Saturday, May 31, 2008

Robert Fisk: So al-Qa'ida's defeated, eh? Go tell it to the marines

Last week the head of the CIA claimed it was winning the battle. Nonsense, argues Robert Fisk. The extremists in the Middle East are growing stronger

Sunday, 1 June 2008

So al-Qa'ida is "almost defeated", is it? Major gains against al-Qa'ida. Essentially defeated. "On balance, we are doing pretty well," the CIA's boss, Michael Hayden, tells The Washington Post. "Near strategic defeat of al-Qa'ida in Iraq. Near strategic defeat for al-Qa'ida in Saudi Arabia. Significant setbacks for al-Qa'ida globally – and here I'm going to use the word 'ideologically' – as a lot of the Islamic world pushes back on their form of Islam." Well, you could have fooled me.

Six thousand dead in Afghanistan, tens of thousands dead in Iraq, a suicide bombing a day in Mesopotamia, the highest level of suicides ever in the US military – the Arab press wisely ran this story head to head with Hayden's boasts – and permanent US bases in Iraq after 31 December. And we've won?

McClatchy Boys Take Scotty, the White House and the "Liberal Media" to the Woodshed...

Jonathan Landay and Warren Strobel, my good friends and the few reporters who actually did their job during the Iraq war build-up, are pissed and I am fully backing their anger. Here is what the McClatchy boys (as I call them) have to say to the "Liberal Press" and the White House with regard to Scotty's revelations:

Until now, we've resisted the temptation to post on former White House press secretary Scott McClellan's new book, which accuses the Bush White House of launching a propaganda campaign to sell the war in Iraq.

Why? It's not news. At least not to some of us who've covered the story from the start.

Friday, May 30, 2008

You Might Be a Progressive If …

by Michael Schwalbe

In the propaganda wars that surround elections, political labels often become detached from reality. The leading contender for the Democratic presidential nomination, Barack Obama, has been called a “leftist” by Republican flacks and a “progressive” by some of his supporters. Others see Obama as a moderate Democrat only slightly less friendly to corporate capital and to the military-industrial complex than the Republican John McCain. It would be no surprise, then, if many people were wondering, Just who is a progressive?

No one, of course, has the authority to decide who is a progressive and who isn’t. Yet if the label “progressive” has meaning at all, it is only because of some shared criteria we have in mind when we use it. So it might be worthwhile to put these criteria on the table, not to draw boundaries and hand out membership badges, but to spark a conversation about the common ground of ideas and values on which progressives stand, and to underscore the point that the center is not the left.

Glenn Greenwald: The Right-Wing Politico Cesspool

Politico reporter Mike Allen, formerly of The Washington Post and Time, appeared yesterday on the show of right-wing radio host Mike Gallagher. The two of them guffawed together at how absurd are Scott McCellan’s claims that the media was “deferential” to the Bush administration and then Allen said this:

ALLEN: And indeed, Scott does adopt the vocabulary, rhetoric of the left wing haters. Can you believe it in here he says the White House press corps was too deferential to the administration?

Think Progress has the audio, which makes even clearer how eager Mike Allen was “to adopt the vocabulary, rhetoric” of the right-wing operatives which Politico exists to serve.

Is Water Becoming ‘The New Oil’?

Population, pollution, and climate put the squeeze on potable supplies – and private companies smell a profit. Others ask: Should water be a human right?

by Marc Clayton

Public fountains are dry in Barcelona, Spain, a city so parched there’s a €9,000 ($13,000) fine if you’re caught watering your flowers. A tanker ship docked there this month carrying 5 million gallons of precious fresh water - and officials are scrambling to line up more such shipments to slake public thirst.

Tell the Media To Stop Ignoring a Major Cause of All-Time High Gas Prices: the Bush-McCain Energy Policy

Americans are angry about gasoline prices. Gas prices have become a "financial hardship," 71 percent of respondents said in a recent poll, and 78 percent believe the price increases will be permanent. Meanwhile, 83 percent think "oil companies as a whole are making too much profit."

At the same time, the media is giving a free pass to the Bush administration and its conservative allies. Yes, there has been a totally predictable increase in demand for oil from China and India. But while news stories blame higher gasoline costs on this increased demand, as well as commodities traders and "global unrest," they completely ignore the conservative energy policies that led America to this point. The run-up to Memorial Day is the perfect time to link pain at the pump to right-wing energy policies.

Flying High

Two vignettes from my brief tenure as a limousine liberal.

Tooling around the West and East Coasts lo these last few weeks on my book tour, I took a lot of rides in chauffeured sedans. The publishing industry is woefully archaic; if it worked for Maxwell Perkins and F. Scott Fitzgerald in the 1920s, no reason to stop doing it exactly the same way in 2008, even if the promotional budget could be much better spent on, say, blog ads. David Sirota definitely has the right idea; he's renting an RV.

I Hardly Know Me Anymore

The Scott McClellan story.

It's sad. It's just sad. In all my years of public service, I am one of the finest people I have ever had the privilege to know and work with. I cannot imagine why I have chosen this moment to turn against everything I have always stood for—lies, deception, secrets, double talk—unless it was for a six-figure book advance. But the me I knew believed that some things, such as duty, are more important than money. That me saw misleading the public as the highest of missions. That me would never betray me the way this me has done. Frankly, it's a puzzle. But I will be talking with me later this afternoon, on Oprah, and maybe then I will get some answers. Until then, all I can say is that it's just very, very sad.

Let's Stop Pretending that Pensions Don't Matter

Thomas J. Mackell, Jr.

Posted May 29, 2008| 04:47 PM (EST)

Over the last 30 years or so, it has gradually become an article of faith that pensions are bound to go the way of the dinosaur. Waves upon waves of mergers and layoffs across corporate America have convinced us that employers no longer have an obligation to the long-term welfare of their employees. And we have been told time and again that 401(k)s are the best answer to individual retirement.

Americans will soon be rethinking these notions.

Auditor: Supervisors Covered Up Risky Loans

Morning Edition, May 27, 2008 · Now that millions of people are facing foreclosure because they got into loans that never should have been approved, everybody's looking for someone to blame. Borrowers, or their brokers, lied on loan applications. Others got high interest rates they couldn't afford.

A big unanswered question is whether the Wall Street investment banks that were packaging these mortgages knew they were selling garbage loans to investors. A wave of litigation is starting against these firms. One former worker whose job was to catch bad loans says her supervisors covered them up.

U.S. Economy: The Worst is Yet to Come

By Mark Weisbrot, Huffington Post
Posted on May 29, 2008, Printed on May 30, 2008

Since the U.S. economy showed positive growth for the last quarter, some commentators in the business press are saying that we are not necessarily going to have a recession, or that if there is one it will be mild. This is a bit like the proverbial story of the man who jumped out of a window 60 floors up, and then said "so far, so good," as he passed the 30th floor.

The United States accumulated a massive, $8 trillion housing bubble during the decade from 1996-2006. Only about 40 percent of that bubble has now deflated. House prices are still falling at a 20 percent annual rate (over the last quarter). This means that the worst is yet to come, including another wave of mortgage defaults and write-downs. Even homeowners who are not in trouble will borrow increasingly less against their homes, reducing their spending.

Raytheon's Pain Ray: Coming to a Protest Near You?

By Michael Dickinson, CounterPunch
Posted on May 29, 2008, Printed on May 30, 2008

Coming soon, from the folks who brought you the microwave -- Raytheon! After more than ten years in the making and at a cost of over 40 million dollars, 'Silent Guardian', or Active Denial System, (ADS, in it's formal mood), is almost ready for public release!

Yes, Raytheon -- manufacturer of the 100 bunker buster bombs kindly flown by America to Israel at the height of their bombardment of Lebanon, and supplier of electronic equipment for the apartheid wall built on Palestinian land; -- Raytheon -- with its 73,000 employees worldwide and annual revenues of 20 billion dollars has gone and done it again!

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Glenn Greenwald: Network news anchors praise the job they did in the run-up to the war

I was going to add this as an update to my prior post on Scott McClellan's extraordinary description of the media as "deferential, complicit enablers" of Bush administration "propaganda," but it should really stand on its own. Here is an absolutely amazing link to a video where the three network news anchors appeared jointly on The Today Show this morning and were forced by McClellan's book to address whether the media failed in its duties in the run-up to the war -- the first time, to my knowledge, that this topic has ever been broached by network news journalists (h/t Kitt). The fact that television news has blacked-out the whole issue until now is, by itself, rather amazing.

Top US Scientists and Economists Call for Swift, Deep Cuts in Global Warming Pollution

More Than 1,700 Say Early Reductions Can Benefit Economy

WASHINGTON, DC - May 29 - More than 1,700 of the nation's most prominent scientists and economists today released a joint statement calling on policymakers to require immediate, deep reductions in heat-trapping emissions that cause global warming. Issued just days before the Senate begins debate on the Lieberman-Warner climate bill, the statement marks the first time leading U.S. scientists and economists have joined together to make such an appeal. (For the statement and the list of signatories, go to:

The statement stresses that implementing policies to achieve swift and substantial cuts is both economically sound and necessary to limit the worst consequences of climate change.

