Wednesday, December 31, 2008
(better late than never)
Perhaps the most famous editorial ever written appeared in the New York Sun more than a century ago. It was written by a shoestring ancestor of mine, Frank Pharcellus Church. As an aside, notwithstanding this token of evidence to the contrary, the Church family lacks in imagination. In the naming of children, for instance. Those of you who have heard me allude to my father, grandfather, great-grandfather or son will remember that all the males in our family bear the first name Frank. Some of us are called by our middle name. This is usually Forrester but it sometimes is Pharcellus.
In response to the doubts of one of his young readers, Frank the editor wrote, “Yes Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love, and generosityand devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. How dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus. It would be as dreary as if there were no Virginias. There would be noc hildlike faith then, no poetry, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence . . . The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would beextinguished.”
Since in some respects Santa Claus may be easier for Unitarians to believe in than Jesus, if I were to adapt my ancestor’s editorial for today’s homily I might call it,“Yes, Virginia, there is a Jesus,” the baby Jesus, wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.
Let’s begin with the star. Just like Frank Pharcellus Church’s Santa Claus, the Christmas star leads us not away from ordinary things but straight to the very heart of them. It points not to heaven but to earth, to a stableyard, to a newbornchild. Here is the greatest wonder of all, a mystery without need for miracle, being itself miraculous. So shake off your skeptical airs for a moment. You don’t believe in the star?
Well, think again. There are 100 billion stars in our galaxy and over 100 billion galaxies. In the universe each one of us has about 1,500 personal stars. The star to person ratio is 1,500 to one.
I have an idea. Let’s pretend we don’t have the faintest notion of what Christmas is all about. I can promise you, we will not be far from the mark. What an extraordinary thing we have to look forward to. A star shines. Your star. One of your fifteen hundred stars. The heavens are filled with celestial music. And,what happens? It is really quite astounding. Not that a child is conceived by the holy ghost and born of a virgin, but that a child is born. Yes, he changed the world, but first comes the stunning fact that he was born in the first place.
A child is born to suffer and wonder, to do the best he or she can. A child is born to love and serve, to fail and recover. And of course, to forgive. A child is born to sing in the darkness and cry in the sunlight and say a million wishes.That’s what Christmas reminds us to do: to wish on a star.
But there is something else worth pondering about this miracle. Not so much the moral, but the morals of the Christmas story. A child is born. He becomes a man. Without intending to, in a lifespan of some thirty years he transforms 2000 years of history. He is inadvertantly responsible for everything done in his name, centuries of religious bigotry and persecution, and also quite personally responsible for billions of acts of mercy and love. The morals of the Christmas story have nothing to do with moralism, nothing to do with the self-rightousness and window-shattering that follows from people in glass houses throwing stones.
The morals of the Christmas story are summed up in the teachings of the Christ child. Love God. Love your neighbor as yourself; love your enemies; judge not that you be not judged; forgive those who persecute you; empty yourself and be filled; give away your life and be found..
Jesus was not a Biblical literalist, by the way. He quotes the scriptures rarely, once on the cross, when he asks God why God has forsaken him. And during his lifetime he is despised for breaking religious laws, for not honoring the Sabbath, for neglecting the commandments that enforce purity.
Beyond that, when his disciples ask him how they can guarantee their place in heaven, Jesus says, in Matthew 25, when you die there is a quiz. Nothing about the sins our modern day moralists impose as litmus tests. Nothing about
banning Gay marriage, by the way. No mention of abortion or a word about nontrinitarians being damned to hell.
No, the questions are these: Did you house the homeless, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, heal the sick, and visit those in prison. Why? Because, like us and like him they are children of the one great miracle, our blood brothers and sisters, our kith and kin.
If you tap the gospel in search for it, the Christmas commandment turns out to be quite simple: Unwrap your hearts. Wish on your stars and love to a faretheewell.
That’s the Christmas message. Man. Woman. Child. Danger. Hope. Faith. Wonder. Sacrifice. Glory. Betrayal. Death. Immortal Love.
Even fear. Not unlike today, where the dawning of a new year, ominous with economic shadows, looms dark on the horizon, the Christmas story is riddled with fear. The shepherds are sore afraid. And with the birth comes the slaughter of the innocents. Yet the miracle is about hope. Hope in the face of fear. Hope in the face of despair.
The miracle is not that some people make a million dollars, or look spectacular, or write famous editorials. The miracle is that these same people live and breathe and fall in love, fail and recover, grieve and celebrate, die and are remembered for their love. The miracle is not that some people have wonderful things to say. The miracle is that any of us can speak and say I love you.
So go ahead. Wish on one of you fifteen hundred stars. I wish I may, I wish I might. You may. You might. You might even name a few of them. After all they are shining for you. They shone over your birth. They will shine for you again tonight and every night you live. You are not a star. None of us is. But you were born under a star. And it will shine tonight. Let it bless you. Please let it bless you. And then remember to bless your loved ones and neighbors. Make good on your star, take its light, make it your light, make it shine.
And as you do, you will remember that Yes, there is indeed a Jesus. There is also a Joseph and a Mary, even a surprising number of Virginias and the occasional Forrest and Pharcellus. In fact, there are so many stars that we can’t even begin to count them. We can’t even begin. All we can do is say a wish on one or two and then go out and love and serve to a faretheewell.
After all, it’s Christmas. If you are hunting for miracles, look no further. We should be absolutely starstruck by the wonder of it all.
Amen. Merry Christmas.
And may God bless us, each and every one.
William Rivers Pitt, Truthout: "The year 2008 began on a Tuesday. Matters went downhill swiftly from there."
Obama Dismisses Bush Pentagon Appointees
Sam Youngman, The Hill: "Despite keeping Defense Secretary Robert Gates in the Pentagon, President-elect Obama's transition team informed 90 Bush appointees their services will not be needed after Inauguration Day. Scott Gration, a senior official on Obama's transition team, called and emailed several of President Bush's Pentagon appointees about 10 days ago to inform them they were being dismissed."
Israel Rejects Proposed Cease-Fire
Sudarsan Raghavan and Griff Witte, The Washington Post: "Israeli leaders rejected on Wednesday a cease-fire plan to immediately pause attacks on the Gaza Strip for 48 hours, declaring that as proposed there were no guarantees Hamas fighters would honor the agreement. Discussions were continuing in hopes of developing a more durable cease-fire that would include firmer guarantees that Hamas rocket fire into Israel would stop."
Madoff: So Where's the Money, Bernie?
Stephen Foley, The Independent UK: "Three weeks ago he was one of Wall Street's grandees and one of its most sought-after investment professionals. Today, he is under house arrest at his $7m ... Manhattan apartment, accused of being the biggest swindler that the world of finance has ever seen. Bernard Madoff faces a court deadline this morning for declaring all that remains of his clients' money, and for setting out the personal fortune he amassed over the decades, including homes in Palm Beach, Florida, and New York's Long Island. What is it going to add up to?"
Senate Seat Dispute May Head to Court
David Kesmodel, Douglas Belkin and Cam Simpson, The Wall Street Journal: "The burgeoning dispute over President-elect Barack Obama's vacated U.S. Senate seat could spill into the federal courts. Embattled Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, facing federal corruption charges, shocked the political world Tuesday by naming his choice to fill the seat, former Illinois attorney general Roland Burris."
California Sues Federal Government Over Changes in Endangered Species Act
Julie Cart, The Los Angeles Times: "California Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown filed suit against the federal government Tuesday, charging that a recent rule change by the Bush administration illegally gutted provisions of the Endangered Species Act, essentially quashing the role of science in decisions made by federal agencies. Ken Alex, senior assistant attorney general, said the state took the action because it has both the legal right and the moral responsibility to protect California's environment and resources."
Giroux and Giroux Education After Neoliberalism
Henry A. Giroux and Susan Searls Giroux, Truthout: "As the financial meltdown reaches historic proportions, free-market fundamentalism, or neoliberalism as it is called in some quarters, is losing both its claim to legitimacy and its claims on democracy."
Obama to Face Critical Immigration Test Early
Silla Brush, The Hill: "President-elect Obama will likely make several tough decisions on immigration policy during his first few months in office, even if he postpones wide-ranging reform until later in his first term."
Israel Ordered to Let International Media Into Gaza
Toni O'Loughlin, The Guardian UK: "Israel's supreme court today ordered the government to allow the international media into Gaza to report on the effect of the air strikes on Palestinians."
Joshua Holland Was the "Credit Crunch" a Myth Used to Sell a Trillion-Dollar Scam?
Joshua Holland, AlterNet: "There is something approaching a consensus that the Paulson Plan -- also known as the Troubled Asset Relief Program, or TARP -- was a boondoggle of an intervention that's flailed from one approach to the next, with little oversight and less effect on the financial meltdown."
Drug Companies and Doctors: A Story of Corruption
Marcia Angell, The New York Review of Books: "Recently Senator Charles Grassley, ranking Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, has been looking into financial ties between the pharmaceutical industry and the academic physicians who largely determine the market value of prescription drugs. He hasn't had to look very hard."
Jean-Jacques Roth Mid-Tunnel Glimmerings
Jean-Jacques Roth, Le Temps: "What a year! Wherever one turns: vertigo. Financial massacre, destruction of value unprecedented in human history, the unanticipated become an everyday occurrence, the most learned predictions trampled by phenomena deemed unthinkable just twelve months ago ..."
Tuesday, December 30, 2008
Before the recent holidays and an immoderate amount of snow buried me in things that could not be done on the computer we had been having a conversation about the strategic importance of our relationship with Egypt. Within that series of discussions we explored the influence of the political opposition, and we considered the fragility of President Mubarak’s hold on power.
We also noted the immediate proximity of Egypt to the Gaza Strip.
Today we’re going to tie all of that together—and the end result of all that tying is that we better keep a close eye on Egypt, because trouble in Gaza has spilled over into trouble in Cairo….and that’s one more Middle Eastern problem we don’t need.
If you’re looking for more details as to why Egyptian politics have been a one-party affair since the Republic’s founding, information about the opposition, or a consideration of the country’s strategic importance, have a look at Parts One, Two, or Three of this series.
So that we might put some of the background in place, here are some of the salient facts surrounding the events of the past few days:
A ceasefire that had existed between Hamas and the Israeli Government has expired. That ceasefire, however, had been a bit of an imperfect exercise.
Some attacks from Gaza into Israel have been self-attributed by Hamas (actions that they have described as responses to Israeli aggressions); and there are suggestions that forces loyal to the rival Fatah movement have also been involved in attacks. The Israeli Foreign Ministry reported 2502 rockets or mortars were fired from Gaza in the first 11 months of 2008, resulting in 17 Israeli deaths. (The ceasefire began in June of 2008.)
Over the four days since the ceasefire’s expiration at least 1100 Palestinians have been killed or wounded by Israeli airstrikes, with some airstrikes targeting tunnels that connect the Gaza Strip to Egypt.
The tunnels are important because they are used to import supplies to the region when normal commercial crossings are restricted or closed by the Israeli Defense Forces. (Truck crossings into Gaza have been reduced from 475 daily before Hamas took control of the region to 123 daily in October 2008 to none for the past eight days.)
The IDF reports that the tunnels are used to import weapons as well.
It is also reported that IDF troops are massing near the Gaza border. It is possible that an entry into Gaza by the IDF is imminent, but as of this writing that has not yet occurred…or it may have already occurred, as reported by the sometimes reliable Debka.com.
And it’s the tunnels that connect this story to Egypt.
As you may recall from our earlier conversations, there are many Egyptians who support the Muslim Brotherhood’s Islamist views, and there are also many Egyptians, unassociated with Islamism, who feel a sense of solidarity with Gazans and their struggles with Israel. Add to that the fact that President Mubarak’s secular but increasingly unpopular Government has been cooperative with Israel as they have worked to isolate Gaza and you have the makings of some serious trouble in the Egyptian street.
And as of today, the trouble seems to have started.
In a country with a Government that attempts to deter undesired street demonstrations with an extremely hostile internal security response, El Badeel of Cairo reports as many as 200.000 of the undeterred may have taken to the streets in demonstrations against the Government in cities such as Cairo, Alexandria, Tanta, and even down the Nile in the farm country of Minya and Asyut.
The Egyptian Foreign Minister, Ahmed Abul-Gheit, and the leader of Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah, are trading words—and Egyptian police and military border guard units are firing on Palestinians who attempt to enter Egypt through holes blown in the wall (by the bombing raids…) that would normally prevent such entries.
Now here is where it gets tricky.
Hamas, the ruling party in Gaza, is essentially descended from the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood—and the last thing Mr. Mubarak wants is hundreds of thousands of Hamas supporters taking up permanent residence in his country, especially if they end up forming fairly insular communities out in the Sinai Desert where the Egyptian internal security apparatus is at it’s weakest.
On the other hand, being perceived as supporting Israel is fraught with 200,000 or so of its own perils—and if the internal security apparatus can’t control the demonstrations, or uses unusually harsh methods to regain control, the internal security threat to Mr. Mubarak’s control from his own citizens will also rise dramatically.
There are those in Israel who want Egypt to take control of Gaza…and it is possible that Israel will use the blockade to create an atmosphere that will “require” Egypt to take “humanitarian” steps—something that might be popular in the Egyptian street…but something that Mr. Mubarak, as we have noted, has no desire to accept.
There are also those who would like to see the Fatah Party take over again in Gaza, removing Hamas from power—but you may recall that Hamas was able to come to power in Gaza because many ordinary Gazans perceived Fatah and Yasser Arafat to be extraordinarily corrupt and ineffectual during their time in power.
The bad news for the US?
We are perceived throughout the Arab and Islamic worlds as the blindly supportive enablers of what Israel is doing in Gaza…and we are perceived in Egypt as the country that enables Mr. Mubarak’s often highly oppressive rule.
As things go badly for the Palestinians, ironically, they get bad for us—and probably for the Israelis as well.
Why? Well, as I often say to my friends, we are making enemies faster than we can kill them. This blind support of Israel against the Gazans isn’t helping matters…but Johann Hari tells the story much better than I:
The world isn't just watching the Israeli government commit a crime in Gaza; we are watching it self-harm. This morning, and tomorrow morning, and every morning until this punishment beating ends, the young people of the Gaza Strip are going to be more filled with hate, and more determined to fight back, with stones or suicide vests or rockets. Israeli leaders have convinced themselves that the harder you beat the Palestinians, the softer they will become. But when this is over, the rage against Israelis will have hardened, and the same old compromises will still be waiting by the roadside of history, untended and unmade.
To understand how frightening it is to be a Gazan this morning, you need to have stood in that small slab of concrete by the Mediterranean and smelled the claustrophobia. The Gaza Strip is smaller than the Isle of Wight but it is crammed with 1.5 million people who can never leave. They live out their lives on top of each other, jobless and hungry, in vast, sagging tower blocks. From the top floor, you can often see the borders of their world: the Mediterranean, and Israeli barbed wire. When bombs begin to fall – as they are doing now with more deadly force than at any time since 1967 – there is nowhere to hide.
--From an editorial in The Independent, December 29, 2008
There is one bit of good news: if Hillary Clinton can find a way to be seen as an “honest broker”, instead of just a supporter of Israel, the incoming Obama Administration could change the atmosphere enough to allow Gazans and Israelis to again return to negotiations. Can the Obama Administration change the atmosphere enough to induce Israel to adopt a less hard-line anti-Palestinian stance? That may be the biggest question the new Secretary of State finds on her plate next month.
Another possible bit of good news: a rapid settlement and return to a semi-ceasefire status could reduce the long-term political damage. In the unfortunate event of a large-scale ground action by the IDF, it is likely the long-term damage increases. (Some suggest the Israelis chose this moment because they feel the Obama Administration will be less supportive of a hard-line policy than the Bush Administration. If this is true, the window for aggressive action may be closing sooner rather than later.)
