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Undernews For June 14, 2008

Undernews For June 14, 2008

Washington's Most Unofficial Source
611 Pennsylvania Ave SE #381
Washington DC 20003
Editor: Sam Smith

14 JUN 2008


A paranoid is a man who knows a little of what's going on - William Burroughs



MOTHER JONES has done a great service by breaking down this season's presidential campaign contributions by occupation. Here are some of the findings:

Illustrating the success with which the GOP has conned America's lower income classes, McCain majorities can be found amongst donating laborers, construction workers (84% of $9,000 donated), elementary school teachers, soldiers, barbers, truckers, chauffeurs and police officers.

Strongest Obama backing comes from pre school teachers, organic farmers, biologists, nurse practitioners, oncologists, public defenders, dog trainers, Episcopal priests, OBY-GNs, science teachers, journalists and pastry chefs.

Ron Paul got 100% of donations from servants, sex slaves, wizards, and pizza guys.


NY DAILY NEWS More than 160 students in six different classes at Intermediate School 318 in the South Bronx - virtually the entire eighth grade - refused to take last Wednesday's three-hour practice exam for next month's statewide social studies test. Instead, the students handed in blank exams.

Then they submitted signed petitions with a list of grievances to school Principal Maria Lopez and the Department of Education. "We've had a whole bunch of these diagnostic tests all year," Tatiana Nelson, 13, one of the protest leaders, said Tuesday outside the school. "They don't even count toward our grades. The school system's just treating us like test dummies for the companies that make the exams."

According to the petition, they are sick and tired of the "constant, excessive and stressful testing" that causes them to "lose valuable instructional time with our teachers."

School administrators blamed the boycott on a 30-year-old probationary social studies teacher, Douglas Avella. The afternoon of the protest, the principal ordered Avella out of the classroom, reassigned him to an empty room in the school and ordered him to have no further contact with students.

A few days later, in a reprimand letter, Lopez accused Avella of initiating the boycott and taking "actions [that] caused a riot at the school."

The students say their protest was entirely peaceful. In only one class, they say, was there some loud clapping after one exam proctor reacted angrily to their boycott. . .

"They're saying Mr. Avella made us do this," said Johnny Cruz, 15, another boycott leader. "They don't think we have brains of our own, like we're robots. We students wanted to make this statement. The school is oppressing us too much with all these tests."


SAN DIEGO UNION-TRIBUNE Sheriff's deputies converged on several homeless camps in Spring Valley, warning people to leave or be arrested. The primary target of Operation Clean Sweep was a swath of land - referred to as Bamboo City by deputies - off Quarry Road near the Spring Valley Swap Meet. Authorities believe as many as 30 people live there in tents and ramshackle shelters about 20 yards from homes.

"I think that you all know that you're trespassing," Sgt. Marco Garmo told the dozen men and women found there yesterday. "I can't give you a time frame for when we'll be back. . . . We want to give you the opportunity to get all your personal belongings and leave."

Walter Sanford, executive director of the regional task force on the homeless, said 101 homeless people were counted in Spring Valley during a one-day survey conducted in January. Only seven were counted in 2006. Countywide, 3,856 homeless people were counted last year, compared with 3,033 in 2006.

Living in a camp gives homeless people a feeling of safety they can't find sleeping on the street, said Sanford from the homeless task force. "In these bushes, you have the illusion of privacy," he said. "On Broadway, you're open and vulnerable."


DAILY GREEN A study of nearly 6,000 children in Munich has found that children are much more likely to develop asthma, allergies and skin rashes if they live near major roads. Vehicle tailpipes emit nitrogen oxides, volatile organic chemicals and fine particulates (soot). While U.S. laws have cracked down on the worst polluters, diesel engines, air quality near major roads is knwon to be worse than in other areas. . .

Those children living within about 165 feet of a major road had a 50% greater chance of developing allergies. "We consistently found strong associations between the distance to the nearest main road and the allergic disease outcomes," Heinrich wrote. "Children living closer than 50 meters to a busy street had the highest probability of getting allergic symptoms, compared to children living further away."


ENVIRONMENTAL NEWS NETWORK Europe this month rolled out new restrictions on makers of chemicals linked to cancer and other health problems, changes that are forcing U.S. industries to find new ways to produce a wide range of everyday products. The new laws in the European Union require companies to demonstrate that a chemical is safe before it enters commerce -- the opposite of policies in the United States, where regulators must prove that a chemical is harmful before it can be restricted or removed from the market. Manufacturers say that complying with the European laws will add billions to their costs, possibly driving up prices of some products.

The changes come at a time when consumers are increasingly worried about the long-term consequences of chemical exposure and are agitating for more aggressive regulation. In the United States, these pressures have spurred efforts in Congress and some state legislatures to pass laws that would circumvent the laborious federal regulatory process.

