Monday, June 30, 2008

Fortified cassava could provide a day's nutrition in a single meal

Scientists have determined how to fortify the cassava plant, a staple root crop in many developing countries, with enough vitamins, minerals and protein to provide the poor and malnourished with a day's worth of nutrition in a single meal. The researchers have further engineered the cassava plant so it can resist the crop's most damaging viral threats and are refining methods to reduce cyanogens, substances that yield poisonous cyanide if they are not properly removed from the food before consumption.

A Brief Reprieve on FISA: What Now?

Posted by Tim Jones

Thursday evening, Senator Reid officially delayed a final vote on the FISA Amendments Act until July 8. That gave us just twelve days — now, eleven — to change the political calculus and avoid a Congressional seal of approval on illegal wiretapping.

With the clock counting down, here are three tactics that could help change the game:

Iran-Contra’s ‘Lost Chapter’

by Robert Parry

As historians ponder George W. Bush’s disastrous presidency, they may wonder how Republicans perfected a propaganda system that could fool tens of millions of Americans, intimidate Democrats, and transform the vaunted Washington press corps from watchdogs to lapdogs.

To understand this extraordinary development, historians might want to look back at the 1980s and examine the Iran-Contra scandal’s “lost chapter,” a narrative describing how Ronald Reagan’s administration brought CIA tactics to bear domestically to reshape the way Americans perceived the world.

That chapter — which we are publishing here for the first time — was “lost” because Republicans on the congressional Iran-Contra investigation waged a rear-guard fight that traded elimination of the chapter’s key findings for the votes of three moderate GOP senators, giving the final report a patina of bipartisanship.

Glenn Greenwald: The Baseless, and Failed, ‘Move to the Center’ Cliche

Republican Nancy Johnson of Connecticut was first elected to Congress in 1982, and proceeded to win re-election 11 consecutive times, often quite easily. In 2004, she defeated her Democratic challenger by 22 points. The district is historically Republican, and split its vote 49-49 for Bush and Kerry in the 2004 presidential election.

In 2006, Rep. Johnson was challenged by a 31-year-old Democrat, Chris Murphy, who ran on a platform of, among other things, ending the Iraq War, opposing Bush policies on eavesdropping and torture, and rejecting what he called the “false choice between war and civil liberties.” Johnson outspent her Democratic challenger by a couple million dollars, and based her campaign on fear-mongering ads focusing on Murphy’s opposition to warrantless eavesdropping, such as this one:

Paul Krugman: The Obama Agenda

It’s feeling a lot like 1992 right now. It’s also feeling a lot like 1980. But which parallel is closer? Is Barack Obama going to be a Ronald Reagan of the left, a president who fundamentally changes the country’s direction? Or will he be just another Bill Clinton?

Current polls — not horse-race polls, which are notoriously uninformative until later in the campaign, but polls gauging the public mood — are strikingly similar to those in both 1980 and 1992, years in which an overwhelming majority of Americans were dissatisfied with the country’s direction.

The 'Mortgage Meltdown' Was No Accident

Research support for this article was provided by the Investigative Fund of The Nation Institute.

George Mitchell's wife, Lillian, took her last breath in the house she loved, on New Year's Day 2006. "Right there in that spot," says George, 77, nodding to the far end of his worn, floral-print couch. "I think the last words she spoke was my name."

"Yup," confirms his youngest daughter, Chandra Chavis. "I was trying to perform mouth-to-mouth resuscitation at the time." She points out the living room window to the small, sloping front yard and drive. "There was no address on the house, so I had to stop doing that to get the ambulance to come in." But Lillian's heart had seized, and Chandra knows there's not much she could have done anyway. She figures if even the trauma team at Atlanta's century-old public hospital couldn't revive her mom, she must have been long gone. "Nobody can bring you back if the Lord calls you," concludes an older daughter, Gwen Russell.

Pretending That Bush is Not a Tyrant

By Robert Parry, Consortium News
Posted on June 30, 2008, Printed on June 30, 2008

All over the world down through history, political leaders who have engaged in torture and other grotesque crimes of state have justified their actions as necessary to protect their governments or their people or themselves.

It was true when England’s King Edward I had William Wallace – “Braveheart” – drawn and quartered in 1305 for resisting the crown’s rule in Scotland, and a gruesome death was what King George III foresaw for America’s Founding Fathers in 1776 when they stood up to his abuses in the Colonies.

Flat-earther blind to oil facts

By Henry C K Liu

Celebrated New York Times columnist Thomas L Friedman, a flat-earthling, in a provocative polemic this week accused the United States president of being the nation's addict-in-chief to oil with "a massive, fraudulent, pathetic excuse for an energy policy". ("Mr Bush, Lead or Leave", June 22, 2008).

He described the president's strategy as getting "Saudi Arabia, our chief oil pusher, to up our dosage for a little while and bring down the oil price just enough so the renewable energy alternatives can't totally take off. Then try to strong arm Congress into lifting the ban on drilling offshore and in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge."

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Better Than Nothing

Decoding North Korea's latest moves.

By Fred Kaplan

The North Koreans blew up the cooling tower of their nuclear reactor at Yongbyon today. (You can watch the explosion here.) In the wake of their earlier steps, which include the release of a 60-page document itemizing their nuclear programs and facilities, the path toward the country's total nuclear disarmament seems fairly well-paved.

And yet nobody outside the State Department, dove or hawk, seems very happy with this deal—and with good reason. It is better than nothing, by a long shot. But, even compared with the goals spelled out in joint statements by the two governments over the past year, the step down the road is a small one indeed.

Presidential Impotence

Why Obama or McCain won't be able to cure the ailing economy.

By Daniel Gross

As the presidential campaign kicks into gear, housing, energy, and rising unemployment have thrust the economy front and center. Whether they are talking about the need to drill off the coast of South Beach (John McCain), or the necessity of confiscating the profits of ExxonMobil (Barack Obama), each candidate is unequivocally promising voters that come Jan. 20, 2009, should he have the high privilege of succeeding George W. Bush, he will instantly reverse the decline of housing prices, bring gasoline prices crashing back to earth, and generally kick the economy back into gear.

If you believe that, I've got some subprime mortgages I'd like to sell you. Does the president really have any effect on the short-term direction and performance of the economy? The answer is no, but with two important "buts."

Torture, national culpability, and literary criticism

... In Which E.J. Acknowledges Her Sense of Inadequacy in Responding to Gourevitch & Morris's Standard Operating Procedure, And Yet Does So Anyway

Given the enormity of what we're discussing, and given the fact that unlike others here I am not steeped in questions about war, torture, policing, and related issues, apparently the only way I can write another book club post is to begin by mocking my inadequacies. I signed up to discuss this book for two reasons: first, my sense of overwhelming shame and responsibility, as an American citizen, for the degeneration of my country into one that stands for torture, indefinite detention, "black sites," "extraordinary rendition," and so on. And two, my sense of profound awe at how Morris and Gourevitch's work have moved me to grief about the way those policies have destroyed not just Iraqis but also American young people.

Preparing the Battlefield

The Bush Administration steps up its secret moves against Iran.

by Seymour M. Hersh
July 7, 2008

L ate last year, Congress agreed to a request from President Bush to fund a major escalation of covert operations against Iran, according to current and former military, intelligence, and congressional sources. These operations, for which the President sought up to four hundred million dollars, were described in a Presidential Finding signed by Bush, and are designed to destabilize the country’s religious leadership. The covert activities involve support of the minority Ahwazi Arab and Baluchi groups and other dissident organizations. They also include gathering intelligence about Iran’s suspected nuclear-weapons program.

Clandestine operations against Iran are not new. United States Special Operations Forces have been conducting cross-border operations from southern Iraq, with Presidential authorization, since last year. These have included seizing members of Al Quds, the commando arm of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, and taking them to Iraq for interrogation, and the pursuit of “high-value targets” in the President’s war on terror, who may be captured or killed. But the scale and the scope of the operations in Iran, which involve the Central Intelligence Agency and the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), have now been significantly expanded, according to the current and former officials. Many of these activities are not specified in the new Finding, and some congressional leaders have had serious questions about their nature.

You're On Candid Camera

The Bush administration now wants to watch you from the sky.

Michael Isikoff and Mark Hosenball
Newsweek Web Exclusive
Updated: 5:20 PM ET Jun 25, 2008

A Bush administration program to expand domestic use of Pentagon spy satellites has aroused new concerns in Congress about possible civil-liberties abuses.

On Tuesday, the House Appropriations Committee approved an amendment denying money for the new domestic intelligence operation—cryptically named the "National Applications Office"—until the Homeland Security secretary certifies that any programs undertaken by the center will "comply with all existing laws, including all applicable privacy and civil liberties standards."

Feds tackle sub-prime credit cards' high fees

WASHINGTON — Subprime credit cards might be the worst consumer credit product ever marketed.

