity defense." But Judge Warren Wilbert said he would "leave the door open" for Roeder's defense to present other evidence and arguments that he killed Wichita abortion provider George Tiller in belief that he was saving the lives of unborn fetuses.

  • The issue is what's causing beluga whales to disappear from Alaska's Cook Inlet. Congressman Don Young and Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan said Alaska should finance research to counter a federal conclusion that the whales need special habitat protection.

  • Thirty-five years ago today, 17-year-old Mary Rachel Trlica, Trlica's 14-year-old friend Lisa Renee Wilson, and Julie Moseley, 9, went to the Seminary South shopping center in Fort Worth. They were supposed to be home by 4 p.m. They never came back. This week, the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children in Alexandria, Va., and Fort Worth police again appealed for the public's help in locating the girls.

  • Nearly 700,000 people are released from federal and state prisons to their communities each year. Where do they go? Some end up with a job and pick up a rag at the bright orange and blue All Seasons Car Wash in Kansas City. It's one of the grittier tales of good will toward men — as practiced by Gene Krahenbuhl, owner of that car wash.

  • Karen Sypher hasn't been able to reach a plea agreement with prosecutors and probably will go to trial on charges involving her alleged extortion of University of Louisville men's basketball coach Rick Pitino. The bizarre case has had a number of unusual twists and turns, including a claim from Sypher that her husband, longtime Pitino assistant Tim Sypher, was paid to marry her.

  • The toughest challenges facing the news business may have more to do with values than finances. News will survive. Whether it'll be good and whether it'll do good — that's what the public should worry about.

Garrison Keillor and the hypocritic oath

Don Wheeler

As I read Garrison Keillor's recent column "Nonbelievers, please leave Christmas alone", one thing I was reminded of was that Mr. Keillor's humor rarely translates well to the written page. If you've ever struggled through one of his books, you'll know what I mean. What is said in a gentle tone of voice can be taken as a good-natured ribbing, while on the page it can appear merely obnoxious.

Keillor's oral style of story telling also is important. It's reminiscent of watching a drunk trudge through eighteen inches of snow looking for his car. When he gets to the car, he discovers that it's not his car at all - just a similar color. Off he sets in a different direction, but with a similar result. Still, he always finds his car eventually and the audience has great fun all the while. (To be clear, this is meant as a compliment.)

I'm a Unitarian Universalist, and I've typically found Keillor's jokes about Unitarians (as he refers to us) on his show pretty clever. But many UUs have suggested that Keillor suffers from a serious case of unitarianphobia, and this rant of his (published at least in the Baltimore Sun) gives real credence to their contention.

I'll be the first to say I'm not a fan of the many sanitized (adapted) Christian hymns contained in our hymnal. But why in the world would anyone care what we sing in the friendly confines of our churches, besides us? Here's his contention:

Unitarians listen to the Inner Voice and so they have no creed that they all stand up and recite in unison, and that's their perfect right, but it is wrong, wrong, wrong to rewrite "Silent Night." If you don't believe Jesus was God, OK, go write your own damn "Silent Night" and leave ours alone. This is spiritual piracy and cultural elitism, and we Christians have stood for it long enough.

Who's the elitist here? On top of which, the first statement is false - we often made statements of belief in unison - and beside the point if it were true. And this complaint seems particularly inappropriate coming from someone who week in and week out ruins other people's music. Not to put too fine a point on it, but few people tune into his show to hear Keillor sing - or to admire his lousy arrangements of other people's work.

And how about this:

Christmas is a Christian holiday - if you're not in the club, then buzz off. Celebrate Yule instead or dance around in druid robes for the solstice. Go light a big log, go wassailing and falalaing until you fall down, eat figgy pudding until you puke, but don't mess with the Messiah.

I guess UUs should that request Christians return their evergreen trees - that custom comes from pagan rituals.

I also found this interesting:

You can blame Ralph Waldo Emerson for the brazen foolishness of the elite. He preached here at the First Church of Cambridge, a Unitarian outfit (where I discovered that "Silent Night" has been cleverly rewritten to make it more about silence and night and not so much about God),

I had no idea Keillor was old enough to have heard Emerson preach. It explains a lot.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Truthout 9/22

Helen Caldicott Slams Environmental Groups on Climate Bill, Nuclear Concessions
Art Levine, Truthout: "Dr. Helen Caldicott, the pioneering Australian antinuclear activist and pediatrician who spearheaded the global nuclear freeze movement of the 1980s and co-founded Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR), has joined with left-leaning environmental groups here in an uphill fight to halt nuclear power as a 'solution' to the global warming crisis."
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Women Soldiers in Iraq Who Become Pregnant Face Court-Martial
Yana Kunichoff, Truthout: "Under a controversial new Army policy, female soldiers serving in northern Iraq may face a court-martial and possible jail time if they become pregnant and male soldiers and civilians employed by the Army who impregnate the women may also be charged with crimes."
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Peace Activists to Set Up Encampment in Washington
Scott Galindez, Truthout: "In August of 2005, Cindy Sheehan, who had lost her son in Iraq, set up camp outside George Bush's vacation home in Crawford, Texas. She had a simple question; she wanted to know what the 'noble cause' was for which her son had died. Thousands of people joined Cindy in Crawford, and Camp Casey became a national story that breathed new life into the antiwar movement."
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Hell No, We Won't Go ... Again
Camillo "Mac" Bica, Truthout: "After years of war and occupation in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and elsewhere, with the sacrifices of battle borne by less than one percent of the American people, and with no real indication that President Obama has a legitimate plan or a sincere intention to end combat operations anytime soon, increasing numbers of people from both sides of the political spectrum are calling for reinstatement of the draft."
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Turning Activists Into Voters in Uruguay: The Frente Amplio and Jose Mujica
Benjamin Dangl, Truthout: "Torrential rain didn't keep voters away from the polls on Sunday, November 29 when Jose 'Pepe' Mujica was elected president with 52 percent of the vote. The 74-year-old agricultural minister spent 14 years in jail for his participation in the Tupamaro guerrilla movement, and has pledged to continue the policies of his predecessor, current left-leaning president Tabare Vasquez. Mujica also promised that while president, he would return to his farm outside the capital city at least five hours a week to tend his flowers and vegetables."
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Adequate, Negative, Sustainable: What Kind of Growth?
Jacques Attali in L'Express, the authors writing as Favilla in Les Echos and Guillaume Duval in Alternatives Economiques all consider what sort of economic "growth" is consistent with environmental prudence (Translation: Leslie Thatcher).
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Twenty Years After US Invasion, Panama Still in Search of a Body Count
Agencia Telam, La Voz del Interior (Translation: Ryan Croken): "Rallies, religious ceremonies and visits to cemeteries took place in Panama this past weekend to commemorate the 20th anniversary of Operation Just Cause, the US invasion of the country that removed Gen. Manuel Noriega from power and led to the deaths of a still yet undetermined number of Panamanian civilians."
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Greed, Corruption and Hate Crimes in Northeastern Pennsylvania
Walter Brasch, Truthout: "Dick Wolf, who created 'Law & Order' and its two successful spin-offs, 'Law & Order: SVU' and 'Law & Order: Criminal Intent,' should probably consider establishing a branch office in Pennsylvania. It seems that whenever any of the New York City cops take a road trip to find a fugitive or track down a witness, they go to Pennsylvania. Apparently, New Jersey is only a buffer zone."
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Progressives: Don't Scream, ORGANIZE
E.J. Dionne Jr.: "For progressives, the question on the health care battle going forward is not whether they have a right to be angry but whether they can direct their fury toward constructive ends. The alternative is to pursue a temporarily satisfying and ultimately self-defeating politics of protest."
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Foreign Interpreters Hurt in Battle Find US Insurance Benefits Wanting
T. Christian Miller, ProPublica and The Los Angeles Times: "After the invasion of Iraq in March 2003, the U.S. military discovered that rebuilding the country and confronting an insurgency required a weapon not in its arsenal: Thousands of translators."
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Modern-Day Slavery in Mexico and the United States
Megan McAdams, Council on Hemispheric Affairs: "On December 3, Mexico City police freed 107 human trafficking victims who were forced to manufacture shopping bags and clothespins under 'slave-like' circumstances. Officials reported that the victims exhibited signs of physical and sexual abuse, and were also malnourished, as they had been given only chicken feet and rotten vegetables. Twenty-three individuals were arrested and charged with human trafficking after one of the workers escaped and informed the authorities about the dire situation."
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FP morning brief 12/22

The Copenhagen backlash begins

Editor's note: This will be the last Morning Brief this week. We will resume next Monday. Happy holidays fom FP.

Top Story: Just days after countries agreed to a face-saving agreement at the U.N. climate talks in Copenhagen, accusations have begun to fly about who was responsible for the disappointing conference. Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva criticized the United States for failing to commit for emissions reductions. South African negotiators, who participated in the drafting of the final agreement, nonetheless attacked it as "not acceptable."

E.U. environment ministers will meet today to discuss how to proceed in the wake of the Copenhagen "disaster." Writing in the Guardian on Sunday, British climate secretary Ed Miliband accused China of having "hijacked" the proceedings for its own goals. A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman responded that Miliband's accusations were just a way "to shirk responsibilities that should be assumed towards developing countries."

At least one minister seemed happy with how the talks turned out. Indian environment minister Jairam Ramesh told parliament that India had been able to resist international pressure to agree to binding emissions cuts. The markets were less upbeat with carbon prices plunging on the European exchange on Monday.

He's back: Controversial Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's approval ratings are increasing again after his nose was broken by a mentally disturbed man last week.

Middle East

  • In a speech to supporters, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad dismissed a U.S. deadline for agreeing to an internationally negotiated nuclear enrichment deal.
  • Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas says there won't be another intifada, as long as he's in office.
  • Israel would reportedly be willing to agree to a prisoner swap with Hamas for captured IDF soldier Gilad Shalit, as long as some of the Palestinian prisoners are deported.


  • A WTO arbitrator upheld a ruling that China illegally restricts U.S. media imports.
  • U.S. and Afghan troops engaged in a four-hour firefight with Taliban militants -- including suicide bombers -- in the city of Gardez.
  • Japan plans to resolve the dispute over the U.S. military base in Okinawa by May.



  • A Lithuanian investigation found that the CIA used at least two secret detention centers in the country for interrogating prisoners after 9/11.
  • The United States and Russia are planning "unprecedented cuts" in their nuclear arsenals, according to Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov.
  • Serbia will formally submit its EU membership application today.


-By Joshua Keating

McClatchy Washington Report 12/22

  • Senate passage of a health care bill is all but certain, with the next milestone vote starting at 7 a.m. Now strategists are wondering whether Democrats can win popular support for whatever measure finally is cobbled together from House and Senate versions of the legislation. There's good news for Democrats: a CNN poll shows a six percent gain in public approval of the plan. The bad news: 56 percent of those polled still oppose it.

  • Despite efforts to increase the number of physicians in rural and other underserved areas, 22 counties, mostly in West Texas and the Panhandle, were without a doctor as of October, and more than two dozen counties listed just one physician. Most of the new doctors licensed in the past five years in the state have set up practice in the state's largest urban areas.

  • With the clock ticking toward a Christmas Eve Senate vote on health care reform, South Carolina Republicans lashed out Monday at the proposed legislation, and also took swipes at Democrats for the tactics used in moving the bill forward. With the Senate seemingly poised to approve a final version of its bill Christmas Eve, who is right may be less the question than who will prevail in the continuing, strident health care debate of 2009.

  • Under fire for mismanaging its vehicle fleet, Caltrans, or the California Department of Transportation, was rapped anew on Monday for grossly overstating the number of jobs it created or preserved with federal stimulus money. The criticism came from state Auditor Elaine Howle, who revealed the department's inflated numbers in a report.

  • In Iraq, U.S. soldiers increasingly find themselves in detective-like roles. They investigate crimes, chase leads and build cases against suspects. They gather enough information so that an Iraqi court can order an arrest warrant, and then Iraqi security forces can arrest the suspect. It is one of the ways the American military's mission in Iraq has transformed in the last several months into an advisory and training capacity.

  • The four candidates for Florida's U.S. Senate seat affirmed their support for democratic reforms in Cuba and took a tough line on American policy toward the island nation.

  • 'Tis the season for giving, right? California Assemblyman Pedro Nava, running for attorney general, apparently hopes so. Mixing business with pleasure, Nava sent out a greeting card Monday featuring his family photo, a warm holiday message, a written hope for peace — and a link to click for donating to his campaign coffers.

  • A program established last year has enabled more than 2,500 North Carolina homeowners to avoid foreclosure and is working with thousands more, according to the N.C. Office of the Commissioner of Banks.

  • As Kansas City's Liberty Memorial has gained acclaim with its World War I museum, the flow of donated artifacts has also greatly increased. But officials are reeling from the immensity of a recent gift from the widow of a lifelong collector. A semi-trailer truck was needed to haul in the roughly 1,700 items, most of them related to the ferocious machine guns of that era.

  • Tower Records is still out there, on the Internet, under new management that's itching to increase its Web presence. Richard Flynn, a Wilmington businessman, said he was hired a month ago as president of Inc. The Web site is owned by a European investment group named Cumberland Corporate Services, he said. Flynn's appointment represents a new twist in the saga of, one of the few remaining pieces of the global retail music chain founded in Sacramento.

  • Mega-minister Rick Warren has become a reluctant actor in the most instructive morality play of his highly televised ministry.

    In December, Warren had to smite the creature he had nourished and come forward to denounce efforts by Christian lawmakers in Uganda to impose draconian penalties on homosexuals.

  • Politicians can do some pretty useless things, sometimes because they are clueless, sometimes because they are sincere but misguided, sometimes because the reality is that they have to play the game of politics or risk becoming irrelevant. I can't tell you in which of the categories above Rep. Henry Brown's House Resolution 951 to "recognize the importance of Christmas" falls. It has 72 Republican co-sponsors and one Democrat. I'll be generous and say Brown's move is a sincere but misguided attempt to ... to fix something that's not broken.

Monday, December 21, 2009

A dangerous dysfunction

New York Times

Unless some legislator pulls off a last-minute double-cross, health care reform will pass the Senate this week. Count me among those who consider this an awesome achievement. It’s a seriously flawed bill, we’ll spend years if not decades fixing it, but it’s nonetheless a huge step forward.

It was, however, a close-run thing. And the fact that it was such a close thing shows that the Senate — and, therefore, the U.S. government as a whole — has become ominously dysfunctional.

After all, Democrats won big last year, running on a platform that put health reform front and center. In any other advanced democracy this would have given them the mandate and the ability to make major changes. But the need for 60 votes to cut off Senate debate and end a filibuster — a requirement that appears nowhere in the Constitution, but is simply a self-imposed rule — turned what should have been a straightforward piece of legislating into a nail-biter. And it gave a handful of wavering senators extraordinary power to shape the bill.

Now consider what lies ahead. We need fundamental financial reform. We need to deal with climate change. We need to deal with our long-run budget deficit. What are the chances that we can do all that — or, I’m tempted to say, any of it — if doing anything requires 60 votes in a deeply polarized Senate?

Some people will say that it has always been this way, and that we’ve managed so far. But it wasn’t always like this. Yes, there were filibusters in the past — most notably by segregationists trying to block civil rights legislation. But the modern system, in which the minority party uses the threat of a filibuster to block every bill it doesn’t like, is a recent creation.

The political scientist Barbara Sinclair has done the math. In the 1960s, she finds, “extended-debate-related problems” — threatened or actual filibusters — affected only 8 percent of major legislation. By the 1980s, that had risen to 27 percent. But after Democrats retook control of Congress in 2006 and Republicans found themselves in the minority, it soared to 70 percent.

Some conservatives argue that the Senate’s rules didn’t stop former President George W. Bush from getting things done. But this is misleading, on two levels.

First, Bush-era Democrats weren’t nearly as determined to frustrate the majority party, at any cost, as Obama-era Republicans. Certainly, Democrats never did anything like what Republicans did last week: G.O.P. senators held up spending for the Defense Department — which was on the verge of running out of money — in an attempt to delay action on health care.

More important, however, Mr. Bush was a buy-now-pay-later president. He pushed through big tax cuts, but never tried to pass spending cuts to make up for the revenue loss. He rushed the nation into war, but never asked Congress to pay for it. He added an expensive drug benefit to Medicare, but left it completely unfunded. Yes, he had legislative victories; but he didn’t show that Congress can make hard choices and act responsibly, because he never asked it to.

So now that hard choices must be made, how can we reform the Senate to make such choices possible?

Back in the mid-1990s two senators — Tom Harkin and, believe it or not, Joe Lieberman — introduced a bill to reform Senate procedures. (Management wants me to make it clear that in my last column I wasn’t endorsing inappropriate threats against Mr. Lieberman.) Sixty votes would still be needed to end a filibuster at the beginning of debate, but if that vote failed, another vote could be held a couple of days later requiring only 57 senators, then another, and eventually a simple majority could end debate. Mr. Harkin says that he’s considering reintroducing that proposal, and he should.

But if such legislation is itself blocked by a filibuster — which it almost surely would be — reformers should turn to other options. Remember, the Constitution sets up the Senate as a body with majority — not supermajority — rule. So the rule of 60 can be changed. A Congressional Research Service report from 2005, when a Republican majority was threatening to abolish the filibuster so it could push through Bush judicial nominees, suggests several ways this could happen — for example, through a majority vote changing Senate rules on the first day of a new session.

Nobody should meddle lightly with long-established parliamentary procedure. But our current situation is unprecedented: America is caught between severe problems that must be addressed and a minority party determined to block action on every front. Doing nothing is not an option — not unless you want the nation to sit motionless, with an effectively paralyzed government, waiting for financial, environmental and fiscal crises to strike.

Truthout 12/21

Marjorie Cohn | Obama's Af-Pak War Is Illegal
Marjorie Cohn, Truthout: "President Obama accepted the Nobel Peace Prize nine days after he announced he would send 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan. His escalation of that war is not what the Nobel committee envisioned when it sought to encourage him to make peace, not war. In 1945, in the wake of two wars that claimed millions of lives, the nations of the world created the United Nations system to 'save succeeding generations from the scourge of war.'"
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Senate Democrats Win Key 60-40 Vote on Health Care
David Lightman, McClatchy Newspapers: "The Senate early Monday voted 60 to 40 to cut off extended debate on the Democratic-authored health care overhaul bill, the first major step toward passing the measure later this week. The vote, which saw all 58 Democrats and two independents vote to end the latest debate while all 40 Republicans opposed the maneuver, ended at 1:19 a.m. and capped a day of debate that turned partisan and often angry."
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Dean Baker | Tobacco Lobbyists Join Wall Streeters on Debt Crusade
Dean Baker, Truthout: "Millions of people around the country have been treated to the anti-debt ads run by one-time tobacco industry lobbyist Richard Berman. Mr. Berman, who has also worked to thwart minimum wage increases and managed to get on the opposite side of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, is now working alongside the Wall Street types who wrecked the economy."
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Rick Cabral | Debunking California's Water Myths
Rick Cabral, Truthout: "Myths have been surfacing in recent months about California's water crisis, becoming so serious that the state's Public Policy Institute (PPIC) was forced to address the issue in a new report, 'California Water Myths,' where the agency tackles eight of the most common misperceptions."
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Stephen Soldz | The "Ethical Interrogation": The Myth of Michael Gelles and the al-Qahtani Interrogation
Stephen Soldz, Truthout: "Several public accounts of abusive interrogations at Guantanamo have praised psychologist Dr. Michael Gelles for his opposition to these abuses. Similarly, the American Psychological Association (APA) has repeatedly pointed to actions of Dr. Gelles to instantiate their claim that psychologists played a crucial role in opposing abuses and protecting detainees. Gelles also has been a regular public presence, discussing the errors at Guantanamo while advocating for the APA's 'policy of participation' in interrogations."
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Rebecca Solnit | Terminator 2009: Judgment Days in Copenhagen
Rebecca Solnit, "It's clear now that, from her immoveable titanium bangs to her chaotic approximation of human speech, Sarah Palin is a Terminator cyborg sent from the future to destroy something -- but what? It could be the Republican Party she'll ravage by herding the fundamentalists and extremists into a place where sane fiscal conservatives and swing voters can't follow. Or maybe she was sent to destroy civilization at this crucial moment by preaching the gospel of climate-change denial, abetted by tools like the Washington Post, which ran a factually outrageous editorial by her on the subject earlier this month."
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Howard Dean Walks It Back
Suzy Khimm, Newsweek: "After setting off a political firestorm last week for telling legislators to kill the Senate health-care bill, progressive leader Howard Dean walked back his opposition this morning on NBC's 'Meet the Press.' Instead of advising Congress to vote against the bill for not containing the public option, as he stridently declared on Thursday, Dean said the Senate bill had actually 'improved' over the past few weeks, and that he would wait until the House and Senate bills were combined in the conference before passing judgment."
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The Energy Crisis: A Conversation With Jonathan Schell About Invigorating the Climate Movement
Bryan Farrell, Waging Nonviolence: "Last June was the 27th anniversary of one of the largest protests in history, when upwards of one million people gathered on the Great Lawn in New York's Central Park to rally against nuclear weapons while the UN held a Special Session on Disarmament. Two days later 1,600 demonstrators were involved in acts of civil disobedience at the consulates of five countries."
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FP morning brief 12/21

Thousands protest Iranian regime at Grand Ayatollah's funeral

The funeral of Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri -- a leader of Iran's 1979 revolution turned prominent regime critic -- became a flashpoint for the country's opposition as thousands of opposition protesters wore green and shouted "death to the dictator" in the Iranian holy city of Qom. Thousands also marched in Montazeri's home town of Najafabad. Witnesses say clashes have broken out between security forces and protesters.

Internet access is reportedly slow and cell phone service unreliable in Iran today as authorities attempted to disrupt communications during the funeral. A number of senior opposition leaders were also arrested on their way to attend the funeral on Monday. Iran's Supreme leader praised Montazeri for his scholarship but also noted the tension between the regime and the man once designated for his position.

Montazeri was an acolyte -- and once designated successor to -- Iran's original Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomenei and helped draft the country's Islamic constitution. But Montazeri long criticized the regime for its consolidation of power and suppression of civil liberties and women's rights.

In the months since Iran's disputed election, he argued that the current government had lost legitimacy and accused the Basij militia of following the "path of Satan." Considered the most knowledgeable Islamic scholar among Iran's senior clerics, Montazeri was largely protected from reprisals by the regime.

Gitmo: Twelve Guantanmo detainees were transferred to Afghanistan, Yemen, and Somaliland, bringing the total number of detainees in the facility under 200.

Middle East


  • Afghanistan's parliament began debate on President Hamid Karzai's cabinet picks.



  • President Obama says the United States is "quite close" to a new nuclear arms reduction agreement with Russia.
  • Polish police have recovered the famous "Arbeit Macht Frei" sign that was stolen from the Auschwitz concentration camp last week.
  • The EU eased travel restrictions on citizens of three former-Yugoslavian countries.


  • Madagascar leader Andry Rajoelina has abandoned a negotiated power-sharing agreement.
  • Islamist militants fired mortars at the police headquarters in Mogadishu, Somalia.
  • Dozens were killed in clashes between farmers and nomads in central Nigeria.

McClatchy Washington Report 12/21

  • The Senate early Monday voted 60 to 40 to cut off extended debate on the Democratic-authored health care overhaul bill, the first major step toward passing the measure later this week. The vote, which saw all 58 Democrats and two independents vote to end the latest debate while all 40 Republicans opposed the maneuver, ended at 1:19 a.m. and capped a day of debate that turned partisan and often angry.

  • Orlando Mendez heard a speech by Bono and a sermon by his priest, and that was all he needed to begin his own outreach to the hungry. Soon, four of his friends were helping him in an effort as important to their spirits as it is to the people they feed.

  • South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford survived the threat of impeachment largely because of a sound legal strategy and splintered opinion — among both lawmakers and the public — over whether the two-term Republican's actions merited his removal from office.

  • Bonnie Cramer was on the hot seat again this month, testifying before a congressional subcommittee about the rising cost of prescription drugs. As chairwoman of the national board of AARP, the petite woman speaks with a big voice. AARP is one of the most influential lobbies in the United States, representing nearly 40 million Americans over the age of 50.

  • Less than a month after he unveiled it, President Barack Obama's Afghanistan strategy is in trouble, overtaken by new political turmoil in Pakistan that threatens to distract its bickering leaders from the fight against al Qaida and its Afghan and Pakistani allies.

  • The recent killing of gay activist Walter Trochez in Honduras shows a troubling increase in hate crimes in the past six months in the Central American nation that has been marred by a political crisis.

  • As more U.S. troops prepare for deployment to Afghanistan following President Barack Obama's decision to build up forces there, many Americans will be watching the efforts of the nation's front-line warriors. But long before those troops take their first steps in that arid, rugged nation, a little-known but critically important unit based at Travis Air Force Base in Fairfield, Calif., will already be there. Its job: to make sure the Air Force's massive fleet of transport aircraft has safe places to take off and land in areas known as forward operating bases.

