Thursday, February 4, 2010

FP morning post 2/4

China escalates trade spats with U.S. and E.U.

Top news: One day after U.S. President Barack Obama promised to "get much tougher about enforcing existing rules" on trade with China and said he would pressure Beijing to let the Yuan appreciate, the Chinese government has hit back. Foreign Ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu said that the Yuan -- currently pegged at about $6.83 per dollar -- is at a reasonable level and is not the cause of the trade imbalance between China and the United States.

"We hope the American side sees the problems within the China-US trade co-operation objectively and reasonably and continues to negotiate on an equal basis," Ma said. "Accusations and pressure do not help to solve the problem."

Obama made his comments at a meeting with Democratic lawmakers and added that while all countries must abide by existing trade rules, it would be a mistake to resort to protectionism. "What I don't want to do is for us as a country or as a party, to shy away from the prospects of international competition," he said.

The United States has had little success in the past in pressuring China to revalue its currency. The markets seemed bearish on Obama's latest push as well with one-year dollar/yuan non-deliverable forwards implying just a 2.8 percent rise in the yuan over the next 12 months.

Meanwhile, China has also escalated a trade fight with the European Union, filing a complaint with the World Trade Organization about anti-dumping duties imposed on Chinese-made shoes.

Toyota: Still reeling from a massive international recall due to faulty gas pedals, Toyota has acknowledged brake problems on its Prius model.


Asia and Pacific

Middle East

  • Israel's foreign minister warned Syria that it would lose if the two goes went to war again.
  • A leading Iranian human rights activist and journalist was arrested on Wednesday.
  • An Iraqi appeals court overturned a controversial ban on hundreds of election candidate who had ties to the Baath party.

Americas

  • The U.S. baptists accused of child trafficking in Haiti will appear before a prosecutor today.
  • The U.S. has opened two new centers to treat evacuated earthquake victims in Tampa and Atlanta.
  • The Mexican military arrested 10 people in connection with three headless bodies found near Ciudad Juarez.

Europe

Africa

-By Joshua Keating

http://link.email.foreignpolicy.com/r/GKKXWOY/WBUE/LPXW/SA1O/RRJV/VU/h

ADEK BERRY/AFP/Getty Images

McClatchy Washington report 2/4

  • A feisty but occasionally frustrated President Barack Obama tried Wednesday to calm nervous Senate Democrats about their political futures and prospects for passing major legislation, as he urged them to keep pushing hard for solutions to the nation's most vexing problems.

  • The Obama administration Wednesday announced plans to boost the use of biofuels - including more ethanol from corn - and speed up work on a plan to capture carbon dioxide from coal, now the biggest source of global warming pollution.

  • In the wake of the recent Supreme Court ruling that ended most restrictions on corporate funding in elections, a congressional panel was asked Wednesday to enact greater limits on the influence of foreign companies in U.S. elections.

  • Thousands of Port-au-Prince's newly destitute residents aren't waiting for the government or the United Nations to provide shelter. As they have for decades, they're taking matters into their own hands, cobbling shelter together from whatever's at hand. Government leaders worry that scores of makeshift shacks rising from the dust of the quake will become permanent slums and frustrate plans to rebuild Port-au-Prince.

  • A South Carolina ethics panel that is investigating Gov. Mark Sanford is not likely to resolve soon whether the two-term Republican broke state law with his travel and campaign expenses. The nine-member panel has not yet asked to schedule a hearing on 37 charges that Sanford's use of state aircraft, business-class tickets and campaign money violated state ethics laws.

  • Three American soliders were killed and two were wounded Wednesday in troubled northwestern Pakistan when a roadside bomb exploded. The deaths, the first known U.S. military casualties in Pakistan since 1979, brought unwanted attention to the small U.S. troop presence that American officials have sought to downplay so as not to feed anti-American sentiment.

  • The peaceful plains of Kansas wouldn't seem to be fertile ground for medical marijuana. Yet in the same week that state lawmakers voted to make Kansas the first state to outlaw a synthetic form of pot, a Wichita legislator introduced a bill to legalize marijuana with a doctor's prescription.

  • Former North Carolina Gov. Mike Easley's press secretary said in sworn testimony that the governor wanted e-mail messages to and from his office deleted so they would not become public. Easley finished his second and final term last year. Since then, federal investigators have conducted a wide-ranging investigation into the privileges and benefits that Easley's administration granted to his friends and associates.

  • A reemergence of the paramilitaries, and their successors, are terrorizing Colombia anew. In a new report released Wednesday by Human Rights Watch, the U.S.-based NGO said the successor groups pose a growing threat to human rights and security in Colombia.

  • A San Francisco Superior Court judge ruled Wednesday that the Schwarzenegger administration acted legally when it enforced a new law that eliminated two former state holidays — Lincoln's Birthday and Columbus Day.

  • It was probably just a matter of time. But less than one day? Sacramento sheriff's officials say that's how long it took for an inmate who was set free Monday under an early-release plan, which is aimed at reducing California's prison population, to be arrested again, this time on a charge of attempted rape.

  • Alaska's Board of Game voted this week to allow Alaskans to own hybrids of wild cats — provided their gene pool is watered down — while rejecting calls to legalize monkeys, sloths and other exotic pets.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Common Dreams headlines 2/3

Israeli Commander: 'We Rewrote the Rules of War for Gaza'
http://www.commondreams.org/headline/2010/02/03-1

Rendition Victim Moves to Sue US
http://www.commondreams.org/headline/2010/02/03-2

Gitmo Judge Urged to Recuse Himself After ProPublica Interview
http://www.commondreams.org/headline/2010/02/03-4

Obama Eyes Biofuels, Clean Coal in New Climate Push
http://www.commondreams.org/headline/2010/02/03-9

As House and Senate Fumble Health Reform, Free Clinics Still Serving the Uninsured Sick
http://www.commondreams.org/headline/2010/02/03-8

Obama's Silent War Shocks Pakistan
http://www.commondreams.org/headline/2010/02/03-6

and more...

