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Undernews For April 16, 2008

Undernews For April 16, 2008

FROM THE PROGRESSIVE REVIEW
Washington's Most Unofficial Source
611 Pennsylvania Ave SE #381
Washington DC 20003
202-423-7884
Editor: Sam Smith

16 APRIL 2008

WORD

The men the American people admire most extravagantly are the most daring liars; the men they detest most violently are those who try to tell them the truth. -- H. L. Mencken

The more I practice, the luckier I get -- Ben Hogan

MORNING LINE

GOP HAS ENOUGH ELECTORAL VOTES TO DEFEAT CLINTON;
NEEDS ONLY 23 MORE TO WIN AGAINST OBAMA

National

Clinton trails McCain by 2
Obama trails McCain by 2
Clinton down 5 vs. McCain in last 10 polls
Obama down 3 vs. McCain in last 10 polls
Obama is 146 electoral votes short of victory
Clinton is 214 electoral votes short of victory

Democrats

Obama has 8 point lead over Clinton
Clinton last lost 5 points in last 10 polls
Obama has gained 3 pts in last 10 polls
PA: HRC ahead by 8
NC: Obama ahead by 13
Dems pick up 1-4 Senate seats
House Dems pick up as many as 14 or lose as many as 6
Dems win as many as 2 governorships or stay even
LIVE WITH THE ELITE, DIE WITH THE ELITE

SAM SMITH

Sure, Obama is an elitist. I thought it the first time I saw him. The tone, the dress, the moves, the constant pretense of being in deep thought, the patronizing explanation replacing impassioned argument. Another smart-ass from an Ivy League law school. The ones that talk grandly and carry a little feather. We've got a lot of them in Washington.

That's why many white liberals went for him. He was comfortably familiar in all but hue. They treat him like a prophet but in fact he's just another of the black ivies who are riding the political waves these days. For Obama and Patrick Deval it was Harvard, for Mayor Nutter of Philadelphia it was the Wharton School at Penn, for DC's Mayor Fenty is was Oberlin and for Newark's Cory Book it was Oxford on a Rhodes Scholarship. Not bad if you can't have a mother who was Irish or latino.

But it's not as politically wonderful as it seems to some. St. Barack still can't get comfortably past one of the sleaziest politicians in his party's modern history and shows up weakly in matches against a guy who hasn't done anything worth remembering since Vietnam. His purported magnificence somehow fails to make the same impression at the polls as it does at the rallies and fundraisers of the well committed.

That's not surprising but it's worth noting and suggests a bit more humility in the Obama camp wouldn't hurt.
Of course, humility is not highly valued there. After all, it takes something beyond ordinary self-confidence to move from state senator to presidential candidate without even finishing your freshman term in the Senate.

On the other hand, Obama's not a corrupt and conniving cad nor a decrepit warrior looking for another dogfight, so it looks like he's the best we're going to get.

And it's not totally his fault that he sees himself as God's gift to his party and his country. His elitism is not really the problem; it is the elitism of those who convinced him of this: the white liberals.

These are the people who couldn't stand John Edwards, the candidate who came closest to the New Deal and Great Society values of any Democratic leader in decades. But his policies didn't move them, only his accent and haircut.

This is not a new problem. I wrote about it almost two decades ago:

Today's liberals seem to lack a sense of politics as war, in which one constantly rearranges the order of battle to win one's ultimate objective. They see politics more as a secular form of religion in which success is judged not by societal change but by the rigor with which the faith is maintained. They are political fundamentalists and, like religious fundamentalists, as far removed from their liberal heritage as Pat Robertson is from Jesus.

As with the religious fundamentalists, the liberal true believers often miss the point. The canon becomes particularized and heavily a matter of style and form. They know how to speak like liberals to other liberals but not how to talk to the rest of the world.

The result is a strange distortion of liberal priorities. Gut issues of immense potential popularity such as health, housing, job creation and education are left by the wayside in favor of issues that, no matter how worthy they may be, are most likely to alienate liberalism from the largest number of Americans.

This then is Obama's problem now: not so much that he's an elitist but that he's surrounded by them, funded by them, guided by them - and for too long has been trying to imitate them. If Ed Rendell was not so foolishly infatuated with the latest pretender to the Bush-Clinton duopoly, he might take Obama aside and give him a few lessons in talking like a real person again. Look at what a good job Rendell is doing making Clinton sound like one.

But Obama doesn't seemed blessed by that sort of advice. Both his white liberal and black constituencies love him too much for getting this far and wouldn't think of suggesting that he dismount his great stallion and reach out beyond the Ebenezer Baptist - Harvard Law axis to people who are seeking something more.

It wouldn't be hard. He could join a majority of doctors in this country and support single payer health insurance. He could go after usurious interest rates. He could propose a housing policy in which the government become equity partners with less wealthy homebuyers and recovered its share at sale.

Hell, he could take just one position without a dozen conditions and it would probably help.

But instead, it looks like he will continue to be the man his fans adore and the rest can't quite figure out.

That's not the best way to win an election.

PAGE ONE MUST

CLINTON'S HIDDEN REJECTION OF TWO STATE SOLUTION IN MID EAST
JUSTIN ELLIOTT, MOTHER JONES
Under the heading "Standing with Israel against terrorism," Clinton's official policy paper, released last September and currently touted on her campaign website, states, "Hillary Clinton believes that Israel's right to exist in safety as a Jewish state, with defensible borders and an undivided Jerusalem as its capital, secure from violence and terrorism, must never be questioned." With the phrase "an undivided Jerusalem as its capital," Clinton seems to take a hardline position on a deeply contested facet of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and a position like this should have garnered at least passing interest from the mainstream media. So how come nobody's paying attention?

The answer may lie within the long history of empty rhetoric on Jerusalem doled out by presidential candidates. Perhaps the lack of interest can be chalked up to uncertainty in how to interpret Clinton's position. Or it may be that right-wing pronouncements that give short shrift to the Palestinian side are simply not seen as remarkable.

Clinton is toying with one of the few most important final-status issues that will have to be resolved as part of any two-state solution. Israel captured the eastern half of Jerusalem during the 1967 Arab-Israeli War. While Israel has declared the whole of an expanded Jerusalem its capital, the international community views east Jerusalem as occupied territory and the potential capital of any future Palestinian state. In recognition of the contested status of Jerusalem, the United States and other countries maintain their embassies in Tel Aviv.

"Jerusalem is not only of political, religious, and emotional significance to Palestinians. It's the cultural and economic capital of any future state of Palestine. To carve out east Jerusalem from the rest of Palestine would be to deprive of it the geographic area which traditionally has been the heart of the Palestinian economy," said Philip Wilcox, a retired U.S. Foreign Service officer who served as consul general and chief of mission in Jerusalem and is now president of the Foundation for Middle East Peace, a D.C. nonprofit. "It's an absolute deal -breaker, and there will be no peace if there isn't an agreed political division of Jerusalem."

