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Undernews For June 5, 2008

Undernews For June 5, 2008

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

4 JUNE 2008


The function of a newspaper in a democracy is to stand as a sort of chronic opposition to the reigning quacks. The minute it begins to out-whoop them it forfeits its character and becomes ridiculous. - H.L. Mencken



Despite the seemingly endless struggle between Obama and Clinton, I would occasionally get the weird sense while listening to the former that I was actually hearing the husband of the latter. Paul Street at Z Mag cleared up my confusion when he noted of Obama:

"My God this man can crank out the bullshit. He's a machine of highly organized vacuousness. . . like a specially designed android crafted to recycle empty discourse made up of strung-together terms that have been used over and over again by previous waves and generations of imperial, corporate-sponsored politicians.

"The language is very unoriginal. He talks about 'charting a new direction for the country' . . . -a term used in 1968 by Robert F. Kennedy.

Here are some other Obama phrases he and his speechwriters have recycled from past presidential candidates and their speechwriters:

"politics is broken" (used by Bill Bradley in 1996 and George W. Bush in 2000)

" you need a president who will tell you what you need to know, not what you want to hear" (Geraldine Ferraro, 1984)

"this is a defining moment in our history" (Elizabeth Dole, speaking for Bob Dole in 1996)

Washington as a place were politicians come to "score political points" (Bill Clinton in 1992 and George W. Bush in 2000)

"lifting this country up" instead of dragging or tearing it down (Bob Dole, 1996)

"we're going to take this country back" (Howard Dean, 2004)

"we can disagree without being disagreeable" (Gerald Ford, 1976)

"unity over division" (Jesse Jackson, 1992)

"hope over fear" (Bill Clinton, 1992 and John Kerry, 2004)

"choose the future over the past" (Al Gore, 1992)

overcome our "moral deficit" (Bush and Gore in 2000 and New Gingrich, 1994)

move "beyond the divisions of race and class" (Bill Clinton, 1992)

"the story of our country" (Ross Perot, 1992)

"the genius of our country" (Bush, 2000)

"the wonder of our country" (George H.W. Bush, 1988)

"ordinary people doing extraordinary things" (Perot, 1992; Bush I, 1992; Bush II, 2000; Ronald Reagan, 1984).

And then I stumbled upon something I had written about Clinton back in March 1992:

"Clinton, while clinging for the most part to traditional English sentence structure, has become so bored with his own ideas that, when not stealing those of his opponents, he frequently merely recites them as if reading the ingredients off a cereal box, or dismisses them as a 'package,' as in 'I have a whole package on urban problems,' adopting the canon of the marketing industry that packages are more important than contents.

"Clinton's rhetoric is a fine example of entropic exposition, designed to make one feel good without actually saying anything. The first rule in dealing with such language is to read it a second time. You will discover, if you do, that Clinton favors a construction something along these lines: 'We need a strong [program - package - strategy] to deal with the [problem] which has [caused the following bad things].'

"The casual listener will assume, because Clinton seems to understand so well the problem and its effects, that he knows what to do about it. They will miss the semantic shell game created by the use of the word a. This little word, beloved by policy nerds, diplomats, congressional witnesses and others involved in wholesale facts evasion, conceals the complete lack of commitment to what the statement seems to be addressing. International crises have happily proceeded for years with diplomats periodically standing before the cameras and speaking of the "pressing need for a viable process," while carefully avoiding any description of what that process might look like."

So, here we go again.



ALLISON KLEIN, WASHINGTON POST D.C. Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier announced a military-style checkpoint yesterday to stop cars this weekend in a Northeast Washington neighborhood inundated by gun violence, saying it will help keep criminals out of the area. Starting on Saturday, officers will check drivers' identification and ask whether they have a "legitimate purpose" to be in the Trinidad area, such as going to a doctor or church or visiting friends or relatives. If not, the drivers will be turned away.

The Neighborhood Safety Zone initiative is the latest crime-fighting attempt by Lanier and Mayor Adrian M. Fenty, who have been under pressure from residents to stop a recent surge in violence. Last weekend was especially bloody, with seven slayings, including three in the Trinidad area.

"In certain areas, we need to go beyond the normal methods of policing," Fenty (D) said at a news conference announcing the action. "We're going to go into an area and completely shut it down to prevent shootings and the sale of drugs."

The checkpoint will stop vehicles approaching the 1400 block of Montello Avenue NE, a section of the Trinidad neighborhood that has been plagued with homicides and other violence. Police will search cars if they suspect the presence of guns or drugs, and will arrest people who do not cooperate, under a charge of failure to obey a police officer, officials said. . .

The strategy, patterned after a similar effort conducted years ago in New York, is not airtight. There are many ways to get in and out of Trinidad, not just on the one-way Montello Avenue. And pedestrians will not be stopped, which is something critics say might render the program ineffective.

"I guess the plan is to hope criminals will not walk into neighborhoods," said D.C. Council member Phil Mendelson (D-At Large). "I also suppose the plan is to take the criminal's word for it when he or she gives the police a reason for driving into a neighborhood.". . .

Leaders of the American Civil Liberties Union said yesterday that they will be watching what happens closely and that legal action is likely.