Their high interest rates, costly penalties and high, hidden fees can eat up nearly all the credit available from the cards and, over time, turn a $100 purchase into more than a thousand dollars of debt.

Wendy Adams, of Las Vegas, is living that nightmare.

US issues health warning over mercury fillings

They're in millions of mouths worldwide, but have been linked to heart disease and Alzheimer's. Now a report concedes they may have a toxic effect on the body

By Geoffrey Lean, Environment Editor
Sunday, 29 June 2008

Amalgam dental fillings – which contain the highly toxic metal mercury – pose a health risk, the world's top medical regulatory agency has conceded.

After years of insisting the fillings are safe, the US government's Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued a health warning about them. It represents a landmark victory for campaigners, who say the fillings are responsible for a range of ailments, including heart conditions and Alzheimer's disease.

Earlier this month, in an unprecedented U-turn, the FDA dropped much of its reassuring language on the fillings from its website, substituting: "Dental amalgams contain mercury, which may have neurotoxic effects on the nervous systems of developing children and foetuses." It adds that when amalgam fillings are "placed in teeth or removed they release mercury vapour", and that the same thing happens when chewing.

Tax scandal leaves Swiss giant reeling

UBS could lose its licence in America after an official confessed to illicit tactics that helped clients avoid the Revenue. Nick Mathiason reports

Nick Mathiason
The Observer,
Sunday June 29, 2008

It was an offer the Californian real-estate billionaire Igor Olenicoff couldn't refuse. For several years, the US Internal Revenue Service had been on his tail. Suspecting serial tax evasion running into tens of millions of dollars, the IRS painstakingly amassed enough information to jail the Russian immigrant for decades.

In 2006, tax investigators offered Olenicoff, a man who has strong connections with Boris Yeltsin, a deal. In return for the identity of those who helped him evade taxes, his sentence would be slashed. It took Olenicoff, who owned 11,000 houses and a large collection of high-grade offices, less than 30 seconds to make up his mind.

Thomas Frank: Conservatives and Their Carnival of Fraud

I wonder if, back in the rosy-fingered dawn of our conservative era, all those Adam Smith-tied evangelists of "limited government" had any idea that they were greasing the skids for a character like 22-year-old arms dealer Efraim Diveroli?

Mr. Diveroli, whose tousled, slightly confused visage recalls the perpetually stoned Jeff Spicoli from the 1982 film "Fast Times at Ridgemont High," was the improbable recipient of a 2007 government contract to supply ammunition to our allies in Afghanistan.

'Battling for America's Soul'

The American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property leaps headlong into the showdown over same-sex marriage in California

They've been around for more than 30 years; trace their roots to a Brazilian anti-communist dissident Catholic; wear colorful outfits during their protests on college campuses; and apparently have enough spare change to fund three 4,000+ word simultaneously-placed advertisements in three national dailies.

An Attack That Came Out of the Ether

Scholar Looks for First Link in E-Mail Chain About Obama

By Matthew Mosk
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, June 28, 2008; C01


The e-mail landed in Danielle Allen's queue one winter morning as she was studying in her office at the Institute for Advanced Study, the renowned haven for some of the nation's most brilliant minds. The missive began: "THIS DEFINITELY WARRANTS LOOKING INTO."

Laid out before Allen, a razor-sharp, 36-year-old political theorist, was what purported to be a biographical sketch of Barack Obama that has become one of the most effective -- and baseless -- Internet attacks of the 2008 presidential season. The anonymous chain e-mail makes the false claim that Obama is concealing a radical Islamic background. By the time it reached Allen on Jan. 11, 2008, it had spread with viral efficiency for more than a year.

Frank Rich: If Terrorists Rock the Vote in 2008

DON’T fault Charles Black, the John McCain adviser, for publicly stating his honest belief that a domestic terrorist attack would be “a big advantage” for their campaign and that Benazir Bhutto’s assassination had “helped” Mr. McCain win the New Hampshire primary. His real sin is that he didn’t come completely clean on his strategic thinking.

In private, he is surely gaming this out further, George Carlin-style. What would be the optimum timing, from the campaign’s perspective, for this terrorist attack — before or after the convention? Would the attack be most useful if it took place in a red state, blue state or swing state? How much would it “help” if the next assassinated foreign leader had a higher name recognition in American households than Benazir Bhutto?

Uncle Sam's cyber force wants you

By William J Astore

Recently, while I was on a visit to, my computer screen momentarily went black. A glitch? A power surge? No, it was a pop-up ad for the US Air Force, warning me that an enemy cyber attack could come at any moment - with dire consequences for my ability to connect to the Internet. It was an Outer Limits moment. Remember that eerie sci-fi show from the early 1960s? The one that began in a blur with the message, "There is nothing wrong with your television set. Do not attempt to adjust the picture. We are controlling transmission ..." It felt a little like that.

And speaking of air force ads, there's one currently running on TV and on the Internet that starts with a bird's eye view of the Pentagon as a narrator intones, "This building will be attacked 3 million times today. Who's going to protect it?" Two army colleagues of mine nearly died on September 11, 2001, when the third hijacked plane crashed into the Pentagon, so I can't say I appreciated the none-too-subtle reminder of that day's carnage. Leaving that aside, it turns out that the ad is referring to cyber attacks and that the cyber protector it has in mind is a new breed of "air" warrior, part of an entirely new Cyber Command run by the air force.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

The Nuclear Expert Who Never Was

Posted on Jun 26, 2008

By Scott Ritter

I am a former U.N. weapons inspector. I started my work with the United Nations in September 1991, and between that date and my resignation in August 1998, I participated in over 30 inspections, 14 as chief inspector. The United Nations Special Commission, or UNSCOM, was the organization mandated by the Security Council with the implementation of its resolutions requiring Iraq to be disarmed of its weapons-of-mass-destruction capabilities. While UNSCOM oversaw the areas of chemical and biological weapons, and ballistic missiles, it shared the nuclear file with the International Atomic Energy Agency, or IAEA. As such, UNSCOM, through a small cell of nuclear experts on loan from the various national weapons laboratories, would coordinate with the nuclear safeguards inspectors from the IAEA, organized into an “Action Team” dedicated to the Iraq nuclear disarmament problem. UNSCOM maintained political control of the process, insofar as its executive chairman was the only one authorized to approve a given inspection mission. At first, the IAEA and UNSCOM shared the technical oversight of the inspection process, but soon this was transferred completely to the IAEA’s Action Team, and UNSCOM’s nuclear staff assumed more of an advisory and liaison function.

Shrunken Sovereign: Consumerism, Globalization, and American Emptiness

Benjamin R. BarberTwo narratives bound our era and, by degrees but unmistakably, our predicament: the story of consumerism and the story of globalization. In recent years, the two have combined to produce a single and singularly corrosive narrative. Consumerism has meant the transformation of citizens into shoppers, eroding America’s sovereignty from within; globalization has meant the transformation of nation-states into secondary players on the world stage, eroding America’s sovereignty from without. In collaboration, the trends are dealing a ruinous blow to democracy—to our capacity for common judgment, citizenship, and liberty itself.

Paul Krugman: Fuels on the Hill

Congress has always had a soft spot for “experts” who tell members what they want to hear, whether it’s supply-side economists declaring that tax cuts increase revenue or climate-change skeptics insisting that global warming is a myth.

Right now, the welcome mat is out for analysts who claim that out-of-control speculators are responsible for $4-a-gallon gas.

Back in May, Michael Masters, a hedge fund manager, made a big splash when he told a Senate committee that speculation is the main cause of rising prices for oil and other raw materials. He presented charts showing the growth of the oil futures market, in which investors buy and sell promises to deliver oil at a later date, and claimed that “the increase in demand from index speculators” — his term for institutional investors who buy commodity futures — “is almost equal to the increase in demand from China.”

It Was Oil, All Along

by Bill Moyers and Michael Winship

Oh, no, they told us, Iraq isn’t a war about oil. That’s cynical and simplistic, they said. It’s about terror and al Qaeda and toppling a dictator and spreading democracy and protecting ourselves from weapons of mass destruction. But one by one, these concocted rationales went up in smoke, fire, and ashes. And now the bottom line turns out to be… the bottom line. It is about oil.

Alan Greenspan said so last fall. The former chairman of the Federal Reserve, safely out of office, confessed in his memoir, “… Everyone knows: the Iraq war is largely about oil.” He elaborated in an interview with the Washington Post’s Bob Woodward, “If Saddam Hussein had been head of Iraq and there was no oil under those sands, our response to him would not have been as strong as it was in the first gulf war.”