Adamantly opposed by the U.S. chemical industry and the Bush administration, the E.U. laws will be phased in over the next decade. It is difficult to know exactly how the changes will affect products sold in the United States. But American manufacturers are already searching for safer alternatives to chemicals used to make thousands of consumer goods, from bike helmets to shower curtains.

The European Union's tough stance on chemical regulation is the latest area in which the Europeans are reshaping business practices with demands that American companies either comply or lose access to a market of 27 countries and nearly 500 million people.


NY TIMES An analysis of autopsies in 2007 released this week by the Florida Medical Examiners Commission found that the rate of deaths caused by prescription drugs was three times the rate of deaths caused by all illicit drugs combined. Law enforcement officials said that the shift toward prescription-drug abuse, which began here about eight years ago, showed no sign of letting up and that the state must do more to control it. . .

"You have health care providers involved, you have doctor shoppers, and then there are crimes like robbing drug shipments," said Jeff Beasley, a drug intelligence inspector for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, which co-sponsored the study. "There is a multitude of ways to get these drugs, and that’s what makes things complicated."

The report’s findings track with similar studies by the federal Drug Enforcement Administration, which has found that roughly seven million Americans are abusing prescription drugs. If accurate, that would be an increase of 80 percent in six years and more than the total abusing cocaine, heroin, hallucinogens, Ecstasy and inhalants.


The Irish rejection of the EU's Lisbon Treaty is a notable people'st victory in one of the most under or badly reported stories of our time: devolution vs. consolidation of global power. As military force proves an inefficient way to control places and people, power seekers have increasingly turned to other solutions such as the World Trade Organization, NAFTA, the EU and so forth. Each one of these changes has reduced local power and democracy and strengthened the position of a tiny global corporate-political elite.

NY TIMES The defeat of the treaty, by a margin of 53.4 percent to 46.6 percent, was the result of a highly organized "no" campaign that played to Irish voters' deepest visceral fears about the European Union. For all its benefits, many people in Ireland and in Europe feel, the union is remote, undemocratic and ever more inclined to strip its smaller members of the right to make their own laws and decide their own futures. The repercussions of Friday's vote are enormous, for Ireland and for Europe. To take effect, the treaty must be ratified by all 27 members of the European Union. So the defeat by a single country, even one as tiny as Ireland, has the potential effect of stopping the whole thing cold. . . "Europe as an idea does not provoke passionate support among ordinary citizens," said Denis MacShane, a Labor member of the British Parliament and a former minister for Europe. "They see a bossy Brussels, and when they have the chance of a referendum in France, the Netherlands or Ireland to give their government and Europe a kick, they put the boot in," he added in an interview, referring to earlier defeats of similar agreements in similar referendums.

IRISH TIMES - "Ratification will continue and either Ireland votes again or we try to come up with a new text, something on which 27 countries will simply not be able to agree," said a senior government source. . .

Sources close to Mr Sarkozy said there were only two solutions: for the Irish to vote again, or for an as yet undefined legal mechanism to bind Ireland to EU institutions if Ireland does not ratify the treaty.

While Dr Merkel was conciliatory, her coalition partners, the Social Democrats, were more blunt. The party's foreign minister, Frank Walter Steinmeier, said the result was a "severe setback" while a party colleague called it a "catastrophe".

"With all respect for the Irish vote, we cannot allow the huge majority of Europe to be duped by a minority of a minority of a minority," said Axel Schäfer, SPD leader in the Bundestag committee on EU affairs.. . .

Italian President Giorgio Napolitano was equally critical, calling for states obstructing integration to be left out of the EU. "Now is the time for a courageous choice by those who want coherent progress in building Europe, leaving out those who despite solemn, signed pledges threaten to block it," he said in a statement.

One of the leaders of the No campaign, Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams, said the Taoiseach now had to go back and renegotiate. Ireland was "the only state that allowed a referendum and that's to our credit", he said.

SAM SMITH, SHADOWS OF HOPE, 1994 - If one wishes to find a real Clinton foreign policy, such places as Bosnia, Somalia and the UN are the wrong places to look. The real Clinton foreign policy is simply this: there are no foreign countries any more, there are only undeveloped markets. The slogan has become "Make quarterly earnings growth, not war!" Trade has replaced ideology as the engine of foreign affairs.

At one level this should be celebrated, since it is far less deadly. On the other hand, this development also means that politics, nationhood and the idea of place itself is being replaced by a huge, amorphous international corporate culture that rules not by force but by market share. This culture, in the words of French writer and advisor to Francois Mitterand Jacques Attali, seeks an "ideologically homogenous market where life will be organized around common consumer desires."