If opposing a compromise on Jerusalem is a deal breaker, one would think there would be more importance attached to Clinton's words-especially appearing in the unequivocal construction of Israel's "right to exist" that "must never be questioned." If Clinton did, as president, endorse Israel's annexation of all of Jerusalem, it could mean nothing less than a repudiation of the concept of a two-state solution.

FOUR THINGS YOU MAY NOT KNOW ABOUT OBAMA'S IRAQ EXIST PLAN

From Voters for Peace

1. Senator Obama told Amy Goodman of Democracy Now that he would leave 140,000 private military contractors in Iraq. Senator Obama specifically said: "We have 140,000 private contractors right there, so unless we want to replace all of or a big chunk of those with US troops, we can't draw down the contractors faster than we can draw down our troops.” These troops, some of whom are fairly classified as mercenaries, are a privatized military. The actions of some of these private troops have been very controversial in Iraq as they have killed civilians and are not answerable to civilian or military courts.

2. Senator Obama would move combat troops from Iraq to nearby countries like Kuwait where they would serve as a "strike force” that can attack inside Iraq. Sen. Obama told Amy Goodman: "We do need to have a strike force in the region. It doesn't necessarily have to be in Iraq; it could be in Kuwait or other places. But we do have to have some presence in order to not only protect them, but also potentially to protect their territorial integrity.”

3. The Obama campaign has said that the residual force of troops remaining in Iraq could be 60,000 to 80,000 soldiers. Colin Kahl writes in a report for the Obama Campaign that "the U.S. should aim to transition to a sustainable over-watch posture (of perhaps 60,000-80,000 forces) by the end of 2010 (although the specific timelines should be the byproduct of negotiations and conditions on the ground).” . . . Sen. Obama has said there will be a residual force but has not provided a number of how many troops that would involve.

4. Samantha Power, who was a main foreign policy advisor until her recent resignation, said that Sen. Obama will not feel constrained by promises made in the presidential campaign. She described the withdrawal of one to two brigades of combat troops as a "best case scenario.” And also said: "He will, of course, not rely on some plan that he's crafted as a presidential candidate or a U.S. Senator. He will rely upon a plan - an operational plan - that he pulls together in consultation with people who are on the ground to whom he doesn't have daily access now, as a result of not being the president.” This comment seems to indicate that the withdrawal plan being described during the campaign may merely be election year promises that could dramatically change when the election is over

In taking all of these comments together Voters for Peace concludes that the likely end result of Sen. Obama's withdrawal is up to 220,000 soldiers, including both private military and government military, remaining in Iraq, as well as strike forces of U.S. combat troops in the region to attack inside Iraq. "This is a far cry from the applause line that Senator Obama puts forward in his stump speech.

TEN GREAT COMMANDMENTS FOR MID EAST POLICY

GARY KAMIYA, SALON - There are 10 lessons we must take away from Bush's war. In honor of the recently departed Charlton Heston, let's call them the Ten Iraq Commandments. . .

Commandment I Thou shalt not launch preventive wars. . .

Commandment II Do not exaggerate the threat posed by terrorism. . .

Commandment III Dry up the terrorist swamp. . .

The only effective way to reduce the threat of terrorism is to work to end the conditions that give rise to it. In the case of Islamist terrorism, this means a comprehensive and enlightened political, economic and diplomatic strategy for dealing with the Arab/Muslim world. Only a tiny minority of the world's 1.2 billion Muslims support radical jihadis, but catastrophic errors like invading Iraq make violent fundamentalism more attractive. Follow the physician's credo: First, do no harm.

Commandment IV Recognize that not all terrorists are the same. . .

Commandment V Reject the idea of "a clash of civilizations.". .

Commandment VI Do not allow neoconservatives anywhere near Middle East policy. . .

Sub-commandment VI a Stop giving these buffoons prestigious jobs on newspaper-of-record Op-Ed pages, top magazines and television shows. They have been completely and consistently wrong about everything.

Commandment VII Talk to Iran. . .

Commandment VIII Make resolving the Israeli-Palestinian crisis our top foreign-policy priority.

. . And yes, this means talking to Hamas. Only the United States has the credibility and the muscle to cut this Gordian knot. Until it does, Israel's long-term viability will be threatened and the greatest source of anti-Americanism in the Middle East will continue to fester. The road to everything in the Middle East runs through Jerusalem and Ramallah.

Commandment IX Get the media to grow a spine. . .

The American media's performance in the run-up to the Iraq war was one of the lowest points in its history. Swept up in war fever, the gutless press acted as a quasi-official cheerleader and failed to subject administration claims to elementary due . . .

Commandment X Grow up and join the world. . .

This chest-beating, über-patriotic approach, befitting an angry teenager more than a mature adult, has utterly failed. A little more humility and diplomacy, and a lot less stupid self-righteousness, would go a long way to restoring America's sadly tarnished standing in the world community.

INSPECTOR SAYS FBI MAY HAVE BROKEN LAW ON SEARCHS 6,400 TIMES

JASON RYAN, ABC NEWS The FBI may have committed as many as 6,400 intelligence violations in the course of its use of national security letters, Justice Department Inspector General Glenn Fine told lawmakers National security letters allow FBI investigators to obtain personal records such as Internet, phone and financial information without going first to a judge for a warrant.

Fine explained the method his office used to estimate the number of violations. "The FBI's 10 percent review of field office NSLs found at least 640 potential intelligence violations from 2003 through 2006," Fine told members of a House Judiciary subcommittee.

"Extrapolating the results of the FBI's 10 percent statistical sample to the full number of NSLs means that the total number of possible intelligence violations among all NSLs issued over the four-year period could be as high as 6,400," Fine continued. Related Justice Dept. Audits Flag FBI Privacy Abuses More FBI Privacy Violations Confirmed ACLU: Military Skirting Law to Spy

Under federal law, all intelligence agencies are required to self-report possible violations of the law to the president's Intelligence Oversight Board. At the hearing, FBI general counsel Valerie Caproni said that many of the violations "involved third-party errors or inattention to detail." According to FBI officials that type of infraction includes clerical errors. Asked about the 6,400 figure after the hearing, Caproni disputed it and said, "Ninety percent of those are third-party errors."

PLASTIC BOTTLES RAISES MAJOR HEALTH CONCERNS

NY TIMES The Canadian government is said to be ready to declare as toxic a chemical widely used in plastics for baby bottles, beverage and food containers as well as linings in food cans. A person with knowledge of the government's chemical review program spoke on the condition he not be named because of a confidentiality agreement. He said the staff work to list the compound, called bisphenol-a, or B.P.A., as a toxic chemical was complete and was recently endorsed by a panel of outside scientists. . .

B.P.A. is widely used to make polycarbonate plastics, which are rigid and transparent like glass but very unlikely to shatter. Polycarbonates have many uses that pose no risk, like the cases of some iPod models. Because animal tests have shown that even small amounts of the chemical may cause changes in the body, however, researchers have focused on food- and drink-related applications of B.P.A., like the popular Nalgene brand beverage bottles.

