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Undernews For 24 March, 2008

Undernews For 24 March, 2008

Washington's Most Unofficial Source


Liberty is the only thing you cannot have unless you are willing to give it to others. -- William Allen White




ALTERNET Imagine living in an 8-by-12 prison cell, in solitary confinement, for eight years straight. Your entire world consists of a dank, cinder block room with a narrow window only three inches high, opening up to an outdoor cement cage, cynically dubbed, "the yard." If you're lucky, you spend one hour, five days a week in that outdoor cage, where you gaze up through a wire mesh roof and hope for a glimpse of the sun. If you talk back to the guards or act out in any way, you might only venture outside one precious hour per week.

You go eight years without shaking a hand or experiencing any physical human contact. The prison guards bark orders and touch you only while wearing leather gloves, and then it's only to put you in full cuffs and shackles before escorting you to the cold showers, where they watch your every move.

You cannot make phone calls to your friends or family and must "earn" two visits per month, which inevitably take place through a Plexiglass wall. You are kept in full shackles the entire time you visit with your wife and children, and have to strain to hear their voices through speakers that record your every word. With no religious or educational programs to break up the time or elevate your thoughts, it's a daily struggle to keep your mind from unraveling.

This is how Reginald Akeem Berry describes his time in Tamms Correctional Facility, a "Supermax" state prison in southern Illinois, where he was held from March 1998 until July 2006. He now works to draw attention to conditions inside Tamms, where 261 inmates continue to be held in extreme isolation.

Once exclusively employed as a short-term punishment for particularly violent jailhouse infractions, today, 44 states hold "supermax" facilities, or "control units," designed specifically to hold large numbers of inmates in long-term solitary confinement. A concept that spread like wildfire in the 1990s, today an estimated 20,000 prisoners live in these modern-day dungeons, judged to be "unmanageable" by prison officials and moved from other penitentiaries to the nearest supermax.

Life in supermax institutions is grueling. Inmates stay in their cells for at least 23 hours per day, and never so much as lay eyes on another prisoner. While many live under these conditions for five years, others continue, uncertain of how to earn their way out, for ten, 15, or even 20 years. . .

In 2000, and again in 2006, the United Nations Committee Against Torture condemned the kind of isolation imposed by the U.S. government in federal, state and county-run supermax prisons, calling it "extremely harsh."

"The Committee is concerned about the prolonged isolation periods detainees are subjected to," they stated, "the effect such treatment has on their mental health, and that its purpose may be retribution, in which case it would constitute cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment."


NY TIMES What Mr. McCain almost never mentions are two extraordinary moments in his political past that are at odds with the candidate of the present: His discussions in 2001 with Democrats about leaving the Republican Party, and his conversations in 2004 with Senator John Kerry about becoming Mr. Kerry’s running mate on the Democratic presidential ticket.

There are wildly divergent versions of both episodes, depending on whether Democrats or Mr. McCain and his advisers are telling the story. The Democrats, including Mr. Kerry, say that not only did Mr. McCain express interest but that it was his camp that initially reached out to them. Mr. McCain and his aides counter that in both cases the Democrats were the suitors and Mr. McCain the unwilling bride. . .

Whatever the case, both sides say that Mr. Kerry was so enthusiastic about the notion that he relentlessly pursued Mr. McCain, even to the point of offering him a large part of the president’s national security responsibilities.

Mr. McCain, who has rarely spoken publicly of his talks with Mr. Kerry, said last month that he had dismissed the vice-presidential offer out of hand. “He is, as he describes himself, a liberal Democrat,” Mr. McCain said of Mr. Kerry when he was asked about the episode by a participant at a public forum in Atlanta. “I am a conservative Republican. So when I was approached, when we had that conversation back in 2004, that’s why I never even considered such a thing.”

Mr. Kerry declined last week to discuss his conversations with Mr. McCain, but three former Kerry strategists said that Mr. McCain had not immediately dismissed the notion of sharing the Democratic ticket. “McCain did not flat-out say no, regardless of what he’s saying now,” said one strategist who asked not to be named. “He was interested in this discussion.”

But however Mr. McCain reacted, he ultimately decided, Mr. Salter said, that the idea would never work. At one point Mr. McCain told Mr. Kerry, Mr. Salter recalled, “What if something happens to you? Your party’s going to be pretty surprised about the kind of president they’re going to have.”

Still, that did not stop a number of Kerry strategists from thinking that Mr. McCain might have helped propel the Democrats to the White House in 2004. “It was a way to extend the reach of the candidacy,” said Mike Donilon, who was one of Mr. Kerry’s media advisers and had been a college roommate of Mr. Salter’s. “I thought it could have been a very strong ticket.”


TIMES, UK Long before Barack Obama launched his campaign for the White House, when he was considering a run for the US Senate in 2003, he paid an intriguing visit to a former Chicago sewers inspector who had risen to become one of the most influential African-American politicians in Illinois.

“You have the power to elect a US senator,” Obama told Emil Jones, Democratic leader of the Illinois state senate. Jones looked at the ambitious young man smiling before him and asked, teasingly: “Do you know anybody I could make a US senator?”

According to Jones, Obama replied: “Me.” It was his first, audacious step in a spectacular rise from the murky political backwaters of Springfield, the Illinois capital. . .

Obama has often described Jones as a key political mentor whose patronage was crucial to his early success in a state long dominated by near-feudal party political machines. Jones, 71, describes himself as Obama’s “godfather” and once said: “He feels like a son to me.”. . .

At one point during Obama’s 2003 Senate campaign, Jones set out to woo two African-American politicians miffed by Obama’s presumption and ambition. One of them, Rickey “Hollywood” Hendon, a state senator, had scoffed that Obama was so ambitious he would run for “king of the world” if the position were vacant.

When Jones secured the two men’s support, Obama asked his mentor how he had pulled it off. “I made them an offer,” Jones said in mock-mafioso style. “And you don’t want to know.”

Jones is now at the centre of a long row over his attempt to block proposed laws cracking down on his state’s “pay-to-play” tradition – whereby companies hoping to win government contracts have to contribute to the campaign funds of officials. Jones’s staff say he blocked the bill because he intends to produce something tougher. No proposals have appeared.

