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Undernews For June 2, 2008

Undernews For June 2, 2008

Washington's Most Unofficial Source
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Washington DC 20003
Editor: Sam Smith

2 JUNE 2008


Progress might have been all right once, but it has gone on too long - Ogden Nash


Sam Smith

SPECIAL SATURDAY: Saturday showed that Barack Obama is much better at picking up delegates than at dumping divinities.

His relationship with the Trinity Congregational has seemed curiously idiosyncratic from the start and his awkward exit doesn't help much. Christopher Hitchens reports that "in April 2004, Barack Obama told a reporter from the Chicago Sun-Times that he had three spiritual mentors or counselors: Jeremiah Wright, James Meeks, and Father Michael Pfleger for a change of pace, a white Catholic preacher who has a close personal feeling for the man he calls (as does Obama) Minister Farrakhan. . . Meeks' main political connections in the white community are with the hysterically anti-homosexual wing of the Christian right. If Obama were to be read a list of the positions that his clerical supporters take on everything from Judaism to sodomy, he would be in the smooth and silky business of 'distancing' from now until November."

My own guess that Wright et al were relief for - rather than a reflection of - the ponderous Obama, that they provided the excitement that porn and sports offer for lesser male mortals, raises the concern of where Barack will get his Jesus jollies now. I think I hear the ghost of Billy Graham knocking at the door.

On the other hand, Saturday's rodeo at the Democratic Rules Committee found the Obama crowd infinitely more graceful and wise than their opponents. As Donna Brazille put it, "My mama taught me to play by the rules and respect the rules. . . When you decide to change the rules, especially, in the middle of the game, it's called cheating." Nonetheless, the Obamites did change the rules. . . by compromise. At the end of the day, this left them looking reasonable and fair, while the Clinton crowd acted like a bunch of angry, spoiled kids.

Of course, it's now being said that Clinton's problem was sexism, which is a little like saying that the reason Al Sharpton isn't in the White House is because of racism. Even if the media steadfastly failed to report it, Clinton has a long record of dishonesty, was almost criminally prosecuted and had three business partners who went to prison. The public knows it, as reflected in polls on candidates' perceived honesty, even if the media tried to cover for her.

And watching the repugnant Harold Ickes and Lannie Davis try to rescue Clinton brought to mind still another unnoted factor: Hillary Clinton's problem may not be so much that she is a woman but her choice in men, starting with her husband.

THE AUDACITY OF EXPECTATIONS: If all goes according to plan, Barack Obama in his first 100 days as president will prevent the passage of a decent and full healthcare plan for at least another 100 months. He doesn't say that, of course, nor does the media nor does the Obama fan club. But it's the truth because if Obama gets his fake universal healthcare plan through at the start of his term, it will inevitably take years before politicians will deal with the issue again.

Obama's alternative is a bill that would expand the subsidy to the health insurance industry, a subsidy financed by expanded required use of said industry. Unlike automobiles, where the claim can be made that no one has to drive and so can't complain about required insurance to do so, everyone has a right to live without having to funnel money into the parasitical and useless health insurance industry. There is no justification for Obama's approach other than a desire to get funding from the health insurers and to avoid their wrath.

It is not only a wrong policy, but an immoral one. And, if he is successful, America will continue to have one of the worst healthcare plan of any developed country.

This is not just some progressive idea. As the Twin Cities Daily Planet wrote recently:

"Last year, Minnesota Medicine magazine reported its results from the first-ever random sampling of state-licensed physicians. Physicians were asked what type of health care financing structure they'd prefer among three choices: single-payer, health savings accounts (tax-free savings accounts to which individuals and employers contribute), and managed care (market-based private insurance plans). Sixty-four percent said a single-payer financing system would provide "the best health care to the greatest number of people for a fixed amount of money," according to the Minnesota Medicine report."

Obama is, of course, not alone in attempting to foster the private health insurance con on the public, but he stands the best chance of seeing it to fruition. It is also not the only way that Obama betrays his alleged status as an agent of change. His plan for Iraq is, at best, vague; he supports such conservative atrocities as the Patriot Act, the drug war and No Child Left Behind, and he seems singularly indifferent to numerous economic crises confronting the country. But because, with healthcare, he knows what to do and when he wants to do it, it is the most pressing domestic danger Obama presents.

The conventional liberal approach to this issue is indifference. Like the liberal eunuchs who helped elect Bill Clinton and then never said a mumblin' word as he turned the Democratic Party into GOP Lite, the Obama crowd has not shown any interest in what their man will actually do once in office. They have accepted his evangelical euphemisms on faith and faith alone.

There was a time when political activists in the Democratic Party were interested in issues rather than merely in icons. Which is why liberals stood up against Strom Thurmond, George Wallace and Richard Daley. They knew where they stood and they knew where the others did as well.

Now it's not like that. Other than a vague commitment to end the war in Iraq - a commitment stunningly absent in detail - there is not a single major progressive issue that liberals can point to and say with any confidence, this is what Obama will try to do.

This is not a question of how you vote; it's a matter of how you treat politicians. Are they are your tool or are you their pawn?

If Obama were a Republican he would now damn well the answer; just the Christian right would keep him watching his every word. In fact, the GOP has it down to such a science that Obama feels he should talk about putting some of them in his cabinet. Have you heard about him talking about putting Bernie Sanders or Russ Feingold in his cabinet? Of course, not.

So it will be when he is in office. He will gather his post-partisan assembly to discuss healthcare or whatever and you can almost bet the most progressive person in the room will be one of the secretaries

Just about ever day I get an email message saying that this union or that group has come out in favor of John Conyers single payer healthcare bill. Google it and you'll find 32,000 mentions. Now switch to the news media search on Google and you'll find six.