"If the government issues a finding of toxic, no parent in their right mind will be using products made with this chemical,” said Rick Smith, the executive director of Environmental Defence, a Canadian group that has been campaigning against B.P.A. "We will be arguing strongly for a ban on the use of this chemical in food and beverage containers.”

MERCK DISCLOSURE BLOWS BIG HOLE IN RESEARCH BY BIG PHARMA

NY TIMES The drug maker Merck drafted dozens of research studies for a best-selling drug, then lined up prestigious doctors to put their names on the reports before publication, according to an article to be published in a leading medical journal

The article, based on documents unearthed in lawsuits over the pain drug Vioxx, provides a rare, detailed look in the industry practice of ghostwriting medical research studies that are then published in academic journals. The article cited one draft of a Vioxx research study that was still in want of a big-name researcher, identifying the lead writer only as "External author?”

Vioxx was a best-selling drug before Merck took it off the market in 2004 over evidence linking it to heart attacks. Last fall, the company agreed to a $4.85 billion settlement to resolve tens of thousands of lawsuits filed by former Vioxx patients or their families.

The lead author of Wednesday's article, Dr. Joseph S. Ross of the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, said a close look at the Merck documents raised broad questions about the validity of much of the drug industry's published research, because the ghostwriting practice appears to be widespread.

"It almost calls into question all legitimate research that's been conducted by the pharmaceutical industry with the academic physician,” said Dr. Ross, whose article, written with colleagues, was published Wednesday in JAMA, The Journal of the American Medical Association. and posted Tuesday on the journal's Web site.

THE SECRET OF OBAMA. . . IN HIS OWN WORDS

Obama is, in his own words, something of a Rorschach test. In his latest book, "The Audacity of Hope,” he writes, "I am new enough on the national political scene that I serve as a blank screen on which people of vastly different political stripes project their own views.” That has been confirmed thus far during this campaign, and come November, Americans will have to decide if they want a Rorschach test for president. - James Kirchick, New Republic

OBAMA TAKES ALL SIDES OF TORTURE ISSUE

WILL BUNCH, PHILADELPHIA DAILY NEWS I had an opportunity to ask Barack Obama a question that is on the minds of many Americans, yet rarely rises to the surface in the great ruckus of the 2008 presidential race -- and that is whether an Obama administration would seek to prosecute officials of a former Bush administration on the revelations that they greenlighted torture, or for other potential crimes that took place in the White House.

Obama said that as president he would indeed ask his new Attorney General and his deputies to "immediately review the information that's already there" and determine if an inquiry is warranted -- but he also tread carefully on the issue, in line with his reputation for seeking to bridge the partisan divide. He worried that such a probe could be spun as "a partisan witch hunt." However, he said that equation changes if there was willful criminality, because "nobody is above the law."

The question was inspired by a recent report by ABC News, confirmed by the Associated Press, that high-level officials including Vice President Dick Cheney and former Cabinet secretaries Colin Powell, John Ashcroft and Donald Rumsfeld, among others, met in the White House and discussed the use of waterboarding and other torture techniques on terrorism suspects.

I mentioned the report in my question, and said "I know you've talked about reconciliation and moving on, but there's also the issue of justice, and a lot of people -- certainly around the world and certainly within this country -- feel that crimes were possibly committed" regarding torture, rendition, and illegal wiretapping. I wanted to know how whether his Justice Department "would aggressively go after and investigate whether crimes have been committed."

Here's his answer, in its entirety:

"What I would want to do is to have my Justice Department and my Attorney General immediately review the information that's already there and to find out are there inquiries that need to be pursued. I can't prejudge that because we don't have access to all the material right now. I think that you are right, if crimes have been committed, they should be investigated. You're also right that I would not want my first term consumed by what was perceived on the part of Republicans as a partisan witch hunt because I think we've got too many problems we've got to solve.

"So this is an area where I would want to exercise judgment -- I would want to find out directly from my Attorney General -- having pursued, having looked at what's out there right now -- are there possibilities of genuine crimes as opposed to really bad policies. And I think it's important-- one of the things we've got to figure out in our political culture generally is distinguishing between really dumb policies and policies that rise to the level of criminal activity. You know, I often get questions about impeachment at town hall meetings and I've said that is not something I think would be fruitful to pursue because I think that impeachment is something that should be reserved for exceptional circumstances. Now, if I found out that there were high officials who knowingly, consciously broke existing laws, engaged in cover-ups of those crimes with knowledge forefront, then I think a basic principle of our Constitution is nobody above the law -- and I think that's roughly how I would look at it."

CARTER BLOCKED FROM ENTERING GAZA

REUTERS - Former President Jimmy Carter, shunned by Israeli leaders over his plans to meet Hamas, said on Tuesday he sought permission to enter the Islamist-ruled Gaza Strip but was turned down. . All of the border crossings between Israel and Gaza are controlled by the Jewish state. Egyptian forces are stationed at Gaza's southern border, which is largely closed. . . The former U.S. leader has angered the Israeli government over plans to meet Hamas's top leader, Khaled Meshaal, in Syria, and for describing Israeli policy in the occupied Palestinian territories as "a system of apartheid" in a 2006 book.

ONE IN THREE MICHIGAN STATE EMPLOYEES WORK FOR CORRECTIONS DEPARTMENT

DETROIT NEWS Michigan runs one of the nation's largest and most costly prison systems, a $2 billion-a-year expense that is crowding out other spending priorities at a rate many officials fear the state can no longer afford. . . The problem is reaching a crisis. . . It could exceed capacity within two months, said Chief Deputy Corrections Director Dennis Schrantz, unless lawmakers approve stop-gap measures, such as doubling the number of inmates in the state boot camp program. . . The Corrections Department already devours 20 cents of every tax dollar in the state's general fund and employs nearly one in every three state government workers, compared with 9 percent of the work force 25 years ago.

GOOD REASONS TO STAY WAY FROM DUBAI

THIS IS LONDON A father-of-three who was found with a microscopic speck of cannabis stuck to the bottom of one of his shoes has been sentenced to four years in a Dubai prison. Keith Brown, a council youth development officer, was traveling through the United Arab Emirates on his way back to England when he was stopped as he walked through Dubai's main airport.

A search by customs officials uncovered a speck of cannabis weighing just 0.003g - so small it would be invisible to the naked eye and weighing less than a grain of sugar - on the tread of one of his shoes. Dubai International Airport is a major hub for the Middle East and thousands of Britons pass through it every year to holiday in the glamorous beach and shopping haven.

But many of those tourists and business travellers are likely to be unaware of the strict zero-tolerance drugs policy in the UAE. One man has even been jailed for possession of three poppy seeds left over from a bread roll he ate at Heathrow Airport. Painkiller codeine is also banned. .

A 25-year-old Briton who was found with a similar speck in one pocket as he arrived on holiday has been awaiting sentence since November. Meanwhile a Big Brother TV executive has so far been held without charge for five days after being arrested for possessing the health supplement melatonin. The authorities claim to have discovered 0.01g of hashish in his luggage.