  • Under a proposal before Congress, the federal government would not be able to do business with companies with $1 million or more in contracts that require the people they hire to agree to arbitration for claims of assault, false imprisonment or emotional distress. The proposal was prompted by the plight of a woman who worked for KBR in Iraq who couldn't seek restitution in court after fellow contractors assaulted her.

  • With the decision by Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska to back the Democratic health care proposal, there's almost no way the GOP can stop the bill from winning approval later this week, Sen. John McCain said Sunday. McCain vowed, however, to continue to fight the bill. A cloture vote that the Democrats are expected to win is likely after midnight tonight.

  • In a nondescript office just off Millbrook Road, there stands a 7-foot-tall beast built of secondhand computer monitors, washed-up motherboards and picked-apart keyboards — a towering elephant constructed by Joe Carnevale, creator of Raleigh's famous Barrel Monster.

  • If you want to know how polar bears are doing, it's not enough to spy on them with satellite telemetry and other technology. You have to go where they live. To get some answers, they traveled to a part of the world few get to see, and far fewer get to see from beneath the sea ice. Or would want to.

  • Kentucky has joined a growing national debate on whether to require a prescription for some cold and allergy medicines in an attempt to eliminate dangerous methamphetamine labs. The Kentucky Narcotics Officers' Association recently voted in favor of requiring a prescription to get medicine containing pseudoephedrine. The association is looking for a state lawmaker to sponsor the prescription proposal in the 2010 legislative session, which starts in January

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Truthout 12/20

Why has Congress Set a Christmas Deadline for Health Care Reform?
Gail Russell Chaddock, The Christian Science Monitor: "The prospect of losing momentum is what's driving Democrats to complete the bill even in the face of blizzards, late nights, and ruined holiday plans, says Ross Baker, a political scientist at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J."
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Bringing the World Out of Denial: The Power of Passion, The Fallacy of Fear
James A. Cusumano, Truthout: "Although most people are aware of the devastating consequences of critical global issues such as oil depletion, climate change, nuclear proliferation, and poverty, why are we are doing so little to address them as the clock ticks forward?"
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The Week the IAEA Applied a Nuclear Double Standard
Gareth Porter, Inter Press Service: "In 2004, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) revealed that a member state had violated its Safeguards Agreement by carrying out covert uranium conversion and enrichment activities and plutonium experiments for more than two decades … If that sounds like a description of Iran's troubled relationship with the IAEA up to 2004, that's because it bears striking resemblance to it. In fact, however, it is a description of the deception of the IAEA by the government of South Korea."
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To Sway Nelson, a Hard-Won Compromise on Abortion Issue
Paul Kane, The Washington Post: "The Democrats wouldn't even sit in the same room. At one end of the majority leader's office, Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), the antiabortion senator whose support was crucial to health-care legislation, huddled with White House staff in a conference room. At the other end, Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Patty Murray (D-Wash.), the chamber's leading advocates of abortion rights, hunkered as far from Nelson as possible, in the office of Reid's chief of staff."
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Plight of Contractor Raped in Iraq Spurs Push in Congress
Maria Recio, McClatchy Newspapers: "Four years ago, Jamie Leigh Jones, a 20-year old Texas contract employee working in Iraq, was drugged, stripped, beaten and gang-raped by her co-workers on her fourth day in country. She finally managed to get a phone call out from the shipping container where she was being detained - by her employer, KBR, then a Halliburton company … Now, a move by Congress last week, jump-started by Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., would protect contract employees by ensuring they have legal recourse."
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Ayatollah Montazeri, Iranian Cleric, Dies at 87
Robert F. Worth, The New York Times: "Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, the plain-spoken senior Shiite cleric who helped forge Iran’s system of religious government and went on to become a fierce critic of its hard-line rulers, died Sunday morning at the age of 87. He died of heart failure in his sleep, his son Ahmad told Iran’s official IRNA news agency."
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More Taxes = More Democracy
Christian Chavagneux, Alternatives Economiques, "For conservatives who go around repeating that more taxes are always equivalent to less individual freedom, two researchers recall Montesquieu's opposite teaching. And demonstrate, with the support of the numbers, that the French philosopher's observation still holds true two and a half centuries later."
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VIDEO: GRITtv on Media as Establishment
Host Laura Flanders speaks with John Nichols of The Nation, Peter Hart of FAIR, and Karend Fragala of Newsweek about the past week of media coverage on topics ranging from the Federal Reserve to the climate summit in Copenhagen.
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Saturday, December 19, 2009

Truthout 12/19

Reid Has 60 Votes Needed to Pass Health Care Bill
Jason Leopold, Truthout: "Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid unveiled a final compromise Saturday morning to a health care bill that numerous progressive Democrats, labor unions, and grassroots organizations said has been gutted of any meaningful consumer reforms and amounts to a bailout for the insurance industry."
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Michael Winship | Happy Holidays from America's Banks
Michael Winship, Truthout: "Never mind Barack Obama's Audacity of Hope. It's the audacity of the banks that takes your breath away. Mean old Mr. Potter in It's a Wonderful Life seems like Father Christmas by comparison."
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Copenhagen Summit: Major Powers Broker Compromise Voluntary Climate Pact
Peter N. Spotts, The Christian Science Monitor: "The US, China, India, South Africa, and Brazil agreed to a voluntary climate pact. President Obama acknowledged that 'we have much further to go.' The deal did not produce commitments on emissions reductions."
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Nelson Will Vote for Health Care Overhaul, Breaking Logjam
David Lightman and William Douglas, McClatchy Newspapers: "Sen. Ben Nelson, the last apparent obstacle to giving Democrats the votes they need to move forward with historic health care legislation, Saturday said he had agreed to compromises that would allow him to vote for the measure."
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Joe Conason | The Democrats Blinked
Joe Conason, Truthout: "By bowing to Sen. Joseph Lieberman and his obstructive pals in both parties on health care reform, President Obama has confirmed what Republicans always say about Democrats: They simply aren't strong enough to govern. Or at least the Democrats elected last year -- and their colleagues in the Senate leadership -- don't seem to be."
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Victoria Kennedy: The Moment Ted Kennedy Would Not Want to Lose
Victoria Reggie Kennedy, The Washington Post: "My late husband, Ted Kennedy, was passionate about health-care reform. It was the cause of his life. He believed that health care for all our citizens was a fundamental right, not a privilege, and that this year the stars -- and competing interests -- were finally aligned to allow our nation to move forward with fundamental reform. He believed that health-care reform was essential to the financial stability of our nation's working families and of our economy as a whole."
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Chris Genovali | Hopenhagen or Dopenhagen?
Chris Genovali, Truthout: "In the run-up to the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP 15) in Copenhagen, an eclectic group made up primarily of corporations and media outlets put forward the notion of 'Hopenhagen.' ...At this juncture, it appears COP 15 will end up being remembered more as 'Dopenhagen,' as opposed to 'Hopehangen,' and Canada will have contributed to that outcome in a significant way through its intransigence on the climate change file."
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Treacherous Snow Storm Strikes East Coast
The Associated Press: "A treacherous, frightful wintry storm slammed the East Coast on Saturday and dumped more than a foot of snow in some areas, hampering travelers and shoppers on the weekend before Christmas."
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Friday, December 18, 2009

Truthout 12/18

William Rivers Pitt | Palin the Pundit
William Rivers Pitt, Truthout: "Dealing with Sarah Palin, in the immortal words of Pee Wee Herman, is like unraveling a giant cable-knit sweater that someone just keeps knitting, and knitting and knitting. There is no end to it, no bottom to this ocean of idiocy, as evidenced by the latest iteration of the Palin phenomenon: out of the cold, clear blue sky, the former Alaska governor and internationally-renowned dunderhead, has declared herself an expert on global climate change in general, and on the Copenhagen summit in particular."
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Jeremy Scahill | Stunning Statistics About the War Every American Should Know
Jeremy Scahill, Rebel Reports: "Contrary to popular belief, the US actually has 189,000 personnel on the ground in Afghanistan right now - and that number is quickly rising."
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Evo and Hugo Heat Up Climate Talks in Copenhagen
Rafael Mendez, El Pais (Spain): "Wednesday morning opened with a bang here at the Climate Summit in Copenhagen, with heated speeches coming from Hugo Chavez and Evo Morales."
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Obama Cracks the Whip at Copenhagen Global Warming Talks
Peter N. Spotts, The Christian Science Monitor: "At Copenhagen global warming talks, President Obama urged heads of state to agree on a new pact this weekend and move beyond 'the same stale arguments' that countries have rehashed for 20 years."
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Pierre Barbancey | They Are Afghan; They Decry NATO's War
Pierre Barbancey reports from Kabul for L'Humanite: "The Taliban surf on the population's rejection of a corrupt government sustained by foreign armies that kill civilians. Women make the point that violence against them increases incessantly."
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Winslow Myers | Earn This!
Winslow Myers, Truthout: "President Obama's speech in Oslo was powerful, subtle, honest and provocative - provocative in that it cries out for thoughtful citizen response, especially in the context of the cognitive dissonance which he sought to finesse: a leader at war receiving a peace prize."
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John LaForge | Nuclear Power: Too Expensive, Too Risky
John LaForge, Truthout: "Lofty claims about the benefits of nuclear power are coming from the Nuclear Energy Institute and others. Meanwhile, news, financial and energy journals make clear that boiling water with uranium is the costliest and dirtiest energy choice. Even Time magazine reported December 31, 2008, 'It turns out that new [reactors] would be not just extremely expensive but spectacularly expensive.'"
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Pelosi Says Kucinich Resolution Will Satisfy Need for Afghanistan Vote
Sabrina Eaton, The Plain Dealer: "Rep. Dennis Kucinich's proposed resolution to pull troops out of Afghanistan seems to be getting a favorable reception from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi."
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Stephen Rohde | The Guantanamo Lawyers: Inside a Prison, Outside the Law
Stephen Rohde, Truthout: "At once shocking, frustrating and inspiring, the book [The Guantanamo Lawyers: Inside a Prison, Outside the Law] chronicles the courageous and hard-working lawyers who took time from law firms, small and large, human rights organizations and military assignments to step up and provide legal aid to people whom the Bush administration was calling 'the worst of the worst' after 9/11."
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Eugene Robinson | At the Plate, Some Whiffed
Eugene Robinson: "It always amuses me to hear people call Pelosi a 'San Francisco liberal,' because while the description is objectively true, it suggests a certain delicacy of sensibility. In fact, Pelosi was born and raised in the bare-knuckles world of big-city machine politics -- her father was Tommy D'Alesandro, a legendary Baltimore mayor. She knows how to count votes, and how to keep them counted."
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Health care bill wouldn't bring real reform

Howard Dean
from the Washington Post

If I were a senator, I would not vote for the current health-care bill. Any measure that expands private insurers' monopoly over health care and transfers millions of taxpayer dollars to private corporations is not real health-care reform. Real reform would insert competition into insurance markets, force insurers to cut unnecessary administrative expenses and spend health-care dollars caring for people. Real reform would significantly lower costs, improve the delivery of health care and give all Americans a meaningful choice of coverage. The current Senate bill accomplishes none of these.

Real health-care reform is supposed to eliminate discrimination based on preexisting conditions. But the legislation allows insurance companies to charge older Americans up to three times as much as younger Americans, pricing them out of coverage. The bill was supposed to give Americans choices about what kind of system they wanted to enroll in. Instead, it fines Americans if they do not sign up with an insurance company, which may take up to 30 percent of your premium dollars and spend it on CEO salaries -- in the range of $20 million a year -- and on return on equity for the company's shareholders. Few Americans will see any benefit until 2014, by which time premiums are likely to have doubled. In short, the winners in this bill are insurance companies; the American taxpayer is about to be fleeced with a bailout in a situation that dwarfs even what happened at AIG.

From the very beginning of this debate, progressives have argued that a public option or a Medicare buy-in would restore competition and hold the private health insurance industry accountable. Progressives understood that a public plan would give Americans real choices about what kind of system they wanted to be in and how they wanted to spend their money. Yet Washington has decided, once again, that the American people cannot be trusted to choose for themselves. Your money goes to insurers, whether or not you want it to.

To be clear, I'm not giving up on health-care reform. The legislation does have some good points, such as expanding Medicaid and permanently increasing the federal government's contribution to it. It invests critical dollars in public health, wellness and prevention programs; extends the life of the Medicare trust fund; and allows young Americans to stay on their parents' health-care plans until they turn 27. Small businesses struggling with rising health-care costs will receive a tax credit, and primary-care physicians will see increases in their Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement rates.

Improvements can still be made in the Senate, and I hope that Senate Democrats will work on this bill as it moves to conference. If lawmakers are interested in ensuring that government affordability credits are spent on health-care benefits rather than insurers' salaries, they need to require state-based exchanges, which act as prudent purchasers and select only the most efficient insurers. Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) offered this amendment during the Finance Committee markup, and Democrats should include it in the final legislation. A stripped-down version of the current bill that included these provisions would be worth passing.

In Washington, when major bills near final passage, an inside-the-Beltway mentality takes hold. Any bill becomes a victory. Clear thinking is thrown out the window for political calculus. In the heat of battle, decisions are being made that set an irreversible course for how future health reform is done. The result is legislation that has been crafted to get votes, not to reform health care.

I have worked for health-care reform all my political life. In my home state of Vermont, we have accomplished universal health care for children younger than 18 and real insurance reform -- which not only bans discrimination against preexisting conditions but also prevents insurers from charging outrageous sums for policies as a way of keeping out high-risk people. I know health reform when I see it, and there isn't much left in the Senate bill. I reluctantly conclude that, as it stands, this bill would do more harm than good to the future of America.

The writer is a former chairman of the Democratic National Committee and was governor of Vermont from 1991 to 2002.

The hardest call

The first reason to support the Senate health care bill is that it would provide insurance to 30 million more Americans.

The second reason to support the bill is that its authors took the deficit issue seriously. Compared with, say, the prescription drug benefit from a few years ago, this bill is a model of fiscal rectitude. It spends a lot of money to cover the uninsured, but to help pay for it, it also includes serious Medicare cuts and whopping tax increases — the tax on high-cost insurance plans alone will raise $1.3 trillion in the second decade.

The bill is not really deficit-neutral. It’s politically inconceivable that Congress will really make all the spending cuts that are there on paper. But the bill won’t explode the deficit, and that’s an accomplishment.

The third reason to support the bill is that the authors have thrown in a million little ideas in an effort to reduce health care inflation. The fact is, nobody knows how to reduce cost growth within the current system. The authors of this bill are willing to try anything. You might even call this a Burkean approach. They are not fundamentally disrupting the status quo, but they are experimenting with dozens of gradual programs that might bend the cost curve.

If you’ve ever heard about it, it’s in there — improved insurance exchanges, payment innovations, an independent commission to cap Medicare payment rates, an innovation center, comparative effectiveness research. There’s at least a pilot program for every promising idea.

The fourth reason to support the bill is that if this fails, it will take a long time to get back to health reform. Clinton failed. Obama will have failed. No one will touch this. Meanwhile, health costs will continue their inexorable march upward, strangling the nation.

The first reason to oppose this bill is that it does not fundamentally reform health care. The current system is rotten to the bone with opaque pricing and insane incentives. Consumers are insulated from the costs of their decisions and providers are punished for efficiency. Burkean gradualism is fine if you’ve got a cold. But if you’ve got cancer, you want surgery, not nasal spray.

If this bill passes, you’ll have 500 experts in Washington trying to hold down costs and 300 million Americans with the same old incentives to get more and more care. The Congressional Budget Office and most of the experts I talk to (including many who support the bill) do not believe it will seriously bend the cost curve.

The second reason to oppose this bill is that, according to the chief actuary for Medicare, it will cause national health care spending to increase faster. Health care spending is already zooming past 17 percent of G.D.P. to 22 percent and beyond. If these pressures mount even faster, health care will squeeze out everything else, especially on the state level. We’ll shovel more money into insurance companies and you can kiss goodbye programs like expanded preschool that would have a bigger social impact.

Third, if passed, the bill sets up a politically unsustainable situation. Over its first several years, the demand for health care will rise sharply. The supply will not. Providers will have the same perverse incentives. As a result, prices will skyrocket while efficiencies will not. There will be a bipartisan rush to gut reform.

This country has reduced health inflation in short bursts, but it has not sustained cost control over the long term because the deep flaws in the system produce horrific political pressures that gut restraint.

Fourth, you can’t centrally regulate 17 percent of the U.S. economy without a raft of unintended consequences.

Fifth, it will slow innovation. Government regulators don’t do well with disruptive new technologies.

Sixth, if this passes, we will never get back to cost control. The basic political deal was, we get to have dessert (expanding coverage) but we have to eat our spinach (cost control), too. If we eat dessert now, we’ll never come back to the spinach.

So what’s my verdict? I have to confess, I flip-flop week to week and day to day. It’s a guess. Does this put us on a path toward the real reform, or does it head us down a valley in which real reform will be less likely?

If I were a senator forced to vote today, I’d vote no. If you pass a health care bill without systemic incentives reform, you set up a political vortex in which the few good parts of the bill will get stripped out and the expensive and wasteful parts will be entrenched.

Defenders say we can’t do real reform because the politics won’t allow it. The truth is the reverse. Unless you get the fundamental incentives right, the politics will be terrible forever and ever.

Pass the bill


New York Times

message to progressives: By all means, hang Senator Joe Lieberman in effigy. Declare that you’re disappointed in and/or disgusted with President Obama. Demand a change in Senate rules that, combined with the Republican strategy of total obstructionism, are in the process of making America ungovernable.

But meanwhile, pass the health care bill.

Yes, the filibuster-imposed need to get votes from “centrist” senators has led to a bill that falls a long way short of ideal. Worse, some of those senators seem motivated largely by a desire to protect the interests of insurance companies — with the possible exception of Mr. Lieberman, who seems motivated by sheer spite.

But let’s all take a deep breath, and consider just how much good this bill would do, if passed — and how much better it would be than anything that seemed possible just a few years ago. With all its flaws, the Senate health bill would be the biggest expansion of the social safety net since Medicare, greatly improving the lives of millions. Getting this bill would be much, much better than watching health care reform fail.

At its core, the bill would do two things. First, it would prohibit discrimination by insurance companies on the basis of medical condition or history: Americans could no longer be denied health insurance because of a pre-existing condition, or have their insurance canceled when they get sick. Second, the bill would provide substantial financial aid to those who don’t get insurance through their employers, as well as tax breaks for small employers that do provide insurance.

All of this would be paid for in large part with the first serious effort ever to rein in rising health care costs.

The result would be a huge increase in the availability and affordability of health insurance, with more than 30 million Americans gaining coverage, and premiums for lower-income and lower-middle-income Americans falling dramatically. That’s an immense change from where we were just a few years ago: remember, not long ago the Bush administration and its allies in Congress successfully blocked even a modest expansion of health care for children.

Bear in mind also the lessons of history: social insurance programs tend to start out highly imperfect and incomplete, but get better and more comprehensive as the years go by. Thus Social Security originally had huge gaps in coverage — and a majority of African-Americans, in particular, fell through those gaps. But it was improved over time, and it’s now the bedrock of retirement stability for the vast majority of Americans.

Look, I understand the anger here: supporting this weakened bill feels like giving in to blackmail — because it is. Or to use an even more accurate metaphor suggested by Ezra Klein of The Washington Post, we’re paying a ransom to hostage-takers. Some of us, including a majority of senators, really, really want to cover the uninsured; but to make that happen we need the votes of a handful of senators who see failure of reform as an acceptable outcome, and demand a steep price for their support.

The question, then, is whether to pay the ransom by giving in to the demands of those senators, accepting a flawed bill, or hang tough and let the hostage — that is, health reform — die.

Again, history suggests the answer. Whereas flawed social insurance programs have tended to get better over time, the story of health reform suggests that rejecting an imperfect deal in the hope of eventually getting something better is a recipe for getting nothing at all. Not to put too fine a point on it, America would be in much better shape today if Democrats had cut a deal on health care with Richard Nixon, or if Bill Clinton had cut a deal with moderate Republicans back when they still existed.

But won’t paying the ransom now encourage more hostage-taking in the future? Maybe. But the next big fight, over the future of the financial system, will be very different. If the usual suspects try to water down financial reform, I say call their bluff: there’s not much to lose, since a merely cosmetic reform, by creating a false sense of security, could well end up being worse than nothing.

Beyond that, we need to take on the way the Senate works. The filibuster, and the need for 60 votes to end debate, aren’t in the Constitution. They’re a Senate tradition, and that same tradition said that the threat of filibusters should be used sparingly. Well, Republicans have already trashed the second part of the tradition: look at a list of cloture motions over time, and you’ll see that since the G.O.P. lost control of Congress it has pursued obstructionism on a literally unprecedented scale. So it’s time to revise the rules.

But that’s for later. Right now, let’s pass the bill that’s on the table.

FP morning post 12/18

Obama in Copenhagen: You can't always get what you want

Top story: A frustrated U.S. President Barack Obama addressed U.N. climate talks in Copenhagen on Friday and urged countries to accept an agreement, even if imperfect, though he stopped short of promising new U.S. emissions cuts. "No country will get everything that it wants," he said.

Obama also met privately with Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao. China has been criticized throughout this week for its resistance to binding emissions targets or outside monitoring of its environmental efforts. An official said the two leaders "took a step forward and made progress,” though neither has changed its negotiating position. Without specifically mentioning China, Obama said that an agreement without outside verification would be a "hollow victory."

Obama maintained in his remarks that "We are ready to get this done today," but with talks in disarray on Friday, the United Nations has reportedly advised negotiators to make arrangements to extend their stay through Sunday.

World leaders arriving on Friday were irritated that there was no agreement on the table prior to their arrival and seemed to believe that the chances of a deal were slim.

"I am not sure if such an angel or wise man will come down to this plenary and put in our minds the intelligence that we lacked," Brazilian President Lula Inacio Lula da Silva said. "I believe in God. I believe in miracles."

Cyber attack: Iranian hackers briefly blocked access to Twitter early this morning, redirecting users to the page of the "Iranian Cyber Army."



Middle East


  • A record 74,000 African fled across the Gulf of Aden to Yemen in 2009, according to the U.N.
  • Eritrea's entire national soccer team has requested asylum in Kenya.
  • The archbishop of Zambia has been defrocked by the Vatican for getting married, attempting to ordain married priests, and faith healing activities.


-By Joshua Keating

McClatchy Washington Report 12/18

  • The homeowners do everything they're supposed to, but still are rejected for modification of their loans, often with no explanation. Worse, the fine print of the Obama program allows banks not to inform borrowers they've been rejected and lets them move straight to auctioning off a home without warning.

  • Remember the Republicans? Congressional Democrats increasingly are concerned that their constituents are doing just that as the Senate health care plan's prospects for passage before Christmas look more uncertain and polls find that the legislation is becoming more unpopular.

  • America's war on human trafficking got its biggest-ever one-year boost in federal funding following President Barack Obama's signing of an appropriations bill, one of several significant anti-trafficking developments this week. Included in the omnibus appropriation bill signed into law Wednesday is money to provide services to U.S.-born human trafficking victims — mainly underage girls forced into the sex trade.

  • Texas juries are following a nationwide trend of sending fewer convicted criminals to death, but the state still leads the country in executions by a wide margin, according to a new study released today. Both in Texas and across the country, death sentences declined for the seventh straight year, according to a report from the Death Penalty Information Center, an anti-capital-punishment group.

  • Townsfolk in Napa say Sen. John McCain of Arizona has uncorked sour information about their wine town in a new report on alleged waste of federal stimulus dollars. The December report out of the offices of McCain and fellow Republican Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma listed 100 projects that raised questions about "silly and shortsighted" federal spending. The Napa Valley Wine Train, which ferries tourists about, was listed at No. 11.

  • House Republican Leader John Boehner warned on Thursday that he wouldn't back emergency funding for President Barack Obama's Afghanistan troop surge if the White House request includes money to transfer Guantanamo detainees to the U.S.

  • Normally when senators preside over the Senate, they do little but direct traffic, showing little partiality or emotion as they allow their colleagues to yammer on at length. So when Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, asked Sen. Mark Begich. D-Alaska, for additional time to keep talking about health care Thursday afternoon, it wasn't the kind of request usually denied in the polite Senate, where long-windedness is generally tolerated. But Begich objected because he had been asked to limit everyone to ten-minute speeches.

  • A top aide to former North Carolina Gov. Mike Easley who helped gather campaign donations from politically connected businessmen declined Thursday to testify before the State Board of Elections, citing his Fifth Amendment right to not incriminate himself.

  • Using a technique that is as frugal as it is green, Haitians are turning garbage into slow-burning logs, a cheap alternative known as briquettes. For a country like Haiti, where back-to-back hurricanes and tropical storms cut a deadly path last year, projects like turning garbage into energy, while small, are in the vanguard of efforts to slow and reverse deforestation.

  • The Alaska Department of Fish and Game is urging residents to check their Christmas trees for "amphibious hitchhikers they may be unaware they purchased." Pacific Chorus frogs have infiltrated trees being bought in the Anchorage area and state wildlife officials have ordered them killed on sight.