Where Is the Outrage?

By Robert Scheer

Are we Americans truly savages or merely tone-deaf in matters of morality, and therefore more guilty of terminal indifference than venality? It’s a question demanding an answer in response to the publication of the detailed 370-page report on U.S. complicity in torture, issued last week by the Justice Department’s inspector general.

Because the report was widely cited in the media and easily accessed as a pdf file on the Internet, it is fair to assume that those of our citizens who remain ignorant of the extent of their government’s commitment to torture as an official policy have made a choice not to be informed. A less appealing conclusion would be that they are aware of the heinous acts fully authorized by our president but conclude that such barbarism is not inconsistent with that American way of life that we celebrate.

In Wake of McClellan Charges: A Revealing Look Back at How the Press Bought the War

By Greg Mitchell

Published: May 29, 2008 11:30 AM ET
NEW YORK Debate continues today over charges by former White House spokesman Scott McClellan, in a new book and on TV, that his former boss "hoodwinked" the media, and the public, into going along with the U.S. attack on Iraq in 2003. Today, a CNN correspondent, Jessica Yellin, revealed that the ABC network, where she once worked, had discouraged negative pieces at the behest of the White House.

Other reporters are actively defending their performance.

Foreclosure Phil

Years before Phil Gramm was a McCain campaign adviser and a lobbyist for a Swiss bank at the center of the housing credit crisis, he pulled a sly maneuver in the Senate that helped create today's subprime meltdown.

David Corn
May 28 , 2008

Who's to blame for the biggest financial catastrophe of our time? There are plenty of culprits, but one candidate for lead perp is former Sen. Phil Gramm. Eight years ago, as part of a decades-long anti-regulatory crusade, Gramm pulled a sly legislative maneuver that greased the way to the multibillion-dollar subprime meltdown. Yet has Gramm been banished from the corridors of power? Reviled as the villain who bankrupted Middle America? Hardly. Now a well-paid executive at a Swiss bank, Gramm cochairs Sen. John McCain's presidential campaign and advises the Republican candidate on economic matters. He's been mentioned as a possible Treasury secretary should McCain win. That's right: A guy who helped screw up the global financial system could end up in charge of US economic policy. Talk about a market failure.

Pentagon Shill Returns to CNN to Talk About Iran

Brig. Gen. David L. Grange doesn't wear a star on his shoulder much since his retirement in 1999. But he's on the list of retired officers the Pentagon has cultivated in an effort to influence domestic news coverage of military matters.

In fact, Grange, a CNN analyst, was tagged as the most visible shill for the Pentagon since 2002.

Scott McClellan, Where's the Apology?

By David Corn | May 27, 2008 8:28 PM

Where's the apology?

Politico reports that in his new book, former Bush White House press secretary Scott McClellan says that Bush was not "open and forthright on Iraq," adopted a "permanent campaign approach" when it came to governing, and used "propaganda" to sell the war. He also writes that Scooter Libby and Karl Rove "had at best misled" him about their role in the leak that disclosed the CIA identity of Valerie Plame Wilson and that he (McClellan) had presented information to the White House press corps that was "badly misguided." McClellan notes that Bush "and his advisers confused the propaganda campaign with the high level of candor and honesty so fundamentally needed to build and then sustain public support during a time of war."

The Mega-Pentagon: A Bush-Enabled Monster We Can't Stop

By Frida Berrigan,
Posted on May 28, 2008, Printed on May 29, 2008

A full-fledged cottage industry is already focused on those who eagerly await the end of the Bush administration, offering calendars, magnets, and t-shirts for sale as well as counters and graphics to download onto blogs and websites. But when the countdown ends and George W. Bush vacates the Oval Office, he will leave a legacy to contend with. Certainly, he wills to his successor a world marred by war and battered by deprivation, but perhaps his most enduring legacy is now deeply embedded in Washington-area politics -- a Pentagon metastasized almost beyond recognition.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

NPR Nails Perps in Subprime Crisis: Leaves Out Media

NPR had a very good piece this morning detailing how investment banks accepted and passed on mortgage loans that they knew to be bad. According to its report, one investment bank had a contract with New Century, a leading issuer of subprime mortgages, that it would reject no more than 2.5 percent of its loans. Of course, such a contract would be an invitation to submit bad loans.

At the end, the report presents the assessment of the investment banks' actions by Adam Davidson, NPR's economic correspondent. Mr Davidson said that the investment banks bear responsibility for the mortgage crisis, but so do many other parties up and down the chain, including the home buyers and the mortgage issuers.

This mini-league of nations would cause only division

John McCain wants to create a new alliance to circumvent the UN. We mustn't let this idea gain consensus in Washington

Amid the continuing brouhaha about issues of race and gender in the US presidential campaign, we may be in danger of losing sight of the most important question that has arisen in the candidates' skirmishing over international affairs. That relates to John McCain's advocacy of the establishment of a "league of democracies", and the mounting clamour for Barack Obama to espouse the same idea as his own.

McCain says he'd establish the league in his first year in office: a close-knit grouping of like-minded nations that could respond to humanitarian crises and compensate for the UN security council's tendency to be hamstrung by the likes of Russia and China when it needs to take decisive action against the world's evil-doers. Neocon guru Robert Kagan, an avid proponent, says: "The world's democracies could make common cause to act in humanitarian crises when the UN security council cannot reach unanimity." The league's strength would be that it "would not be limited to Europeans and Americans but would include the world's other great democracies, such as India, Brazil, Japan and Australia, and would [therefore] have even greater legitimacy".

Dobbs Crumbles When Pressed On His ‘NAFTA Super Highway’ Myth: ‘I Reject You!’

Last Wednesday, Media Matters Action Network issued a report, which found that cable news commentators Lou Dobbs, Bill O’Reilly, and Glenn Beck regularly “serve up a steady diet of fear, anger, and resentment on the topic of illegal immigration.”

Last night on his CNN show, an edgy Lou Dobbs hosted Media Matters fellow Paul Waldman to discuss the report’s finding. Waldman asked Dobbs to provide evidence of the “myth” he often promotes — that there is a “secret plan” to build a “NAFTA Superhighway” from Mexico to Canada. Having trouble providing evidence, an exasperated Dobbs said finally, “You’re charging nonsense.” “I reject it, I reject you, and I reject your position,” he angrily added.

Climate Destruction Will Produce Millions of 'Envirogees'

By Scott Thill, AlterNet
Posted on May 27, 2008, Printed on May 27, 2008

Chew on this word, jargon lovers. Envirogee.

It carries more 21st century buzz than its semi-official designation climate refugee, which is a displaced individual who has been forced to migrate because of environmental devastation. Maybe the buzzword will catch on faster and shed some much-needed light on what will become a serious problem, probably by the end of this or the next decade. That light is crucial, because so far envirogees haven't been fully recognized by those who certify the civil liberties of Earth's various populations, whether that is the United Nations or local and national governments whose people are increasingly on the move for a whole new set of devastating reasons.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Who Is John McCain?

By Michael Tomasky

Free Ride: John McCain and the Media
by David Brock and Paul Waldman

Anchor, 218 pp., $13.95 (paper)

The Real McCain: Why Conservatives Don't Trust Him—and Why Independents Shouldn't
by Cliff Schecter

PoliPoint, 186 pp., $14.95 (paper)

McCain: The Myth of a Maverick
by Matt Welch

Palgrave Macmillan, 226 pp., $27.95

It is little remembered today that the political career of John Sidney McCain III, a career now thoroughly laundered in mythology, began with the help of several fortuities. In 1973 he returned from his five and a half years of captivity in North Vietnam to Washington, or technically Arlington, Virginia, which had been his childhood home for more years than any other single place as he followed his father, a celebrated four-star admiral, on the elder McCain's naval assignments. He was one of 591 prisoners of war repatriated early that year as a result of Operation Homecoming, and was selected by the editors of US News & World Report as the one returning POW who would be given a thirteen-page spread in the magazine to describe his ordeal (having a famous father never hurts), which brought him the same kind of attention and acclaim that had earlier, for different purposes, been showered upon the young Hillary Diane Rodham and the young John Forbes Kerry.

By 1977 he held the post of naval liaison to Congress, his father's old position, and shortly thereafter attained the rank of captain. It was on Capitol Hill that he met and befriended important senators—Gary Hart of Colorado, William Cohen of Maine, and most of all John Tower of Texas, the buddy to whom he was closest during a period of his life that included its share of carousing and irreparably strained his marriage to his first wife, Carol. When asked to explain the dissolution of their marriage in the late 1970s, she said, "I attribute it more to John turning forty and wanting to be twenty-five again than I do to anything else."

Chris Floyd: Outer Darkness: The Gulag Cancer Grows, State Terror Intensifies

Saturday, 24 May 2008

The United States government is holding some 27,000 human beings in secret prisons around the world. The overwhelming majority of them are being held indefinitely, without charges, without rights, cut off from the outside world, and subject to "harsh interrogation techniques" (to use the prim locution for "torture" used by the Bush Administration and universally adopted by the American media).