U.S. MIDDLE EAST POLICY INCREASING ARAB DISLIKE OF AMERICA & ISRAEL

JIM LOBE, ANTI-WAR Despite renewed U.S. efforts to achieve an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement this year, popular views of the United States in the Arab world have actually worsened since 2006, according to a major new survey [.pdf] of public opinion in six Arab states.

Nearly two-thirds, or 64 percent, of more than 4,000 respondents in Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates said they held a "very unfavorable" attitude of the United States, up from 57 percent in late 2006, while 19 percent more said their views were "somewhat unfavorable" - roughly comparable to the results of 17 months ago.

At the same time, support for Iran and its nuclear program appears to have risen over the same period, according to the new survey, the sixth in a series designed by University of Maryland Prof. Shibley Telhami and carried out by Zogby International since 2002.

The poll found that two-thirds of the Arab public (67 percent) believes Tehran has the right to pursue its nuclear program and that international pressure to freeze it should cease. That compares to 61 percent who took the same position in 2006. . .

Asked to name two countries that, in their view, posed the "biggest threat" to them, a whopping 95 percent and 88 percent of respondents named Israel and the U.S., respectively. That compared to 85 percent and 72 percent, respectively, in late 2006.

SUGAR PROHIBITION DOESN'T WORK EITHER

TONY NEWMAN, ALTERNET Sugar has long been a popular drug consumed and even sold in schools nationwide. But concerns over health, obesity and the risk of diabetes have led some schools in California to institute a ban on sugary snacks. In response to these candy sales bans, some students are starting to deal candy bars on the "underground market" at a marked up price. . . Despite their schools' junk-food ban, Jim Nason, principal of Victorville High School, says he sees as much soda and candy as ever. The ineffectiveness of Victorville High's ban on chocolate is not surprising when we consider the much more intense effort by all levels of government to prohibit other potentially harmful substances like illicit drugs.

After 40 years of "Just Say No" and fantasies of a "Drug-Free America," we are a country swimming in drugs. Our government spends tens of billions of dollars a year locking up hundreds of thousands of its citizens for simple drug law violations and drugs are still as plentiful as ever. Despite harsh "drug-free school zone laws" half of all high-school seniors will have tried marijuana before graduation. In fact teenagers say it is easier to get marijuana than it is to get alcohol as drug dealers don't check for IDs. By prohibiting candy, we may be contributing to its allure by creating a certain taboo around it. . .

So how should the school punish the rule breakers who are dealing the candy? Victorville High confiscates candy and issues punishment for sales, usually detention. And what happens if this punishment doesn't work? Should repeat offenders be suspended? Should they be kicked out of school? How far are we willing to go to enforce this ban? And whose job is it to enforce these rules? Are overwhelmed teachers who are dealing with 30-plus students per class now going to spend class time searching students' bags for candy?

FLOTSAM & JETSAM

SAM SMITH

It's been about a decade and a half since I started getting tossed from talk shows and treated as pariah by my liberal friends for suggesting that the Clintons weren't quite what they made themselves out to be. Now, according to the latest Washington Post poll it turns out that I'm in the mainstream, uncomfortable as that feels: 58% of voters think Hillary Clinton isn't honest.

And it doesn't stop there. If you check out the unfavorables among the four biggest names in politics, the two Clintons lead McCain and Obama in dislikelihood by 11-14 points.

Further, contrary to the media and liberal myth, it's not new. As far back as August 1998, Clinton had an unfavorable rating of 57%. You just weren't to mention it and so when Gore lost in 2000, it was naturally all Ralph Nader's fault.

But wait, here is some hippie Nader nut who'd like to disagree with that:

"By any fair analysis, Gore did win in 2000 and the only reason he didn't win more handily was because of the Monica Lewinsky scandal. I don't think there's any doubt about that. The election wouldn't have even been close."

Excuse me, but getting back in the mainstream is kind of confusing. That wasn't a Naderite after all, but Mark Fabiani, deputy campaign manager for Gore-Lieberman and former special counsel to President Clinton.

MID EAST

J STREET TO OFFER ALTERNATIVE TO AIPAC

RICHARD SILVERSTEIN, GUARDIAN, UK J Street launches as the first American-Jewish PAC dedicated to promoting Israeli-Palestinian peace:

"For too long, the primary ... voices policy makers and politicians have heard regarding American policy toward Israel and the Middle East have been those of a vocal minority at the far-right of American society. .. Neoconservative, right-wing Jewish leaders and radical Christian Zionists have turned their definition of 'pro-Israel' into a driving force in the American political process. ...

"These voices do not ... represent the mainstream of American Jews or the broader community that cares about Israel or American interests in the Middle East. Their efforts have skewed American policy, undermined Israeli and American interests, and constrained the domestic political and public debate about American foreign policy.

"It is time for the mainstream of Americans - Jews and others - to establish a bold, political voice that advocates for the best interests of the US and Israel, including a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict based on the 1967 borders with agreed reciprocal land swaps, and for American policy that will lead to real security for Israelis, Americans and the entire Middle East."

Street proposes an overarching US approach to the Middle East that eschews military conflict and embraces diplomatic negotiation, and advocates multilateralism over unilateralism and dialogue over confrontation. It proposes negotiation with Syria and Iran rather than diplomatic isolation and threats. And it will advance these goals both in the legislative and electoral process as well as the media. . .

J Street plans to do two things. First, it will be a traditional PAC raising funds to support a limited number of candidates for Senate and congressional races. Second, it will lobby for and against Israel-related bills and legislation.

SOUND FAMILIAR?

CROOKS & LIARS Speaking from the White House, the president boasted, "American and Iraqi forces have made significant progress" in Iraq. It got me thinking, haven't we heard that phrase before in relation to Iraq?

White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan on October 27, 2003: "In the north and south [of Iraq], we have made significant progress."

President Bush on November 13, 2004: "Fighting together, our forces have made significant progress in the last several days."

President Bush on June 28, 2005: "In the past year, we have made significant progress."

Vice President Cheney on October 19, 2006: "We've made significant progress."

President Bush on February 23, 2007: " I think we have made significant progress in Iraq."

Indeed, it's a phrase the White House has used to describe events in Iraq several hundred times over the last five years.

DON'T CRY FOR ME, ARKANSAS

Nostalgic moments from the Clinton years

PROGRESSIVE REVIEW, 1999 - Punching yet another hole in the right-wing conspiracy theory of the Clinton investigation, lead House attorney David Schippers says that the GOP leadership refused to consider key evidence: "Let me tell you, if we had a chance to put on a case, I would have put live witnesses before the committee. But the House leadership, and I'm not talking about Henry Hyde, they just killed us as far as time was concerned. I begged them to let me take it into this year. Then I screamed for witnesses before the Senate. But there was nothing anybody could do to get those Senators to show any courage. They told us essentially, you're not going to get 67 votes so why are you wasting our time.". . . Schippers says that while a number of representatives looked at additional evidence kept under seal in a nearby House building, not a single senator did. And he also tells journalist Carl Limbacher that Juanita Broaddrick was subjected to overt surveillance, a technique used to intimidate witnesses (including Foster case witness Patrick Knowlton)

ECOLOGY

WIND TURBINES FOR YOUR HOME

NY TIMES Wind turbines, once used primarily for farms and rural houses far from electrical service, are becoming more common in heavily populated residential areas as homeowners are attracted to ease of use, financial incentives and low environmental effects. A residential wind generator that has built-in controls and an inverter. Some "plug and play” systems plug directly into the home panel

No one tracks the number of small-scale residential wind turbines - windmills that run turbines to produce electricity - in the United States. Experts on renewable energy say a convergence of factors, political, technical and ecological, has caused a surge in the use of residential wind turbines, especially in the Northeast and California.