"My reaction is, welcome to Baghdad, D.C.," said Arthur Spitzer, legal director for the ACLU's Washington office. "I mean, this is craziness. In this country, you don't have to show identification or explain to the police why you want to travel down a public street."

Interim Attorney General Peter J. Nickles said that his office reviewed the initiative and that similar efforts had survived court tests. "I don't anticipate us being sued," Nickles said. "But if you do want to sue us, the courts are open."

U.S. Attorney Jeffrey A. Taylor said that D.C. officials consulted his office about their plans and that prosecutors suggested some changes to try to ensure that any arrests would hold up in court. "We applaud the District's efforts to make neighborhoods safer," Taylor said. "Whatever we do has to be consistent with the Constitution."

New York police set up a nearly identical checkpoint in 1992 in a neighborhood of the Bronx that was plagued by drug dealing and drive-by shootings. Police ran the Watson Avenue Special Operation on a random basis, mostly in evening hours. Officers stopped drivers, but not pedestrians, coming into the area, to confirm that they had a legitimate reason to be there. . .

"I knew eventually we'd be a police state," said Wilhelmina Lawson, who has lived in the neighborhood for 20 years. "They don't talk to us, they're not community minded."

Kristopher Baumann, head of the D.C. police lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police, said he was concerned about public perception of the checkpoints and the potential that it could lead to more citizen complaints. He questioned Lanier's overall approach, saying, "There is no strategy and no mid-term and long-term planning.

WASHINGTON TIMES "It's not just pushing the envelope, it's carrying the envelope," said ACLU legislative counsel Steve Block. "We expect that once the first people are arrested or turned away, they're going to come knocking on our door and there will be a lawsuit."

This year lawmakers and civil rights groups have voiced strong concerns about a plan to consolidate the city's 5,200 closed-circuit cameras on a single network, issuing assault rifles to patrol officers, and an initiative by police to ask residents if they can search their homes for illegal weapons.


CITY PAPER'S LOOSE LIPS has come up with more on prospective police chief Lanier's role in the abuse of demonstrators than we had previously noted. Says LL: "Prior to the much-anticipated April 2000 IMF/World Bank demonstrations, Lanier, by now an experienced white shirt, was charged with preparing a plan for 'prisoner control,' according to a deposition she would later give in a civil case. Among the measures that Lanier & Co. developed during the planning exercise was a method of prisoner restraint known as 'hogtying,' in which the detainee's left wrist is cuffed to his right ankle.

"Lanier justified hogtying as a sound way to prevent arrestees from escaping, assaulting police officers, or assaulting other arrestees. The tactic, she said in a deposition, had 'met all of those goals.' . . . Then came the events at Pershing Park. In September 2002, another round of anti-globalization protests hit D.C. . . Ramsey and his top deputies panicked, ordering the arrest of everyone in the park without giving any warnings. The roundup netted not just protesters but also passersby, tourists, and others. They were hogtied, and some of them remained restrained for up to 18 hours. They would dispute Lanier's "not uncomfortable" assessment of hogtying, pointing out that the restraints hampered their circulation and left them numb in places. .

"In January 2005, the city paid out $425,000 to seven Pershing Park victims, part of a settlement that also required a letter of apology from Ramsey to the plaintiffs."

LL adds: "The Pershing Park experience, though, didn't sour Lanier on mass arrests. During a march on the occasion of President George W. Bush's second inauguration, police officers under Lanier's supervision swept up roughly 70 protesters in Adams Morgan following a spasm of vandalism. Plaintiffs in a January 2006 federal lawsuit claim that the cops repeated the sins of Pershing Park in failing to issue orders to disperse. They claim they were arrested despite the fact that they were attempting to break from the protest and had not committed any of the alleged property crimes. In an affidavit on the Adams Morgan roundup, Lanier admitted that no orders were issued prior to the arrests. But she justified her actions by playing up the threat posed by the protesters: 'Members of the group were carrying pipes and torches.'

PROGRESSIVE REVIEW Adrian Fenty's selection of a new police chief, Cathy Lanier, seems more aimed at satisfying the city's business and political elite than its citizens. There is something distinctly odd about appointing a chief whose area of expertise is terrorism. Does Fenty feel that terrorists are the major criminals threatening DC? Are they the people who go around at night robbing and killing citizens? We always thought it was all more homegrown than that.

Some time ago, Sari Horwitz in the Washington Post explained how Lanier was trained by, among others, Israel security officials, those who have done such a fine job increasing the threat of terrorism by arresting Palestinian cabinet ministers and killing their constituents and so forth:

"Levy has been traveling across the United States with other Israeli security experts to share counterterrorism tactics with American law enforcement officials. . . Classes include the history of Islamic fundamentalism and how to spot a suicide bomber. . . State and local police officials across the country say the Israeli exchange is unique for them - and invaluable for the quantity and quality of information.
"Israel is the Harvard of antiterrorism," said U.S. Capitol Police Chief Terrance W. Gainer. "No experience in my life has had more of an impact on doing my job than going to Israel," said D.C. police Cmdr. Cathy Lanier, who heads the District's special operations division and oversees the bomb squad and the emergency response team. .

"After returning from Israel, Gainer retrained his officers to shoot a potential suicide bomber in the head rather than aim for the chest, as they were originally taught, because shooting the chest could detonate a suicide vest. Ramsey ordered his officers to keep their red and blue roof lights flashing all the time to be more visible - something he picked up when he, Gainer and Wexler went on a ride-along with the Jerusalem police two years ago. . .