The only way Obama can be a good president is if he is pressed into it by progressives wise enough to realize that a vote should only be a ballot and not a free pass. The issue wars of the Obama administration should begin right now. A pro-single payer group called something like Labor and Doctors for Obama might start the revival of a Democratic Party which actually cared about what it did and not just whom it elected.

It is way past time to expect far more of candidates than just hope.



NOAH SHACHTMAN, OPED NEWS Comcast, the country's second-largest Internet provider, is looking for an engineer to handle "reconnaissance" and "analysis" of "subscriber intelligence" for the company's "National Security Operations."

Day-to-day tasks, the company says in an online job listing, will include "deploy[ing], installing] and remov[ing] strategic and tactical data intercept equipment on a nationwide basis to meet Comcast and Government lawful intercept needs." The person in this "intercept engineering" position will help collect and process traffic on the company's "CDV [Comcast Digital Voice], HSI [High Speed Internet] and Video" services.

Since May 2007, all Internet providers have been required to install gear for easy wiretapping under the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act, or CALEA. Anyone taking this position, Comcast says, will have to be "knowledgeable with ... standards such as CALEA." (The company is all too happy to "intercept its customers' communications" for a fee of a thousand dollars, Secrecy News revealed last year.)

But the person in this job won't just be snooping for the government. He or she will also "perfor[m] diagnosis on data, voice, and video services to detect and respond to fraudulent activity such as theft of service and speed enhancement.". . .

The company is also looking for an administrative assistant in its National Security Operations office. In that position, you'll be able to handle "sensitive incoming Legal subpoenas and other material. Some of this material may be 'Secret/Top Secret' and be classified under applicable Federal Law."


GUARDIAN, UK The United States is operating "floating prisons" to house those arrested in its war on terror, according to human rights lawyers, who claim there has been an attempt to conceal the numbers and whereabouts of detainees.

Details of ships where detainees have been held and sites allegedly being used in countries across the world have been compiled as the debate over detention without trial intensifies on both sides of the Atlantic. .

Information about the operation of prison ships has emerged through a number of sources, including statements from the US military, the Council of Europe and related parliamentary bodies, and the testimonies of prisoners.

The analysis, due to be published this year by the human rights organization Reprieve, also claims there have been more than 200 new cases of rendition since 2006, when President George Bush declared that the practice had stopped.

It is the use of ships to detain prisoners, however, that is raising fresh concern and demands for inquiries in Britain and the US.

According to research carried out by Reprieve, the US may have used as many as 17 ships as "floating prisons" since 2001. Detainees are interrogated aboard the vessels and then rendered to other, often undisclosed, locations, it is claimed.

Ships that are understood to have held prisoners include the USS Bataan and USS Peleliu. A further 15 ships are suspected of having operated around the British territory of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean, which has been used as a military base by the UK and the Americans. . .

Clive Stafford Smith, Reprieve's legal director, said: "They choose ships to try to keep their misconduct as far as possible from the prying eyes of the media and lawyers. We will eventually reunite these ghost prisoners with their legal rights.

"By its own admission, the US government is currently detaining at least 26,000 people without trial in secret prisons, and information suggests up to 80,000 have been 'through the system' since 2001. The US government must show a commitment to rights and basic humanity by immediately revealing who these people are, where they are, and what has been done to them.". . .

A US navy spokesman, Commander Jeffrey Gordon, told the Guardian: "There are no detention facilities on US navy ships." However, he added that it was a matter of public record that some individuals had been put on ships "for a few days" during what he called the initial days of detention. He declined to comment on reports that US naval vessels stationed in or near Diego Garcia had been used as "prison ships".


NEWSWEEK The Houston mega-pastor Kirbyjon Caldwell-who presided over Jenna Bush's wedding last month and has offered spiritual counsel to her father-is a Christian VIP, so busy that his cell-phone voicemail says, "Do not leave messages here." But on Friday mornings, whether he's at church, in the car or on the golf course, Caldwell tries to dial into a certain high level conference call. At 9:30 Eastern time, a group of religious leaders gathers "telephonically," as Caldwell puts it; for 15 minutes, they pray for Sen. Barack Obama. "Typically," Caldwell says, "whoever is praying always prays for the senator and his wife. For his safety, surety, soundness of mind, clarity of thought." One person leads the prayer; everyone else listens. The leaders pray that planes land safely and that Secret Service agents keep their eyes open. . . The number of participants ranges from a handful to 100. Obama is not on the line.


The author misstates the actuarial status of the Social Security trust fund, fosters the absurd post-partisan notion and thinks Clinton selling out his party and his supporters was a good idea. Nonetheless he provides useful new information on how he did so.

STEVEN M. GILLON, HISTORY NEWS NETWORK - There was a brief moment, however, when the two leading political figures in America formed a secret pact to stop the slide into pointless partisanship and tackle one of the most contentious issues of our time: Social Security. Ironically, the two men behind the effort are often the ones blamed for the culture wars that polarized America in the 1990s - former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and President Bill Clinton. The story of their unlikely alliance, and its tragic unraveling, has never been told. Until now. In the course of writing a book about the two men I came across the notes of a secret White House meeting. The notes, along with interviews with many of the key players, reveals a hidden world where the two political protagonists were willing to put aside their partisan differences in a genuine effort to achieve meaningful reform.

Shortly after 7:00 pm on Monday, October 28, 1997, Gingrich, accompanied by his chief-of-staff Arnie Christenson, made the brief trip from his Capitol Hill office to the White House. To avoid being spotted by reporters, Gingrich approached by the South Lawn and came in the diplomatic entrance. Once inside the White House, the Speaker and his aide were quickly ushered into the elevator and taken to the Treaty Room on the second floor of the residence. . . Waiting to greet Gingrich were White House chief-of-staff Erskine Bowles, legislative director John Hilley, and the President.