It is a world that will become increasingly indifferent to local variation. Marshall Blonsky, writing of the Disneyland outside of Paris, notes the absence of Babar. And when Attali speaks of American influence he says:

"We have to build a word which would be 'New York-Hollywoodization.' because we are not Americanized in the sense that we are not going to be closer to St. Louis, Mo., or some place else. These countries are far from us and we are far from them. They are less in advance, less influencing than New York and Hollywood."

Here is a world in which Babar loses out to Mickey Mouse in France and where a sophisticated Frenchman speaks of St. Louis -- but not Hollywood or Manhattan -- as a foreign country. It is the world of what Blonsky calls International Man.

International man -- and he is mainly just that -- is unlocalized. He wears a somewhat Italian suit, perhaps a vaguely British regimental tie, a faintly French shirt and shoes -- says international man Furio Columbo, president of Fiat USA -- "with an element of remembering New England boats and walking on the beach." As Blonksy puts it, "You self-consciously splice genres, attitudes, styles."

International man thrives in Washington. At the moment you call, though, he may well be in Tokyo, Bonn or London sharing with colleagues who are nominally Japanese, German or British their common heritage in the land of the perpetually mobile.

It is this unnamed country of international law, trade and finance, with its anthem to "global competition in the first half of the 21st century," that is increasingly providing the substance and the style to our politics. It is their dual citizenship in America and in the Great Global Glob that characterizes the most powerful among us, now more than ever including even our own political leaders.

International man dreams of things like NAFTA and GATT and then gets them passed. And he knows that he, as a corporate executive or licensed professional, will pass quickly through Mexican customs in his somewhat Italian suit and shoes with a hint of a New England beach because the agreement he helped to draft and pass has declared him entitled to such consideration. The union worker, the tourist from St. Louis, are, under the new world order, from far countries and so it will take awhile longer. It is the policy of International Man, a policy that brings Mexico City ever nearer and starts to make St. Louis a stranger in its own land.


GLOBE & MAIL Colin Powell, the former Republican secretary of state, says he is not ruling out a vote for Barack Obama, the presumed Democratic nominee for president. While Mr. Powell served in the administrations of two Republican presidents, he suggested his support for presumed Republican nominee John McCain is not a forgone conclusion. He noted that although both he and Mr. Obama are black, he would not cast a vote for the Illinois senator on the basis of race. "I will vote for the individual I think that brings the best set of tools to the problems of 21st-century America and the 21st-century world regardless of party, regardless of anything else other than the most qualified candidate," Mr. Powell said at a news conference before delivering a speech to about 800 people attending a leadership forum at the Vancouver Convention Centre.


PORTFOLIO Two U.S. senators, two former Cabinet members, and a former ambassador to the United Nations received loans from Countrywide Financial through a little-known program that waived points, lender fees, and company borrowing rules for prominent people.

Senators Christopher Dodd, Democrat from Connecticut and chairman of the Banking Committee, and Kent Conrad, Democrat from North Dakota, chairman of the Budget Committee and a member of the Finance Committee, refinanced properties through Countrywide's "V.I.P." program in 2003 and 2004, according to company documents and emails and a former employee familiar with the loans.

Other participants in the V.I.P. program included former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Alphonso Jackson, former Secretary of Health and Human Services Donna Shalala, and former U.N. ambassador and assistant Secretary of State Richard Holbrooke. Jackson was deputy H.U.D. secretary in the Bush administration when he received the loans in 2003. Shalala, who received two loans in 2002, had by then left the Clinton administration for her current position as president of the University of Miami. She is scheduled to receive a Presidential Medal of Freedom on June 19.

Most of the officials belonged to a group of V.I.P. loan recipients known in company documents and emails as "F.O.A.'s" - Friends of Angelo, a reference to Countrywide chief executive Angelo Mozilo. While the V.I.P. program also serviced friends and contacts of other Countrywide executives, the F.O.A.'s made up the biggest subset. . .

Unless they asked, V.I.P. borrowers weren't told exactly how many points were waived on their loans, the former employee says. However, they were typically assured that they were receiving the "Friends of Angelo" discount, and that Mozilo had personally priced their loans. .

Federal employees are prohibited from receiving gifts offered because of their official position, including loans on terms not generally available to the public. Senate rules prohibit members from knowingly receiving gifts worth $100 or more in a calendar year from private entities that, like Countrywide, employ a registered lobbyist.


MAIL ON SUNDAY Violence has flared across Europe as haulers, fishermen and taxi drivers protest against rising fuel prices they say are crippling their industries. Some of the worst outbreaks were seen in Spain where prime minister Jose Luis Rodriguez pledged 'zero tolerance' of any disruption by 90,000 striking lorry drivers. His warning came after a driver breaking the strike was burned when his lorry was set on fire. . .

n Portugal, lorry drivers agreed to lift road blocks after their union accepted a deal with their government. But it followed the death of a man near Lisbon on a picket line. In France, haulers mounted protest drives on motorways. set alight in violent protests

Protests have now gone worldwide, with the Philippines and Thailand also seeing angry workers taking to the streets. . .