So here we are: The Israeli actions against Gaza, intended to end the desire of Gazans to attack Israel, are likely to have exactly the opposite effect…which is spilling over the border to create all kinds of problems for the Mubarak Government in Egypt…all of which means all kinds of new bad news for us.
Hillary Clinton might have problems negotiating with all the players…but if she can overcome that obstacle, there could be a better outcome down the road than we have today.
If Israel cannot be convinced to find a way to develop a different relationship with their Palestinian neighbors—and vice versa—eight years from now President Obama will find himself just as vexed as Mr. Bush is today with his giant Middle Eastern failure…and if events cause Egypt, Pakistan, and maybe even Morocco to slide over to the Iran end of the “scale of hostile nations”, he may find himself quite a bit more vexed than he ever expected.
Admitting that you have made a mistake and then taking steps to rectify it is difficult for most of us. It is especially tough to do that publicly. The South Bend Community School Corp. Board of Trustees did just that in its meeting on Nov. 17.
Don Wheeler (Viewpoint, Dec. 4) addressed the conduct at the meeting. Unlike Wheeler, I was one of the speakers who enthusiastically supported Superintendent James Kapsa. Like Wheeler, however, I was somewhat disappointed with the comments of some of our school
board members and audience members. Intelligent discourse was needed, not personal attacks against board members. I hope that we will learn from our mistakes, just as the
SBCSC board did, and measure our words more carefully from now on.
On a lighter note, I enjoyed the recognition presentations, just as Wheeler did. He specifically mentioned the one for 2009 Indiana Teacher of the Year, Tania "Harding." Tonya Harding was a figure skater who was associated with the assault on Nancy Kerrigan in order to eliminate the competition. Please know that I did not bring harm to anyone to receive the honor of representing our state; but then, I am not Tania Harding. My name is
Congratulations and a big thank you to James Kapsa and the SBCSC board for its dedication, leadership and commitment to our school district.
South Bend Tribune 12/30/08
Pretty funny on my part - particularly when I had previously saluted her (using her actual last name) in http://www.progressivessouthbend.org/2008/09/wheeler-proposes-teach-for-south-bend.html . Must be some sort of Freudian slip, though I can't imagine what it means. In any case, shame on me.
Interestingly, scores of people missed my mistake even before the Trib publication.
I appreciate Ms. Harman's generosity of spirit and humorous take on my goof-up. And I once again salute her service.
Dion Nissenbaum and Ahmed Abu Hamda, McClatchy Newspapers: "The Israeli military extended its air campaign in the Gaza Strip on Monday, and the nation's defense minister warned that the country is in 'an all-out war' with its Hamas adversaries, who control the Palestinian territory. The three-day death toll in Gaza climbed to 345 with more than 1,400 injured, and Gaza doctors said they were running out of blood, bandages and other supplies."
Minnesota Recount: As Deadline Looms, Confusion Reigns
Mike Kaszuba and Pat Doyle, The Minneapolis Star Tribune: "The US Senate recount spiraled deeper into confusion and bickering Monday, with the campaigns of Sen. Norm Coleman and DFLer Al Franken at odds over how many rejected absentee ballots should be counted and a state Supreme Court deadline to do so looming just four days away. The impasse clouded what might happen today as the first in a series of meetings across Minnesota, involving local election officials, convene to sort through at least 1,346 absentee ballots -- and maybe hundreds more -- to see which ones may have been improperly rejected in the Nov. 4 election."
James Rainey Freedom of the Press as a Foreign Concept
James Rainey, The Los Angeles Times: "A Mexican reporter who wrote about drug violence in his homeland is being held in custody by none other than the US government and its immigration service. Yes, we reporters might get stuck covering the late shift or -- egad! -- a parade. When disaster strikes or a source calls back on deadline, the nights can be long. Newspaper layoffs and hard economic times can cast a pall over just about everything we do. But those concerns seem a piffle every time I read dispatches from around the world about journalists who, fighting for the story, also must fight for their lives."
At Overcrowded Florida Prisons, Some Inmates May Just Camp Out
Richard Luscombe, The Christian Science Monitor: "Florida's balmy winter temperatures have long been a draw for visitors eager to spend some time under canvas, sleeping on cots and enjoying the great outdoors. But a new plan to expose some of the state's inmates to the delights of year-round 'camping' has failed to evoke the same enthusiasm. Faced with a budget deficit of $2.3 billion, Florida is saving money by buying giant tents to house prisoners at nine of its 137 facilities. With its prison population having passed 100,000 for the first time this month, corrections officials say that the hundreds of extra beds will also help address potential overcrowding problems."
Californians Shape Up as Force on Environmental Policy
Lyndsey Layton, The Washington Post: "California Democrats will assume pivotal roles in the new Congress and White House, giving the state an outsize influence over federal policy and increasing the likelihood that its culture of activist regulation will be imported to Washington. In Congress, Democrats from the Golden State are in key positions to write laws to mitigate global warming, promote 'green' industries and alternative energy, and crack down on toxic chemicals. Down Pennsylvania Avenue, Californians in the new White House will shape environmental, energy and workplace safety policies."
Andre Pratte Everything Crashes
Andre Pratte, La Presse and the authors writing as the Chronicles of Favilla for Les Echos look beyond technical causes to human psychology and medieval codes of chivalry to diagnose the roots and prescribe remedies for the financial crisis.
Norman Solomon A Hundred Eyes for an Eye
Norman Solomon, Truthout: "Even if you set aside the magnitude of Israel's violations of the Geneva conventions and the long terrible history of its methodical collective punishment of 1.5 million Palestinians in Gaza, consider the vastly disproportionate carnage in the conflict. 'An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind,' Gandhi said. What about a hundred eyes for an eye?"
Unrest Caused by Bad Economy May Require Military Action, Report Says
Diana Washington Valdez, El Paso Times: "A U.S. Army War College report warns an economic crisis in the United States could lead to massive civil unrest and the need to call on the military to restore order. Retired Army Lt. Col. Nathan Freir wrote the report 'Known Unknowns: Unconventional Strategic Shocks in Defense Strategy Development,' which the Army think tank in Carlisle, Pa., recently released."
Congress to Examine Madoff Case Next Week
Rachelle Younglai, Reuters: "Lawmakers will take their first close look next Monday at financier Bernard Madoff's alleged $50 billion fraud and why the Securities and Exchange Commission failed to discover the scandal. Information gleaned from the hearing will help guide Congress as it attempts to reform laws regulating the U.S. financial system, said Rep. Paul Kanjorski, a Pennsylvania Democrat and chairman of the House capital markets subcommittee."
Christmas Massacres "Killed 400"
BBC News: "More than 400 people have been killed by Ugandan rebels in the Democratic Republic of Congo in attacks since Christmas day, aid agency Caritas says. The head of Caritas in DR Congo told the BBC some 20,000 people had fled to the mountains from the rebels, who have denied carrying out the attacks."
Pakistan Closes NATO Supply Route to Fight Militants
Agence France-Presse: "Pakistan on Tuesday cut off supplies to NATO and US forces in Afghanistan via the Khyber Pass as security forces launched a major operation against militants there, officials said. The offensive comes after a series of spectacular raids by suspected Taliban militants on foreign military supply depots in northwest Pakistan earlier this month in which hundreds of NATO and US-led coalition vehicles were destroyed."
Teo Ballve Obama Should End Cuba Embargo
Teo Ballve, The Progressive: "This week marks the 50th anniversary of the Cuban Revolution, an opportune time for President-elect Obama to signal an end to the Cuban embargo. During the campaign, Obama promised to 'turn the page and begin to write a new chapter in U.S.-Cuba policy.' Contrary to the Bush administration's policies, Obama said he would give Cuban-Americans 'unrestricted rights' to visit family and send cash remittances to the island."
Monday, December 29, 2008
New York Times
No modern American president would repeat the fiscal mistake of 1932, in which the federal government tried to balance its budget in the face of a severe recession. The Obama administration will put deficit concerns on hold while it fights the economic crisis.
But even as Washington tries to rescue the economy, the nation will be reeling from the actions of 50 Herbert Hoovers — state governors who are slashing spending in a time of recession, often at the expense both of their most vulnerable constituents and of the nation’s economic future.
These state-level cutbacks range from small acts of cruelty to giant acts of panic — from cuts in South Carolina’s juvenile justice program, which will force young offenders out of group homes and into prison, to the decision by a committee that manages California state spending to halt all construction outlays for six months.
Now, state governors aren’t stupid (not all of them, anyway). They’re cutting back because they have to — because they’re caught in a fiscal trap. But let’s step back for a moment and contemplate just how crazy it is, from a national point of view, to be cutting public services and public investment right now.
Think about it: is America — not state governments, but the nation as a whole — less able to afford help to troubled teens, medical care for families, or repairs to decaying roads and bridges than it was one or two years ago? Of course not. Our capacity hasn’t been diminished; our workers haven’t lost their skills; our technological know-how is intact. Why can’t we keep doing good things?
It’s true that the economy is currently shrinking. But that’s the result of a slump in private spending. It makes no sense to add to the problem by cutting public spending, too.
In fact, the true cost of government programs, especially public investment, is much lower now than in more prosperous times. When the economy is booming, public investment competes with the private sector for scarce resources — for skilled construction workers, for capital. But right now many of the workers employed on infrastructure projects would otherwise be unemployed, and the money borrowed to pay for these projects would otherwise sit idle.
And shredding the social safety net at a moment when many more Americans need help isn’t just cruel. It adds to the sense of insecurity that is one important factor driving the economy down.
So why are we doing this to ourselves?
The answer, of course, is that state and local government revenues are plunging along with the economy — and unlike the federal government, lower-level governments can’t borrow their way through the crisis. Partly that’s because these governments, unlike the feds, are subject to balanced-budget rules. But even if they weren’t, running temporary deficits would be difficult. Investors, driven by fear, are refusing to buy anything except federal debt, and those states that can borrow at all are being forced to pay punitive interest rates.
Are governors responsible for their own predicament? To some extent. Arnold Schwarzenegger, in particular, deserves some jeers. He became governor in the first place because voters were outraged over his predecessor’s budget problems, but he did nothing to secure the state’s fiscal future — and he now faces a projected budget deficit bigger than the one that did in Gray Davis.
But even the best-run states are in deep trouble. Anyway, we shouldn’t punish our fellow citizens and our economy to spite a few local politicians.
What can be done? Ted Strickland, the governor of Ohio, is pushing for federal aid to the states on three fronts: help for the neediest, in the form of funding for food stamps and Medicaid; federal funding of state- and local-level infrastructure projects; and federal aid to education. That sounds right — and if the numbers Mr. Strickland proposes are huge, so is the crisis.
And once the crisis is behind us, we should rethink the way we pay for key public services.
As a nation, we don’t believe that our fellow citizens should go without essential health care. Why, then, does a large share of funding for Medicaid come from state governments, which are forced to cut the program precisely when it’s needed most?
An educated population is a national resource. Why, then, is basic education mainly paid for by local governments, which are forced to neglect the next generation every time the economy hits a rough patch?
And why should investments in infrastructure, which will serve the nation for decades, be at the mercy of short-run fluctuations in local budgets?
That’s for later. The priority right now is to fight off the attack of the 50 Herbert Hoovers, and make sure that the fiscal problems of the states don’t make the economic crisis even worse.
Rory McCarthy, The Guardian UK: "Israel's cabinet yesterday approved the call-up of thousands of reservists as the military deployed tanks close to the border with Gaza while pressing on with air strikes, suggesting a major ground invasion was being considered to follow the biggest single day of conflict in Gaza since the 1967 war. Ehud Olmert, Israel's prime minister, reportedly told a cabinet meeting the fighting in Gaza would be 'long, painful and difficult.'"
Bomber Kills Up to 30 in Pakistan
Laura King, The Los Angeles Times: "A suicide car bomber set off a powerful explosion outside a polling station today in volatile northwest Pakistan, killing up to 30 people, including several children, authorities said. In the capital, Islamabad, the five-star Marriott hotel opened its doors three months after a devastating truck bombing that killed more than 50 people and epitomized Islamic militants' growing reach and boldness."
Pakistan Cancels Army Leave as India Tensions Rise
Bappa Majumdar and Kamran Haider, Reuters: "Pakistan canceled army leave and redeployed some troops Friday in a sign of rising tension with India. The United States urged both sides to refrain from further raising tensions, already high after India blamed Islamist militants based in Pakistan for attacks on Mumbai last month that killed 179 people."
Dan Rather's $70 Million Lawsuit Likely to Deal Bush Legacy a New Blow
Christopher Goodwin, The Observer UK: "As George W Bush prepares to leave the White House, at least one unpleasant episode from his unpopular presidency is threatening to follow him into retirement. A $70m lawsuit filed by Dan Rather, the veteran former newsreader for CBS Evening News, against his old network is reopening the debate over alleged favourable treatment that Bush received when he served in the Texas Air National Guard during the Vietnam war."
Energy Dispute Over Rockies Riches
Julie Cart, The Los Angeles Times: "A titanic battle between the West's two traditional power brokers - Big Oil and Big Water - has begun. At stake is one of the largest oil reserves in the world, a vast cache trapped beneath the Rocky Mountains containing an estimated 800 billion barrels -- about three times the reserves of Saudi Arabia."
Child Maid Trafficking Spreads From Africa to US
Rukmini Callimachi, The Associated Press: "They watched through their window as the child rinsed plates under the open faucet. She wasn't much taller than the counter and the soapy water swallowed her slender arms. To put the dishes away, she climbed on a chair. But she was not the daughter of the couple next door doing chores. She was their maid."
Ann Wright Iranians Ponder Their Future With an Obama Administration
Ann Wright, Truthout: "Just a month ago, while Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and US President George Bush met for the last time as heads of state in late November 2008 in Washington and continued their relentless bellicose rhetoric toward Iran, I and three activists from the United States were in Iran as citizen diplomats talking with Iranians on their views of a new American presidential administration and their hopes for their country."
Analysis: "I Don't See How This Ends Well" in Gaza
Dion Nissenbaum, McClatchy Newspapers: "As Israel clamps down on the Gaza Strip and prepares for the possibility of sending thousands of soldiers into the Palestinian area controlled by the militant Islamic group Hamas, its leaders are facing a diplomatic conundrum: They have clear military goals but no political vision for how to end the confrontation."
Wall Street Faces Worst Losses Since Herbert Hoover
Joe Bel Bruno, The Associated Press: "Investors are preparing to close out the last three trading days of 2008 with Wall Street's worst performance since Herbert Hoover was president. The ongoing recession and global economic shock pummeled stocks this year, with the Dow Jones industrial average slumping 36.2 percent. That's the biggest drop since 1931 when the Great Depression sent stocks reeling 40.6 percent."
Trickle Down Meltdown
Doug Saunders, The Globe and Mail: "In this very poor corner of Bangladesh, where rice farmers get by on household incomes of less than $1 a day, where the most popular mode of transportation is the pedal-rickshaw and where life doesn't seem to have changed for centuries, it's hard to believe that anyone could be affected by the crisis that has humbled Wall Street and Canary Wharf. But the credit crunch is the main topic of conversation in the rice paddies and village bazaars here."
Webb Sets His Sights on Prison Reform
Sandhya Somashekhar, The Washington Post: "This spring, Webb (D-Va.) plans to introduce legislation on a long-standing passion of his: reforming the U.S. prison system. Jails teem with young black men who later struggle to rejoin society, he says. Drug addicts and the mentally ill take up cells that would be better used for violent criminals. And politicians have failed to address this costly problem for fear of being labeled 'soft on crime.'"
Tennessee Sludge Spill Estimate Grows to One Billion Gallons
CNN.com: "Estimates for the amount of thick sludge that gushed from a Tennessee coal plant last week have tripled to more than a billion gallons, as cleanup crews try to remove the goop from homes and railroads and halt its oozing into an adjacent river."