The five men took their seats around a small coffee table as a photographer circled around recording the moment for the history books. . The 1996 election, which returned both men to power, convinced them they needed to work together in order to secure their place in the history books. "They both knew that their legacies were tied to each other," Bowles later reflected. . .

Gingrich was first to raise directly the issue of cooperation, suggesting that he and the president use their work on North Atlantic Free Trade Agreement and the historic balanced budget bill passed in August 1997 as models for the future. Before Clinton could respond, Gingrich was breaking down the possible areas of agreement into conceptual boxes. One box contained the issues over which they would continue to fight. A second included tactical questions such as appropriations on which they could cooperate. The third box was reserved for "a few big ticket items" they could work on together. Clinton nodded in agreement with each point before interrupting. "This is a great opportunity," he said, "and we need to be prepared to take risks to do something that could be very significant."

They both knew what was in that "third box" - an unprecedented effort to reform Social Security and Medicare. "We had solved the short term problem of the deficit," recalled Bowles, "now it was time to address the long-term structural problems facing social security and Medicare." Both men were ready to take on the political risk of tackling the infamous "third rail" of American politics. Clinton was looking for a bold initiative in his final years that would define his presidency, answer critics who claimed he had failed to make a lasting imprint on the office, and encourage historians to rank him among the nation's "great" presidents. For his part, Gingrich was also thinking about how history would remember him. His idol was Henry Clay, the nineteenth century Whig Speaker of the House who used his influence to expand American power abroad and preserve the Union at home. Gingrich wanted to be remembered as a great statesman, not just as a conservative firebrand rebel and mastermind of the 1994 Republican takeover of Congress.

The actuarial steps needed to shore up Social Security and Medicare were straightforward and, with government coffers beginning at last to overflow with revenue, easier to achieve than at any time in the recent past. "We always knew that finding common ground on social security wasn't terribly difficult from a policy standpoint," reflected Bruce Reed, the president's chief domestic policy advisor. "The policy differences were always the easiest to bridge." There was a growing consensus on both sides of the aisle in favor of having Social Security tap into the stock market to increase the rate of return on retirement funds. However, difficult questions remained unanswered: Who would manage the money: individuals or the government? Would private accounts replace checks guaranteed by the government, or would they simply be an add-on to the existing system? Politics, not economics, presented the biggest obstacle. Any long-term solution to solving social security required increasing the age of eligibility and changing the formula used to calculate the annual cost of living increase - two steps guaranteed to arouse powerful opposition from across the political spectrum.

Despite the odds, both men signaled their willingness to build a bipartisan coalition and to challenge the orthodoxy of their own parties. In private conversations with Gingrich and with Texas Republican Bill Archer, powerful head of the House Ways and Means Committee, the president promised to "provide political cover" for Democrats and Republicans by announcing his support for raising the minimum age required for social security and for reducing the COLA adjustments. The president was willing to oppose the leadership of his own party and support the Republican demand for private accounts. Although most Republicans planned to use the surplus for a massive tax cut, Gingrich privately accepted the administration's position that the surplus should be used first to save social security "for all time," with any remaining amount used for a tax break.

Bowles suggested the President and Speaker were now "partners." Gingrich demurred. "I would prefer to say we are a coalition, not partners," he said. It was an important distinction for Gingrich. "Partners are on the same team," he reflected. "We were never going to be on the same team." The two men were not looking to create a third party, but instead to forge a new center of gravity that would pull together moderates in both parties. "I understood that I would have to fight some of my old guard," Gingrich recalled. "He understood that he would have to fight his hard left. Together we could shape about a 60 to 65 percent majority. I was happy for him to be a successful president. He was comfortable with us being a successful Republican Congress."

Before the meeting ended, the two former adversaries had decided to put the past behind them and create a new center/right political coalition of moderate Republicans and conservative Democrats to push their ambitious overhaul of social security and Medicare through Congress. Both men were confident that their new "coalition" would rival the New Deal and the Great Society in terms of the significance of legislation enacted. "There is no question in my mind in October of 1997, that we were looking forward to a period where we would cooperate on a broad range of really big issues," Gingrich recalled. . .

The [Lewinsky] affair destroyed a budding alliance between Clinton and Gingrich that could have, over time, altered the tone and substance of American politics. Instead, the affair, and the endless news coverage that it inspired, polarized the parties and destroyed any hope of forging a centrist coalition. Clinton who had a strained relationship with the liberal wing of his party throughout his presidency, was now dependent on them for his political survival. "All opportunities for accomplishment were killed once the story came out," reflected a senior White House official. "If we cut a deal with the Republicans on social security there was every possibility that the Democrats, who were the only people defending him in the Congress against these charges, could easily get angry and abandon him."

With conservatives in an uproar, Gingrich lost his political wiggle room and was forced to appease his right-wing base. He could have ended the impeachment crusade and forced his party to accept a censure resolution. But he allowed his anger to replace good judgment. When he failed to produce the promised results at the polls in the 1998 congressional midterm elections, party leaders pressed him to step down as Speaker. Gingrich, who has just won election by a wide margin, decided to resign his seat and leave electoral politics.

There was enough blame to go around for the lost opportunity. Through his indiscretions Clinton badly damaged his lifelong effort to blur the ideological differences between Democrats and Republicans. A centrist who preached reconciliation and moderation, Clinton left office having aroused the passions of conservatives and liberals. Clinton's actions, and the impeachment process itself, placed values, not policy, at the center of public debate and discussion, and it left partisans on both sides feeling embattled and under assault. At the same time, Gingrich and other leading Republicans convinced themselves they could pursue a two-track policy: holding hearings to destroy Clinton's presidency in one room on Capitol Hill while trying to build a coalition with him in another.