Many of these captives are stuffed into holding pens in Iraq, including Abu Ghraib, which is still in operations despite the momentary torture-photo scandal of 2004 -- and despite Bush's earnest promise to Iraqis to tear down that hated symbol of Saddam's torture. Other captives are crammed into the holds of prison ships floating around the world. Still others languish in the torture chambers of the Bush Administration's Terror War allies -- despotisms, tyrannies, brutal kingdoms -- having been "renditioned" there by American agents, sometimes after being kidnapped, or sold into captivity by bounty hunters, or snatched up in mass sweeps or random grabs or simply for having the wrong name, the wrong face, the wrong color, the wrong religion.

What Was Really Great About The Great Society

An old article, but still good.--Dictynna

The truth behind the conservative myths

By Joseph A. Califano Jr.

If there is a prize for the political scam of the 20th century, it should go to the conservatives for propagating as conventional wisdom that the Great Society programs of the 1960s were a misguided and failed social experiment that wasted taxpayers' money.

Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, from 1963 when Lyndon Johnson took office until 1970 as the impact of his Great Society programs were felt, the portion of Americans living below the poverty line dropped from 22.2 percent to 12.6 percent, the most dramatic decline over such a brief period in this century. Since then, the poverty rate has hovered at about the 13 percent level and sits at 13.3 percent today, still a disgraceful level in the context of the greatest economic boom in our history. But if the Great Society had not achieved that dramatic reduction in poverty, and the nation had not maintained it, 24 million more Americans would today be living below the poverty level.

Public schools as good as private schools in raising math scores, study says

Students in public schools learn as much or more math between kindergarten and fifth grade as similar students in private schools, according to a new University of Illinois study of multi-year, longitudinal data on nearly 10,000 students.

Oil: A Global Crisis

by Geoffrey Lean

The invasion of Iraq by Britain and the US has trebled the price of oil, according to a leading expert, costing the world a staggering $6 trillion in higher energy prices alone.

The oil economist Dr Mamdouh Salameh, who advises both the World Bank and the UN Industrial Development Organisation (Unido), told The Independent on Sunday that the price of oil would now be no more than $40 a barrel, less than a third of the record $135 a barrel reached last week, if it had not been for the Iraq war.

US spending in Iraq ignored rules

An audit of some $8bn (£4bn) paid to US and Iraqi contractors has found that almost every payment failed to comply with US laws aimed at preventing fraud.

In one instance, $11m was paid to a US company without any record of what goods or services were provided, the US defence department audit said.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Daily Kos: Another Looming Bush Disaster

Sat May 24, 2008 at 03:00:07 PM PDT

The great minds in Bush's Homeland Security department came up with a doozie this year: let's move the facility where we study the most infectious and dangerous disease among livestock from the isolated island it's now on (accessible only by ferry or helicopter) and put it where there are lots of livestock operations. Brilliant!

Seriously, the Bush administration proposed this, despite the fact that the existing lab has experienced accidents where the virus was released.

Frank Rich: Memorial Day at ‘South Pacific’

NEW YORK is a ghost town on Memorial Day weekend. But two distinct groups are hanging tight: sailors delighting in the timeless shore-leave rituals of Fleet Week, and theatergoers clutching nearly impossible-to-get tickets for “South Pacific.”

Some of those sailors served in a war that has now lasted longer than American involvement in World War II but is largely out of sight and mind as civilians panic about gas prices at home. “South Pacific” has its sailors too: this 1949 Rodgers and Hammerstein musical tells of those who served in what we now call “the good war.”

Wanna Know a Secret (Law)?

by Sean Gonsalves

Once upon a time, a team of federal attorneys went before the Supreme Court only to discover that their entire case was based on a revoked executive order and therefore moot.

True story. Look it up. Panama Refining Company v. Ryan. The revoked presidential order was understandably missed by the attorneys. The revocation had never been made public — an example of what legal scholars refer to as “secret law.”

In the ’30s and ’40s, Congress penned legislation aimed at bringing order to the dissemination of vital government information, amid the chaotic complexity of state administrative laws and downright shoddy record-keeping. Congress also established statutes to keep a growing body of secret law in check.

Food Security Requires New Approach to Water

by Thalif Deen

UNITED NATIONS, May 23 (IPS) - The ongoing food crisis, characterized by growing shortages and rising prices of staple commodities, has far reaching implications for the world’s scarce water resources, says a new study released here.

“More food is likely to come at a cost of more water use in agriculture,” according to the report titled “Saving Water: From Field to Fork“.

501(c)3 Violating, Obama Bashing Message from Pentagon Connected Ministry

By Chris Rodda
Thu May 22, 2008 at 08:26:16 PM EST

The almost incomprehensible attack on Barack Obama found below is excerpted from a "Sermon of the Month" by Dr. Cecil Todd, founder of Revival Fires International, a 501(c)3 ministry which, "at the request of the Chief Chaplains of the Pentagon," has been shipping Bibles to Iraq, via military airlift, since 2003. According to a Revival Fires press release this "full Bible is designed and authorized by the Chief Chaplains of the Pentagon." This Pentagon involvement and Bible distribution led Navy chaplain LCDR Brian K. Waite to Revival Fires.

In 2001, LCDR Waite, then a mega-church pastor and reserve chaplain, published a virulently anti-Muslim book titled Islam Uncovered -- a book which was pulled from the shelves in 2002 due to plagiarism and faked endorsements. A few months later, Waite was accepted into the Naval Chaplain Corps. As an active duty chaplain, Waite has not only endorsed Revival Fires in uniform on the ministry's website, but appeared on advertisements for, and as a featured speaker at, their 2006 and 2007 campmeetings. He is also scheduled to appear at their 2008 campmeeting, to be held in June. Past speakers at Cecil Todd's campmeetings have included both John Hagee and Rod Parsley.

Bombing Iran: The Clamor Persists

Listening to the questions asked of Gen. David Petraeus in the Senate Thursday, you might think the U.S. was headed for a new war in the Gulf. Senators from both sides of the aisle spent as much time asking him about Iran as they did about Iraq and Afghanistan. Sen. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut grilled Petraeus on Iran's anti-U.S. activities in the region. Sen. Daniel Akaka of Hawaii plaintively asked about the utility of negotiations with Iran. And Sen. Jim Webb of Virginia pressed Petraeus on what he meant by the need to "counter malign Iranian influence" and the "consequences for its illegitimate influence in the region."

Pesticides: Germany bans chemicals linked to honeybee devastation

Germany has banned a family of pesticides that are blamed for the deaths of millions of honeybees. The German Federal Office of Consumer Protection and Food Safety (BVL) has suspended the registration for eight pesticide seed treatment products used in rapeseed oil and sweetcorn.

The move follows reports from German beekeepers in the Baden-Württemberg region that two thirds of their bees died earlier this month following the application of a pesticide called clothianidin.

Glenn Greenwald: How telecoms are attempting to buy amnesty from Congress

One of the benefits from the protracted battle over telecom amnesty is that it is a perfect microcosm for how our government institutions work. And a casual review of the available evidence regarding how telecom amnesty is being pursued demonstrates what absurd, irrelevant distractions are the pro-amnesty justifications offered by the pundit class and the Bush administration.

Just in the first three months of 2008, recent lobbyist disclosure statements reveal that AT&T spent $5.2 million in lobbyist fees (putting it well ahead of its 2007 pace, when it spent just over $17 million). In the first quarter of 2008, Verizon spent $4.8 million on lobbyist fees, while Comcast spent $2.6 million. So in the first three months of this year, those three telecoms -- which would be among the biggest beneficiaries of telecom amnesty (right after the White House) -- spent a combined total of almost $13 million on lobbyists. They're on pace to spend more than $50 million on lobbying this year -- just those three companies.

Buffett sees "long, deep" U.S. recession

BERLIN (Reuters) - The United States is already in a recession and it will be longer as well as deeper than many people expect, U.S. investor Warren Buffett said in an interview published in German magazine Der Spiegel on Saturday.

He said the United States was "already in recession" and added: "Perhaps not in the sense that economists would define it" with two consecutive quarters of negative growth.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Glenn Greenwald: The California marriage decision and basic civics

The Brookings Institutions' Ben Wittes has an article in The New Republic decrying the decision of the California Supreme Court striking down that state's discriminatory marriage law. Wittes' criticism of the decision reflects the standard attack on the California Supreme Court, an attack that relies upon what can only be described as profound ignorance about how our system of government works.

Wittes' principal objection is that the California court's ruling was wrong because it is contrary to evolving democratic efforts to forge a "compromise" on the issue of gay marriage and because a large majority supports the law (h/t Andrew Sullivan):

Another cost is that slow drip-by-drip accretion of power to courts, that steady undermining of the right of people to govern themselves. In California, the deprivation of that right is exquisitely on display, for the compromise the court upset involved decades of negotiation and movement. The nucleus of California's domestic partnership law dates from the late 1970s. Over time, it has grown more generous, by 2006 including all of the rights and obligations of marriage. In 2000, however, the people of California voted overwhelmingly to limit marriage itself to opposite-sex unions. The legislature has twice voted to extend marriage to gay couples -- and Governor Schwarzenegger has twice vetoed the bill. The current arrangement, in short, reflects a series of evolving compromises set against the backdrop of a quickly developing social consensus concerning the value and honor of same-sex relationships -- a process that the court treated as just so much bother on the way to a self-evident truth. Once upon a time, this bother had a name. We called it democracy.