Friday, December 26, 2008
Ann Wright, Truthout: "On the news today of the death of Harold Pinter, the winner of the 2005 Nobel Prize for Literature, I remembered hearing his Nobel Laureate lecture/acceptance speech. I was in London in December, 2005 speaking at the annual Stop the War conference when Pinter delivered his speech - not in Oslo, as Pinter was very sick and could not travel, but in London via TV link. I was amazed and thrilled that he chose to use the Nobel Prize platform and devote a huge portion of his speech to shining an international spotlight on the tragic effects of the past decades of US foreign policy and particularly, on George Bush and Tony Blair's decisions to invade and occupy Iraq, on Guantanamo and on torture."
Bush a Catalyst in America's Declining Influence
Paul Richter, The Los Angeles Times: "As President Bush's term comes to a close, the United States has the world's largest economy and its most powerful military. Yet its global influence is in decline. The United States emerged from the Cold War a solitary superpower whose political and economic leverage often enabled it to impose its will on others. Now, America usually needs to build alliances - and often finds that other powers aren't willing to go along."
Robert L. Borosage and Eric Lotke A New New Deal?
Robert L. Borosage and Eric Lotke, The Nation: "While the old basics are crumbling, twenty-first-century needs are being ignored. We maintain our addiction to oil while forfeiting our lead in renewable-energy technologies that will drive the green markets of the future. As two-income and single-parent families spread, we are failing to provide the high-quality childcare and pre-kindergarten programs vital to educating the next generation. Even as college or advanced training are deemed essential in the modern economy, more and more Americans find them priced out of reach. Our health care system is broken, consuming too many resources while providing care for too few."
Scientists Eager for Stem Cell Policy Change
Jeffrey Young, The Hill: "Although President-elect Obama's pledge to change federal policy on stem cell research is not likely to lead to new cures by the end of his first year - or even first term - the scientific community is eager to get moving. Embryonic stem cell research is one area in which the change that Obama has promised on the campaign trail will provoke an immediate effect."
Faster Climate Change Feared
Juliet Eilperin, The Washington Post: "The United States faces the possibility of much more rapid climate change by the end of the century than previous studies have suggested, according to a new report led by the US Geological Survey."
Pakistan Moves Troops Toward Indian Border
Sebastian Abbot, The Associated Press: "Pakistan began moving thousands of troops to the Indian border Friday, intelligence officials said, sharply raising tensions triggered by the Mumbai terror attacks."
Are Iraq Contractors Subject to US Law?
Daphne Eviatar, The Washington Independent: "Earlier this month, the Department of Justice announced to great fanfare that it had indicted five guards employed by the private security firm Blackwater Worldwide for their role in a Baghdad shooting that left 17 Iraqis dead last year. A sixth guard had pled guilty to manslaughter and weapons violations. But lawyers for the five men indicted in the first case of its kind appear to have a strong defense, regardless of the circumstances of the shooting: private security guards contracting with the Department of State may not be subject to American law."
Mexico: The Next Disaster
Jesse Bogan, Kerry A. Dolan, Christopher Helman and Nathan Vardi, Forbes: "The November 4 crash of a Learjet in an upper-class Mexico City neighborhood caused a disproportionate amount of destruction. All eight passengers were killed - including Interior Minister Juan Camilo Mourino, President Felipe Calderon's right-hand man, and Jose Luis Santiago Vasconcelos, a leading prosecutor against the powerful drug cartels; seven people on the ground died, too."
Coalition Kills 11 Suspected Taliban Militants
Darah Hansen, Canwest News Service: "Coalition forces killed 11 men and detained two others following an early-morning gun battle that broke out Friday in the Maiwand district, west of Kandahar City. All those killed in the operation were suspected Taliban militants believed to be responsible for multiple deadly attacks on both coalition soldiers and Afghan civilians using improvised explosive devices, according to US army spokesman, Col. Jerry O'Hara."
States Cut Medicaid Coverage Further
Amy Goldstein, The Washington Post: "States from Rhode Island to California are being forced to curtail Medicaid, the government health insurance program for the poor, as they struggle to cope with the deteriorating economy."
Bill Moyers Journal "Beyond Our Differences"
Bill Moyers Journal presents the film "Beyond Our Differences," which explores the common threads that unify the world's religious traditions.
Tuesday, December 23, 2008
Carrie Johnson and Kimberly Kindy, The Washington Post: "The wide-ranging public corruption probe that led to the arrest of Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich got its first big break when a grandmother of six walked into a breakfast meeting with shakedown artists wearing an FBI wire. Pamela Meyer Davis had been trying to win approval from a state health planning board for an expansion of Edward Hospital, the facility she runs in a Chicago suburb, but she realized that the only way to prevail was to retain a politically connected construction company and a specific investment house. Instead of succumbing to those demands, she went to the FBI and U.S. Attorney Patrick J. Fitzgerald in late 2003 and agreed to secretly record conversations about the project."
Dennis Kucinich My Battle With the Banks
Dennis Kucinich, Truthdig: "Once they were as gods, but the deities of the American banking system are now in ruins, plunged from their pedestals into the maw of taxpayer largesse. Congress voted to give the banks $700 billion, lifting them temporarily out of their sepulcher of debt, while revealing a deep truth about the condition of America’s financial powers: They never had the money they said they had as they constructed their debt-based monetary system which now lies in ruins. Their decisions on behalf of depositors, shareholders and investors were lacking in basic integrity and common sense. Green gods bailing out with their golden parachutes. There was a time when their power was real. Come with me to Cleveland 30 years ago today."
European Governments Begin Detainee Discussions
Peter Finn, The Washington Post: "European countries have begun intensive discussions both within and between their governments on whether to resettle detainees from the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, as a significant overture to the incoming Obama administration, according to senior European officials and US diplomats. The willingness to consider accepting prisoners who cannot be returned to their home countries, because of fears they might be tortured there, represents a major change in attitude on the part of European governments. Repeated requests from the Bush administration that European allies accept some Guantanamo detainees received only refusals."
Bush Pushes Persian Gulf Nuclear Agreement
Howard Lafranchi, The Christian Science Monitor: "The Bush administration is quietly advancing a nuclear cooperation agreement with the United Arab Emirates (UAE), raising concerns in Congress and among nonproliferation experts about the deal's repercussions in a volatile region. The deal to provide the small but strategically located country with the means to generate electricity through nuclear technology could be signed by President Bush before he leaves office, thus making the accord - similar to the much higherprofile nuclear pact the administration reached with India - part of his legacy."
Brentin Mock Will Environmental Justice Finally Get Its Due?
Brentin Mock, The American Prospect: "If President-Elect Barack Obama's recent cabinet choices are any indication, the decades-old environmental justice movement may finally see many of its top policy goals fulfilled. The Obama administration is poised to finally deliver on White House promises made in the early 1990s to protect minorities from toxic waste, and with the addition of an Office of Urban Policy, it may go even further toward correcting historical racial disparities when it comes to environmental hazards. On Feb. 11, 1994, President Bill Clinton signed Executive Order #12898, the Federal Actions to Address Environmental Justice in Minority Populations and Low-Income Populations. It was a huge milestone for the environmental justice movement, which began in the early 1980s when multi-racial coalitions of activists fought against pollution and dumpings near African-American communities in Warren County, North Carolina, and Dickson County, Tennessee."
Senior Federal Banking Regulator Removed
Binyamin Appelbaum, The Washington Post: "A senior federal banking regulator has been removed from his job after government investigators concluded that he knowingly permitted IndyMac Bancorp to present a misleading picture of its financial health in a federal filing only months before the California thrift was seized by regulators. The Office of Thrift Supervision removed Darrel Dochow as director of its western region, where he was responsible for regulating several of the largest banks that failed or were sold in the past year, including Washington Mutual, Countrywide Financial, IndyMac and Downey Savings and Loan."
The truthiness about our most plentiful non-renewable reasource!
Monday, December 22, 2008
More on the story: http://www.truthout.org/122208A
Matt Renner, Truthout: "After the revelation of a massive fraud scheme, a former government investigator has accused government law enforcement officials of repeatedly turning a blind eye to Wall Street crime and, in doing so, allowing the foundational trust of the global financial system to crumble. The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), the oversight body which was set up to enforce laws regulating finance in order to prevent a repeat of the stock market crash of 1929, has admitted to falling down on the job, missing the long-running scheme allegedly perpetrated by Bernard L. Madoff - potentially the largest scandal ever to rock Wall Street."
Bush Emails May Be Secret a Bit Longer
R. Jeffrey Smith, The Washington Post: "The required transfer in four weeks of all of the Bush White House's electronic mail messages and documents to the National Archives has been imperiled by a combination of technical glitches, lawsuits and lagging computer forensic work, according to government officials, historians and lawyers. Federal law requires outgoing White House officials to provide the Archives copies of their records, a cache estimated at more than 300 million messages and 25,000 boxes of documents depicting some of the most sensitive policymaking of the past eight years."
Gaza Near to Collapse as Israel Tightens Grip, Says Bank
Toni O'Loughlin, The Guardian UK: "Israel's blockade of Gaza is pushing the territory to the brink of collapse and fuelling the growth of a black money market controlled by Hamas, the World Bank warned yesterday. As tit-for-tat attacks across the Gaza border began to intensify following the end of a six-month truce on Friday, the World Bank said that an acute cash shortage in Gaza was playing into Hamas's hands."
AP Study Finds $1.6 Billion Went to Bailed-Out Bank Executives
Frank Bass and Rita Beamish, The Associated Press: "Banks that are getting taxpayer bailouts awarded their top executives nearly $1.6 billion in salaries, bonuses, and other benefits last year, an Associated Press analysis reveals. The rewards came even at banks where poor results last year foretold the economic crisis that sent them to Washington for a government rescue. Some trimmed their executive compensation due to lagging bank performance, but still forked over multimillion-dollar executive pay packages."
Iraqi Sunnis Embrace Shiite Reporter Who Threw Shoes at Bush
Sahar Issa, McClatchy Newspapers: "The Iraqi journalist who hurled his shoes at President George W. Bush intends to press charges against the people who he says beat him as he was taken into custody, said a member of the Iraqi parliament who's urging his release. Bahaa al Araji , a member of parliament from a party tied to Shiite cleric Muqtada al Sadr, said journalist Muntathar al Zaidi earlier on Friday had presented his case that he was beaten to an Iraqi judge."
Wall Street Still Flying Corporate Jets
Stevenson Jacobs, The Associated Press: "Crisscrossing the country in corporate jets may no longer fly in Detroit after car executives got a dressing down from Congress. But on Wall Street, the coveted executive perk has hardly been grounded. Six financial firms that received billions in bailout dollars still own and operate fleets of jets to carry executives to company events and sometimes personal trips, according to an Associated Press review."
Rebecca Solnit The Grinning Skull: The Homicides You Didn't Hear About in Hurricane Katrina
Rebecca Solnit, TomDispatch.com: "What do you do when you notice that there seems to have been a killing spree? While the national and international media were working themselves and much of the public into a frenzy about imaginary hordes of murderers, rapists, snipers, marauders, and general rampagers among the stranded crowds of mostly poor, mostly black people in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina, a group of white men went on a shooting spree across the river. Their criminal acts were no secret but they never became part of the official story."
Agents: Suspected US Drones Kill Seven in Pakistan
Hafiz Wazir, Reuters: "Suspected U.S. drones fired at least two missiles into Pakistan's South Waziristan region on the Afghan border on Monday, killing seven people, intelligence agency officials and residents said. U.S. forces in Afghanistan, frustrated by a spreading Taliban insurgency that is getting support from militant enclaves in northwest Pakistan, have stepped up strikes by pilotless drones despite Pakistani objections."
Where'd the Bailout Money Go? Shhhh, It's a Secret
Matt Apuzzo, The Associated Press: "It's something any bank would demand to know before handing out a loan: Where's the money going? But after receiving billions in aid from U.S. taxpayers, the nation's largest banks say they can't track exactly how they're spending the money or they simply refuse to discuss it. 'We've lent some of it. We've not lent some of it. We've not given any accounting of, "Here's how we're doing it,"' said Thomas Kelly, a spokesman for JPMorgan Chase, which received $25 billion in emergency bailout money. 'We have not disclosed that to the public. We're declining to.'"
SEC Report: Employees Browsed Adult Material, Ran Private Businesses
Jake Bernstein, ProPublica: "The Securities and Exchange Commission is taking a drubbing these days for its abject failure - despite detailed tips - to catch Bernie Madoff in what appears to be the biggest Ponzi scheme in our nation’s history. Now, thanks to a little-noticed report from the agency’s inspector general, we have a detailed glimpse into other bad behavior by some SEC employees."
Economic Crisis Reaches the Judicial System
Bob Drogin, The Los Angeles Times: "Come February, the red-brick Rockingham County Courthouse, one of New Hampshire's busiest, will arraign criminal suspects, process legal motions and otherwise deal with murders, mayhem and contract disputes. What it won't do is hold jury trials. The economic storm has come to this: Justice is being delayed or disrupted in state courtrooms across the country."
VIDEO The Grinning Skull: The Homicides You Didn't Hear About in Hurricane Katrina
A.C. Thompson, a reporter for The Nation and ProPublica, interviews the gunmen responsible for a slew of post-Katrina vigilante shootings.
The United States is aiming to send 20,000 to 30,000 additional troopsto Afghanistan before this summer, according to Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the joint chiefs ofstaff. Three thousand will be sent next month. Most of the troops will be sent to bolster struggling European forces in Southern Afghanistan.
Though he stressed that progress had been made by the troops already there, Mullen said, "We may have overstated the focus on the ability of the centralgovernment to have the kind of impact that we wanted given the historyhere in Afghanistan."
Gen. David McKiernan said he hopes the additional troops will allow international forces to reach a "tipping point" against the Taliban that will allow aid and development groups to do their work. At the same time, NATO forces will begin a strategy of reaching out to local tribal leaders, to enlist them in the fight against the Taliban. This is a central aspect of the "clear, hold, and build" strategy that now-CENTCOM Commander David Petraeus employed in Iraq.
So far, NATO has avoided discussions of actually arming local militias for fear of destabilizing the government in Kabul. Though as one NATO diplomat said, "Getting weapons in Afghanistan is not a problem."
The Iraqi government is rushing to find a way to allow non-U.S. troops to stay in the country next year after parliament rejected a law that would do so.
The World Bank slammed Israel's new checkpoint plan for the West Bank.
Iraq began a new prosecution of "Chemical" Ali Hassan al-Majeed, who is already sentenced to death.
Iranian authorities raided and shut down the human rights organization run by Nobel Laureate Shirin Ebadi.
China is blocking Internet access to the New York Times. The specific reason is unknown.
Japan's economic outlook is increasingly bleak. Auto-giant Toyota is facing severe cutbacks.
Accused arms dealer Viktor Bout testified at his extradition trial in Bangkok.
Canada is rolling out a $3.3 billion bailout package for Detroit automakers to keep Canadian plants open.
Colombia's Farc rebels are planning to release six hostages in the next few days.
Nine decapitated corpses were found in southern Mexico.
Russia approved an extension of presidential terms from four to six years.
Belgium's government collapsed after a failed attempt at a bank bailout. The country's king and political leaders are running out of options.
Ukraine's Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko called on President Viktor Yuschenko to resign over allegations of currency speculation.
The African Union is holding crisis talks on Somalia.
Zimbabwean leader Robert Mugabe says that despite the country's new unity government, he will not budge on the controversial policy of seizing of white-owned farms. A U.S. envoy said that the United States would not support any government that included Mugabe.
Markets in Europe and Asia fell, partially due to slumping car sales.
Oil rose to $43 a barrel with news of the U.S. auto bailout.