AP Antonio Martinez no longer pays smugglers thousands of dollars each year to sneak him into the United States to manage farm crews. Now, the work comes to him. Supervising lettuce pickers in central Mexico, Martinez earns just half of the $1,100 a week he made in the U.S. But the job has its advantages, including working without fear of immigration raids.. . . Martinez, now a legal employee of U.S.-owned VegPacker de Mexico, is exactly the kind of worker more American farm companies are seeking. Many have moved their fields to Mexico, where they can find qualified people, often with U.S. experience, who can't be deported.

American companies now farm more than 45,000 acres of land in three Mexican states, employing about 11,000 people, a 2007 survey by the U.S. farm group Western Growers shows.

U.S. direct investment in Mexican agriculture, which includes both American companies moving their operations to Mexico and setting up Mexican partnerships, has swelled sevenfold to 624 million pesos (US$60 million) since 2000, Mexico's Economy Department told The Associated Press.

Major corporations such as Archer Daniels Midland Co. and Bunge have invested across Latin America for decades, particularly in countries like Brazil, where agribusiness is booming.


WASHINGTON POST More than one in 100 adults in the United States is in jail or prison, an all-time high that is costing state governments nearly $50 billion a year and the federal government $5 billion more, according to a report released yesterday.

With more than 2.3 million people behind bars, the United States leads the world in both the number and percentage of residents it incarcerates, leaving far-more-populous China a distant second, according to a study by the nonpartisan Pew Center on the States.

The growth in prison population is largely because of tougher state and federal sentencing imposed since the mid-1980s. Minorities have been particularly affected: One in nine black men ages 20 to 34 is behind bars. For black women ages 35 to 39, the figure is one in 100, compared with one in 355 for white women in the same age group.


CHRISTOPHER ELLIOTT TRIBUNE MEDIA Taking. Something. Always. That's what TSA means to airline passengers like Edward Fleiss, a sales manager from Huntington, N.Y. When screeners inspected his wife's carry-on bag at New York's John F. Kennedy Airport recently, he claims her designer eyeglasses were swiped. "Great sleight of hand," he says. "We didn't even know they were gone until we got to Los Angeles.". . .

Since it was created in 2001, the agency has fired about 200 employees accused of stealing. Although the TSA has taken steps to discourage these government workers from helping themselves to our personal effects - including background checks on new hires, video cameras in screening areas and rules forbidding backpacks or lunchboxes at checkpoints - more and more passengers like Fleiss are coming forward to say they've been ripped off by the very people who are supposed to protect them. . .

One aviation insider I spoke with believes stealing is a systemic problem the federal agency is unable to control, particularly at problem airports like New York's LaGuardia Airport and Philadelphia International Airport. Not all of the screening areas in U.S. airports are under surveillance, and the TSA's rules have a big loophole that shifts liability for stolen baggage claims to the airline when luggage is delayed, he told me. In other words, there's little incentive for the stealing to stop. "It's the 800-pound gorilla no one wants to discuss at TSA," he says.



GALAL NASSAR, AL AHRAM There are now more than 50 private security firms currently operating in Iraq and their number is likely to increase, according to recent reports. Officially their function is to protect vital facilities (from government buildings to oil wells) and important persons (the US ambassador, for example). Some of these companies have special information gathering and analysis departments whose staff has access to state-of-the-art military and security technologies. Global Risks is one such company. Charged with protecting Baghdad International Airport, it has hired for this purpose 500 Nepalese and 500 Fijian soldiers who are apparently the cheapest of the 30 nationalities of mercenaries currently in Iraq.

The existence of these types of firms in Iraq was first brought to public attention by the London Times, which reported in May 2004 that the number of British employees such firms posted to Iraq had doubled to 1,500 since the previous year. Among these employees were former British police, navy and paratrooper officers and soldiers. Iraqi officials at the time admitted to having no idea of how many mercenaries were operating in the country. A year later, former US secretary of defense Donald Rumsfeld stated that they were by then in the neighborhood of 100,000 and that they were needed because coalition forces were unable to supply the number of forces necessary to protect foreign diplomats and businessmen. .

It has apparently become Pentagon policy to hire mercenaries in American wars, despite official denials. According to Peter Singer, a security analyst at the Brookings Institution and author of Corporate Warriors, private companies offering specialized military services for hire played a major support role in most of the wars in which the US was involved in the 1990s, including Somalia, Haiti, Rwanda, the Balkans and East Timor. But this role has increased exponentially in America's wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. . .

The firms themselves, the majority of which are American or British owned, offer services ranging from guarding important persons and facilities, and supplying equipment and provisions, to intelligence gathering and actual field combat. The growth of this phenomenon has added a new term to the late 20th century military lexicon. On top of "remote control warfare", "proxy wars" and "pre-emptive war", we now have "privatized war", or war fought or supported by forces and personnel subcontracted from private military firms and who are not subordinate to the official military hierarchy. . .

Soldiers of fortune could also come in handy for operations that fall outside the pale of international law because recourse to them would spare members of official occupation forces from being brought before international courts on charges of crimes against humanity or violating international humanitarian law governing occupation. If Washington continues the pursuit of the American global enterprise, one could well envision an increasing reliance on privatized military forces, or PMFs -- a term that certainly has a more respectable ring than "mercenaries", reflecting a business that has become a legal and increasingly lucrative industry. . .

Not all personnel are British or American; they could just as well be from South Africa, Nepal, Chile, Columbia, San Salvador, Honduras, Ireland, Spain, Poland, Brazil, Israel and, more recently, Russia and Lebanon. . .

Not a few Arabs have signed up with mercenary outfits, which have been linked to some of the most atrocious crimes against Iraqi civilians, and for less money than their fellow mercenaries from other countries. . .