Tomgram: Mike Davis, Welcome to the Next Epoch

For those who didn't happen to notice, perhaps because it wasn't exactly front-page news in most of the country, NASA's James Hansen, the man who first alerted Congress to the dangers of global warming 20 years ago, returned to testify before the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming this week. This time around, he was essentially offering a final warning on the subject. Unless the U.S. begins to act soon, he pointed out, "it will become impractical to constrain atmospheric carbon dioxide, the greenhouse gas produced in burning fossil fuels, to a level that prevents the climate system from passing tipping points that lead to disastrous climate changes that spiral dynamically out of humanity's control."

Is Dobson's Obama Hit Backfiring?

After years of attacking Democrats with relative impunity for their supposed moral failings, Evangelical leader James Dobson surely didn't expect to suffer much of a backlash when he trained his sights on Barack Obama. Over the years, the party had practically cowered in fear and gone into radio silence when the head of Focus on the Family targeted one of its standard-bearers. So in a campaign that has already proved to be anything but predictable, the counterattack on Dobson this week epitomized the new, fraught political climate that Christian Right leaders like himself face.

Barclays warns of a financial storm as Federal Reserve's credibility crumbles

US central bank accused of unleashing an inflation shock that will rock financial markets, reports Ambrose Evans-Pritchard

Barclays Capital has advised clients to batten down the hatches for a worldwide financial storm, warning that the US Federal Reserve has allowed the inflation genie out of the bottle and let its credibility fall "below zero".

"We're in a nasty environment," said Tim Bond, the bank's chief equity strategist. "There is an inflation shock underway. This is going to be very negative for financial assets. We are going into tortoise mood and are retreating into our shell. Investors will do well if they can preserve their wealth."

Scientist Is Paid Millions by U.S. in Anthrax Suit

WASHINGTON — The Justice Department announced Friday that it would pay $4.6 million to settle a lawsuit filed by Steven J. Hatfill, a former Army biodefense researcher intensively investigated as a “person of interest” in the deadly anthrax letters of 2001.

The settlement, consisting of $2.825 million in cash and an annuity paying Dr. Hatfill $150,000 a year for 20 years, brings to an end a five-year legal battle that had recently threatened a reporter with large fines for declining to name sources she said she did not recall.

Party Crashing: How the Facebook Generation Does Politics

By Courtney E. Martin, AlterNet
Posted on June 26, 2008, Printed on June 28, 2008

As John McCain begins to strategize how he might wrangle some of the youth vote from Barack Obama, and Obama -- for his part -- tries to hold on to his solid base of Americans under 30, we thought it would be interesting to talk with author and frequent television commentator Keli Goff.

Goff, just 28 years old herself, has written a book called Party Crashing that lays out just how competitive these candidates are going to have be if they want to win over the youth -- black youth in particular. Gone are the days, she argues, when Civil Rights-era leaders were card-carrying Democrats, come hell or high water; instead, the hip hop generation is more likely to be suspicious of all party politics and spin, choosing their favorite leader based on individual characteristics, not party affiliation.

The Five Secret Billion-Dollar Companies Sucking Obscene Amounts of Taxpayer Money

By Nick Turse,
Posted on June 26, 2008, Printed on June 28, 2008

At $34 billion, you're already counting pretty high. After all, that's Harvard's endowment; it's the amount of damage the triple hurricanes -- Charley, Ivan, and Jeanne -- inflicted in 2004; it's what car crashes involving 15-to-17-year-old teenage drivers mean yearly in "medical expenses, lost work, property damage, quality of life loss and other related costs"; it's the loans the nation's largest, crippled, home lender, Countrywide Financial, holds for home-equity lines of credit and second liens; it's Citigroup's recent write-off, mainly for subprime exposure; it's what New Jersey's tourism industry is worth -- and, according to the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, it's the minimal figure for the Pentagon's "black budget" for fiscal year 2009 -- money for, among other things, "classified weapons purchases and development," money for which the Pentagon will remain unaccountable because almost no Americans will have any way of knowing what it's being spent for.

The Oddly Powerless 'Global Power Elite'

By Doug Henwood, Truthdig
Posted on June 28, 2008, Printed on June 28, 2008

Are we now ruled by an international elite that has left national borders far behind? It's a fashionable view across the political spectrum that enjoys special prominence every January, when the members of that alleged class hold their annual shareholders' meeting in Davos, Switzerland. David Rothkopf, the author of Superclass: The Global Power Elite and the World They Are Making, would strike the alleged from the previous sentence. To him, there's no doubt that this superclass exists and that it's running the show.

We've had a series of books in recent years that amount to little more than a pornography of wealth. But the connection of wealth to actual power is rarely explored. Sure, hedge fund managers can deploy billions, and CEOs can hire and fire thousands, but what is the relation of that narrow economic power to broader political, social and cultural power?

Monday, June 23, 2008

Firedoglake: FISA: Turning Up The Pressure

By: Christy Hardin Smith
Monday June 23, 2008 8:56 am

There has always been a tension between individual liberty and governmental power. National security issues are a natural fault line, given the difficulty of protecting the nation while simultaneously upholding the values of freedom and liberty. And politicians, bless their hearts, always try to find ways to consolidate their power while pretending to do so in the public interest -- and not their own and that of their cronies who benefit in some way from their decisions.

They miscalculated this time regarding how many people in America are paying attention to civil liberties concerns these days. And it is our job to make certain that they learn just how badly they have misjudged this.

Glenn Greenwald: The New Republic syndrome

The number one problem facing the Democratic Party is that, as events of the last week demonstrate, it continues to be plagued by The New Republic Syndrome, one of the most fatal political afflictions that exist. In 2002 and 2003, The New Republic was one of the leading crusaders for an attack on Iraq, railing against what it called "the intellectual incoherence of the liberal war critics." In a February 2003 Editorial, they decreed that "the United States must disarm Iraq by force" and declared war opponents guilty of "abject pacifism."

TNR's Jonathan Chait appeared at events with Ken Pollack in 2002 to advocate the so-called "liberal case for war." On March 10, 2003, Chait appeared on Hardball, said the imminent attack was a "just war," and proclaimed: "I don't think you can argue that a regime change in Iraq won't demonstrably and almost immediately improve the living conditions of the Iraqi people." Peter Beinart was the media's designated Democrat to rail against weak, subversive liberals who refused to accept the imperatives of the Bush administration's case for war.

FISA Overhaul Set to Clear Senate

Monday 23 June 2008
by: Tim Starks, Congressional Quarterly

Despite a deep divide among Democrats, the Senate is expected to clear legislation this week overhauling electronic surveillance rules that would grant President Bush much of what he has sought in a lengthy struggle with Congress.

With no senators threatening to hold up the bill (HR 6304), one of the last hopes for opponents faded June 20 when Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois announced he would vote for the legislation. Some civil liberties groups that oppose the measure had called on Obama to use his position in the party to derail it.

The Hedonists of Power

By Chris Hedges

Washington has become Versailles. We are ruled, entertained and informed by courtiers. The popular media are courtiers. The Democrats, like the Republicans, are courtiers. Our pundits and experts are courtiers. We are captivated by the hollow stagecraft of political theater as we are ruthlessly stripped of power. It is smoke and mirrors, tricks and con games. We are being had.

The past week was a good one if you were a courtier. We were instructed by the high priests on television over the past few days to mourn a Sunday morning talk show host, who made $5 million a year and who gave a platform to the powerful and the famous so they could spin, equivocate and lie to the nation. We were repeatedly told by these television courtiers, people like Tom Brokaw and Wolf Blitzer, that this talk show host was one of our nation’s greatest journalists, as if sitting in a studio, putting on makeup and chatting with Dick Cheney or George W. Bush have much to do with journalism.

IMF warns on US economy

By Krishna Guha in Washington
Published: June 21 2008 03:00 | Last updated: June 21 2008 03:00

The International Monetary Fund yesterday warned that the US economy was likely to stagnate in the second half of this year, pouring cold water on hopes that recovery could soon be under way.

It said that continued economic weakness would result in inflation risk going down, not up, in the coming months, and urged the Federal Reserve to keep interest rates on hold for the time being. The statement challenges market expectations that rate increases will soon be required.

Waxman Says U.S. Embassy in Albania Concealed Info About Arms Shipment

Was the State Department involved in a shoddy and potentially illegal ammo shipment that led to the arrest of a 22-year-old Miami arms dealer last week?

That's what Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) now says. The House oversight committee says it has evidence that the U.S. embassy in Albania helped Albanian officials keep the allegedly illegal shipment of Chinese-made ammunition to Afghanistan under wraps and then failed to disclose that information when Waxman's committee asked about it.

Frank Rich: Now That We’ve ‘Won,’ Let’s Come Home

THE Iraq war’s defenders like to bash the press for pushing the bad news and ignoring the good. Maybe they’ll be happy to hear that the bad news doesn’t rate anymore. When a bomb killed at least 51 Iraqis at a Baghdad market on Tuesday, ending an extended run of relative calm, only one of the three network newscasts (NBC’s) even bothered to mention it.