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Video...

Jeff Cohen on Progressives and the Democratic Party
http://www.commondreams.org/video/2010/02/03

"America's Secret Afghan Prisons": Investigation Unearths New US Torture Site, Abuse Allegations in Afghanistan
http://www.commondreams.org/video/2010/02/02-0

Truthout 2/3

Patriot Act - Eight Years Later
William Fisher, Truthout: "After 2009 - a year when federal prosecutors charged more suspects with terrorism than in any year since the attacks of September 11, 2001 - and in today's atmosphere of heightened fear triggered by the aborted plot to blow up a Detroit-bound airliner on Christmas Day, Congress will begin again next month to consider reauthorization of key parts of the USA Patriot Act."
Read the Article

Henry A. Giroux: "If You Can Think Differently, You Can Act Differently."
Leslie Thatcher, Truthout: On Wednesday, January 27, 2010, Leslie Thatcher spoke over the phone with Henry Armand Giroux about his book, "Youth in a Suspect Society." Public pedagogy and the war on democracy were also discussed. He declared, "No category seems to me more central to democratic life - and the ethical and moral underpinnings required to support it. What kind of society will young people inherit? What are we doing to them now? How are we betraying them?"
Read the Article

Senate Committee Set to Take Up Nomination of Dawn Johnsen
Kyle Berlin, Truthout: "The Senate Judiciary Committee will 'most likely' vote Thursday on whether to resend Dawn Johnsen, the nominee to head the Office of Legal Counsel, to the Senate floor, according to a senior Senate staffer."
Read the Article

Taliban Kill Three US Soldiers in Pakistan Roadside Bomb Attack
Liam Stack, The Christian Science Monitor: "A roadside bomb attack killed at least seven people, including three Americans, in northwest Pakistan on Wednesday, news agencies report. The US fatalities represent a significant victory for Taliban militants, who claimed responsibility for the attack, after months of increasing drone attacks. The US embassy in Islamabad has confirmed that three US military personnel were killed and two wounded in the blast, Pakistani daily Dawn reports."
Read the Article

Homeland Insecurity: Why "No-Fly" Just Doesn't Fly
Randall Amster J.D., Ph.D., Truthout: "Here's a quick quiz: What do Ted Kennedy, Cat Stevens and Nelson Mandela have in common? Okay, so that's an easy one for you folks with attention spans longer than it takes to type out a tweet. Indeed, all of these luminaries have appeared on the 'No-Fly List,' also known as the 'Terrorist Watch List,' which is used to prevent suspect persons from being able to fly on commercial aircraft in or out of the United States. The list was established after 9/11, and is estimated to contain perhaps half a million names, although its precise workings are shrouded by the vicissitudes of 'national security.'"
Read the Article

Robert Naiman | Eat Your Spinach: Time for Peace Talks in Afghanistan
Robert Naiman, Truthout: "In the last week, The New York Times and Inter Press Service have reported that the Obama administration is having an internal debate on whether to supports talks with senior Afghan Taliban leaders, including Mullah Muhammad Omar, as a means of ending the war in Afghanistan. Senior officials like Vice President Biden are said to be more open to reaching out because they believe it will help shorten the war."
Read the Article

The Iraqi Oil Conundrum: Energy and Power in the Middle East
Michael Schwartz, TomDispatch.com: "How the mighty have fallen. Just a few years ago, an overconfident Bush administration expected to oust Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, pacify the country, install a compliant client government, privatize the economy, and establish Iraq as the political and military headquarters for a dominating US presence in the Middle East. These successes were, in turn, expected to pave the way for ambitious goals, enshrined in the 2001 report of Vice President Dick Cheney's secretive task force on energy."
Read the Article

Jim Hightower | Republicans Out of Touch as Middle Class Sinks
Jim Hightower, Truthout: "American politics is a hoot! Where else can raw ignorance rise to such high places - and then flaunt itself shamelessly for all to see?"
Read the Article

Afghan Anguish
Dominique Bari in L'Humanite and Sara Daniel in Le Nouvel Observateur explore some of the contradictions, incongruities and losses associated with the new Afghanistan strategy of "national reconciliation."
Read the Article

Deb Price | A Cheat Sheet for Straight Allies
Deb Price, Truthout: "'So what's the big deal?' That was the question from a young colleague when the issue of gays in the military came back up. Those of us who're gay hear that response more and more often from heterosexual coworkers, relatives and friends."
Read the Article

Bill Moyers Journal | Big Money in Politics
Bill Moyers Journal: "In the wake of a controversial Supreme Court decision giving corporations and unions more freedom to spend on elections, many federal and state lawmakers are hoping to curb Citizens United v. the FEC's effect on elections. The 'Journal' explores how some legislators are fighting to curb Big Money spending even as the court invalidates laws in 24 states aimed at keeping elections clean."
Read the Article

FP morning post 2/3

U.S. soldiers and children killed in Pakistan school bombing

Top news: A bomb planted outside a girls' school in the Lower Dir district of Pakistan Northwest Frontier Province killed three U.S. soldiers, three children and a Pakistani soldier on Wednesday. The Americans were part of a small group of troops working to train the Pakistani Frontier Corps, which is responsible for security in the volatile northwest.

They were reportedly on their way to attend the inauguration of a school built with U.S. humanitarian assistance when the bomb went off. More than 50 people were injured in the blast. No U.S. soldiers are formally stationed in Pakistan, though a number are involved in intelligence and training missions. That U.S. troops are involved in development assistance was not previously known.

The U.S. carried out its largest ever drone attack in Northwest Pakistan on Tuesday night with a 16-18 missile barrage in Waziristan that killed at least 10 people.

Gays in the military: At a hearing on Capitol Hill, both Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen and Defense Secretary Robert Gates advocated ending the U.S. military's "don't ask don't tell" policy.