Repairs began on the severed underwater cable that disrupted Internet access for millions in the Middle East and Asia last week.
U.S. Presidential Transition
Obama announced a special task force to address the concerns of the American middle class. It will be led by Vice President Joe Biden.
Harvard physicist John Holdren will be Barack Obama's top science advisor.
Obama took off for a vacation in Hawaii.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas visits Russia.
The European Union-Brazil summit kicks off in Rio de Janeiro with Nicolas Sarkozy in attendance.
Sunday, December 21, 2008
Peter Whoriskey, The Washington Post: "For decades after its founding in 1935, the United Auto Workers stood as a powerful model for the American labor movement, an influential organization that historians credit with uplifting living standards for all working Americans. But with the announcement of the federal loan deal yesterday, the union found itself being forced into concessions that some described as tantamount to surrender."
David Bacon Blacks and Immigrants Bring in the Union
David Bacon, Truthout: "When workers at Smithfield Foods' North Carolina packing house voted in the union on December 11, the longest, most bitter anti-union campaign in modern labor history went down to defeat.
Obama Expands Stimulus Goals
Lori Montgomery, The Washington Post: "President-elect Barack Obama has expanded his goals for a massive federal stimulus package to keep pace with the increasingly grim economic outlook, aiming to create or preserve at least 3 million jobs over the next two years."
E. Benjamin Skinner A World Enslaved
E. Benjamin Skinner, Foreign Policy: "There are now more slaves on the planet than at any time in human history. True abolition will elude us until we admit the massive scope of the problem, attack it in all its forms, and empower slaves to help free themselves."
Obama Cranks Up Green Revolution
Geoffrey Lean, The Independent: "Barack Obama yesterday promised to end George Bush's 'twisting' of science to suit 'politics or ideology' in an extraordinarily outspoken address to the nation, and announced that he was putting top climate scientists in key positions in his administration."
Michael Tomasky Blaming History
Michael Tomasky, The American Prospect: "Michael Tomasky explains how Milan Kundera's The Joke changed his view of politics."
FOCUS Pentagon Wants to Double Force in Afghanistan
Golnar Motevalli, Reuters: "The United States is aiming to send 20,000 to 30,000 extra troops to Afghanistan by the beginning of next summer, the chairman of the S Joint Chiefs of Staff said on Saturday."
FOCUS Harold Meyerson: Labor's Fresh Face
Harold Meyerson, The Los Angeles Times: "When Barack Obama set out to choose his secretary of Labor, his top priority was probably not recruiting an emblematic Angeleno. But in tapping Hilda L. Solis, a Democrat who represents a portion of the San Gabriel Valley in Congress, that's just what he's done."
Please hold the Parlak family in your thoughts this holiday season. Maybe the change in administration will finally bring a just closure to this matter.
Saturday, December 20, 2008
It is the attorney general's duty to defend the state's laws, and after gay rights activists filed legal challenges to Proposition 8, which amended the Constitution to ban same-sex marriage, Brown said he planned to defend the proposition as enacted by the people of California.
But after studying the matter, Brown concluded that "Proposition 8 must be invalidated because the amendment process cannot be used to extinguish fundamental constitutional rights without compelling justification."
Backers of Proposition 8 expressed anger at Brown's decision not to honor the will of voters, who approved the measure in November. "It's outrageous,"said Frank Schubert, campaign manager for Proposition 8.
Proposition 8 foes, however, were elated. "Atty. Gen. Brown's position that Proposition 8 should be invalidated demonstrates that he is a leader of courage and conviction," said Geoff Kors, executive director of Equality California.
In his brief to the high court, Brown noted that the California Constitution says that "all people are by nature free and independent and have inalienable rights," which include a right to "privacy."
The courts have previously said the right of a person to marry is protected as one of those inalienable rights, Brown wrote. The question at the center of the gay marriage cases, he told the justices, "is whether rights secured under the state Constitution's safeguard of liberty as an 'inalienable' right may intentionally be withdrawn from a class of persons by an initiative amendment." That, he concluded, should not be allowed.
Although voters are allowed to amend other parts of the Constitution by majority vote, to use the ballot box to take away an "inalienable" right would establish a "tyranny of the majority," which the Constitution was designed, in part, to prevent, he wrote. "For we are talking, necessarily, about rights of individuals or groups against the larger community, and against the majority -- even an overwhelming majority -- of the society as a whole."
The briefs filed Friday were in response to a spate of legal challenges filed by gay rights advocates, including the cities of San Francisco and Los Angeles.
Last month, the California Supreme Court announced that it would hear arguments in the case, perhaps as soon as March. A revision of the state Constitution can go before voters only after a two-thirds vote of the Legislature or a constitutional convention. Proposition 8 was put on the ballot after a signature drive. Brown's brief also said he believes that the estimated 18,000 same-sex marriages performed from June to November should remain valid.
Because it did not trust Brown to mount a staunch defense of the proposition, the group Protect Marriage intervened in the case and filed its own brief. It argued that Proposition 8 should remain legal and that the same-sex marriages performed from June to November should no longer be recognized.
Los Angeles Times
Michael Winship, Truthout: "Just when you've finally gotten your mind around the enormous $700 billion financial bailout - even if none of us are really sure where all that money's going - there comes an even greater, breathtaking price tag."
Where Have the Bailout Billions Gone?
Adrianne Appel, Inter Press Service: "A new US investigative panel is demanding answers from the US Treasury about how the agency has spent money from the 700-billion-dollar bailout fund."
Obama Names Holdren, Lubchenco to Science Posts
Hope Yen, The Associated Press: "President-elect Barack Obama on Saturday named Harvard physicist John Holdren and marine biologist Jane Lubchenco to top science posts, signaling a change from Bush administration policies on global warming that were criticized for putting politics over science."
Harold Meyerson Destroying What the UAW Built
Harold Meyerson, The Washington Post: "In 1949, a pamphlet was published that argued that the American auto industry should pursue a different direction. Titled 'A Small Car Named Desire,' the pamphlet suggested that Detroit not put all its bets on bigness, that a substantial share of American consumers would welcome smaller cars that cost less and burned fuel more efficiently."
Bush's Last-Minute "Conscience" Rules Cause Furor
Julie Rovner, NPR News: "Health care workers, hospitals and even entire insurance companies could decline to perform, refer or pay for abortion or any other health care practice that violates a 'religious belief or moral conviction' under new rules issued by the outgoing Bush administration."
Does Old Glory Have a Dark Side?
Lee Drutman, Miller-McCune: "Research suggests that seeing the flag doesn't make Americans feel more patriotic. But it does make them feel more nationalistic and more superior to non-Americans."
FOCUS Jerry Brown: Gay-Marriage Ban Should Be Invalidated
Jessica Garrison, The Los Angeles Times: "In a surprise move, state Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown asked the California Supreme Court on Friday to invalidate Proposition 8. He said the November ballot measure that banned gay marriage 'deprives people of the right to marry, an aspect of liberty that the Supreme Court has concluded is guaranteed by the California Constitution.'"
FOCUS Tortured Reasoning
David Rose, Vanity Fair: "George W. Bush defended harsh interrogations by pointing to intelligence breakthroughs, but a surprising number of counterterrorist officials say that, apart from being wrong, torture just doesn't work. Delving into two high-profile cases, the author exposes the tactical costs of prisoner abuse."
It is the intention that this site will be a blog site for an organization of that name (or something like it). It is in the conceptual stage at this point, but plans are to have an organizational meeting after the first of the year. Anyone interested in participating should email me at DonVila@aol.com . Much of the effort of this group will be to enhance state policy in early education.
I have communicated with some folks with credentials in this area, and the response has been pretty positive. I think it means that I am not alone in my belief the most reliable and long lasting approach to improving High School graduation rates is to get our children off to the best possible educational start.
I hope you will join us in this effort.
Friday, December 19, 2008
A six-month ceasefire between Israel and Hamas in Gaza ended today. Three Qassam rockets were fired into Israel on Friday morning, following nine on Thursday. An Israeli government source told Haaretz, "if Hamas doesn't come to its senses and calm the situation, there will be no choice other than an Israeli military response."
In fact, neither side had completely followed through on the terms of the ceasefire, with Israel blocking shipments of food into Gaza and Palestinian rocket attacks continuing throughout the truce. However, Ethan Bronner of the New York Times believes that while the truce was fundamentally flawed, "given each side’s refusal to acknowledge the other’s legitimacy, another such accord of winks and nods seems the likely outcome of any coming negotiations."
U.S. Presidential Transition
Bill Clinton released a list of donors to his foundation, which includes big donations from governments in the Middle East and some well-known business figures.
Obama's invitation to conservative pastor Rick Warren to give the invocation at his swearing-in has drawn protests from gay rights groups.
Rival politicians are accusing Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki of ordering this week's arrests in order to bolster his own political position.
A judge said that shoe-thrower Muntadar al-Zaidi was beaten while in custody.
Three German hostages captured in Yemen this week, were released.
The Taliban is stepping up its attacks on goods bound for Afghanistan from Pakistan.
A debate over a free trade agreement with the U.S. in the South Korean parliament descended into a literal brawl.
South Korea brought its last troops home from Iraq.
Venezuela's assembly seems likely to eliminate presidential term limits.
8,000 sugar industry workers were laid off in Jamaica.
Mark Felt, the informant "Deep Throat" of Watergate fame, died at the age of 95
Russia's Gazprom threatened to cut off gas supplies to Ukraine if it does receive an additional $1.2 billion by the end of the year.
A Russian general also said the country would halt some of its new missile development if the United States agreed to scrap its planned missile defense shield.
Parmalat founder Calisto Tanzi was sentenced to 10 years in jail for fraud.
A UN court dismissed alleged Serbian war criminal Radovan Karadzic's claim that he was offered immunity by U.S. ambassador Richard Holbrooke.
Ethiopia missed a deadline to begin withdrawing troops from Somalia.
Abductions of opposition leaders are making power-sharing talks impossible in Zimbabwe.
Barack Obama will announce California Rep. Linda Solis as secretary of labor and ex-Dallas mayor Ron Kirk as trade representative.
New York Times
The revelation that Bernard Madoff — brilliant investor (or so almost everyone thought), philanthropist, pillar of the community — was a phony has shocked the world, and understandably so. The scale of his alleged $50 billion Ponzi scheme is hard to comprehend.
Yet surely I’m not the only person to ask the obvious question: How different, really, is Mr. Madoff’s tale from the story of the investment industry as a whole?
The financial services industry has claimed an ever-growing share of the nation’s income over the past generation, making the people who run the industry incredibly rich. Yet, at this point, it looks as if much of the industry has been destroying value, not creating it. And it’s not just a matter of money: the vast riches achieved by those who managed other people’s money have had a corrupting effect on our society as a whole.
Let’s start with those paychecks. Last year, the average salary of employees in “securities, commodity contracts, and investments” was more than four times the average salary in the rest of the economy. Earning a million dollars was nothing special, and even incomes of $20 million or more were fairly common. The incomes of the richest Americans have exploded over the past generation, even as wages of ordinary workers have stagnated; high pay on Wall Street was a major cause of that divergence.
But surely those financial superstars must have been earning their millions, right? No, not necessarily. The pay system on Wall Street lavishly rewards the appearance of profit, even if that appearance later turns out to have been an illusion.
Consider the hypothetical example of a money manager who leverages up his clients’ money with lots of debt, then invests the bulked-up total in high-yielding but risky assets, such as dubious mortgage-backed securities. For a while — say, as long as a housing bubble continues to inflate — he (it’s almost always a he) will make big profits and receive big bonuses. Then, when the bubble bursts and his investments turn into toxic waste, his investors will lose big — but he’ll keep those bonuses.
O.K., maybe my example wasn’t hypothetical after all.
So, how different is what Wall Street in general did from the Madoff affair? Well, Mr. Madoff allegedly skipped a few steps, simply stealing his clients’ money rather than collecting big fees while exposing investors to risks they didn’t understand. And while Mr. Madoff was apparently a self-conscious fraud, many people on Wall Street believed their own hype. Still, the end result was the same (except for the house arrest): the money managers got rich; the investors saw their money disappear.
We’re talking about a lot of money here. In recent years the finance sector accounted for 8 percent of America’s G.D.P., up from less than 5 percent a generation earlier. If that extra 3 percent was money for nothing — and it probably was — we’re talking about $400 billion a year in waste, fraud and abuse.
But the costs of America’s Ponzi era surely went beyond the direct waste of dollars and cents.
At the crudest level, Wall Street’s ill-gotten gains corrupted and continue to corrupt politics, in a nicely bipartisan way. From Bush administration officials like Christopher Cox, chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, who looked the other way as evidence of financial fraud mounted, to Democrats who still haven’t closed the outrageous tax loophole that benefits executives at hedge funds and private equity firms (hello, Senator Schumer), politicians have walked when money talked.
Meanwhile, how much has our nation’s future been damaged by the magnetic pull of quick personal wealth, which for years has drawn many of our best and brightest young people into investment banking, at the expense of science, public service and just about everything else?
Most of all, the vast riches being earned — or maybe that should be “earned” — in our bloated financial industry undermined our sense of reality and degraded our judgment.
Think of the way almost everyone important missed the warning signs of an impending crisis. How was that possible? How, for example, could Alan Greenspan have declared, just a few years ago, that “the financial system as a whole has become more resilient” — thanks to derivatives, no less? The answer, I believe, is that there’s an innate tendency on the part of even the elite to idolize men who are making a lot of money, and assume that they know what they’re doing.
After all, that’s why so many people trusted Mr. Madoff.
Now, as we survey the wreckage and try to understand how things can have gone so wrong, so fast, the answer is actually quite simple: What we’re looking at now are the consequences of a world gone Madoff.
WASHINGTON — President Bush on Friday announced $13.4 billion in emergency loans to prevent the collapse of General Motors and Chrysler, and another $4 billion available for the hobbled automakers in February with the entire bailout conditioned on the companies undertaking sweeping reorganizations to show that they can return to profitability.
The loans, as G.M. and Chrysler teeter on the brink of insolvency, essentially throw the companies a lifeline from the taxpayers that will keep them afloat until March 31. At that point, the Obama administration will determine if the automakers are meeting the conditions of the loans and will continue to receive government aid or must repay the loans and face bankruptcy proceedings.
Marjorie Cohn, Truthout: "Dick Cheney has publicly confessed to ordering war crimes. Asked about waterboarding in an ABC News interview, Cheney replied, 'I was aware of the program, certainly, and involved in helping get the process cleared.' He also said he still believes waterboarding was an appropriate method to use on terrorism suspects. CIA Director Michael Hayden confirmed that the agency waterboarded three al-Qaeda suspects in 2002 and 2003. US courts have long held that waterboarding, where water is poured into someone's nose and mouth until he nearly drowns, constitutes torture. Our federal War Crimes Act defines torture as a war crime punishable by life imprisonment or even the death penalty if the victim dies."
Gates Orders Development of Plans to Close Guantanamo
Jonathan S. Landay and Margaret Talev, McClatchy Newspapers: "The Defense Department is drawing up plans to close the Guantanamo Bay military prison in anticipation that one of President-elect Barack Obama's first acts will be ordering the closure of the detention center associated with the abuse of terror suspects. Defense Secretary Robert Gates 'has asked his team for a proposal on how to shut (the detention center) down, what would be required specifically to close it and move the detainees from that facility while at the same time, of course, ensuring that we protect the American people from some dangerous characters,' Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell told reporters on Thursday."
Obama Chooses Rep. Hilda Solis as Labor Chief
Jesse J. Holland, The Associated Press: "President-elect Barack Obama's choice to be labor secretary, Democratic Rep. Hilda Solis of California, is expected to advocate greater union influence in the workplace and more 'green' jobs. Solis, the 51-year-old daughter of a Mexican union shop steward and a Nicaraguan assembly line worker, is in line to be the third Hispanic nominee in Obama's Cabinet. Obama planned to announce her nomination on Friday, said a labor official who spoke on condition of anonymity because an announcement had not been made yet."