"Several of the Israel trips have been organized by the research forum, a Washington-based organization that works with police nationwide. Others are planned by the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, a Washington think tank that focuses on defense and national security issues and promotes cooperation with Israel as vital to U.S. security interests."

Horwitz, in another article, further described Lanier's training in terrorism:

"Cathy Lanier had to think like a terrorist and come up with a way to kill a few thousand people at a picnic in San Luis Rey. The virtual town in California, repeatedly cursed with smallpox epidemics, explosions and attacks on its nuclear power plant, is part of her new education: The commander of special operations for D.C. police is earning a master's degree in the fast-growing field of homeland security. . .The federal government has pumped cash into this new fight, spending more than $12 billion for homeland security research and development over the past four budget years. . .

"She has read the 9/11 commission report, learned about budgeting, technology and civil liberties. She's studied the psychology of fear and terrorism. And she's learned about such critical links as banking, transportation, water and power supplies, down to the details of how fuel travels through pipelines and how power grids work."

So now we have someone trained to treat all Washington citizens as potential terrorists, to see the world through the paranoiac lens of those who made the world angry enough at the U.S. over the decades to result in 9/11 and who since have done nothing to make things better.

There are some other reasons to be leery of Lanier. Jim Ridgeway reported in the Village Voice following one of the police riots that occurred during demonstrations in the reign of Charles Ramsey, "Demonstrators brought a class-action suit in Federal District Court in D.C., claiming they were surrounded by cops, arrested, handcuffed, and held up to 13 hours on buses and then at the police academy gymnasium for up to 36 hours. While at the gym, the protesters say, they were handcuffed one wrist to the opposite ankle. During the course of the suit, the judge released documents from the Metropolitan Police Department's own internal investigation of the incident. According to one of the documents, Cathy Lanier, a Special Operations division commander, 'stated that the handcuff technique was used to prevent escape, protect the protesters from one another, and to prevent them from committing sexual acts with each other.'"


ABC NEWS The US military has awarded an $80 million contract to a prominent Saudi financier who has been indicted by the US Justice Department. The contract to supply jet fuel to American bases in Afghanistan was awarded to the Attock Refinery Ltd, a Pakistani-based refinery owned by Gaith Pharaon. Pharaon is wanted in connection with his alleged role at the failed Bank of Credit and Commerce International, and the CenTrust savings and loan scandal, which cost US tax payers $1.7 billion.

The Saudi businessman was also named in a 2002 French parliamentary report as having links to informal money transfer networks called hawala, known to be used by traders and terrorists, including Al Qaeda.

Interestingly, Pharaon was also an investor in President George W. Bush's first business venture, Arbusto Energy.

A spokesman for the FBI said Pharaon was not wanted in connection with the French report, but confirmed he was still sought by the US Justice Department. "Ghaith Pharaon is an FBI fugitive indicted in both the BCCI and CENTRUST case," said Richard Kolko, a spokesman for the FBI. "If anyone has information on his location, they are requested to contact the FBI or the US Embassy."

PROGRESSIVE REVIEW, 1998 With the settlement of civil fraud charges against Clark Clifford and Robert Altman, the puny and often diverted investigation into the American branch of the BCCI scandal effectively comes to an end. Under the deal, the pair will have to surrender $5 million in stock in First American Bankshares, which had been illegally controlled by BCCI as part of the biggest banking scandal in world history. They will, however, get to keep $10-15 million in proceeds obtained during their tenure as First American attorneys.

Despite such sums, the Clifford/Altman aspect of the BCCI affair was only a minor part of the story. According to one journalist who investigated BCCI's American operations, up to 100 politicians and lawyers in Washington might be found criminally liable if the case were fully pursued. One reason it wasn't may have been the fact that trails in the case led to both Republicans and Democrats. For example, in 1988, a few days before the supposedly surprise arrest of five BCCI officials, some of the world's most powerful drug dealers quietly withdrew millions of dollars from the bank. Some government investigators believe the dealers were tipped off by sources within the Reagan administration. Again in 1991 the acting US Attorney in Miami found himself rebuffed by the Bush Justice Department in his efforts to indict BCCI and some its principal officers on tax fraud charges.

BCCI got its start in the US with the help of Jackson Stephens, then board chair of Worthen Bank in Arkansas, which would later keep Bill Clinton's 1992 primary campaign afloat with a multi-million dollar line of credit. He was described during that campaign by the New York Post as a man who was to "Clinton what Bert Lance was to candidate Jimmy Carter."

Stephens first got to know Mochtar Riady -- of Clinton fundraising fame -- in 1977 when Riady was considering buying Bert Lance's interest in the National Bank of Georgia. That year, according to journalist Alexander Cockburn, Stephens "brokered the arrival" of BCCI to this country, and steered BCCI's founder, Hassan Abedi, to Lance -- whose bank was eventually taken over by a BCCI front man -- Ghaith Pharaon. Pharaon later sold his bank to First American. Pharaon has been fined $37 million by the Federal Reserve Board and is still a fugitive. Later, Stephens joined Mochtar Riady in the purchase of a BCCI subsidiary in Hong Kong.