In Thai capital Bangkok, tens of thousands of heavy lorries threatened to cause havoc as farmers demonstrated and fishermen have begun burning their boats in nationwide protests against soaring prices of fuel and other essentials.

Lorry drivers' leaders have warned the government it has until next Tuesday to subsidise their fuel or face at least 100,000 vehicles rumbling into Bangkok. . .

One fishermen's group said more than half of the 50,000 fishing boats under its wing are being kept ashore because of the high cost of diesel.

Thai Airways International raised its fuel surcharges by up to 100 per cent on Wednesday due to the rising cost of jet fuel. . .

Opposition groups in Malaysia have vowed to push on with mass protests against a 41 per cent hike in petrol prices - despite a pledge from the Prime Minister to keep prices fixed for the rest of the year.

Also in Asia, South Korean lorry drivers voted to strike on Monday, ignoring a government aid package designed to cushion the impact of fuel prices.


Sam Smith

WHEN ANNE ZILL called me in the mid 1980s and told me that she and Stewart Mott would like to have lunch with me, I thought, well, I better be on my good behavior. This, after all, was in mind the guy who had, funded the 1960s, not to mention giving the buck power to the campaigns of Gene McCarthy and George McGovern and making it onto Nixon's enemy list.

That day I may have worn a tie and I'm sure I replaced my running shoes with loafers, but it wasn't necessary. Zill and Mott arrived at my Dupont Circle office, each carrying a motorcycle helmet. Right away I knew we would share a paradigm or two.

For more than two decades after that luncheon, I would sit on the board the Fund for Constitutional Government, a delight even if it hadn't been helping the cash flow of groups protecting government whistle blowers, uncovering government waste, and fighting would-be censors of the Internet. The fund's board meetings averaged between four and six hours in length, shared by some of the most competently eccentric folk I have met. Journalism grant committee meetings took almost as long over lunch at La Tomate, as one might expect of a confabulation that has included over the years Christopher Hitchens, myself, and Hamilton Fish Number Whatever He Is.

During board meetings we heard reports from some of the most useful people in America (our fundees) as they patiently deal with some of the most contentious people in America (their funders). At one end of the large table would sit Mott, who might or might not be wearing a day-glo orange hunting vest, and the chair, Russell Hemenway, who was almost certainly wearing a suit in which each pin strip had been individually pressed. Hemenway, accustomed to the more sedate ways of the Big Apple, regarded us not unlike a grandfather painfully observing his obstreperous, penultimate genetic responsibilities. You soon learned that when Russ stopped glaring and stood up that the party was over and we actually had to do something.

The groups that FCG has helped start and/or fund - including the Project on Government Oversight, the Government Accountability Project and the Electronic Privacy Information Center - are at the top of the list of effective Washington non-profits. On just one day, these organizations were the basis for three articles and one editorial in the New York Times.

Given the seriousness of these groups' work - such as protecting whistleblowers, running classes for congressional staff on how to deal with the executive branch, or serving as an ACLU of the Internet - one might imagine gatherings marked by turgidity and solemnity. Far from it, because the best fighters are driven not by intellectual abstraction or bureaucratic syntax but by a passion that that can enjoy as well as it struggles. Besides, Mott and the masterful FCG executive director, Conrad Martin, understood that good meetings depend on good food. Saving the Constitution becomes considerably more palatable while munching on the more than palatable.

In their tribute, the gang at POGO recalled what had been said in the past: "In the grey-flannel world of philanthropy, Stewart Mott is a red sombrero." And they added, "While he had a quick business mind that could catch even the smallest errors in a spreadsheet, he was also likely to giggle gleefully at a successful effort to expose government malfeasance."

Ralph Nader noted, "A philanthropist for all seasons, Stewart R. Mott was about the most versatile, imaginative philanthropist of his time."

And Douglas Martin wrote in the NY Times:

"Irreverent, good-looking and effusive, Mr. Mott seemed tailor-made for the 1960s and '70s, when he attracted his widest attention, not least for his all-to-candid comments about everything from his sex partners (full names spelled out in newsletters) to his father's parental deficiencies ("a zookeeper") to his blood type (AB+).

"He once lived on a Chinese junk as a self-described beatnik and kept notes to himself on Turkish cigarette boxes, accumulating thousands. He held folk music festivals to promote peace and love. His garden atop his Manhattan penthouse (which he sold some years ago) was famous; at one point Mr. Mott taught a course in city gardening at the New School for Social Research in New York. He once told an interviewer that he lay awake wondering how to grow a better radish.