Spending On Iraq Poorly Tracked

Audit Faults Accounting for $15 Billion in Work

By Dana Hedgpeth
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 23, 2008; D01

The inspector general for the Defense Department said yesterday that the Pentagon cannot account for almost $15 billion worth of goods and services ranging from trucks, bottled water and mattresses to rocket-propelled grenades and machine guns that were bought from contractors in the Iraq reconstruction effort.

The Pentagon did not have the proper documentation, including receipts, vouchers, signatures, invoices or other paperwork, for $7.8 billion that American and Iraqi contractors were paid for phones, folders, paint, blankets, Nissan trucks, laundry services and other items, according to a 69-page audit released to the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

The Mosul riddle

By Pepe Escobar

"Operation Peace" in Sadr City in Baghdad is and will continue to be spun by the Nuri al-Maliki government - and by America corporate media - as a resounding "success" in controlling Iraqi militias, in this case the Mahdi Army of Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

Meanwhile, under the global radar, an invisible war in Mosul drags on, officially against al-Qaeda in Iraq jihadis but in fact a barely disguised anti-Sunni mini-pogrom conducted by - what else? - government-embedded militias.

Mythmaking for the Next War

by Steve Chapman

At the height of the Cold War, the Soviet Union had some 45,000 nuclear warheads. At the moment, Iran has none. But when Barack Obama said the obvious — that Iran does not pose the sort of threat the Soviet Union did — John McCain reacted as though his rival had offered to trade Ft. Knox for a sack of magic beans.

“Such a statement betrays the depth of Sen. Obama’s inexperience and reckless judgment,” exclaimed McCain. “These are very serious deficiencies for an American president to possess.”

But if Iran is the Soviet Union, I’m Shaquille O’Neal. There is nothing reckless in soberly distinguishing large threats from small ones, and there is something foolhardy in grossly exaggerating the strength of your enemies.

Frightening Food for Thought

by John Griffin

Content conquers craft in Marie-Monique Robin’s devastating exposé Le Monde selon Monsanto (The World According to Monsanto).

The French journalist’s documentary format is pedestrian — lots of phone calls, talking heads, cheesy mock-dramatic background music. But her seriously researched critique of the international chemical “life sciences” giant Monsanto will freeze the blood in your veins.

You may know Monsanto for its role in those old chestnuts PCB, dioxin and Agent Orange, poisons so pervasive and so stubborn they have spread their toxic stain from pole to pole.

McCain's Team of Lobbyists

Disturbed by troubling connections and unflattering publicity, John McCain has just purged several prominent Washington lobbyists from his presidential campaign. Surely his intentions are laudable, but if Mr. McCain is consistent in ridding the campaign of such compromised people, he will find himself riding lonesome on the Straight Talk Express. That’s because nearly all of his advisers, fund-raisers and top staffers have worked on K Street, starting with his campaign manager, Rick Davis, and his senior adviser and spokesman, Charles Black.

BradBlog: Exclusive: Voting Machine Company Chief Lied to Chicago Officials About Ownership, Control of Company

Sequoia Voting Systems' CEO, Jack Blaine, Sent Deceptive Letter to Windy City Officials Following 'Evasive' and 'Troublesome' Testimony on his Company's Control by Smartmatic, a Chavez-tied E-Voting Firm

Documents Reveal Officials Sought to Ensure Venezuelan Company's Divestiture of Sequoia Was 'Not a Sham Transaction Designed to Fool Regulators'; Recent Reporting by The BRAD BLOG Reveals That it Was...

-- by Brad Friedman

The CEO and President of one of America's largest voting machine companies, Sequoia Voting Systems, gave both deceptive, and carefully selective, answers in his reply to a letter sent earlier this year from two high-ranking officials in Chicago, according to documents recently obtained during an ongoing investigation by The BRAD BLOG.

Dave Zirin: What I Want to Ask Mary Tillman

This Friday, I will have the privilege to interview Mary Tillman, the mother of the late Pat Tillman: former NFL player turned Army Ranger, turned casualty of a criminal war.

Mary Tillman has written a book along with Narda Zacchino called Boots on the Ground by Dusk: My Tribute to Pat Tillman. It’s a heart-ripping account of one family’s lonely search for justice, and how, even aided by public outcry and heavy hitters in Congress, the truth about what actually happened to Mary’s son remains at arm’s length.

There are, after four years, six investigations and two congressional hearings, still a host of unanswered questions about how Pat was killed. Boots on the Ground is yet another attempt by Mary Tillman and her very private family to force the spotlight upon his case–and to their discomfort, put the spotlight on themselves.

House Adopts Lee Amendment to Prevent President Bush From Making Commitments Related To The Security of Iraq Absent Congressional Approval

WASHINGTON, DC - May 23 - Today, by bipartisan a vote of 234 to 183, the House adopted Congresswoman Barbara Lee’s amendment to the Department of Defense Authorization Act requiring congressional approval of any agreement between the U.S. and Iraq making commitments related to Iraq’s security.

In November 2007 President Bush and Iraq Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki signed the “Declaration of Principles for Friendship and Cooperation,” which included an unprecedented commitment to “defend Iraq against internal and external threats.”

Why the War in Iraq Is Stranger Than Fiction

By Amy Goodman, Democracy Now!
Posted on May 24, 2008, Printed on May 24, 2008

John Cusack's new filmWar, Inc., takes on issues few in Hollywood today would dare to: war profiteering, mercenaries, political corruption and embedded journalism. A political satire, the film stars Cusack as Hauser, a hit-man for hire who is deployed to the fictional country of Turaqistan to kill a Middle Eastern oil baron. Hauser's employer is Tamerlane, a secretive for-profit military corporation headed by a former U.S. vice president played by Dan Aykroyd. We also speak to Democracy Now! correspondent Jeremy Scahill, author of the bestselling book Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Katha Pollitt: Déjà Vu in South Dakota

It's baaack. In 2006 South Dakota voters defeated, 56 to 44, a ballot initiative that would have banned abortion even to save the woman's life. Prochoicers cautiously exhaled. Antichoicers got busy. Taking a leaf from polls that suggested a hefty majority would favor a ban as long as it included exceptions for drastic circumstances--rape, incest, the life or physical health of the woman--antichoicers have rolled out a new initiative, Measure 11. It contains loopholes, in theory, for rape and incest victims who report the crime to law enforcement and allow collection of their DNA and that of the fetus, as well as to women "at serious risk of a substantial and irreversible impairment of the functioning of a major bodily organ or system." An ominous sign: it was submitted to the secretary of state on March 31 with 46,000 signatures, although only 16,000 were required.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Today's Must Read

The Washington Post digs deeper into that Justice Department Inspector General's report on the FBI role in detainee interrogations, specifically the contentious high-level Administration disputes over torture:

Two major policy splits are highlighted in the report's account of the long to-and-fro over the tactics. One reflected a clash of cultures between the experienced interrogators at the FBI who were looking to prosecute terrorism crimes, and military and CIA officials who were seeking rapid information about al-Qaeda and were willing to push legal boundaries to do it. The report shows that FBI agents appeared more concerned about the long view, while others wanted detainees to break immediately in the panicked days after Sept. 11, 2001.

Fear & Loathing in Prime Time: Immigration Myths and Cable News

"Number one, the illegal aliens shouldn't be here. And number two, the culture from which they come is a lot more violent than the USA."
-- The O'Reilly Factor, January 15, 2007

There are many problems facing the United States today: a faltering economy, a health-care crisis, and the continuing war in Iraq, to name a few. But viewers of some of the most prominent cable news programs are presented a different reality in which one issue stands above all others: illegal immigration.

Media Matters Action Network undertook this study in order to document how immigration is discussed and debated on cable news. When it comes to immigration, cable news overflows not just with vitriolic rhetoric, but also with a series of myths that feed viewers' resentment and fears, fostering hostility toward immigrants.

Gas tops $3.83 a gallon; oil briefly tops $135 before dropping to $130

NEW YORK — Americans getting an early start on the Memorial Day weekend found that gasoline prices again it a record high overnight, reaching a national average above $3.83 a gallon. Some analysts predict gas will break past $4 as early as next week.

Oil prices, meanwhile, fluctuated Thursday after setting a record of $135.09 in overnight trading. A stronger dollar gave some investors reason to sell oil futures to lock in profits from crude's record run. But concerns about falling supplies and rising demand are expected to keep propelling prices higher in the days and weeks to come.

Wall Street's Racket Has Gone Too Far, and We're Going to Pay the Heavy Price

By James Howard Kunstler,
Posted on May 22, 2008, Printed on May 22, 2008

"Far from normal."