  • The recent arrest of an American subcontractor underscores the danger democracy groups and humanitarian organizations face distributing aid and democracy materials in Cuba. The American arrested was working for Development Alternatives Inc., (DAI) a suburban Washington firm supervising $40 million in U.S. government aid for pro-democracy programs in Cuba.

  • Season's greetings and happy holidays!

    Oh, I know that all-purpose salutation makes some people squirm. They are the ones who believe we need to be militantly Merry Christmasing everyone in sight.

[Part 2] Keith Olbermann Special Comment: Not Health, Not Care, Not Reform - 12/16/09

[Part 1] Keith Olbermann Special Comment: Not Health, Not Care, Not Reform - 12/16/09

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Common Dreams headlines 12/17


Copenhagen Conference on the Brink of Collapse as World Leaders Arrive at Talks

Two-Degree Temperature Rise Could Flood Wide Areas of Planet, Study Says

Pelosi Says Kucinich Resolution Will Satisfy Need for Afghanistan Vote

Will Progressives 'Push Back' or Help Kill Health Bill?

Leaked UN Report Shows Cuts Offered at Copenhagen Would Lead to 3C Rise

Nation's Largest Union: Change Health Care Bill Or Else

and more...



Olbermann: Ruined Senate Bill Unsupportable

Maude Barlow on the World Water Crisis



John Gibbons | Six Reasons Why Earth Won't Cope for Long

Jo Comerford | Afghanistan: $57,077.60 - Surging by the Minute

John Nichols | 'Party of No' Blocks Debate on Bernie Sanders' Real Reform

Pat LaMarche | Holiday Hit: The Five Lies of Congress

George Monbiot | Mr Obama, Here's Your Copenhagen Speech

Keith Olbermann | Special Comment: Ruined Senate Bill Unsupportable

Bill McKibben | Hungry in Copenhagen

and more...

Truthout 12/17

Jason Leopold | Documents Suggest Bush White House Failed to Search for Libby's "Missing" Emails Subpoenaed in CIA Leak Probe
Jason Leopold, Truthout: "Between late 2005 and January 2006, the Bush administration tried to recover 'lost' emails from staffers who worked in the Office of the Vice President (OVP), an effort that centered on a critical week - October 1 through October 6, 2003 - that coincided with an announcement by the Justice Department that it had launched an investigation into the leak of covert CIA operative Valerie Plame Wilson."
Read the Article

Art Levine | With a Third of Workers Risking Job Losses, House Passes $154 Billion Jobs Bill
Art Levine, Truthout: "With heavy defections from Blue Dog Democrats, the House of Representatives still narrowly passed Wednesday evening, 217 to 212, a $154 billion jobs package. It included funds for states to retain front-line workers, aid to the unemployed and transportation projects. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-California) declared on the House floor, 'This legislation brings jobs to Main Street by increasing credit for small businesses, rebuilding the infrastructure of America, and keeping police and fireman and teachers on the job. As we create jobs for Americans, we are doing so in a fiscally responsible way. These investments are fully paid for by redirecting TARP funds from Wall Street to Main Street.'"
Read the Article

Anne Elizabeth Moore | The World's First Meaningful Billboard Tax Passes in Toronto
Anne Elizabeth Moore, Truthout: "Corporate creep, the profit-minded takeover of public space, is not unlike a roach infestation: stomach-churning, not pretty, and always a losing battle. Yet the battle rages on. The issues underlying many current debates re-exert the right of the public over public space, whether real or virtual: Social networking site privacy uproars, state and city university walk-outs, the low-power FM radio movement, sponsored public transit stations. And the sad fact is, despite that they greatly outnumber the, ah, vermin - the public is losing this fight against the corporate creeps."
Read the Article

Allen McDuffee | Policy Report: Obama Should Learn Defense Budget Lessons From French
Allen McDuffee, Truthout: "In an era when defense contractors monopolize technical expertise and determine pricing while Congress protects parochial interests, President Obama would do well to adopt lessons from French Defense, according to a recent Washington, DC, think tank report."
Read the Article

Yana Kunichoff | Report Reveals Scope of Government Contracting
Yana Kunichoff, Truthout: "According to a new government report, more than 50 percent of the Department of Defense workforces are military contractors and the Obama administration's troop surge in Afghanistan is set to only increase these numbers."
Read the Article

Robert Borosage | Bernanke: Time's Man of the Year
Robert Borosage, The Campaign for America's Future: "Time Magazine's naming Ben Bernanke 'Man of the Year' is a little bit like celebrating an arsonist for his heroics in putting out a fire that he set. Bernanke has done creative and bold work in staving off a financial free fall. But he would also be on any list of the 10 people most responsible for creating the free fall."
Read the Article

Jo Comerford | $57,077.60 Surging by the Minute
Jo Comerford, "$57,077.60. That's what we're paying per minute. Keep that in mind - just for a minute or so. After all, the surge is already on. By the end of December, the first 1,500 US troops will have landed in Afghanistan, a nation roughly the size of Texas, ranked by the United Nations as second worst in the world in terms of human development."
Read the Article

Obama Administration Launches Open Government Initiative
Mary Susan Littlepage, Truthout: "As part of the Obama administration's plan to change the culture of secrecy in Washington, the White House last week issued the Open Government Directive, requiring federal agencies to take immediate, specific steps to open their work up to the public."
Read the Article

Robert Reich | Slouching Toward Health Care Reform
Robert Reich, Robert Reich's Blog: "'Don't make the perfect the enemy of the better,' say the president and Congressional insiders when confronted with the sorry spectacle of a health-care bill whose scope and ambition continue to shrink, and whose long-term costs to typical Americans continue to grow. They're right, of course. But by the same logic, neither the White House nor Congressional Democrats will be able to celebrate the emerging legislation as a 'major overhaul' or 'fundamental reform.' At best, it's likely to be a small overhaul containing incremental reforms."
Read the Article

VIDEO | Keith Olbermann: Ruined Senate Bill Unsupportable
Keith Olbermann, MSNBC: "Finally, as promised, a Special Comment on the latest version of H-R 35-90, the Senate Health Care Reform bill. To again quote Churchill after Munich, as I did six nights ago on this program: 'I will begin by saying the most unpopular and most unwelcome thing: that we have sustained a total and unmitigated defeat, without a war.'"
Read the Article

Global Economic Apartheid Is Obstacle to Fair Climate Deal
Claudia Ciobanu, Inter Press Service / TerraViva: "'Climate change is an opportunity to deal with all the issues of equity and justice that we have been struggling for all along,' said Kumi Naidoo, executive director of Greenpeace International, in an interview with IPS on Thursday in Copenhagen."
Read the Article

Voting-Machine Firm Merger Investigated
Marc Caputo, The Miami Herald: "Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum is conducting an antitrust investigation of a voting-machine company merger that would create a near-monopoly over the levers of democracy in Florida and much of the United States."
Read the Article

Appropriations Bill Marks Victory for Sexual Health
James Wagoner, RH Reality Check: "After a decade of denial and ideological assault on science-based public health, the passage of the omnibus appropriations bill this past weekend represents a major win for youth advocates who support rights-based, evidence-based sexual and reproductive health programs. Not only did the legislation 'flip the switch' on $114 million in federal spending from abstinence-only-until-marriage programs to comprehensive teen-pregnancy prevention and sex education programs, it also established an office on adolescent health within the office of the Secretary at HHS."
Read the Article

E.J. Dionne Jr. | The Democrats' Bush Nostalgia
E.J. Dionne Jr.: "Here's what Democrats need to ponder: Can they prosper in the absence of George W. Bush? His presidency was a tonic for Democrats and led to a blossoming of political creativity on the center-left not seen since the 1930's. No tactic, no program, no leader ever did more to catalyze the party than the rage Bush inspired."
Read the Article

Ask Questions Later: Victims Are Too Often Deported
Mike McGraw, The Kansas City Star: "In a dingy reception center across from the new terminal at La Aurora International Airport, Guatemalan immigration agents don surgical masks and brace for another day of controlled chaos. A US government passenger jet - one of up to seven a week - taxis to a stop. More than 100 disheveled deportees shuffle down the stairs and head for the center. Agents check for criminal records and swine flu and return shoelaces confiscated stateside, usually as a suicide precaution."
Read the Article

Bill Moyers Journal | Washington for Sale?
Bill Moyers Journal: "Amid fading hopes for real reform on issues ranging from high finance to health care, economist Robert Kuttner and journalist Matt Taibbi join Bill Moyers to discuss Wall Street's power over the federal government."
Read the Article

FP morning post 12/17

Clinton's last-minute bid to save Copenhagen

Top story: In an 11th hour proposal to save the ailing UN Climate talks in Copenhagen and have some agreement on the table by the time U.S. President Barack Obama comes to town tomorrow, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton proposed that developed countries including the United States come up with $100 billion per year over the next decade to help poor countries fight climate change. This represented a tactical shift from the Obama administration, which has been reluctant to put a dollar amount on aid as climate legislation remains stuck in the senate.

"We're running out of time," Clinton said.

The "Group of 77" developing nations -- actually about 130 countries including superpower China -- has effectively stalled discussions this week, voicing dissatisfaction over previous aid proposals and rejecting any deal that would force them to make binding emissions cuts.

While the U.K. and several African nations welcomed the proposal, China appeared less enthusiastic with a spokesman noting a "lack of clarity in Clinton's promises. China remains adamant that its emissions reduction efforts not be subjected to external monitoring. Chinese officials now feel that an operational agreement is unlikely to be reached this week.

The drama continues: U.N. officials tell the New York Times that recently departed UN No. 2 Peter Galbraith proposed deposing President Hamid Karzai with the help of the White House.




Middle East

  • Yemeni forces attacked al Qaeda forces within the country and claim to have foiled a major attack.
  • Former Israeli Prime Minsiter Ehud Olmert reportedly offered to swap Israeli land near Gaza and the West Bank in exchange for Israeli settlements.
  • Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki says Iraqi security forces are linked to last week's terrorist attacks.


-By Joshua Keating


McClatchy Washington Report 12/17

  • The Pentagon got split decisions this week in its defense of continued detention of Guantanamo detainees. On Wednesday, it lost when a Washington, D.C. judge ruled a Yemeni was being held illegally. On Monday, it won. But even then, the judge said the detainne wasn't a threat and the government's evidence should never be admitted "in any fashion, in any court."

  • Florida Sen. Charles Grassley pointed to a Miami doctor, who writes prescriptions for Medicaid patients at a rate of 150 a day, seven days a week, in an attempt to show that the government needs to do something about over-utilization of health care.

  • The Alaska Legislature is paying for a conference and public relations campaign to persuade Congress to limit the Endangered Species Act. The goal of the project is figuring out how to reverse what the Legislature calls negative economic effects from listings based on climate change, like the designation of the polar bear as a threatened species.

  • The Obama administration is weeks away from announcing a new surge — this one aimed at escalating the war on human trafficking in America. Advocates and other experts said they're cautiously optimistic that this is the best chance in years to address many of the problems associated with human trafficking. They're also hopeful that the administration, which has reached out to them and asked what changes are needed, will correct structural flaws in the broken system.

  • Congratulations, South Carolina. You dominated the list of notable quotations for 2009. This year, the state made a name for itself with its disappearing governor, a heckling congressman and its voice in the debate over health reform.

  • After a day of debating and voting on tough issues like a $636 billion defense spending bill, a $154 billion jobs package and a $290 billion increase in the national debt ceiling, Alaska Rep. Don Young became frustrated with the way the House was conducting its business and cast the lone vote in opposition of a resolution recognizing the 70th anniversary of the retirement of Justice Louis D. Brandeis from the U.S. Supreme Court.

  • House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Wednesday that it's up to President Barack Obama to persuade reluctant Democrats to fund his Afghanistan troop buildup — his most important foreign policy initiative — because she has no plans to do so herself.

  • Two and a half years after she was smuggled into America and then held hostage at a drop house where she was raped, forced to work for no pay and constantly abused, a young woman from Central America is transforming herself. So is her aunt. They're human trafficking survivors, not victims. There's a difference and this is their story.

  • Trying to land his dream job is harming Rep. Gresham Barrett's performance in the job he holds. Barrett, a South Carolina Republican who is running for governor, has missed more than one-third — 337 — of all votes taken this year in the U.S. House of Representatives, by far the highest number among all members.

  • In this holiday season, motorists are willing to travel and buy more gasoline. That's another hopeful sign for the recovery, though it was tempered by a drop in diesel use, reflecting the still soft economy.

  • Over the weekend, a Sacramento man joined the growing tally of people who have died after police attempted to subdue them with Tasers. While the manufacturer denies Tasers can be fatal, debates churn over whether the stun guns are being used in the way they were intended and whether police policies reflect the most recent scientific conclusions on the weapons' safety.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Truthout 12/16

Rick Cabral | One Small Soldier in a Big War
Rick Cabral, Truthout: "Richard Lee rolls down the street in his wheelchair, popping in on any number of his businesses located in the "Oaksterdam district" of downtown Oakland, California. Once known for the wild finishes of its roughhouse Raiders, the city has quietly evolved into the Amsterdam of America. And Mr. Lee is spearheading the charge."
Read the Article

Ellen Hodgson Brown J.D. | EU/IMF Revolt: Greece, Iceland, Latvia May Lead the Way
Ellen Hodgson Brown J.D., Truthout: "Total financial collapse, once a problem only for developing countries, has now come to Europe. The International Monetary Fund is imposing its 'austerity measures' on the outer circle of the European Union, with Greece, Iceland and Latvia the hardest hit. But these are not your ordinary Third World debtor supplicants. Historically, the Vikings of Iceland repeatedly repulsed British invaders; Latvian tribes repulsed even the Vikings; and the Greeks conquered the whole Persian empire. If anyone can stand up to the IMF, these stalwart European warriors can."
Read the Article

Andy Worthington | Torture in Afghanistan: UK Court Orders Release of Evidence
Andy Worthington, Truthout: "Reprieve, the legal action charity, the lawyers of which represent dozens of prisoners still held at Guantanamo, won a court victory in the case of British resident Shaker Aamer, which appears to draw on the organization's success in securing a judicial review in the case of another of their clients, Binyam Mohamed. Initiated in May 2008, this led, eventually, to a fast-track review of Mohamed's case by the Obama administration, and his return to the UK in February of this year."
Read the Article

Mary Susan Littlepage | Thomson Correctional Center to House Guantanamo Bay Detainees
Mary Susan Littlepage, Truthout: "President Barack Obama has directed the federal government to buy the Thomson Correctional Center in Thomson, Illinois, to house Guantanamo Bay terrorist detainees. News of the arrangement leaked out last week in a confidential memo obtained by the web site Big Government, and it became official on Tuesday."
Read the Article

Obama Might Not Get Health Care Overhaul for Christmas
David Lightman, McClatchy Newspapers: "President Barack Obama tried mightily Tuesday to jolt the Senate's stalled health care overhaul effort, but after an hour-long closed-door meeting with Senate Democrats, the fate of his top 2009 domestic priority remains unclear."
Read the Article

William J. Astore | "They're Wasted": The Price of Pushing Our Troops Too Far
William J. Astore, "When I was on active duty in the military, an Army friend used to remind me: 'Any day you're not being shot at is a good Army day.' Today's troops, especially if they're 'boots on the ground' in Iraq and Afghanistan, don't have enough good Army days. Many of them are on their fourth or fifth deployments to a combat zone. They're stressed out and tired; they miss their spouses and families. And often they've seen things they wish they'd never seen."
Read the Article

Jean-Marc Vittori | The World Is a Village Without a Mayor
Jean-Marc Vittori, Les Echos: "More and more, the world is a village. What happens at one end of the planet may directly influence the events that take place at the other end. Technology has turned the world upside down - giving humanity a power to act on nature that is beginning to be visible on a global scale, by making the circulation of people, goods, information and capital incredibly easy. But this village has no town council, much less a mayor, just neighborhood committees jealous of their independence. This situation is untenable in the long term, but inevitable for now."
Read the Article

Crucifixes and Minarets: Europe at a Crossroads
Eugenia Rela–o Pastor, El Pais (Translation: Ryan Croken): "In her book, 'The Rage and The Pride,' with words now made prophetic, the late Italian journalist Oriana Fallaci wrote: 'Our cultural identity cannot support a wave of migration composed of persons who in one way or another want to change our way of life and our values. I'm telling you that where we are ... in Italy, in Europe ... there's no room for muezzins, minarets, for fake teetotalers, for their damn chadors and their frigging burkas.'"
Read the Article

Jason Leopold | Lieberman Was for a Medicare Buy-In Before He Was Against it
Jason Leopold, Truthout: "Sen. Joe Lieberman, (I-Connecticut), has threatened to derail passage of a health care reform bill in the Senate if the legislation includes a measure to expand Medicare to individuals beginning at age 55, a proposal Lieberman says he has long opposed."
Read the Article

Iran's Jails: An Inside View
Iason Athanasiadis, GlobalPost: "Iran's jails have a notorious reputation for brutal conditions and harsh interrogation methods that include torture. Now Iranian and international human rights organizations warn that a string of hidden detention sites has been established throughout Tehran and its suburbs by the government of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad."
Read the Article

Work Visa Program Is Rife With Problems
Mark Morris, The Kansas City Star: "The largest suspected human trafficking ring ever uncovered by US law enforcement brought its victims into the country on commercial airliners, using completely legal documents, records show. For almost a decade, three companies and 12 accused human traffickers charged in a landmark Kansas City human trafficking case allegedly took advantage of a guest worker visa program that is easy to defraud."
Read the Article

Did New Orleans SWAT Cops Shoot an Unarmed Man?
A.C. Thompson, Brendan McCarthy and Laura Maggi, ProPublica and The Times-Picayune: "The tip came in on the morning of Thursday, September 1, 2005, as disorder was spreading through the devastated city: Somebody had stolen a Kentwood Springs bottled water truck and was luring in thirsty flood victims with a promise of free water. As people approached the truck, they were being attacked and robbed."
Read the Article

NOW | Breakthrough Health Care Innovation in Rwanda
NOW: "In rural Rwanda, the simple and time-tested idea of medical house calls is not only improving the health of the community, but stimulating its economy as well."
Read the Article

Activist Groups Press for Sticks Against Khartoum
Jim Lobe, Inter Press Service: "Despite major progress in recent days in forging an agreement over a 2011 referendum on independence for south Sudan, activist groups here are calling on President Barack Obama to impose tough new sanctions against the government in Khartoum."
Read the Article

Ira Chernus | What Planet Are Netanyahu and Obama Living on?
Ira Chernus, Truthout: "I scan three Israeli newspapers every day (well, actually, their web sites, in English). It's less like visiting a foreign country than like visiting a foreign planet. The obsession with Iran's supposed nuclear weapons development is incessant - as if the Iranians were going to drop the big one on Tel Aviv any day now. The obsession with the intricacies of Israeli-Palestinian politics is equally incessant. That's more understandable, perhaps."
Read the Article

Common Dreams headlines 12/16

US Silent About Taliban Guarantee Offer on al Qaeda

Coburn Demands 12-Hour Reading Of Single-Payer Amendment On Senate Floor

Angry Liberals: Why Didn't Obama Fight?

Friends of the Earth Among Activists Barred from Copenhagen Conference Center

Civil Society Declares: 'Our Climate, Not Your Business!'

Reclaim Power Action Begins inside Copenhagen Climate Talks

House Passes $636 Billion Defense Bill

and more...



The World Wants a Real Deal

Naomi Klein: US Politicians, Don't Come to Copenhagen

Elizabeth Warren on Financial Transparency and TARP

No option? No mandate!

Democracy for America

I'll get straight to the point. Democrats remove the choice of a public option, they can't force Americans to buy health insurance.

Here's the deal, Senate leaders are all over Washington claiming they finally have a healthcare reform bill they can pass, as long as they remove the public option. After all, they say, even without a public option, the bill still "covers 30 million more Americans." The problem is that's not really true.

What they are actually talking about is something called the "individual mandate." That's a section of the law that requires every single American buy health insurance or break the law and face penalties and fines. So, the bill doesn't actually "cover" 30 million more Americans -- instead it makes them criminals if they don't buy insurance from the same companies that got us into this mess.

A public option would have provided the competition needed to drive down costs and improve coverage. It would have kept insurance companies honest by providing an affordable alternative Americans can trust. That's why, without a public option, this bill is almost a trillion dollar taxpayer giveaway to insurance companies.

We must act fast. Both Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid and Democratic Senators need to hear from you. Please stop whatever else you are doing and make the calls right now.

Senator Harry Reid
DC: (202) 224-3542

Carson City: (775) 882-7343
Las Vegas: (702) 388-5020
Reno: (775) 686-5750

Call your Democratic Senator too -- Senate Switchboard: (202) 224-3121


Without the choice of a public option, forcing Americans to buy health insurance isn't just bad policy, it's political disaster for Democrats -- a ticking time-bomb for years to come.

Does anyone think Republicans won't use this against Democrats in 2010?

What about in 2014 after the mandate goes into effect and the press reports all the horror stories of Americans forced to choose between paying their monthly health insurance bill to Aetna or paying rent?

The mandate is toxic and Democrats will own it. By the 2016 presidential election, is there any wonder how this will play out for Democrats?


The message is simple: No public option? No Mandate!

Thank you for everything you do,


Jim Dean, Chair
Democracy for America

Democracy for America relies on you and the people-power of more than one million members to fund the grassroots organizing and training that delivers progressive change on the issues that matter. Please Contribute Today and support our mission.
Paid for by Democracy for America, and not authorized by any candidate. Contributions to Democracy for America are not deductible for federal income tax purposes.

FP morning post 12/16

Iran tests new long-range missile

Top story: Iran successfully tested an upgraded surface-to-surface missile this morning, which it claims has a longer range and greater maneuverability than its existing Shahab model. If true, the new Sejil would be capable of hitting targets in Europe and U.S. bases in the Gulf.

Iran claims the launch was a test of its deterrent capabilities, but it brought swift condemnation from Western leaders, including British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who said it underlined the case for tougher sanctions.

The U.S. House of Representatives voted yesterday in favor of new petroleum sanctions on Iran, aimed at forcing the country to comply with international nuclear negotiations. The new sanctions would target Iranian fuel imports, but Iranian officials brushed off the vote saying they have multiple suppliers of gasoline.

Copenhagen: Police clashed with protesters -- sometimes using pepper spray and tear gas -- outside the UN climate talks. Inside the convention hall, progress remains slow-going and most major issues have yet to be resolved.


Middle East


  • A former presidential guard commander claims to have shot Guinea junta leader Moussa "Dadis" Camara
  • 160 migrants without proper documentation were repatriated back to Ethiopia from Libya.
  • The site of a planned France-Africa summit has been changed from Egypt to France over fears that Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir might attend.


  • The EU ended a long-running trade war by agreeing to drop tariffs on bananas from Latin America.
  • Britain is promising to rein in judges' universal jurisdiction powers which led to an arrest warrant being issued for former Israeli foreign minister Tzipi Livni last weekend.
  • A man was arrested attempting to enter Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's hotel room.


  • A government investigation has found the several former Ecuadorean government officials had ties to Colombia's FARC rebels.
  • A Honduran gay rights activisit who joined in the protests against the coup that ousted President Manuel Zelaya has been murdered.
  • Mexican president Felipe Calderon proposed a series of sweeping election reforms aimed a alleviating political gridlock.

-By Joshua Keating

Screenshot of Press TV via CNN

McClatchy Washington Report 12/16

  • President Barack Obama tried mightily Tuesday to jolt the Senate's stalled health care overhaul effort, but after an hour-long closed-door meeting with Senate Democrats, the fate of his top 2009 domestic priority remains unclear.

  • In what medical officials say is a first, the bullet-scarred pancreas from a service member who was shot in Afghanistan was flown from Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington to the University of Miami, where insulin-producing cells were salvaged from the organ and flown back to be dropped into the man's liver.

  • The Texas Republican primary battle for governor shrank Tuesday with the exit of secessionist candidate Larry Kilgore of Mansfield. Kilgore, a conservative activist who espouses Texas' withdrawal from the union, threw his support behind former Wharton County Republican Party Chairwoman Debra Medina in what is now a three-way race dominated by Gov. Rick Perry and his leading challenger, U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison.

  • South Carolina House lawmakers today will likely approve a measure that will censure Gov. Mark Sanford for his five-day June disappearance and for allegedly using state resources to facilitate an extramarital affair.

  • When immigrants are deported back to their home countries, they first face immigration controls. Agents check for criminal records and swine flu and return shoelaces confiscated stateside, usually as a suicide precaution. One thing the agents won't do, however, is check to see if the deportees were victims of human trafficking while on U.S. soil. Up to one-fourth of the immigrants, who were victims of human trafficking and might have testified against their traffickers, are deported by the U.S. back to their country of origin.

  • Opponents of the USA Patriot Act say that a congressional move to consider temporarily extending three key provisions that are due to expire at year's end opens the door to try to alter or eliminate some of the national security strategies implemented by former President George W. Bush and embraced by President Barack Obama.

  • Many of California's lowest-income women in their 40s no longer will be eligible for free breast cancer screenings by the state beginning New Year's Day. The decision by state health officials has stirred a hornet's nest of opposition from lawmakers and others who argue that early detection saves lives.