"Back in the early days, off-grid electrical generation was pursued mostly by hippies and rednecks, usually in isolated, rural areas,” said Joe Schwartz, editor of Home Power magazine. "Now, it's a lot more mainstream.”

"The big shift happened in the last three years,” Mr. Schwartz said, because of technology that makes it possible to feed electricity back to the grid, the commercial power system fed by large utilities. "These new systems use the utility for back up power, removing the need for big, expensive battery backup systems.”

Some of the "plug and play” systems can be plugged directly into a circuit in the home electrical panel. Homeowners can use energy from the wind turbine or the power company without taking action.

ARTS

WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO MELODY?

Watching "American Idol" your editor has been struck by the absence of melody in many of the tunes chosen and the lack of interest in it. Which led him to google the following:

STEPHEN HOLDEN, NY TIMES 1988 - What ever hap-pened to melody in popular music? I'm not talking about tunes - hummable little ditties with short catch phrases - but a fluid, cohesive theme of at least 16 bars in which no musical phrase is repeated. Richard Rodgers's ''Some Enchanted Evening'' has such a melody. As it flows along, moving through rich, unforced chromatic harmonies, its indelibility can't be explained by the hammering home of a formula. Like the greatest popular melodies, it seems to unfold organically, with rightness that transcends analysis.

Today, the very word melody has an almost quaint ring. . . ''Grooves'' and ''hooks,'' two of the operational words used today by commercial pop-record makers, do not apply to the world's great melodies. A groove is the essential quality - the combination of texture, speed and pattern - of a recording's hard rhythmic pulse. A hook is a regularly repeated, abbreviated musical catch phrase that identifies a song or record. Not necessarily a part of the tune, a hook can be an instrumental figure within the texture of an arrangement. As time goes by and pop music becomes ever more involved with polyrhythms and electronic drum sounds, certain grooves are acquiring the characteristics of hooks. ''Some Enchanted Evening'' was created long before anyone ever thought of either hooks or grooves. . .

If melody in contemporary pop ballads has been reduced to formula, it has all but vanished from the mainstream of guitar-based rock and urban dance music. . . But the most important indicator of the continuing decline in melody has been the popularity of rap music, which dispenses with melody altogether. Last year, LL Cool J's ''I Need Love'' became the first rap ballad to reach the Top 10 on the pop charts. . .

Because the singing of songs is such a basic human instinct, melody is not about to disappear any more than is music itself. What has happened is that technology and global telecommunications have combined to transform the very form and content of popular music. As spontaneous cultural exchanges have taken place around the world, Anglo-American pop has lost its European-oriented ethnocentricity. At the same time, pop sound has become an omnipresent fact of urban life. The vocabulary of pop has become similar to the computer languages in which so many of us converse. Brevity, immediacy, speed and directness are what matter. Pop's dreamy enchanted evenings of long ago have become today's hot, beating night

WILLIAM WEIR, SLATE, 2008 From 1960 to 1974, 128 instrumentals reached the Top 20, while only 30 did from 1975 to 1990. And since? Five. . . While wordless pop has disappeared from commercial radio, pop music has become ever more long-winded. The year-end top 10 songs from 1960 to 1969 have an average word count of 176. For the 1970s, the figure jumps to 244. In 2007, the average climbed to 436. The top 10 for the week of Feb. 2, 2008, features six songs over the 500-word mark. Chris Brown and T-Pain use 742 words in their "Kiss Kiss." While music can express what words cannot, music rarely gets a chance in contemporary pop, and certainly not in "Kiss Kiss." Except for the first two seconds, vocals fill the song's every moment. Entirely absent are instrumental phrasings that allow a song (and singers) to breathe. . .

In contrast, the Great American Songbook is a bible of pithiness. "Blue Moon," "Over the Rainbow," and "Embraceable You" all make their cases in fewer than 100 words. Will Smith, Kenny Chesney, Bon Jovi, and Beyonce all have songs called "Summertime" yielding word counts three to five times as high as Gershwin's tune of the same name. They all have a similar message: "The livin' is easy." But with only 92 words, Gershwin says it best by letting the melody become part of the story. . .

Science offers some clues, if not a smoking gun, in the music vs. lyrics debate. Neuroscientists believe that the brain uses a different system to store and process music than it does words. Not much research has been done on which affects us more, but an American University study published in the Psychology of Music in 2006 gives a slight edge to melody. When listening to happy or calm songs, subjects found that lyrics dulled the tunes' emotional kick. Words, however, enhanced emotional responses to angry and sad songs. When researchers mismatched the melodies and lyrics-sad words with happy music, etc.-melodies held more sway with participants' moods than lyrics. . .

I understand the appeal of the human voice, and I certainly can't begrudge anyone's joy at singing along in the car (unless I'm in it). But why such shabby treatment for the instrumental? Marketability. A band is practically faceless with no crooning front man. . .

Finally, there's Bob Dylan, the man perhaps most responsible for the word/music power imbalance. With the releases of "Wipe Out" and Lonnie Mack's "Memphis" in 1963, things looked bright for the rock instrumental. Then came The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan and his 564-word "A Hard Rain's a-Gonna Fall." That year, the New York Times likened his songs to "speeches delivered to guitar chording" and called him "an inspired poet." Two years later, the Times reported that everyone was copying him.

SAM SMITH, 2003 our editor has long held the view - although quietly for fear of being mugged - that one of the earliest signs of America's cultural collapse was the introduction of the disco drum machine. I was, to be sure, a drummer at the time, so the opinion may have been a bit premature and biased. Nonetheless, since then popular music has become increasingly stripped of melody, chord range, internal variety and surprise, and dynamics. With the arrival of rap, music itself became virtually irrelevant.

These are not matters of taste, but observable phenomenon. For example, the history of western music, until fairly recently, was in part the story of expanding the number of acceptable chords, something that can be readily seen in comparing, say, a traditional folk song to the works of Thelonious Monk. This does not mean that the folk song was bad, only that the later work was far more venturesome at the least, and more creative at best. Growing cultures keep breaking ground. Declining ones just wear it out and break it up. Retrenchment and regression replaces exploration and adventure.

Part of the problem is the myth that we all like the same sort of music. . . .

SAM SMITH, 2002 Michael Jackson sold 47 million copies of "Thriller," which sounds like a lot until one realizes that Dunkin' Donuts sells more cups of coffee than that in one month. In fact, more people have a cup of Dunkin' Donuts coffee than watch Bill O'Reilly on the same day. But note where Dunkin' Donuts stands in the media cultural hierarchy compared to Jackson and O'Reilly.