Middle East

  • A motorcylce bombing killed at least 20 at a gathering of Shiite pilgrims in Karbala, Iraq.
  • Iran successfully launched a research rocket into space.
  • Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad now says he has "no problem" with shipping uranium abroad for enrichment.

Asia


  • The White House says President Obama will go ahead with plans to meet the Dalai Lama, despite Chinese protests.
  • Sri Lanka's elections commissioner says no rigging took place during the country's presidential voting but there were abuses during the campaign.
  • Japanese prosecutors will probably not file charges against Democratic Party leader Ichiro Ozawa for misreporting funds.

Africa

  • Appeals judges say the International Criminal Court was wrong in not charging Sudanese President Omar al Bashir with genocide.
  • A Guinean inquiry has found one renegade soldier solely responsible for last September's massacre of protesters.
  • The World Food Program says the number of people needing food aid in South Sudan has quadrupled to nearly 4 million.

Americas

  • An orphanage director says many of the Haitian children that a U.S. baptist group was attempting to take out of the country last week had parents.
  • Officials say Christmas Day bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab has begun talking to federal agents again.
  • A shootout at a shopping center in Northern Mexico killed one policemen and seven suspected cartel gunmen.

Europe

-By Joshua Keating.

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STR/AFP/Getty Images

McClatchy Washington report 2/3

  • After a slow start, states struggling with record unemployment are scrambling to create and expand subsidized jobs programs that could employ thousands of poor adults, teens and even disabled people. They're running out of time, however, because nearly $4 billion in unspent stimulus money that would finance the efforts is set to expire on Sept. 30.

  • The nation's top military officer told Congress Tuesday that gay men and lesbians should be allowed to serve openly in the military, the strongest endorsement ever by the nation's military leadership for overturning the law that excludes them from the U.S. Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps.

  • One day after being publicly scolded by Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Lockheed Martin officials overseeing the F-35 joint strike fighter program insisted it is in better shape than recent events suggest.

  • President Barack Obama's 2011 budget got a cool — at times frosty — reception Tuesday from the lawmakers he needs most, as congressional Democrats offered a host of reasons they're skeptical of the White House plan.

  • Rep. Joe Wilson, the South Carolina Republican who shouted at prsident Obama in September, and challenger Rob Miller raised more than $626,000 combined in the last quarter of 2009, giving Wilson a 2009 fundraising total of $3.42 million, while Miller raised just over $2 million.

  • The oil and trucking industry sued to block California's new carbon fuel regulations Tuesday, saying the rules will raise costs but do little to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Fresno, lobbyists for oil refiners, truckers and other groups charged that the state's "low carbon fuel standard" is unconstitutional.

  • Gov. Rick Perry holds a 15-point lead over U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison in the race for the Republican gubernatorial nomination, while Tea Party activist Debra Medina is continuing to gain ground and may be wresting support from Hutchison, according to the latest Rasmussen Reports poll.

  • Haiti's economy was turned inside out after the earthquake, with prices soaring and entire companies disappearing. Now, as Haitians still dig for their dead and the government struggles to reorganize, the business community is trying to figure out how to jump-start the economy amid a historic opportunity to reshape the nation.

  • Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush's "Medicaid Reform" experiment looks like it won't expand statewide beyond Broward County and four Jacksonville-area counties as he had hoped. The HMO industry doesn't like parts of the plan. Liberals say the program hasn't been properly studied. And Republican legislators are concentrating on solutions of their own to control growing costs of the program.

  • Despite its status as an emerging hub for human trafficking, Kansas City may soon lose nearly $1 million in federal funds for police training and aid for trafficking victims. Two local agencies — the Independence Police Department and Hope House — received three-year Justice Department grants in 2006 but will not reapply, officials said. The grants expired at the end of last year.

  • California is on the verge of losing $93 million in federal money earmarked for home weatherization grants, according a report released on Tuesday. The money is contingent on the state Department of Community Services and Development proving it has effectively used $93 million already received for the same purpose.

  • A push to increase the size of the Legislature so rural Alaska doesn't lose representation after this year's census is proving contentious, with a price tag running in the millions. Alaska's legislative districts will be redrawn in 2012 using the population numbers that come from the census. That is bad news for many parts of rural Alaska, where population has dropped or remained flat.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Truthout 2/2

Melvin A. Goodman | President Obama and the CIA: What Must Be Done
Melvin A. Goodman, Truthout: "New presidents (and President Barack Obama is no exception) fall in love with three Washington institutions: the Pentagon, the Central Intelligence Agency and Camp David. The Camp David love affair makes sense; it contributes to the president's physical and mental health. The infatuation with the military and intelligence communities, however, can create serious problems for both the administration and the nation."
Read the Article

Obama Administration's Budget Calls for Billions of Dollars in New Spending for Drones
Jason Leopold, Truthout: "This is how major US defense contractors reacted to the Obama administration's unveiling of its fiscal year 2011 spending plan for the Pentagon, part of the president's overall $3.8 trillion budget proposal."
Read the Article

Leslie Thatcher | Reign of Moloch
Leslie Thatcher, Truthout: "When, in a casual aside during a Macroeconomics lecture at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School in 1976, Dr. Jamshed K. S. Ghandi mused about how and when children had gone from being 'investment goods' to becoming 'consumer goods,' I assumed that he was referring to the already-noticeable trend among middle class baby boomers like myself to prepare for the arrival of a new baby with the purchase of vast quantities of baby 'materiel' in constant need of disposal, upgrade, restocking, making the child a locus of unremitting consumption."
Read the Article

Obama's One-Dollar Promise to Women
Dick Meister, Truthout: "One of the most important promises made by President Obama in his State of the Union address has been largely overlooked: his promise to crack down on violations of equal pay laws, so that women get equal pay for an equal day's work."
Read the Article