The only problem is that no news from Iraq isn’t good news — it’s no news. The night of the Baghdad bombing the CBS war correspondent Lara Logan appeared as Jon Stewart’s guest on “The Daily Show” to lament the vanishing television coverage and the even steeper falloff in viewer interest. “Tell me the last time you saw the body of a dead American soldier,” she said. After pointing out that more soldiers died in Afghanistan than Iraq last month, she asked, “Who’s paying attention to that?”

Paul Krugman: Home Not-So-Sweet Home

“Owning a home lies at the heart of the American dream.” So declared President Bush in 2002, introducing his “Homeownership Challenge” — a set of policy initiatives that were supposed to sharply increase homeownership, especially for minority groups.

Oops. While homeownership rose as the housing bubble inflated, temporarily giving Mr. Bush something to boast about, it plunged — especially for African-Americans — when the bubble popped. Today, the percentage of American families owning their own homes is no higher than it was six years ago, and it’s a good bet that by the time Mr. Bush leaves the White House homeownership will be lower than it was when he moved in.

No Blood for… Er… Um…

The Oil Majors Take a Little Sip of the Ol’ Patrimony

by Tom Engelhardt

More than five years after the invasion of Iraq — just in case you were still waiting — the oil giants finally hit the front page…

Last Thursday, the New York Times led with this headline: “Deals with Iraq Are Set to Bring Oil Giants Back.” (Subhead: “Rare No-bid Contracts, A Foothold for Western Companies Seeking Future Rewards.”) And who were these four giants? ExxonMobil, Shell, the French company Total and BP (formerly British Petroleum). What these firms got were mere “service contracts” — as in servicing Iraq’s oil fields — not the sort of “production sharing agreements” that President Bush’s representatives in Baghdad once dreamed of, and that would have left them in charge of those fields. Still, it was clearly a start. The Times reporter, Andrew E. Kramer, added this little detail: “[The contracts] include a provision that could allow the companies to reap large profits at today’s prices: the [Iraqi oil] ministry and companies are negotiating payment in oil rather than cash.” And here’s the curious thing, exactly these four giants “lost their concessions in Iraq” back in 1972 when that country’s oil was nationalized. Hmmm.

Surveillance Bill: The Worst of All Worlds

By Aziz Huq

June 20, 2008

Months of troubled negotiations over new surveillance legislation ended in the House of Representatives today, with the approval of the so-called FISA Amendments Act of 2008. Hailed in some quarters as a " compromise" after the capitulation of the Protect America Act of 2006, the new surveillance bill is nothing of the kind: on core issues of privacy and accountability, there is no compromise, since little in the measure honors those two values.

Since the New York Times's revelation of massive illegal surveillance by the NSA, electronic privacy has been a battlefield for claims of executive power and civil liberties. In 2006, the Administration used the shadow of midterm Congressional elections to stampede both Houses into temporary authorization of sweeping new powers in the Protect America Act (PAA). The measure's grants of new authority had sunset clauses, which expire either immediately before or after the 2008 elections.

How a Shady Citigroup Subsidiary Secretly Makes Billions in the Oil Market

By Pam Martens, CounterPunch
Posted on June 23, 2008, Printed on June 23, 2008

If you want to flush out market manipulation, don't turn to the sleuths in Congress. They've been probing trading of the oil markets for two years and completely missed a company at the center of the action. During that period, a barrel of crude oil has risen from $50 to $140, leaving a wide swath of Americans facing a choice this coming winter of buying food or paying their heating bill.

The company that Congress overlooked should have been an easy suspect. It launched the oil trading career of the infamous fugitive Marc Rich, pardoned by President Bill Clinton in the final hours of his presidency. It was at one time the largest oil and metals trader in the world.

Conservative Government Destroys Atlanta Like Gen. Sherman Never Could

By Rick Perlstein, Blog for Our Future
Posted on June 23, 2008, Printed on June 23, 2008

Most our media have been far too busy following the news of what kind of fist bumps terrorists favor, and Luke Russert's exceptional poise under pressure, to notice -- well, much of anything. Least of all, the Biblically proportioned drought in one of our nation's fastest growing regions, which is only getting worse, and more civilizationally consequential, by the day.

Atlanta magazine could no longer ignore it. The cover of their "The Water Issue," which I picked up on a recent swing thorugh Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, is graced by a water glass that's one-quarter full -- scratch that, three-quarters empty.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Pruning Shears: House FISA Yes Votes

The following people solemnly swore to support and defend the Constitution of the United States. Yesterday’s vote gutted the Fourth Amendment; can any of them explain how their actions did not actively damage the Constitution?

One Final Solid For Big Oil


The Bush administration appears to be trying lock in whatever goodies it can for Big Oil before it exits, stage far right.

If Washington conservatives are worried about the upcoming federal elections, then you can bet Big Oil is worried too.

Secret Pentagon Funding Near All-Time High

By Sharon Weinberger
June 20, 2008 | 11:50:16 AM

The latest Pentagon budget request contains a near record high level of money for classified, or "black" programs, reports the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments. Fiscal year 2009 includes a whopping $34 billion to fund classified weapons purchases and development, though it is not the highest level ever.

Those crazy senators from Missouri and Nebraska

WASHINGTON — Puck wears a power suit.

An unrepentant prankster, Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., once convinced some of Nebraska’s good citizens that he wanted to change the name of the state.

That was when he was governor. Now in Washington, he has a whole new crowd on which to pull his "gotchas."

Which brings us to Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., who has been "punk’d" and has "punk’d" back.

War survey points to millions more dead

Study triples estimated number of violent war deaths since 1955.

Meet the New Dr. Strangelove

by Tom Hayden

In the depths of the Cold War, Stanley Kubrick created a notoriously-mad scientist character, Dr. Strangelove, whose passion was for dropping atomic bombs. Now there is a rising media and Beltway fascination with a new Dr. Strangelove, whose passion is imposing a mad science of counterinsurgency on Iraq.

His name is David Kilcullen, an Australian academic and military veteran whom the Washington Post’s Thomas Ricks once described as Gen. David Petraeus’ “chief adviser” on the counterinsurgency doctrine underlying the surge in Iraq.

Kilcullen advocated a “global Phoenix program” in an obscure military journal, Small Wars, in 2004. For the ahistorical or uninitiated, Phoenix was a largely off-the-books detention, torture and assassination program aimed at tens of thousands of South Vietnamese who were identified by informants as the Vietcong’s “civilian infrastructure.” The venture was so discredited that the US Congress denounced and disbanded it after hearings in the 1970s.

Former AG Accused of Playing Politics with Justice

Exclusive: Critic of Torture Policy Assured Job as US Attorney

June 19, 2008

Former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, now under investigation for allegedly politicizing the Justice Department, ousted a top lawyer for failing to adopt the administration's position on torture and then promised him a position as a U.S. attorney to placate him, highly placed sources tell ABC News.

Gonzales, who was just taking over as attorney general, asked Justice Department lawyer Daniel Levin to leave in early 2005, shortly after Levin wrote a legal opinion that declared "torture is abhorrent" and limited the administration's use of harsh interrogation techniques.

Glenn Greenwald: George Bush's latest powers, courtesy of the Democratic Congress

CQ reports (sub. req.) that "a final deal has been reached" on FISA and telecom amnesty and "the House is likely to take up the legislation Friday." I've now just read a copy of the final "compromise" bill. It's even worse than expected. When you read it, it's actually hard to believe that the Congress is about to make this into our law. Then again, this is the same Congress that abolished habeas corpus with the Military Commissions Act, and legalized George Bush's warrantless eavesdropping program with the "Protect America Act," so it shouldn't be hard to believe at all. Seeing the words in print, though, adds a new dimension to appreciating just how corrupt and repugnant this is:

The provision granting amnesty to lawbreaking telecoms, Title VIII, has the exact Orwellian title it should have: "Protection of Persons Assisting the Government." Section 802(a)

Jeb Bush And His Cronies Have Big Plans for Govt.-Funded Religious Schools in Florida

By Joseph L. Conn, Church & State Magazine
Posted on June 21, 2008, Printed on June 21, 2008

Dade County, Fla., is home to almost 200 religious schools.

According to the Florida Department of Education’s data from the 2006-2007 school year, an array of denominations and faith perspectives is represented. Forty-five schools are affiliated with the Roman Catholic Church, but many other spiritual traditions answered the state roll call.

All Angels Academy is Episcopalian, Christ Fellowship Academy is Baptist, Clara Mohammed School of Miami is Islamic, Greater Miami Hebrew Academy is Jewish, World Mission of Jesus Christ Christian is non-denominational, New Testament Church of Transfiguration School is Pentecostal and Glory of God Christian School is affiliated with the Assemblies of God.