Cynthia Canary, an activist against corruption who is fighting to have the laws passed, says Obama had little choice as an Illinois politician but to deal with an ethically dubious regime. “You hold your nose and work through the system,” she said.

Yet she also thinks America is being done a disservice by those who portray Obama as somehow above the uglier wheeler-dealing of politics. “He’s a pragmatic politician, and in the end if you think that he’s superman, your heart is going to get broken.”


AP There are signs of a potential compromise to end the Bush administration's standoff with states resisting new standards for driver's licenses. For people who live in those holdout states, the dispute raises the specter of hassles at airports and federal buildings. At issue is a law known as Real ID that would require new security measures for state-issued driver's licenses. The Bush administration says the law, passed after the Sept. 11 attacks, will hinder terrorists, con artists and illegal immigrants. Opponents say it will cost too much and weaken privacy protections.

Unless holdout states send a letter by the end of March seeking an extension, their residents no longer can use a driver's licenses as valid identification to board airplanes or enter federal buildings beginning in May, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff has warned. They would have to present a passport or be subjected to secondary screening. Only three states Maine, Montana and South Carolina have not sought extensions or already started moving toward compliance. New Hampshire has asked to be exempted, but Homeland Security Department officials have not found the state's letter to be legally acceptable.

But on Friday, the agency granted Montana an extension even though state officials did not ask for one and insist they will not follow the law. Gov. Brian Schweitzer, D-Mont., told The Associated Press that administration officials "painted themselves in a corner.". . .

Schweitzer said his state had not backed down. The agency's approach to Montana could provide an easy way out for the remaining states resistant to Real ID. It also suggests the government does not want to go ahead with its plan to conduct extra screening on residents of certain states.

To Tim Sparapani, senior legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union, "this concession is proof positive that in the face of opposition from the states, DHS will blink every time. Congress needs to step in and replace Real ID with a plan that works."

Critics of the plan say that by linking a number of government databases, Real ID could make people's identities less secure; Chertoff has dismissed that claim. Some governors complain compliance will cost their states a small fortune.


TECHNOLOGY REVIEW If there is a lesson from former New York governor Eliot Spitzer's scandal-driven fall (aside from the most obvious one), it is this: banks are paying attention to even the smallest of your transactions. . . In Spitzer's case, according to newspaper reports, it was three wire transfers amounting to just $5,000 apiece that set alarm bells ringing. It helped that he was a prominent political figure. But even the most mundane activities of ordinary citizens are given the same initial scrutiny.

"All the big banks have these software systems," says Pete Balint, a cofounder of the Dominion Advisory Group, which helps banks develop strategies for combating money laundering and fraud. "Depending on their volume, they might have thousands of alerts a month."

Most of the systems follow fairly simple rules, looking for anomalies that trigger heightened scrutiny. Software company Metavante says that its software, for example, contains more than 70 "best-practice" rules, covering a wide variety of transaction types ranging from cash deposits to insurance purchases. . .

The simplest way to identify the unexpected is by contrast to the routine. A person who deposits just two paychecks a month for two years might be flagged if he suddenly deposits six large checks in two weeks, for example. . .

The most sophisticated software packages can sort people or accounts into several categories at once: a single customer might be compared to other schoolteachers; to people who bank mostly at a single regional branch; and to people who have stable, pension-based monthly incomes, for example.


AMBROSE EVANS-PRITCHARD, TELEGRAPH, UK We may never know for sure whether the Federal Reserve's rescue of Bear Stearns averted a seizure of the $516 trillion derivatives system, the ultimate Chernobyl for global finance. "If the Fed had not stepped in, we would have had pandemonium," said James Melcher, president of the New York hedge fund Balestra Capital.

"There was the risk of a total meltdown at the beginning of last week. I don't think most people have any idea how bad this chain could have been, and I am still not sure the Fed can maintain the solvency of the US banking system."

All through early March the frontline players had watched in horror as Bear Stearns came under assault and then shriveled into nothing as its $17bn reserve cushion vanished. . .

Fed chairman Ben Bernanke has moved with breathtaking speed to contain the crisis. Last Sunday night, he resorted to the "nuclear option", invoking a Depression-era clause - Article 13 (3) of the Federal Reserve Act - to be used in "unusual and exigent circumstances".

The emergency vote by five governors allows the Fed to shoulder $30bn of direct credit risk from the Bear Stearns carcass. By taking this course, the Fed has crossed the Rubicon of central banking. . .

Bear Stearns had total positions of $13.4 trillion. This is greater than the US national income, or equal to a quarter of world GDP - at least in "notional" terms. . . This heady edifice of new-fangled instruments was built on an asset base of $80bn at best.

On the other side of these contracts are banks, brokers, and hedge funds, linked in destiny by a nexus of interlocking claims. This is counterparty spaghetti. To make matters worse, Lehman Brothers, UBS, and Citigroup were all wobbling on the back foot as the hurricane hit.

"Twenty years ago the Fed would have let Bear Stearns go bust," said Willem Sels, a credit specialist at Dresdner Kleinwort. "Now it is too interlinked to fail.". . .

Under the rescue deal, JP Morgan Chase will take over Bear Stearns' $13.4 trillion contracts - lock, stock, and barrel. But JP Morgan is already up to its neck in this soup, with $77 trillion of contracts. It will now have $90 trillion on its books, a sixth of the global market. . .


AMY DRISCOLL, MIAMI HERALD Almost four months before Gov. Eliot Spitzer resigned in a sex scandal, a lawyer for Republican political operative Roger Stone sent a letter to the FBI alleging that Spitzer ''used the services of high-priced call girls'' while in Florida. . .

Stone, known for shutting down the 2000 presidential election recount effort in Miami-Dade County, is a longtime Spitzer nemesis whose political experience ranges from the Nixon White House to Al Sharpton's presidential campaign. His lawyer wrote the letter containing the call-girl allegations after FBI agents had asked to speak to Stone, though he says the FBI did not specify why he was contacted.