  • Democratic lawmakers, led by Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., on Tuesday filed the first comprehensive immigration reform bill in the current Congress, giving renewed hope to millions of undocumented immigrants around the country. But the prospects for passage remain as uncertain as ever.

  • A section of the Pakistani military top command now agrees with Washington that the country's armed forces should be sent into the North Waziristan area, a sanctuary for al Qaida and Afghan insurgents, analysts and officials said Tuesday. But the core army remains opposed, meaning any operation there could be half-hearted.

  • With Bank of New York Mellon Corp. chief executive Bob Kelly no longer in the running, Bank of America Corp.'s board is likely to choose from one of two internal candidates to replace departing CEO Ken Lewis, a person familiar with the matter said Tuesday. The board had zeroed in on Kelly, but the two current Bank of America executives — chief risk officer Greg Curl and consumer banking head Brian Moynihan — remained in "active consideration."

  • Citing a continuing shortage of primary care doctors in Alaska, a state commission recommends the state spend considerably more money to train new doctors and lure more already-qualified doctors to the state.

  • A U.S. government subcontractor was put in a high-security Cuban prison instead of a common jail after his arrest in Havana as he was about to take a flight home, U.S. congressional officials said Monday. The type of prison signaled that Cuban authorities are taking seriously the case of the U.S. citizen, reportedly detained for handing out laptops, cellphones and other communications equipment as part of a U.S. government program to support democracy in Cuba.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Truthout 12/15

William Rivers Pitt | Joe Lieberman and the Health Care Train Wreck
William Rivers Pitt, Truthout: "When last we heard from Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, he was throwing sand into the gears of the Democratic push for health care reform by declaring he would filibuster any legislation containing the so-called public option. 'I feel so strongly about the creation of another government health insurance entitlement,' said the senator back in November. 'The government going into the health insurance business - I think it's such a mistake that I would use the power I have as a single senator to stop a final vote.'"
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Henry A. Giroux | Tiger Woods and the Branding of Public Discourse
Henry A. Giroux, Truthout: "On the surface, the Tiger Woods media saga appears to be about the loss of a pristine public image that accompanied the public notoriety and disbelief over the sexual improprieties revealed about one of the globe's most famous athletes. These revelations suggest not only an individual moral failing but also a public betrayal, since Woods has always symbolized the perfect role model for both the American dream and the legions of young people who aspire to greatness."
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Federal Judge Grants Injunction Against Congressional Defunding of ACORN
Mary Susan Littlepage, Truthout: "The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) won its case last week, arguing that Congress's defunding of the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) was unconstitutional. In the lawsuit ACORN v. USA filed in federal court in the Eastern District of New York, the nonprofit legal and educational organization CCR won on Friday a preliminary injunction in its case challenging Congress's unconstitutional defunding of ACORN."
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Sam Ferguson | Unrepentant "Blond Angel," 18 Others From the ESMA Stand Trial
Sam Ferguson, Truthout: "It is hard to describe the dimension of the horror at Argentina's Naval Mechanic's School, known by its Spanish acronym as the ESMA. Some compare it to Dante's inferno for the dizzying psychological treatment that prisoners suffered while on the inside of this torture center and the eternal scars that it has left."
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Rinaldo Brutoco | Copenhagen: A Bigger Opportunity Than Climate Change
Rinaldo Brutoco, Truthout: "Thoughtful members of every society on earth are looking to Copenhagen for a way to avoid a global crisis that imperils all seven billion of the planet's people. These concerned global citizens come from every walk of life and religion in both developing and underdeveloped countries, from societies that range from modern to traditional, industrial to agrarian, religious to secular, and from communities that face the threat of extinction from rising oceans to those most vulnerable to shrinking food and water supplies due to drought and disappearing glaciers."
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Bill Moyers | Howard Zinn Interview
Bill Moyers, Bill Moyers Journal: "There's a long tradition in America of people power, and no one has done more to document it than the historian, Howard Zinn. Listen to this paragraph from his most famous book: 'If democracy were to be given any meaning, if it were to go beyond the limits of capitalism and nationalism, this would not come, if history were any guide, from the top. It would come through citizens' movements, educating, organizing, agitating, striking, boycotting, demonstrating, threatening those in power with disruption of the stability they needed." This son of a working class family got a job in the Brooklyn shipyards and then flew as a bombardier during World War II."
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Bill Quigley | Why ACORN Won
Bill Quigley, Truthout: "On December 11, 2009, a federal judge ruled that Congress had unconstitutionally cut off all federal funds to ACORN. The judge issued an injunction stopping federal authorities from continuing to cut off past, present and future federal funds to the community organization."
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Climate Change in Hawaii: Caught Between a Rock and a Big Wave
Jon Letman, Truthout: "In a perverse way, climate change has inspired people around the world to make competing claims that they are its first victims. From low-lying Pacific islands like Kiribati and Tuvalu, where people face being literally swallowed by rising seas, to Tibetan farmers in Kashmir's remote Ladakh region, where receding Himalayan glaciers threaten agriculture, people in every corner of the world are coming forward as being on the frontline of global climate change."
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Suicide Blast Kills Eight in Kabul
Thomas L. Day and Hashim Shukoor, McClatchy Newspapers: "A suicide bomber killed eight Afghan civilians Tuesday blocks from the US Embassy in Kabul in an attack that targeted a neighborhood where many former and current Afghan officials live. Afghan officials said the dead included four men and four women and that more than 40 were injured. Two witnesses said they saw an Afghan police officer lying dead near the blast, but a government spokesman said all of the causalities were civilians."
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Le Monde | Study Proves Three Monsanto Corn Varieties' Noxiousness to the Organism
Le Monde (Translation: Leslie Thatcher): "A study published in the International Journal of Biological Sciences demonstrates the toxicity of three genetically modified corn varieties from the American seed company Monsanto, the Committee for Independent Research and Information on Genetic Engineering (Criigen, based in Caen), which participated in that study, announced Friday, December 11."
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David Bacon | Firing Immigrants
David Bacon, The Progressive: "Ana Contreras would have been a competitor for the national tai kwon do championship team this year. She's 14. For six years she's gone to practice instead of birthday parties, giving up the friendships most teenagers live for. Then, two months ago, disaster struck. Her mother Dolores lost her job. The money for classes was gone, and not just that."
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Eugene Robinson | Palin's Climate "Epiphany"
Eugene Robinson: "Sarah Palin is such a cold-eyed skeptic about the Copenhagen summit on climate change that it's no surprise she would call on President Obama not to attend. After all, Obama might join other leaders in acknowledging that warming is a 'global challenge.' He might entertain 'opportunities to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.' He might even explore ways to 'participate in carbon-trading markets.'"
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For Some Hondurans, Elections Change Little
Mike Alberti and Lauren Sutherland, Truthout: "On the eve of Honduras's 'free and fair' elections, a handful of men and women from the community of Guadalupe Carney, Honduras, held a silent vigil. Earlier that day, someone in a neighboring community had received a call from a family member in the army: troops were surrounding Guadalupe Carney on all sides, in preparation for an 'arms raid.' A call was put in to Guadalupe Carney's local radio station, and word spread quickly through the community grapevine. In a small, bare, concrete room lit by a single candle, these residents waited in fear into the next morning - Election Day."
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Sex Slavery: The Desperate Plight of Many Women
Laura Bauer, The Kansas City Star: "Sitting in the Boone County jail, the Chinese woman didn't look like a criminal to Kelley Lucero. She looked like a middle-aged mom. Soon, Lucero learned that the woman had indeed come to America to scout out a college for her teenage son. She had come, legally, as part of a cultural exchange program, but her life had taken an unexpected and terrifying turn here in Middle America."
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How Democrats Can Hold the House in 2010
Dave Cook, The Christian Science Monitor: "President Obama gave himself a 'good, solid B+' when Oprah Winfrey asked him to grade his performance in office so far. But what most interests Democrats on Capitol Hill is how voters grade him ... and whether that will help them keep control of the House when every seat comes up for election in 2010."
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The Dream of a New Urban Farm in New Orleans
Kari Lydersen, ColorLines: "Tung Duc Tran's backyard is a lush tangle of life. On a steamy New Orleans summer day, Tran, 80, leaves the cool of his small home to stroll under the trellises hung with bitter melons and fuzzy squash shading an assortment of carefully tended crops. The garden consumes the modest yard sloping down to the Maxent Lagoon, a canal whose waters are nearly obscured by an explosion of aquatic vegetation laced with a few old tires and other trash."
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Common Dreams headlines 12/15

Howard Dean: "Kill the Senate Bill"

Grayson, Kucinich Lead Charge to Halt War Funding

'We Don't Want Violence, We Want to Get Our Voices Heard' Say Protesters

135,000 Uninsured Americans Will Die Before Health Reform Takes Effect, Analysis Finds

Israel Confirms UK Arrest Warrant Against Livni

Dubya: The Surreal Afterlife of an Ex-President

Meet the Merry Climate Pranksters Who Put Canada on the Spot

and more...



Honduras Coup Flashpoint for Latin America

Rep. Alan Grayson Reads Petition from 100,000 People: End the War Now

FP morning post 12/15

U.S.-China showdown looms in Copenhagen

Top story: The world's two largest polluters have reached an impasse that threatens to derail the climate change talks in Copenhagen. China pledged a 40-45 percent in "carbon intensity" -- a measurement of carbon dioxide per unit of production -- by 2020 but says it will resist any outside monitoring of its efforts. Negotiators from the United States -- which has pledged a 3-4 percent cut in emissions by 2020 -- believe the Chinese target is too low and say Congress is unlikely to approve any deal that does not include outside verification of China's efforts. The European Union, meanwhile, called on both countries to set more ambitious targets.

Yesterday's talks were also hampered by a brief walkout of African nations demanding that rich countries sign on to deep and binding emissions cuts, as well as logistical problems that left thousands of attendees literally out in the cold without credentials.

It now unlikely that a deal will be on the table by the time major world leaders -- including U.S. President Barack Obama and Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao -- arrive later this week, unusual for such a high-profile meeting.

Unwelcome: The Financial Times reports that British magistrates issued an arrest warrant for former Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, shortly before she was due to arrive in England last weekend.


Middle East

  • Bomb attacks in Baghdad and Mosul killed nine people.
  • More than 3,000 dissident Iranian refugees are to be moved from a refugee camp in Northern Iraq today.
  • Al Qaeda deputy leader Ayman al-Zawahri accused Barack Obama of deceiving the Muslim world in a new online message.


  • Doctors say injured Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi should stay in the hospital through Wednesday and cancel public activities until after Christmas.
  • A Spanish court convicted eleven men of belonging to an al Qaeda-linked terrorist group but cleared them of charges of planning an attack on the Barcelona metro.
  • Greece's Prime Minister pledged to cut deficits amid fears about his country's solvency.


  • The Obama administration will announce plans today to buy an Illinois prison and transfer Guantanamo prisoners there.
  • Honduran president-elect Porfirio Lobo says he is willing to meet with ousted leader Manuel Zelaya.
  • The jailing of a Venezuelan judge on corruption charges has provoked a debate over the President Hugo Chavez's influence over the judiciary.
  • Human Rights Watch has urged the U.N. to cease aid to the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
  • Government forces launched an air offensive against rebels in Eastern Chad.
  • The new head of the International Atomic Energy Agency held talks in Nigeria, which plans to build its first nuclear power plant.

-By Joshua Keating


Support the CIR ASAP Act

We took a big step forward.

Today, Congressman Luis Gutierrez and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus introduced their immigration reform bill, aptly titled the "CIR ASAP Act." It's the first bill in the 111th' Congress to provide a comprehensive plan, and clearly lays out many of the realistic solutions that we have been pushing for.

Your work has gotten us this far, and Congressman Gutierrez has kept to his commitment. Now it's time for Congress to step up.

Tell Congress to support the CIR ASAP Act.

This is a crucial moment for our movement. We must now come together and show why these reforms cannot wait.

The CIR ASAP Act already has over seventy co-sponsors in Congress, but it's going to take all of us working together to make comprehensive immigration reform the law.

Tell your Members of Congress to support immigration reform.

This fight isn't about abstract policies or processes. It's about hard-working people who want a fair working environment. It's about families, separated by a bureaucratic system that doesn't work. It's about fixing our broken system and doing what's right.

Thank you for your support,
Rich Stolz
Reform Immigration FOR America

McClatchy Washington report 12/15

  • As Africa experiences one of the greatest population explosions ever recorded, millions of girls are forced into leaving the classroom and marrying early, often to ease the financial strains on their large families. By jump-starting their own child-bearing years, experts say, these young brides become trapped in a cycle of poverty, expose themselves to grave health risks and contribute to a baby boom that's already adding a child to the continent every second.

  • The mounting Senate tension in these last days of the 2009 session is all about public options, Medicare and abortion policy, but step away from the rhetorical flames and it turns out that a lot of lawmakers from both parties agree on many proposals to change the nation's health care system.

  • A suicide bomber killed eight Afghan civilians Tuesday blocks from the U.S. Embassy here in an attack that targeted the neighborhood where many former and current Afghan officials live. Afghan officials said the dead included four men and four women and that more than 40 were injured. Among the possible targets: former Afghan Vice President Ahmad Zia Massoud, whose brother's murder by an Al Qaida suicide bomber Sept. 9, 2001, was a precursor to the Sept. 11 attacks in New York and Washington.

  • Her first attempt failed, but on Monday Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, moved again to try to halt the Environmental Protection Agency's movement toward regulating the emission of greenhouse gases. Murkowski announced her intention to file a "disapproval resolution," a rare move that prohibits rules written by executive branch agencies from taking effect.

  • With John Edwards under investigation by a federal grand jury, two former prosecutors say a trip he made to the home of a wealthy supporter — and possible witness — could raise legal questions. The grand jury is investigating whether Edwards used campaign money to cover up an affair with mistress Rielle Hunter.

  • Austin author-entertainer Kinky Friedman dropped out of the Democratic governor's race in Texas on Monday to run for agriculture commissioner and said he tried to persuade Houston businessman Farouk Shami to also switch campaigns to clear the field for outgoing Houston Mayor Bill White.

  • The middle-aged woman from Central America, who has been held hostage in a Southern California drop house for the last two years and eight months, is desperately trying to signal her niece. No one can know they're related. It will make life hell. If they find out, these kidnappers with guns, they may keep the aunt longer or the niece indefinitely. They may hurt or kill one of them.

  • Large companies have the clout to negotiate lower premiums with insurers, individuals and small businesses aren't accorded the same deals. But in both House and Senate health care overhaul bills, this group — which would be pooled together in an insurance exchange — would be better positioned to put pressure on insurers to provide lower prices, according to proponents of overhaul legislation. Part of the pressure would come from government, which would oversee the exchange.

  • Wells Fargo, eager to avoid being the biggest bank still holding bailout money, announced Monday evening that it plans to pay back its $25 billion in government loans.

  • Cuba is counter-attacking its cyber-foes with government backers calling them mercenaries and CIA agents, but sometimes admitting it's difficult to fight Internet critics like well-known blogger Yoani Sanchez. Half-a-dozen posts referring to a "media war" and the need to "man the trenches" in "defense of the revolution" have popped up on pro-government blog sites in the past three weeks. The posts also left no doubt that all of the 15 or so other bloggers who regularly criticize the Cuban government are viewed as dangerous subversives.

  • Ana Matosantos will become California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's new finance director this month as he prepares to deliver his final budget proposal to cover a projected $21 billion shortfall, his office announced Monday. Matosantos, a native of Puerto Rico, is the first Latina finance director in state history. She is also believed to be the youngest to serve in the position.

  • This one is for those who naively believe that an entity called the Civil Rights Division of the United States Department of Justice should be in the business of enforcing the nation's civil rights laws. Under the late Bush administration, one had reason to doubt. For years, critics blasted the Bush Justice Department for ideologically inspired hiring and firing decisions, unfair treatment of career (read: ideologically unreliable) staff members, and a selective approach to its enforcement responsibilities. Now a 180-page report prepared for Congress by the Government Accountability Office bears out many of those contentions.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Truthout 12/14

Dahr Jamail | Veterans Group Calls On Soldiers to Refuse Orders to Deploy to Afghanistan and Iraq
Dahr Jamail, Truthout: "In response to President Barack Obama's announcement on December 1 to deploy 30,000 additional troops to the occupation of Afghanistan, the organization March Forward!, with comprising both veterans and active-duty members of the US military, has called on all soldiers to refuse their orders to deploy. 'March Forward! calls on all service members to refuse orders to deploy to Afghanistan and Iraq,' reads a press release from the group from December 3. 'We offer our unconditional support and solidarity. Join us in the fight to ensure that no more soldiers or civilians lose their lives in these criminal wars.'"
Read the Article
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William Fisher | DoJ to Seek Dismissal of Rendition Lawsuit Against CIA
William Fisher, Truthout: "The question is: Can the US government force the dismissal of a lawsuit against it simply by claiming that national security would be endangered if the suit went ahead? On Tuesday in San Francisco, the nation may move one step closer to an answer. That's the day the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) will appear in a federal appeals court in San Francisco to argue that a lawsuit against Boeing subsidiary Jeppesen Dataplan Inc. for its role in the Bush administration's unlawful 'extraordinary rendition' program should go forward."
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Scientists Sound Biomass Alarm; Is Copenhagen Listening?
Joshua Frank, Truthout: "Current climate legislation and the Kyoto Protocol are undermining the goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Or so contends a cautionary article that appeared in October's peer-reviewed journal of Science. The authors, led by Timothy D. Searchinger of Princeton University, wrote in their essay, 'Fixing a Critical Climate Accounting Error,' that these climate agreements do not account for carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from biomass in their overall estimates."
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Digg This Story

Copenhagen Global Warming Talks Suspended Over Rich-Poor Divide
Peter N. Spotts, The Christian Science Monitor: "The final week of Copenhagen global warming negotiations has begun amid rancor between rich and poor nations, with a negotiating bloc of mostly African countries complaining that it looks like any deal will not be tough enough on major emissions producers in the developed world. The complaints, from the G-77 group of nations that is currently chaired by Sudan, led the Danish hosts to suspend negotiations on Monday morning. Talks are expected to resume in the afternoon on what some are hoping will be a politically binding agreement on curbing global greenhouse gas emissions."
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Melvin A. Goodman | High Noon in the White House
Melvin A. Goodman, Truthout: "President Barack Obama noted last week after accepting the Nobel Peace Prize that the United States 'has helped underwrite global security for more than six decades.' While this was certainly true in Germany and Japan during World War II as well as in Korea, there have been too many occasions in the past four decades when presidents - usually in their first or second year in office - have used force in situations that have not served the interests of the United States, let alone the global community."
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Dean Baker | Goldman Sachs: Friend of Planet Earth
Dean Baker, Truthout: "O.K., I have now said something nice about Goldman Sachs. And, there is actually some truth in this title. Some people have pointed out that Goldman Sachs is one of the main forces lobbying for the cap-and-trade system of carbon permits that lies at the heart of the House-approved bill to combat climate change. Under this proposal, a certain amount of carbon permits would be issued each year."
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Lt. Col. Barry Wingard | American Principle Is Power
Lt. Col. Barry Wingard, Truthout: "With the release of the so-called 'torture' memos and now the full Senate Armed Services Committee's report on detainee treatment, the debate over detainee abuse has focused on further investigations into the military personnel, intelligence operatives and even lawyers involved in the detention and treatment of detainees like my client, Fayiz al-Kandari."
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Paul Sullivan | Obama's Wars, Obama's Casualties, Obama's Responsibilities
Paul Sullivan, Truthout: "On Veterans Day 2009, President Barack Obama walked through the headstones in Arlington National Cemetery outside Washington, DC. He was deliberating his impending decision to escalate and then terminate the Afghanistan War. On December 1, Obama announced his temporary escalation of the Afghanistan War with the deployment of 30,000 new troops, to the dismay of both pro-war neoconservatives and antiwar activists. On December 6, 2009, the New York Times quoted a presidential adviser as saying Obama was 'totally at peace,' as troops would begin returning home by July 2011."
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Laurent Pinsolle | How the Free Market Leads to Famines
Laurent Pinsolle, Marianne2: "In its November 21 issue, The Economist looks into the fascinating theme of agriculture and wonders what we shall do to feed the world. Although it supports deregulation, the uber-capitalist free market weekly nonetheless provides arguments for its opponents."
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The Dust Bowl of Babylon: Are Crippling Droughts the Next Great Threat to Iraq?
Martin Chulov, "From his mud brick home on the edge of the Garden of Eden, Awda Khasaf has twice seen his country's lifeblood seep away. The waters that once spread from his doorstep across a 20 percent slab of Iraq known as the Marshlands first disappeared in 1991, when Saddam Hussein diverted them east to punish the rebellious Marsh Arabs. The wetlands have been crucial to Iraq since the earliest days of civilization - sustaining the lives of up to half a million people who live in and around the area, while providing water for almost two million more."
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In Dubai, Financial Crisis Looms
Tom Hundley, GlobalPost: "Last year, when major banks in the US and Europe were teetering on the brink of collapse, Middle Eastern and Asian banks that specialize in Islamic financing were riding high. In the face of a global recession, the top 100 Islamic banks saw their combined assets grow by a gravity-defying 66 percent in 2008, according to figures compiled by The Asian Banker."
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Solar Villages Light Up the Andes
Marcela Valente, Inter Press Service: "The residents of the Puna, the dry Andean highlands in northern Argentina, are cut off from everything - except the sun. Living on arid land thousands of metres above sea level, they are on their way to becoming 'solar villages.' In the north and northwest of Jujuy province, people are finding that solar energy, a clean and inexhaustible source, can replace firewood, which is increasingly scarce. The EcoAndina Foundation is showing the way through a series of projects."
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Forbes Publishes Fiction on Climate Change Debate
Jim Naureckas, FAIR: " has an article up called 'The Fiction of Climate Science' (12/4/09). Thanks no doubt to a link from Drudge, it's currently one of the web site's 'top rated,' 'most popular' and 'most emailed' items. 'Fiction' is a polite word for what the author, Gary Sutton, does with evidence. Sutton grinds the already well-worn denialist ax about 'global cooling' - scientists were predicting an imminent ice age in the 1970's, the argument goes, so why listen to those eggheads now about global warming? See FAIR's Action Alert from last February 18 for a debunking of this myth."
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Disaster and denial

When I first began writing for The Times, I was naïve about many things. But my biggest misconception was this: I actually believed that influential people could be moved by evidence, that they would change their views if events completely refuted their beliefs.

And to be fair, it does happen now and then. I’ve been highly critical of Alan Greenspan over the years (since long before it was fashionable), but give the former Fed chairman credit: he has admitted that he was wrong about the ability of financial markets to police themselves.

But he’s a rare case. Just how rare was demonstrated by what happened last Friday in the House of Representatives, when — with the meltdown caused by a runaway financial system still fresh in our minds, and the mass unemployment that meltdown caused still very much in evidence — every single Republican and 27 Democrats voted against a quite modest effort to rein in Wall Street excesses.

Let’s recall how we got into our current mess.

America emerged from the Great Depression with a tightly regulated banking system. The regulations worked: the nation was spared major financial crises for almost four decades after World War II. But as the memory of the Depression faded, bankers began to chafe at the restrictions they faced. And politicians, increasingly under the influence of free-market ideology, showed a growing willingness to give bankers what they wanted.

The first big wave of deregulation took place under Ronald Reagan — and quickly led to disaster, in the form of the savings-and-loan crisis of the 1980s. Taxpayers ended up paying more than 2 percent of G.D.P., the equivalent of around $300 billion today, to clean up the mess.

But the proponents of deregulation were undaunted, and in the decade leading up to the current crisis politicians in both parties bought into the notion that New Deal-era restrictions on bankers were nothing but pointless red tape. In a memorable 2003 incident, top bank regulators staged a photo-op in which they used garden shears and a chainsaw to cut up stacks of paper representing regulations.

And the bankers — liberated both by legislation that removed traditional restrictions and by the hands-off attitude of regulators who didn’t believe in regulation — responded by dramatically loosening lending standards. The result was a credit boom and a monstrous real estate bubble, followed by the worst economic slump since the Great Depression. Ironically, the effort to contain the crisis required government intervention on a much larger scale than would have been needed to prevent the crisis in the first place: government rescues of troubled institutions, large-scale lending by the Federal Reserve to the private sector, and so on.

Given this history, you might have expected the emergence of a national consensus in favor of restoring more-effective financial regulation, so as to avoid a repeat performance. But you would have been wrong.

Talk to conservatives about the financial crisis and you enter an alternative, bizarro universe in which government bureaucrats, not greedy bankers, caused the meltdown. It’s a universe in which government-sponsored lending agencies triggered the crisis, even though private lenders actually made the vast majority of subprime loans. It’s a universe in which regulators coerced bankers into making loans to unqualified borrowers, even though only one of the top 25 subprime lenders was subject to the regulations in question.

Oh, and conservatives simply ignore the catastrophe in commercial real estate: in their universe the only bad loans were those made to poor people and members of minority groups, because bad loans to developers of shopping malls and office towers don’t fit the narrative.