Blackwater Might Lose License to Work in Iraq
The Associated Press: "The State Department faces serious challenges protecting US diplomats in Iraq and may no longer be able to rely on Blackwater Worldwide to do the job, according to an internal report. A report from the department's inspector general says the agency must deal with the prospect that Blackwater - its main private security contractor in Iraq - could lose its license to work in Iraq. Officials say that means preparing alternative arrangements."
Franken Within Five Votes as Supreme Court Rules Rejected Absentee Ballots Must Be Counted
Pat Doyle, The Minneapolis Star Tribune: "In a ruling crucial to the disputed US Senate election, the Minnesota Supreme Court Thursday rejected an attempt by incumbent Norm Coleman to block the state Canvassing Board from counting improperly rejected absentee ballots." Also, Kevin Duchschere and Paul Walsh, The Minneapolis Star Tribune: "After finishing off Franken's 420 regular challenges Wednesday, the board started the day on Coleman's 800 or so challenges. The Coleman campaign withdrew 409 challenges late Wednesday, after earlier restoring 204 challenges they reconsidered once they saw how the board was judging the ballots. At day's end, Coleman held a single-digit lead over Franken."
"Deep Throat" Mark Felt Dies at 95
Patricia Sullivan and Bob Woodward, The Washington Post: "W. Mark Felt Sr., the associate director of the FBI during the Watergate scandal who, better known as 'Deep Throat,' became the most famous anonymous source in American history, died yesterday. He was 95. Felt died at 12:45 p.m. at a hospice near his home in Santa Rosa, Calif., where he had been living since August."
Thursday, December 18, 2008
But leaders of the Utah-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) insist that they're not "anti-gay," that it's only marriage equality they're concerned about. They have even said they support same-sex civil unions.
Let's see that commitment in action. Use the link below to send a message to the LDS President Thomas S. Monson urging him to publicly support legislation with real protections for LGBT citizens in Utah:
The New York Times reports that 35 Iraqi interior ministry officials have been arrested over the past few days for attempting a coup. The officials, including four generals, had allegedly been planning to reconstitute Saddam Hussein's Baath Pary. The officials were arrested by an elite counterterrorism unit that reports directly to prime minister Nuri al-Maliki. According to the Times, "the involvement of the counterterrorism unit speaks to the seriousness of the accusations."
Maliki's opponents, particularly Sunni political leaders, accuse him of using the arrests to consolidate power. Prominent followers of the Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr have also been detained in recent months.
OPEC agreed on the deepest cuts in oil production ever, in order to balance supply with flagging demand.
Iraqi lawmakers held an angry session of parliament to debate the fate of shoe-thrower Muntazar al-Zaidi. According to Prime Minister Maliki, al-Zaidi has apologized for embarassing him.
Russia is offering to sell 10 warplanes to Lebanon.
Barack Obama plans to close the Guantanamo Bay prison within two years of becoming president.
The LA Times profiles a mysterious Tijuana crime lord.
Alleged fraudster Bernard Madoff is under house arrest in New York.
U.S. Presidential Transition
Barack Obama was named person of the year by Time magazine.
Obama selected former Iowa Senator Tom Vilsack as secretary of agriculture and Colorado Senator Ken Salazar as secretary of the interior.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said the time is not right to send peacekeeping troops to Somalia. China is a sending a naval fleet to battle pirates.
Former Rwandan army colonel Theoneste Bagosora was sentenced to life in prison for his role in the 1994 genocide.
Dozens of children were killed by poison medicine in Nigeria.
India's cricket team pulled out of a planned tour of Pakistan for political reasons.
The last Japanese troops left Iraq.
South Korea will launch a $15 billion bank bailout fund.
NATO and Russia are planning their first high-level meetings since the war in Georgia
New clashes broke out between police and anti-government protesters in Greece.
German business confidence is at its lowest since the early 1980s.
Steve Weissman, Truthout: "Back in 2003, an Illinois state senator named Barack Obama spoke to an AFL-CIO group and what he told them is now making headlines across the Internet. 'I happen to be a proponent of a single-payer universal health-care plan,' he said to applause. 'I see no reason why the United States of America, the wealthiest country in the history of the world, spending 14 percent of its Gross National Product on health care, cannot provide basic health insurance to everybody.'"
Ex-Contractor Gets Two and a Half Years in Prison in Cunningham Case
Del Quentin Wilber, The Washington Post: "A former defense contractor who gave more than $1 million in gifts - including cash, home furnishings, a Rolls-Royce and an antique commode -- to then-Rep. Randy 'Duke' Cunningham (R-Calif.) was sentenced yesterday to 2 1/2 years in federal prison. Mitchell J. Wade pleaded guilty in February 2006 to bribing Cunningham over three years and giving nearly $80,000 in illegal campaign contributions to two other House members in the hopes of improving his business prospects. Wade also hired the son of a Defense Department official with oversight of a multimillion-dollar contract, prosecutors said."
Chrysler Closing All 30 Plants for One Month
William Branigin, The Washington Post: "Chrysler announced today that it will close all 30 of its auto manufacturing plants for at least a month starting at the end of shifts on Friday as it tries to conserve cash and avoid bankruptcy amid plunging demand for its vehicles. The company, the third-largest US automaker, said in a statement that it is taking the action to bring its inventories more into line with reduced US demand for new cars and trucks. It blamed its current difficulties largely on customers' inability to obtain financing to purchase new vehicles and said tight credit markets were discouraging would-be buyers."
Tom Engelhardt The Axe, the Book and the Ad: On Reading in an Age of Depression
Tom Engelhardt, TomDispatch: "Worlds shudder and collapse all the time. There's no news in that. Just ask the Assyrians, the last emperor of the Han Dynasty, the final Romanoff, Napoleon, or that Ponzi-schemer Bernard Madoff. But when it seems to be happening to your world, well, that's a different kettle of fish. When you get the word, the call, the notice that you're a goner, or when your little world shudders, that's something else again. Even if the call's not for you, but for a friend, an acquaintance, someone close enough so you can feel the ripples, that can do the trick."
Obama Said to Select FINRA Chief Schapiro to Lead SEC
Jesse Westbrook, Bloomberg: "President-elect Barack Obama plans to name Mary Schapiro, chief executive officer of the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, to be chairman of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, people familiar with the selection said. Obama will formally announce plans to nominate Schapiro, 53, in Chicago tomorrow, according to a top Democrat and a securities law expert who have discussed the selection with the president-elect's transition team. Schapiro headed the Commodity Futures Trading Commission in the Clinton administration."
Obama Looking at $850 Billion Jolt to the Economy
Jim Kuhnhenn, The Associated Press: "Anxious to jolt the economy back to life, President-elect Barack Obama appears to be zeroing in on a stimulus package of about $850 billion, dwarfing last spring's tax rebates and rivaling drastic government actions to fight the Great Depression. Obama has not settled on a grand total, but after consulting with outside economists of all political stripes, his advisers have begun telling Congress the stimulus should be bigger than the $600 billion initially envisioned, congressional officials said Wednesday."
Aaron Lake Smith The Shoe Heard Round the World
Aaron Lake Smith, Truthout: "As with any event that pushes history forward, when you click the play button over and over to watch Muntanzer al-Zaidi mumble something in Arabic that we now know meant 'This is a farewell kiss from the Iraqi people, you dog!,' the question inevitably arises - Why hasn't this happened before?"
UN Tribunal Jails Rwanda Genocide Mastermind for Life
Chris McGreal, The Guardian UK: "An international court has sentenced the mastermind of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, Theoneste Bagosora, to life imprisonment in what prosecutors hailed as the most significant verdict of its kind since Nuremberg. The five-year trial of Bagosora, who was the chief of staff in Rwanda's defence ministry, established that he oversaw a complex and extensive conspiracy to commit genocide, including years organising and arming the 'Interahamwe' militia which led the killing of about 800,000 Tutsis in 100 days."
US Military to Launch Pilot Program to Recruit New Local Afghan Militias
Anna Mulrine, US News & World Report: "The U.S. military will soon launch a pilot program to raise local militias, paid by the Pentagon, in an effort to improve security throughout the country. The plan is modeled in part on a similar program in Iraq to build up Sunni neighborhood militias. But officials warn that the forces must be carefully vetted to avoid repeating the mistakes of Afghanistan's past, notably bolstering local warlords."
Jeff Cohen and Norman Solomon Announcing the P.U.-litzer Prizes for 2008
Jeff Cohen and Norman Solomon, Truthout: "Now in their 17th year, the P.U.-litzer Prizes recognize some of the nation's stinkiest media performances. As the judges for these annual awards, we do our best to identify the most deserving recipients of this unwelcome plaudit."
Pro-Prop. 8 Evangelist to Speak at Obama's Inauguration
Paloma Esquivel, The Los Angeles Times: "Nationally known author and pastor Rick Warren has accepted an offer to deliver the invocation at President-elect Barack Obama's inaugural swearing-in ceremony, drawing fury from gay rights activists and opponents of Proposition 8. Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, accepted the invitation to participate in the ceremony within the last few days, said Kristin Cole, a spokeswoman for the 20,000-member, four-campus mega-church.... Earlier this year, as the debate over same-sex marriage raged in California, Warren publicly endorsed Proposition 8, which amends the state Constitution to declare that 'only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.'"
UN Special Rapporteur Decries Free Trade Harm to Agriculture
Jean-Pierre Stroobants, Le Monde: "The United Nations special rapporteur on the right to food emphasizes that free trade in agricultural products threatens the already-precarious situation of tens of millions of small farmers and gives rise to 'hidden' social, environmental, and health costs."
Wednesday, December 17, 2008
Unionized workers are the backbone of a strong and growing middle class and the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) will re-empower American workers to freely form and join a union.
But major corporations are against the bill and have already come out swinging. Anti-EFCA ads are already on radio and television, and big businesses like McDonald's are pressuring middle management to organize against the bill. We need to take a stand and fight back against big business.
Write your local paper today supporting the Employee Free Choice Act
The current system for workers to come together to improve working conditions is broken. Corporations can intimidate or lay off employees who try to organize and bargain collectively, leaving millions of middle class people working without health insurance, at unfair wages and in potentially unsafe conditions.
The Employee Free Choice Act puts the power to organize back in the hands of working people, protecting them from corporate coercion and threats. It fixes a broken system that heavily favors corporations over people, and empowers millions of Americans by bringing democracy into the workplace.
Use DFA's easy letter-to-the-editor tool and write a letter today
This is our chance to stand up for middle class Americans.
Thank you for all that you do.
Democracy for America
In a surprise visit to Iraq, PM Gordon Brown confirmed earlier reports that British forces would pull out of Iraq by the end of July, 2009. Speaking with Iraqi PM Nuri al Maliki, Brown said, "The role played by the UK combat forces is drawing to a close." There are currently 41,000 British troops stationed around Basra.
Britain had been working to negotiate a deal to keep its troops in Iraq beyond the end of this year. Five smaller countries including Romania, El Salvador, and Estonia have also been "tacked on" to the British agreement.
At its height, Britain's Operation Telic involved 100,000 soldiers, and 178 have died in the conflict. While Brown was making his announcement in Baghdad, a nearby car-bomb explosion killed 18.
World stock markets had mixed reactions to the Fed's decision to cut interest rates to almost zero.
Countries throughout Latin America are launching stimulus plans to boost their slumping economies.
U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson says the government is working quickly on a plan to bail out the auto industry, using the $700 billion financial-sector stimulus fund.
The recount in Minnesota's governor's race continues to get more complicated.
Middle East and Africa
Muntadar al-Zaidi appeared in court and admitted to throwing his shoes at President Bush. There's still no confirmation of his brother's claims that Zaidi has been mistreated in prison.
Eleven Qassam rockets were launched from the Gaza Strip into Israel, two days before a six-month ceasefire was scheduled to end.
The U.N. Security Council gave international forces the authority to pursue Somali pirates on land.
Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari says there's still no evidence the Mumbai attackers came from Pakistan.
Voters in the embattled Indian state of Kashmir went to the polls for state elections.
Government forces launched a heavy assault on rebel bases in Sri Lanka.
China sentenced two people to death in the western region of Xinjiang for an alleged terror plot during the Olympics.
The European Parliament endorsed a package of bills intended to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent by 2020.
Anti-government protests continued in Greece, though the violence has died down since last week.
Three prisoners from Guantanamo Bay were released home to Bosnia.
U.S. Presidential Transition
Ths Bush administration has prepared a series of emergency-planning memos for Barack Obama's team.
Former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack was chosen as secretary of agriculture.
Obama has appointed a record number of Hispanics to his cabinet.
OPEC oil ministers meet to plan for a 2 million barrel cut in oil production.
Obama is expected to name Colorado Sen. Ken Salazar as his secretary of the interior.
Kevin G. Hall, McClatchy Newspapers: "By cutting its benchmark lending rate to historic lows Tuesday and promising to combat the U.S. recession head on and aggressively, the Federal Reserve served notice that more unconventional actions probably are ahead as it fights to reverse the nation's economic woes. The Fed pushed its federal funds rate from an already low 1 percent to a target range of 0 to 0.25 percent. This marks the lowest point ever for this target rate that banks charge each other for overnight loans. The funds rate serves as a benchmark for a wide range of loans in the U.S. economy."
Leslie Thatcher Change Is Coming
Leslie Thatcher, Truthout: "On Sunday, December 14, 15 people in Flagstaff, Arizona, responded to the Obama campaign's invitation to attend a 'change is coming' house meeting that one woman - with a little help from her friends - agreed to host. It was one of 4,000 such meetings to take place that day. Ten women, six men: 15 whites over 45 - if not 50 - and one younger black woman. Why were they there?"
Sources: Vilsack to Be Tapped for Agriculture Secretary
Thomas Beaumont, The Des Moines Register: "Former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack is expected to be named US Secretary of Agriculture on Wednesday, Democratic sources told The Des Moines Register today. President-elect Barack Obama is expected to make the announcement at a 10:45 a.m. news conference in Chicago."
J. Sri Raman India's Right Wing Wants Nuclear War
J. Sri Raman, Truthout: "Mumbai's terrorist outrage of November 26 has found a response truly matching it in madness. A call for a nuclear war - and nothing less - has come as the culmination of warped and warlike reactions to the traumatizing tragedy, which has claimed a toll of 200 lives. The demented call, which still cannot, unfortunately, be dismissed as inconsequential, is not only a regional war of the said, scary description. It is also one for a global conflict of the kind."
"Thousands Made Slaves" in Darfur
BBC News: "Strong evidence has emerged of children and adults being used as slaves in Sudan's Darfur region, a study says. Kidnapped men have been forced to work on farmland controlled by Janjaweed militias, the Darfur Consortium says. Eyewitnesses also say the Sudanese army has been involved in abducting women and children to be sex slaves and domestic staff for troops in Khartoum."
Somali Government Splits Amid Fight for Control
The Associated Press: "Somalia's UN-backed government was crumbling Tuesday as the president defied parliament and Kenya announced sanctions against him in a strong public rebuke. The government dispute does nothing to stabilize the administration, which wields virtually no authority in the face of powerful Islamic insurgents who have taken over most of the Horn of Africa country."
William Rivers Pitt The War in Common
William Rivers Pitt, Truthout: "I met a chef from Texas who was like an oak tree with tattoos, and made a mean barbecue sauce. He'd been in the 101st Airborne and was about to be deployed to Iraq, but destroyed his knee in a training exercise and wound up getting discharged. He knew the war was nonsense and thought the Bush guys all deserved to rot in jail, but he still wanted to go to Iraq, and wept whenever a soldier he knew died over there because he should have been there and maybe could have saved that person if his knee hadn't buckled."