"Mr. Mott seemed to relish poking his finger in the eye of General Motors, a company that his father, Charles Stewart Mott, helped shape as an early high executive. In the '60s, the younger Mr. Mott drove a battered red Volkswagen with yellow flower decals when he drove at all. He lambasted G.M. at its annual meeting for not speaking out against the Vietnam War. He gave money to a neighborhood group opposing a new G.M. plant because it would involve razing 1,500 homes. . .

"His mansion in Washington has long been used to raise funds for candidates, as well as causes from handgun control to gay rights. . . Mr. Mott officially told the election agency that his job was "maverick." He listed himself as "philanthropist" in the Manhattan phone book. (Space limitations precluded his preferred "avant-garde philanthropist."). . . For years, Mr. Mott was a highly publicized eligible bachelor. When The Washington Post reported that he had slept with 40 women over an eight-month period, he issued a correction, saying the number was actually 20."

You never knew what to expect. Once he visited us in Maine and stayed out past our bedtime shopping at LL Bean's. The next morning we were greeted by an enormous frying pan - far bigger than any of ours - in which lay what looked like a purple human organ of some sort, with a note on top, held in place by a large knife. It turned out to be a eggplant Stewart had proudly grown, the frying pan was a house gift, and the note merely offered thanks.

On another occasion, I received a Fedex box from Stewart and inside were various loafs, muffins and other baked goods, each dyed some stunningly unappetizing color. He had been hard at work again in the kitchen. The recipient list included was quite long and among the names was that of Governor Mario Cuomo.

But there was a sad part of the story, too. A difficult divorce and far too much drinking, smoking and cocaine for anyone's good. His friends knew what was happening; some tried to help, but even those closest to him could had little effect on his habits. He was reportedly still drinking a bottle of vodka a day in his last months.

Stewart was his own man and had his own life. The last time I was with him was a meeting the Fund for Constitutional Government. He knew he was going to die and we sat around discussing what sort of memorial program we should have for him. Stewart participated in it as though it was just one more public project that needed to be done and for which he had some good ideas on how to do it. As you did when you sat around with Stewart, we drifted into his reality and heartily joined the discussion for, after all, he had been the master of one of best public projects any of us had seen: his own remarkable life.


"Protections are the technological equivalent of making passengers parade naked through a separate room with a bag on their head"

ACLU - The Transportation Security Administration is installing new "whole body imaging" machines at some airports around the country - essentially taking a naked picture of air passengers as they pass through security checkpoints. In short, this technology is a "virtual strip search." The machines are reportedly being deployed at BWI airport, Dallas/Fort Worth, LAX, JFK, Reagan National, Las Vegas, Albuquerque, Detroit, Phoenix, and Miami.

The technology being used in most cases is called "Millimeter Wave." It is different from "backscatter x-rays" in that it uses non-radioactive electromagnetic waves to produce images.

- This technology produces strikingly graphic images of passengers' bodies. Those images reveal not only our private body parts, but also intimate medical details like colostomy bags. That degree of examination amounts to a significant - and for some people humiliating - assault on the essential dignity of passengers that citizens in a free nation should not have to tolerate.

- This technology should not be used as part of a routine screening procedure. Passengers expect privacy underneath their clothing and should not be required to display highly personal details of their bodies as a pre-requisite to boarding a plane. However, such technology may be used in place of an intrusive search, such as a body cavity search, when there is probable cause sufficient to support such a search.

- TSA may say that these scanners will only be used for secondary screening, and will be a voluntary alternative to a patdown search. But:

The scanners will in fact be used as a primary search for some random selectees and some travelers flagged by watch lists.

We question how long this "voluntary" status, if it exists at all, will last.

A Hobson's choice between a full body grope and virtual strip search is no choice at all.

We also question TSA's assumption that the people who "consent" to this body scan really understand what they're consenting to. Many passengers interviewed by USA Today had no idea what the machines were even as they stepped out of them.

- TSA is also touting privacy safeguards including blurring of faces, the non-retention of images, and the viewing of images only by screeners in a separate room. We are skeptical of the privacy safeguards that the TSA is touting:

These protections are the technological equivalent of making passengers parade naked through a separate room with a bag on their head. Passengers should not, and never would, tolerate that.

Obscuring faces is just a software fix that can be undone as easily as it is applied. And obscuring faces does not hide the fact that rest of the body will be vividly displayed.

- A policy of not retaining images is a protection that would certainly be a vital step for such a potentially invasive system, but given the irresistible pull that images created by this system will create on some employees (for example when a celebrity or someone with an unusual or "freakish" body goes through the system), how much assurance can we really have that images are not going to end up on the Internet? Unfortunately, the government's record of safeguarding private information is not great.