In part, the prevalence of this narrative reflects the principle enunciated by Upton Sinclair: “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it.” As Democrats have pointed out, three days before the House vote on banking reform Republican leaders met with more than 100 financial-industry lobbyists to coordinate strategies. But it also reflects the extent to which the modern Republican Party is committed to a bankrupt ideology, one that won’t let it face up to the reality of what happened to the U.S. economy.

So it’s up to the Democrats — and more specifically, since the House has passed its bill, it’s up to “centrist” Democrats in the Senate. Are they willing to learn something from the disaster that has overtaken the U.S. economy, and get behind financial reform?

Let’s hope so. For one thing is clear: if politicians refuse to learn from the history of the recent financial crisis, they will condemn all of us to repeat it.

FP morning post 12/13

Climate talks stalled

Top story: As the climate talks in Copenhagen entered their second week, nearly all activity has been suspended after developing nations -- a group of about 135 countries -- said they would not participate in any working groups until the issue of binding emissions cuts from industrialized nations was resolved.

The developing countries want the 1997 Kyoto protocol extended. That protocol included legally binding emissions cuts for developed nations but had no legally binding targets from developing ones. The United States never supported the treaty and developed nations argue that it would leave some of the world's biggest emitters -- China and India -- without legally binding targets. Extending the protocol would be "irresponsible for the climate" said British climate secretary Ed Miliband.

Bangladeshi delegate Zia Hoque Mukta told the AP that developing countries "have lost faith" in the process after reports that Kyoto was to be scrapped. They decided in a private meeting to stall the talks, hours before they were supposed to resume.

Delegates are now struggling to resolve the rich-poor impasse and have some agreement on the table when world leaders -- including U.S. President Barack Obama arrive in Copenhagen later this week. U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu announced that the U.S. would spend $85 million over five years to spread green technologies in the developing world.

The drone war: The L.A. Times reports that U.S. officials are considering expanding drone attacks into Quetta, a major Pakistani city where senior Taliban leaders are thought to be based.

Middle East

  • Western officials say Iran's latest nuclear offer falls well short of their demands.
  • Iran announced that it will try the three Americans who were jailed for crossing the border from Iraq in July but the charges are still unknown.
  • Abu Dhabi gave its ailing fellow emirate Dubai $10 billion in aid.


Europe and Caucasus

  • Italian President Silvio Berlusconi is still in the hospital after beeing punched in the face at rally on Sunday.
  • Sergei Bagapsh, the president of the separatist enclave of Abkhazia, was reelected by a wide margin.
  • Russia has cut off gas flow to Armenia after an explosive device was found near a pipeline.


  • Guinea's military junta has rejected any proposal for foreign peacekeepers to be sent to the country.
  • Human Rights Watch says the U.N.-backed military offensive in Eastern Congo has led to thousands more civilian deaths.
  • Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe called his power-sharing government with opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai "short lived."


  • Conservative billionaire Sebastian Pinera won the first round of a presidential election in Chile. A runoff will be held next month.
  • A U.S. government subcontractor was reportedly arrested in Cuba while working to assist Cuban civil society organizations.
  • Ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya has been granted permission by the interim government to seek asylum outside Central America.

-By Joshua Keating


McClatchy Washington report 12/13

  • On a continent where fewer than one in five married women use modern contraception, promoting birth control faces a host of obstacles — patriarchal customs, religious taboos, ill-equipped public health systems — but experts also blame a powerful, more distant force: the U.S. government. Under President Bush, the United States withdrew from its decades-long role as a global leader in supporting family planning, even for married women.

  • With local police often unschooled in how to spot human trafficking, women who've been trafficked into prostitution frequently are arrested, then released back into the custody of their traffickers. Or they remain in jail for months, with police not realizing they're the victims, not the criminals.

  • The young Marines at FOB Hassanabad, Afghanistan, could be on a camping trip to Hell. There's no hot water, no heat in the tents, the food's lousy, and mice are everywhere. The upside: they've made pets of several cats and there are plenty of bad guys to seek out on patrol.

  • Gov. Mark Sanford lost more than a wife when Jenny Sanford filed for divorce Friday. He lost an important political adviser as well, one he said kept him grounded amid the trappings of high office. Jenny Sanford has been described as the force behind her husband's political career, but those who worked with or observed Mark Sanford said that probably exaggerated her influence.

  • Humboldt County — and in particular the college town of Arcata — has become an epicenter for political and legal debate over the unintended consequences of Proposition 215, California's "Compassionate Use Act" for marijuana. Since passage of the act in 1996, medical marijuana users have streamed into this county, a liberal and libertarian bastion that decades ago began attracting pot growers. Proposition 215's vagueness on personal pot-use limits has turned a so-called crop of compassion into a lucrative industry.

  • Abkhaz incumbent leader Sergei Bagapsh on Sunday was declared the winner of his region's presidential elections by a wide margin amid allegations of fraud. The neighboring country of Georgia greeted the news by reminding the world that Abkhazia in fact is not a country, but rather a Georgian territory occupied by Russian troops.

  • Allegations that Bill Allen, the principal witness last year in the corruption trial of U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens, had a sexual relationship with a 15-year-old girl have been under investigation by the Anchorage police department since 2008. But lawyers for defendants convicted with Allen's testimony say they were never told and that the information would have important for them to undermine Allen's testimony.

  • The war followed Gillian Boice home from Iraq and into her dreams. Relief came in the form of a decades-old blood pressure drug Prazosin. Thousands of veterans who fought in conflicts ranging from Vietnam to Iraq and Afghanistan are taking prazosin for trauma-related nightmares. Its nighttime use started at the Seattle VA hospital and has spread across the country.

  • Around 2,000 people lined up at Elmendorf Air Force base in Alaska on Sunday for one of the last two stop in former Gov. Sarah Palin's 'Going Rogue' book tour. Palin planned to follow the Anchorage signing with a stop at Eielson Air Force Base outside Fairbanks later in the day. She had described the events on her Facebook page as the finale to her month-long book tour.

  • German Jewish survivors who were aboard the ship MS St. Louis, which in 1939 carried Jewish refugees from Europe seeking safe haven from the Nazis but was turned away from Havana, Miami and Fort Lauderdale, gathered Sunday in Miami Beach, Fla.

  • Sometime between 4 p.m. Saturday and 11 a.m. Sunday, thieves broke into the warehouse of the Marine Corps Reserve Toys for Tots in Wichita, Kansas, and took more than 1,000 toys. They apparently picked a lock on the barrier gate, threw open an overhead door and ransacked box after box meticulously packed and readied for distribution

  • Even in a a gloomy year for businesses, employees may find a little cheer in their in-boxes this holiday season. Nearly two in three human resources executives surveyed by Chicago-based outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas say their employers will pass out holiday bonus checks this year, compared with 54 percent in 2008.

On The Futility Of War, Part Two, Or, Twelve Times The Charm?

We are halfway through a story that is about to turn winter in one of the most beautiful places in the world profoundly ugly.

Just like in a Cecil B. DeMille movie, we have a cast of millions, we have epic scenery, and we have made acquaintance with someone who will go on to perform a heroic act.

Unlike your typical Hollywood production, however, this movie is not going to have a happy ending--in fact, you could make the argument that it's not over yet.

So wrap yourself up in something comfortable, grab something to drink...and when you're ready, we're packing up and heading to the Alps.

So for those of you just coming to the story, here's where we're at:

There has been, for as long as anyone can remember, some degree of "friendliness balanced with hostility" in the relationship between the Austrians, Italians, and Ladins who have been living in the Tyrol, a region of the Alps just to the east of Switzerland.

In the 1800s, a variety of national unification movements emerged, leaving Italy, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and Germany in possession of various parts of the Tyrol.

For those unfamiliar with the geography, the Alps would represent a bit of trim extending all the way across the top of Italy's "boot"; if the boot had a buckle, it would be where the Italian, Austro-Hungarian, and German borders come together in the center of the Alps.

As WWI approached, there was some question as to whether Italy would join the Central Powers (Germany, Austro-Hungary, Bulgaria, and the Ottoman Empire) or the Triple Entente (Russia, France, Britain, and eventually, the United States).

Italy broke its neutrality by signing the Treaty of London and attacking Austrian and other Central Powers forces along a 450-long offensive line stretching from Lake Garda to not quite Trieste.

In May of 1915 the Italians had 875,000 troops trying to mount an attack uphill, the goal being to emerge near Zagreb, Croatia (and cover their backsides at the same time, thus the attack on the Lake Garda region), so they could wheel north and attack into Austrian territory while simultaneously moving south along the Adriatic coast; the Austrians were defending from the peaks with roughly 300,000 troops.

Among those troops were units specially trained in mountain combat; those units recruiting from the mountain guides and hunters who lived in the mountain regions. The Austrians had in their command a legendary mountain guide-turned-hotelier named Sepp Innerkofler, who had more than 50 "first ascents" on some of the world's toughest peaks under his belt.

For those with a memory of history, Hannibal did the same thing on a much narrower offensive front, 2200 years ago, starting from roughly Nice, France and ending up between Turin and Milan, in what is today Northern Italy--a feat he performed at great cost to his own forces.

And now, you're caught up.

The Battles Of The Isonzo Begin

"Our vigil is ended. Our exultation begins ... The cannon roars. The earth smokes ... Companions, can it be true? We are fighting with arms, we are waging our war, the blood is spurting from the veins of Italy! We are the last to join this struggle and already the first are meeting with glory ... The slaughter begins, the destruction begins ... All these people, who yesterday thronged in the streets and squares, loudly demanding war, are full of veins, full of blood; and that blood begins to flow ... We have no other value but that of our blood to be shed."

-- Gabriele D'Annunzio, April 25th, 1915

The first four of the twelve Battles of the Isonzo were fought, along that long front, between May and December of 1915. The main tactic, on both sides, was to use artillery as a way of "softening up" the opposition, after which somebody would have to run up a hill, under fire, in an attempt to dislodge someone else from their well dug-in position (which explains why controlling the high ground is so vitally important).

"The men rest for a few hours, trying to dry out. At noon, they form a line, dropping to one knee while the officers stand with sabres drawn. The regimental colours flutter freely. Silence. Then a trumpet sounds, the men bellow 'Savoy!'[the name of the royal house] as from one throat, the band strikes up the Royal March. Carrying knapsacks that weigh 35 kilograms, the men attack up the steep slope, in the teeth of accurate fire from positions that the Italians cannot see. An officer brandishing his sabre in his right hand has to use his left hand to stop the scabbard from tripping him up. The men are too heavily laden to move quickly. Renato remembered the scene as a vision of the end of an era: 'In a whirl of death and glory, within a few moments, the epic Garibaldian style of warfare is crushed and consigned to the shadows of history!' The regimental music turns discordant, then fades. The officers are bowled down by machine-gun fire while the men crawl for cover on hands and knees. The battle is lost before it begins. The Italians present such a magnificent target, they are bound to fail. A second attack, a few hours later, is aborted when the bombardment falls short, hitting their own line. The afternoon peters out in another rainstorm."

-- Renato di Stolfo, describing his view of the First Battle of the Isonzo

As the Italians attacked the Austrians were basically engaged in a slow retreat into the highest mountain redoubts, destroying the rail and road infrastructure as they went.


Among the unbelievable tales of combat from those first engagements is this account of how bulls were used as a tool of assault:

"...Realizing that Korada must be captured, if at all, by dash and surprise, the Italian brigadier in charge of the attack gathered a herd of fierce bulls, which are numerous in that part of Venetia, and penned them in a hollow out of sight of the enemy, while his artillery began to bombard the hostile trenches. When the animals were wrought to a frenzy of rage and fear by the noise of the guns, they were let loose and driven up the mountain against the Austrian positions. Their charge broke through many strands of the wire entanglements, and before the last of them fell dead under the Austrian rifle fire, Italian troops with fixed bayonets had crowded through the gaps in the wires and captured the position..."

By the time the fourth battle was over the Austrian commanders' extremely effective defense not only had the Italians stopped cold--literally--but even worse, the few miles gained in those seven months had already cost the Italians 250,000 dead or wounded soldiers.

A Soldier's Death

The Austrians were losing soldiers as well--including Sepp Innerkofler.

July 3rd had found Innerkofler under attack on the Croda Rossa early in the day, and, amazingly, deer hunting later in the afternoon a couple miles away at the Alpe di Andert:

"...We start the descent at 12 and 13.50 are the Alpe di Andert. Lieutenant Gruber goes back to his position as we head towards the Kulewaldplatz, where our 6 men, they start hunting with deer starting from the so-called Bastrich. I look forward to the post until the end of the broad valley. 5 are found deer and fox-1, I will see two but failed to hit them. He fired a total of 8 shots, but unfortunately it is the prey of a single chapter. And so, as two hours and a half ago we were engaged in a manhunt, now we are dedicated to our unique pleasure to that of the deer!..."

--From Sepp Innerkofler's diary entry, July 3rd, 1915

July 4th, however, was a bit of a different story.

Innerkofler and five members of his "flying squad", all top climbers, were ordered to dislodge a group of Italian mountainsoldiers (Alpini) from a mountain peak. To make this happen Innerkofler's team was required to perform a vertical ascent upon the Monte Paterno--an ascent that was actually among his resume of Alpine "first climbs"; a feat he had achieved 19 years earlier and many, many, times since.

The climb was completed by sunrise, and with the sun at their backs the Austrians began to attack with grenades and small arms and the thud of their own artillery sending shells just overhead into the Italian position. Austrian and Italian machine gun emplacements were trading fire across the ridges at each other.

There are several versions of what happens next, including an almost Wagnerian account--but the eventual outcome of each is the same: Innerkofler is killed by a rock-wielding Alpini.

The Italians, risking Austrian fire, recovered the Austrian's body and give him a funeral with full respect, burying him on the Paternkofel.

With four of the Battles of the Isonzo down, there were still eight to go.

The next May, after an exceptionally bitter winter and spring and with more equipment, the Italians were preparing to attack, again, from north of Milan to up above Lake Garda--but the Austrians had two Armies in the mountains, who were able to drive the Italians back into their own northern plain, stopping the Fifth Battle before it ever got started.

It's reported that the Austrians had to fall back from that newly acquired land partly because of problems running a logistics operation through the mountains...and also partly because the Russians mounted an offensive to the Austrians' east. The cost to the Italians was substantial, however, as they were forced to commit 500,000 troops to the defense of the Lake Garda region.

In this environment, the Italians and Austrians were not limited to the use of traditional means of killing each other--in fact, rockslides and avalanches were becoming weapons of mass destruction, as this description of an action at the Col di Lana in April of 1916 indicates:

" the entire western margin of Col di Lana was carefully and patiently mined, an undertaking which probably took months of hard work, and several tons of high explosives were distributed in such a way as to destroy the whole side of the mountain above which the enemy was in- trenched.

The explosion that followed was terrific. The earth shook as if rocked by an earthquake, and the havoc wrought was so great that out of the 1,000 Austrians who held the position, only 164 survived."

Just a few months later, on just one day (December 13th, a day which became known as "White Friday") 10,000 soldiers are said to have died in avalanches; the problem being so serious that both sides had detachments of soldiers assigned specifically to the avalanche rescue mission.
avalanche over tracks.jpg

This went on for months and months and months, with neither side really accomplishing anything in terms of territory gained. The Italians, however, were growing their Army, both in size and in the amount of materiel they could put in the field, until October of 1917, when either the Twelfth Battle of the Isonzo or the Battle of Caporetto took place (pick your favorite name; various sources use both).

The Austrians, coming down from the buckle of our boot, mounted an attack that was so successful that the Italian 2nd Army collapsed in disorganized confusion to the south, suffering severe levels of casualties; the better organized 3rd and 4th Armies seem to have lost about 20% of their forces "coming to the rescue".

While the Italian Army under General Cadorna had begun the battle with 1,250,000 troops, in two weeks he lost roughly 320,000 of them to death or capture, along with most of his Army's artillery--and his own job. An additional 350,000 soldiers were reportedly wandering the countryside, for the moment unattached to any military organization.

400,000 people became refugees in those two weeks.

Eventually the Austrians had to retreat back into their own territory; some of the reason for that being related to the same problems the Italians were having maintaining supply lines through mountains, some of the reason for that being that the Austrians were losing on other fronts.

This was not the end of the fighting along the Italian-Austrian frontier, nor the end of the ethnic conflict that has peppered the region's history, but you get the idea: no one ever really won any victories that mattered, but thousands upon thousands of people died in the effort, and hundreds of thousands more were wounded--again, all for nothing, really.

"...das Schlagwort vom lebenslangen Lernen für alle - auch für Politiker - gilt..."

(English translation: "...the slogan of lifelong learning for all - even for politicians - applies...")

--Luis Durnwalder, Governor of the Autonomous Province of Bolzano

Is There A Moral Here?

Now at some point in this story we have to answer the question of...what is the point of all this?

Folks, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but the moral of this story is that there is no point.

More or less 400,000 soldiers died on both sides, countless more were wounded, and hundreds of thousands of people, if not millions, became refugees.

Sepp Innerkofler's hotel was bombed as he and so many other of his friends, both Austrian and Italian, were killed up in those mountains.

And all of it for nothing.

Italy was not able to advance its national interests at all (in fact, things got much worse), and despite everything that happened back and forth over those years, Austria certainly saw no gains: in fact, thanks to this war, the Hapsburg Dynasty also went the way of "Cats" and the Ottoman Empire...closing, after a long run.

If it was my job to apply all of this to some war that my bosses were fighting...I think I'd be looking at Afghanistan, and I think I'd be looking at the place as a collection of tribal communities, rather than one big country; and I think I'd be telling my bosses that all those talking heads--and just plain folks--who think we should "defeat the Taliban" through some military campaign so that we can come home, having achieved some kind of ultimate victory, need to understand that you will never defeat anything up in the mountains simply be throwing a bunch of people and equipment at the problems.

Instead, you're going to have to consider whether it's possible to help the Afghans create something like what is happening in the Tyrol today, where protections for the various tribal and ethnic groups could be laid out in a framework that reassures Pashtuns, Persians, and Turcoman alike that they have a place in a community of interdependent communities.

This has been a long and, at times, rather depressing, look at who we are as people, and I wanted to end on a postscript that is a bit happier...and it all comes back to Sepp Innerkofler.

Despite the fact that his hotel was bombed, and he was killed, the family carried on, as did the strength of his reputation...which is why you can, even to this very day, hike the Sepp Innerkofler Höhenweg (Ridgeway, in English), and why, should you find yourself a bit tired from the hike, you can stay at Sepp's original Hotel Dolomitenhof, rebuilt since the war, where the legacy also continues, as Innerkofler Katharina recently noted in an email exchange we had:

"...of course we are proud of our grand-grand pa. We´ve a little museum in our hotel, where we show his climbing successes and explain his destiny."

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Wallmart: Save money, live sicker

If you shop at Wal-Mart to finish up that last bit of holiday shopping this week, you may be coming home with more than a good deal--you might be exposed to contagious illnesses like colds and the flu.

Why? As the New York Times recently reported, "At Wal-Mart, when employees miss one or more days because of illness or other reasons, they generally get a demerit point. Once employees obtain four points over a six-month period, they begin receiving warnings that can lead to dismissal." [1] The article continues, showcasing people who say that this type policy means that they've had no choice but to go to work sick. Sadly, for Wal-Mart employees, staying home when they're sick hurts their family's budget and puts their future employment status at risk.

The demerit policy is backward and unfair. It's Wal-Mart the company, not it's employees, that really deserves the demerits -- for their unhealthy and unfair policy that's bad for employees and customers.

Give Wal-Mart a demerit badge of its own today by clicking here!

With your demerit badge, you'll be telling Wal-Mart to stop punishing employees for taking sick days.

Now's the time to take action!
This week is the last full week of holiday shopping before Christmas. That means now, more than ever, Wal-Mart wants nothing but good press to drive shoppers to their stores. By sending your demerit badge today, and sharing this message with your friends by forwarding this email now, we can make sure Wal-Mart gets the message at a time when they can't ignore it.

Once at least 40,000 demerit badges are given to Wal-Mart via the link above, we'll issue a press release which is sure to catch the eye of Wal-Mart leadership in this holiday shopping season to ensure they get the point that their demerit policy is unfair, and it's bad for the health of their employees and customers.

Why is Wal-Mart's sick days policy important for all of us?
* Wal-Mart's sick days policy is bad for women and families. Women comprise 72 percent of Wal-Mart's workforce [2]. As Gloria Steinem said earlier this year: "The fact is that women need [access to paid sick days] more than anyone else. Women still have so much more family responsibility than men..." [3] The increased responsibilities for caregiving that women carry mean that women are more likely to be at risk for punishment and termination under bad policies.

* Wal-Mart's sick days policy has public health implications for us all. Wal-Mart employs about 1.4 million people in the U.S. [4] -- that's a lot of people who come to work sick, and expose their coworkers and customers to potential illness.

* When Wal-Mart changes its policies, other companies take notice. Wal-Mart is one of the largest private employers in the country [6]. Therefore Wal-Mart frequently sets the standard (or at least the floor) for many of the policies that other companies put in place. We've heard from dozens of MomsRising members who say that the company they work for has sick days policies which are similar to the policies at Wal-Mart. By focusing our efforts on Wal-Mart now, we can set an example for other companies and propel them to change their practices as well.

What does Wal-Mart have to say for itself?

MomsRising and the New York Times exposed Wal-Mart's sick leave policies in early November of this year [6]. Soon after, the company commented with ABC News reporting that Wal-Mart will be issuing a memo to "to human resource managers at stores across the country saying, 'We must be clear that no one will lose their job if they get H1N1.'" [7] This answer is full of more spin than a spider convention.

It sounds like Wal-Mart answered, but if you think about it, this answer doesn't address the problem at all. First of all, in most cases when people have flu symptoms, doctors aren't doing lab tests to check for the H1N1 virus, so there's no way for Wal-Mart to know if an employee has H1N1, the seasonal flu, or any other illness. Second, Wal-Mart didn't address whether sick employees would continue to receive demerits, as is their usual practice. And third, our colleagues at the National Labor Committee have spoken to workers at several Wal-Mart stores who all say they haven't been told of any changes to Wal-Mart's sick days policy. [8]

In the past two weeks, MomsRising has asked Wal-Mart to clarify their sick days policy, but so far we've received no response.

Give Wal-Mart a demerit badge today -- in the height of the shopping season -- and tell them to stop punishing employees for taking sick days.

Nobody wants to shop at Wal-Mart and end up bringing home more than just a bag of presents.

Thank you,
--Katie, Mary, Kristin, Joan, Julia, Anita, Ariana, Donna, Ashley, and Sarah

P.S. MomsRising and our partners insist that no retaliation be taken by Wal-Mart management against any worker who speaks the truth about Wal-Mart's punitive sick leave policies. We will be watching this very closely.

1. The New York Times:
4. (Employment and Diversity Fact Sheet)
5. (Employment and Diversity Fact Sheet)
6. The New York Times:
7. ABC News: and
Also see:
- ABC News:
- Washington Post:

Truthout 12/13

Evelyn Pringle | US Kids Represent Psychiatric Drug Goldmine
Evelyn Pringle, Truthout: "Prescriptions for psychiatric drugs increased 50 percent with children in the US, and 73 percent among adults, from 1996 to 2006, according to a study in the May/June 2009 issue of the journal Health Affairs. Another study in the same issue of Health Affairs found spending for mental health care grew more than 30 percent over the same ten-year period, with almost all of the increase due to psychiatric drug costs."
Read the Article

Nick Mottern | Less Than Citizens (Part Two): Occupation Wars and Rights
Nick Mottern, Truthout: "How is the United States using its 'all volunteer' military, and is this not violating basic civil and human rights of US military personnel and their families? Moreover, it is important to examine how apparent violations of the constitutional rights of US military and their families are a direct result of US violation of rights of the peoples of Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan."
Read the Article

US System to Find, Help Victims of Human Trafficking Is Broken
Mike McGraw and Laura Bauer, The Kansas City Star: "Sebastian Pereria told a friend last year about his life in America. How he wanted to see his wife and children in India, but his boss kept his identification papers and wouldn't let him go. Other waiters who worked with him at a Topeka restaurant told of how they were forced to work 13-hour days, six days a week. They talked of how the boss underpaid them and pocketed their tips. In the end, Pereria, 46, got his wish. He finally arrived home last year. In a coffin."
Read the Article

Mary Susan Littlepage | Creating Understanding About Mental Illness
Mary Susan Littlepage, Truthout: "Suzanne Andriukaitis never knows what to expect when she wakes up in the morning. Asked what a typical day is like at The National Alliance for the Mentally Ill of Greater Chicago (NAMI-GC), Andriukaitis said with a laugh, 'There is no such thing.' She might be busy writing a letter on behalf of the mentally ill to a newspaper editor, explaining to a group how different parts of the brain function or developing a new program to help people better understand how crises escalate for the mentally ill."
Read the Article

Iraq's Giant Oil Fields Go on Auction Block
Jane Arraf, GlobalPost: "Iraq literally rolled out the red carpet for foreign oil executives Friday at a bidding round that auctioned off the rights to develop some of the world's last known giant reserves of cheap oil. After the first oil auction in June, when international oil companies were asking up to 10 times more profit what the Iraqi government was offering, Friday's winning bids made clear that European and Asian firms at least were willing to settle for a lot less to get in on the market."
Read the Article

In New Orleans, Chaos in the Streets, and in Police Ranks Too
A.C. Thompson, Brendan McCarthy and Laura Maggi, ProPublica and The Times-Picayune: "During the turbulent days after Hurricane Katrina made landfall, New Orleans police shot 10 civilians, at least four of whom died, according to interviews and internal police documents. Some incidents involving police were widely publicized and have prompted a U.S. Justice Department inquiry into the conduct of the New Orleans Police Department that has brought dozens of officers before federal grand juries to testify."
Read the Article

Nuclear Power Protested from Copenhagen to Washington
Sue Sturgis, Facing South: "At the U.N. Climate Summit in Copenhagen yesterday, members of environmental groups that are part of the international Don't Nuke the Climate campaign placed a radiation-protection mask on the city's iconic Little Mermaid statue."
Read the Article

Damning New Evidence Raises Concerns About Threats to New York's Water From Gas Drilling
Byard Duncan, AlterNet: "Shortly after Laurie Lytle and her husband purchased a home near Geneva, NY in September 2006, they noticed a yellow flier tucked in their door frame. Chesapeake Energy, one of the nation's largest developers of natural gas, had come knocking, wondering if the Lytles were interested in leasing their land for exploration. 'Sign with Chesapeake Energy,' Lytle recalled the flier saying: 'We can give you money for not doing much.'"
Read the Article

UN Still to Accredit Its First US LGBT Group
Marguerite A. Suozzi, Inter Press Service: "Sixty-one years after the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, sexual orientation and gender identity still pose a threat to the dignity and sovereignty of individuals around the world."
Read the Article

On The Futility Of War, Part One, Or, Snow Becomes A Lethal Weapon

We have another one of those "amazing history" stories for you today--and this one's a real doozy.