''Mr. Stone respectfully declines to meet with you at this time,'' the letter states, before going on to offer ''certain information'' about Spitzer.

''The governor has paid literally tens of thousands of dollars for these services. It is Mr. Stone's understanding that the governor paid not with credit cards or cash but through some pre-arranged transfer,'' the letter said.

''It is also my client's understanding from the same source that Gov. Spitzer did not remove his mid-calf length black socks during the sex act. Perhaps you can use this detail to corroborate Mr. Stone's information,'' the letter said. It was signed by attorney Paul Rolf Jensen of Costa Mesa, Calif.

The letter also notes that while Stone believes the information is true, he ''cannot swear to its accuracy'' because it is second-hand.

James Margolin, a spokesman for the FBI's New York office, would not say whether the bureau had received the letter. A spokeswoman for Spitzer also had no comment.

The letter was written several months after allegations were leveled at Stone that he had left a threatening phone message at the office of Bernard Spitzer, the ex-governor's father, regarding ''phony'' campaign loans involving his son's unsuccessful 1994 bid for attorney general. Stone denied making the call but resigned as a consultant for state Senate Republicans in Albany. . .

Stone confirmed details of the letter, saying a high-end call girl at an adult-themed club called Miami Velvet told him she was disappointed to have missed a call to entertain Spitzer. She said her friend had taken the call, and she described the details about the socks, Stone said. He referred The Miami Herald to his lawyer for comments.


INSIDER ADVANTAGE - Barack Obama's speech about race impressed many who witnessed it or read it. But most of America did neither, and many of them -- white and black -- were less persuaded of the speech's capacity to heal racial wounds, or to put the issue of race behind Obama as he continues his quest for the White House. That's according to a new poll by Insider Advantage - Majority Opinion.

First, we screened poll respondents to find those who were aware that Obama's pastor was in the news. A startling 82% knew about Obama's speech, and about the controversy surrounding the Rev. Jeremiah Wright.

Of those who knew about the controversy and the speech, we asked, "Taking all this into account, are you more or less likely to support Obama for president?"

Less likely (52%) More likely (19%) About the same (27%) No opinion (2%). .

Most startling is that blacks by 56% to 31% said the speech made them less likely to vote for him. . .

Democrats disapproved 48% to 28. . .

The disturbing numbers for Obama are the independent voters. By 56% to 13%, they said they're less likely to vote for him because of the speech.

WHAT'S going on here? Our guess is that while classic liberal voters liked the speech, to many listeners Obama actually did little to help them deal with the issue of ethnicity. A considerable portion, for example, was designed primarily to ease Obama out of his sticky problem with Rev. Wright but that didn't translate well into a broader message. In other words, the speech was more analytical than helpful. - TPR


SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE - Bicyclists were twice as likely as drivers to be at fault in the nearly 2,000 collisions that killed or severely injured Bay Area bike riders in the past decade, an analysis by The Chronicle shows. . .

"There is a juggernaut out there - the tension between the cyclists and the drivers is so high that it's become a war," said triathlon coach Marc Evans, who is starting a campaign to get the cycling community, drivers and motorcyclists to put more focus on avoiding deadly collisions on the roads.

The Chronicle's analysis of the 33,000 Bay Area collisions involving bicyclists since 1997 shows that, in the most serious accidents, the driving behaviors of bicyclists often were blamed for the crashes. Data collected by the California Highway Patrol show that bicyclists were deemed at fault in 1,165, or nearly 60 percent, of the 1,997 accidents that killed or severely injured cyclists; drivers were blamed only 520 times, or 26 percent. In most other cases, no one was listed as being at fault.

Bicycling advocates said the statistics might in part reflect a bias among police officers, who they say often "blame the victims," especially because cyclists might not get to tell their side of the story as they are being carried off on stretchers. "There is a prevalent perception among police officers that bikes don't belong on the road," said Leah Shahum, executive director of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition.

Yet even the most staunch cycling advocates acknowledge that some cyclists give others a bad name by failing to obey traffic laws. "When I see a rider run a red light, I cringe," Shahum said. "Not only is it totally unsafe, it makes me and all other cyclists look bad."

The number of serious Bay Area crashes in which cyclists were at fault has hovered at about 100 per year for the past decade, but the number in which motorists were blamed has steadily risen - from 38 in 1997 to 61 in 2006, the last full year for which data were available.

In addition, the number of accidents involving drivers hitting cyclists and then fleeing has spiked in recent years. Hit-and-run drivers killed four cyclists and severely injured 26 others in 2006 - significantly more than any other year in the past decade.


CELEB STONER Rep. Barney Frank announced on Real Time he plans to "file a bill as soon as we go back to remove all penalties for small amounts of marijuana."

"Why are you doing this in this late stage in the history of marijuana?" Bill Maher probed.

"Because I finally got to the point where I think I can get away with it," explained Frank, who has been in the House since 1981. "I wanted to do it for a long time. I filed it in the state legislature in the '70s. When I got to Congress, frankly, I was feeling more cautious.

"I now think it's time for the politicians to catch up to the public. The notion that you lock people up for smoking marijuana is pretty silly. I'm going to call it the Make Room for Serious Criminals bill."


SF GATE San Francisco's 68 controversial anti-crime cameras haven't deterred criminals from committing assaults, sex offenses or robberies - and they've only moved homicides down the block, according to a new report from UC Berkeley. Researchers found that nonviolent thefts dropped by 22 percent within 100 feet of the cameras, but the devices had no effect on burglaries or car theft. And they've had no effect on violent crime. . .

"In their current configuration they are not useful, and they give people a false sense of security, which I think is bad," said Police Commissioner Joe Alioto-Veronese. He added that previous studies of security cameras in other parts of the country have also shown that they do not deter violent crime. . .

They've been controversial from the start. Representatives from the American Civil Liberties Union say they're a violation of privacy. . .

The cameras have contributed to only one arrest nearly two years ago in a city that saw 98 homicides last year, a 12-year high. The video is choppy, and police aren't allowed to watch video in real-time or maneuver the cameras to get a better view of potential crimes. . .