Cheney Was Key in Clearing CIA Interrogation Tactics
Greg Miller, The Los Angeles Times: "Vice President Dick Cheney said Monday that he was directly involved in approving severe interrogation methods used by the CIA, and that the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, should remain open indefinitely."
Bush-Era Abortion Rules Face Possible Reversal
Laura Meckler, The Wall Street Journal: "The outgoing Bush administration this week will finalize a regulation establishing a 'right of conscience' allowing medical staff to refuse to participate in any practice they object to on moral grounds, including abortion but possibly birth control and other health care as well."
Francois Vidal Wall Street's Bankruptcy
Francois Vidal, writing for France's premier business paper, Les Echos: "Beyond the shock of an affair that promises to be worthy of a Hollywood screen play, the first elements of this new scandal prove that there is decidedly something broken on Wall Street."
Iraq Cabinet Wants All Non-US Foreign Troops Out by July
Agence France-Presse: "The Iraqi cabinet has approved a bill calling for all foreign soldiers except for American forces to pull out of the country by the end of July, a top MP said on Tuesday."
Tuesday, December 16, 2008
I wasn't able to attend last night's South Bend Community School Corporation Board meeting, but I did catch it on 91.7 FM. Though many other things were on the agenda, the main item was introduce a redo of High School scheduling - with the leading proposal being a switch to trimesters featuring 5 class periods of an hour and fifteen minutes each.
High School scheduling came up as in issue during the recent school board campaign. The folks from TAP (Transforming Action through Power) pointed in particular to the Adams High School's International Baccalaureate (IB) requirements being incompatible with the current scheduling system. Reason enough for a redo, seemed to me.
The Administration has been hard at work on this issue, and their task is not easy. They chose the trimester option as the best, realistic option - in their view.
I listened carefully to what citizens/parents had to say on the matter. Some I know or know of. Our own Rhonda Redman and April Lidinsky spoke. Also, Kevin Barry - whom I've known a long time. Toni Fein spoke also, and appears to be the point person on this (and many other matters, I suspect). Rhonda sent me a summary of her observations. We'll get to those a bit later.
Though these four people had different things to talk about, I think it would be fair to say each has some healthy skepticism of the proposal and coached caution. Each impressed me with their reasoning. Each has been in the middle of this process for a while - unlike me.
Rhonda sent me Toni's analysis a while ago in hopes I would write about the issue. I'm sure I disappointed her by not doing so, but I try to avoid weighing in on matters I haven't worked on at least a bit. My other problem is that none of the proposals are anything like the way scheduling was done in my High School.
Roger Parent campaigned on a vision to create a world-class school system. I actually was educated in a world-class High School. Evanston Township High School was a top ten (public or private) institution the four years I attended - including at least one #1 ranking. It is still considered an elite school today.
Much larger than Penn, ETHS served a population of around 90,000 - my graduating class was 1100. Though there were minor adjustments year-to-year, a typical scheduling system employed modules in the 15-20 minute range, with five (or was it three?) minute passing periods. The formal school day was about seven hours, and there were extra curricular options before and after.
The mods allowed a ton of flexibility. Classes would stack mods as appropriate. Science lectures might be two or three mods long, lab would be four. There was a lot of flexibility. Classes could meet for longer periods, but less often - or the opposite. Students could fit in electives readily, depending on which sections they signed up for. For motivated students, take an occasional summer school class and you could graduate from a top-notch school in three years. I won't bore you by recounting them, but somewhere between a quarter to a third of my four year credits total were electives.
The other advantage of mods was that you didn't dump the entire population into the halls every time the bell rang.
After graduation I went to a university on trimesters (they called it quarters), didn't like it, and transferred to a school on semesters. I took a hit on transferred credits to do that. Which brings us back to our topic.
From Toni's notes:
2) Trimesters –At Elkhart Central it means students take 5 x 75 minute classes in each of three trimesters. Each trimester students finish one semester of 5 classes. Teachers teach 4 of 5 classes /day and have one 75 minute plan. Ideally, students will have finished 15 semesters of classes in one year.
All trimesters accelerate/condense classes at least some classes into shorter time frames with longer class periods. Students have a trimester (and summer) off from band, language and math classes each year. Music, Language and Math profs. believe that many students have difficulty retaining information/playing ability when they have long breaks from studying a subject. This break could be as long as 6 months, 1 trimester plus, summer.
Some schools have students take Band, World Languages, and Math on regular semesters and use trimesters for electives. This “fix” results in few if any added electives relative to a six period day. Per Elkhart's guidance counselor, it is extremely difficult for students to move between schools with trimesters and semesters because students lose credits that are not complete. This is a serious problem for the SBCSC where we have significant mobility among our at-risk students between South Bend and neighboring districts on semester calendars. It is rarely used in I.B. programs in the U.S. because finishing required classes in February is not compatible with the IB program which tests all students worldwide only in May. Students who struggle to learn may find it difficult to learn more material each day and they may also have difficulty retaining information during breaks in learning that are part of the trimester system. It is more expensive than our current schedule, but less expensive than block 8 to implement because fewer teachers are needed than in block 8.
Feel free to email me to get Ms. Fein's views on seven different strategies.
This will come up again on the Board's Jan. 12 agenda. I would suggest we think hard about whether this looks like the best option for our High Schoolers. The one thing that jumps out at me is that this appears not to address the Adams IB program problem. If that's true, it should make it a non-starter.
New York Times
All day long, you are affected by large forces. Genes influence your intelligence and willingness to take risks. Social dynamics unconsciously shape your choices. Instantaneous perceptions set off neural reactions in your head without you even being aware of them.
Over the past few years, scientists have made a series of exciting discoveries about how these deep patterns influence daily life. Nobody has done more to bring these discoveries to public attention than Malcolm Gladwell.
Gladwell’s important new book, “Outliers,” seems at first glance to be a description of exceptionally talented individuals. But in fact, it’s another book about deep patterns. Exceptionally successful people are not lone pioneers who created their own success, he argues. They are the lucky beneficiaries of social arrangements.
As Gladwell told Jason Zengerle of New York magazine: “The book’s saying, ‘Great people aren’t so great. Their own greatness is not the salient fact about them. It’s the kind of fortunate mix of opportunities they’ve been given.’ ”
Gladwell’s noncontroversial claim is that some people have more opportunities than other people. Bill Gates was lucky to go to a great private school with its own computer at the dawn of the information revolution. Gladwell’s more interesting claim is that social forces largely explain why some people work harder when presented with those opportunities.
Chinese people work hard because they grew up in a culture built around rice farming. Tending a rice paddy required working up to 3,000 hours a year, and it left a cultural legacy that prizes industriousness. Many upper-middle-class American kids are raised in an atmosphere of “concerted cultivation,” which inculcates a fanatical devotion to meritocratic striving.
In Gladwell’s account, individual traits play a smaller role in explaining success while social circumstances play a larger one. As he told Zengerle, “I am explicitly turning my back on, I think, these kind of empty models that say, you know, you can be whatever you want to be. Well, actually, you can’t be whatever you want to be. The world decides what you can and can’t be.”
As usual, Gladwell intelligently captures a larger tendency of thought — the growing appreciation of the power of cultural patterns, social contagions, memes. His book is being received by reviewers as a call to action for the Obama age. It could lead policy makers to finally reject policies built on the assumption that people are coldly rational utility-maximizing individuals. It could cause them to focus more on policies that foster relationships, social bonds and cultures of achievement.
Yet, I can’t help but feel that Gladwell and others who share his emphasis are getting swept away by the coolness of the new discoveries. They’ve lost sight of the point at which the influence of social forces ends and the influence of the self-initiating individual begins.
Most successful people begin with two beliefs: the future can be better than the present, and I have the power to make it so. They were often showered by good fortune, but relied at crucial moments upon achievements of individual will.
Most successful people also have a phenomenal ability to consciously focus their attention. We know from experiments with subjects as diverse as obsessive-compulsive disorder sufferers and Buddhist monks that people who can self-consciously focus attention have the power to rewire their brains.
Control of attention is the ultimate individual power. People who can do that are not prisoners of the stimuli around them. They can choose from the patterns in the world and lengthen their time horizons. This individual power leads to others. It leads to self-control, the ability to formulate strategies in order to resist impulses. If forced to choose, we would all rather our children be poor with self-control than rich without it.
It leads to resilience, the ability to persevere with an idea even when all the influences in the world say it can’t be done. A common story among entrepreneurs is that people told them they were too stupid to do something, and they set out to prove the jerks wrong.
It leads to creativity. Individuals who can focus attention have the ability to hold a subject or problem in their mind long enough to see it anew.
Gladwell’s social determinism is a useful corrective to the Homo economicus view of human nature. It’s also pleasantly egalitarian. The less successful are not less worthy, they’re just less lucky. But it slights the centrality of individual character and individual creativity. And it doesn’t fully explain the genuine greatness of humanity’s outliers. As the classical philosophers understood, examples of individual greatness inspire achievement more reliably than any other form of education. If Gladwell can reduce William Shakespeare to a mere product of social forces, I’ll buy 25 more copies of “Outliers” and give them away in Times Square.
The fallout of New York trader Bernard Madoff's alleged $50 billion Ponzi scheme is being felt throughout the global financial system. Major banks in the Netherlands, Spain, Britain, and Japan stand to lose millions, having invested in Madoff's fund, or lent money to clients who did. Spain's Santander faces some of the biggest losses with nearly over $3 billion in exposure to the scam.
One major U.S. hedge fund had nearly half its assets invested with Madoff. The Madoff fraud may also prove catastrophic for Jewish organizations and charities who had invested heavily with him.
The financial world was blindsided by the arrest of Madoff, a fixture of the New York financial world, though the Wall Street Journal reports that some analysts had been sounding the alarm about him for years. As one fund manager told the Financial Times, "This was the train wreck that happened in broad daylight."
The Illinois legislature may launch impeachment proceedings against Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
A U.S. Department of Justice report said that Mexican drug gangs pose the largest organized crime threat to the United States.
JKF's daughter Caroline Kennedy will seek Hillary Clinton's New York senate seat.
U.S. Presidential Transition
President-elect Barack Obama picked Chicago schools superintendent Arne Duncan as his secretary of education and officially rolled out his five-person energy team.
A grand jury is investigating contributions to Obama's commerce secretary-designate, Bill Richardson.
Obama told reporters that his advisors had "no inappropriate contact" with Blagojevich.
Israel freed more than 200 Palestinian prisoners. The country also blocked a U.N. official who had accused it of war crimes from reentering the country.
Thousands of Iraqis demonstrated for the release of the journalist who threw a shoe at President George W. Bush.
The U.S. and United Arab Emirates finalized their nuclear cooperation deal.
A suspected U.S. missile strike killed two in northwest Pakistan.
Across east Asia, authorities are cracking down on graft.
Former Iranian President Mohammed Khatami is considering running for president again.
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN, has formed a charter.
French police disarmed an explosive device at a Paris department store. An Afghan group has claimed responsibility.
A Nazi skinhead group allegedly responsible for 18 murders was arrested in Moscow.
Italian police made more than 100 arrests in an anti-mafia crackdown.
South Africa's former defense minister launched a new political party to challenge the African National Congress's dominance.
The U.N.'s special envoy to Niger has gone missing.
Someone took a shot at Zimbabwe's air force chief, a close ally of President Robert Mugabe.
The U.S. Federal Reserve meets. It is widely expected to cut interest rates.
The World Meteorological Organization will present its annual statement on the global climate.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel is scheduled to give an address on the global economy.
Alistair Lyon, Reuters: "The hurling of shoes at US President George W. Bush on his farewell visit to Iraq strikes many in the Middle East as a fittingly furious comment on what they see as his calamitous legacy in the region. Arab and Iranian TV stations have gleefully replayed the clip, sometimes in slow motion, of an Iraqi reporter calling Bush a 'dog' and throwing his shoes at him - the Middle East's tastiest insults - at a Baghdad news conference on Sunday."
US Supreme Court Orders Review of Guantanamo Torture Case
Agence France-Presse: "The US Supreme Court on Monday revived a lawsuit by four former British detainees at the Guantanamo Bay military prison, ordering a lower court to reconsider their claims of torture and religious bias. The justices ordered a Washington DC appeals court to review its January 2008 ruling quashing the lawsuit against former Defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld and 10 senior US military officers."
Douglas MacGregor Mr. Obama, Weigh the Price of War
Douglas MacGregor, Defense News: "Today's world is different from the world of 1991 or 2001. Outside of the United States and Western Europe, nation-building with US military power is a euphemism for imperialism. American financial hegemony has collapsed. As seen in Iraq, the 'total victory' construct as it equates to the imposition of Western-style government and a free-market economy subservient to the US is in full retreat. In the broader Middle East, as well as in most of Africa, Latin America and Asia, 'damage control,' not 'total victory,' is the most realistic goal for US national security strategy."
Obama Announces Energy and Environment Team
The Associated Press: "President-elect Barack Obama plans to name Democratic Sen. Ken Salazar of Colorado to run the Interior Department, rounding out an environmental and energy team charged with quickly tackling global warming and developing alternative forms of energy. The choice of Salazar to be secretary of a department that oversees oil and gas drilling on public lands and manages the nation's parks and wildlife refuges will be announced later this week, an Obama transition official said Monday. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to avoid pre-empting Obama's announcement."
Illinois House O.K.s Impeachment Inquiry on Governor Blagojevich
Michael Conlon, Reuters: "The Illinois House of Representatives voted on Monday to begin an impeachment inquiry into Gov. Rod Blagojevich, accused of trying to sell the US Senate seat vacated by President-elect Barack Obama. The inquiry, approved 113-0, will be placed in the hands of a special committee. If it determines that impeachment is warranted, the House would vote on whether to impeach, to be followed by a trial in the state senate. If convicted at trial the governor could be forced from office."
Monday, December 15, 2008
On a surprise visit to Baghdad, George W. Bush was forced to dodge a pair of flying shoes thrown at him by an Iraqi journalist during a press conference with Iraqi PM Nuri al-Maliki. After throwing the shoes, the man yelled, "this is a goodbye kiss from the Iraqi people, dog." See photos and video here.
The journalist who threw the shoe, Muntather al-Zaidi, has become the talk of Baghdad, with thousands demonstrating for his release from jail. McClatchy reports that Zaidi had been deeply affected by the U.S. bombing of Baghdad's Sadr City.
Bush flew to Afghanistan early on Monday morning for one last meeting with President Hamid Karzai. This surprise trip to the region will likely be Bush's last.
Zaidi's protest has understandably grabbed headlines during the president's farewell tour, but a new 500-page government report detailing how $50 billion in U.S. taxpayer money was badly misspent during the reconstruction of Iraq may prove more significant to Bush's legacy.
Thailand's opposition leader will become prime minister after winning a vote in Parliament.
A newly released survey shows a grim outlook for Japan's economy.
British PM Gordon Brown visited India and Pakistan, offering help in fighting terrorism.
Daily flights have begun between Taiwan and China.
Greeks aren't happy with their government's response to last week's riots.
Angela Merkel seems unlikely to roll out further stimulus for the German economy in the near future.
Ireland will provide a €10 billion bailout fund for its banks.
Dozens of antigovernment protesters were arrested in Russia.
Middle East and Africa
A six-month ceasefire in Gaza comes to an end this week. Hamas's leadership may be divided over whether to extend it.
Meeting in Algeria, OPEC countries are considering cutting oil production by up to 2 million barrels a day
Somalia's president fired his prime minister.
Arrested New York "hedge fund" manager Bernard Madoff may have pulled off the largest Ponzi scheme in history. Some of the world's top banks were exposed to the scam.
Cuban leader Raul Castro made his first overseas trip to see his "nephew" Hugo Chavez of Venezuela.