It's actually far worse than that. An ABC News poll last year found that 38% of Americans considered Elvis Presley the greatest rock star ever. Jimi Hendrix came in second at four percent and Michael Jackson tied Lennon, Jagger, Springsteen, McCartney, and Clapton at 2%. In all, the polled listed 128 different names. Even among 18-34 year olds, Presley beat Hendrix 2 to 1, albeit getting only 19% of the votes.

The ABC News poll is unusual in that it gave actual percentages. Normally, such surveys only list rank, leaving the reader who prefers number six on the list feeling out of it and leaving all readers badly misinformed.

One way to create more honesty in such surveys would be not only to use actual percentages but also instant runoff voting in which second and third place votes would be factored in. These celebrity surveys instead use the same misguided principle that distorts our politics, confusing whoever is first past the post with the consensus choice.

The matter is further complicated by the fact that we do not know how the over 200 million Americans who did not buy a copy of 'Thriller' felt about Jackson. Some were married to a purchaser, some have downloaded it, some picked it up second hand or from a sibling. But is it not possible that among this vast pool we might not actually find a many people who disliked Jackson's music as liked it?

Yes it is. And although I have not been able to find an American study that deals with this issue, a fascinating examination of Japanese adolescent tastes in western music suggests what we might discover.
Here are the percentages of Japanese adolescents who liked very much a genre of music followed by the percentages of those that didn't like it at all:

Rock: 45, 28
Rap: 26, 43
Top Forty: 25, 43
Classical: 23, 48
Jazz: 23, 45
Techno: 22, 47
Soul: 17, 53
Country: 15, 53
Heavy Metal: 12, 48
Punk: 11, 66
Easy Listening: 10, 60

Note that rock is the only category in which the percentage of those not liking it at all does not near 50%. Note also that one of the most disliked genres is something the media has labeled "easy listening."

One of the reasons the media doesn't tell you things like this is that it would be too embarrassing. Far better to using rankings that obscure the fact, for example, that you could fit the entire American audience of CNN into a place the size of Washington DC.

So if you can't stand Jackson or his music, don't feel bad. You are just part of the silenced majority. Go down to Dunkin' Donuts have a cup of coffee like a real American.

DRUMMERS TOTALLY RULE - INTELLIGENCE AND RHYTHM LINKED

SCIENTIFIC BLOGGING People who score high on intelligence tests are also good at keeping time, new Swedish research shows. The team that carried out the study also suspect that accuracy in timing is important to the brain processes responsible for problem solving and reasoning.

Researchers at the medical university Karolinska Institutet and Umea University have now demonstrated a correlation between general intelligence and the ability to tap out a simple regular rhythm. They stress that the task subjects performed had nothing to do with any musical rhythmic sense but simply measured the capacity for rhythmic accuracy. Those who scored highest on intelligence tests also had least variation in the regular rhythm they tapped out in the experiment. . .

According to Fredrik Ullen, the results suggest that the rhythmic accuracy in brain activity observable when the person just maintains a steady beat is also important to the problem-solving capacity that is measured with intelligence tests. "We know that accuracy at millisecond level in neuronal activity is critical to information processing and learning processes,” he says.

CYBER NOTES

SMALLER TOWNS GETTING MUNICIPAL WI-FI BEFORE BIG CITIES

WIRED - To read the headlines, you'd think the dream of free, citywide wireless was dead coast to coast. One after another, big municipal Wi-Fi projects - San Francisco, Chicago, Atlanta - have hit the skids. But check out the rest of the map: Dozens of lower-profile locales are launching government-sponsored networks. Most are smaller cities and counties, where bureaucracies are less onerous and costs are lower. (Philadelphia, the sixth-largest US city, is the biggest urban area to get a network running, with about 100 square miles of coverage.)

Santa Monica, California: The 0.21-square-mile network in this seaside LA town serves mainly downtown locations and the area's parks, including the oft-filmed and picturesque Palisades Park, high on a bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean.

St. Cloud, Florida: Touted as having one of the best free municipal wireless systems in the country, this community of 54,000 claims that nearly 80 percent of its citizens use the service.

Chaska, Minnesota: In 2004, this Twin Cities suburb rolled out one of the earliest municipal Wi-Fi networks in the US. The city charges $17 per month for downstream speeds of 250 Kbps to 1.2 Mbps. Alas, the network still doesn't cover every square inch of town.

Rio Rancho, New Mexico: This city north of Albuquerque pulled the plug on its Wi-Fi network late last year after a dispute with its wireless ISP, Azulstar.

HEALTH & SCIENCE

STUDY OF STUDIES FIND SOME VITAMIN SUPPLEMENTS MAY SHORTEN LIFE

SCHOOLS & THE YOUNG

YOUTH GETTING A SAY AT FAMILY COURT

CITY LIMITS A movement to include more young people in their own Family Court hearings has slowly but surely been gaining momentum over the past several years. The question now, advocates and those involved in the Family Court system say, is not whether it is a good idea to encourage children to participate in their hearings - particularly when the hearings focus on the child's long-term, permanent living situation - but how to make it happen more often.

The Family Court system in New York City, with one court building for each borough, addresses cases of abuse and neglect, adoption, custody and visitation, juvenile delinquency and other matters involving children and families. . .

The movement to encourage more children and youth participation in Family Court began to pick up steam several years ago. While children would attend hearings from time to time, advocates say it was a challenging feat to pull off and there was no clear mandate to include children in hearings. . .

In June of last year, advocates began hearing from children themselves through the citywide Youth Justice Board, a panel of foster children and former foster children under the aegis of the public-private Center for Court Innovation. . . One of the findings of the YJB report was that youth feel like their voice is missing from their cases. "Youth want their needs and opinions to be heard, but they don't always understand how to make that happen. ... The perception from the youth's point of view is that many adults are talking about them, but not many are talking to them." According to the report, some young people have been involved in court proceedings and had a positive experience. One such person was quoted as saying, "They [the people in the courtroom] see your face, they have more understanding. They felt the emotion. I think it goes quicker when they see your face." Another youth said, "I spoke to the judge. I felt like it was all about me - it felt good.". . .

One method of encouraging youth and children to participate in court has been to acclimate them to the court system through an annual "Teen Day,” Gendell said, when the calendar is cleared for youth participation all day and teenagers get taken to lunch and meet with judges, judge surrogates called "referees," and law guardians, who are the lawyers appointed to represent children.

RECOVERED HISTORY

THE NAZI ROOTS OF THE OLYMPIC TORCH

INDEPENDENT, UK - There is a two-word answer to those who think the Olympic torch is a symbol of harmony between nations that should be kept apart from politics ¬ Adolf Hitler. The ceremony played out on the streets of Paris did not originate in ancient Greece, nor even in the 19th century, when the Olympic movement was revived. The entire ritual, with its pagan overtones, was devised by a German named Dr Carl Diem, who ran the 1936 Olympics in Berlin.