Those were the words that Fed chairman Ben Bernanke has used to describe the financial markets (and by extension, the economy) these heady spring days when everybody else with a rostrum, it seems, has pronounced the so-called liquidity crisis contained. There's a great wish for American finance to return to business-as-usual -- raking in fantastic fees for innovating new modes of tradable paper and engineering mergers and buyouts that generate huge fees plus $100 million kiss-offs for corporate CEOs in the noble struggle to dismantle America's productive capacity -- but apparently events are still out of hand.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Earth may hide a lethal carbon cache

Carbon locked away deep within the Earth's crust could have profound implications on our climate, according to a meeting in the US last week. It has long been assumed that this "deep carbon," buried in old carbonate rocks, fossil fuels and ice lattices, could be safely ignored when it came to analyzing the effect of greenhouse gases on climate. But now it is emerging there is much more deep carbon ready to spew out than previously thought.

A Devil's Dictionary of Finance


By Nicholas von Hoffman
May 15, 2008

These days, even people who pay attention only to gallery openings and baseball scores are suddenly paying attention to what's happening on Wall Street. Investment bankers and hedge fund managers are crafting financial instruments the likes of which have never been seen by the industry, the consumer or the Federal Reserve. As mortgages melt down, the market gyrates, and the regulators make their pronouncements, here is a short list of some of the business terms and their meanings that are driving our wild financial ride.

Additional Capital: A financial lifesaver for banks and investment houses swamped by losses and the threat of bankruptcy. The additional capital raised to cover the emergency is obtained by printing and selling more stock, thus lessening the value of the stock already in existence.

Raising money under these circumstances is very expensive and sometimes involves a guarantee that the buyers of the new stock will receive some kind of dividend before anybody else gets paid--an additional sock in the nose to the current stockholders. The need to raise additional capital is not always due to the stupidity and incompetence of the people running the company. Sometimes it's for such profitable purposes as buying new machinery or expanding the factory (back in the days when we had factories).

Bear Stearns Too Big to Fail?

Antitrust Laws Required Intervention Long Before the Fed Bail Out

By Jonathan Macey 05/21/2008

Sometime during the week-end of March 14-15, the U.S. Federal Reserve decided the government of the United States could not permit the investment bank Bear Stearns to fail. Ben Bernanke, the Fed chairman, told the Senate Banking Committee that the bailout of Bear Stearns was necessary to protect the financial system and, ultimately, the entire economy.

Bear Stearns did not suddenly become an essential component of the U.S. economy the weekend it collapsed. Rather, the regulators at the Fed and the Treasury Dept. and the Security and Exchange Commission either hadn’t notice that Bear Stearns was too big to fail or were incapable or unwilling to do anything about the alleged systemic risks created by companies like Bear Stearns until they failed.

Why Does the Wall Street Journal Hate America?

By Scott Horton

“The military tribunals are about justice and upholding proud American traditions—not part of a debate on whether the war in Iraq was, or is, a good thing.”

A week ago Friday, Navy Captain Keith Allred, the military judge presiding in the Hamdan case, handed down a ruling in which he concluded that Brigadier General Thomas Hartmann—the legal adviser to the convening authority—had behaved impermissibly in bringing the case, and required Hartmann’s disqualification from the proceedings. In reaching these determinations, Capt. Allred twice cites “The Great Guantánamo Puppet Theater,” my article discussing the controversy about Hartmann’s conduct. And this has the editors at the Wall Street Journal seeing red.

Glenn Greenwald: Growing Responsibility for the Bush Torture Regime

By Glenn Greenwald,

Recent ACLU-compelled disclosures of previously concealed DOJ documents reveal many of the details of what has been long known: that the highest levels of the Bush administration secretly implemented an illegal torture regime. But while those torture programs began in secret, we have gradually learned more and more about them. The more time that goes by and the more we learn — particularly if we do nothing meaningful to stop it — the more the responsibility for these policies shifts from the administration to all of us collectively.

Report Details Dissent on Guantánamo Tactics

WASHINGTON — In 2002, as evidence of prisoner mistreatment at Guantánamo Bay began to mount, Federal Bureau of Investigation agents at the base created a “war crimes file” to document accusations against American military personnel, but were eventually ordered to close down the file, a Justice Department report revealed Tuesday.

The report, an exhaustive, 437-page review prepared by the Justice Department inspector general, provides the fullest account to date of internal dissent and confusion within the Bush administration over the use of harsh interrogation tactics by the military and the Central Intelligence Agency.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The Last Roundup

Is the government compiling a secret list of citizens to detain under martial law?

By Christopher Ketcham

In the spring of 2007, a retired senior official in the U.S. Justice Department sat before Congress and told a story so odd and ominous, it could have sprung from the pages of a pulp political thriller. It was about a principled bureaucrat struggling to protect his country from a highly classified program with sinister implications. Rife with high drama, it included a car chase through the streets of Washington, D.C., and a tense meeting at the White House, where the president's henchmen made the bureaucrat so nervous that he demanded a neutral witness be present.

The bureaucrat was James Comey, John Ashcroft's second-in-command at the Department of Justice during Bush's first term. Comey had been a loyal political foot soldier of the Republican Party for many years. Yet in his testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, he described how he had grown increasingly uneasy reviewing the Bush administration's various domestic surveillance and spying programs. Much of his testimony centered on an operation so clandestine he wasn't allowed to name it or even describe what it did. He did say, however, that he and Ashcroft had discussed the program in March 2004, trying to decide whether it was legal under federal statutes. Shortly before the certification deadline, Ashcroft fell ill with pancreatitis, making Comey acting attorney general, and Comey opted not to certify the program. When he communicated his decision to the White House, Bush's men told him, in so many words, to take his concerns and stuff them in an undisclosed location.

Holy warriors in the US Armed Forces

Separation of church and state being dissolved within the military

Recently the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), an advocacy group, along with Specialist Jeremy Hall filed suit in federal court in Kansas. This case being held in front of civil authorities alleges that Specialist Hall’s right to be free from state endorsement of religion under the First Amendment has been violated, and that he has faced retaliation for his views. Mikey Weinstein, founder of the MRFF, says this is a systemic problem in the US Armed Forces, and is not being taken seriously enough. Organizations such as Christian Embassy, the Officers’ Christian Fellowship and Christian Military Fellowship are actively evangelizing among the various branches of US government and Armed Forces, and Weinstein argues this is unconstitutional.

Forecasters see weak economy even if housing, credit improve

By JEANNINE AVERSA AP Economics Writer | AP
May 19, 2008

First the good news: The worst of the painful housing slump and the credit crunch might come to an end this year. Now the bad: The economy will weaken further and unemployment will rise.

That's the latest outlook from forecasters in a survey to be released Monday by the National Association for Business Economics, also known by its acronym NABE. It will take time for any rays of light to poke through the economic clouds, though.

Mark Crispin Miller: Obama's inner circle & Big Media

Now that Obama clearly has what Bush the Elder once called "the Big Mo," and may therefore be a shoo-in for the Democratic nomination, it's time to take a close look at his inner circle, insofar as we know who they are.

I offer this not in a spirit of detraction, which would be pointless, as Obama may just be the Democrat who faces John "Bomb Bomb" McCain. Rather, I circulate this information as a way to help us ask Obama the right questions, and, in this campaign season, wring from him a few straight answers, and the sort of strong assurances that people will remember.

Iraq Vets Testify to War Atrocities, Vow to Fight and Resist Bush Policy

By Liliana Segura, AlterNet
Posted on May 20, 2008, Printed on May 20, 2008

"I was ordered multiple times by commissioned officers and noncommissioned officers to shoot unarmed civilians if their presence made me feel uncomfortable," Sgt. Jason Lemieux told a panel of lawmakers last Thursday in a packed public hearing on Capitol Hill. "These orders were given with the understanding that my immediate chain of command would protect our subordinates from legal repercussions." Lemieux, a former Marine who was part of the invading force that entered Baghdad in March 2003, came to Washington, D.C., with Iraq Veterans Against the War, weeks after the fifth anniversary of President George Bush's declaration of "Mission Accomplished" to tell Congress enough is enough. Invited by Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D-Calif., the veterans spoke firmly and eloquently before members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, telling stories that were just "the tip of the iceberg," as Lemieux put it, but which nevertheless offered a frightening range of accounts: violent house raids, the killings of innocent people, "drop weapons" used to make dead civilians look like insurgents, racism in the ranks, and their own process of dehumanization as they became inured to the humanity of those who they were supposedly sent to "liberate."

Oil settles above $129 for first time

By ADAM SCHRECK, AP Business Writer
Tue May 20, 5:12 PM ET

Just in time for the start of the summer driving season: Oil near $130 a barrel and gas getting closer to an average of $4 a gallon.

Crude prices spiked to yet another trading high Tuesday as supply concerns mounted. At filling stations across the country, the national average price for a gallon of regular gasoline touched $3.80 for the first time, having followed oil's spectacular rise.

The June contract for light, sweet crude traded as high as $129.60 on the New York Mercantile Exchange before settling at $129.07, up $2.02 from Monday's record high. The expiration of that contract, which ended with the close of Tuesday's trading, created additional volatility as traders scrambled to lock in positions.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Cash in on History

By Mary Kane 05/19/2008 09:48AM

One of the lessons from Japan's long economic crisis in the 1990s was supposed to be that ignoring bank losses and delaying any action to correct them only prolongs the pain. Japan spent almost a decade dealing with a deflated economy as it tried to recover from the bursting of its stock and property bubbles in late 1989. Banks hid losses and regulators looked the other way, which only added to the length of the slowdown. Japan's experience often is cited as an example of how not to handle a financial crisis.