Intrusive technologies are often introduced very gingerly with all manner of safeguards and protections, but over the years they're stripped away.

We need to see strong independent and legally binding assurance that the privacy-protecting policies will be enforced and unchanged.

-Ultimately, it is questionable whether the security value of these scanners is proportional to the cost to flyers' dignity and privacy.

- It is questionable whether TSA, which has still not addressed many very basic problems with transportation security, should be spending large sums of money on these very expensive devices. For example, study after study by DHS' internal investigators, as well as independent investigators, have found that TSA still cannot identify a large majority of explosives and weapons that the testers have sought to bring through security.

- In order not to be an ineffective "Maginot line," these systems will need to be put in place in all gates in all airports; otherwise a terrorist could just use an airport gate that does not have them.

- How many of the people who submit to this body scan will end up having to do a pat-down search anyway because of limits in the technology's ability to definitively identify suspected threats? Our impression is that a very high percentage of the passengers who opt for a scan will still wind up being physically searched because TSA officials will have trouble distinguishing threatening objects from ordinary ones like a wallet.


GLENN GREENWALD, SALON The Military Commissions Act of 2006 was -- and remains -- one of the great stains on our national political character. It was passed by a substantial majority in the Senate (65-34) with the support of every single Senate Republican (except Chafee) and 12 Senate Democrats. No filibuster was even attempted. It passed by a similar margin in the House, where 34 Democrats joined 219 Republicans to enact it. One of the most extraordinary quotes of the post-9/11 era came from GOP Sen. Arlen Specter, who said at the time that that the Military Commissions Act -- because it explicitly barred federal courts from hearing habeas corpus petitions brought by Guantanamo detainees -- "sets back basic rights by some 900 years" and was "patently unconstitutional on its face" -- and Specter then proceeded to vote for it.

The greatest victim of the 9/11 attack has been our core, defining constitutional liberties. Of all the powers seized by this administration in the name of keeping us safe, the power to imprison people indefinitely with no charges and no real process is the most pernicious.

Passage of the Military Commissions Act was spearheaded by John McCain, who was anointed by cowardly Senate Democrats to speak for them and negotiate with the White House. Once McCain blessed the Military Commissions Act, its passage was assured. Barack Obama voted against it, and once its passage appeared certain, Obama offered an amendment to limit it to five years. That amendment failed, rendering the MCA the law of the land without any time limits. . .

Three of the five Justices in the majority -- John Paul Stevens (age 88), Ruth Bader Ginsburg (age 75) and David Souter (age 68) -- are widely expected by court observers to retire or otherwise leave the Court in the first term of the next President. By contrast, the four judges who dissented -- Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, John Roberts and Sam Alito -- are expected to stay right where they are for many years to come.

John McCain has identified Roberts and Alito as ideal justices of the type he would nominate, while Barack Obama has identified Stephen Breyer, David Souter and Ginsberg (all in the majority today). It's not hyperbole to say that, from Supreme Court appointments alone, our core constitutional protections could easily depend upon the outcome of the 2008 election.


MICHEL CHOSSUDOVSKY, GLOBAL RESEARCH The latest Big Brother police state measure emanating from the Bush administration, with virtually no press coverage, is NSPD 59 entitled Biometrics for Identification and Screening to Enhance National Security. It is adopted without public debate or Congressional approval.

NSPD 59 goes far beyond the issue of biometric identification, it recommends the collection and storage of "associated biographic" information, meaning information on the private lives of US citizens, in minute detail, all of which will be "accomplished within the law":

"The contextual data that accompanies biometric data includes information on date and place of birth, citizenship, current address and address history, current employment and employment history, current phone numbers and phone number history, use of government services and tax filings. Other contextual data may include bank account and credit card histories, plus criminal database records on a local, state and federal level. The database also could include legal judgments or other public records documenting involvement in legal disputes, child custody records and marriage or divorce records. . .

It also calls for the integration of various data banks as well as inter-agency cooperation in the sharing of information, with a view to eventually centralizing the information on American citizens. . .

The stated intent of NSPD 59 is to protect America from terrorists, but in fact the terms of reference include any person who is deemed to pose a threat to the Homeland. The government requires the ability:

"to positively identify those individuals who may do harm to Americans and the Nation. . . Since September 11, 2001, agencies have made considerable progress in securing the Nation through the integration, maintenance, and sharing of information used to identify persons who may pose a threat to national security.

The Directive is not limited to KSTs, which in Homeland Security jargon stands for "Known and Suspected Terrorists":

"The executive branch has developed an integrated screening capability to protect the Nation against "known and suspected terrorists" . The executive branch shall build upon this success, in accordance with this directive, by enhancing its capability to collect, store, use, analyze, and share biometrics to identify and screen KSTs and other persons who may pose a threat to national security. .