Although he was not a Nazi, and was appointed to run the Olympics before the Nazis came to power, Diem adapted very quickly to the new regime, and ended the war as a fanatical military commander exhorting teenage Germans to die like Spartans rather than accept defeat. Thousands did, but not Diem, who lived to be 80.

He sold to Josef Goebbels ¬ in charge of media coverage of the Games ¬ the idea that 3,422 young Aryan runners should carry burning torches along the 3,422km route from the Temple of Hera on Mount Olympus to the stadium in Berlin.

It was his idea that the flame should be lit under the supervision of a High Priestess, using mirrors to concentrate the sun's rays, and passed from torch to torch along the way, so that when it arrived in the Berlin stadium it would have a quasi-sacred purity.

The concept could hardly fail to appeal to the Nazis, who loved pagan mythology, and saw ancient Greece as an Aryan forerunner of the Third Reich. The ancient Greeks believed that fire was of divine origin, and kept perpetual flames burning in their temples.

OTHER NEWS

FEDERAL GOVERNMENT GAVE CONTRACTS TO POLYGAMISTS' BUSINESSES

MCCLATCHY American taxpayers have unwittingly helped finance a polygamist sect that is now the focus of a massive child abuse investigation in West Texas, with a business tied to the group receiving a nearly $1 million loan from the federal government and $1.2 million in military contracts.

The ability of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, or FLDS, to operate and grow is largely dependent on huge contributions from its members and revenue from the businesses they control, according to a former accountant for the church, and government officials in Utah and Arizona, where the sect is primarily based.

One of those businesses, NewEra Manufacturing in Las Vegas, has been awarded more than $1.2 million in federal government contracts, with most of the money coming in recent years from the Defense Department for wheel and brake components for military aircraft. . . NewEra, previously known as Western Precision Inc. and located in Hildale, Utah, also received a $900,000 loan in 2005 from the federal Small Business Administration, the data show.

BREVITAS

JOSSIP About a month ago, [David Gregory] joined NBC colleague Tim Russert at a Washington D.C. restaurant for dinner, where he showed his lack of appreciation for the help. . . The twosome's waitress somehow messed up their dinner order, and Gregory - whom CBS is supposedly "enamored” with in their hunt for a Katie Couric replacement - let's say, caustically reminded her how bad she erred. But the server wasn't the only one who got a scolding: Russert chewed Gregory out for his tactless behavior. "Russert warned Gregory never to behave that way in front of him again,” says a spy. And once MSNBC got wind of the story, they made Gregory "promise up and down to change his behavior” before they handed him the 6pm slot, we're told. . . But the NBC staffers in D.C. wouldn't be surprised - that's his normal workplace behavior. "He still treats most of … the newsroom like shit,” says a NBC insider. Not that the higher ups are reprimanding him for how he treats his staff or anything. Says our tattler: "Amazing how NBC cares more about food servers than about the people who have to deal with Gregory's arrogance every day."


Banksy pulled off an audacious stunt to produce what is believed to be his biggest work yet in central London. Despite being observed by CCTV cameras, elusive grafitti artist Baksy managed to create his latest - and biggest - work to date under the cover of darkness. The scaffolding gang returned to remove all evidence - again without the camera operator stopping them.

Al Kamen, Wash Post The American Civil Liberties Union and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers are heading an effort to provide legal representation for alleged terrorist detainees at Guantanamo Bay. The groups say they've gotten involved in defending the detainees charged under the 2006 Military Commissions Act to ensure that constitutional rights are respected. They've named their efforts the "John Adams Project," after the second president, who "defended the British soldiers charged with killing Americans in the Boston Massacre, and said that the case was 'one of the best pieces of service I ever rendered my country.' " Wait a minute. John Adams? Wasn't he also the guy who signed the infamous Alien and Sedition Acts, which were intended to suppress opposition to an undeclared naval war with France and provided for fines and imprisonment for publication of "any false, scandalous and malicious writings against the government"? The law that led to imprisonment of a couple of dozen newspaper editors and the closing of their publications?

Contrary to some claims that the Bush administration will allow diplomacy to handle Iran's nuclear weapons program, a leading member of America's Jewish community tells Newsmax that a military strike is not only on the table - but likely. "Israel is preparing for heavy casualties,” the source said, suggesting that although Israel will not take part in the strike, it is expecting to be the target of Iranian retribution. "Look at Dick Cheney's recent trip through the Middle East as preparation for the U.S. attack,” the source said. . .
He predicted that in a future war, "hundreds of missiles will rain on Israel,” but added that Iran "is definitely aware of our strength.”

Former President Carter angered Israel's government Tuesday by embracing a Hamas politician during a visit to the West Bank, ignoring Israeli and U.S. designation of the Islamic militants as a terror group. Israel accused Carter, the broker of the first Arab-Israeli peace accord, of "dignifying" extremists. But Carter vowed to meet Hamas' supreme leader this week in Syria. Carter, a Nobel Peace laureate, also laid a wreath at Yasser Arafat's grave, another break with U.S. policy . . At the gathering, Carter embraced Nasser Shaer, a senior Hamas politician, meeting participants said. Embraces between men are a common custom in Arab culture. "We hugged each other, and it was a warm reception," Shaer said. "Carter asked what he can do to achieve peace between the Palestinians and Israel ... and I told him the possibility for peace is high."

Counterterrorism officials in FBI headquarters slowed an investigation into a possible conspirator in the 2005 London bombings by forcing a field agent to return documents acquired from a U.S. university. Why? Because the agent received the documents through a lawful subpoena, while headquarters wanted him to demand the records under the USA Patriot Act, using a power the FBI did not have, but desperately wanted. At this July 27, 2005 hearing, FBI Director Robert Mueller pushed the Senate Judiciary Committee to give FBI agents expanded spying powers.

Dean Baker, Prospect According to the oil industry, they have their refineries running flat out, producing all the gas they can. This means that the price is determined on the demand side. We have a fixed amount of gas entering the market, the question is simply what price clears the market. In this context, if we reduce or eliminate the gas tax, the price doesn't change, the lower tax will simply allow Exxon and other oil companies to keep more profits (unless of course they were lying about running their refineries at capacity).
Judging by the success of the Seattle Police Department's unconventional campaign to recruit officers from New York City, the cops in New York are itchin' to leave. In fact, the Seattle PD was so overwhelmed by applications from NYC cops that it had to quit accepting them. One officer in New York even says he's going to wait outside the testing facility in case someone else doesn't show up. And all Seattle had to do was throw up a billboard, pass out some fliers, and take out an ad in the New York Post. The whole campaign was really simple -- just an image of a Seattle PD badge, the phrase "A Job Like No Other," and an Internet address. Oh, and it probably doesn't hurt that Seattle police make about twice what NYC officers earn. In a city that costs half as much to live in. And Seattle will pay $5,000 toward the cost of moving.
Close to 200,000 poor families in 15 cold-weather states - in every Northeastern state except New Hampshire - can thank controversial Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez for helping them heat their homes this winter. The Venezuelan-controlled oil-refining company, Citgo Petroleum Corp., donated 45 million gallons of free home heating oil this winter . . Venezuela's offer of free oil this winter came as the U.S. economy was slumping, federal assistance through the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program had dropped and home heating-oil prices hit a record high at more than $3.50 a gallon. .