Democrats Have Legalized Bush's War Crimes

By Robert Parry, Media Consortium
Posted on June 21, 2008, Printed on June 21, 2008

Editor's note: You can read more about Obama backing a FISA "compromise" here.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi claims that a key positive feature of the new wiretap "compromise" is that the bill reaffirms that the President must follow the law, even though the same bill virtually assures that no one will be held accountable for George W. Bush's violation of the earlier spying law. Share this article

In other words, in the guise of rejecting Bush's theories of an all-powerful presidency that is above the law, the Democratic leadership cleared the way for the President and his collaborators to evade punishment for defying the law.

The murder of US manufacturing

By Martin Hutchinson

GE's announcement a week ago that it would accept offers for its appliances business marked the death-knell of yet another US manufacturing business, one among so many in US manufacturing's long and seemingly unstoppable downtrend since 1980.

That decline may seem an inevitable historical trend, and Wall Street's analysts would claim that the US economy can prosper just fine without it. Yet impartial analysts of the putrefying corpse of US manufacturing capability are forced into an inescapable question: did it die of natural causes or was it murdered?

Guns blight US energy choices

By Jonathan Rynn

When New York City wanted to make the biggest purchase of subway cars in US history in the late 1990s, more than US$3 billion worth, the only companies that were able to bid on the contract were foreign. The same problem applies to high-speed rail today: only European or Japanese companies could build any of the proposed rail networks in the United States.

The US has also ceded the high ground to Europe and Japan in a broad range of other sustainable technologies. For instance, 11 companies produce 96% of medium to large wind turbines; only one, GE, is based in the United States, with a 16% share of the global market. The differences in market penetration come down to two factors: European and Japanese companies have become more competent producers for these markets, and their governments have helped them to develop both this competence and the markets themselves.

Democrats Cave on Telecom Immunity

By Mike Lillis 06/20/2008

In February, as the law authorizing the Bush administration's controversial warrantless wiretapping program was set to lapse, House Democrats brushed aside GOP threats and let the clock run out. Politically, the move was a gamble: White House officials had claimed the law -- including retroactive legal immunity for the phone companies that participated -- was necessary to protect the country from terrorist attacks. The administration pushed its message relentlessly.


Four months later, a very different scenario is playing out on Capitol Hill, where congressional leaders on Thursday unveiled a new agreement to expand the administration's domestic wiretapping capabilities under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA. The bill would effectively lead to the dismissal of the roughly 40 civil suits currently pending against the telecom companies for allegedly violating the civil liberties of their customers.

Trading Away America


Today, Sen. John McCain will travel to Canada to celebrate the North American Free Trade Agreement and pledge to pursue more of the same corporate trade agreements. He will criticize Sen. Barack Obama for calling for renegotiating NAFTA and similar agreements. This echoes the position of President Bush and most Republicans in Congress.

Americans, however, overwhelmingly believe that current trade policies have "subjected American companies and employees to unfair competition and cheap labor" [Rasmussen Reports; NBC News/Wall Street Journal Poll]. They are looking for a different course. This is a golden opportunity for progressives to speak out against the unfair trade policies of Bush, McCain and their congressional enablers, and to lay out a progressive trade strategy that works for working people.

America has lost millions of jobs due to trade policies designed for multinationals, not for the nation.

Author: Rove 'helped arrange' Swiftboat attacks on Kerry

Karl Rove may have left the Bush administration last summer, but he is never very far from the political spotlight, especially with former press secretary Scott McClellan due to testify today on Rove's role in the outing of Valerie Plame.

MSNBC's Morning Joe welcomed Paul Alexander, the author of Machiavelli's Shadow: The Rise and Fall of Karl Rove, to dig through Rove's legacy of scandal.

Paul Krugman: Driller Instinct

Blaming environmentalists for high energy prices, never mind the evidence, has been a hallmark of the Bush administration.

Thus, in 2001 Dick Cheney attributed the California electricity crisis to environmental regulations that, he claimed, were blocking power-plant construction. He completely missed the real story, which was that energy companies — probably some of the same companies that participated in his secret task force, which was supposed to be drawing up a national energy strategy — were driving up prices by deliberately withholding electricity from the market.

Global quandary: How to feed a growing planet

In the lakeside capital of the central African country of Burundi, 40-year-old Lucie Nahimana on Thursday fed her family of six "black flour," a low-quality cassava root that many here have resorted to eating because they can't afford anything else.

Thousands of miles away, in the port city of Tianjin, China, physician Ning Aimin scanned the shelves of her supermarket for yogurt, a food that was practically unheard-of here a decade ago but has become a favorite of many of China's newly affluent.

New report available on ecosystems and climate change

(Washington, D.C. – June 20, 2008) The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has released a report that can help reduce the potential impact of climate change on estuaries, forests, wetlands, coral reefs, and other sensitive ecosystems. The report, entitled Preliminary Review of Adaptation Options for Climate-Sensitive Ecosystems and Resources, identifies strategies to protect the environment as these changes occur.

"People always say 'Don't just tell us what will happen – tell us what we can do about it,'" said Dr. George Gray, assistant administrator for EPA's Office of Research and Development. "By using the strategies outlined in this document, we can help managers protect our parks, rivers, and forests from possible future impacts of a changing climate."

Here're the savings from Arctic drilling — 75 cents a barrel

WASHINGTON — If Congress were to open up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling, crude oil prices would probably drop by an average of only 75 cents a barrel, according to Department of Energy projections issued Thursday.

The report, which was requested in December by Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, found that oil production in the refuge "is not projected to have a large impact on world oil prices."

Anatomy of a Price Surge

By Michael T. Klare

As the pain induced by higher oil prices spreads to an ever growing share of the American (and world) population, pundits and politicians have been quick to blame assorted villains--greedy oil companies, heartless commodity speculators and OPEC. It's true that each of these parties has contributed to and benefited from the steep run-up. But the sharp growth in petroleum costs is due far more to a combination of soaring international demand and slackening supply--compounded by the ruinous policies of the Bush Administration--than to the behavior of those other actors.

Most, if not all, the damage was avoidable. Shortly after taking office, George W. Bush undertook a sweeping review of US energy policy aimed at expanding the nation's supply of vital fuels. The "reality is the nation has got a real problem when it comes to energy," he declared on March 14, 2001. "We need more sources of energy." At that time many of the problems evident today were already visible. Energy demand in mature industrial nations was continuing to grow as the rising economic dynamos of Asia, especially China, were beginning to make an impact. By 2002 the Energy Department was predicting that China would soon overtake Japan, becoming the world's second-largest petroleum consumer, and that developing Asia as a whole would account for about one-fourth of global consumption by 2020. Also evident was an unmistakable slowdown in the growth of world production, the telltale sign of an imminent "peaking" in global output [see Klare, "Beyond the Age of Petroleum," November 12, 2007].

Katha Pollitt: Feminists for McCain? Not So Much

Are there feminist Hillary supporters who hate Obama so much they'll vote for McCain just to show the Democratic Party how ticked off they are? Yes, and I get e-mails from all five of them. Seriously, I'm sure there are female Hillary Clinton voters who will go for John McCain in the general election, but I don't think too many of them will be feminists. Because to vote for McCain, a feminist would have to be insane. Let me rephrase that: she would have to believe that the chief--indeed the only--goal of the women's movement is to elect Clinton, not to promote women's rights. A vote for McCain would be the ultimate face-spiting nose-cutoff. Take that, women's equality!

Not that the media will help women get it. As Eric Alterman and George Zornick exhaustively document elsewhere in this issue, the mainstream press is doing its best to persuade us that McCain is a moderate--barely distinguishable from Barack Obama--even on abortion rights, one of the brighter dividing lines between the parties.

Is Congress the Problem with Health Care?

By Ezra Klein, The American Prospect
Posted on June 20, 2008, Printed on June 21, 2008

The first thing you notice when you sit down with Tom Daschle is that he's got some really funky glasses. Like, surprisingly funky. Fire-engine red with odd edges and varied trim, the sort of eyeglasses you'd see perched on the nose of an art dealer, not a former Senate majority leader.

But despite the incongruent accessorizing, Daschle is a former Senate majority leader, through and through. After losing his South Dakota Senate seat to John Thune in 2004, he halfheartedly attempted to return to private life, joining a law firm and taking some teaching gigs. But soon enough, he was pulled back into public policy by the Center for American Progress, which convinced him to become a senior fellow. Soon after that, he began working with well-regarded health-policy researchers Scott Greenberger and Jeanne Lambrew on a book about the health-care system.

What Happens When a School Board of Religious Zealots Will 'Lie for Jesus'?