Obama Discusses War, Jobs and the Environment Live on YouTube
Mary Susan Littlepage, Truthout: "President Obama sat down with an interviewer from YouTube Monday afternoon to sell his $3.8 trillion budget for fiscal year 2011. It's the latest step by an administration relentlessly focused on finding new ways to connect with the public."
Read the Article

Landmark Case Could Restore Felon Voting Rights
Matthew Cardinale, Inter Press Service: "A historic ruling earlier this month on behalf of felons who lost the right to vote could call into question the disenfranchisement of felons and ex-felons in the State of Washington and indeed across the United States."
Read the Article

Norman Solomon | Don't Call It a "Defense" Budget
Norman Solomon, Truthout: "This isn't 'defense.' The new budget from the White House will push US military spending well above $2 billion a day. Foreclosing the future of our country should not be confused with defending it."
Read the Article

Does President Obama Really Want a "Better Approach" to Fix Health Care?
Kevin Zeese, Truthout: "Obama keeps saying he wants better ideas, but then will not meet with doctors desperately trying to let him know a better approach."
Read the Article

US, Karzai Clash on Unconditional Talks with Taliban
Gareth Porter, Inter Press Service: "On the surface, it would seem unlikely that Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who presides over a politically feeble government and is highly dependent on the U.S. military presence and economic assistance, would defy the United States on the issue of peace negotiations with the leadership of the Taliban insurgency."
Read the Article

Your Ticket to Violence and Squalor
Mark Chou, Truthout: "'Save a life, create jobs and rebuild communities.' Three reasons to travel you can't say no to. That's the pitch of Los Angeles's newest tourist attraction: LA Gang Tours. And it's a pitch that seems to be working. Even before the company opened for business earlier this month, tickets had already sold out."
Read the Article

Prop 8 Trial Week Three: The Cliffhanger
Eric Malone, OpEdNews: "The fabled trial to overturn Proposition 8 in California is wrapping up after almost three weeks of testimony, and it's looking good for the plaintiffs who support same-sex marriage. (The defense is backing Prop 8, the initiative that defines marriage as between a man and a woman, denying that same right to gay people.) The attorneys working to overturn Prop 8 concluded most of their evidence and testimony last week, and this week the supporters of the gay marriage ban presented only two witnesses, pared down from a much larger number."
Read the Article

Robert Reich | Our Incredible Shrinking Democracy
Robert Reich, RobertReich.org: "I wish conservatives would stop complaining about big government and start worrying about the real problem - small democracy. I wish we'd all worry more about our incredible shrinking democracy."
Read the Article

Mexico Considers Clamping Down on Twitter
Michael E. Miller, GlobalPost: "Mexico has racked up its fair share of menacingly named outlaws in a three-year drug war: the Zetas, Aztecas and even a band of female assassins called the Panthers. Now, if the government gets its way, another name will also make the wanted list: los Twitteros."
Read the Article

NOW | Has the Democratic Party Traded Principles for Power?
NOW: "To gain their historic control of Congress, Democrats fielded moderate candidates who didn't always follow the party line, especially when it came to abortion. Now that the Democratic Party has the legislative upper hand, are they willing to negotiate away reproductive rights for other political gains?"
Read the Article

Norman Solomon on Guiding the Democratic Party in a Progressive Direction (VIDEO)
Norman Solomon spoke at the Santa Rosa Democratic Club meeting on January 27, 2010. In a short video clip he gives a summation of his speech.
Read the Article

Common Dreams headlines 2/2

US, Karzai Clash on Unconditional Talks with Taliban
http://www.commondreams.org/headline/2010/02/02-8

New Defense Strategy Envisions Multiple Conflicts
http://www.commondreams.org/headline/2010/02/02

Large Portion Of GOP Thinks Obama Is Racist, Socialist, Non-U.S. Citizen: Poll
http://www.commondreams.org/headline/2010/02/02-9

Global Warming Makes Trees Grow at Fastest Rate for 200 Years
http://www.commondreams.org/headline/2010/02/02-3

Woodland Caribou Under Threat in Oilsands Area, Group Says
http://www.commondreams.org/headline/2010/02/02-6

Judge Blocks Further Protests Against Massey Energy Mountaintop Mining
http://www.commondreams.org/headline/2010/02/02-5

Washington's Refusal to Talk about Drone Strikes in Pakistan Meets Growing Opposition
http://www.commondreams.org/headline/2010/02/02-7

Study Finds 'No Child' Has Low Teacher Support
http://www.commondreams.org/headline/2010/02/02-4

and more...

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Video...

Prayer Breakfast Reflects Poorly on Obama
http://www.commondreams.org/video/2010/02/02

FP morning post 2/2

Iran to execute more opposition activists

Top news: With major opposition protests planned for Feb. 11, Iran plans to execute nine more protesters for the crime of moharebeh, or waging war against god. Activists Arash Rahmanipour and Mohammad-Reza Ali-Zamani were hanged last week. They were arrested before the disputed June 12 presidential elections but their cases became intertwined with those of the "green" protesters arrested over the summer.

"Nine others will be hanged soon. The nine and the two who were hanged on Thursday, were surely arrested in the recent riots and had links to anti-revolutionary groups," said senior judicial official Ebrahim Raisi today.

Senior cleric Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati praised the executions during last Friday's prayer sermon saying that if the state "shows weakness, we will suffer more. There is no room for Islamic mercy.”

The opposition has called for mass demonstrations on the anniversary of the founding of the Islamic Republic on Feb. 11. In a statement on his website, opposition leader Mir Hossein Moussavi said that the Islamic Revolution had failed to achieve most of its goals.

"Stifling the media, filling the prisons and brutally killing people who peacefully demand their rights in the streets indicate the roots of tyranny and dictatorship remain from the monarchist era," he said.

Haiti: U.S. geologists say there is a 90 percent chance of the island being hit by a magnitude 5 earthquake or greater in the next month with a 3 percent chance of a magnitude 7 quake.