We're going to spend the better part of four years in the Italian Alps (or, to be more accurate, what was intended to be the Italian Alps), and by the time we're done, nearly 400,000 soldiers will have been killed--and 60,000 of those will have died as a result of avalanches that were set by one side or the other.

In the middle of the story: a mountaineer and soldier who was so highly regarded that even those who fought against him accorded him the highest honors they could muster, creating a legend that lives on to this very day.

And even though a young Captain Erwin Rommel fought in these's not him.

Oh, by the way: did I mention that there are also some handy object lessons for anyone who might be thinking about fighting a war in Afghanistan?

Well, there are, Gentle Reader, so follow along, and let's all learn something today.

“Coming back from a long weekend in the desert, traffic is lousy. Next to the highway, an electric billboard proclaims ONLY 24 SUNSETS UNTIL CHRISTMAS and I am stuck beside it long enough to watch it change to 23—get ‘em while they’re hot, apocalypse coming soon, reserve your sunsets now while supplies last.”

--Gabriel Wrye, Straight Time

Let’s begin the setup for this story by checking out some prime European real estate:

Italy, as you know, is that “boot” protruding into the Mediterranean—and if the top of the boot had really cool trim and a big buckle, the trim would run from Nice, France (formerly Nice, Italy), on the west, touching Innsbruck and Salzburg, Austria, and then past Bratislava, Slovakia and on into the Hungarian plain. The trim would also veer south, and that portion of our metaphorical “carnival decoration” would encompass Ljubljana, Slovenia (which is about 100 miles south of Salzburg), eventually rolling out into the suburbs of Zagreb, Croatia.

Other notable nearby cities include Marseilles, Grenoble, every city in Switzerland, Strasbourg, Munich, Venice, Bologna, Milan, Turin, and Genoa, all of which are 100 miles or less from the boot’s appliqué.

This is the Alps, and, in 1910, France, Switzerland, Italy, Germany, and the Austro-Hungarian Empire all have borders that snake through the area. The last three were all relatively new countries, none having gone more than 50 years since their most recent versions of “unification”—and that buckle we spoke of earlier? That would be roughly where the Swiss, Austrian, and Italian borders meet today, near the Stelvio Pass...which is part of an area known as the Tyrol.

Switzerland’s Matterhorn (part of the Pennine Alps) is one of numerous mountains that are all above 10,000 feet over on the west side of the region; the highest peak of the equally spectacular Tre Cime di Lavaredo (known in German as the “Drei Zinnen”) is located about 10,000 feet up in the air, a couple of hundred miles or so to the east in the Dolomite Range.

Just like in my part of the world (Washington’s Cascade Mountains) you can get a lot of snow up there, and the combination of extreme snow and weather, high altitudes, and nearly vertical climbs created, by necessity, residents with unique mountaineering skills (the techniques that led to the use of pitons, carabiners, and rope ascents and descents were all developed here)...skills that became quite valuable to the military authorities in those five countries.

By the start of the 20th Century, troops like the Italian Alpini (who, to this day, still serve in the Italian Army), the French Chasseurs Alpines (who are also still serving and have a recruiting pitch that’s way past “Be All You Can Be”), the Austrian Landesschützen (who also have a modern presence in today’s Austrian Armed Forces as the 6th Jägerbrigade and the Österreichs Gebirgsbrigade, mountain infantry and “mountain combat engineers”, respectively), and the “Standschutzen“, who were essentially the Austrian military’s Alpine “farm team”, were all stood up to protect the various national interests that were present in the mountains.

All of the armies and militias involved had access to the best hunters and mountain guides that could be found—and since smuggling and poaching was part of mountain life, a lot of people knew a lot of paths, knew how to bag game with the fewest shots possible—and knew how to use those skills while keeping out of sight of the flatlanders and tourists—and “revenooers”—who might be venturing into the neighborhood.

Among all those mountain dwellers, perhaps the most skilled of the hunters and guides was Sepp Innerkofler. As the new century began, he had built his decade-old guide business into a hotel business—presumably learning better “customer service” that that practiced by his equally famous uncle Michael, who would apparently leave customers on ledges to wait for him to finish a climb if they couldn’t keep up. (Michael died in 1888, the victim of an ice bridge collapse.)

One measure of Sepp’s skill: he had to his credit the “first ascent” up more than 50 of the most difficult peaks in the Alps—which wasn’t that easy, considering that Michael had something like 10 times that number under his belt.

”...only a few of the hundreds of walkers who leave the Longéres pass for the Lavaredo pass every day in summer and autumn realise [sic] that they are moving in an environment which was made sacred by events in the Great War...”

--Tito and Camillo Berti, Guerra in Ampezzo e in Cadore

I could tell you an entire additional story about Italy and the relationship with Austria (and later Austro-Hungary, both ruled by the Hapsburg Dynasty), but what you need to know today is that over the centuries there had been a long-simmering conflict between the Italians and the Austrians (and the Ladins, a third ethnic group that inhabits the Tyrol).

At the time of the American Civil War Austria’s territory extended a bit south of the Alps; and part of the beginning of Italian unification history (the Risorgimento) was the effort to reduce Austrian influence in the north of today’s Italy and in the Italian Tyrol.

As Europe was stumbling its way into World War I, much of Italy’s population wanted to stay neutral (which, for the moment, was official Government policy), and some did not, seeking, instead, an alliance between Italy and the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

Opposing the Empire was the Rebel, wait, that was “Star Wars”.

The actual opponents, Russia, France, and Great Britain, were known as the “Triple Entente”, which was the side the United States later joined. Germany eventually declared war against everyone in Europe, except the “neutral” countries and the other “Central Powers” (Austro-Hungary, Bulgaria, and the Ottoman Empire—which, like the show Cats, was just about to close after a very successful 600-year run), who they joined.

By the time it was all over, more than 50 declarations of war were issued by the various combatant nations.

It’s now 1915, and despite the fact that Italian policy tilts toward neutrality, Sepp Innerkofler has been seeing a lot of new activity in his neighborhood...and the alp-glow notwithstanding, he was pretty sure that it wasn’t the mythical King Laurin.

You cannot sustain an army in the mountains without a lot of infrastructure in place, especially a large one, and what Innerkofler was seeing was indeed the beginning of Italian military preparations—preparations that were being countered, as best as possible, by the Austrian military:

“The Italian Alpinis, as well as their Austrian counterparts...occupied every hill and mountain top and began to carve whole cities out of the rocks and even drilled tunnels and living quarters deep into the ice of glaciers like the Marmolada. Guns were dragged by hundreds of troops on Mountains up to 3 890 m (12,760 feet) high. Streets, cable cars, mountain railways and walkways through the steepest of walls were built.”

--From the article "Tyrol", courtesy of the Embassy of Austria

And as it turns out, the Italians were going to need every bit of army they could get...because for a piece of the action, including some Alpen territories, the Italians had agreed, in the until now secret Treaty of London, to fight on the side of the Triple Entente powers—but in order to win the Tyrol...well, they were going to have to win the Tyrol; a task which will require the Italian Army to fight their way through either the Dolomites, on the one side, or the Julian Alps on the other...or both.

Hannibal had accomplished a similar task on the eastern side of the Alps—2200 years before—but to do it he left a huge portion of his Carthaginian forces dead in those mountains; victims of both the ancient angry mountain soldiers (the forebears of the same mountain folk Innerkofler lived among in 1915) and the brutal winter conditions.

The Italian commander, General Luigi Cadorna, had 875,000 troops at his disposal on May 23, 1915 (the day the Italians declared an end to their neutrality); against him the Austrians could only field about 300,000 troops—but many of those troops were natives defending their own real estate...and for the moment, they held the strategic real estate on the tops of the mountains.

Remember the description we gave in the beginning about the boot’s appliqué?

The smart thing to do, if you’re commanding 875,000 troops trying to go north, is to get around the right edge of the fringe on that boot (the mountains are somewhat lower on that side) and get your people onto the Hungarian plain...which is nice and flat and provides lots of room to maneuver.

The problem is, if you get too committed to that plan, you may end up with Austrian troops in Milan, attacking you from the rear. To prevent such an occurrence, Cadorna attacked on an offensive line that stretched from the “buckle” of our boot, way up in the Alps, to the city of Gorizia, which is all the way over to the top and right, if you were looking at a modern Italian map—and which just happens to be on the way to the nearby Adriatic port city of Trieste.

If you then follow the route of today’s A1 and A2 highways you get to Zagreb...and that’s the way to the Hungarian Plain.

If you can succeed in advancing uphill past Lake Garda (the Lago di Garda, in Italian, and the first part of the route up to the buckle), then you can cut off the railroad from Trentino north to Innsbruck; this would prevent the Austrians from moving any troops into northern Italy.

It’s time for us to stop for today: we have a lot of story to go, this is a natural point to take a break, and, to be completely honest, 4,000 words is too much even if you’re trapped in your car on the New York Thruway with nothing but a Snuggie, a laptop, and a mobile Internet service provider.

When we come back tomorrow we’ll get to the story of what happened when Italy deployed their newly enlarged Army, which is a story that, in some ways, is still being told; additionally, the idea that there is a lesson here for those who are being tasked with executing a war strategy in Afghanistan will be explored.

Harmony and balance matter in life, so go watch some Johnny Bravo or something, clear your head of all of this, and we’ll all meet back here tomorrow for Part Two.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Truthout 12/12

Jason Leopold | Blistering Indictment Leveled Against Obama Over His Handling of Bush-Era War Crimes
Jason Leopold, Truthout: "Obama has substituted words for action on issues surrounding torture since his first days in office nearly one year ago. That’s the point the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) made shortly after Obama’s acceptance Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech. Officials from the civil rights organization issued a withering indictment of the Obama administration’s handling of clear-cut cases of Bush-era war crimes."
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Nick Mottern | Less Than Citizens (Part One): People of Fort Drum
Nick Mottern, Truthout: "On I-81 in Watertown, New York, is a huge billboard: 'Welcome Home & Thank You 10th Mountain Division,' sponsored by Holiday Inn Express. To the best recollection of an employee of the motel, it has been there since the place was built in 2006. I visited Watertown, home of Fort Drum and the 10th Mountain Division, in November 2009 because the Army Times newspaper, owned by the Gannett Company Inc., refused to run a full-page ad carrying an article of mine published in Truthout on October 22, 2009, entitled 'Killing and Dying in the New Great Game.'"
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Allen McDuffee | Kurdish Leader: Iraq Suffering From Confused US Partner and Domestic Insecurity
Allen McDuffee, Truthout: "'If I had one word to describe Iraq, I would just use the word 'complicated.' If I had two words to describe Iraq, they would be 'very complicated,'" said Qubad Talabani, the representative of the Kurdistan Regional Government of Iraq to the United States."
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Sam Ferguson | The America Where They Do Prosecute Torture
Sam Ferguson, Truthout: "Last week, 15 men entered a courthouse facing, amongst other crimes, 181 counts of torture. Their story, tragically, is familiar: in a fight against terrorism, the men allegedly kidnapped and held detainees in unknown black sites. They subjected the prisoners to brutal forms of interrogation, such as waterboarding, sensory deprivation and simulated executions. They denied the detainees all legal recourse, and they defended their secret practices as essential to combating an elusive enemy who refused to play by the rules."
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Copenhagen Global Warming Draft Points to Hard Bargaining Ahead
Peter N. Spotts, The Christian Science Monitor: "Negotiators working on a new global warming treaty released a draft pact today that would commit the US to significant emissions cuts by 2020 and 2050. And, for the first time, it would draw developing countries into a climate agreement, something many analysts say is crucial in the fight against global warming."
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Deb Price | A Decade of Wonderfully Dizzying Progress for Gay Couples
Deb Price, Truthout: "As the clock ticked off the final minutes of the 20th century, Joyce and I shivered at the Lincoln Memorial while President Bill Clinton marked the magical moment by saluting the past and welcoming a new millennium. 'As we marvel at the changes of the last hundred years, we dream of what changes the next hundred, and the next thousand, will bring. And as powerful as our memories are, our dreams must be even stronger,' Clinton declared."
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Obama Wants Stimulus Projects to Hire More Minorities, Women
Tony Pugh, McClatchy Newspapers: "Amid mounting criticism that minorities, women and low-income workers are missing out on business opportunities and jobs under the stimulus bill, the Obama administration is urging the nation's governors to work harder to ensure that these groups participate fully in state transportation projects that receive federal funding."
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Ginnie Mae’s Troubling Endorsements
Brian Grow and Zachary Goldfarb, The Center for Public Integrity: "The trouble signs surrounding Lend America had been building for years. A top executive was convicted of mortgage fraud but still helped run the company. Home loans made by its headquarters were defaulting at an extremely high rate. Federal prosecutors alleged in a civil suit that the company falsified loan documents and committed fraud."
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Truthout 12/11

Bill Moyers and Michael Winship | The Land Mines Obama Won't Touch
Bill Moyers and Michael Winship, Truthout: "Many people are troubled that Barack Obama flew to Oslo to receive the Nobel Peace Prize so soon after escalating the war in Afghanistan. He is now more than doubling the number of troops there when George W. Bush left office."
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Yana Kunichoff | Extent of Blackwater and CIA Collaboration Uncovered
Yana Kunichoff, Truthout: "New details of Blackwater participation in clandestine CIA raids detail the extent to which private security contractors were involved in covert government antiterror operations."
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House Approves Sweeping Regulatory Reform Package
Brady Dennis, The Washington Post: "More than a year after the near-collapse of Wall Street plunged the economy into crisis, the House on Friday approved the most sweeping overhaul of the nation's financial regulatory system since the Great Depression.... The 223 to 202 vote, largely along party lines, marked a milestone in the Obama administration's efforts to rein in the abuses that contributed to the current crisis and to revamp the current patchwork of regulators to prevent similar failures in the future. The president has called financial reform one of his top priorities, alongside health care and climate change."
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Art Levine | US Senators: More Coal, Oil and Nukes Are "Solution" for Global Warming
Art Levine, Truthout: "A bipartisan coalition of US senators put forward a 'framework' for climate legislation that aims to dramatically increase offshore oil drilling, ensure a 'future for coal' and, above all, ramp up subsidies for the financially risky nuclear power industry. The announcement was timed, in part, to send a signal to negotiators at the climate conference in Copenhagen that the US Senate is supposedly serious about climate reform."
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William Fisher | US Neglecting Iraqi Refugees
William Fisher, Truthout: "After years of delay and bureaucratic red tape, refugees from the Iraq war are finally being allowed into the United States. But America 'is opening its gates to refugees and simply forgetting about them after they have arrived.'"
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Gareth Porter | US-Iran Talks: The Road to Diplomatic Failure
Gareth Porter, Truthout: "The talks between the G5 plus 1 and Iran are careening toward a premature breakdown. If they do fall apart, it will be due in large part to a serious diplomatic miscalculation by the Obama administration."
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Dr. Wilmer J. Leon III | The Power of White Privilege
Dr. Wilmer J. Leon III, Truthout: "On the evening of Tuesday, November 24, a young couple from Virginia made their way into one of the most secure events in the country, President Obama's state dinner for Indian Prime Minister Monmohan Singh and his wife at the White House. Like the other 300-plus guests, Tareq and Michaele Salahi went through multiple layers of Secret Service security, took photos with Chief of Staff Rom Emanuel and mingled with Vice President Biden and other guests. The problem is that the Salahis were not invited to the dinner. Their names were not listed on the official guest list or any other list that would have allowed them entrance into the White House. They crashed the party!"
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Sam Ferguson | The America Where They Do Prosecute Torture
Sam Ferguson, Truthout: "Last week, 15 men entered a courthouse facing, amongst other crimes, 181 counts of torture. Their story, tragically, is familiar: in a fight against terrorism, the men allegedly kidnapped and held detainees in unknown black sites. They subjected the prisoners to brutal forms of interrogation, such as waterboarding, sensory deprivation and simulated executions. They denied the detainees all legal recourse, and they defended their secret practices as essential to combating an elusive enemy who refused to play by the rules."
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J. Sri Raman | Deals That Threaten Disasters
J. Sri Raman, Truthout: "Deals for 16 reactors in a single day - so read India's nuclear score card on December 7, 2009. On this date, an agreement was reached in Moscow, under which the country would get four more nuclear reactors from Russia. Simultaneously, in New Delhi, a US Commercial Nuclear Mission told the media that, under the US-India nuclear deal, 'a minimum' of 12 plants would be set up, with the work on them starting in 2010-2011."
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Sara Daniel | Talking With the Enemy
Le Nouvel Observateur's intrepid reporter Sara Daniel interviews Afghans who were ministers under the Taliban and Soviet regimes. She reveals parallels between the US and Soviet occupations, as well as well-used communication channels between the Taliban in exile and the current regime.
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Friday, December 11, 2009

FP morning post 12/11

EU agrees to pay $10.6 billion in climate aid

Top story: EU leaders have agreed to contribute $10.6 billion dollars over the next three years to help poor countries adapt to the threat of climate change. The announcement came at the conclusion of a two-day summit in Brussels and is intended to add momentum to the discussions in Copenhagen. All 27 EU member states are reportedly contributing, with Britain spending the most ($800 million per year) according to Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

Meanwhile in Copenhagen, a draft of the U.N. text -- the first official attempt at a final proposal, as opposed to the earlier leaked drafts prepared by delegates -- proposes global greenhouse cuts of at least 50 percent by 2050 over 1990s levels. Industrialized nations would be asked to cut emissions 25 percent by 2020. There would be no binding commitments for developing countries, including China, India, and Brazil.

Revolving door: Kai Eide, the top UN official in Afghanistan, is planning to leave his job soon.


  • The five young Americans detained in Pakistan on terrorism charges will likely be deported.
  • The Indian government agreed to carve a separate state out of the southern province of Andhra Pradesh after days of protests.
  • North Korea said its talks with envoy Stephen Bosworth "narrowed" its differences with the United States.

Middle East

  • In Iraq's second major auction of oil contracts, Royal Dutch Shell and Malaysia's Petronas won the right to develop the world's largest untapped oil field.
  • The King of Jordan has appointed a former aide as the new prime minister.
  • West Bank settlers are suspected in the vandalizing of a Palestinian mosque.


  • Ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya says he will leave the Brazilian embassy in Tegucigalpa by Jan. 27.
  • Seven policeman and one civilian were killed in separate attacks by gunmen in Mexico's Mihoacan state on Thursday.
  • Ecuador's government says the U.S. helped plan a cross border raid by Colombian troops targeting FARC rebels last year.



  • Gunmen in Darfur shot and killed a member of the Sudanese parliament.
  • Uganda's parliament passed a law outlawing female genital mutilation.
  • A Greek ship hijacked by Somali pirates over six months ago has finally been released along with its crew.

-By Joshua Keating

Bernanke's unfinished business

Ben Bernanke, the Federal Reserve chairman, recently had some downbeat things to say about our economic prospects. The economy, he warned, “confronts some formidable headwinds.” All we can expect, he said, is “modest economic growth next year — sufficient to bring down the unemployment rate, but at a pace slower than we would like.”

Actually, he may have been too optimistic: There’s a good chance that unemployment will rise, not fall, over the next year. But even if it does inch down, one has to ask: Why isn’t the Fed trying to bring it down faster?

Some background: I don’t think many people grasp just how much job creation we need to climb out of the hole we’re in. You can’t just look at the eight million jobs that America has lost since the recession began, because the nation needs to keep adding jobs — more than 100,000 a month — to keep up with a growing population. And that means that we need really big job gains, month after month, if we want to see America return to anything that feels like full employment.

How big? My back of the envelope calculation says that we need to add around 18 million jobs over the next five years, or 300,000 jobs a month. This puts last week’s employment report, which showed job losses of “only” 11,000 in November, in perspective. It was basically a terrible report, which was reported as good news only because we’ve been down so long that it looks like up to the financial press.

So if we’re going to have any real good news, someone has to take responsibility for creating a lot of additional jobs. And at this point, that someone almost has to be the Federal Reserve.

I don’t mean to absolve the Obama administration of all responsibility. Clearly, the administration proposed a stimulus package that was too small to begin with and was whittled down further by “centrists” in the Senate. And the measures President Obama proposed earlier this week, while they would create a significant number of additional jobs, fall far short of what the economy needs.

But while economic analysis says that we should have a large second stimulus, the political reality is that the president — faced with total obstruction from Republicans, while receiving only lukewarm support from some in his own party — probably can’t get enough votes in Congress to do more than tinker at the edges of the employment problem.

The Fed, however, can do more.

Mr. Bernanke has received a great deal of credit, and rightly so, for his use of unorthodox strategies to contain the damage after Lehman Brothers failed. But both the Fed’s actions, as measured by its expansion of credit, and Mr. Bernanke’s words suggest that the urgency of late 2008 and early 2009 has given way to a curious mix of complacency and fatalism — a sense that the Fed has done enough now that the financial system has stepped back from the brink, even though its own forecasts predict that unemployment will remain punishingly high for at least the next three years.

The most specific, persuasive case I’ve seen for more Fed action comes from Joseph Gagnon, a former Fed staffer now at the Peterson Institute for International Economics. Basing his analysis on the prior work of none other than Mr. Bernanke himself, in his previous incarnation as an economic researcher, Mr. Gagnon urges the Fed to expand credit by buying a further $2 trillion in assets. Such a program could do a lot to promote faster growth, while having hardly any downside.

So why isn’t the Fed doing it? Part of the answer may be political: Ideological opponents of government activism tend to be as critical of the Fed’s credit expansion as they are of the Obama administration’s fiscal stimulus. And this has probably made the Fed reluctant to use its powers to their fullest extent. Meanwhile, a significant number of Fed officials, especially at the regional banks, are obsessed with the fear of 1970s-style inflation, which they see lurking just around the bend even though there’s not a hint of it in the actual data.

But there’s also, I believe, a question of priorities. The Fed sprang into action when faced with the prospect of wrecked banks; it doesn’t seem equally concerned about the prospect of wrecked lives.

And that is what we’re talking about here. The kind of sustained high unemployment envisaged in the Fed’s own forecasts is a recipe for immense human suffering — millions of families losing their savings and their homes, millions of young Americans never getting their working lives properly started because there are no jobs available when they graduate. If we don’t get unemployment down soon, we’ll be paying the price for a generation.

So it’s time for the Fed to lose that complacency, shrug off that fatalism and start lending a hand to job creation.

McClatchy Washington report 12/11

  • By using his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech Thursday to justify expanding the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan, President Barack Obama won over some Republican critics at home, even as he preached messages of multilateralism, diplomacy and civil disobedience that resonate in anti-war circles around the world.

  • People who argue that global warming is bogus say that the controversy over leaked e-mails by climate scientists proves that they're right. Their argument boils down to a claim that the 2007 international review of climate science is a fraud.

  • Exercising his newly influential role in national Republican politics, South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint on Thursday threw his support — and his financial resources — behind a conservative candidate in a Texas Senate race.

  • Under a proposal to be introduced Friday by Washington state Sen. Maria Cantwell, 75 percent of the money raised by auctions of federal carbon permits to polluters would be rebated to U.S. citizens. The amount could be $1,100 annually for a family of four. The proposal has bipartisan backing.