In this regard, it is worth noting that in the 2005 TOPOFF (Top officials) anti-terror drills, two other categories of individuals were identified as potential threats: "Radical groups" and "disgruntled employees", suggesting than any form of dissent directed against Big Brother will be categorized as a threat to America.

In a previous 2004 report of the Homeland Security Council entitled Planning Scenarios, the enemy was referred to as the Universal Adversary.

The Universal Adversary was identified in the scenarios as an abstract entity used for the purposes of simulation. Yet upon more careful examination, this Universal Adversary was by no means illusory. It included the following categories of potential "conspirators":

"foreign [Islamic] terrorists" ,

"domestic radical groups", [antiwar and civil rights groups]

"state sponsored adversaries" ["rogue states", "unstable nations"]

"disgruntled employees" [labor and union activists].

According to the DHS Planning Scenarios Report :

Under NSPD 59, biometrics and associated biographical information will be used to control all forms of social dissent.

Domestic radical groups and labor activists envisaged in various counter terrorism exercises, constitute in the eyes of the Bush administration, a threat to the established economic and political order.

In the text of NSPD 59, these other categories of people have been conveniently lumped together with the KSTs ("known and suspected terrorists"), confirming that the so-called anti-terror laws together with the Big Brother law enforcement apparatus and its associated data banks of biometric and biographic information on US citizens are intended to be used against all potential domestic "adversaries" including those who oppose the US led war in the Middle East and the derogation of the Rule of Law in America.


Ordered by Congress to re-open its shuttered libraries, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is grudgingly allocating only minimal space and resources, according to agency documents released by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility. At the same time, EPA is issuing a series of edicts placing virtually every aspect of library operations under centralized control of a political appointee.

In a May 8, 2008 e-mail to EPA employee unions, the agency announced its plan for re-opening four of the closed libraries effective September 1. The unions were given until May 22 to reply or object. The announced plan for the Chicago library, formerly the largest regional library serving the entire six-state Great Lakes area, stipulates:

- The re-opened library will be in a vacant reception area on the 16th floor of a federal building;

- The re-opened library will occupy less than one-tenth the area of the closed library and will be only slightly larger than the typical men's restroom in that same building

- No provision is made to restore the unique Great Lakes ecological collection or to recover any of the other holdings from the former library.

Similarly, the regional library in Dallas serving a five-state area will be reduced to "2 staff workstations and 1 patron workstation, each with a PC, desk, and chair". It will be open six hours a day for four days a week. The fate of its former collection also remains unknown.

"A library requires more space than a lavatory," stated PEER Associate Director Carol Goldberg. "These plans appear to violate the Congressional order that the agency 'restore the network of EPA libraries recently closed…'"


One of the great ignored campaign stories of the mainstream media was about HRC and The Family. We've reported on the group before, but now a new book gives useful details by a writer who embedded himself in The Family to find out what it was all about

LINDSAY BEYERSTEIN, ALTERNET Did you know that the National Prayer Breakfast is sponsored by a shadowy cabal of elite Christian fundamentalists? Jeff Sharlet's new book, "The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power," offers a rare glimpse of this remarkable network, which is known variously as the Family, the Fellowship and the International Foundation.

The Family was founded 70 years ago by Abraham Vereide, a Norwegian immigrant evangelist based in Seattle. In 1935, Vereide said, God appeared to him in a vision and revealed where Christianity had gone wrong: preoccupation with the poor, the weak and the suffering.

The down-and-out were in no position to bring about the Kingdom of God, Vereide realized. Some Christians believe that the rapture is imminent, but not the Family. They're convinced that Jesus won't return until we get our collective house in order. If they were to wait for the down-and-out to remake the world in God's image, we could be here forever. . .

The roster of current and former Family members includes senators, congressmen, Fortune 500 CEOs, generals and at least one Supreme Court justice. The Family does not publish membership lists, and its members are sworn to secrecy, so a full accounting is impossible.

Sen. Hillary Clinton has been involved with the Family since 1993 when, as first lady, she joined a White House prayer circle for political wives. Clinton has also sought spiritual counseling from the current head of the Family, Doug Coe. Sharlet argues that Clinton's longtime association with the Family has helped her forge working relationships with powerful religious conservatives such as Family member and anti-abortion crusader Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas.

The Family nurtures the next generation of prayer warriors in suburban dormitories. Sharlet spent nearly a month living at Ivanwald, a dormitory in Virginia where sons of the Family are sent to immerse themselves in Jesus and clean the toilets of congressmen and senators.

The Family also runs a house on C Street in Washington, D.C. The C Street Center has housed a number of federal legislators, including Sen. John Ensign of Nevada. Residents allege that the center is just a cheap place to live, but as an Ivanwald brother, Sharlet saw firsthand that the center is a religious community. As far as the IRS is concerned, the C Street Center is a church.