Middle East

Asia

  • China warned that a planned meeting between President Obama and the Dalai Lama will further damage U.S.-China relations.
  • Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim goes on trial for a second time to face sodomy charges that are widely considered to be politically motivated.
  • The Pakistani military has offered to help train Afghan troops.

Europe

Africa

  • Somali pirates abandoned an Indian-flagged dhow they had hijacked two weeks ago.
  • The Sudanese army accused the United Nations of arming Darfur's rebels.
  • South Africa's polygamist President Jacob Zuma is under fire after a newspaper reported that he had fired his 20th child out of wedlock.

Americas

  • The aircraft carrier USS Vinson is leaving Haitian waters after delivering 500 tons of food aid.
  • Haitian prosecutors questioned the 10 U.S. missionaries being held on child trafficking charges.
  • The mayor of Ciudad Juarez says the massacre that killed 16 at a children's birthday party last Saturday may have been a "random" act.

-By Joshua Keating

http://link.email.foreignpolicy.com/r/188GBJO/2CBJ/YV3N/G1MX/7C85/YT/h

ATTA KENARE/AFP/Getty Images

McClatchy Washington report 2/2

  • The Obama administration projects rosier economic-growth prospects than most mainstream economists do but a sobering jobless recovery, according to documents released Monday about underlying assumptions in the government's $3.83 trillion federal budget for 2011.

  • U.S. and Russian negotiators Monday began finalizing a new 10-year nuclear arms reduction treaty after President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitri Medvedev resolved the last major differences over a pact to cut both nations' deployed strategic nuclear warheads by about a third.

  • South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham plans to introduce a bipartisan bill Tuesday to block funding for civilian trials of five alleged plotters of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks who are now being held at the U.S. military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

  • California Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner leveled charges that a top adviser to rival Meg Whitman's campaign attempted to bully him out of the two-way GOP gubernatorial primary race by issuing "crystal-clear" threats. Poizner called on state and federal law enforcement officials to investigate what he characterized as potentially criminal intimidation tactics.

  • The chance of another big earthquake in Haiti in the near future is great enough that people in Port-au-Prince should sleep in tents, geologists said Monday. The probability of an aftershock of magnitude 7 or greater in Haiti in the next 30 days is 3 percent, the probability of one magnitude 6 or greater is 25 percent, and of one magnitude 5 or greater is about 90 percent, according to a report by the United States Geological Survey.

  • Secretary of Defense Robert Gates voiced strong dissatisfaction Monday with a lack of progress on the F-35 joint strike fighter program, publicly taking prime contractor Lockheed Martin to task. Gates said he decided to replace the Pentagon's manager overseeing the F-35, Marine Major Gen. David Heinz, with a higher ranking officer — a three star general or admiral — to run the program. Gates also said $614 million will be withheld from Lockheed to help the government cover rising F-35 expenses.

  • President Barack Obama's budget is not a California rescue plan. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger wants $6.9 billion in additional federal money to help plug the state's $19.9 billion deficit, but Obama's plan provides only about $1.5 billion, according to Schwarzenegger officials.

  • The federal trial over Proposition 8's constitutionality ended its witness testimony in San Francisco last week with just two witnesses for the defense and one simple claim. The defense argued that even if Proposition 8 harms gays and lesbians and any children they may have, voters had a right to exclude gays from marriage because of concerns that children are best raised by their biological mothers and fathers.

  • Mills Bigham was a 19-year-old Marine in Iraq when he made his first kill. Less than four years later on Oct. 19, Lance Cpl. Mills Palmer Bigham sat in his red Chevy Tahoe, put a .410-gauge shotgun to his forehead and pulled the trigger one last time. Family said Bigham suffered from depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. In hopes they can prevent another veteran's suicide, Bigham's family recently founded Hidden Wounds, a nonprofit organization headquartered in Columbia, S.C.

  • Rene Preval had hoped the defining moment of his five-year reign over the crippled nation of Haiti would be this: building new roads, creating a stronger government and stabilizing the political landscape. But in the aftermath of last month's earthquake, his moment is now, as he seeks to lead Haiti out of its most daunting disaster before his presidential terms ends Feb. 7, 2011.

  • China, India, the U.S. and the rest of the world's biggest polluters turned in their official pledges to reduce emissions, a move that gives global climate protection a start, the United Nations announced on Monday.

  • News of a higher price tag than expected and competition from other gas supplies are growing skepticism among Alaska's state legislators that TransCanada Corp. can deliver on the long-awaited natural gas pipeline to the Lower 48.

Indiana Property Tax Caps: Should They Be In The Constitution?

Indianapolis, IN - The Indiana Institute for Working Families released a policy brief, Indiana Property Tax Caps: Using Dollars and $ense to Make the Right Decision, which examines the property tax restructuring legislation, and discusses whether a key component of the property tax restructuring - the caps - should be placed in the State's constitution.


"Property taxes are a real hot button issue. We want all Hoosiers to be educated about the issue when they vote this fall," said Lisa Travis, Team Leader of CAA Network Support.


In March 2008, the Indiana General Assembly enacted legislation overhauling the State's property tax system. The purpose of the "1-2-3" legislation as it has come to be known, was to cap property taxes for homeowners, rental property owners, and businesses at 1%, 2 %, and 3% of assessed value, respectively. In 2009, the caps were in the process of being phased-in and were set at 1.5%, 2.5%, and 3.5%. Under the 2009 caps, 2.7% of all property tax cap credits were distributed to homeowners with the vast majority of the tax cap credits (97.3%) being given to owners of rental properties and businesses taxed under 2.5% and 3.5% caps.