By Onnesha Roychoudhuri, AlterNet
Posted on June 20, 2008, Printed on June 21, 2008

The intelligent design case in Dover, Penn., was the stuff of tabloid dreams: a community divided when a school board led by religious fundamentalists tried to bring creationism into the local biology curriculum. But look beneath the surface, and it was hardly the two-dimensional "science versus religion" narrative favored by the press. As Lauri Lebo, a local reporter who covered the trial, writes, the "'Darwinism'-spouting teachers were preachers' kids; the 'atheist' plaintiffs taught Sunday school; the 'activist' judge was a Bush-appointed Republican; and the journalists labeled 'liars' were willing to go to jail for the truth."

Friday, June 20, 2008

Sarcasm Seen as Evolutionary Survival Skill

Meredith F. Small
Fri Jun 20, 9:45 AM ET

Humans are fundamentally social animals. Our social nature means that we interact with each other in positive, friendly ways, and it also means we know how to manipulate others in a very negative way.

Neurophysiologist Katherine Rankin at the University of California, San Francisco, has also recently discovered that sarcasm, which is both positively funny and negatively nasty, plays an important part in human social interaction.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Why Iraq won't be South Korea

By Pepe Escobar
The United States invasion of Iraq then takes on an even broader meaning. Not only does it constitute an attempt to control the global oil spigot and hence the global economy though domination over the Middle East. It also constitutes a powerful US military bridgehead on the Eurasian land mass which ... yields it a powerful geostrategic position in Eurasia with at least the potentiality to disrupt any consolidation of an Eurasian power that could indeed be the next step in that endless accumulation of political power that must always accompany the equally endless accumulation of capital.
- David Harvey, The New Imperialism, 2003
WASHINGTON - Everyone remembers the George W Bush "Mission Accomplished" victory speech on board of an aircraft carrier off the San Diego coast in the spring of 2003. Over five years - and a trillion dollars - later, Bush's last stand is to force a neo-colonial Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) under Iraqi throats by the end of July, acquire the right to go on "war on terror" mode in Iraq forever, declare victory and thus win - finally - his war, now opposed by a striking majority of Americans.

Call it "occupation forever". But there's one glitch: Iraqis are not falling for it.

Bill Ackman Was Right: MBIA, Ambac on `Ratings Cliff'

By Christine Richard

June 18 (Bloomberg) -- Bill Ackman was right: the world's largest bond insurers aren't worthy of a AAA credit rating and may be headed for the bottom of the scale.

Ackman, the 42-year-old hedge fund manager who says he stands to make hundreds of millions of dollars betting against MBIA Inc. and Ambac Financial Group Inc. if they go bankrupt, will tell investors at a conference in New York today that losses posted by bond insurers may threaten to breach the capital limits allowed by regulators, making them insolvent.

Beck inflated estimated ANWR oil production by nearly 7,000 percent

Summary: Glenn Beck falsely claimed that "drilling in ANWR alone would yield 100 million barrels a day." In fact, according to Energy Department researchers, if the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is opened for drilling for oil in 2008, the estimated peak production would yield, at most, 1.45 million barrels a day in 2028.

General who probed Abu Ghraib says Bush officials committed war crimes

WASHINGTON — The Army general who led the investigation into prisoner abuse at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison accused the Bush administration Wednesday of committing "war crimes" and called for those responsible to be held to account.

The remarks by Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba, who's now retired, came in a new report that found that U.S. personnel tortured and abused detainees in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, using beatings, electrical shocks, sexual humiliation and other cruel practices.

Karl Rove's Trojan Horse among the SMU Mustangs

To obtain the George W. Bush presidential library, Southern Methodist University has been required to accept an autonomous partisan institute on campus. Karl Rove is in the middle of the planning of and fund-raising for this Trojan horse project. The institute will give Rove the resources he needs to try to re-write the narrative of the Bush presidency, as well promoting his larger vision -- the domination of the right-wing of the Republican Party in American politics. In July the United Methodist Church, which owns SMU "lock stock and barrel," has one last chance to stop Rove.

Bear Stearns ex-managers charged

Two former managers at investment bank Bear Stearns have been charged with fraud related to two hedge funds which collapsed in June last year.

Ralph Cioffi and Matthew Tannin, who managed the funds, were arrested in New York and later granted bail.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Thomas Frank: Lord, Make Me Conservative, But Not Yet

June 18, 2008; Page A13

The Republican Party is in tatters, but conservatism shares no portion of the blame. Or so former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay wrote in a cheering column a few weeks ago.

The movement's ideals of "reform" and "justice" did not fail, intoned this towering figure of virtue; conservatism just never got a proper shot in the first place. "To paraphrase G.K. Chesterton," Mr. DeLay wrote, "conservatism has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried."

Army Overseer Tells of Ouster Over KBR Stir

Published: June 17, 2008

WASHINGTON — The Army official who managed the Pentagon’s largest contract in Iraq says he was ousted from his job when he refused to approve paying more than $1 billion in questionable charges to KBR, the Houston-based company that has provided food, housing and other services to American troops.

The official, Charles M. Smith, was the senior civilian overseeing the multibillion-dollar contract with KBR during the first two years of the war. Speaking out for the first time, Mr. Smith said that he was forced from his job in 2004 after informing KBR officials that the Army would impose escalating financial penalties if they failed to improve their chaotic Iraqi operations.

Economists: Health Cost Crisis Coming

Experts Say Congress Must Change Spending on Health Care

By Mike Lillis 06/17/2008
In what is fast becoming a repetitive exercise, some of Washington's top economists warned lawmakers Tuesday that health-care spending threatens to devour the nation's economy unless Congress steps in with sweeping reforms.

The message is hardly news on Capitol Hill, where some policy-makers have sounded a similar alarm for years. But forecasting a fiscal doomsday is easier than convincing a divided Congress to prevent it. Indeed, despite the urgency of the health spending warnings, lawmakers agree that no major reforms are coming this election year.

Roadmap to Torture

Testimony Reveals How Torture Resistance Training, 'SERE,' Became Pentagon's 'Enhanced' Interrogations

By Spencer Ackerman 06/18/2008

In August 2004, a Defense Dept. panel convened to investigate detainee abuse after the Abu Ghraib scandal issued its much-anticipated report. Interrogation techniques designed for use at Guantanamo Bay, which President George W. Bush had decreed outside the scope of the Geneva Conventions, had "migrated" to Iraq, which Bush recognized was under Geneva, concluded panel chairman James Schlesinger, a former defense secretary. Schlesinger's panel, however, did not explain which officials ordered the abusive techniques to transfer across continents -- or how and why they became Pentagon policy in the first place.

The Real Cause of the Mortgage Crisis: Conservative Opposition to Sensible Financial Standards


Home prices are falling and foreclosures rising across the country. With one in six mortgaged homes now worth less than the loan balance, our entire economy is at risk. Few Americans are aware that the housing bubble was the natural result of reckless Bush administration policies. Let’s place blame where it’s due and outline a series of progressive solutions to the problem.


One of every 11 mortgage holders in America faces major loan problems. During the first quarter of 2008, nearly 9 percent of all mortgage holders were delinquent or in foreclosure, the highest rate since recordkeeping began in 1979 [The New York Times [23]]. Foreclosure filings more than doubled from 2007 to 2008 [RealtyTrac [24]].

The Taliban Are Back. What Now?

The long road to fixing Afghanistan winds through Pakistan.

What is going on in Afghanistan?

In the past week, Taliban fighters staged a prison raid and freed at least 1,000 of their brethren. Soon after, they mounted offensives on seven villages and are moving in on the southern stronghold of Kandahar. One of the fiercest Taliban leaders, Maulavi Jalaluddin Haqqani, a major U.S. ally during the days of resistance to Soviet occupiers, is bringing in foreign jihadists from all over the region to help his cause.

Mr. Bush v. the Bill of Rights

In the waning months of his tenure, President Bush and his allies are once again trying to scare Congress into expanding the president’s powers to spy on Americans without a court order.

This week, the White House and Democratic and Republican leaders on Capitol Hill hope to announce a “compromise” on a domestic spying bill. If they do, it will be presented as an indispensable tool for protecting the nation’s security that still safeguards our civil liberties. The White House will paint opponents as weak-kneed liberals who do not understand and cannot stand up to the threat of terrorism.

Can the U.S. Thrive as Other Powers Rise?

By Terrence McNally, AlterNet
Posted on June 18, 2008, Printed on June 18, 2008

Looking beyond U.S. borders, this is a rare moment. Not one of the world's powers is an enemy. The threats to our security do not come from rival nation states. With some threats like climate change -- as Walt Kelly put it via Pogo -- the enemy is us. Even the greatest external violent threats have roots not in powerful nations, but in instability, in states at risk of failure. Our ability to solve all major global problems is compromised or blocked by tribal conflicts, the failure of national institutions, and the resulting breakdown of authority and accountability.