Legal Theory Seeks to Curtail Tort Cases

Upcoming Supreme Court Case Could Redefine the Right to Sue Drug Makers

By Matthew Blake 05/19/2008

In 2001, after years as a lawyer for pharmaceutical and tobacco companies, Daniel Troy was tapped as President George W. Bush's general counsel of the Food and Drug Administration. Almost immediately, the FDA filed several friend of the court briefs on behalf of medical device and drug companies being sued in state courts. The briefs argued that it is not the place of state judges and juries to question the safety of a drug that FDA scientists have approved.

Troy was applying the preemption principle -- which argues that federal regulations of a product preempt consumers from suing the maker of that product in state civil courts. Troy left the FDA in 2004, but the U.S. Supreme Court subscribed to his logic earlier this year in a ruling that preempted lawsuits against makers of medical device. It could do the same this fall, in a case about consumers' right to sue drug companies. The Bush administration's once obscure legal argument for curtailing lawsuits against industry has become the nation's predominant opinion.

Paul Krugman: Stranded in Suburbia


I have seen the future, and it works.

O.K., I know that these days you’re supposed to see the future in China or India, not in the heart of “old Europe.”

But we’re living in a world in which oil prices keep setting records, in which the idea that global oil production will soon peak is rapidly moving from fringe belief to mainstream assumption. And Europeans who have achieved a high standard of living in spite of very high energy prices — gas in Germany costs more than $8 a gallon — have a lot to teach us about how to deal with that world.

The ubiquitous Newt Gingrich slogs on

Former House Speaker appeared in an Al Gore-sponsored anti-global warming ad with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, but later backtracked

He recently "counseled" Democrats and plugged his new novel about Pearl Harbor titled "Days of Infamy" on ABC's "The View" and "Good Morning America"; he appears regularly over at the Fox News Channel; he recently told the French Sunday newspaper Le Journal du Dimanche that Obama "is a far left-wing politician, but with a beautiful smile"; he's got a website that's pretty cool; he co-authored another best selling book; he's listed at number 36 on the Daily Telegraph's list of the 50 most influential political pundits; and now that Sen. John McCain is the Republican Party's presumptive nominee, he no doubt regrets not having tossed his hat into the ring.

The Old Titans All Collapsed. Is the U.S. Next?

By Kevin Phillips
Sunday, May 18, 2008; B03

Back in August, during the panic over mortgages, Alan Greenspan offered reassurance to an anxious public. The current turmoil, the former Federal Reserve Board chairman said, strongly resembled brief financial scares such as the Russian debt crisis of 1998 or the U.S. stock market crash of 1987. Not to worry.

But in the background, one could hear the groans and feel the tremors as larger political and economic tectonic plates collided. Nine months later, Greenspan's soothing analogies no longer wash. The U.S. economy faces unprecedented debt levels, soaring commodity prices and sliding home prices, to say nothing of a weak dollar. Despite the recent stabilization of the economy, some economists fear that the world will soon face the greatest financial crisis since the 1930s.

Commentary: Propaganda and the media

Joseph L. Galloway | McClatchy Newspapers
last updated: May 15, 2008 02:42:32 PM

Once upon a time, it was widely believed that one of the greatest sins the U.S. government or its temporary political masters could commit was to turn a propaganda machine loose on the American people.

Congress viewed this so seriously that every appropriations bill passed since 1951 has contained language that says no public money “shall be used for publicity or propaganda purposes within the United States” without the lawmakers' prior approval.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Setting harms education of some young children, report warns

By Sarah Cassidy, Education Correspondent
Friday, 16 May 2008

Teaching young children in groups according to their ability does not increase their achievements and is damaging to those pupils allocated to the bottom groups, the biggest review into primary education for 40 years has concluded.

Bright children perform just as well whether they are taught in mixed-ability classes or in exclusive groups of high achievers, the study found. But less bright children do less well when they are taught with other lower achievers than if they study with the rest of the class, according to the latest reports of the Primary Review, led by Cambridge University.

The reports, by academics from the University of London's Institute of Education and King's College, also called for smaller classes, arguing that pupils can fall behind when they are forced to move to larger classes as they progress up the school.

The island house that powers itself - with a little help from 100mph gales

Global interest in couple's pioneering project to live off-grid - including their car

Severin Carrell
The Guardian, Monday May 19 2008

Life on the most northerly inhabited island in Britain can be very tough indeed. On Unst the winters are harsh, and the winds brutal and relentless, regularly sweeping across the treeless landscape at more than 100mph.

But Unst is the island chosen by a retired couple from Wiltshire to build one of the world's greenest houses - a "zero carbon" home powered entirely by the wind and the sun. It sits on the same latitude as southern Greenland, but will soon boast lemon trees, grapevines and green pepper plants in its greenhouse, an electric car powered by the wind, and floors heated by drawing warmth from the air.

No wonder Iceland has the happiest people on earth

Special report by John Carlin
The Observer, Sunday May 18 2008

Highest birth rate in Europe + highest divorce rate + highest percentage of women working outside the home = the best country in the world in which to live. There has to be something wrong with this equation. Put those three factors together - loads of children, broken homes, absent mothers - and what you have, surely, is a recipe for misery and social chaos. But no. Iceland, the block of sub-Arctic lava to which these statistics apply, tops the latest table of the United Nations Development Programme's (UNDP) Human Development Index rankings, meaning that as a society and as an economy - in terms of wealth, health and education - they are champions of the world. To which one might respond: Yes, but - what with the dark winters and the far from tropical summers - are Icelanders happy? Actually, in so far as one can reliably measure such things, they are. According to a seemingly serious academic study reported in the Guardian in 2006, Icelanders are the happiest people on earth. (The study was lent some credibility by the finding that the Russians were the most unhappy.)

Frank Rich: McCain Can Run, but Bush Won’t Hide

THE biggest gift President Bush has given his party this year was to keep his daughter’s wedding nearly as private as Connie Corleone’s. Now that his disapproval rating has reached the Nixon nadir of negativity, even a joyous familial ritual isn’t enough to make the country glad to see him. The G.O.P.’s best hope would be for both the president and Dick Cheney to lock themselves in a closet until the morning after Election Day.

Republicans finally recognized the gravity of their situation three days after Jenna Bush took her vows in Crawford. As Hillary Clinton romped in West Virginia, voters in Mississippi elected a Democrat in a Congressional district that went for Bush-Cheney by 25 percentage points just four years ago. It’s the third “safe” Republican House seat to fall in a special election since March.

Tomgram: Mark Engler, How to Rule the World After Bush

A mere eight months to go until George W. Bush and Dick Cheney leave office -- though, given the cast of characters, it could seem like a lifetime. Still, it's a reasonable moment to begin to look back over the last years -- and also toward the post-Bush era. What a crater we'll have to climb out of by then!

My last post, "Kiss American Security Goodbye," was meant to mark the beginning of what will, over the coming months, be a number of Bush legacy pieces at Tomdispatch. So consider that series officially inaugurated by Foreign Policy in Focus analyst Mark Engler, who has just authored a new book that couldn't be more relevant to our looming moment of transition: How to Rule the World: The Coming Battle Over the Global Economy.

Fear, secrecy kept 1950 Korea mass killings hidden

By CHARLES J. HANLEY, AP Special Correspondent
Sun May 18, 1:26 PM ET

SEOUL, South Korea - One journalist's bid to report mass murder in South Korea in 1950 was blocked by his British publisher. Another correspondent was denounced as a possibly treasonous fabricator when he did report it. In South Korea, down the generations, fear silenced those who knew.

Fifty-eight years ago, at the outbreak of the Korean War, South Korean authorities secretively executed, usually without legal process, tens of thousands of southern leftists and others rightly or wrongly identified as sympathizers. Today a government Truth and Reconciliation Commission is working to dig up the facts, and the remains of victims.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Why farms must change to save the planet

FARMING is to blame for 25 per cent of Scotland's greenhouse gas emissions, a new report has revealed. The study into agriculture and its impact on the environment says radical changes are needed to centuries-old practices if Scotland is to meet its targets to tackle climate change.

It dispels the myth that it is only air travel, shipping and excessive car use that unleash huge quantities of damaging carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Instead, it lays a big portion of the blame on farming.

Moyers: 'Democracy in America Is a Series of Narrow Escapes, and We May Be Running Out of Luck'

By Bill Moyers, Doubleday
Posted on May 17, 2008, Printed on May 17, 2008

The following is an excerpt from Bill Moyers' new book, "Moyers on Democracy" (Doubleday, 2008).

Democracy in America is a series of narrow escapes, and we may be running out of luck. The reigning presumption about the American experience, as the historian Lawrence Goodwyn has written, is grounded in the idea of progress, the conviction that the present is "better" than the past and the future will bring even more improvement. For all of its shortcomings, we keep telling ourselves, "The system works."