Beginning in 2010, the 1%, 2%, and 3% caps will be in full effect, which means the use of the tax cap credits could change dramatically in 2010. A March 2009 analysis, by the Indiana Legislative Services Agency (LSA), estimates that the cost of the homestead tax caps could grow by nearly 600% when the homeowners' cap is tightened from 1.5% to 1%.3


While property taxes were reduced for many Hoosier homeowners, these tax cuts were paid for through an increase in the state's sales tax and the elimination of a number of existing property tax relief mechanisms. As a result, renters are shouldering a large portion of the cost of property tax relief for homeowners. One estimate found that as many as 60% of Indiana renters would pay more in taxes under the restructuring, while close to 80% of homeowners would pay less.


The next stage of the property tax debate requires deciding whether or not to place the tax caps in the State constitution. Voters will have their say at the polls this November. However, the property tax caps are already in Indiana state statute. Adding the caps to the constitution will not result in increased property tax cuts for homeowners. Instead, it will tie the hands of future Hoosiers and their representatives to adjust the property tax caps in times of economic distress (as it takes two legislative sessions to remove an amendment from the State constitution).


"The full impact of the caps on local services such as schools, fire and police protection, and road maintenance will not be clear until much later. Protecting these untested provisions from future alteration is unnecessary and irresponsible," said Lisa Travis, Team Leader of CAA Network Support.


To view the policy brief in its entirety, please visit www.incap.org.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Truthout 2/1

William Rivers Pitt | Schooled
William Rivers Pitt, Truthout: "In my last article, I made the following observation regarding the challenges President Obama faced on the eve of his Wednesday evening State of the Union address: 'The American people, well-trained in the art of short-term memory loss, have come to the conclusion that everything happening now is Obama's fault, and the polls reflect this without dispute. One speech on Wednesday night won't fix all that ails us, but if Mr. Obama doesn't hit precisely the right notes in the delivery, his second year could come to make his first year seem like a Cape Cod clambake by comparison.'"
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Art Levine | What Happens If Obama's Plan Can't Create Enough Jobs?
Art Levine, Truthout: "The president pivoted in last week's State of the Union speech to emphasizing jobs as his health care plan stalled. But there are serious doubts among progressive economists, independent analysts and even small businesses that could receive his proposed tax credits whether his jobs creation package will actually work."
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Shiite Pilgrims Targeted as Iraq Bombings Intensify
Jane Arraf, The Christian Science Monitor: "A female suicide bomber walked into a tent full of Shiite pilgrims on Monday, killing at least 46 people and wounding another 100 in the latest attack in the run-up to Iraqi elections next month."
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Obama Budget Aims at Solidifying Women's Support
James Rosen, McClatchy Newspapers: "With women's advocacy groups voicing growing unease with administration policy, President Barack Obama will propose a $3.8 trillion budget on Monday that would exempt programs for women and girls from spending restrictions he's proposed for other programs."
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Dean Baker | The Second Great Depression Bogeyman
Dean Baker, Truthout: "Our political leaders continually assert that we should be thanking them that we are not in a second Great Depression rather than complaining about how bad things are. The second Great Depression theme came up repeatedly in the debate over the reappointment of Federal Reserve Board Chairman Ben Bernanke. It also featured prominently in Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner's defense of his handling of the AIG bailout."
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Haiti Women's Micro-Lending Bank Brings Big Cash to Rescue (VIDEO)
Peggy Simpson, Women News Network: "A micro-credit program and banking system for more than 200,000 women in Haiti has come to the rescue of the overall economy in the wake of the devastating earthquake. At a time when Haitian commercial banks remain closed, Fonkoze, the Haitian branch of the Grameen Bank of Bangladesh, mobilized over one weekend to get funds to its members in rural towns as well as Port-au-Prince."
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Seven Days in January: How the Pentagon Counts Coups in Washington
Tom Engelhardt, TomDispatch.com: "Sometimes it pays to read a news story to the last paragraph where a reporter can slip in that little gem for the news jockeys, or maybe just for the hell of it. You know, the irresistible bit that doesn't fit comfortably into the larger news frame, but that can be packed away in the place most of your readers will never get near, where your editor is likely to give you a free pass."
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Personal Corporatehood: Coping With the Reason Divided of Citizens United
Randall Amster J.D., Ph.D., Truthout: "There's great consternation brewing over the recent Supreme Court decision that cements and extends the misbegotten logic of 'corporate personhood,' and rightly so. Surely, one of the most farcical and tortuous doctrines ever established in our system of jurisprudence, this conflated concept has drawn the ire of (small-d) democrats at least as far back as Thomas Jefferson, who wrote in 1816, 'I hope we shall ... crush in its birth the aristocracy of our moneyed corporations which dare already to challenge our government in a trial of strength, and bid defiance to the laws of our country.'"
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On the Ground in Port-au-Prince
Bill Quigley, Truthout: "Hundreds of thousands of people are living and sleeping on the ground in Port-au-Prince. Many have no homes, their homes destroyed by the earthquake. I am sleeping on the ground as well - surrounded by nurses, doctors and humanitarian workers who sleep on the ground every night. The buildings that are not on the ground have big cracks in them and fallen sections, so no one should be sleeping inside."
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Taxing the Rich
Lawrence S. Wittner, Truthout: "Decades ago, right wingers began championing cuts in income taxes for the rich and - when that lowered government revenue - turned around and claimed that government could no longer "afford" to maintain vital public services like education and health care. Unfortunately, in an effort to curry favor with the wealthy and their corporations, many state and national officeholders began to adopt the right wing's tax-cutting model."
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Remembering Our Humanity
Michael N. Nagler, Truthout: "The decade has not begun with a paean to human wisdom. Two recent acts of folly in particular share a deep and pernicious connection that bears some pondering, and I am not even referring to the capture of Ted Kennedy's seat in Massachusetts. I am referring to the 5-4 Supreme Court decision on Thursday last week ratifying an absurd and dangerous notion that had been let loose in the public discourse almost by accident nearly a century ago, namely the legal 'personhood' of corporations, and secondly to the introduction of full-body scanning for 'security' that is coming soon to airports near you."
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Big Bodies vs. the Biosphere
W. David Kubiak, Truthout: "In the fog of war, climate chaos and economic ruin, the import of the United Nations' COP10 biodiversity treaty conference in Nagoya in October 2010 may be easily overlooked. Given the mighty array of corporate forces now encircling this treaty's premises, that could prove a huge mistake."
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James Perry's Run for Mayor of New Orleans
Jordan Flaherty, ColorLines Magazine: "On New Year's Eve in 2004, nine months before Hurricane Katrina hit, bouncers in the Bourbon Street club Razzoo's killed a black college student named Levon Jones. The outrage led to near-daily protests outside the club, threats of a black tourist boycott of the city and a mayor's commission to explore the issue of racism in the French Quarter. Despite widely publicized advance warning, a 'secret shopper' audit of the Quarter found rampant discrimination in local businesses. Bars had different dress codes, admission charges and drink prices - all based on whether the patron was black or white."
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Common Dreams headlines 2/1