Researchers examined data from the San Francisco Police Department detailing the 59,706 crimes committed within 1,000 feet of the camera locations between Jan. 1, 2005, and Jan. 28, 2008. . .

The only positive deterrent effect was the reduction of larcenies within 100 feet of the cameras. No other crimes were affected - except for homicides, which had an interesting pattern.

Murders went down within 250 feet of the cameras, but the reduction was completely offset by an increase 250 to 500 feet away, suggesting people moved down the block before killing each other.


INDEPENDENT, UK The world faces a future of "water wars", unless action is taken to prevent international water shortages and sanitation issues escalating into conflicts, according to Gareth Thomas, the International Development minister the years ahead," said Mr Thomas. . . His department warned that two-thirds of the world's population will live in water-stressed countries by 2025. The stark prediction comes after the Prime Minister said in his national security strategy that pressure on water was one of the factors that could help countries "tip into instability, state failure or conflict".

[A] coalition of charities has appealed for a global effort to bring running water to the developing world and supply sanitation to a further 2.6 billion people. . .In their letter, the campaigners say: "Each year 443 million school days are lost globally to diarrhea and 1.8 million children die unnecessarily from these diseases


WASH TIMES - A federal District court ruled that antiwar protesters can rally along Pennsylvania Avenue during the inauguration parade in January. Members of the ANSWER Coalition won the judgment by saying the National Park Service violated their First Amendment rights by excluding them and other visitors from a major section of the route during President Bush's 2005 inaugural parade. The sections were reserved for guests who received tickets from the Presidential Inaugural Committee.

"It means thousands and thousands of people who want the war in Iraq to come to an end can line the parade route and let their views be known," said Brian Becker, the coalition's national coordinator. "Whoever is the next president will hear from people that they want the war in Iraq ended and there will be signs and banners saying that along the parade route."

U.S. District Judge Paul L. Friedman said in his ruling the inauguration "is not a private event."

"Protesters are entitled to engage in political speech in a public forum during the inaugural parade," he said. "As the Supreme Court has observed, the government may not grant the use of a forum to people whose views it finds acceptable, but deny use to those wishing to express less favored or more controversial views. . . Once a forum is opened up to assembly or speaking by some groups, government may not prohibit others from assembling or speaking on the basis of what they intend to say.".


"The road to tyranny, we must never forget, begins with the destruction of the truth." -- Bill Clinton, October 1995

One of the ways you can tell a pathological liar is the tendency to lie about insignificant matters. If this is true, then Hillary Clinton has a serious problem.

BRIAN ROSS AND MARCUS BARAM, ABC - Last week, Clinton insisted she played a key role in the Northern Ireland peace talks, saying 'I wasn't sitting at the negotiating table but the role I played was instrumental.' But, according to her White House schedule, while Catholic and Protestant leaders were locked into final negotiations on the terms of their power-sharing agreement in Belfast, Clinton was at the National Press Club in Washington at a 'Hats On For Bella' party in honor of late Congresswoman Bella Abzug on April 9, 1998. And while President Clinton was making last-minute phone calls to the major players in the peace talks that afernoon, she was meeting with Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel and the Park Service Foundation. On the day the agreement was signed, April 10, 1998, she had a private meeting with Philippine first lady Amelita Ramos in the White House's Yellow Oval room.

RICHARD SILVERSTEIN, TIKUN OLAM You may recall Hillary Clinton trumpeting the news that Palestinian school textbooks teach hatred of Israel and Jews. This so-called revelation was supposed to teach the world the perfidy of Palestinians; that they don't want peace; that they only want to hate; and that the fault for the conflict lay at the foot of the Palestinians alone. . .

Hillary's claims were not true. Diane Mason lays out the case in her own impeccable fashion at Lawrence of Cyberia . . . In short, Hillary relied in her charges on "research" performed by the Committee for Monitoring the Impact of Peace, a right-wing pro-Israel propaganda outfit founded by Itamar Marcus. CMIP's purpose, like that of MEMRI, CAMERA, Debka, and a host of other similar groups is to cut and paste media stories that are embarrassing to Arabs in general and Palestinians in particular. Many of the stories are either mistranslated, wrenched out of context, or generally twisted to place Islam in the worst possible light.

In this particular case, CMIP's research and conclusions are entirely wrong. While there are some textbooks used by students which deride Jews and Israel, they are old Jordanian and Egyptian publications and they are being used because Israeli administrators prefer not to allow Palestinians to use textbooks created by the PA for fear that this might mean recognition of a Palestinian claim to sovereignty. Actual Palestinian textbooks do not contain any of the slurs documented by CMIP. . .

Diane also notes that in an interview a CMIP director acknowledged that he does not think that Palestinian textbooks are guilty of incitement against Israel or Jews. . .

Clinton has a first-rate staff that I'm sure researches all of the claims she makes to test their accuracy. It would be extremely easy for her to investigate the Palestinian textbook claim and discover that it is false. Yet she does not do so. So much for a concern for truth. . .

AP As first lady, Hillary Rodham Clinton traveled to Bosnia in March 1996 with her daughter and several celebrities to boost troop morale and thank soldiers stationed there. Clinton cites the goodwill trip as a part of her foreign policy experience, describing a dangerous landing where she was ordered to the armored front of the plane because of possible ground fire. She also now reports landing under sniper fire and contradicts her previous written account of a shortened welcoming ceremony at the airport. But according to accounts at the time, she was placed under no extraordinary risks on that trip. And one of her companions on it said he has no recollection either of the threat or reality of gunfire.

DAILY KOS On NPR, Senator Clinton admitted to breaking her pledge to the DNC. She stated: "We all had a choice as to whether or not to participate in what was going to be a primary. And most people took their names off the ballot, but I didn't. And I think that was a wise decision because Michigan is key to our electoral victory in the fall." This is a direct and unequivocable violation of her pledge to the DNC and Democratic voters. She signed a pledge not to campaign or participate. Here's the relevant section of the pledge): "THEREFORE, I (Hillary Clinton), Democratic Candidate for President, in honor and in accordance with DNC rules, pledge to actively campaign in the pre-approved early states Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire and South Carolina. I pledge I shall not campaign or participate in any election contest occurring in any state not already authorized by the DNC to take place in the DNC approved pre-window (any date prior to February 5, 2008)." By her own admission, she has broken her pledge.