GALLERY: A tiny portion of a work by Chris Jordan depicting "one million plastic cups, the number used on airline flights in the US every six hours." Jordan's :series "looks at contemporary American culture through the austere lens of statistics. Each image portrays a specific quantity of something: fifteen million sheets of office paper (five minutes of paper use); 106,000 aluminum cans (thirty seconds of can consumption) and so on. My hope is that images representing these quantities might have a different effect than the raw numbers alone, such as we find daily in articles and books."

AP
Thousands of people were exasperated and upset by the cancellation of more than 3,000 flights at American Airlines this week, and the loudest complaints came from the airline's own employees. . . Flight attendants have renewed a campaign against stock bonuses for top executives. . . The pilots union has emerged as the most vocal critic of the company's performance this week. The union took out a full-page advertisement in USA Today, accusing the company of failing its customers. . . The union, which represents 12,000 pilots at American, said Friday that pilots would demonstrate against the company in nine cities Tuesday to highlight what it called poor performance and customer service.

REALITY BASED COMMUNITY According to the FBI, in 2006 there were 17,000 murders and non-negligent manslaughters in the United States. According to the Institute of Medicine, "Lack of health insurance causes roughly 18,000 unnecessary deaths every year.

REUTERS Haiti's government fell on Saturday when senators fired the prime minister after more than a week of riots over food prices, ignoring a plan presented by the president to slash the cost of rice. . . The clash with senators came after the president of the country of 9 million people - most of whom earn less than $2 a day - managed to persuade rioters to end a week of violence in which at least five people were killed. Stone-throwing crowds began battling U.N. peacekeepers and Haitian police in the south on April 2, enraged at the soaring cost of rice, beans, cooking oil and other staples. The unrest spread this week to the capital, Port-au-Prince, bringing the sprawling and chaotic city to a halt as mobs took over the streets, smashing windows, looting shops, setting fire to cars and hurling rocks at motorists.

NY TIMES - Alberto R. Gonzales, like many others recently unemployed, has discovered how difficult it can be to find a new job. Mr. Gonzales, the former attorney general, who was forced to resign last year, has been unable to interest law firms in adding his name to their roster, Washington lawyers and his associates said in recent interviews. He has, through friends, put out inquiries, they said, and has not found any takers. What makes Mr. Gonzales's case extraordinary is that former attorneys general, the government's chief lawyer, are typically highly sought. . . "Maybe the passage of time will provide some opportunity for him,” said one Washington lawyer who was aware of an inquiry to his firm from a Gonzales associate. "I wouldn't say ‘rebuffed,' ” said the lawyer, who asked his name not be used because the situation being described was uncomfortable for Mr. Gonzales. "I would say ‘not taken up.' ”

THE AMERICAN CIVIL LIBERTIES UNION is calling on Congress to demand an independent prosecutor to investigate possible violations by the Bush administration of laws including the War Crimes Act, the federal Anti-Torture Act, and federal assault laws. "No one in the executive branch of government can be trusted to fairly investigate or prosecute any crimes since the head of every relevant department, along with the president and vice president, either knew or participated in the planning and approval of illegal acts,” said Caroline Fredrickson, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. "Congress cannot look the other way; it must demand an independent investigation and independent prosecutor.” Fredrickson added, "Congress is duty-bound by the Constitution not only to hold the president, vice president, and all civil officers to account, but it must also send a message to future presidents that it will use its constitutional powers to prevent illegal, and immoral conduct."

JOIN TOGETHER Lawmakers in Missouri, South Dakota, Vermont and Minnesota have introduced measures to lower the drinking age for everyone, while the military-only bills have been filed in Kentucky, Wisconsin, and South Carolina. Some proponents argue that 18-year-olds who volunteer to fight and die for their country have proven that they are mature enough to drink. The proposals face a major hurdle in a federal law that penalizes any state that lacks an age-21 drinking law with the loss of a percentage of its federal highway funding.

The Phoenix mayor wants the FBI to investigate whether the local county sheriff has violated any civil rights laws with his recent high-profile crackdowns on illegal immigrants. The "saturation patrols" have drawn protests from civil rights and immigrant-rights advocates, but they have drawn support from backers of Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio . . . "Over the past few weeks, Sheriff Arpaio's actions have infringed on the civil rights of our residents," Gordon wrote. "They have put our residents' well-being, and the well-being of law enforcement officers, at risk.". . . In the past month, sheriff's deputies and trained volunteers have gone into neighborhoods with large Hispanic populations, stopping people for routine traffic violations and asking some of them about their immigration status. Dozens of illegal immigrants have been detained.

Over 1500 villagers marched to the Coca-Cola company's bottling plant in Mehdiganj in Varanasi in India demanding that the bottling plant shut down immediately. Breaking a police barrier that attempted to keep the protesters 300 meters from the bottling plant, the villagers held a rally at the plant's gate accusing the company of creating severe water shortages in the area and pollutig the water and land. The march and rally was the latest in a series of protests against where communities have accused Coca-Cola bottling plants for exacerbating the water crises through heavy extraction of water from the groundwater resource and polluting the groundwater and soil.

Rules of thumb: Your fire is ready when the charcoal is light gray. Test the heat by holding your hand, palm side down, over the coals at grid level and counting the seconds you can hold it there. Five seconds indicates a low temperature fire, four seconds - medium temperature, three seconds - medium-high, two seconds - hot, and one second indicates a fire that is too hot.

The U.S. is wrestling with the worst food inflation in 17 years. . U.S. food prices rose 4 percent in 2007, compared with an average 2.5 percent annual rise for the last 15 years, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. And the agency says 2008 could be worse, with a rise of as much as 4.5 percent.

The US Geological Survey has just released its first ever statewide earthquake forecast for California, and the odds aren't great. The study finds a 99.7% chance that an earthquake of magnitude 6.7 or greater will hit California by 2037, while the probability of a quake of magnitude 7.5 or greater is 46%.

Random follow-up listserv emails: A good place to start your research might be with your original post about your xmas lights, which indicates that they were not stolen "late at night so as not to disturb" you as you claimed, but actually between 3 and 8pm. But I suppose I'm just nitpicking...

TIME MAGAZINE DISCOVERS THAT OBAMA HAD A WHITE MOTHER
The 1908 Ford Model T
went at 25 miles per gallon. As of 2004, the average fuel economy of cars and trucks was 24.6 miles per gallon.
BRITISH TV EXPLAINS OUR ELECTORAL SYSTEM
Eurostar reported a 21.3%
increase in passenger numbers today as the opening of St Pancras International station and debut of a high-speed link through south England lured more passengers to the cross-Channel train operator

People should not be criminalized for the file-sharing of copyrighted material if they are not profiting from doing so, the European Parliament has recommended.

Changes in our Cliche Challenge: humanitarian crisis, paradigm shift and exit strategy have plummeted.

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