'Peace Prize' President Submits Largest War Budget Ever
http://www.commondreams.org/headline/2010/02/01-9

'Climate Emails Hacked by Spies'
http://www.commondreams.org/headline/2010/02/01-5

Afghan 'Geological Reserves Worth a Trillion Dollars'
http://www.commondreams.org/headline/2010/02/01-6

CIA Operatives Moonlight in Corporate World
http://www.commondreams.org/headline/2010/02/01-0

Detente with Iran Recedes as US Strengthens Gulf Defenses
http://www.commondreams.org/headline/2010/02/01-4

'Orphan Rescue' Attempt Hits Nerve among Haitians
http://www.commondreams.org/headline/2010/02/01-1

and more...

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Video...

Free Speech for Corporation: What Does the Citizens United v. FEC Decision Mean for You and for Democracy?
http://www.commondreams.org/video/2010/02/01-0

Afghanistan's Embattled Hospitals
http://www.commondreams.org/video/2010/02/01

FP morning post 2/1

China threatens sanctions over U.S.-Taiwan arms deal

Top story: Reacting angrily to a planned U.S. arms sale to Taiwan, China has threatened to slap sanctions on U.S. companies participating in the deal. China has also suspended planned visits between high-ranking military officials, postponed a planned arms control meeting, and summoned U.S. ambassador John Huntsman to voice its disapproval of the deal, which was announced on Friday. The $6.4 billion deal includes 60 Black Hawk helicopters, 114 Patriot air defense missiles, and two Osprey mine-hunting ships.

The Chinese media lambasted the United States for the deal with the government-run China Daily saying it, "exposes [its] usage of double standards and hypocrisy on major issues related to China's core interests." The People's Daily described as evidence of "rude and unreasonable Cold War thinking".

The latest tensions could be the first of a series of diplomatic flare-ups between the United States and China this year. President Barack Obama is also expected to meet soon with the Dalai Lama, further straining ties with Beijing.

Haiti

  • The United States is resuming airlifts of injured Haitians to U.S. hospitals, five days after the flights were suspended.
  • Aid agencies have launched a new food distribution program focusing primarily on women.
  • Ten Americans from an Idaho church group were arrested for trying to transport 33 children over the Dominican border without proper identification.

Middle East

  • Envoys of the Dalai Lama met with Chinese officials in Beijing.
  • The Pakistani Taliban denied reports that leader Hakimullah Mehsud was killed in a U.S. drone strike and says it will produce evidence that he is alive.
  • North and South Korea held talks on Monday, days after gunfire was exchanged across the border.

Africa

  • The African Union elected Malawian President Bingu wa Mutharika as its new president, despite a bid from Libyan leader Muammar al Qaddafi to stay on.
  • A Royal Dutch Shell oil pipeline was sabotaged in Nigeria shortly after the country's Mend rebels declared they were ending their ceasefire.
  • Heavy mortar fire between African Union peacekeepers and Shabaab rebels in Mogadishu killed at least 12 civilians.

Americas

Europe

  • Russian police broke up anti-Kremlin demonstrations in Moscow and St. Petersburg, arresting more than 100.
  • U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is in Cyprus for unity talks.
  • German authorities say a Swiss source offered to sell them confidential bank data showing tax evasion by over 1,500 German citizens.

-By Joshua Keating

http://link.email.foreignpolicy.com/r/722VCUZ/ONQN/HRM7/S2EB/YLFD/4O/h

SAM YEH/AFP/Getty Images

Good and boring

PAUL KRUGMAN
New York Times

In times of crisis, good news is no news. Iceland’s meltdown made headlines; the remarkable stability of Canada’s banks, not so much.

Yet as the world’s attention shifts from financial rescue to financial reform, the quiet success stories deserve at least as much attention as the spectacular failures. We need to learn from those countries that evidently did it right. And leading that list is our neighbor to the north. Right now, Canada is a very important role model.

Yes, I know, Canada is supposed to be dull. The New Republic famously pronounced “Worthwhile Canadian Initiative” (from a Times Op-Ed column in the ’80s) the world’s most boring headline. But I’ve always considered Canada fascinating, precisely because it’s similar to the United States in many but not all ways. The point is that when Canadian and U.S. experience diverge, it’s a very good bet that policy differences, rather than differences in culture or economic structure, are responsible for that divergence.

And anyway, when it comes to banking, boring is good.

First, some background. Over the past decade the United States and Canada faced the same global environment. Both were confronted with the same flood of cheap goods and cheap money from Asia. Economists in both countries cheerfully declared that the era of severe recessions was over.

But when things fell apart, the consequences were very different here and there. In the United States, mortgage defaults soared, some major financial institutions collapsed, and others survived only thanks to huge government bailouts. In Canada, none of that happened. What did the Canadians do differently?

It wasn’t interest rate policy. Many commentators have blamed the Federal Reserve for the financial crisis, claiming that the Fed created a disastrous bubble by keeping interest rates too low for too long. But Canadian interest rates have tracked U.S. rates quite closely, so it seems that low rates aren’t enough by themselves to produce a financial crisis.