A new book, The Next American Century: How the U.S. Can Thrive as Other Powers Rise by Nina Hachigian and Mona Sutphen, argues that it's good for us that other pivotal nations grow wealthier and stronger. We need them on our side so that together we can solve global problems of peace, climate, health, and justice.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Comfortable retirement a fading dream for many

(06-15) 17:35 PDT -- Ruth Britton enjoys her part-time work as a college instructor. But, at 69, there are plenty of other things the Greenbrae resident would like to do - volunteer, write, take classes, travel.

The problem is, with the cost of living rising and the value of her investments falling, Britton can't do without the money she gets from teaching. She's already put off retirement several years. Now, she says she may have to stay on the job four or five years more.

Tomgram: John Feffer, Are We All North Koreans Now?

It's been a curious experience, each evening recently, turning on the NBC or ABC nightly news, with historic levels of flooding in Iowa as the lead story. ("Uncharted territory," National Weather Service meteorologist Brian Pierce called these floods.) After all, there are those stunning images of Cedar Rapids, a small city now simply in the water. The National Weather Service has already termed what's happened to the city an "historic hydrologic event," with the Cedar River topping its banks at, or above, half-millennium highs. (That's an every 500 year "event"!)

But here's the special strangeness of this TV moment: Network news loves weather disasters, and yet, as with historic droughts in the Southeast or Southwest, as with the hordes of tornadoes coursing through the center of the country, as with so many other extreme weather phenomena of recent times, including flooding in Southern China and the Burmese cyclone, when it comes to the Midwestern floods, night after night no TV talking head seems ever to mention the possibility that climate change/global warming might somehow be involved. (Nor, by the way, are our major newspapers any better on the subject.) As an omission, it's kinda staggering, really, for an event already being labeled "a Midwestern Katrina."

Glenn Greenwald: John Yoo's ongoing falsehoods in service of limitless government power

One of the most reliable methods for knowing that a position is unsustainable is that its advocates must employ outright falsehoods in order to support it. In a Wall St. Journal Op-Ed today, John Yoo defends the right of the Bush administration to imprison people at Guantanamo indefinitely with no judicial review and condemns last week's Supreme Court habeas corpus ruling as "judicial imperialism of the highest order." To do so, Yoo asserts what have become the now-standard though still-blatant falsehoods on this issue.

Myth-makers caught short in oil speculation

By R M Cutler

BRUSSELS - As in military science there is the danger of "fighting the last war", so in economic science there is the danger of puncturing the last bubble. This is especially hazardous when what one has is not, in fact, a bubble. Then, the myths of such a bubble are what need puncturing. So it is today with oil prices, which this week hit a record US$139.89 a barrel.

Is demand actually decreasing in India and China? No, demand is still rising; it is the rate of increase of demand that is declining, and also not by much. Or, perhaps, is oil a hedge against dollar weakness? "The dollar," said Canadian Finance Minister Jim Flaherty at the Group of Eight (G-8)meeting of his colleagues last weekend in Osaka, "is a market currency." And "one does not interfere with a market currency".

Monday, June 16, 2008

Scarcity in an Age of Plenty

As food and fuel prices continue to increase the world must look to new patterns of consumption and production

by Joseph Stiglitz

Around the world, protests against soaring food and fuel prices are mounting. The poor — and even the middle classes — are seeing their incomes squeezed as the global economy enters a slowdown. Politicians want to respond to their constituents’ legitimate concerns, but do not know what to do.

In the United States, both Hillary Clinton and John McCain took the easy way out, and supported a suspension of the gasoline tax, at least for the summer. Only Barack Obama stood his ground and rejected the proposal, which would have merely increased demand for gasoline — and thereby offset the effect of the tax cut.

Izzy Stone, Patron Saint of Bloggers

by Jeff Cohen

It was nineteen years ago this week that I.F. (Izzy) Stone died. The legendary blogger was 81.

Confused? You say he died years before web blogs were invented?

Well, yeah, but when I think of today’s blunt, fact-based online hell-raisers, my mind quickly flashes on Izzy Stone. You may think of Josh Marshall or Glenn Greenwald or Arianna Huffington. I think of Izzy.

Before there was an Internet, Izzy Stone was doing the work we associate with today’s best bloggers. Like them, he was obsessed with citing original documents and texts. But before search engines, Izzy had to consume ten newspapers per day — and physically visit government archives and press offices, and personally pore over thousands of words in the Congressional Record. That’s how he repeatedly scooped the gullible, faux-objective MSM of his day in exposing government deceit, like that propelling the Vietnam War.

Matt Taibbi: Full Metal McCain

Evening, June 3rd, in a muggy, dragonfly-beswarmed place called the Pontchartrain Center, just outside New Orleans. Half a continent away, amid yet another legacy-smashing fusillade of unsolicited invective from Bill Clinton, the excruciating Obama-Hillary mess is finally wrapping up, in a pair of anticlimactic primaries somewhere over the darkened plains of Montana and South Dakota. But here in the Big Easy, John McCain has chosen this moment to mount his first general-election attack against the Great Satanic Liberal Enemy — who, as luck would have it, turns out to be a Negro intellectual from Harvard who's never served in the military. And this is supposed to be a bad year for Republicans?

Army's $100 Million Housing From Hell: Alaska’s Taku Gardens

For Immediate Release: June 12, 2008
Contact: Carol Goldberg (202) 265-7337

ARMY’S $100 MILLION HOUSING FROM HELL: ALASKA’S TAKU GARDENS — Responsibility Evaded for Uninhabitable Base Family Housing atop Weapons Dump

Washington, DC — For more then three years, the U.S. Army has hemorrhaged money into an Alaskan housing complex that will likely never be occupied, according to agency documents released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). After a damning internal investigation, the Army ordered a new review which excused any misconduct as a failure to communicate, conceding only that “this was not an organization optimally aligned for success.”

Under intense pressure to provide housing at booming Fort Wainwright, in 2005 base officials authorized building 128 units on a 54-acre site, called Taku Gardens but with only cursory environmental assessment. Unfortunately, that site was an old weapons and equipment dump, profoundly contaminated with munitions (some holding chemical agent), dioxin, PCBs, tons of drums and equipment (including an entire locomotive and a forklift). By the time construction was halted, 79 units had been built but will likely have to be torn down.

The Contraception Failure

Nearly all American women will use contraception at some point in their lives. Birth control is the most effective way to lower the unintended pregnancy rate, and the best way to decrease the abortion rate. But in an increasingly polarized political debate about abortion rights, anti-contraception sentiments have crept in. Sometimes they are blatant -- earlier this June for example, anti-choice groups sponsored a national day of protest against the birth control pill. But usually, they are more insidious and come in the form of systematically and routinely denying women access to contraception. The grounds of the reproductive rights debate are shifting -- and most Americans don't seem to know it.

Tomgram: Why We Can't See America's Ziggurats in Iraq

The Greatest Story Never Told

Finally, the U.S. Mega-Bases in Iraq Make the News

By Tom Engelhardt

It's just a $5,812,353 contract -- chump change for the Pentagon -- and not even one of those notorious "no-bid" contracts either. Ninety-eight bids were solicited by the Army Corps of Engineers and 12 were received before the contract was awarded this May 28th to Wintara, Inc. of Fort Washington, Maryland, for "replacement facilities for Forward Operating Base Speicher, Iraq." According to a Department of Defense press release, the work on those "facilities" to be replaced at the base near Saddam Hussein's hometown, Tikrit, is expected to be completed by January 31, 2009, a mere 11 days after a new president enters the Oval Office. It is but one modest reminder that, when the next administration hits Washington, American bases in Iraq, large and small, will still be undergoing the sort of repair and upgrading that has been ongoing for years.

Flux in ocean levels drove mass extinctions: study

Mass extinctions that wiped out up to 90 percent of Earth's flora and fauna were driven in large part by shifting ocean levels, according to a study published in Nature.

Understanding what made many of the planet's living organism rapidly die out at least five times over the last half billion years remains one of the great challenges in paleontology and biology.

Lehman and the liars

By Chan Akya

The travails at one of the smaller investment banks in the world, Lehman Brothers, this week helped to increase investor focus on the phalanx of lies that underpin valuations across financial markets. Since I last alluded to the potential problems of this firm (Cheap talk, pricey banks, Asia Times Online, June 5, 2008), events have moved rather quickly; its share price is down from around US$31 to Thursday's close of $22.70.

The reason for the share price decline wasn't so much the article of course, but rather the company's announcement on Monday (June 9) that it expected a $2.8 billion loss for the quarter ended May 31, and that it would also raise $6 billion in new capital, a part of which would come from Asian investors, in particular an unnamed South Korean financial institution.

Deal, deal, deal with Iran

WASHINGTON - The assumption that the United States should exploit its military dominance to exert pressure on adversaries has long dominated the thinking of the US national security and political elite. But this central tenet of conventional security doctrine was sharply rejected last week by a senior practitioner of crisis diplomacy at the debut of a major new centrist foreign policy think-tank.