A group of Russian warships visited Cuba for the first time since the end of the Soviet era.
A new round of anti-government demonstrations are planned in Greece.
Electoral College delegates meet to officially elect Barack Obama.
New York Times
In 1953, the president of General Motors, Charles Wilson, was nominated by President Eisenhower to be secretary of defense. During his confirmation hearings, Wilson was asked if he’d be able, as defense secretary, to make decisions contrary to the interests of G.M. He answered yes, but added that he couldn’t imagine such a situation, because “for years I thought what was good for our country was good for General Motors, and vice versa.”
It wasn’t a ridiculous view. It was widely shared — by big-business-loving Republicans and big-union-embracing Democrats, by big-car-driving suburbanites and big-tank-occupying soldiers.
Today, G.M., Ford and Chrysler get no respect. Maybe they don’t deserve much. Detroit has many sins to answer for, and it’s been doing plenty of answering. But — and I say this as someone who grew up in non-car-driving family in New York and who is the furthest thing from an auto aficionado — there is a kind of undeserved disdain, even casual contempt, that seems to characterize the attitude of the political and media elites toward the American auto industry.
As Warren Brown, who writes about cars for The Washington Post, recently put it, “There is a feeling in this country — apparent in the often condescending, dismissive way Detroit’s automobile companies have been treated on Capitol Hill — that people who work with their hands and the companies that employ them are inferior to those who work with their minds and plow profit from information. How else to explain the clearly disparate treatment given to companies such as Citigroup and General Motors?”
Now there are other ways to explain the disparate treatment of G.M. and Citigroup. Finance is different from manufacturing, and banks from auto companies. It may be that the case for a huge bank bailout was strong, and that the case for a more modest auto package is not. Still, it seems to me true that the financial big shots haven’t been treated nearly as roughly in Congress or in the media as the auto executives, who have done nothing remotely as irresponsible as their Wall Street counterparts.
What’s more, in their disdain for the American auto companies, the left and right wings of the establishment agree. Of course, the particular foci of criticism are different — the left berates the auto companies’ management, the right the United Automobile Workers. But even on the left, while Democratic politicians still try to look out for the interests of the U.A.W., there’s not really that much sympathy for the workers. The ascendant environmentalists disdain (to say the least) the internal combustion engine and everyone associated with it. Most of today’s limousine liberals are embarrassed by their political alliance with the workers who built those limousines.
Meanwhile, on the right, free-market analysts have explained that our regulatory scheme of fuel-efficiency standards is counterproductive. But despite the fact that the government is partly responsible for the Big Three’s problems, the right hasn’t really been stirred to enthusiastically promote a deregulatory agenda to help the auto companies. What excites it is mobilizing to oppose bailouts for unionized workers.
Last week, Senate Republicans picked a fight with the U.A.W. on union pay scales — despite the fact that it’s the legacy benefits for retirees, not pay for current workers, that’s really hurting Detroit, and despite the additional fact that, in any case, labor amounts to only about 10 percent of the cost of a car. But the Republicans were fighting Big Labor! They were standing firm against bailouts! Some of the same conservatives who (correctly, in my view) made the case for $700 billion for Wall Street pitched a fit over $14 billion in loans for the automakers.
So Senate Republicans chose to threaten to filibuster the House-passed legislation embodying the George Bush-Nancy Pelosi deal. The bill would have allowed President Bush to name a car czar, who could have begun to force concessions from all sides. It also would have averted for now a collapse of the auto industry, and shifted difficult decisions to the Obama administration.
Instead, Bush will now probably have to use the financial rescue funds to save G.M. — instead of being able to draw from sums previously authorized for the green transformation of the auto industry, a fight he had won in the negotiations with Pelosi. And Senate Republicans now run the risk of being portrayed as Marie Antoinettes with Southern accents.
Whichever party can liberate itself from its well-worn rut to propose policies that help both American businesses and workers has a great opportunity. That party’s leaders could begin by offering management and labor at the Big Three a little more sympathy, and heaping upon them a little less calumny. Where’s Charles Wilson when we need him?
Marc Ash, Truthout: "Our federal government is utterly corrupt; we are confronted by creeping fascism and our environment is imperiled. The problems are real and solutions are few. There is a sense of futility and anger that becomes an oppression unto itself."
Dean Baker Homeownership Without Equity: What's It Worth?
Dean Baker, Truthout: "It is worth asking how much taxpayers should be willing to spend to keep a homeowner in a home in which they have zero equity. Unless we discuss this question in a serious way, then we are speaking nonsense when we talk about plans to deal with the foreclosure crisis."
On Final Iraq Trip, Attempted Assault on Bush
Jennifer Loven, The Associated Press: "On an Iraq trip shrouded in secrecy and marred by dissent, President George W. Bush on Sunday hailed progress in the war that defines his presidency and got a size-10 reminder of his unpopularity when a man hurled two shoes at him during a news conference."
Investors Remain Amazed Over Madoff's Sudden Downfall
David Lieberman, Pallavi Gogoi, Theresa Howard, Kevin McCoy and Matt Krantz, USA Today: "The financial world begins this week still in a daze over the spectacular collapse of an alleged Ponzi scheme by onetime Wall Street legend Bernard Madoff - possibly the biggest swindle ever committed by a single person."
Obama Left With Little Time to Curb Global Warming
Seth Borenstein, The Associated Press: "When Bill Clinton took office in 1993, global warming was a slow-moving environmental problem that was easy to ignore. Now it is a ticking time bomb that President-elect Barack Obama can't avoid."
Report: Iraq's Reconstruction a $100 Billion Failure
Agence France-Presse: "An unpublished US government report says US-led efforts to rebuild Iraq were crippled by bureaucratic turf wars, violence and ignorance of the basic elements of Iraqi society, resulting in a 100-billion-dollar failure, The New York Times reported on its website."
Steve Weissman Obama's Pakistan Problem: No, We Can't!
Steve Weissman, Truthout: "Whether ordained by God, the crusade against communism or the Global War on Terror, many Americans believe we have a mandate to police the world, hold dominion over its supply of oil and natural gas and lead the way in whatever way we happen to be leading at the time. John F. Kennedy and his New Frontiersmen believed all this as they escalated their terrible war of choice in Southeast Asia. George W. Bush and his neoincompetents still believe they pursued America's destiny in Iraq. And, from their writing and speeches, Barack Obama and his national security team believe no less strongly in America's calling to put the world right."
Taliban Tax: Allied Convoys Pay Enemies for Safe Passage
Tom Coghlan, The Times Online UK: "The West is indirectly funding the insurgency in Afghanistan thanks to a system of payoffs to Taleban commanders who charge protection money to allow convoys of military supplies to reach Nato bases in the south of the country."
Across Mideast, Arabs Hail Shoe-Hurling Journalist
Qassim Abdul-Zahra and Omar Sinan, The Associated Press: "Thousands of Iraqis took to the streets Monday to demand the release of a reporter who threw his shoes at President George W. Bush, as Arabs across many parts of the Middle East hailed the journalist as a hero and praised his insult as a proper send-off to the unpopular U.S. president."
Alfie Kohn Beware School "Reformers"
Alfie Kohn, The Nation: "Progressives are in short supply on the president-elect's list of cabinet nominees. When he turns his attention to the Education Department, what are the chances he'll choose someone who is educationally progressive?"
Executive Pay Limits May Prove Toothless
Amit R. Paley, The Washington Post: "Congress wanted to guarantee that the $700 billion financial bailout would limit the eye-popping pay of Wall Street executives, so lawmakers included a mechanism for reviewing executive compensation and penalizing firms that break the rules. But at the last minute, the Bush administration insisted on a one-sentence change to the provision, congressional aides said. The change stipulated that the penalty would apply only to firms that received bailout funds by selling troubled assets to the government in an auction, which was the way the Treasury Department had said it planned to use the money."
"Killing a Brown": New Evidence of Extremists in the Military
David Holthouse, The Southern Poverty Law Center: "The racist skinhead logged on with exciting news: He'd just enlisted in the United States Army. 'Sieg Heil, I will do us proud,' he wrote. It was a June 3 post to AryanWear Forum 14, a neo-Nazi online forum to which 'Sobibor's SS,' who identified himself as a skinhead living in Plantersville, Ala., had belonged since early 2004. (Sobibor was a Nazi death camp in Poland during World War II)."
Sunday, December 14, 2008
Mark Pittam, Bloomberg News: "The Federal Reserve refused a request by Bloomberg News to disclose the recipients of more than $2 trillion of emergency loans from U.S. taxpayers and the assets the central bank is accepting as collateral."
Eileen Appelbaum The Obama Moment
Eileen Appelbaum, Truthout: "The election of Barack Obama on November 4 to serve as the next president of the USA was a triumph of hope over history for America. In these perilous times we, along with millions in other lands, have pinned our hopes for the future on the intellect, inspiration and compassion of this gifted leader. Obama raised expectations in his campaign - about what he expected from us as Americans, and about what we and the world could expect from an American administration he led. He could not have known, starting out, just how great the challenges would be."
Homelessness, Hunger on Rise in US Cities: Report
Agency France-Presse: "Homelessness and hunger increased in an overwhelming majority of 25 US cities in the past year, driven by the foreclosure crisis and rising unemployment, a survey showed Friday. Out of 25 cities across the United States surveyed by the US Conference of Mayors, 83 percent said homelessness in general had increased over the past year while 16 cities, or nearly two-thirds of those polled, cited a rise in the number of families who had been forced out of their homes."
Canada Promises $2.8 Billion in Auto Aid
Jamie Sturgeon and Allison Hanes, National Post: "The federal and Ontario governments have pledged as much as US$2.8-billion to bail out the faltering auto industry in Canada, but only if U. S. lawmakers draft a rescue plan for the Big Three automakers first. Tony Clement, Canada's Industry Minister, made the announcement last night, adding he believes a U. S. bailout of General Motors Corp., Chrysler LLC and Ford Motor Co., is imminent."
Banks and Consumers Brace for New Credit Card Rules
John Poirier, Reuters: "The U.S. credit card industry, harshly criticized for imposing surprise fees and interest rate hikes on consumers, may face a day of reckoning on Thursday. The Federal Reserve is to vote on credit card reforms that may bring some relief to customers who face a variety of ways for being hit with late fees, universal defaults, shorter payment periods and confusing payment allocations for different balances."
Mood Mixed As Climate Summit Ends
Richard Black, BBC News: "The UN climate summit has ended with delegates taking very different views on how much it has achieved. Western delegates said progress here had been encouraging, but environment groups said rich countries had not shown enough ambition. Developing nations were angry that more money was not put forward to protect against climate impacts."
FOCUS No Decision from White House on Auto Bailout
SUMMARY Tabassum Zakaria, Reuters: "The White House was studying on Saturday how best to rescue collapsing U.S. automakers, a day after picking up the pieces of a failed congressional bailout plan. The Bush administration stepped into the auto fray on Friday, saying it would consider tapping a $700 billion fund set up to rescue Wall Street banks, after Congress failed to pass a bailout."
FOCUS Obama: HUD Pick Central Part of Economic Blueprint
Philip Elliott and Jim Kuhnhenn, The Associated Press: "In naming his choice for housing secretary, President-elect Barack Obama on Saturday rounded out his economic team and gave new prominence to the mortgage crisis that has dragged the country into a recession. The selection of Shaun Donovan as secretary of Housing and Urban Development puts the current New York City housing commissioner at the forefront of one of the more nettlesome economic challenges confronting the new administration - the soaring foreclosures that are threatening homeownership nationwide."
National Public Radio has announced cutbacks effective this Spring. One of the casualties is the mid-day (eastern time zone) program Day To Day. It will be the most recent (and by far most expensive) failure in the that time slot.
DTD was created in early days of dumbing down (2003) which coincided with the launch of "NPR West". (Many of us thought NPR Waste was a better characterization). Co hosted by Alex Chadwick and Madeliene Brand, the program was clearly aimed at ten-somethings - sort of a combination of USA Today and Entertainment Tonight. Who can forget Ms. Brand's probing interview questions; typically, "What's up with that?" I thought I remembered her as a serious reporter, but it's so long ago I can't be sure.
I do remember Mr. Chadwick from his National Geographic Radio Expedition reports - which were fabulous. He did his best on this vehicle, but there's only so much one person can do. Later, Alex Cohen was added. Apparently someone felt her snarling through the nose delivery would make the program "edgier". I guess.
Oddly, only Ms. Brand's name appears on the website now.
There were the annoying regulars as well. Michelle the miser (whose finance knowledge is pretty limited) offered us such gems as Payday Loans being a bad deal and five year auto financing (even at zero interest) was "too-oo long". I once heard her talk up adjustable rate mortgages when fixed rate plans were at historic lows. And, of course, there was the unfunny Mr. Unger as well.
Though the first few days of the zaniness of the California Gubernatorial Recall escapade were mildly interesting, generally all the serious stuff was done better by Morning Edition and All-Things Considered. But for the most part DTD seemed to be myopicism for myopics.
Before DTD we had Todd Mundt. That show featured academics droning endlessly about arcane parts of arcane topics in their fields. It was no wonder listeners wanted to give Day To Day a chance. Before Todd, there was Public Interest (which still airs on WAMU I believe). I happened to like that show because it typically had segments on a part of the world we don't get a lot of news and analysis about - third world Africa. The show was serious - and that's what I go for on National Public Radio.
What did the three shows have in common? Catchy theme songs.
I wish NPR success on their next attempt, but I won't miss this one.
For many middle-class Americans, a preschool education is considered an essential part of their children's schooling; they wouldn't dream of sending their children off to kindergarten without a foundation for an education they hope will extend to college or beyond.
In 2005, two-thirds of 4-year-olds and more than 40 percent of 3-year-olds were enrolled in a preschool education program, representing a substantial increase over earlier decades, according to a publication of the National Institute for Early Education Research. Studies also show that children's learning and development improves with an early education.
So who wouldn't want their child to have the benefit of a preschool education? Very few, according to a recent survey of parents in Springfield and Holyoke, where poverty rates are high and preschool enrollment is lower than the state average.
According to a survey commissioned by the Irene E. and George A. Davis Foundation's Cherish Every Child Initiative, there is strong interest in high-quality, affordable universal pre-kindergarten among parents in Springfield and Holyoke. But the survey also found that Springfield and Holyoke children are much less likely to benefit from a formal preschool experience than children statewide. Specifically, 53 percent of Springfield's children under the age of 7 and 58 percent of Holyoke's children are cared for exclusively by family members, in contrast to 8 percent of young children statewide.
Access to a preschool education shouldn't be only a middle-class prerogative; it should be a right, not a privilege.
Gov. Deval L. Patrick has identified affordable universal pre-kindergarten as one of his top educational priorities, and we hope the current budget difficulties won't affect funding for this critical education component.
Funding early childhood education is the right thing to do and it's an investment in the future of our children and the long-term economic strength of the commonwealth.
Saturday, December 13, 2008
Jon Stempel and Christian Plumb, Reuters: "Investors scrambled to assess potential losses from an alleged $50 billion fraud by Bernard Madoff, a day after the arrest of the prominent Wall Street trader. Prosecutors and regulators accused the 70-year-old, who was chairman of the Nasdaq Stock Market in the early 1990s, of masterminding a fraud of epic proportions through his investment advisory business, which managed at least one hedge fund."
Arundhati Roy 9 Is Not 11 (and November Isn't September)
Arundhati Roy, TomDispatch.com: "We've forfeited the rights to our own tragedies. As the carnage in Mumbai raged on, day after horrible day, our 24-hour news channels informed us that we were watching 'India's 9/11.' And like actors in a Bollywood rip-off of an old Hollywood film, we're expected to play our parts and say our lines, even though we know it's all been said and done before. As tension in the region builds, US Senator John McCain has warned Pakistan that, if it didn't act fast to arrest the 'bad guys,' he had personal information that India would launch air strikes on 'terrorist camps' in Pakistan and that Washington could do nothing because Mumbai was India's 9/11."