There are interesting ties wherever you turn in the BCCI matter. For example, former special prosecutor Robert Fiske worked with Robert Bennett, now Clinton's lawyer, on the Altman-Clifford case, as did later Deputy Attorney General Jamie Gorelick.

The BCCI scandal cheated depositors out of over $10 billion worldwide. Many of these were lower income people now being paid off at 15 and 25 cents on the dollar for damage done by a illegal operation willingly used not only by hundreds of drug dealers and other criminals from various countries but by the intelligence services of five nations (including the CIA) and at least one government, Pakistan, seeking to finance its nuclear weapons development.

Things always moved a little too smoothly in the BCCI investigation, leaving scores of unanswered questions and, so far as can be determined, hardly anyone to blame. The American media has studiously downplayed the story to the end. The New York Times, for example, put the Altman-Clifford settlement on its business page.


PHIL MATTERA, DIRT DIGGERS DIGEST The movement of federal officials through the revolving door into lucrative private-sector positions is a well-known story, but a new report by the Government Accountability Office provides some quantification of the phenomenon and names companies that are most frequently involved.

GAO focused its research on the Defense Department, which seems hell-bent on outsourcing as many of its functions as possible, thereby intensifying the desire of contractors to hire ex-officials with the right contacts. The agency found that in 2006, 52 major contractors were employing a total of 86,181 individuals who had left military or civilian positions with DOD since 2001.

GAO found that, as of 2006, the 52 companies employed "2,435 former DOD senior and acquisition officials who had previously served as generals, admirals, senior executives, program managers, contracting officers, or in other acquisition positions" to which the rules apply.


JULIAN BORGER, GUARDIAN, UK US subsidies for biofuel production were condemned by the head of the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation, who said they were depriving people of food. Opening a UN food crisis summit in Rome, Jacques Diouf attacked the subsidies for corn ethanol during a wide-ranging critique of global policies on climate change and food security, which he said were slanted to favour the west.

"Nobody understands [why] $11-12bn of subsidies in 2006 and protective tariff policies [should be used to] divert 100m tons of cereals from human consumption, mostly to satisfy a thirst for fuel for vehicles," Diouf, the FAO director general, said. It was a thinly veiled attack. The FAO estimates US subsidies for the production of corn ethanol at $11-12bn.

Diouf also asked how a $64bn (£33bn) carbon market could be created in developed countries while "no funds can be found to prevent the annual deforestation of 13m hectares, especially in developing countries, whose tropical forest ecosystems act as carbon sinks for some 190 gigatonnes."

Before the summit, leaders of the US, Canadian and European biofuel industries wrote to Diouf warning him not to condemn biofuels. "It would be highly precipitous . . . for the United Nations or other international bodies to single out biofuels as the major cause for escalating food prices and take actions that might lead to even higher food prices," the industry group argued. But Diouf appears to have shrugged off the appeal.

The US agriculture secretary, Ed Schafer, stirred controversy on the eve of the Rome summit with his defense of corn ethanol, arguing that biofuel production only contributed "2 to 3%" to the recent dramatic rise in global food prices.

The claim clashed with research carried out by several international organisations. The International Monetary Fund has estimated that 20 to 30% of the food price increases in the past two years are accounted for by biofuels, and that last year they accounted for about half the increase in demand for principle food crops.


KEVIN ZEESE [Obama has said there will be an Iraq "residual force" but does not say how many. This force will protect U.S. interests in Iraq, fight Al Qaeda and train Iraqi soldiers. In comments by Obama advisors this has totaled up to 80,000 troops remaining in Iraq. Obama does not mention what he would do with military contractors, AKA mercenaries, but in previous comments he has said he would leave all contractors in Iraq and put the number at 140,000 (it may actually be higher). Thus, Obama's withdrawal would leave up to 200,000 troops and mercenaries in Iraq and move combat troops to other parts of the region. Obama also says he would send additional troops to Afghanistan.


LOUIS UCHITELLE, NY TIMES Struggling as we are with the housing bust, the credit crunch, shrinking consumption, rising unemployment and faltering business investment, we can be forgiven for thinking that all the big shoes have dropped. There is another one up there, however, and it is about to come down.

State and city governments have yet to shrink the economy; indeed, they have even managed to prop it up. They have quietly maintained their spending at pre- crisis levels even as they warn of numerous cutbacks forced on them by declining tax revenues. The cutbacks, however, are written into budgets for a fiscal year that begins on July 1, a month away. In the meantime the states and cities, often drawing on rainy-day savings, have carried their share of the load for the national economy.

That share is gigantic. At $1.8 trillion annually in a $14 trillion economy, the states and municipalities spend almost twice as much as the federal government, including the cost of the Iraq war. When librarians, lifeguards, teachers, transit workers, road repair crews and health care workers disappear, or airport and school construction is halted, the economy trembles. None of that, or very little, has happened so far, not even in California, despite a significant decline in tax revenue.

"We are looking at a $4 billion cut to public schools and deep cuts that will result in thousands of Californians losing their health care," said Jean Ross, executive director of the California Budget Project, offering a preview of coming hardships. "But the reality is we have not pulled money off the streets yet."