Now all bets are off. We have fallen under the spell of money, faction, and fear, and the great American experience in creating a different future together has been subjugated to individual cunning in the pursuit of wealth and power -and to the claims of empire, with its ravenous demands and stuporous distractions. A sense of political impotence pervades the country -- a mass resignation defined by Goodwyn as "believing the dogma of 'democracy' on a superficial public level but not believing it privately." We hold elections, knowing they are unlikely to bring the corporate state under popular control. There is considerable vigor at local levels, but it has not been translated into new vistas of social possibility or the political will to address our most intractable challenges. Hope no longer seems the operative dynamic of America, and without hope we lose the talent and drive to cooperate in the shaping of our destiny.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Chalmers Johnson on Our ‘Managed Democracy’

It is not news that the United States is in great trouble. The pre-emptive war it launched against Iraq more than five years ago was and is a mistake of monumental proportions—one that most Americans still fail to acknowledge. Instead they are arguing about whether we should push on to “victory” when even our own generals tell us that a military victory is today inconceivable. Our economy has been hollowed out by excessive military spending over many decades while our competitors have devoted themselves to investments in lucrative new industries that serve civilian needs. Our political system of checks and balances has been virtually destroyed by rampant cronyism and corruption in Washington, D.C., and by a two-term president who goes around crowing “I am the decider,” a concept fundamentally hostile to our constitutional system. We have allowed our elections, the one nonnegotiable institution in a democracy, to be debased and hijacked—as was the 2000 presidential election in Florida—with scarcely any protest from the public or the self-proclaimed press guardians of the “Fourth Estate.” We now engage in torture of defenseless prisoners although it defames and demoralizes our armed forces and intelligence agencies.

Big Ag Sway Clear in Senate Farm Bill

Taxpayer Subsidies for Farmers Continue, Foreign Aid Takes a Hit

By Mike Lillis 05/16/2008

Millionaire farmers will continue getting taxpayer subsidies, sugar producers will inherit more government protections and foreign food aid will take a whack under a five-year, $300 billion farm bill approved by the Senate Thursday.

The vote was a sweeping 81 to 15, far beyond the two-thirds majority needed to override the Bush administration's promised veto. The House approved the same bill Wednesday by a 318 to 106 count, also safely veto-proof. The margins indicate that the bipartisan proposal is almost certain to become law.

Blackwater’s Impunity

After guards from Blackwater Worldwide protecting a State Department convoy killed at least 17 Iraqis in a hail of bullets last September, we hoped the Bush administration would rethink the folly of relying on mercenaries, who have no accountability to Iraqi or American law.

The ever-stubborn administration decided it couldn’t stay at war without its gunslingers. More than six months after the event, not a single charge has been brought against the guards. Last month, the State Department — which is supposed to be sensitive to local politics and perception — renewed Blackwater’s contract in Iraq for another year.

World economy on thin ice - U.N.

The United Nations blames dire situation on the decline of the U.S. housing and financial sectors.

Last Updated: May 16, 2008: 5:54 AM EDT

UNITED NATIONS (AP) -- The world economy is "teetering on the brink" of a severe downturn and is expected to grow only 1.8% in 2008, the United Nations said in its mid-year economic projections Thursday.

That's down from a global growth rate of 3.8% in 2007, and the downturn is expected to continue with only a slightly higher growth of 2.1% in 2009, the U.N. report said.

Frank Rich: How to Cover an Election

When, in the summer of 1968, Norman Mailer covered the Republican and Democratic conventions on assignment for Harper's magazine, he was forty-five, an aging rebel looking for a new cause. He had started to drift restlessly from his single-minded pursuit of the Great American Novel into filmmaking and journalism, two callings that were also in the throes of seismic generational change.

Mailer juggled his reporting forays to Miami and Chicago with the shooting of Maidstone, his most ambitious contribution to the new wave of American independent cinema. Miami and the Siege of Chicago, meanwhile, was his latest contribution to a literary revolution that had been fomented throughout the decade by a pair of iconoclastic magazine editors, Harold Hayes of Esquire and Willie Morris of Harper's. Mailer's take on the 1960 Democratic convention for Esquire, "Superman Comes to the Supermarket," had been an early salvo. By 1968, Tom Wolfe (The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test), Hunter S. Thompson (Hell's Angels), and, at The New Yorker, Truman Capote (In Cold Blood) had created nonfiction "novels" that upended the staid conventions of newspaper and magazine writing by injecting strong subjective voices, self-reflection, opinion, and, most of all, good writing that animated current events and the characters who populated them. Mailer's book-length recounting of the 1967 march on the Pentagon, The Armies of the Night (subtitled History as a Novel, The Novel as History), had arguably been his most well-received venture since The Naked and the Dead. His book Miami and the Siege of Chicago was its eagerly awaited sequel.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Digby: Basic Civil Right

It's a proud day to be a Californian:
California's Supreme Court today struck down the state's statutory ban on same-sex marriage, finding the state's constitution "properly must be interpreted to guarantee this basic civil right to all Californians, whether gay or heterosexual, and to same-sex couples as well as to opposite-sex couples."

In a 4-3 ruling, the majority - with a 121-page opinion authored by Chief Justice Ronald George, joined by associate justices Joyce Kennard, Kathryn Werdegar and Carlos Moreno - found the fact that California law assigns a different name for the official family relationship of same-sex couples compared with the name for the official family relationship of opposite-sex couples "raises constitutional concerns not only under the state constitutional right to marry, but also under the state constitutional equal protection clause."

Digby: Unitary Flyboy

So McCain declares Mission Accomplished in Iraq --- in 2013. Yea. War is over. Someday. Maybe.

Even more good news. McCain also says he's going to be different than Bush and be more transparent and seek congressional approval. According to his faithful hound, Huckleberry Graham, he doesn't believe in the Unitary Executive theory:
“I think Sen. McCain would be an aggressive advocate of executive power, but not to the extent that this administration has framed it,” said Graham.

Glenn Greenwald: "Actual journalists" as government spokespeople

Time's Joe Klein, in a post this week he entitled "How Actual Journalism Works":

Third, look at the record. Tell me where I've been misled by my sources.

Joe Klein, The Guardian, February 4, 2002 (via LEXIS):The noted Anglican hostage mediation expert Terry Waite wrote recently in the Guardian that: "I can recognise the conditions prisoners are being kept in at the US camp at Guantanamo Bay because I have been there. Not to Cuba's Camp X-Ray, but to the darkened cell in Beirut that I occupied for five years. I was chained to a wall by my hands and feet, beaten on the soles of my feet with cable, denied all human rights and contact with my family for five years . . . Because I was kept in very similar conditions, I am appalled by the way we -- countries that call ourselves civilised -- are treating these captives."

Bush's Idea of Sacrifice

Special to
Wednesday, May 14, 2008; 1:12 PM

The nation is in despair over the war in Iraq and the toll it is taking on our troops and their families. But President Bush shows no outward sign of inner pain.

He is chipper in his public pronouncements. His weekly bike rides and daily workouts have put a perpetual spring in his step. He's always ready with a wisecrack. He just hosted his daughter's wedding at his multi-million dollar estate in Texas. He takes more vacations than any president in history. He has made clear that he doesn't lie awake at nights.

Redlining Redux

New Mortgage Industry Policy Could Charge Borrowers Higher Fees by Zip Code

By Mary Kane, 05/15/2008

In the middle of the housing boom, when virtually anyone could get credit, redlining wasn't even in the picture. It was an almost forgotten remnant of the past -- a piece of lending history that involved lengthy legal battles and community organizing work to change a dark banking industry practice of denying credit based on where people lived or because of their race. But now, in the aftermath of the mortgage market meltdown, the cost and availability of credit for some borrowers is again becoming a concern -- raising questions about whether a new kind of redlining is on the horizon.

A recent policy by the mortgage industry that would charge higher fees for loans to borrowers in certain zip codes is behind the concerns. It has quickly led to charges of redlining and violations of fair housing laws. This has reignited old battles over access to credit -- fights that housing advocates thought they had settled years earlier.

Why Change Happens: Ten Theories

One of the grandest -- and most frustrating -- things about carrying on the great democratic conversation via blog is finding out how many of your fellow citizens (including many who are nominally on your side) turn out to be looking at the world from a completely different set of assumptions than you are. In fact, there's simply nothing like the Internet if you want to be thrown together with people who have ordered their entire lives around fundamental propositions that would never have occurred to you if you lived to be 100. Behold your fellow earthlings, in all their bizarre and twisted glory….

A lot of these disconnects have to do with all the weird and wonderful theories people have about why change happens. Because we each have our own pet theories of how the world works, different people can look at the same situation, and come to completely different conclusions about what's likely to happen next. Since these often unspoken understandings are among the things futurists are trained to look for, I thought I'd offer a short taxonomy of the various assumptions people bring to their thinking about what drives social change.

Having less power impairs the mind and ability to get ahead, study shows

Evanston, Ill. (May 15, 2008) -- New research appearing in the May issue of Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, suggests that being put in a low-power role may impair a person’s basic cognitive functioning and thus, their ability to get ahead.