HUFFINGTON POST Take, for instance, the claim on Hillary Clinton's web site that as First Lady, she helped pass the Family and Medical Leave Act. Now, that sounds like she worked hard to get the FMLA put into law, that her efforts really made a difference. However, this is patently untrue. . . Bill Clinton was inaugurated on January 20, 1993 and the FMLA was signed just sixteen days later, on February 5, 1993. . .



WASH POST During his nearly four years as a translator for U.S. forces in Iraq, Saman Kareem Ahmad was known for his bravery and hard work. "Sam put his life on the line with, and for, Coalition Forces on a daily basis," wrote Marine Capt. Trent A. Gibson.

Gibson's letter was part of a thick file of support -- including commendations from the secretary of the Navy and from then-Maj. Gen. David H. Petraeus -- that helped Ahmad migrate to the United States in 2006, among an initial group of 50 Iraqi and Afghan translators admitted under a special visa program.

Last month, however, the U.S. government turned down Ahmad's application for permanent residence, known as a green card. His offense: Ahmad had once been part of the Kurdish Democratic Party, which U.S. immigration officials deemed an "undesignated terrorist organization" for having sought to overthrow former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

Ahmad, a Kurd, once served in the KDP's military force, which is part of the new Iraqi army. A U.S. ally, the KDP is now part of the elected government of the Kurdish region and holds seats in the Iraqi parliament. After consulting public Web sites, however, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services determined that KDP forces "conducted full-scale armed attacks and helped incite rebellions against Hussein's regime, most notably during the Iran-Iraq war, Operation Desert Storm and Operation Iraqi Freedom."


PROGRESSIVE REVIEW, 1998 Webster Hubbell talked from jail with White House aide Marcia Scott. Scott -- after warning Hubbell off a law suit that might hurt Hillary Clinton -- adds, "Peter Lewis is this very, very wealthy man from Cleveland and, in fact, I talked to him about you. He owns Progressive Insurance Company." Scott said that Lewis thought Hubbell could help set up a fraud division in the company:

HUBBELL: I certainly know about that.

SCOTT: This is why I was talking to you. He said 'God, he could . . .could come in and teach us a bunch of stuff.'
HUBBELL: You bet.

SCOTT: I said, 'He's been on both sides of it.'

HUBBELL: I've seen it all. I've seen every bit of it.

Scott also told Hubbell that she had vacationed with Lewis in Italy and flown back to America in his jet with him. And the top White House aide assured Hubbell, "People are starting to talk about what you're going to do next -- how they can help. You've not been forgotten. I mean, people have sought me out to tell me that. Frank was one of them . . .



One of the problem with talking about America, whether one is a black Chicago preacher or a conservative Republican candidate for president, is the common assumption that America is a primarily a government. In the introduction of one of his books, your editor tried to suggest otherwise.

From the introduction to Sam Smith's Great American Political Repair Manual (Norton, 1997)

Before we start trying to fix the something we call America, we'd better remind ourselves of what America is. Thanks to all the commercial, political and romantic symbolism surrounding the word, it is not an easy task.

It's also not easy when so many find the symbolism false and the reality cruel. You don't feel like singing when you're searching for a life jacket.

Yet even for many disillusioned or skeptical Americans there remains just below the surface the idea of a place worth saving. To find this America buried in our hearts, we have to turn off the amps of propaganda and hype, the reverb and distortion of our fears and failures, and listen to the country unplugged. Some of the best things can only be heard when everything else is still.

There are lots of different ways to think about America. Some people like to call America a "nation of laws," but that sounds like we just spend our days obeying regulations -- the sort of place only an attorney could love.

Other people think of America as a government, or as a geographical subdivision, which is fair enough but fails to give the real flavor of the place or explain the strong feelings many Americans have for their land.

Here are three things that come to mind when I think of America:

An environment

This land is your land
This land is my land
From California to the New York island
From the redwood forest to the Gulf Stream waters
This land was made for you and me

-- Woody Guthrie

An environment is more than a place; it is a condition, it is sustenance, it is shelter, it is a thousand invisible threads tying us to that which lies way out there.

The natural habitat of America long overwhelmed anything that could be built by mere humans, a fact that shaped our character and our culture. It has, to be sure, created oddities: we have become the most ecologically wasteful of nations yet have given the world some of its finest environmental writings. We have preserved some of the world's great natural spaces, but only after virtually exterminating those who lived there. The grandeur of our land has at times made us profligate, at other times humble and religious. We are deeply romantic about the wilderness yet have been ruthless in its exploitation.

In the past one hundred years or so we have learned how to replace nature with systems, technology, machines and institutions. For a long time it seemed to work. It appeared that America had a lifetime pass to progress. That Americans could do even better than nature.

But a few decades ago, things started to go awry. Our cities began to disintegrate. Families broke up with startling frequency. Real income slid and jobs drifted overseas. The environment became less a cornucopia and more a problem. Our non-natural systems no longer seemed as wonderful as they once had.

As these artificial systems failed us, some Americans began returning to natural ones, finding in them a wisdom and sustenance the constructed systems could not provide. Farmers rediscovered non-chemical ways to protect their crops. Communities and businesses began to recycle and seek self-sufficiency. Individuals began downshifting their consumption and lifestyles. And planners discovered long-ignored benefits in treading more softly on the earth.

Even after two hundred years of frequent and massive mistreatment, the American environment is still vital enough to welcome us back, asking only that this time we play by its rules. Its message is simple: that we do not have to belong to artificial systems; we can belong to the land itself.

A people

You can not spill a drop of American blood without spilling the blood of the whole world

-- Herman Melville

We can also define ourselves as a people. Because of the variety of our backgrounds, it is not, however, a primeval past or cultural similarity that binds us but rather a shared present and future.