Canada’s experience also seems to refute the view, forcefully pushed by Paul Volcker, the formidable former Fed chairman, that the roots of our crisis lay in the scale and scope of our financial institutions — in the existence of banks that were “too big to fail.” For in Canada essentially all the banks are too big to fail: just five banking groups dominate the financial scene.

On the other hand, Canada’s experience does seem to support the views of people like Elizabeth Warren, the head of the Congressional panel overseeing the bank bailout, who place much of the blame for the crisis on failure to protect consumers from deceptive lending. Canada has an independent Financial Consumer Agency, and it has sharply restricted subprime-type lending.

Above all, Canada’s experience seems to support those who say that the way to keep banking safe is to keep it boring — that is, to limit the extent to which banks can take on risk. The United States used to have a boring banking system, but Reagan-era deregulation made things dangerously interesting. Canada, by contrast, has maintained a happy tedium.

More specifically, Canada has been much stricter about limiting banks’ leverage, the extent to which they can rely on borrowed funds. It has also limited the process of securitization, in which banks package and resell claims on their loans outstanding — a process that was supposed to help banks reduce their risk by spreading it, but has turned out in practice to be a way for banks to make ever-bigger wagers with other people’s money.

There’s no question that in recent years these restrictions meant fewer opportunities for bankers to come up with clever ideas than would have been available if Canada had emulated America’s deregulatory zeal. But that, it turns out, was all to the good.

So what are the chances that the United States will learn from Canada’s success?

Actually, the financial reform bill that the House of Representatives passed in December would significantly Canadianize the U.S. system. It would create an independent Consumer Financial Protection Agency, it would establish limits on leverage, and it would limit securitization by requiring that lenders hold on to some of their loans.

But prospects for a comparable bill getting the 60 votes now needed to push anything through the Senate are doubtful. Republicans are clearly dead set against any significant financial reform — not a single Republican voted for the House bill — and some Democrats are ambivalent, too.

So there’s a good chance that we’ll do nothing, or nothing much, to prevent future banking crises. But it won’t be because we don’t know what to do: we’ve got a clear example of how to keep banking safe sitting right next door.

McClatchy Washington report 2/1

  • President Obama's proposed 2011 budget, which will be officially unveiled today, calls for spending $1.3 trillion more than the government takes in — then continue with deficits of more than $700 billion a year for at least a decade. The proposal would keep in place Bush-era tax breaks for those earning under $250,000, but let them expire for those making more.

  • It happened in 1994. The state's congressional delegation went from 8-1 Democratic to 7-2 Republican. Among the Democrats who lost was Rep. Tom Foley, the first sitting House speaker to lose a re-election bid since the Civil War. Now Democrats and Repubicans in Washington state are wondering if it could happen again.

  • Hakimullah Mehsud was Pakistan's most wanted man and a top target for the U.S — especially after he appeared in a video with the Jordanian suicide bomber who killed seven CIA employees Dec. 30 at an Afghan outpost known as FOB Chapman. He was the target of two drone strikes, one on Jan. 14 and the other, Jan. 17

  • There should be no major surprises in the 2011 defense budget, which the Obama administration and the Pentagon will unveil today, unlike a year ago when some big programs got hit by the budget ax. The first defense budget developed by President Barack Obama and Defense Secretary Robert Gates, whose details were not released until April last year, whacked some big-dollar programs, including Lockheed Martin's F-22 Raptor fighter jet.

  • On Feb. 1, 1960, a Monday like today, Franklin McCain and three other freshmen at N.C. A&T University in Greensboro, walked a mile from campus to the F.W. Woolworth five-and-dime on North Elm Street, to make a statement against segregation. They purchased a few items — McCain bought toothpaste and a composition book — and asked for receipts. Then they found the "whites-only" lunch counter and simply sat down.

  • Scott Roeder watched television in his motel room at the Garden Inn, trying to relax. Roeder was frustrated, having made his latest trip to Wichita, and to Reformation Lutheran Church. This time, the Saturday evening service was in Swahili. The young women wearing short skirts had offended him. On top of all that, the reason he'd been going to the church wasn't there. Again.

  • For Capitol insiders, it's easy to chalk it up as a bluff when Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger proposes terminating welfare-to-work and in-home care for the disabled if California doesn't get billions in federal money he's requested. But it's no chess game for a welfare-to-work mother seriously trying to find a job, or a person in a wheelchair whose living stipend has already been slashed twice in one year.

  • The Obama administration's announcement Sunday about the resumption of the flights came just hours after former Federal Emergency Management Director R. David Paulison -- who won praise for leading FEMA in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina -- said he was worried that the response in Haiti was too haphazard.

  • It's been roughly five years since Rhodes came home from his third tour in Iraq, and despite a highly-decorated 29-year career in the Army, and praise from the likes of Gen. George Casey, the Army chief of staff, for his efforts in suicide prevention, retired Command Sgt. Maj. Samuel Rhodes still wrestles with his own demons.

  • In a downturned economy, going to the movies is an enduring entertainment option. Still one of the cheapest out-of-home entertainment venues, movie theaters are ringing up profits with the proliferation of premium technology, such as IMAX and 3-D, and because movie-going — even during the the Great Depression — has always been driven by product: movies that people want to see.

  • In the past week, there's been much discussion of possible talks with the Taliban. Afghan parliament members held meetings in the Maldives, a U.N. official met apparently with an intermediary in Dubai, and Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai asked for Saudi help in setting something up. But those who know the Taliban best say there's no authorization for talks.

  • Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush headlined a fundraiser for Bill McCollum's gubernatorial campaign, starred in a YouTube video touting Jeff Atwater's campaign for state chief financial officer and helped install state Sen. John Thrasher as the state party's heir apparent. The capper came Thursday when he appeared on NBC's Today Show.