  • A U.S. government investigation has found evidence of a massive drug smuggling operation out of Venezuela, linking a powerful trafficker who is accused of supplying arms to Colombian guerrillas with a fugitive Venezuelan businessman. At the center of the investigation is Walid Makled, whose family controlled Venezuela's leading airline, Aeropostal. Makled is a fugitive, accused of drug trafficking by Venezuelan authorities.

  • Gov. Mark Sanford, conducting his final Cabinet meeting of the year, was focused on business Thursday. Sanford talked about the need for the state's congressional delegation to defeat federal health-care reform, saying it would cost the state almost $700 million. He also expressed hope the Obama administration would give the state another waiver on complying with federal rules on driver's licenses.

  • The final stops on former Gov. Sarah Palin's nationwide book tour will be Sunday at Air Force bases in Alaska, at a pair of events that will be closed to the general public. Thestops at Elmendorf and Eielson AFBs are Palin's first and only scheduled book signings in her home state.

  • With no job and his savings depleted, Gregg London couldn't pay his family's mortgage. Still, he was confident his years in business equipped him to negotiate a lower mortgage payment and save his Mount Holly, N.C. home. For more than eight months, however, he and his life partner were trapped in a maddening loan modification morass.

  • Ousted Honduran President Manuel "Mel" Zelaya should have been on his way to Mexico Thursday, ending his three-month stay inside the Brazilian Embassy in Honduras. But Zelaya's insistence on leaving Honduras as its president — and not as a political asylee — provoked the de facto government to halt those travel plans.

  • The initial Sikeston, Mo., police report behind the assault charge against former Missouri House speaker Rod Jetton indicates an hours-long battering that left a woman bruised from jaw to ankle.

  • The health care reform bills before Congress that would extend insurance coverage to tens of thousands of Alaskans who are uninsured wouldn't necessarily be good for all Alaskans, according to an economic consultant who is tracking the health bills for the University of Alaska. Mark Foster, a contract consultant for the Institute for Social and Economic Research, believes Alaskans who use Medicare, the federal insurance for senior citizens, will be harmed if the House bill prevails.

  • It began with a compliment from the pastor and a desire to be obedient. It ended with Karen Sapp of California allowing the minister to control nearly every aspect of her life. Sapp was wrestling with the fine line between obedience and what is called "spiritual abuse," in which congregants follow the demands of their faith leaders to the detriment of their well-being. The dilemma isn't new, but the increased awareness is.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Truthout 12/10

Mary Susan Littlepage | Nelson Proposes War Bonds to Fund Wars
Mary Susan Littlepage, Truthout: "Working to help fund ongoing wars without sharp tax increases or increased foreign borrowing has led Nebraska's Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Nebraska) to introduce a new measure Tuesday: the US War Bonds Act of 2009. The legislation would authorize the Treasury to issue and market War Bonds to the American people to help pay for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq."
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Andy Worthington | Innocent Guantanamo Torture Victim Fouad al-Rabiah Is Released in Kuwait
Andy Worthington, Truthout: "The long ordeal of Fouad al-Rabiah, an innocent man and a 50-year-old father of four, who had been in US custody for almost exactly eight years, finally came to an end today, when he was flown back to his homeland of Kuwait from Guantanamo, where he had spent the majority of those lost years, after several brutal months in US custody in Afghanistan. Until the moment of his release, everything about his treatment at the hands of the US government was shameful. Twelve weeks ago, when District Court Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly granted his habeas corpus petition and ordered his release, she revealed the most extraordinary - and extraordinarily depressing - story."
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Melvin A. Goodman | The Washington Post's David Broder: Three Strikes and You're Out
Melvin A. Goodman, Truthout: "The Washington Post's David Broder, the so-called Dean of DC Punditry, picked up two called strikes last week. In the run-up to President Barack Obama's West Point speech on Afghanistan, Broder joined Dick Cheney in accusing the president of 'dithering' on the decision and offered the sage advice: 'The urgent necessity is to make a decision - whether or not it is right.' Last week, Broder praised the Congressional testimony of Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and bluntly stated that Gates was 'incapable of dissembling.' Now, Broder is welcome to his bizarre opinions on war and decision-making, but he cannot make up his own facts about one of the key decision-makers in the Obama administration. One more strike and Broder should be out."
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Mike Elk | My Grandmother Takes A Stand for Gay Marriage in Church Despite Being a Glenn Beck Follower
Mike Elk, Truthout: "I was shocked when I heard that my conservative Grandma had stormed out of church after her pastor denounced 'being gay as the worst sin' ... It was an absolute scandal throughout the small town where she lives. However, what was was even more shocking was that when, at Thanksgiving dinner, I asked my grandmother which book she was reading, she responded 'Glenn Beck's 'Common Sense.'"
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What Evo's Win Means
Editorial, La Jornada (Translation: Ryan Croken): "The triumph of President Evo Morales and his party, the Movement for Socialism (MAS), in the Bolivian elections this past Sunday guarantees, with more than two-thirds of the vote, the reelection of the indigenous leader and the domination of his political organization in Bolivia's legislative chambers. Beyond these numbers, MAS's victory over the disintegrating and retreating parties of the right-wing oligarchy marks a historic landmark for a country that has been characterized by the racist marginalization and exclusion from power of the majority of its own people: the Quechua and Aymara ethnic groups."
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Obama's Nobel Peace Prize Speech: A Just and Lasting Peace
Barack Obama, Truthout Transcript: "I receive this honor with deep gratitude and great humility. It is an award that speaks to our highest aspirations - that for all the cruelty and hardship of our world, we are not mere prisoners of fate. Our actions matter, and can bend history in the direction of justice. And yet I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge the considerable controversy that your generous decision has generated."
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Norman Solomon | Mr. President, War Is Not Peace
Norman Solomon, Truthout: "Eloquence in Oslo cannot change the realities of war. As President Obama neared the close of his Nobel address, he called for 'the continued expansion of our moral imagination.' Yet, his speech was tightly circumscribed by the policies that his oratory labored to justify. Lofty rationales easily tell us that warfare is striving for the noble goal of peace. But the rationales scarcely intersect with actual war. The oratory sugarcoats the poisons, helping to kill hope in the name of it."
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Tom Engelhardt | The Nine Surges of Obama's War: How to Escalate in Afghanistan
Tom Engelhardt, "In his Afghan 'surge' speech at West Point last week, President Obama offered Americans some specifics to back up his new 'way forward in Afghanistan.' He spoke of the 'additional 30,000 US troops' he was sending into that country over the next six months. He brought up the 'roughly $30 billion' it would cost us to get them there and support them for a year. And finally, he spoke of beginning to bring them home by July 2011. Those were striking enough numbers, even if larger and, in terms of time, longer than many in the Democratic Party would have cared for. Nonetheless, they don't faintly cover just how fully the president has committed us to an expanding war and just how wide it is likely to become."
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Caroline Isaacs | Arizona's Prison Privatization Scheme Is a Comedy Gold Mine. The Joke's on Us
Caroline Isaacs, Truthout: "You know you're in trouble when 'The Daily Show' sends a 'fake correspondent' to your state capitol ... But the 'Daily Show' segment was only the beginning. What's got the cable 'fake news' programs and incredulous audiences worldwide rolling in the aisles now is even more far-fetched: Arizona's gonna privatize death row. State leaders want to give out lucrative, long-term contracts to private, for-profit corporations to run entire state prison complexes, essentially putting rent-a-cops in charge of women inmates, sex offenders and supermax lockdown units."
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Indian Land Trust Abuse and the Woman Who Finally Got US to Pay Up
Todd Wilkinson, The Christian Science Monitor: "This week's landmark settlement on behalf of as many as 500,000 native Americans, in which the US agreed to pay $3.4 billion to right a century of wrongs that cheated Indians out of the proceeds from their properties, took 13 years, countless lawyer hours, and the persistence of one Elouise Cobell. A Blackfeet Indian who worked as a banker, Mrs. Cobell is the original plaintiff in a lawsuit that claimed the US government for generations failed to pay royalties, totaling tens of billions of dollars, for mineral and grazing leases on land it held in trust for native Americans and tribes."
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Beck: We Should "Just Abolish Medicare"
Alex Seitz-Wald, Think Progress: "Yesterday, Senate Democrats working on health care reform reached a compromise on the public option that will create a network of nonprofit insurers and allow Americans between the ages of 55 and 64 to buy into Medicare. The right has hypocritically opposed a government-run public-option while simultaneously defending Medicare. On his radio show today, Fox News host Glenn Beck called Medicare what it is - a 'government-run health care plan.'"
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David Macaray | Brief Look at Labor Unions in India
David Macaray, Truthout: "Despite the economic gains India has made over the last 30 years, it's important to note that its story, while impressive, is no glittering fairy tale. Although the country has made extraordinary progress, the notion that India is anywhere close to establishing even a fledgling 'middle-class' is wildly farfetched. The reality of India is that poverty and misery continue to haunt the subcontinent. The reality is that 400 million Indians are illiterate, that universal rural electrification (promised to be in place by 1990) is still out of reach, that infant mortality rates and child malnutrition are alarming problems and that nonunion factory workers are still being exploited. Indeed, as more international pressure is brought to bear on Indian companies, more liberties are being taken with the industrial work force."
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Uganda's Anti-Homosexuality Bill Means "Targeted Killings"
Wambi Michael, Inter Press Service: "Uganda will be going back to the days of the Idi Amin regime if it passes a Bill which will arrest or kill people for being gay or lesbian and for repeatedly engaging in homosexual sex, say rights activists. Pro-gay activists compare the provisions in the proposed Anti-Homosexuality Bill to the 1972 order former dictator, president Idi Amin gave expelling Ugandan-born Asians because of their colour."
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Ireland Suffers Savage Budget Cuts to Stay Afloat
Conor O'Clery, GlobalPost: "Pity the Irish prime minister. Brian Cowen has just taken a 20 percent pay cut, leaving him the equivalent of $300,000 a year. Two years ago the Taoiseach, as he is known, was the highest-paid leader of any country in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the group of rich nations which includes the United States, Germany and France. His cash remuneration for leading a country of 4.5 million people brings him down to the level of the prime minister of the United Kingdom, population 61.5 million ... If anything, it draws attention to how overpaid the leaders of this small nation still are."
Read the Article

FP morning post 12/10

Obama accepts Nobel Peace Prize

In a relatively brief ceremony is Oslo today, President Barack Obama accepted the Nobel Peace Prize. In his remarks, he acknowledged the controversy around his selection, saying, "Compared to some of the giants of history who have received this prize – Schweitzer and King; Marshall and Mandela – my accomplishments are slight."

Obama also addressed the incongruity of a "war president," who has just committed 30,000 troops to battle in Afghanistan, accepting a prize for peace. The president said that while he is inspired by the nonviolent principles of leaders like Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr., as president, he "cannot be guided by their examples alone."

"A non-violent movement could not have halted Hitler's armies," he said. "Negotiations cannot convince al Qaeda's leaders to lay down their arms."

Obama will head home after today's festivities and fly back to Europe to join climate talks in Copenhagen at the end of next week.

Copenhagen: An ambitious proposed protocol from island nation Tuvalu to institute deep and legally-binding emissions cuts has split developing nations.

Middle East

  • As Defense Secretary Robert Gates visits Iraq, the Pentagon said that the delayed parliamentary elections won't affect U.S. troop drawdown plans.
  • Al Qaeda has claimed responsibility for yesterday's bombings in Baghdad.
  • Egypt has begun building a wall along its border with Gaza to prevent smuggling.



  • A Russian test-launch of an intercontinental submarine-based missile failed.
  • Gordon Brown and Nicolas Sarkozy has co-written a Wall Street Journal op-ed calling for taxes of financial transactions and bank bonuses.
  • Sale of the abortion drug RU 486 was approved in Italy over the objections of the Vatican.



  • U.N. peacekeepers have been participating in combat actions with the Congolese army against the instructions of legal advisors, the New York Times reports.
  • South Africa suspended dozens of immigration officials for falsely granting citizenship to foreigners.
  • Guinea's military junta is accusing French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner of being behind a plot to assassinate leader Moussa Dadis Camara.

-By Joshua Keating

McClatchy Washington report 12/10

  • Next year will mark the 50th birthday of the laser, one of the most productive and widely used mega-inventions of the last century. Scientists hope that 2010 also will see the launch of laser technology's greatest challenge: creating an inexhaustible supply of clean, carbon-free energy.

  • California and other financially strapped states will lose tens of millions of federal dollars that they spend to jail illegal immigrants charged with crimes, under Congress' latest spending bill.

  • Those yellow labels on appliances that declare how much power they will use and show you how much you will save because of their energy efficiency? They may not be as truthful as you think. Because of that doubt, the U.S. Department of Energy is giving appliance makers 30 days to provide accurate information on their products' energy use. Also, it promised to take a tougher stance to enforce energy-efficiency standards.

  • Gov. Sean Parnell is reviewing whether to change state oil tax laws implemented under Sarah Palin, as oil companies blame the taxes for driving investment dollars from Alaska to other parts of the world. The governor said Wednesday that he has asked the state Department of Revenue to evaluate whether any "tweaks" should be made to the tax system that could lead directly to more jobs for Alaskans. He said he's also spoken with oil companies.

  • The mysterious disappearance of Shahram Amiri, an award-winning Iranian nuclear scientists who vanished while on a religious pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia, has turned into a Middle Eastern whodunit. Iran charges that Saudi Arabia and the United States conspired to abduct Amiri. The U.S. won't comment.

  • When North Carolina Gov. Bev Perdue took office nearly a year ago she was regarded as the female version of a good ol' boy, someone who had worked her way up through the Democratic legislature by learning to play along. Since then, she has sought to reshape her image into that of a reformer. On Wednesday, Perdue signed three executive orders to strengthen ethics requirements for members of state boards and commissions.

  • Pierce County Prosecutor Mark Lindquist on Wednesday charged the sister of Maurice Clemmons with aiding the cop killer's getaway driver in the aftermath of the Nov. 29 shooting of four Lakewood police officers. Not guilty pleas were entered on behalf of Latanya Clemmons, 34, to four counts of first-degree rendering criminal assistance.

  • Police on Wednesday arrested five young American men from the Washington, D.C., area who flew to Pakistan last month with the alleged intent of enlisting with an Islamic militant group, Pakistani and U.S. officials said.

  • Police in Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo shot to death more than 11,000 suspects since 2003, and "frequently" carry out extrajudicial executions that only add to Brazil's spiral of violence, Human Rights Watch reported Tuesday. HRW's report came amid concerns over the high crime rate in Brazil, which will host soccer's World Cup in 2014 and the 2016 Olympic Games. A massive Rio police raid in October into poor neighborhoods largely run by drug traffickers left several dead, including three security agents whose helicopter was shot down.

  • Even as California's overall economy has sputtered in recent years, its green economy has continued to grow, and the Sacramento area has played a significant role. Those were some of the conclusions of a comprehensive study released Wednesday at California State University, Sacramento.

  • With Venezuela's murder rate spiraling ever further out of control, and the police responsible for a large share of the killings, the country's leftist government is launching a National Police force. But some human rights activists say the government should do more to prevent 'extra-judicial executions' committed by police death-squads.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Truthout 12/9

William Rivers Pitt | Cheney for President?
William Rivers Pitt, Truthout: "A Washington-based lawyer and former political director for the Log Cabin Republicans named Christopher Barron filed papers last week to launch a group called 'Draft Cheney 2012.' The group now has a web site where you can sign on to try to convince the former vice president to jump into the presidential fray next time around. 'We hope,' reads the banner on the site, 'that you will join our effort to convince former Vice President Richard Cheney to run for president of the United States in 2012. No other Republican leader has the stature or experience of Dick Cheney. He alone can lead the Republican coalition to victory in 2012!' There's also another site, possibly a joke, touting a Palin/Cheney ticket in 2012."
Read the Article

Art Levine | Can Obama's Jobs Plan Save the Unemployed?
Art Levine, Truthout: "From reading the headlines Tuesday on President Obama's jobs program, you might think that all the president has to do is to tap into the unexpected $200 billion in remaining TARP bailout funds in order to save American jobs. He supposedly could then just spend the money on infrastructure programs, 'cash for caulkers' weatherization, aid to states and localities and small-business lending. As MSNBC summed up the big picture: 'Obama Outlines Bailout for Main Street: Spending TARP Money to Help Small Businesses, Create Jobs, Build Bridges.'"
Read the Article

Jason Leopold | Reid: Democrats Reach "Broad Agreement," Public Option Still Alive
Jason Leopold, Truthout: "A group of ten Senate leaders reached a consensus Tuesday night to resolve disagreements as to whether a public option should be included in the final version of a health care reform bill. But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid declined to disclose details of the new deal until the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) analyzes it."
Read the Article

Andy Worthington | Chaos and Confusion: The Return of the Military Commissions
Andy Worthington, Truthout: "For anyone who has studied Guantanamo's military commissions closely over the last eight years, it was obvious that their revival last week, in a supposedly new and improved form, was bound to be a disaster."
Read the Article

Rinaldo Brutoco and Madeleine Austin | The True Story About "Climate Cover-Up: The Crusade to Deny Global Warming"
Rinaldo Brutoco and Madeleine Austin, Truthout: "Why have hopes faded for a binding agreement at the UN climate conference in Copenhagen that began this week? Why aren't the people of the world demanding that their national leaders act to avert the greatest environmental crisis the world has ever known?"
Read the Article

Francois Dubet | Equal Opportunity Traps
In Le Monde, world-renowned French sociologist Francois Dubet warns us about the pitfalls associated with the "equal opportunity" ideal: "The fact that a principle of justice is excellent does not mean that it does not entail in its turn other injustices. The present consensus on meritocratic equality of opportunities should not blind us to the consequences of its implementation."
Read the Article

Dean Baker | Yes, It's Bernanke's Fault
Dean Baker, The Center for Economic and Policy Research: "As the Senate debates Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke's reappointment, it is striking how the media views blaming Bernanke for the Great Recession as being out of bounds. Of course Bernanke bears much of the blame for America's economic collapse."
Read the Article

Thousands of Stimulus Reports Missing, Resulting in Potential Undercount of Jobs Created
Michael Grabell, ProPublica: "Eagle Peak Rock and Paving created and saved 32 jobs thanks to an $8 million federal stimulus contract to repair Glacier Point Road in Yosemite National Park. But you won't find that on, the government's web site for tracking stimulus money."
Read the Article

Living by the Gate From Hell: A Portrait of Nonviolent Resistance in One Palestinian Village
Ellen Cantarow, "Much is heard of violence in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but the story of the determined, long-term nonviolent resistance of many Palestinian villagers to the loss of their lands, striking as it may be, is seldom told. Here's my report from just one village on the West Bank."
Read the Article

Bill Moyers Journal | Historian Howard Zinn
Bill Moyers Journal: "Renowned historian Howard Zinn has chronicled centuries of people's struggles against oppression and economic exploitation in his "A People's History of the United States" and "A People's History of American Empire." This week, Howard Zinn joins Bill Moyers to discuss the voice of today's people in the shadow of big interests' outsized influence in Washington."
Read the Article

Climate Migration Will Affect the World's Security
Michael Werz and Kari Manlove, The Center for American Progress: "African immigrants are given drinks inside a hospital tent in Los Cristianos on the Canary island of Tenerife, Spain. The Spanish government set up operations in African countries to discourage migration to Spain, which could intensify with climate change's effects."
Read the Article

FP morning post 12/9

Rich and poor countries squabble in Copenhagen

Top story: While critics outside the U.N. climate conference in Copenhagen continue to attack the science of climate change, within the convention hall, the main debate is between rich and poor countries. A draft proposal known as the "Danish text" was leaked to the media yesterday and was immediately criticized by delegates from developing nations.

The proposal -- which was prepared by a number of countries including the United States and United Kingdom -- would have set binding targets on carbon emissions from developing nations and given donor nations greater oversight over aid to fight climate change. NGO Oxfam International also criticized the proposal, saying it, "falls far short of emissions cuts needed, and remains vague on the climate cash,” Oxfam International.

Another document, prepared by Brazil, South Africa, India and China, makes no mentions of binding cuts for developing nations and rejects outside verification schemes. Inevitably, the argument over how best to tackle the Earth's rising temperature seems to have boiled down to an argument over money.

Economy: Global stock markets are taking a hit over Greece and Dubai's debts as well as weak Japanese economic data.


  • U.S. envoy Stephen Bosworth began talks with North Korean officials in Pyongyang under heavy security.
  • Violent separatist protests shut down the Indian city of Hyderabad.
  • Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama says he will present a proposal to the United States next week to resolve an ongoing dispute over the future of the U.S. military base in Okinawa.

Middle East

  • Iran's chief prosecutor said authorities will "show no mercy" toward protesters after two days of widespread student demonstrations.
  • Yemen's army entered the second day of an offensive against Houthi rebels in the country's north.
  • Israel's parliament approved a piece of legislation that would require a national referendum for a peace deal involving East Jerusalem or the Golan Heights.


  • Guinea's ruling junta arrested 60 for the attempted assassination of leader Moussa Dadis Camara.
  • Al Qaeda in the Maghreb says it is holding the three Spanish aid workers captured last week in Mauritania.
  • A new Amnesty International report accuses Nigerian police of killing civilians who fail to pay bribes.



  • Germany has filed terrorism charges against a Turkish-German citizen who was allegedly plotting attacks against U.S. targets.
  • Ireland's strict abortion laws are being challenged in the European Court of Human Rights.
  • The British government announced a one-time tax on banker's bonuses.

-By Joshua Keating

asper Carlberg/AFP/Getty Images

Commissioners, judge at odds again over JJC

Tribune Staff Writer

SOUTH BEND — County commissioners on Tuesday fired the latest salvo in an ongoing legal battle with Probate Judge Peter Nemeth over funding for the Juvenile Justice Center.

By a vote of 3-0, commissioners rejected a request by Nemeth to tap probation user fees to pay for repairs to chillers at the JJC totaling about $60,000.

County Council members had approved the request by a vote of 6-1.

The vote was a not-too-subtle indication commissioners intend to fight a judicial mandate issued earlier this year by Nemeth.

That mandate, upheld by a special judge, ordered the county to appropriate more than $355,000 to finance raises and physical improvements at the JJC.

It stemmed from two earlier requests by Nemeth to tap probation user fees and unspent personnel funds for those same purposes.

Council members and commissioners approved those requests, but commissioners never signed the requisition forms. Bob Kovach refused, and Mark Dobson and Steve Ross were preparing to leave office.

The judge's decision is currently under review by the state Supreme Court on automatic appeal.

During Tuesday's meeting, Commissioner Andrew Kostielney alluded to that process.

"My vote to veto is based on pending legal action," he said, " ... on whether probation user fees can be used outside the probation department."

Said Commissioner Dave Thomas after the meeting: "As far as I know — what I understand — is that these fees cannot be used for salaries or maintenance."

But Nemeth, reached Tuesday afternoon, called those arguments "ridiculous."

"I don't know what legal dispute they're referring to," he said, "because the council attorney looked at it (the request) and didn't see any problems.

"I think the problem only exists in the minds of commissioners."

According to Nemeth, the judge's order in the mandate case requires the county to pay the JJC from its general fund, not appropriate or transfer money currently in JJC accounts.

Tuesday's veto vote sends the request back to the council for an override vote.

Nemeth said he would issue another judicial mandate if the council decides not to override the commissioners' decision.

McClatchy Washington report 12/9

  • Forget too big to fail. In the eyes of federal regulators, many Wall Street firms are too big to punish. These firms, including Bank of America, Citigroup and AIG, got, sometimes repeatedly, special exemptions from the Securities and Exchange Commission that have saved them from a regulatory death penalty that could have decimated their lucrative mutual fund businesses.

  • A South Carolina House panel likely will decide today if Gov. Mark Sanford should be the first impeached executive in South Carolina's history. Members of the seven-member panel say the vote will likely set a precedent for judging future governors' conduct.

  • Senate Democratic negotiators said Tuesday that they'd tentatively agreed to a compromise plan that could alter the government-run option in their health care bill, a bid to win key moderates who've threatened to derail the effort.

  • Meadow muffins, better known as cow manure, have a future in producing electricity. Gene Pflughoft is the economic development director for Grant County in southwest Kansas. Early next year, he said, equipment at a cattle feedlot will begin turning manure into fuel that could make electricity for 30 homes. If the demonstration project is successful larger units could be placed at feedlots to take advantage of the state's abundant supplies.

  • The top U.S. commander in Afghanistan told Congress Tuesday that killing or capturing Osama bin Laden is critical to defeating al Qaida. The comments underscored a contradiction in Obama's Afghan strategy: While it dedicates thousands of additional troops to combating the Taliban, it adds few resources aimed at the policy's stated goal: "disrupting, dismantling and defeating" al Qaida.

  • South Carolina Rep. Joe Wilson, using his increased national profile from his "you lie!" yell at President Barack Obama, introduced a bill Tuesday requiring that a special board be set up to track the number of jobs created by the $787 billion economic stimulus plan.