Sometimes -- such as in times of massive disaster -- we act on this communality. We suddenly and without instruction mobilize ourselves to help those miles away, recognizing for a few days or a few months that they are also one of us. We do the same thing when we're having fun; at a concert or a festival we feel a bond with everyone sharing the same experience. And when an admired leader dies, we grieve together.

As with the environment, though, we are inconsistent. America remains one of the most favored destinations for those seeking freedom and a better life, yet the newcomer often finds hostility as well as freedom, discrimination as well as opportunity.

In the end, it is not the culture from which we came but the one each of us is helping to create that will matter. It is our common fate rather than our disparate pasts that will ultimately describe, redeem or destroy us.


You have just taken an oath of allegiance to the United States. Of allegiance to whom? Of allegiance to no one, unless it be God. Certainly not of allegiance to those who temporarily represent this great government. You have taken an oath of allegiance to a great ideal, to a great body of principles, to a great hope of the human race.

-- Woodrow Wilson speaking to a group of newly naturalized citizens:

What we take for granted -- that a nation and a people should be organized around a set of principles -- was once considered revolutionary and even today remains remarkable. It also takes a lot of work and a lot of argument. But it is one of the things that best defines America.

As with our personal ideals, our country has repeatedly failed to live up to what it proclaims. But while we may not always practice what we preach, at least we do not preach what we practice.

The mere existence of our principles and the willingness of large numbers of Americans to work for them gives the country a special character.

In short, America is not the answer; it is only a good place to look for the answer. America has never been perfect; it's just been a place where it was easier to fix things that were broken. The ability to repair ourselves has long been one of our great characteristics as a people and a nation.


Bodies Gone Haywire in a World out of Balance

Donna Jackson Nakazawa

EXCERPT Most of us, at some juncture in our lives, have played out in our minds how devastating it would be to have our doctor hand down a cancer diagnosis or to warn us that we are at risk for a heart attack or stroke. Magazine articles, television dramas, and news headlines all bring such images home.

But consider an equally devastating health crisis scenario, one that you rarely hear spoken about openly, one that receives almost no media attention.

Imagine the slow, creeping escalation of seemingly amorphous symptoms: a tingling in the arms and fingers, the sudden appearance of a speckled rash across the face, the strange muscle weakness in the legs when climbing stairs, the fiery joints that emerge out of nowhere -- any and all of which can signal the onset of a wide range of life-altering and often debilitating autoimmune diseases.

Imagine, if you can: the tingling foot and ankle that turns out to be the beginning of the slow paralysis of multiple sclerosis. Four hundred thousand patients. Excruciating joint pain and inflammation, skin rashes, and never-ending flu-like symptoms that lead to the diagnosis of lupus. One and a half million more. Relentless bouts of vertigo -- the hallmark of Meniere's. Seven out of every one thousand Americans. Severe abdominal pain, bleeding rectal fissures, uncontrollable diarrhea, and chronic intestinal inflammation that define Crohn's disease and inflammatory bowel disease. More than 1 million Americans. More than 2 million patients. Dry mouth so persistent eight glasses of water a day won't soothe the parched throat and tongue and the mysterious swallowing difficulties that are the first signs of Sjogren's. Four million Americans. And, with almost every autoimmune disease, intolerable, life-altering bouts of exhaustion. If fatigue were a sound made manifest by the 23.5 million people with autoimmune disease in America, the roar across this country would be more deafening than that of the return of the seventeen-year locusts. . .

Autoimmune diseases are the eighth leading cause of death among women, shortening the average patient's lifespan by fifteen years. Not surprisingly, the economic burden is staggering: autoimmune diseases represent a yearly health-care burden of more than $120 billion, compared to the yearly health-care burden of $70 billion for direct medical costs for cancer.

To underscore these numbers, consider: while 2.2 million women are living with breast cancer and 7.2 million women have coronary disease, an estimated 9.8 million women are afflicted with one of the seven more common autoimmune diseases: lupus, scleroderma, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, inflammatory bowel disease, Sjogren's, and type 1 diabetes. All of these can lead to potentially fatal complications.

Or slice these statistics another way: while one in 69 women below the age of fifty will be diagnosed with breast cancer, according to estimates, as many as one in nine women of childbearing years will be diagnosed with an autoimmune illness, which strike three times as many women as men -- and most often strike patients in their prime. According to the National Institutes of Health, autoimmune disease affects far more patients than the 9 million Americans who have cancer and the 16 million with coronary disease.

From an interview with the author:

Q. You coin the term "autogen" to describe the agents that trigger autoimmune disease. What are some examples of autogens?

NAKAZAWA: There are thousands of probable autogens we have not yet studied. Eighty thousand chemicals have been approved for use in our environment. Every year 1700 new chemicals are approved -- that's an average of five a day. Have scientists studied the effects on our bodies of all these chemicals? No. However, those chemicals that have been researched -- in occupational studies and in studies of lab animals -- have been shown to play a role in triggering autoimmune reactions. For example, mice exposed to pesticides -- at levels four-fold lower than the level set as acceptable for humans by the EPA -- are more susceptible to getting lupus than control mice. . . And low doses of perfluorooctanoic acid, a breakdown chemical of Teflon that can be found in 96 percent of humans tested for it, impair the development of a proper immune system in rats.

We know from occupational studies in humans that these chemicals impair our immune systems in dangerous ways. In 2007, scientists from the National Institutes of Health announced -- after studying 300,000 death certificates in 26 states over a 14-year period -- that those who worked with pesticides, textiles, hand painting, solvents (such as TCE), benzene, asbestos, and other compounds were significantly more likely to die from an autoimmune disease than people who were not exposed. Other recent studies show links between working with solvents, silica dust, asbestos, PCBs and vinyl chloride and a greater likelihood of developing autoimmune disease.