Pentagon Pro-Troop Group Misspent Millions
Noah Shachtman, Wired: "While the Pentagon preps for a new administration, a scandal from an earlier era is rearing its head. A Defense Department project, supposedly designed to support US troops, was used instead to channel millions of dollars to personal friends and allies of its chief. The 'America Supports You,' or ASY, program was led in a 'questionable and unregulated manner,' according to a Department of Defense Inspector General report, obtained by Danger Room. At least $9.2 million was 'inappropriately transferred' by the project's managers. Much of that money served only to further promote ASY, instead of assisting servicemembers."
Bush Plans to Sign Nuclear Pact With UAE
Jay Solomon, The Wall Street Journal: "The Bush administration plans to sign its first nuclear-cooperation agreement with a Middle Eastern nation within the next few weeks, according to a senior US official, raising concerns among congressional critics who say the deal could fuel nuclear proliferation in the region. The proposed deal with the United Arab Emirates has attracted attention because the UAE's largest trading partner is Iran. The UAE has served in the past as a transshipment point for technology with military applications headed to Iran."
Texas County Files Appeal to Stop Border Fence
Alicia A. Caldwell, The Associated Press: "A Texas county filed an appeal with the US Supreme Court this week in the latest bid to stop construction of hundreds of miles of fencing along the US-Mexico border. In asking the court to review a lawsuit previously dismissed by a federal court judge, lawyers for El Paso County contend that US Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff overstepped his legal authority when he waived 37 federal laws that could have slowed or blocked construction of fencing along the border."
Sabina Dewan and Reuben Brigety Putting Aid and Trade to Work
Sabina Dewan and Reuben Brigety, The Center for American Progress: "The United States is facing a period of unprecedented challenges, from overcoming a severe economic recession to battling terrorism and climate change. On the one hand, each of these challenges reaffirms America's interconnectedness with its global community. But on the other, each also points to its faltering leadership. This unique juncture for the United States requires a new model for sustainable security that takes into account the dynamism, interdependence, and mutual vulnerabilities of an integrated world."
FOCUS UN Confirms Afghan Mass Grave Site Disturbed
Heidi Vogt, The Associated Press: "The UN confirmed Friday that a mass grave in northern Afghanistan has been disturbed, raising the possibility that evidence supporting allegations of a massacre seven years ago may have been removed. The Dasht-e-Leili grave site holds as many as 2,000 bodies of Taliban prisoners who died in transit after surrendering during one of the regime's last stands in November 2001, according to a State Department report from 2002."
FOCUS Winship: Bush's Farewell Hallelujah Chorus
Michael Winship, Truthout: "With all the interviews President Bush has been giving out lately, you'd think he has a new movie coming out for Christmas. ABC, NBC, National Review, Middle East Broadcasting, the Real Clear Politics Web site - even a talk with The Washington Post's NASCAR expert. For a fellow who's sometimes gone for months without a press conference, suddenly, the president's a regular chatterbox, spreading the word in these final days that his eight years in office really, really weren't all that bad. Honest."
Friday, December 12, 2008
Countries around the world are rushing to boost their economies after a propose $15 billion bailout for the U.S. auto industry died in the senate. Up to 3 million jobs in the United States could be affected.
Japan announced it will expand its fund to recapitalize banks to $131.1 billion. After an unusually public tiff between Britain and Germany over stimulus measures, the EU agreed on a $264 billion plan to revive the bloc's economy.
Markets across Asia took a dive, with a long, painful day likely on Wall Street. Vice President Dick Cheney reportedly told Republican senators that a failed bailout would lead to "Herbert Hoover time."
Meeting the Brussels, EU leaders agreed to cut carbon emissions 20 percent by 2020.
Secretary General Ban Ki-moon advocated a "green new deal" at the UN climate change summit in Poland.
Among the terror suspects arrested by the Belgian police on Thursday was a high-ranking female recruiter and spokesperson.
Visiting Afghanistan, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates called for an increase in troop levels.
India unveiled new counterterrorism measures.
China's economic downturn is leading to rioting and civil unrest.
Taiwan's ex-president was indicted for accepting bribes.
The U.S. plans to sign a nuclear cooperation deal with the United Arab Emirates, the first ever with a Middle Eastern nation.
Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni made an ill-advised statement that a Palestinian state would be a "national solution" for Israel's Arabs.
Iran may be reducing its support for Shiite groups in Iraq
The International Red Cross said Zimbabwe's cholera crisis may be getting better, though new cases continue to be reported. A prominent South African Anglican bishop reverred to Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe as a "modern-day Hitler."
Eighty percent of Somalia's armed forces have deserted, according to the UN.
Bank of America will cut more than 30,000 jobs.
Mounting personal debts may have led Rod Blagojevich to his crimes.
A wire service in Miami for Cuban immigrants sending remittances to the island may have stolen $189,000 from 502 customers.
Italy's main labor union holds a nationwide strike to protest Silvio Berlusconi's economic policies.
I was sitting in the Local 5, United Auto Workers, hall for the 60th anniversary of the United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights on Dec. 6 and I was feeling proud. I had a smile in my heart. I was smiling because my dear mother was so proud of being a union member all of the years that she worked at Simplicity Pattern Company. I was proud because my daughter is a current member of Local 5. The unions make it possible for working-class people, people of color and women, to live well — good decent independent lives. Honest money.
I was proud of the Indiana University South Bend students who provided us with slapstick between speakers. I smiled at the adorable little girl, now a teenager, who I remember sleeping in the brown rocking chair that I bought from her mother during the West Washington Street yard sale 10 years ago. I smiled at all of the people in the room who I have known for years who, like me, are gray, wrinkled, pot-bellied and committed.
I smiled to think about the article in The Tribune that said Eleanor Roosevelt was instrumental in getting the Universal Human Rights Declaration passed and how Hillary Clinton stood up for women's rights in Beijing 13 years ago.
When it was my turn to speak, I was in good company as I stood up once again for individuals' long overdue human rights. A person's right to file a complaint with the South Bend Human Rights Commission if that person believes he or she may have been discriminated against because of sexual orientation or gender identity in the areas of education, housing, public accommodations or employment is a human right. I smiled because the South Bend Common Council came within one vote in 2006 of amending the ordinance that would allow this very basic human right: justice.
The late, beloved and former council member Roland Kelly and I held hands under the table as the ordinance was being debated. I always smile when I think of my sweetheart.
It seems so pitiful, so embarrassing and so sad that people today in this great country would have to beg for a basic human right, justice. Indianapolis passed the same ordinance in December 2005. South Bend can also.
The boogeyman accusations are, "where will this stop, we are going down a slippery slope, and these are special rights."
In the USA we don't stop. There is nothing slippery about this slope and the only thing special about these rights is that we openly deny them to some people while we give them to others.
I continue to run into people who are shocked that these rights are denied to some of our citizens. Those shocked are old and young, people of all races, and Christians and non-Christians.
Our Declaration of Independence talks about inalienable rights ... "Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." We don't stop until we fulfill the promise of the president that President-elect Barack Obama most admires, Abraham Lincoln, who stated in the Gettysburg Address, "Dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal."
I smiled. I smiled inside; a smile of pride, hope and the confidence that we will do the right thing ... we always do. Happy birthday, Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Happy birthday to ya!
Charlotte D. Pfeifer lives in South Bend.
Originally published in the South Bend Tribune December 12, 2008
David Morgan, Reuters: "Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and other senior US officials share much of the blame for detainee abuse at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, according to portions of a report released on Thursday by the Senate Armed Services Committee. The report's executive summary, made public by the committee's Democratic chairman Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan and its top Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona, said Rumsfeld contributed to the abuse by authorizing aggressive interrogation techniques at Guantanamo Bay on December 2, 2002."
Auto Bailout Talks Collapse as Senate Deadlocks Over Wages
Paul Kane, The Washington Post: "An eleventh-hour effort to salvage a proposed $14 billion rescue plan for the auto industry collapsed last night as Republicans and Democrats failed to agree on the timing of deep wage cuts for union workers, killing the legislative plan and threatening America's carmakers with bankruptcy. 'We're not going to get to the finish line. That's just the way it is. There too much difference between the two sides,' Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) announced after 10 p.m., concluding a marathon negotiating session that ended in gridlock. Reid warned that markets could plummet when trading begins this morning. 'I dread looking at Wall Street tomorrow. It's not going to be a pleasant sight,' he said."
US Keeps Silent as Afghan Ally Removes War Crime Evidence
Tom Lasseter, McClatchy Newspapers: "Seven years ago, a convoy of container trucks rumbled across northern Afghanistan loaded with the human cargo of suspected Taliban and al Qaida members who'd surrendered to Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum, an Afghan warlord and a key U.S. ally in ousting the Taliban regime. When the trucks arrived at a prison in the town of Sheberghan, near Dostum's headquarters, they were filled with corpses. Most of the prisoners had suffocated, and others had been killed by bullets that Dostum's militiamen had fired into the metal containers."
California Adopts Major Global Warming Plan
The Associated Press: "California air regulators on Thursday approved a climate plan that would require the state's utilities, refineries and large factories to transform their operations to cut greenhouse gas emissions. The California Air Resources Board adopted what will be the nation's most sweeping global warming plan, outlining for the first time how individuals and businesses will have to meet a landmark 2006 law that made the state a leader on curbing warming emissions."
Illinois Democrats Move Toward Blagojevich Impeachment
Dave McKinney, The Chicago Sun-Times: "Four House Democrats this afternoon have begun circulating a letter among their colleagues gauging interest in having their names attached to an impeachment resolution being prepared against Gov. Blagojevich. The maneuver by Rep. John Fritchey (D-Chicago), Rep. David Miller (D-Dolton), Rep. James Brosnahan (D-Evergreen Park) and Rep. Thomas Holbrook (D-Alton) sets the stage next week for lawmakers to begin unleashing their most lethal weapon against a politically isolated and ethically stained governor who stubbornly refuses to relinquish power."
Frida Berrigan Mumbai Wake-up Call
Frida Berrigan, Foreign Policy In Focus: "A few months ago, trucks loaded with goods crossed a border. All over the world, this kind of thing happens every day, but not here. October marked the first time in 60 years that Indian trucks loaded with apples and walnuts traveled to Pakistan. The trucks returned carrying a shipment of Pakistani rice and raisins. Around the same time, India and Pakistan increased the number of goods the two nations could trade from just 13 to nearly 2,000. They opened new freight train lines and refurbished custom houses in anticipation of vigorous cross border trade. All of this goodwill is now frozen, stopped by a hail of bullets and the deafening crash of bombs in Mumbai."
Thursday, December 11, 2008
Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe declared his country's cholera epidemic over while the WHO described it as worsening, saying that over 15,000 are now infected and another 60,000 at risk. They can't both be right. Zimbabwean refugees are also creating a cholera crisis in northern South Africa. The border region has been declared a "disaster area."
Mugabe's forces have also killed hundreds in a campaign against illegal diamond mining, according to the country's opposition. The Times calls on Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton to join other world leaders in condemning Mugabe.
U.S. Presidential Transition
Nobel Prize-winning physicist Steven Chu is Barack Obama's pick for secretary of energy.
Former Clinton EPA Administrator Carol Browner is expected to be appointed White House "energy czar."
Sentate Republicans want to question former President Bill Clinton at his wife's confirmation hearings.
The president-elect is riding high in the polls.
Belgium arrested 14 al Qaeda suspects ahead of a planned EU summit.
Greece's riots entered a fifth night, though an uneasy calm now seems to have fallen over parts of the country.
Irish citizens will vote again next year on the stalled EU integration treaty they rejected in June.
The proposed bailout for the U.S. auto industry passed in the House.
Illinois Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. has been implicated in the Blagojevich bribery scandal.
The remains of hundreds of people "disappeared" during Argentina's dirty war were found in a pit.
Asia and Pacific
Indian investigators are turning their attention to homegrown suspects.
China arrested a prominent human rights activist for circulating an online petition.
North Korea nuke talks ended in a stalemate.
Austalian police busted a child pornography ring with operations in 70 countries.
A suicide bombing in Kirkuk, Iraq killed 47.
Iran is outraged at comments made by French President Nicolas Sarkozy at a Human Rights Day event.
Saudi Arabia cut oil production more than expected last month. Further cuts are likely immiment.
The UN accused Rwanda of aiding Tutsi rebels in Eastern Congo. The New York Times reports on a massacre that occured with UN peacekeepers less than a mile away.
Somali pirates captured two Yemeni fishing boats.
Barack Obama will nominate former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle as secretary of Health and Human Sevices.
Golden Globe nominations are announced.
Elizabeth de la Vega, Truthout: "The ghost of Christmas present arrived a bit early for Rod Blagojevich - at about 6:00 a.m. on December 9 to be exact - in the form of an FBI agent bearing handcuffs and an arrest warrant. It was not a joke, the agent assured the Illinois governor, which should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with the FBI. (When it comes to arrests, at least, Tommy Lee Jones's Special Agent K had it exactly right in Men in Black: 'We at the FBI have no sense of humor we're aware of.') Unfortunately, for the current occupants of the historic Illinois executive mansion, the pending complaint against the governor is not their biggest problem."
Obama Picks Leaders of Energy Team
Deborah Charles, Reuters: "Announcements to come in the days ahead include several key environment-related appointments - Steven Chu as energy secretary, Carol Browner as energy and climate coordinator, Nancy Sutley to head the White House Council on Environmental Quality and Lisa Jackson to run the Environmental Protection Agency. They will be charged with developing policies to reduce carbon emissions blamed for global warming, develop new sources of energy and create new jobs - a top priority for Obama."
House Passes Auto Rescue Plan
David M. Herszenhorn and David E. Sanger, The New York Times: "The House voted on Wednesday to approve a $14 billion government rescue of the American automobile industry, but the bailout plan, which would provide emergency loans to General Motors and Chrysler, was in jeopardy because of strong Republican opposition in the Senate. The House approved the rescue plan by 237 to 170, mostly along party lines, with 32 Republicans mainly from states heavily dependent on the auto industry joining 205 Democrats in supporting the measure. Voting against were 150 Republicans and 20 Democrats. The White House so far has failed to generate support among Senate Republicans, who have the power to kill the bill."
Britain Says Most Troops to Leave Iraq
John F. Burns, The New York Times: "Britain's remaining troops in Iraq will begin withdrawing from the country in March on a timetable that will aim to leave only a small training force of 300 to 400 by June, according to Defense Ministry officials quoted by the BBC and several of Britain's major newspapers on Wednesday. The long-expected drawdown of the British force next year from its current level of 4,100 troops will bring an effective end to Britain's role as the principal partner of the United States in the occupation of Iraq."
September 11 Families Denounce Guantanamo Trials
Jane Sutton, Reuters: "Two dozen people who lost loved ones in the September 11 attacks issued a statement on Wednesday denouncing the Guantanamo war crimes trials as illegitimate, shameful and politically motivated. Their criticism came in response to passionate praise for the Guantanamo tribunals from other victims' relatives, whom the Pentagon brought to the remote US naval base in Cuba this week to observe pretrial hearings for five prisoners charged with plotting the September 11 attacks."
Robert Reich A Hybrid Vehicle (One-Third Bailout, Two-Thirds Chapter 11)
Robert Reich, Robert Reich's Blog: "The Big Three need a hybrid vehicle, if you will - a combination of chapter 11 bankruptcy and a bailout. For every taxpayer dollar they receive, the automakers should be required to come up with $2 from their stakeholders (creditors, shareholders, executives, white and blue collar employees), just as stakeholders would have to sacrifice under Chapter 11. This is the only way GM, Ford, and Chrysler can possibly accumulate enough money to survive and restructure."