It appears, too, that mercenaries have begun to fill the ranks of the US army itself. So desperate has the US military become that it has recruited more than 35,000 soldiers who are not US citizens. Instead, these recruits possess or have been awarded the much-coveted "Green Card" and the promise of naturalization if they should be fortunate enough to live out their tour of duty in Iraq. . .


REASON - During his 2004 Senate campaign Obama declared that it was "time for us to end the embargo with Cuba.... It's time for us to acknowledge that that particular policy has failed." But Cubans don't influence Illinois senate races like they do Florida presidential contests. [But during his recent trip to Florida, the story had change]. "I will maintain the embargo," he said to cheers from CANF members. "It provides us with the leverage to present the regime with a clear choice: if you take significant steps toward democracy, beginning with the freeing of all political prisoners, we will take steps to begin normalizing relations. That's the way to bring about real change in Cuba-through strong, smart and principled diplomacy."


WILLIAM GLABERSON, NEW YORK TIMES The chief judge at Guantanamo replaced the military judge in one of the most closely watched war crimes cases, creating a new controversy in the military commission system and the potential for new delays. The decision to replace the judge, Col. Peter E. Brownback III, came without explanation from the chief military judge, Col. Ralph H. Kohlmann. Judge Brownback has been presiding over pretrial proceedings in the prosecution of Omar Ahmed Khadr, a 21-year-old Canadian charged with the killing of an American serviceman in Afghanistan.

Pentagon spokesmen said Judge Brownback, a retired Army judge who was recalled to hear Guantanamo cases in 2004, would return to retirement as a result of "a mutual decision" between the judge and the Army.

But defense lawyers and critics of Guantanamo said there had been no warning of the change and suggested that he had been removed because of a recent ruling that was a rebuke to prosecutors.

During a proceeding on May 8, Judge Brownback expressed irritation that military prosecutors had failed to turn over records of Mr. Khadr's incarceration to defense lawyers. He threatened to stop pretrial proceedings if the records were not supplied by May 22. They met that deadline.

At the time, Judge Brownback said he had been "badgered and beaten and bruised" by the chief military prosecutor in the case, Maj. Jeffrey D. Groharing, to move the case toward a trial quickly.

Mr. Khadr's military defense lawyer, Lt. Cmdr. William C. Kuebler, on Friday called the replacement of the judge "very odd."

"The judge who was frustrating the government's forward progress in the Khadr case," Commander Kuebler said, "is suddenly gone."


YOUR EDITOR WAS RECENTLY ON a local Pacifica station program during which a participant suggested that public opposition to the Iraq war had been minimal. Longtime DC activist Jenefer Ellingston writes to note that "in February 2003 20 million people around the world demonstrated against Bush's plan to invade Iraq. . . probably the first protest before an invasion. It was the largest anti-war march in the history of anti-war demonstrations. Not just several million in America - In DC, NYC, Boston, Chicago, Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles . . . and smaller cities, but every capitol in Europe. Not thousands, millions.

"It's possible that one reason the peace movement is not visible in large numbers is: It's too expensive. That's why protests have been organized in cities across America - barely mentioned and rarely covered by the media. Our last demonstrations took place in 600 cities. Suppose there were 1,000 people in each of those 600 cities . . that's a lot of people."


JEFF COHEN, OUR FUTURE - No sooner had Bush's ex-press secretary (now author) Scott McClellan accused President Bush and his former collaborators of misleading our country into Iraq than the squeals of protest turned into a mighty roar.

I'm not talking about the vitriol directed at him by former White House colleagues like Karl Rove and Ari Fleischer. I'm talking about McClellan's other war collaborators: the movers and shakers in corporate media. The people McClellan refers to in his book as "deferential, complicit enablers" of Bush administration war propaganda.

One after another, news stars defended themselves with the tired old myth that no one doubted the Iraq WMD claims at the time. The yarn about hindsight being 20/20 was served up more times than a Rev. Wright clip on Fox News.

Katie Couric, whose coverage on CBS of the Iraq troop surge has been almost fawning, was one of the few stars to be candid about pre-invasion coverage, saying days ago, "I think it's one of the most embarrassing chapters in American journalism." She spoke of "pressure" from corporate management, not just Team Bush, to "really squash any dissent." Then a co-host of NBC Today, she says network brass criticized her for challenging the administration.

NBC execs apparently didn't complain when - two weeks into the invasion - Couric thanked a Navy commander for coming on the show, adding, "And I just want you to know, I think Navy SEALs rock!"

Given how TV networks danced to the White House tune sung by the Roves and Fleischers and McClellans in the first years of W's reign, it's fitting that it took the words of a longtime Bush insider to force their self- examination over Iraq. Top media figures had shunned years of well-documented criticism of their Iraq failure as religiously as they shunned war critics in 2003.

Speaking of religious, it wasn't until two days ago that retired NBC warhorse Tom Brokaw was able to admit on-air that Bush's push toward invasion was "more theology than anything else." On day one of the war, it was anchor Brokaw who turned to an Admiral and declared, "One of the things that we don't want to do is destroy the infrastructure of Iraq, because in a few days we're going to own that country."

Asked this week about the charge that media transmitted war propaganda, Brokaw blamed the White House and its "unbelievable ability to control the flow of information at any time, but especially during the time that they're preparing to go to war." This is an old canard: The worst censors pre-war were not governments, but major outlets that chose to exclude and smear dissenting experts.

Wolf Blitzer, whose persona on CNN is that of a carnival barker, defended his network's coverage: "I think we were pretty strong. But certainly, with hindsight, we could have done an even better job."

Coverage might have been better if CNN news chief Eason Jordan hadn't gotten a Pentagon "thumbs-up" on the retired generals they featured. Or if Jordan hadn't gone on the air to dismiss a dissenting WMD expert: "Scott Ritter's chameleon-like behavior has really bewildered a lot of people. . . . U.S. officials no longer give Scott Ritter much credibility."