Quite the opposite, the states and municipalities have increased their spending in recent quarters, bolstering the nation's meager economic growth. Over the past year, they have added $40 billion to their outlays, even allowing for scattered spending freezes and a few cutbacks in advance of July 1. Total employment has also risen. But when the current fiscal year ends in 30 days (or in the fall for many municipalities), state and city spending will fall, along with employment - slowly at first and then quite noticeably after the next president takes office.


SECRECY NEWS Fusion centers are collaborative law enforcement and intelligence organizations that were established all over the country after 9/11 to share intelligence and counterterrorism information. But in the absence of a widespread domestic terrorist threat, they have not consistently demonstrated their value, according to a recent study.

"Fusion centers emerged almost spontaneously in response to a need by state and local law enforcement for useful and usable intelligence related to the evolving terrorist threat," observed Milton Nenneman, a Sacramento police officer, in a master's thesis based on a survey of California fusion centers. But the terrorist threat has turned out to be "insufficient" to justify or sustain the new fusion centers.

"There is, more often than not, insufficient purely 'terrorist' activity to support a multi-jurisdictional and multi-governmental level fusion center that exclusively processes terrorist activity," Lt. Nenneman wrote.

As a result, "Fusion centers must consider analyzing or processing other criminal activity, in addition to terrorist activity, in order to maintain the skills and interest of the analysts, as well as the participation and data collection of the emergency responder community."

Basic questions regarding who the fusion centers are supposed to serve and exactly what they are supposed to produce often lack satisfactory answers, Lt. Nenneman reported.


WASHINGTON BUSINESS JOURNAL Current retirees will need tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars in savings to ensure that they can afford health care after leaving the workplace. That is according to new data from nonpartisan research firm EBRI. . .

For example, a married couple of two 65-year-olds retiring this year would need current savings of $235,000 to have a 90 percent chance of having enough cash to afford their health costs in retirement. That's assuming the couple supplements Medicare with subsidized insurance premiums from a former employer.

Couples who have unsubsidized insurance from an old employer, on the other hand, would need $376,000 in current savings for a 90 percent chance of covering their costs. And a couple with individually purchased insurance to supplement Medicare would need $635,000.


CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR Australia's prime minister said that the reasons used to justify joining the war in Iraq turned out to be false. Labor leader Kevin Rudd made the remarks a day after ordering his country's 550 combat troops to head home after five years in Iraq. As one of the United States' staunchest allies, Australia was quick to pledge military support for the US-led coalition invasion of Iraq in 2003. But that decision was made by conservative prime minister John Howard, whose 11 years in office came to an end in November's election. Bringing home Australia's small but politically significant contingent of combat troops was one of Mr. Rudd's main election campaign pledges.

He dismissed one by one the reasons used by the Howard administration – and by association the Bush administration – to topple Saddam Hussein.

"Have further terrorist attacks been prevented? No, they have not been, as the victims of the Madrid train bombing will attest," Rudd told Parliament.

"Has any evidence of a link between weapons of mass destruction and the former Iraqi regime and terrorists been found? No.

"Have the actions of rogue states like Iran been moderated? No ... Iran's nuclear ambitions remain a fundamental challenge.

"After five years, has the humanitarian crisis in Iraq been removed? No, it has not."

Rudd said there had been a "failure to disclose to the Australian people the qualified nature of the intelligence. For example, the prewar warning that an attack on Iraq would increase the terrorist threat, not decrease it."



Sam Smith
Robert Kennedy's assassination completed a hat track of evil begun four years earlier with the killing of his brother, followed by the slaying of Martin Luther King and, two months later, of RFK. While the other deaths may have been more tragic to more people, in one respect RFK's was the most profound, for it appeared to shut the door on hope. What had been with his brother a grim anomaly had turned into a grisly habit. This piece was written for the DC Gazette on June 7, 1968, two days after Kennedy was shot. He died the day after he was shot.

FOLLOWING the assassination of John F. Kennedy, one of his associates is said to have told another: "The time will come when we shall laugh again; but we shall never be young again." The comment, I suppose, was about those closest to the dead president, but it also contained a truth for the country. As I sat before a television set the last few days, attempting to sort the emotions marching through my mind, the thought that kept coming back was how weary, how old, we had all become. The inertia of age had settled upon the nation in the years following John Kennedy's death it seemed, and now we were stoically acting out one more scene in an unrelieved tragedy.

There were attempts to respond to the slaying of Robert Kennedy with affirmations of a will to change the old ways, but they appeared hollow. The nation had watched John Kennedy die and had not changed; it had watched Martin Luther King die and had not changed. Now it watched Robert Kennedy die and even the most effervescent and optimistic among us could not summon a viable vision of a new order to lessen our brooding.

The President tried to help. He called for stricter gun laws and ordered increased protection for presidential candidates. These were worthy proposals, but they also seemed tediously mechanical. They did not meet the basic question, any more than did the search for a broad conspiracy following the death of John Kennedy. What if the Kennedys and Dr. King had each died in a plane crash? We would have demanded improved airline safety, no doubt, and would have found solace in the fact that the incidence of air deaths dropped the following year.

Yet in doing so, we would have deluded ourselves, because the central point of the tragedies was not their proximate cause but rather that we, as a nation, had assigned so much of the burden of hope, progress, decency and faith to so few men.