  • Sacramento Imam Mohamed Abdul-Azeez has won the 2009 FBI Director's Community Leadership Award for his work building bridges among Muslims, law enforcement and the local interfaith community. The spiritual leader of SALAM Islamic Center in east Sacramento, Azeez is among the first imams to be honored nationally by the FBI.

  • Since 2003, Brazil has pushed to slow the destruction and deforestation of the Amazon rainforests, creating 250,000 square miles of new protected forest, arresting hundreds of illegal loggers and granting farm loans on the condition that they follow environmental compliance. The country has added faster satellite surveillance, designed a $1 billion "Amazon Fund" to finance conservation and vowed to cut emissions by at least 36 percent from what's expected for 2020.

  • Lawyers for California's sick inmates said Monday they like the Schwarzenegger administration's plan for reducing the prison population and urged a three-judge federal panel to let state officials decide what methods to use.

  • Wells Fargo has made $6-million in donations to help recession-battered charities, and to emphasize the San Francisco-based bank's commitment to the Queen City following its merger last year with Charlotte-based Wachovia.

  • Alaska officials have found a 24-inch jagged rupture in a pipeline that began pouring oil and water Nov. 29, creating one of the biggest North Slope crude oil spills ever. The working estimate of the spill's size is about 46,000 gallons of crude and produced water, the oily water pumped up from the well.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Truthout 12/8

Joshua Frank | Big Greens Criticized for Climate Compromise
Joshua Frank, Truthout: "All eyes are on the United Nations Climate Change conference talks that kick off in Copenhagen, Denmark, this week. Known as the COP15 summit, the international negotiations will center on cap-and-trade and offset schemes to combat global warming, not a global carbon tax or strict regulation that are being called for by some sectors of the climate change movement."
Read the Article

Mary Susan Littlepage | Obama Offers Job Proposals, Discusses Improving Economy
Mary Susan Littlepage, Truthout: "President Barack Obama has proposed increasing spending on highway, transportation and other infrastructure projects, as well as increasing tax breaks for small businesses and offering tax incentives to people who make their homes more energy-efficient. In his speech Tuesday morning at the Brookings Institution in Washington, DC., Obama also said that small business, infrastructure and clean energy are areas in which Americans can be put to work while putting the nation on a sturdier economic footing."
Read the Article

Yana Kunichoff | Former Guantanamo Prosecutor Wrongly Fired for Speaking Out
Yana Kunichoff, Truthout: "A former Guantanamo prosecutor was wrongfully fired by a government agency for writing critical op-eds about military commissions, according to the ACLU. The civil rights organization alleges that the firing violated the ex-prosecutor's First Amendment and due process rights."
Read the Article

William Fisher | Rights Group Exposes Immigration Detention System Abuses
William Fisher, Truthout: "The number of individuals held in hundreds of different detention facilities by the DHS's Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in fiscal year 2009 is estimated to have reached 369,483, more than double what it was a decade earlier. A new analysis of millions of government records shows that to handle this pronounced surge in detainees, ICE made 1.4 million detainee transfers in the decade from 1999 through 2008 - with 53 percent of them since 2006."
Read the Article

Mary Susan Littlepage | ACORN Did Nothing Illegal, Independent Probe Finds
Mary Susan Littlepage, Truthout: "The Association of Community Organizers for Reform Now (ACORN) doesn't show a pattern of intentional and illegal behavior in undercover videos that conservatives shot of ACORN staffers. That's according to an independent, two-month review of ACORN released Monday."
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Allen McDuffee | State Department Still Unsure of Its Role One Year Later
Allen McDuffee, Truthout: "At a December 3 closed briefing to a group of foreign policy journalists from the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism on the concept of 'smart power' under the Obama administration, State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said that the Obama administration was taking "a more holistic approach to national affairs." Over the course of two terms under the Bush administration, the State Department was increasingly characterized as one of diminishing value, with ascending realms of diplomacy falling under the purview of the Pentagon."
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Herve Kempf | The Meaning of Copenhagen
Herve Kempf, Le Monde (Translation: Leslie Thatcher): "Whether the Copenhagen meeting concludes in 'failure' or 'success' is a rather secondary question. For this dramatic moment is no finale, but the moment when the powerful forces moving below the surface of the news, when the long pulsations of the human adventure emerge."
Read the Article

Congress Urged to Extend Emergency Jobless Benefits
David Goldstein, McClatchy Newspapers: "State labor officials on Monday urged Congress to renew emergency jobless benefits that have been available through economic stimulus funds, but are due to expire this month."
Read the Article

Protests Again Rock Iran
Iason Athanasiadis, GlobalPost: "Photographer Maziar Pourbeheshti was shaken as he logged onto his Facebook account in the early evening from his Tehran apartment. At the Tehran University campus Monday, he had witnessed teargas and beatings throughout a day of high drama. And when members of the Basij hardline morality militia tried to attack him and his friends, an unlikely savior came to their rescue."
Read the Article

EPA Finds Greenhouse Gases Pose Dangers, Plans Regulation
Renee Schoof, McClatchy Newspapers: "The Environmental Protection Agency said Monday that global warming pollution endangered the health and welfare of Americans and must be reduced, a move that seemed timed to signal that the US is serious about joining an international bid to reduce the risks of damaging climate change."
Read the Article

NOW | Why Are We Sending Thousands of Military Personnel to Guam?
NOW: "Over the next five years, as many as 30,000 service members and their families will descend on the small island of Guam, nearly tripling its presence there. It's part of a larger agreement that the US signed with Japan to realign American forces in the Pacific."
Read the Article

An innovation agenda

The economy seems to be stabilizing, and this has prompted a shift in the public mood. Raw fear has given way to anxiety that the recovery will be feeble and drab. Companies are hoarding cash. Banks aren’t lending to small businesses. Private research spending is drifting downward.

People are asking anxious questions about America’s future. Will it take years before the animal spirits revive? Can the economy rebalance so that it relies less on consumption and debt and more on innovation and export? Have we entered a period of relative decline?

The first thing to say is, let’s not get carried away with the malaise. The U.S. remains the world’s most competitive economy, the leader in information technology, biotechnology and nearly every cutting-edge sector.

The American model remains an impressive growth engine, even allowing for the debt-fueled bubble. The U.S. economy grew by 63 percent between 1991 and 2009, compared with 35 percent for France, 22 percent for Germany and 16 percent for Japan over the same period. In 1975, the U.S. accounted for 26.3 percent of world G.D.P. Today, after the rise of the Asian tigers, the U.S. actually accounts for a slightly higher share of world output: 26.7 percent.

The U.S. has its problems, but Americans would be crazy to trade their problems with those of any other large nation.

Moreover, there’s a straightforward way to revive innovation. In an unfairly neglected white paper on the subject, President Obama’s National Economic Council argued that the U.S. should not be in the industrial policy business. Governments that try to pick winners “too often end up wasting resources and stifling rather than promoting innovation.” But there are several things the government can do to improve the economic ecology. If you begin with that framework, you can quickly come up with a bipartisan innovation agenda.

First, push hard to fulfill the Obama administration’s education reforms. Those reforms, embraced by Republicans and Democrats, encourage charter school innovation, improve teacher quality, support community colleges and simplify finances for college students and war veterans. That’s the surest way to improve human capital.

Second, pay for basic research. Federal research money has been astonishingly productive, leading to DNA sequencing, semiconductors, lasers and many other technologies. Yet this financing has slipped, especially in physics, math and engineering. Overall research-and-development funding has slipped, too. The U.S. should aim to spend 3 percent of G.D.P. on research, as it did in the 1960s.

Third, rebuild the nation’s infrastructure. Abraham Lincoln spent the first half of his career promoting canals and railroads. Today, the updated needs are just as great, and there’s widespread agreement that decisions should be made by a National Infrastructure Bank, not pork-seeking politicians.

Fourth, find a fiscal exit strategy. If the deficits continue to surge, interest payments on the debt will be stifling. More important, the mounting deficits destroy confidence by sending the message that the American government is dysfunctional. The only way to realistically fix this problem is to appoint a binding commission, already supported by Republicans and Democrats, which would create a roadmap toward fiscal responsibility and then allow the Congress to vote on it, up or down.

Fifth, gradually address global imbalances. American consumers are now spending less and saving more. But the world economy will be out of whack if the Chinese continue to consume too little. The only solution is slow diplomacy to rebalance exchange rates and other distorting policies.

Sixth, loosen the so-called H-1B visa quotas to attract skilled immigrants.

Seventh, encourage regional innovation clusters. Innovation doesn’t happen at the national level. It happens within hot spots — places where hordes of entrepreneurs gather to compete, meet face to face, pollinate ideas. Regional authorities can’t innovate themselves, but they can encourage those who do to cluster.

Eighth, lower the corporate tax rate so it matches international norms.

Ninth, don’t be stupid. Don’t make labor markets rigid. Don’t pick trade fights with the Chinese. Don’t get infatuated with research tax credits and other gimmicks, which don’t increase overall research-and-development spending but just increase the salaries of the people who would be doing it anyway.

This sort of agenda doesn’t rely on politicians who think they can predict the next new thing. Nor does it mean merely letting the market go its own way. (The market seems to have a preference for useless financial instruments and insane compensation packages.)

Instead, it’s an agenda that would steer and spark innovation without controlling it, which is what government has done since the days of Alexander Hamilton. It’s the sort of thing the country does periodically, each time we need to recover from one of our binges of national stupidity.

FP morning post 12/8

Central Baghdad hit by string of bombings

Top story: A series of at least six bombings this morning killed at least 112 people and wounded hundreds more. The targets included a police patrol, an outdoor market, the interior ministry and two universities.

The attacks show the ease with which militants continue to evade checkpoints to carry out bombings in central Baghdad. They also mar a week of political progress that included the passage of an election law and an upcoming oil field option.

Today's bombings are Iraq's worst since the attacks on city administration building's in October that killed 155. While those attacks were blamed on loyalists to Saddam Hussein's Baath party, there are increasing fears of a resurgence of Sunni militants led by al Qaeda in Iraq, who could be trying to discredit authorities before the upcoming parliamentary elections.

Global warming: As the debate continues in Copenhagen, a new analysis by the World Meteorological Organization shows that the 2000s were the warmest decade in modern history.


  • A double suicide bombing killed dozens at a market in Lahore, Pakistan. An earlier bombing killed 10 outside a courthouse in Peshawar.
  • President Barack Obama's envoy Stephen Bosworth is headed to North Korea today.
  • The Philippine government and the separatist Moro Islamic Liberation front have restarted peace talks.
  • Defense secretary Robert Gates made a surprise visit to Afghanistan to meet with President Hamid Karzai.

Middle East

  • Campuses across Iran have erupted into anti-regime demonstrations. They are now more widespread than the demonstrations that followed last summer's elections.
  • Iraq has set March 6 as the date for parliamentary elections, seven weeks later than the original date.
  • Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erodgan refused to support new sanctions against Iran at a meeting with President Obama.


  • Amnesty International is set to release a report accusing Mexican authorities of extrajudicial killings in the drug war.
  • Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez's own brother is linked to a banking scandal the prompted the government takeover of several banks.
  • Chile has charged six for the murder of former President Eduardo Frei Montalva.



  • UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon phoned Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir -- under indictment for crimes against humanity -- to ask him to secure the release of two captured U.N. employees.
  • The North-South Sudan peace deal appears in danger of collapse as anti-Bashir demonstrations spread throughout the south.
  • Malawi was hit by a 5.9 magnitude earthquake.

-By Joshua Keating

McClatchy Washington report 12/8

  • The Environmental Protection Agency said Monday that global warming pollution endangered the health and welfare of Americans and must be reduced, a move that seemed timed to signal that the U.S. is serious about joining an international bid to reduce the risks of damaging climate change.

  • Five car bombs exploded in Baghdad early Tuesday, killing more than 100 people in what appeared to be coordinated attacks by militants in response to the Iraqi government's approval earlier this week of national elections. The bombings ended a period of relative calm in Baghdad and there was no immediate claim of responsibility.

  • Responding to estimates that it could take more than a decade to restore jobs lost in the recession, President Barack Obama will outline his job-creation priorities today. He faces a plethora of competing ideas about what to do and what role government should have in stimulating employment.

  • Rod Jetton, one of the most influential figures in Missouri politics, was charged Monday with felony assault against a woman in Sikeston, Mo., last month. Second-degree assault charge were filed against Jetton, once speaker of the Missouri House and now a well-connected political consultant.

  • The two leaders held a working luncheon and a news conference after at which Obama said he expected ties between the two countries to get stronger. That's disconcerting news for Armenian-American activists and their congressional allies who continue to press for passage of a resolution on Turkey's alleged genocide of Armenians nine decades ago.

  • Greenpeace, the Natural Resources Defense Council and other environmental groups have pushed manufacturers such as Kimberly-Clark (Cottonelle) and Procter & Gamble (Charmin) to stop using wood from virgin forests to make tissue products. But, the issue over toilet paper — the really super-soft stuff — is more like the fight about the big SUVs loved by many Americans. Surveys indicate that Americans embrace green initiatives but they don't want to sacrifice comfort.

  • Alaska Attorney General Dan Sullivan is moving to change the state's ethics rules in the wake of the battles waged by former Gov. Sarah Palin. His changes would allow the state to pay the legal bills of public officials for defending against ethics complaints that are tossed out. They would also set out when a governor's family members can travel on the state's dime.

  • So far the Caribbean has managed to avoid a severe outbreak of the H1N1 flu virus, but the high tourist season could pose a potential problem. So countries are taking precautions.

  • A senior state official who resigned in October after The Sacramento Bee exposed a $1.2 million questionable purchase of vehicles that sat unused for months is back to work, hired by the federal court-appointed receiver overseeing the state's troubled prison health care system.

  • Federal prosecutors and the defense attorney for convicted Cuban spy Ramon Labanino will recommend to a federal judge Tuesday that he receive 30 years in prison at his re-sentencing in the so-called Cuban Five espionage case, according to federal court records. He was originally sentenced to life by U.S. District Judge Joan Lenard after his espionage conspiracy conviction in 2001.

  • A few days from now and not a moment too soon, we say farewell to the Ohs.

    Once upon a time, it was common to debate names for this first decade of the new millennium. We'd seen the Gay Nineties, the Roaring Twenties, the Swinging Sixties, we'd endured the Me Decade, the Greed Decade, The War Years, and people wondered what nickname should be attached to the Ohs.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Truthout 12/7

William Rivers Pitt | Meanwhile...
William Rivers Pitt, Truthout: "Ever since President Obama's speech last Tuesday, all media, political and public attention has been focused exclusively on the war in Afghanistan. The president mentioned Iraq a few times in the speech, mostly to blame that situation for the situation in Afghanistan. At one point, however, he seemed to be making the shocking claim that the war in Iraq has been a success. 'We have given Iraqis a chance to shape their future, and we are successfully leaving Iraq to its people,' he said. Hm."
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Jason Leopold | DOJ Watchdog Report on Yoo, Bybee Torture Memos to be Released Soon, Agency Spokeswoman Says
Jason Leopold, Truthout: "Last month, Attorney General Eric Holder told lawmakers in testimony before Congress that 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 on torture will be released at the end of the November."
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Dean Baker | The Reason for 15 Million Unemployed: Poor Thinking at the Top
Dean Baker, Truthout: "The United States has more than 15 million people unemployed. This is not their fault. It is the fault of really bad policy decisions by people who get paid more than almost all of the unemployed ever did or ever will. The failure of economic policymakers to recognize and attack an $8 trillion housing bubble led to the downturn. The continuing failure of economic policymakers to think creatively is why 15 million people remain unemployed."
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Dahr Jamail | The Psychological Implosion of Our Soldiers
Dahr Jamail, Truthout: "'The ground has been laid for another crisis, another shooting ... it's volatile here, nothing has been resolved,' Luther told Truthout from his home in Killeen, Texas, on the outskirts of Fort Hood. 'The average Joe on the street thinks things are resolved here, but they are anything but resolved. We are primed to have more soldier-on-soldier violence if something doesn't change right away.'"
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Kyle Berlin | The Curious Case of Anthony McKinney
Kyle Berlin, Truthout: "The prosecutor pursued the death penalty for McKinney, but he was convicted and sentenced to life in prison in 1981. Now, over three decades later, McKinney - still incarcerated at the downstate Dixon Correctional Facility - maintains his innocence, and a powerful group of attorneys, from Northwestern University's Center for Wrongful Convictions, have come to his defense ... But this time the project made headlines for a different reason when, on November 10, a filing by Illinois State's Attorney Anita Alvarez raised serious questions about the methods students used to gather evidence in a case currently in Cook County Circuit Court."
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Camillo "Mac" Bica | Revitalizing the Antiwar Movement
Camillo "Mac" Bica, Truthout: "With Nobel laureate Barack Obama's announced escalation of the occupation of Afghanistan, even those who believed his rhetoric of hope and change, who supported and voted for him in the last election, have realized at last that his administration represents neither, that the honeymoon is over and patience is no longer a virtue. Consequently, many peace-minded people are looking again to an antiwar movement and finding it somewhat in disarray, perhaps an understatement. If it is truly our intent to revitalize the antiwar movement, we must begin a dialogue to redefine our goals and to reevaluate and clarify our tactics and strategy. That is, we must become more focused on ending American militarism and imperialism, war and occupation, and we must build a coalition of voices by practicing tolerance and understanding for a diversity of views and opinions."
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E.J. Dionne Jr. | The Health Care Race to Christmas
E.J. Dionne Jr.: "This is the paradox of the moment: President Obama's speech on Afghanistan and his subsequent jobs summit underscored why it's essential to get a health care bill done quickly. The calendar of politics has an urgency that the dilatory pace of the US Senate doesn't match."
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Iraqis Reach Last-Minute Election Deal; February Vote Possible
Warren P. Strobel and Mohammed Al Dulaimy, McClatchy Newspapers: "Iraqi lawmakers reached a minutes-to-midnight deal late Sunday, clearing a path to national elections early next year that are seen as crucial to a smooth US troop withdrawal. The Iraqi parliament approved a revised elections law that expands the parliament from 275 to 325 seats and redistributes them among the country's 18 provinces to satisfy sparring religious sects and ethnic groups."
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Obama Seeks Turkey's Support on Iran Nuclear Issue
Ben Hancock, The Christian Science Monitor: "As international concern grows over Iran's nuclear ambitions, President Obama will on Monday seek to engage Turkey - a rising power in Mideast diplomacy and member of the United Nations Security Council - in the West's effort to prevent the Islamic Republic from developing nuclear weapons."
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The Physics of Copenhagen: Why "Politics-As-Usual" May Mean the End of Civilization
Bill McKibben, "Most political arguments don't really have a right and a wrong, no matter how passionately they're argued. They're about human preferences - for more health care or lower taxes, for a war to secure some particular end or a peace that leaves some danger intact ... That's why standard political operating procedure is to move slowly, taking matters in small bites instead of big gulps.... When it comes to global warming, however, this is precisely why we're headed off a cliff, why the Copenhagen talks that open this week, almost no matter what happens, will be a disaster."
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Climate Change Talks: What to Look For at Copenhagen
Peter Spotts, The Christian Science Monitor: "Delegates left the Bali climate change talks in December 2007 with high hopes that a grand bargain on reducing greenhouse gas emissions would be secured by now. But today, as the latest round of climate change talks begin with representatives from more than 190 countries gathered in Copenhagen, Denmark, expectations are far more modest. The biggest decision - a binding international agreement on reducing greenhouse gas emissions - is likely to be pushed off until next December, when another round of climate talks is scheduled for Mexico City. Nevertheless, two weeks in Copenhagen will yield insights into global efforts to control industrial emissions and the warming of the planet."
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Is US Prepared to Care for More Casualties From Troop Buildup?
David Goldstein, McClatchy Newspapers: "As the Obama administration ramps up the war in Afghanistan, veterans advocates say the government must develop a better plan to handle the wounded when they come home. Eight years of war have overtaxed the health care systems that treat service members and veterans, several said, and President Barack Obama's decision to deploy 30,000 to 35,000 more troops in Afghanistan will compound the stress."
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Conservative Economist Randall Lutter to OIRA?
Rena Steinzor, Grist: "For a number of days now, we've been hearing rumors that Cass Sunstein, President Obama's 'regulatory czar,' was on the verge of hiring conservative economist Randall Lutter to join him at the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA). Few personnel developments could be more discouraging to those hopeful that the Obama administration will fulfill its many commitments to revitalize the agencies responsible for protecting public health, worker safety and natural resources."
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Gender Missing in Climate Agreements
Sabina Zaccaro, Inter Press Service: "Women are known to be innovators when it comes to responding to climate change. The question is how to ensure that the role of women and gender equality are reflected in climate change agreements. Women in poor countries will be the most affected by climate change effects, according to the 2009 State of the World Population report, released last month by the United Nations Population Fund ... To understand how far women are involved in decision making on climate change, TerraViva spoke with Lorena Aguilar Revelo, global senior gender advisor to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) which is a part of the Global Gender and Climate Alliance launched at the United Nations climate change conference in Bali in December 2007."
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Swiss: "We Don't Want No Stinkin' Minarets"
Laurent Mauriac, Rue89: "This Sunday, in a referendum, the Swiss decided by a majority in excess of 57 percent of voters to ban construction of minarets." Excoriated outside Switzerland, the decision has also led to domestic questioning of how Swiss political leadership handles social issues in Fribourg's La Liberte and of the use of direct democracy in Geneva's Le Temps.
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Common Dreams - Views 12/7

Randy Shaw | Activists Are Giving Obama a Pass

Chris Hedges | Liberals Are Useless

James Carroll | Living in Shock and Infamy, Years Later

James Hansen | Cap and Fade

Jeff Masters | The Manufactured Doubt Industry and the Hacked Email Controversy

Laura Flanders | Media Monsters Threaten Net Freedom

Caroline Arnold | Escalating Afghan War Mocks Hopes of Peace, Good Will

FP morning post 12/7

Copenhagen kicks off

Top story: Around 15,000 delegates from 192 nations have gathered in Copenhagen to attempt to reach an international agreement to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

"The clock has ticked down to zero. After two years of negotiations the time has come to deliver," said Yvo de Boer, the head of the U.N. Climate Change Secretariat.

U.S. President Barack Obama will attend the conference and pledge a 17 percent emissions cut by 2020, and pledge an 83 percent reduction by 2050. Major emitters India and China have also pledged cuts, though all are short of the 25 to 40 percent by 2020 sought by the U.N.

The delegates will also attempt to reach a deal to provide developing nations with aid to help them cut emissions. South Africa committed this week to cutting emissions 34 percent by 2020, contingent on international assistance.

The talks also kick off amid growing skepticism over the basic science of climate change sparked by the recent circulation of e-mails sent between climate scientists. Addressing the scandal, Rajendra Pachauri, head of the U.N. panel of climate scientists, said, ""The internal consistency from multiple lines of evidence strongly supports the work of the scientific community, including those individuals singled out in these email exchanges."

Despite Danish Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen's affirmation that "A deal is within our reach," most leaders say this week's talks are unlikely to result in a binding treaty and that the goal, instead, is to create a blueprint for future talks.

Walking back: U.S. administration officials sought to reassure critics that the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan would only begin in 2011 and troops could remain much longer.

Middle East


  • At least ten were killed in a suicide bombing outside a courthouse in Peshawar today.
  • Police clashed with clan gunmen in the first violence since martial law was declared in the Philippines' southern region last week.
  • China's leaders vowed to keep economic stimulus measures in places.




  • Sudanese authorities cracked down on opposition leaders after an unauthorized protest in Khartoum.
  • Hundreds of Somalis marched in protest of the al Shabaab, the militant group blamed for last week's suicide bombing in Mogadishu.
  • Namibian President Hifikepunye Pohamba was overwhelmingly reelected.

-By Joshua Keating


An affordable truth

Paul Krugman / New York Times

Maybe I’m naïve, but I’m feeling optimistic about the climate talks starting in Copenhagen on Monday. President Obama now plans to address the conference on its last day, which suggests that the White House expects real progress. It’s also encouraging to see developing countries — including China, the world’s largest emitter of carbon dioxide — agreeing, at least in principle, that they need to be part of the solution.

Of course, if things go well in Copenhagen, the usual suspects will go wild. We’ll hear cries that the whole notion of global warming is a hoax perpetrated by a vast scientific conspiracy, as demonstrated by stolen e-mail messages that show — well, actually all they show is that scientists are human, but never mind. We’ll also, however, hear cries that climate-change policies will destroy jobs and growth.

The truth, however, is that cutting greenhouse gas emissions is affordable as well as essential. Serious studies say that we can achieve sharp reductions in emissions with only a small impact on the economy’s growth. And the depressed economy is no reason to wait — on the contrary, an agreement in Copenhagen would probably help the economy recover.

Why should you believe that cutting emissions is affordable? First, because financial incentives work.

Action on climate, if it happens, will take the form of “cap and trade”: businesses won’t be told what to produce or how, but they will have to buy permits to cover their emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. So they’ll be able to increase their profits if they can burn less carbon — and there’s every reason to believe that they’ll be clever and creative about finding ways to do just that.

As a recent study by McKinsey & Company showed, there are m