ABC anchor Charlie Gibson, the closest thing to a Fox News anchor at a big three network, took offense at McClellan: "I think the media did a pretty good job." He claimed "there was a lot of skepticism raised" about Colin Powell's pre-war U.N. speech. Media critic Glenn Greenwald called Gibson's claim "one of the falsest statements ever uttered on TV" - and made his point using Gibson's unskeptical Powell coverage at the time.

In February 2003, there was huge mainstream media skepticism about Powell's U.N. speech . . . overseas. But U.S. TV networks banished antiwar perspectives in the crucial two weeks surrounding that error-filled speech. FAIR studied all on-camera sources on the nightly ABC, CBS, NBC and PBS newscasts: Less than 1 percent - three out of 393 sources - were antiwar. Only 6 percent were skeptical sources. This at a time when 60 percent of Americans in polls wanted more time for diplomacy and inspections.


JEFFREY ST. CLAIR, COUNTERPUNCH Despite her campaign's ongoing slurs against Bill Richardson, the nation's only Hispanic governor, Hillary Clinton probably feels like she has Puerto Rico, the final primary, in the bank. Those delegates were sown up nine years ago on August 16, 1999, when Bill Clinton issued commutations for 16 members of the FALN Puerto Rican nationalist group serving long sentences for robbery, bombings and sedition. That rare act of humanitarian intervention endeared the Clintons to many Puerto Ricans, obviating the sins committed by the administration at Vieques Island, which had been turned into a toxic bombing ground.

But if Hillary wants to claim credit for the FALN pardons (a strategic decision at the time, geared to helping her win a US senate seat in New York), she should also own up to her role in a much more problematic case, the midnight pardon of billionaire fugitive Marc Rich.

Hillary has never addressed her role in the Rich pardon. In fact, she's rarely been asked her opinion on the free pass given to one of the world's most wanted fugitives, a man who violated embargoes against Iran and South Africa and fled the country rather than face trial in what was billed as "the biggest tax evasion case in history." The senator has variously said that she was "unaware" of the decision and "surprised" by it. When pressed, she merely cackles.

Even though 300 pages of core documents relating to the pardon decision remain under seal at the Clinton Library, a review of the available record tells a much different story. In fact, the Rich legal team viewed Hillary as a secret weapon, and as one door after another closed on their search for a pardon they focused more and more on invoking what Rich lawyer Robert Fink called the "HRC option."


NATIONAL WILDLIFE FEDERATION - Worldwide, many butterfly species have begun to falter and even disappear. In this country, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has designated 23 species as endangered or threatened.

Butterflies play a key role in plant reproduction, transporting pollen from flower to flower. They provide food for birds and other insects. "People may say, ‘Why care about butterflies? They're just insects.' But butterflies are bellwethers for ecosystems, and we're seeing butterflies at risk across the U.S.," says Scott Hoffman Black, executive director of the Xerces Society, an Oregon-based national nonprofit that campaigns for invertebrate conservation. "Everywhere you look, there are butterflies in decline. That really tells us something is wrong."

Butterflies suffer from the same ills that plague all wildlife these days: habitat loss, pollution, invasive species and global warming. But experts say the insects also face unique hurdles. Their dizzyingly complicated life cycles may take one or two years to complete. They spend long periods as vulnerable larvae and pupae. And they form complex interdependent relationships with entire suites of other animals and plants.

In addition, many butterflies have extremely exact needs that may vary depending on life stage. In California, home to 15 of the federally protected species, larvae of the endangered San Bruno elfin, for example, prefer the leaves of sedum, a succulent. Later larval stages feed on the plant's flowers, while adults are believed to sip nectar from manzanita, huckleberry and other plants. The endangered Smith's blue, native to sand dunes of California's central coast, has mouthparts that exactly match the depth of buckwheat flowers. "Since their life cycles can be so complex, it's not enough to just set aside land or to save one host plant," explains John Shuey, chair of the conservation committee of The Lepidopterists' Society and director of conservation science for The Nature Conservancy's Indiana office.

Further complicating butterfly conservation, the biological details of their lives often remain murky. In many cases, scientists do not even know what a species' caterpillar looks like or what the adult eats. Take Southern California's Laguna Mountains skipper: When scientists gathered at a recent conference devoted to the species, they realized they still did not know which nectar plants it uses for food or whether it produces one or two broods a year.

Even intact habitats can be risky places for butterflies. Since the insects spend long periods as soft, slow-moving caterpillars, or as immobile pupae busy metamorphosing into butterflies, activities such as "hiking and horseback riding, even crews removing invasive species, can wipe out an endangered colony," says Hoffman Black.

Global warming also threatens to wreak havoc on butterflies. In North America, butterfly experts report that some cool-loving species seem to be moving to higher elevations as their native habitats get too hot. "We're clearly seeing climatic effects where species are moving upslope," says Shapiro. A 2005 study in Spain showed that 16 butterflies have shifted their ranges upward 700 feet over the last 30 years.

A handful of conservation biologists are floating the idea of "assisted migration"-taking butterflies from places where they are threatened and moving them to more congenial locales. The critically endangered bay checkerspot, for example, could be whisked from its native San Francisco Bay Area-becoming too developed and too warm-north to a cooler, more rural place. But the issues are complex: Do you just move the butterfly? Or do you have to move its host plant and other elements of its habitat? And how do you know if a butterfly will integrate smoothly into its new habitat without disturbing the natives?


AP - A Fox News employee sued the landlord of her company's office building, claiming she got bedbug bites at work. Jane Clark, a satellite feed coordinator, says in a lawsuit filed in Manhattan's state Supreme Court that she picked up the bugs in the mid-Manhattan tower that houses the New York Post and the Fox News Channel. Clark, 37, says the critter encounter last year left her unable to work and suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. She said an investigation revealed that another employee was bringing the bugs to work from his home, but that person no longer works at Fox.



GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: In Philadelphia, just in April, Senator Obama said of Reverend Wright "I can no more disown him than I can disown the black community." Now he's cut all ties to Reverend Wright, and left his church. What is it a mistake to wait this long?

OBAMA COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR ROBERT GIBBS: No, George. I think obviously what Barack Obama made in the past few days is a deeply personal, not a political decision. . .



THOR CHRISTENSEN, DALLAS MORNING NEWS What if you gave a concert and the crowd refused to watch? It's not as far-fetched as it seems. As more and more concertgoers fiddle with cell phone cameras and fidget with Blackberries, some people say mobile technology is ruining the concert experience.

"It's extraordinarily irritating," says Roger Waters of Pink Floyd fame. "All these people holding up these horrid little squares of bright light.". . .

It's not just a case of cranky baby boomers griping about the young and the restless. Plenty of younger artists and fans are also getting fed up with the tech intrusion. . .

Of course, pop concerts were awash in distractions long before the cellphone. In the early '60s, shrieking girls made it impossible to hear the Beatles perform. In the '90s, mosh pits made going to concerts a contact sport. "You never expect 100 percent of people's attention," says rapper Ice Cube. "You learn to take 80 percent."

But the levels seem to be rapidly shrinking thanks to "microboredom," a term invented by - who else - a cellphone company to convince people they need to escape reality with their mobile gadgets.

At concerts, microboredom usually means fans snapping dozens of photos of the band, the crowd and the stage lights. The ultimate disconnect comes when they take pictures of the pictures on the video screen. . .

But not all musicians regard mobile technology as a buzz-kill. When cellphone use exploded in the late '90s, bands had fans wave them in the air to create a million-points-of-light effect. Suddenly, flicking your Bic was passé. Later, as text-messaging flourished, groups asked concertgoers to post messages on video screens. Today, some artists embrace the tech boom as a potential career boost.

"My bottom line is communication," says English rocker Billy Bragg. "If they want to capture a photo of me and send it to a friend who can't be at the gig, I don't have a problem with that."

Concert videos are the latest rage as fans flood YouTube with clips they shot using their cellphones and digital cameras. The videos are often so fuzzy and muffled they're unwatchable. Still, some bands embrace them as free instant promotion.



LA TIMES Scott is a guerrilla gardener, a member of a burgeoning movement of green enthusiasts who plant without approval on land that's not theirs. In London, Berlin, Miami, San Francisco and Southern California, these free-range tillers are sowing a new kind of flower power. In nighttime planting parties or solo "seed bombing" runs, they aim to turn neglected public space and vacant lots into floral or food outposts.

Part beautification, part eco-activism, part social outlet, the activity has been fueled by Internet gardening blogs and sites such as, where before-and-after photos of the latest "troop digs" inspire 45,000 visitors a month to make derelict soil bloom.

"We can make much more out of the land than how it's being used, whether it's about creating food or beautifying it," says the movement's ringleader and founder, Richard Reynolds, by phone from his London home. His tribe includes freelance landscapers like Scott, urban farmers, floral fans and artists. . .

The activists see themselves as 21st century Johnny Appleseeds, harvesting a natural bounty of daffodils or organic green beans from forgotten dirt. It's a step into more self-reliant living in the city," says Erik Knutzen, coauthor with his wife, Kelly Coyne, of "The Urban Homestead" to be released in June. The Echo Park couple have chronicled "pirate farming" on their blog, Homegrown Evolution. Guerrilla gardening, Knutzen says, is a reaction to the wasteful use of land, such as vacant lots and sidewalk parkways. He's turned the parkway in front of his home into a vegetable garden. . .

"It reminds me of the Vacant Lot Cultivation societies," says Rose Hayden-Smith, a Food and Society Policy Fellow with UC Cooperative Extension. In the wake of the economic meltdown of the 1890s, many American cities, from Detroit to Philadelphia and Boston, formed Vacant Lot Cultivation associations to encourage residents to grow food on public land. The Liberty and Victory garden campaigns of World Wars I and II, respectively, also exhorted Americans to raise food on untended public land.

"If the federal government was paying attention, they'd be encouraging this right now," with the price of food and fuel," adds Hayden-Smith.

"Guerrilla gardens can serve the same purpose as the Victory gardens," says Taylor Arneson, editor of the Los Angeles Permaculture Guild newsletter and a proponent of sustainable food production. He and a friend raised a farmers market worth of crops -- corn, beans, squash, tomatoes, lettuce, watermelon, cucumber and more -- in a guerrilla dig at a large planter bed in front of an office building on Bundy Drive in West Los Angeles. Farming in broad daylight, they got support from office workers and kids excited to see real cornstalks.

Arneson's approach is to plant first and make arrangements with sympathetic locals to hook up to water taps later. Keeping a guerrilla garden irrigated is one of the trickiest parts of the game. Arneson, a graduate student in village-scale permaculture design, says he rules out 99% of the vacant lots he scouts because they don't have a reliable water source. He looks for some elevation or berm that will let the plants catch water. . .

Property owners who don't take kindly to others gardening on their land have laws on their side. But most freelance growing is done in the nooks and crannies of public land, where the law is murkier. Spokespersons at the Los Angeles city departments of Public Works, and Recreation and Parks were unaware of laws proscribing citizen gardening in public spaces. A patch of wildflowers on a city-owned lot wouldn't be removed until it dried up and became a fire hazard, according to the city's Street Services' Lot Cleaning Division.