Their deaths leave us shaken, fearful and alone because we had been so willing to share their vitality only vicariously. We permitted them to affirm for us rather than with us. Their stature was increased by our common weakness as much as by their individual strength. They were exceptions, when they should have been the best among many.
This is what we have to live with. It is not comforting to think that a democracy of 200 million persons does not freely spawn leaders who make substantial contributions to the national vigor. We have developed a political system that drains our politicians rather than invigorating them.

The order is one of unmitigated mediocrity to which the crowd responds with a ritualistic emotion drummed up by professionals who care only about the response and not about creating something worth responding to.

In the excruciating hours following the shooting of Robert Kennedy a soft-drink commercial interrupted the coverage of the event and on the screen came images of young men and women romping across the sand of a beach with hair waving, teeth glistening, and cans of soda held high. There was an ersatz gaiety to the scene. So strained was the laughter that one could not help sense an absence of joy.

And then, as suddenly as the 60-second artifice had come, it was gone and we were back with Kennedy again. And in the film clips of the campaigning there was hair waving and people moving with enthusiasm and glistening teeth. But it was real. And there were the pictures of the campaign ballrooms of Kennedy and McCarthy after the shooting and the hair hung limp on young foreheads, the lips pursed tight over the teeth and there were tears. And that was real too. And I thought of the commercial and said to myself, sell your damn soda but leave us at least real laughter and real tears. .

Robert Kennedy was no artifice. No one had packaged him. His political career might have been smoother if they had. He stood before us as a man, with his faults and virtues on view. I was among those who were quick to criticize him. I make no apologies for that other than to say that I, like many, overestimated his capacity for cynicism and underestimated his capacity for compassion. But that is no matter.. . For unlike many politicians, Kennedy did not seek mindless adulation. He asked to be listened to, challenged, questioned and tested. And he, in turn, expected to listen, challenge and test.

This is what imbued him with life. He was the Irishman in the proverb: "never at peace except when he's fighting." To many Americans, political beliefs are as undebatable as religious ones. But the core of democratic politics is argument and debate. Without them politics becomes a dark battle between unthinking forces in which reason always loses. Kennedy appreciated this, and threw himself into the argument with intensive verve. That made, him a man worth fighting and a man worth loving.

For Kennedy, and for this generation, the biggest debate, the greatest challenge came this year. In very different ways, only two public men directly confronted it: Kennedy and Eugene McCarthy. Among the beliefs they shared was that it was possible for America to become young again. But, as Senator Kennedy suggested, this would not come about by pursuing a phony politics of joy, romping over sand on cue, but through a politics of reality in which we would find both joy and sadness, but more importantly, the strength that comes from facing true tests of our existence. Now Senator McCarthy is alone among the presidential candidates willing to make the try.

The political realities suggest that we will be left this fall with a choice that borders on the banal. The challenges, the problems, the questions, will be mitigated, rationalized, justified and not met. And we shall be tempted to sit, like old men on a park bench, until some new surrogate voice comes forth to speak for us. Then we shall rise slowly, cheer loudly, and sit down again.

Tomorrow I shall go down to see the funeral cortege arrive at Union Station. I shall go not just out of sorrow and respect, but also to try to find some small sign that we collectively - without waiting for someone else to do it for us - are willing and able to have a dream, or seek a newer world.
Then, perhaps, we can become young again.



Craig Crawford - If Hillary Rodham Clinton does nort want to be Barack Obama's running mate, she is doing just the right things to make sure that he does not pick her: Aggravating his camp by refusing to concede his nomination victory while at the same time pressuring him to give her the Number Two slot.
Slapping someone in the face and extending the other hand, palms up, for handout is hardly the way to curry favor. It is the ultimate act of passive aggression. The path to success in this case would be to keep your running-mate interests strictly private while publicly vowing only to do what the nominee asks. But this might be what Clinton really wants -- to be rejected for running mate. Forcing a high profile rejection would get Clinton off the hook for doing more than she might want to do for Obama in the general election campaign. An Obama rejection of putting Clinton on the ticket would further complicate his efforts to woo her voters -- and it would pave the way for Republican John McCain to accelerate his already forceful efforts to win their support. In short, being forced to publicly reject Clinton's supposed interest in the vice presidential nod might make it more difficult for Obama to win the presidency. And Clinton could then appear to be blameless, allowing her to pick up the pieces after November for a 2012 run.

Glenn Thrush, Newsday Even if reports that Hillary Clinton will acknowledge Barack Obama has enough votes to win, one man is urging her to stay in it. Former top strategist Mark Penn, reviled by many on Hillary's staff but still an important voice in the candidate's ear, has emerged (to no one's surprise) as the strongest advocate of her remaining in the race regardless of what happens in the next 24 hours, according to sources inside the campaign. . . Penn is advising the Clintons to remain in the race through the convention -- just in case another Rev. Wright-type scuffle breaks out. His argument: Suspend the campaign if you must, but don't end it, because all those Obama supers will flock to Hillary if more dirt on O emerges before the convention.


NADER CAMPAIGN - Obama told AIPAC that "we must isolate Hamas."

Did he mention that a March 2008 Haaretz poll showed that 64 percent of the Israeli people want direct negotiations for peace between Israel and Hamas, while only 28% oppose it?

He did not.