In their article, Pamela Smith of Radboud University Nijmegen, and colleagues Nils B. Jostmann of VU University Amsterdam, Adam Galinsky of the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, and Wilco W. van Dijk of VU University Amsterdam, focus on a set of cognitive processes called executive functions. Executive functions help people maintain and pursue their goals in difficult, distracting situations. The researchers found that lacking power impaired people’s ability to keep track of ever-changing information, to parse out irrelevant information, and to successfully plan ahead to achieve their goals.

A Critical Look at the Forced Spread of Democracy

The first subject to discuss in considering the future of the liberal internationalist agenda is the importance of the democratization project to the definition of Wilsonianism. The second is the meaning of multilateralism. In the first case, Thomas Knock and Anne-Marie Slaughter argue in a forthcoming volume that democratization was never an important part of Wilsonianism; that, instead, multilateralism is the key to liberal internationalism. On the basis of this argument, they come to the conclusion that the Bush Doctrine is not in the Wilsonian tradition. In my contribution to this volume, I object to this denigration of the place of democracy in liberal internationalism as being fundamentally illogical. Accordingly, I find the Bush Doctrine easily identifiable as Wilsonian.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Study sees threat from big-particle pollutants

By Andrew Stern

CHICAGO (Reuters) - On days when there is a lot of dust and other large-particle pollutants in the air, slightly more elderly people go to hospital emergency rooms with heart problems, U.S. researchers said on Tuesday.

There was also an increase in hospital visits by elderly patients complaining of respiratory illnesses when "coarse," or large, particle pollution was plentiful, although the rise was not significant, the researchers said.

April foreclosures rise 65 percent

NEW YORK (Reuters) - U.S. home foreclosure filings in April edged up from March and were a whopping 65 percent higher than a year earlier, real estate data firm RealtyTrac said on Wednesday.

Home foreclosure filings in April totaled 243,353, up 4 percent from March, RealtyTrac, an online market of foreclosure properties, said in its U.S. Foreclosure Market Report. The figure is a total of default notices, auction sale notices and bank repossessions.

Rumsfeld On 2006 Election: "The Correction For That...Is An Attack"

An ongoing exploration of the documents related to the Pentagon's "message force multipliers" program has unearthed a clip of former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld suggesting that America, having voted the Democrats back into Congressional power, could benefit from suffering another terrorist attack, and doing so in the presence of the very same military analysts who went on to provide commentary and analysis of the Iraq War.

Susan Faludi: The Fight Stuff

San Francisco

NOTABLE in the Indiana and North Carolina primary results and in many recent polls are signs of a change in the gender weather: white men are warming to Hillary Clinton — at least enough to vote for her. It’s no small shift. These men have historically been her fiercest antagonists. Their conversion may point less to a new kind of male voter than to a new kind of female vote-getter.

Pundits have been quick to attribute the erosion in Barack Obama’s white male support to a newfound racism. What they have failed to consider is the degree to which white male voters witnessing Senator Clinton’s metamorphosis are being forced to rethink precepts they’ve long held about women in American politics.

Military analysts named in Times exposé appeared or were quoted more than 4,500 times on broadcast nets, cables, NPR

Summary: A New York Times article detailed the connection between numerous media military analysts and the Pentagon and defense industries, reporting that "the Bush administration has used its control over access and information in an effort to transform" media military analysts "into a kind of media Trojan horse -- an instrument intended to shape terrorism coverage from inside the major TV and radio networks." A Media Matters review found that since January 1, 2002, the analysts named in the Times article -- many identified as having ties to the defense industry -- collectively appeared or were quoted as experts more than 4,500 times on ABC, ABC News Now, CBS, CBS Radio Network, NBC, CNN, CNN Headline News, Fox News, MSNBC, CNBC, and NPR.

Childers victory gives Dems a third straight takeover

By Aaron Blake
Posted: 05/13/08 10:19 PM [ET]

Democrat Travis Childers won Tuesday’s Mississippi special election runoff for Sen. Roger Wicker’s (R) former House seat, handing Democrats the biggest of their three special election takeovers this cycle and sending a listless GOP further into a state of disarray.

Childers led GOP candidate Greg Davis 53-47 with more than 90 percent of precincts reporting. Turnout increased substantially over the 67,000 voters who cast ballots in the April 22 open special election, with more than 100,000 voting in the runoff.

The Profitable Dismantling of Civil Society

By Howie Klein, Down With Tyranny!
Posted on May 13, 2008, Printed on May 14, 2008

Yesterday Scholars & Rogues featured a pretty ominous look at the serious deterioration of basic American infrastructure. The author, Dr. Denny, points out that our otherwise preoccupied government is normally only moved to action by catastrophes-- like the deadly bridge collapse in Minneapolis last year. So that bridge is nearly fixed. They're waiting for a spate of disasters before they do anything preventive. They may not have to wait long and we have far more than "failing bridges to find, fund and fix." Dr. Denny is left cold by the leadership abilities of the current presidential candidates to lead us successfully through a real crisis. Just to keep up, the U.S. would need to spend $225 billion per year for 50 years-- $11 trillion. McCain definitely has a couple wars he'd rather wage. But the country's infrastructure-- not just roads and bridges but also dams, sewage systems, drinking water systems, air traffic control, nuclear plants, electricity transmission lines, levees...-- gets a grade of D. Unfortunately, national politicians don't usually find infrastructure sexy.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Digby: Make It Work

d-day wrote an interesting post last night about the Bush Justice Department's legal opinion outlining what kind of power the legislative branch has to stop an out of control Executive without resorting to the courts. He concluded:
Here's the thing. These may be Bush Administration lawyers doing the talking here, but they're absolutely right. The Congress has all sorts of tools in their arsenal to force compliance from the executive branch. They can shut down the nomination process. They can eliminate any and all expenditures for the President and staff or executive agencies. They can refuse to enact spending bills for programs and policies prized by the executive. They can constitute tribunals inferior to the Supreme Court that may investigate the executive. They can use the power of inherent contempt to try those neglecting a Congressional subpoena, and imprison them. And they can, you know, vote to remove the President from office, or all civil officers of the United States, for that matter.

The New Face Of California

by dday

Something really special happened today in California and I thought I'd mention it.

Today, Karen Bass became the new Speaker of the California State Assembly, the first African-American woman to attain that office, and the highest-ranking woman of color in any state in the union. She's a capable progressive leader, and her ascension to the top of the Legislature power structure is laudable. We have a lot of problems in this state and she's going to have to get right to work. Fortunately, her goals are narrow but focused; to balance the state budget, nearing a $20 billion dollar hole, and to restructure the structural revenue deficit that makes every state budget here an adventure. She wants to do it in a progressive way, making sure everybody shares in the sacrifice and the benefits, and letting all the stakeholders know that California's future is worth paying for.

Washington's Great "No Inflation" Hoax

Billionaire California bond manager Bill Gross calls it "a haute con job." Bloomberg News columnist John Wasik describes it as "a testament to the art of economic spin." More and more shoppers and consumer simply disbelieve it.

The subject of this scorn is the federal government's vaunted Consumer Price Index or CPI. Americans are now beginning to understand that this indicator has its own share of gimmicks not unlike a sub-prime mortgage or the six pages of fine print that accompanies your credit card agreement.

Racist Incidents Give Some Obama Campaigners Pause

Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, May 13, 2008; Page A01

Danielle Ross was alone in an empty room at the Obama campaign headquarters in Kokomo, Ind., a cellphone in one hand, a voter call list in the other. She was stretched out on the carpeted floor wearing laceless sky-blue Converses, stories from the trail on her mind. It was the day before Indiana's primary, and she had just been chased by dogs while canvassing in a Kokomo suburb. But that was not the worst thing to occur since she postponed her sophomore year at Middle Tennessee State University, in part to hopscotch America stumping for Barack Obama.

Invasions of Privacy

posted by Katrina vanden Heuvel on 05/11/2008 @ 7:04pm

Two weeks ago, I asked a Burger King spokeswoman whether the company had hired a private investigative firm to infiltrate the non-violent Student/Farmworker Alliance (SFA) or Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW). She declined to comment. I asked whether the company was aware of any executives making "libelous" comments against CIW via online posts and e-mails. Again, no comment.

Now we know why.

The Fort Myers News-Press linked Vice President Steve Grover to the anti-CIW posts that he made through "his young daughter's online alias." And in an explosive op-ed in the New York Times last week, investigative journalist and author of Fast Food Nation Eric Schlosser revealed that, in fact, the company used Diplomatic Tactical Services – a private security firm specializing in "covert surveillance" and "covert operations" – to spy on the SFA and CEO John Chidsey knew the firm had been hired to do investigations. Burger King's Senior Analyst of Communications, Denise Wilson, told me that Chidsey "did not know about or authorize the use of Diplomatic Tactical Services to obtain information about the Student/Farmworker Alliance's plans." But when pressed on when he learned about it the company declined to comment. Further, when asked whether Burger King would continue to use Diplomatic Tactical Services or any other investigative firms to track either CIW or the SFA she said, "Burger King Corporation has the right and duty to assess security risks and to protect its employees and assets from potential harm."