TOM ENGELHARDT, TOMDISPATCH [As Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez] tells it on pages 349-350 of Wiser in Battle. It's April 6, 2004. L. Paul Bremer III, head of the occupation's Coalition Provisional Authority, as well as the President's colonial viceroy in Baghdad, and Gen. Sanchez were in Iraq in video teleconference with the President, Secretary of State Colin Powell, and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. . . The first full-scale American offensive against the resistant Sunni city of Fallujah was just being launched, while, in Iraq's Shiite south, the U.S. military was preparing for a campaign against cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and his Mahdi Army militia.

According to Sanchez, Powell was talking tough that day: "We've got to smash somebody's ass quickly," the general reports him saying. "There has to be a total victory somewhere. We must have a brute demonstration of power." . . . Bush then turned to the subject of al-Sadr: "At the end of this campaign al-Sadr must be gone," he insisted to his top advisors. "At a minimum, he will be arrested. It is essential he be wiped out."

Not long after that, the President "launched" what an evidently bewildered Sanchez politely describes as "a kind of confused pep talk regarding both Fallujah and our upcoming southern campaign [against the Mahdi Army]." Here then is that "pep talk." . . .

"'Kick ass!' [Bush] said, echoing Colin Powell's tough talk. 'If somebody tries to stop the march to democracy, we will seek them out and kill them! We must be tougher than hell! This Vietnam stuff, this is not even close. It is a mind-set. We can't send that message. It's an excuse to prepare us for withdrawal.

"There is a series of moments and this is one of them. Our will is being tested, but we are resolute. We have a better way. Stay strong! Stay the course! Kill them! Be confident! Prevail! We are going to wipe them out! We are not blinking!'"



A federal judge in California has called Washington Times newspaper reporter William Gertz to identify the confidential sources who told him about an investigation into alleged Chinese spying, the New York Sun reported. Judge Cormac Carney subpoenaed Gertz to appear June 13 in his Santa Ana courtroom and name the people who told him that criminal charges were expected to be filed against engineer Chi Mak and his relatives. The move came after a year-long FBI investigation to identify Gertz's sources. Chi Mak was convicted last year of being an unregistered agent for China and was recently sentenced to 24 years in prison. His wife and three other relatives pled guilty to related charges. Gertz's is the third high-profile case to be weighed while Congress debates the merits of a federal shield law to protect reporters from court efforts to identify their sources. ABC


The NYT reports on concerns about a growing labor shortage in Iowa and tells readers that "remedies are not simple." In the very next sentence we learn that: "wages are lower than elsewhere in the nation or region, except South Dakota.". . . There is a labor shortage in Iowa. Wages are the second lowest in the country. Come on folks, the NYT is supposed to be a serious newspaper. I need a vacation. Dean Baker, Prospect


Christopher Hitchens, Slate - In April 2004, Barack Obama told a reporter from the Chicago Sun-Times that he had three spiritual mentors or counselors: Jeremiah Wright, James Meeks, and Father Michael Pfleger for a change of pace, a white Catholic preacher who has a close personal feeling for the man he calls (as does Obama) Minister Farrakhan. This crossover stuff is not as "inclusive" as it might be made to seem: Meeks' main political connections in the white community are with the hysterically anti-homosexual wing of the Christian right. If Obama were to be read a list of the positions that his clerical supporters take on everything from Judaism to sodomy, he would be in the smooth and silky business of "distancing" from now until November.

At the DNC Rules Panel, Donna Brazile, Superdelegate and Rules Committee Member, owns Clinton Supporter, Governor Blanchard, by stating: Donna Brazille at the DNC rules panel: "My mama taught me to play by the rules and respect the rules. . . When you decide to change the rules, especially, in the middle of the game, it's called cheating."

Obama took a gratuitous slap at the media in the course of his fumbling retreat from Trinity Church: "We had reporters grabbing church bulletins and calling up the sick and the shut-in. That's just not how people should have to operate in their church." Maybe Jeremiah just got them too worked up.



Green Don Langrehr won his re-election to Blacksburg Town Council in Montgomery County. He finished second of five candidates for three seats with 1,100 votes or 22.28%. This brings the Greens to 18 wins out of 30 races for the year maintaining a 60% win rate for the spring cycle. In Lancaster, MA David Spanagel was elected as Town Moderator. He ran unopposed.


The number of uninsured U.S. young adults, who already represent a major chunk of the American population without health coverage, rose again in 2006. Based on census data, 13.7 million people aged 19 to 29 had no health insurance, either public or private, in 2006, up from 13.3 million in 2005, according to a report by the Commonwealth Fund, a private foundation that researches health policy. Men and women in this age group accounted for 17 percent of the under-65 U.S. population, but made up almost 30 percent of the uninsured, according to the report. At age 65, people enter the federal Medicare insurance program.
the report showed. While 23 percent of whites ages 19 to 29 lacked insurance, the figure was 36 percent of blacks and 53 percent of Hispanics.





If nonprofits think the current economy is troublesome, the message from Frank Forsberg of the Greater Twin Cities United Way is hold on tight, it's going to get worse. "Make sure that you realize that the biggest challenges are still to come - they are coming in 2009 and 2010," Forsberg, senior vice president of community impact, told a room of 200-plus nonprofit leaders . . . Nonprofits are particularly dependent on government spending and private largess, which swing with the economy. . . Other speakers added their own worry lines. Nan Madden, Minnesota Budget Project director for MCN, said nonprofit human services . . receive 18 percent of revenue from government grants, and 59 percent from service charges including government fees and contracts. Minneapolis Post

Four out of ten [Swedish] local officials claim to have been offered bribes to secure alcohol licenses. Six out ten claim that many licenses should never have been issued, a new survey from Svenska Dagbladet shows. The bribes have included VIP cards, money in anonymous envelopes, expensive dinners, free spirits and chocolates . . .

At an Obama Memorial Day appearance, Obama praised fallen heroes, adding, "and I see many of them before me today." When CNN ran the video, they excised the gaffe. They must think Obama is going to win and are getting ready to cover his administration.

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