Instead, Obama said that "Egypt must cut off the smuggling of weapons into Gaza."

Did he say that Israel must stop bombing the people of Gaza?

He did not.

Obama told AIPAC that "Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel, and it must remain undivided."

Did Obama mention that this pledge undermines the widespread international consensus two-state solution peace plan?



OPEN EDUCATION Newsweek Magazine offered its annual list of the top public high schools in America. As soon as the list was published, charter school proponents began using the compilation as justification for furthering the charter school movement. 10 charter schools made the top 100 Newsweek list. With charter schools currently comprising only about 3% of all public schools nationwide, the fact that 10% of the top performers were of that type is indeed statistically significant.

Advocates for the movement were quick to pounce on the Newsweek list. The Alliance for Public Charter Schools President Nelson Smith offered this glowing assessment: "The charter school principles of accountability and innovation are producing remarkable results."

The Newsweek list of high schools is constructed [using] a single calculation. . . Based on the ratio constructed by Jay Mathews: the ratio takes the number of college-level exams. . . taken by students and then divides that number by the number of graduating seniors.

While other bloggers have taken to analyzing the merits of the calculation itself (meritorious or not, it is in fact only one piece of data about a school), we decided to take a peek at the three top performing charter schools on the list. . .

A glance at the top three reveals some very interesting information, data that demonstrates why the charter school movement must be thoroughly vetted before experts begin throwing accolades around. In fact, one, Preuss, offers data reminiscent of the so-called Texas miracle that came back to haunt former Secretary of Education Rod Paige, while the other two call into question the meaning of the term public.

In November of 2006, Pat Kossan, writing for ‘The Arizona Republic' took an in depth look at BASIS Charter School. The title of her article perhaps best sums up her analysis, "BASIS Charter Schools May Offer The Best Free Education In The U.S. But Applying The Formula To Public Schools May Not Work, Founders Say."

What Kossan found was not a public high school as intended under American law.

Kossan writes, "Most of its students are ambitious children of engineers, attorneys and doctors, kids willing to hammer through math, science, history and literature courses years beyond their academic peers.

"Only 10 percent of its students are minorities. None is an English-language learner. Few are low-income or have special-education needs."

Olga BlockSchool founders Michael and Olga Block told Kossan that the school does not adjust its expectations based on student needs. Instead, parents, students and teachers must adjust to the expectations of the school.

Legally, though the school takes anyone, that is simply not an accurate descriptor of what takes place. Few students are Latino, African-American or Native American, and the school does not recruit students to broaden the schools' population.

In essence, what Kossan found was a private school mentality and philosophy backed by public money. Instead of offering an education to all students, Kossan wrote that BASIS "weeds out the academically weak in the first few years of middle school. The school loses 10 percent of its students by seventh grade. After eighth grade, the school loses an additional 40 percent of its Tucson students who decide against attending the Basis high school."

While such a philosophy appears to get BASIS a top rating from Newsweek, there is simply no comparison of this form of high school to that of a comprehensive inner city high school with English language learners and a special education population. In fact, the comprehensive inner city high school would be charged with the violation of the law if it did not modify a program according to a special education student's individual education plan.

While selected as the number four school on the list, Preuss has recently been going through a very stormy period that calls into question its high rating. An investigation was launched last May at the request of the chairman of the school's board of directors.

Once the audit had been launched, the nationally recognized school soon found itself in the papers for all the wrong reasons. The independent audit found widespread grade tampering and instances where students received credit for courses they never took.

Roughly 420 grades at the Preuss School were inaccurately recorded over a six year period. The audit revealed a corrupt system "with insufficient internal controls and pressure on teachers to pass students, according to the audit, to be released today."

The findings brought to mind the so called Texas miracle and the performances of students in Houston that formed the basis of the No Child Left Behind Act.

The Boston Globe did a follow up story on MATCH [School]. The Globe wrote, "student defection is high" and "the school's four-year graduation rate last year was 60 percent, only 2.1 percentage points higher than the Boston public schools."

The Globe also noted how MATCH fared under the recent study last fall by Johns Hopkins University. In that study, researchers referred to many schools as drop out factories.

Globe noted, the study "designated MATCH as among roughly 10 percent of public schools nationwide that are ‘dropout factories,' where 60 percent or fewer freshmen graduate in four years. One Boston public high school made that list.". . .

Though charter schools offer a potential model for school improvement, the assessment of these three entities calls to mind the need for multiple measures of progress to rate our schools.



GUARDIAN, UK The man who designed the Pringles potato crisp packaging system was so proud of his accomplishment that a portion of his ashes has been buried in one of the tall, circular cans. Fredric J Baur, of Cincinnati, died May 4 at Vitas Hospice in Cincinnati, his family said. He was 89.

Baur's children said they honoued his request to bury him in one of the cans by placing part of his cremated remains in a Pringles container in his grave in suburban Springfield Township. The rest of his remains were placed in an urn buried along with the can, with some placed in another urn and given to a grandson, said Baur's daughter, Linda Baur of Mississippi. . .

Baur filed for a patent for the tubular Pringles container and for the method of packaging the curved, stacked chips in the container in 1966, and it was granted in 1970, P&G archivist Ed Rider said.