At the first conference of the Center for a New American Security (CNAS), ambassador James Dobbins, who was former president Bill Clinton special envoy for Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia and Kosovo and the George W Bush administration's first special envoy to Afghanistan, sharply rejected the well-established concept of coercive diplomacy.

Oil hits new record, then reverses on worries

Monday June 16, 4:23 pm ET
By John Wilen, AP Business Writer

Oil futures hit record near $140 a barrel, then fall, as traders weigh Saudi production offer NEW YORK (AP) -- Crude oil futures swung wildly on Monday, rising to a record and then tumbling as investors wrestled with whether they should put stock in Saudi Arabia's promise to boost production. Retail gas prices rose to a record $4.08 a gallon.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Human trafficking of Indian guest workers alleged in Mississippi shipyard; Contractor defends 290-man camp

Paid $18.50 an hour, but living twenty to a trailer and fighting for spoons

A month ago Monday, a group of guest workers from India placed a frantic 3:00 am phone call to Saket Soni, lead organizer for the New Orleans Workers' Center for Racial Justice. The workers said that armed security guards were holding some workers prisoner in the TV room of the Signal International Shipyard in Pascagoula, Mississippi, where the company's 290 welders and pipe fitters live.

The men told Soni that Signal International – a sub-contractor for mammoth defense contractor Northrop Grumman – had staged a pre-dawn raid and that six Indian workers had been detained in the “TV room,” flanked by security guards, one of whom carried a gun. About 200 other Indian employees at Signal were standing outside the room.

Justice Isn't Justice If It Only Applies to Your Friends

On Thursday July 12, the Supreme Court restored habeas corpus to the accused persons detained by President Bush at Guantanamo. In doing so it set American laws again on the track of constitutional self-respect. But it also opened the grounds for a debate which is sure to be long and fierce, in which the American opponents of liberty, eager for the domestic regime that in 2002 seemed almost in their grasp, will spare no reproach against the Court and will speak openly of the "lack of realism" of the U.S. Constitution.

Two previous decisions, and two bad remedies by a servile Republican Congress and its Democratic enablers, led to Thursday's decision. The Supreme Court in Rasul v. Bush, in June 2004, recognized that the Guantanamo prisoners had statutory habeas rights. The response by Congress was the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005, which specified the harsher rules to which they were subject. In Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, in June 2006, the Court held that Guantanamo trials by military commissions were in violation of both the Uniform Code of Military Justice and the Geneva Conventions. Congress then offered up, and the president signed into law in October 2006, the Military Commissions Act, which gave legislative sanction to the Guantanamo commissions and stripped the prisoners of habeas corpus.

Susan Faludi: Think the Gender War Is Over? Think Again

San Francisco

FOR months, our political punditry foresaw one, and only one, prospective gender contest looming in the general election: between the first serious female presidential candidate and the Republican male “warrior.” But those who were dreading a plebiscite on sexual politics shouldn’t celebrate just yet. Hillary Clinton may be out of the race, but a Barack Obama versus John McCain match-up still has the makings of an epic American gender showdown.

The reason is a gender ethic that has guided American politics since the age of Andrew Jackson. The sentiment was succinctly expressed in a massive marble statue that stood on the steps of the United States Capitol from 1853 to 1958. Named “The Rescue,” but more commonly known as “Daniel Boone Protects His Family,” the monument featured a gigantic white pioneer in a buckskin coat holding a nearly naked Indian in a death’s grip, while off to the side a frail white woman crouched over her infant.

Frank Rich: Angry Clinton Women ♥ McCain?

TEN years ago John McCain had to apologize for regaling a Republican audience with a crude sexual joke about Hillary and Chelsea Clinton and Janet Reno. Last year he had to explain why he didn’t so much as flinch when a supporter asked him on camera, “How do we beat the bitch?” But these days Mr. McCain just loves the women.

In his televised address on Barack Obama’s victory night of June 3, he dismissed Mr. Obama in a single patronizing line but devoted four fulsome sentences to praising Mrs. Clinton for “inspiring millions of women.” The McCain Web site is showcasing a new blogger who crooned of the “genuine affection” for Mrs. Clinton “here at McCain HQ” after she lost. One of the few visible women in the McCain campaign hierarchy, Carly Fiorina, has declared herself “enormously proud” of Mrs. Clinton and is barnstorming to win over Democratic women to her guy’s cause.

America's prison for terrorists often held the wrong men

GARDEZ, Afghanistan — The militants crept up behind Mohammed Akhtiar as he squatted at the spigot to wash his hands before evening prayers at the Guantanamo Bay detention camp.

They shouted "Allahu Akbar" — God is great — as one of them hefted a metal mop squeezer into the air, slammed it into Akhtiar's head and sent thick streams of blood running down his face.

Amy Goodman: Citing Iraq War, Renowned Attorney Vincent Bugliosi Seeks “The Prosecution of George W. Bush for Murder”

Vincent Bugliosi is one of the most successful prosecutors in this country, with a record including twenty-one murder convictions without a single loss. With a new book, he outlines his case for the prosecution of George W. Bush for murder.

Thomas Frank: Mister Maverick, Meet Da Machine

I always knew that the 2008 election would become another battle in the culture wars; the only mystery was the particular form the conflict would take this time around.

The answer surprises even cynical me: Barack Obama's neighborhood. Republicans are preparing to court the blue-collar vote by casting the election as a referendum on Chicago's Hyde Park neighborhood, which Mr. Obama represented in the Illinois Senate and where the prestigious University of Chicago is situated.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Drop That Spoon!

How did it all begin? It was one of those things that crept up on us and we still can't quite believe happened. Looking back, we'd been in denial for some time. Then a friend who hadn't seen the family for a while blurted out the bald truth. "God, Dodi's got rather fat. In fact, you know, I think that might count as obese."

Once said, it had to be admitted. If you looked at Dodi from behind when he was sitting down, you could see a substantial spare tyre around his 13-year-old middle. It bulged out from his hips and flopped down like a muffin rising out over its baking case. He had become quite lazy, too, preferring to lounge in front of the fire rather than play in the garden as he used to. His excess weight was slowing him down. His joints seemed stiff as he climbed the stairs.

Graham: Amend Constitution to overturn court's ruling

WASHINGTON — A dejected Sen. Lindsey Graham blasted the Supreme Court's ruling Thursday on Guantanamo Bay detainees, calling it "dangerous and irresponsible."

The South Carolina Republican, who's also a military lawyer and a colonel in the Air Force Reserve, helped craft the Military Commissions Act and had confidently predicted that it would pass high court muster.

Glenn Greenwald: Conservatism vs. Authoritarianism: The British vs. The US Right

In Britain, the Labour Party, led by Prime Minister Gordon Brown, is attempting to enact legislation empowering the Government to detain terrorist suspects for 42 days without bothering to charge them with any crime (as a result of post-9/11 legislation, the British Government may do so now for 28 days). Much of the opposition to this expansion of the Government’s detention power comes from the British Right, which sees it as an intolerable expansion of unchecked government power and a severe erosion of core Western liberties. Factions within the British Left are opposed to the legislation for the same reason.

The official position of the British Conservative Party is to oppose the legislation, and former Tory Prime Minister John Major — who himself was the target of a 1991 bombing-assassination plot by the IRA — wrote an Op-Ed in the Times Online emphatically opposing these increased detention powers and also opposing new DNA and other domestic surveillance programs.

AP Goes After Bloggers Under DMCA

By Liza Sabater, Culture Kitchen
Posted on June 13, 2008, Printed on June 14, 2008

Rogers Cadenhead, founder and publisher of The Drudge Retort, has been Cease and Desisted by AP News for publishing fragments of their syndicated news articles and reports.

Yes, fragments, not the whole articles.

FEMA gives away $85 million of supplies for Katrina victims

NEW ORLEANS, Louisiana (CNN) -- FEMA gave away about $85 million in household goods meant for Hurricane Katrina victims, a CNN investigation has found.

The material, from basic kitchen goods to sleeping necessities, sat in warehouses for two years before the Federal Emergency Management Agency's giveaway to federal and state agencies this year.

Obama's Chicago Boys

Barack Obama waited just three days after Hillary Clinton pulled out of the race to declare, on CNBC, "Look. I am a pro-growth, free-market guy. I love the market."

Demonstrating that this is no mere spring fling, he has appointed 37-year-old Jason Furman to head his economic policy team. Furman is one of Wal-Mart's most prominent defenders, anointing the company a "progressive success story." On the campaign trail, Obama blasted Clinton for sitting on the Wal-Mart board and pledged, "I won't shop there." For Furman, however, it's Wal-Mart's critics who are the real threat: the "efforts to get Wal-Mart to raise its wages and benefits" are creating "collateral damage" that is "way too enormous and damaging to working people and the economy more broadly for me to sit by idly and sing 'Kum-Ba-Ya' in the interests of progressive harmony."