ANNALS OF IMPROBABLE RESEARCH "Does Sitting on Your Hands Make You Bite Your Tongue? The Effects of Gesture Prohibition on Speech During Motor Descriptions," Autumn B. Hostetter, Martha W. Alibali and Sotaro Kita, paper presented at the 29th Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society, Nashville, TN, August 1–4, 2007The authors, who are variously at the University of Wisconsin–Madison and at the University of Birmingham, report:

Participants in the hands restrained condition were given a 25 x 60 x 2 cm wooden board to place across their laps. On the top of this board, there were several strips of Velcro. The participants were also given cotton gloves to wear that had the opposite side of the Velcro attached to the palms and fingers. They were asked to place their hands on the board, so that the two sides of the Velcro adhered. In this way, they were discouraged from moving their hands during the task without being forcefully restrained....

It seems that sitting on your hands does influence your tongue, though it does not make you bite it completely.



SLASHDOT At least one university liberal enough to accept the deeply flawed and mostly rejected Vista OS is recommending faculty and students stay away from SP1. "University of Pennsylvania tech staffers are advising faculty and students not to upgrade their computers to the new service pack for Microsoft's Windows Vista operating system. The school's Information Systems & Computing department said it will support Vista SP1 on new systems where it's pre-installed, but added that it 'strongly recommends that all other users adopt a "wait and see" attitude,' according to a newly published department bulletin." And CIO magazine doesn't quite go so far as to call on Microsoft to throw away Vista, but it does ask its readers to weigh in on that topic.


FAIR The 25 most media-prominent think tanks were cited 17 percent less in 2007 than they were the year before, FAIR's annual survey of think tank citations found. The decline was felt across the board among centrist, conservative and progressive think tanks. Once again, the centrist Brookings Institution garnered the most citations, with the general decline affecting them less than the average think tank. They accounted for 16 percent of all citations counted, with almost twice as many as the next-most-frequently cited think tank, the centrist Council on Foreign Relations. The American Enterprise Institute, Heritage Foundation and the Center for Strategic and International Studies, three conservative groups, had the third, fourth and fifth spots on the 2007 list. The overall ideological breakdown was the same in 2006 and 2007: 47 percent of citations went to centrist think tanks, 37 percent to conservative or right-leaning think tanks, and 16 percent to progressive or left-leaning think tanks. The Center for American Progress was the highest-finishing left-leaning think tank, finishing eighth with 673 citations. The center-left group lost only 2 percent off of its 2006 total. . . There is no ready explanation for the drop. Although it was an off-year for national elections, that has not usually resulted in a decline in think tank citations.


JOHN HUSSMAN, THE HUSSMAN FUND - In my view, the deal would be palatable if J.P. Morgan was to remain fully responsible for any losses on the 'collateral' provided to the Federal Reserve, assuming shareholders were to consent to the buyout. As it stands, Congress should quickly step in to bust the existing deal and demand an alternate resolution, by clearly insisting that the Fed's action was not legal.
The Fed did not act to save a bank, but to enrich one. Congress has the power to appropriate resources for such a deal by the representative will of the people – the Fed does not, even under Depression era banking laws. The 'loan' falls outside of Section 13-3 of the Federal Reserve Act, because it is not in fact a loan to either Bear Stearns or J.P. Morgan. Bear Stearns is no longer a business entity under this agreement. And if the fiction that this is a 'loan' to J.P. Morgan was true, then the only point at which the 'collateral' would become an issue would be in the event that J.P. Morgan itself was to fail. No, this is not a loan. It is a put option granted by the Fed to J.P. Morgan on a basket of toxic securities. And it is not legal.


AP Older White House computer hard drives have been destroyed, the White House disclosed to a federal court in a controversy over millions of possibly missing e-mails from 2003 to 2005. The White House revealed new information about how it handles its computers in an effort to persuade a federal magistrate it would be fruitless to undertake an e-mail recovery plan that the court proposed. "When workstations are at the end of their lifecycle and retired ... the hard drives are generally sent offsite to another government entity for physical destruction," the White House said in a sworn declaration filed with U.S. Magistrate Judge John Facciola. It has been the goal of a White House Office of Administration "refresh program" to replace one-third of its workstations every year in the Executive Office of the President, according to the declaration. Some, but not necessarily all, of the data on old hard drives is moved to new computer hard drives, the declaration added.


AP A retired Air Force general compared former President Clinton to Joseph McCarthy, the 1950s communist-hunting senator, after Clinton seemed to question Democrat Barack Obama's patriotism. Merrill "Tony'' McPeak, a former chief of staff of the Air Force and currently a co-chair of Obama's presidential campaign, said he was disappointed by comments Clinton made while campaigning for his wife. . . "I think it would be a great thing if we had an election year where you had two people who loved this country and were devoted to the interest of this country,'' Clinton said. "And people could actually ask themselves who is right on these issues, instead of all this other stuff that always seems to intrude itself on our politics.''. . . "It's a use of language as a disguised insult. We've seen this before, this little clever spin that's put on stuff,'' McPeak said.



RULES OF THUMB Planning a party: One toilet per keg of beer.


NOTE: You can post your comments on any of the above stories by going to our Undernews site and searching for the headline. Once posted, a copy is immediately mailed to the Review and we pick some of the most interesting to publish here.


- We didn't have these problems before - when the banks and S&L's were regulated, the SEC actually did its job, and there existed regulatory constraints that prevented the free-for-all wild west show that is the secondary market.

- I hope that you are engaging in irony. Please don't forget the S&L banking crises of the '80s, including but in no way limited to Neil Bush and Silverado. Also, the junk bond bubble, and a couple of other nasty and expensive messes courtesy of the financial industry.

The subprime problem will cascade into a variety of areas. Not just mortgages but as we have seen banks and financial houses. Mortgage insurer problems. Next comes construction and its support industries. The commercial real estate boom is going bust as well.

Compound that with massive fuel, commodity and basic food stuff price increases. Wheat has gone [sharply up] and will probably go higher. The wheat prices are not just the result of speculation. Global reserves of wheat are incredibly short, in part due to the expansion of corn fields for the generation of ethanol.

Let us not forget that US government debt is pushing twice what it was 8 years ago. That the fraud-in-chief is playing all kinds of economic games to keep the outward appearance of the economy looking "not so bad."

These and other factors are creating an interesting confluence of events that few of us will enjoy.