MARC ABRAHAMS, GUARDIAN, 2006 Crispness is associated with crunchiness, but your ears make a difference. That's the takeaway-and-chew-on-it message of an Oxford University study called The Role of Auditory Cues in Modulating the Perceived Crispness and Staleness of Potato Chips. The authors, the experimental psychologists Massimiliano Zampini and Charles Spence, wax distinctly poetical:

"We investigated whether the perception of the crispness and staleness of potato chips can be affected by modifying the sounds produced during the biting action. Participants in our study bit into potato chips with their front teeth while rating either their crispness or freshness using a computer-based visual analogue scale."

They recruited volunteers who were willing to chew, in a highly regulated way, on Pringles potato crisps. Pringles themselves are, as enthusiasts well know, highly regulated. Each crisp is of nearly identical shape, size and texture, having been carefully manufactured from reconstituted potato goo.

The volunteers were unaware of the true nature of their encounter - that they would be hearing adulterated crunch sounds. But whatever risks this entailed were small. The experiment, Zampini and Spence take pains to say in their report, "was performed in accordance with the ethical standards laid down in the 1964 Declaration of Helsinki."

Each volunteer sat in a soundproofed booth, wearing headphones, facing a microphone, and operating a pair of foot pedals.

The headphones delivered Pringles crunch sounds that, though born in the chewer's mouth, had been captured by the microphone and electronically cooked. At times, the crunch sounds were delivered to the headphones with exacting, lifelike fidelity. At other times, the sounds were magnified. At still other times, only the high frequencies of the crunch were intensified.

The results? As the report puts it: "The potato chips were perceived as being both crisper and fresher when either the overall sound level was increased, or when just the high-frequency sounds (in the range of 2-20 kilohertz) were selectively amplified."




Sherry Ricchiardi, American Journalism Review The decline in coverage of Iraq has been staggering. During the first 10 weeks of 2007, Iraq accounted for 23 percent of the newshole fornetwork TV news. In 2008, it plummeted to 3 percent during that period. On cable networks it fell from 24 percent to 1 percent, according to a study by the Project for Excellence in Journalism. The numbers also were dismal for the country's dailies. By Acuna's count, during the first three months of this year, front-page stories about Iraq in the Bee were down 70 percent from the same time last year. Articles about Iraq once topped the list for reader feedback. By mid-2007, "Their interest just dropped off; it was noticeable to me," says the public editor. . . By March 2008. . . only 28 percent of Americans knew that 4,000 military personnel had been killed in the conflict. . . Eight months earlier, 54 percent could cite the correct casualty rate.

The Opposition parties in the House of Commons joined together to adopt a recommendation which, if implemented, would make it possible for U.S. Iraq War resisters to obtain permanent resident status in Canada. The recommendation was adopted by a majority of members of Parliament from the Liberal, Bloc Québécois, and New Democratic Parties. The Conservatives voted against the motion. Canadian Newswire

Green Party leaders and candidates say that the health care reform plans offered by Democratic candidates Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are designed to benefit insurance and pharmaceutical corporations -- including contributors to their own campaigns -- rather than American people who need coverage and treatment. The Green Party and its candidates strongly support the Single-Payer national health care plan, also called Medicare For All.

Barack Obama should not pick Hillary Clinton as his vice-presidential nominee, former president Jimmy Carter has told the Guardian. "I think it would be the worst mistake that could be made," said Carter. "That would just accumulate the negative aspects of both candidates.". . . "If you take that 50% who just don't want to vote for Clinton and add it to whatever element there might be who don't think Obama is white enough or old enough or experienced enough or because he's got a middle name that sounds Arab, you could have the worst of both worlds." Guardian UK



Although he once held sway over an estimated $200M fortune that included vast tracts of land in Malibu, former Tonight Show sidekick, Star Search host and octogenarian television personality Ed McMahon is fighting off foreclosure since being served with a nasty notice of default on a $4.8M loan secured against his Beverly Hills mansion. Also, Ed McMahon is still alive. . . Located in the same swank guard-gated community where Gwen Stefani and Britney Spears own pricey properties, McMahon's McMansion measures 7,013 sf with 6 bedrooms, 5 bathrooms and sweeping views over Los Angeles. The property, which once had a (now fixed) toxic mold problem, has been for sale for about two years and has had several price chops to its current asking price of $5,750,000. Radar

Campaigners on the Greek island of Lesbos are to go to court in an attempt to stop a gay rights organisation from using the term "lesbian". The islanders say that if they are successful they may then start to fight the word lesbian internationally. The issue boils down to who has the right to call themselves Lesbians. Is it gay women, or the 100,000 people living on Greece's third biggest island - plus another 250,000 expatriates who originate from Lesbos? The man spearheading the case, publisher Dimitris Lambrou, claims that international dominance of the word in its sexual context violates the human rights of the islanders, and disgraces them around the world. He says it causes daily problems to the social life of Lesbos's inhabitants. In court papers, the plaintiffs allege that the Greek government is so embarrassed by the term Lesbian that it has been forced to rename the island after its capital, Mytilini. map of Lesbos. . . The term lesbian originated from the poet Sappho, who was a native of Lesbos. Sappho expressed her love of other women in poetry written during the 7th Century BC. But according to Mr Lambrou, new historical research has discovered that Sappho had a family, and committed suicide for the love of a man. BBC





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