- Wheat prices depend on the market, delivery date and variety - robbie

- The S&L debacle of the '80s followed Reagan's initial campaign of banking deregulation. Junk bonds first blossomed in the lax regulatory environment of Ol' Dutch. Supply side heaven and the feeding frenzy was on. (Of course, let us not ignore Carter's contribution with the deregulation of airlines) Point being, we are reaping what has been sown over the last three or four decades.


- I'm a devout, and very broadminded, Christian. And what this story describes is an elitist cult -- not an aisle-crossing, transformative faith. This is scary stuff indeed and makes me wonder how far right HC really has headed.

An awful lot of progressives would be taken aback if they were aware of this, and would seriously wonder how she can make good on her promises to them if she's an inner-sanctum member of a secretive far-right-run group.

As the story notes, she's already backed some strangely religious-right-ish causes. She's also made a big to-do about her hunting experience (this is a liberal gun-control Democrat?), and has been tacking ever farther right in her pursuit of blue-collar votes -- while also promising the moon & stars to feminists, gays, et al. (Bill did the same thing 'way back when - and then shafted gays, in particular, via the Defense of Marriage Act). I suggest giving Hillary's "pastors" the same coverage that Obama's is getting.


- Don't neglect the munchie factor. Sales at White Castle and similar establishments could skyrocket.

- Another consequence of legalizing marijuana would be to create direct competition for pain and nausea drugs. Obviously, the pharmaceutical industry would lobby against legalization.


The liberals can understand everything but people who don't understand them - Lennie Bruce

- The above is why liberals will not support Ralph Nader and Cindy Sheehan, who espouse all of the ideas which liberals embrace. My good friend Frank tells me not to use labels like 'liberal' because such usage may alienate people, but, if we have any chance of turning away from totalitarianism in this country, we need a return to intellectual honesty, and to the mission of true liberalism, which is to support true democracy and the limiting of the military/industrial complex.

Clinton and Obama support the status quo, which is leading us to third world economic status, potential nuclear destruction, the fostering of fascism through a government - corporate partnership.

Why are we stirred when Gandhi, or Martin Luther King, or Cindy Sheehan talk of justice and peace? When was the last time Clinton stirred anyone that way? Obama gave a great speech about race relations, but what about our race to the bottom in other areas? What about supporting investment bankers over foreclosed Americans? Who is talking about that? Who is talking about the fact that the Patriot Act is permanent, and that it has completely destroyed the Bill of Rights?

We need to wake up from the dream. Compromise with evil is not compromise, it is just evil.


- Well, school is supposed to be a learning experience. This girl has certainly learned a valuable lesson in the way the real world really works. One I doubt very much if she'll ever forget.


- Funny. Wasn't the criminal misadministration touting polls about Iraq during the 04 election? Polls are funny things for Cheney: if he agrees with them, they're a solid, definable measurement about what the "people" want. If he disagrees with them, then they 're just "fluctuations".

- "Fluctuations"? The only fluctuations in public opinion about the war is that it has steadily grown. The man is a tyrant.

- Well, public opinion has yet to solidify enough to effectively 'fluctuate' him and his cronies out of office (and, to be hoped, public life altogether), so in a sense he's right.


- Your biggest problem is that you keep forgetting that you are a member of the one percent of Americans who actually thinks for himself. The other 99 percent barely know how to think, let alone read or anything else. This is why he bores you. The same way a PHD would be bored sitting in a class of 10 year olds. But it is to the 99 percent [Obama] has to gear is speeches and candidacy.

- I don't disagree with much of what you say. Harvard Law. Yes. But, here's where I am. I'm going on 74 years old. There may be, at some time, a viable third party. Chuck Hagel, or somebody, may pull it off.

Meanwhile, I'm looking at what I have as choices, in my life time. For this election. .Nader, McKinney notwithstanding, they are Obama, Clinton and McCain.

I do not think the country can take another Clinton presidency. I know the Democratic Party can not. It has taken 15 years to even begin to recover from the last one.

The only thing I disagree with you on.... is that Obama talks down to people.

Having said that. The fact that he is well-spoken may appear to some people that he is. To some, he may seem "uppity." We have been listening to a president for eight years who cannot speak literate English.

He's my choice, given the choices I have. Like my friend, (the black pastor in my neighborhood.) I hope he lives to see the Oval Office. My friend says he's black enough, smart enough, and will be a president for all the people. We pray the Secret Service keeps him alive. - Evelyn White


- It's both stupid and scary, but it represents truth in advertising. One of the few honest statements made during the bush administration.

- Excuse me, but the German National Anthem containing "Uber Alles" predates the Nazis by over 60 years. They stole lots of symbols, some right, some left. They were "socialists" too, remember? Blame the Kaiser, bitch at "imperialists", rant about nationalism, but keep the history straight will ya? And the tune was lifted from the Austrian anthem composed by Haydn. - Emil Franzi, Tucson

True, but anyone around during World War II can't hear the phrase without ignoring its longer history.


- How long between my clicking "" and the arrival of Blackwater?

- An FBI raid is a hell of a price to pay for sloppy mousing, fat fingering a key, or accidentally clicking the wrong link because the page is loading slowly.

- We have truly not moved very far from burning witches.

- My issue with Hillary Clinton is that I feel she is only motivated by her own ambition. She may earnestly believe that her ambition and the interests of the Democratic Party and that of the American people are one and the same, but they are not.

Barack has given us a framework to discuss not just the thorny issue of race or gender, but several others that afflict every American. Issues like our disastrous adventure in Iraq, the continuing and impending disaster looming in the sub prime mortgage debacle, education, corporate greed, and so on. Rather than join in and constructively add to or even expand the thoughtful and mature discussion on some of the issues that divide us, and how we might go forward and tackle the issues we both share, she sends her husband out as attack dog to play to tired reactionaries with his Jesse Jackson statement, and question this great American Barack Obama’s patriotism with his more recent ones.

This is the politics of divisiveness that thankfully I believe we are turning the page on. We once had a great Democrat that when campaigning said something along the lines of this - If you are given the choice of candidates and one is preaching hope and the other is talking fear, you better choose the one with the hope. That candidate was Bill Clinton but Hillary is not Bill.


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