Members will tell you that the Family is just a group of friends. As Sharlet discovered, 600 boxes of documents at the Billy Graham Center Archives tell a different story. . .

From an interview with Sharlet:

Lindsay Beyerstein: In "The Family," a lot of subjects explicitly state their admiration for Hitler and other authoritarian political figures. How much of that is admiring their style, and how much is admiring their substance?

Jeff Sharlet: I'd argue that there isn't a hell of a lot of difference. I spent a lot of time living with these guys, and I remember at one point asking them, "What's the deal with all this Hitler talk?" And they'd say, "Oh, it's not the ends, it's the means." But to most of us, the means seem pretty bad, too. The means are authoritarianism.

It's pretty close to the substance because it grows out of this very broad movement in the 1930s of elites concluding that democracy has run its course, that democracy was a temporary phase in world history. And so, these people were experimenting with all sorts of different alternatives. And remember, before World War II it was considered a perfectly legitimate and acceptable position to endorse fascism.

Lindsay Beyerstein: When I read the book, I found myself thinking about Umberto Eco's essay, "Eternal Fascism," which provides a kind of checklist of the essential characteristics of fascism. How many of those criteria does the Family meet?

Jeff Sharlet:The book I find helpful as a succinct guide to fascism is a book by historian Robert Paxton. He'll boil it down into five principles or ten principles. The Family's always hovering around 80 percent, but never all the way.

And that's an important distinction to make. I think many progressives want to reduce everything bad to fascism. There's more than one kind of bad under the sun. One of the arguments in this book is that these guys aren't fascists; they're ultimately something worse. They're not fascists because they don't explicitly revere violence. Lots of violence occurs through various dimensions, but in fascism, violence is thought to have redemptive power. . .

Lindsay Beyerstein: What kind of empire do they envision?

Jeff Sharlet: They envision the empire that we have. Doug Coe says, "We work with power where we can and build new power where we can't." Usually they can work within power. Rob Shank, another Christian right activist in Washington, says, "The Family is into living with what is.". . .

Lindsay Beyerstein: In the book you say that they teach a kind of ultrasubjectivism, stripping away all history, doctrine, institutions and all rituals until "religion" is just what pops into your head. .

Lindsay Beyerstein: They think it's bad even to know about history?

Jeff Sharlet: They just don't care. One of the ironies of this book is that now they're in my debt. I know more about the history of their movement than they do. (That's why they were so casual about what ended up in the Family's records at the Billy Graham archives.) It didn't even occur to them that anyone would find anything wrong there, including various government documents that shouldn't have been there. . .

Lindsay Beyerstein: In the book you say that the Family treats powerful women like Hillary Clinton as if they belonged to a kind of "third gender" that's female but not subordinate like ordinary women …

Jeff Sharlet: Two ways third gender works in the Family: There are these very strong wives who oftentimes are very strong-willed people. . . And the other are women like Hillary Clinton, who's just a man as far as they're concerned.


DAILY KOS - CNN posted an article online summarizing the Tax Policy center's report comparing John McCain and Barack Obama's proposed tax plans. The numbers are remarkable, but CNN failes to notice the obvious punch line: more than 85% of Americans will pay less in taxes under Obama than McCain. From the table, we can see that if you make less than $112,000 a year, then you will pay less in taxes under Obama's policies compared to McCain's. According to the IRS, 89% of Americans report less than $100,000 in adjusted gross income. DATA



WAYNE SLATER, DALLAS MORNING NEWS Robert Hurt went to Washington and didn't like what he saw - nudity in the nation's capital. "Nude women, sculptured women," he told the state Republican platform committee, which sat in rapt attention. . . .

"You don't have nude art on your front porch," he explained. "You possibly don't have nude art in your living rooms. So why is it important to have that in the common places of Washington, D.C.?"

Mr. Hurt offered statistics: He'd heard that 20 percent of the art in the National Gallery of Art is of nudes.

He offered detail: On Arlington Memorial Bridge overlooking the famed national cemetery, "there are two Lady Godivas, two women on horses with no shirt on and long hair."

Actually, they are classical sculptures about war - one called Valor, depicting a male equestrian and a female with a shield, and Sacrifice, a female accompanying the rider Mars.

The GOP platform will be presented today to the full convention. Like all platforms, it's a statement of principle and a political document to rally the troops. . .

The platform calls homosexuality contrary to "the unchanging truths" ordained by God. It opposes gay marriage, civil unions and the custody of children by gays.






JON HENLEY, THE GUARDIAN, UK - It is a debate you could only really have in a country that accords its intellectuals the kind of status other nations - to name no names - tend to reserve for footballers, footballers' wives or (if they're lucky) rock stars; a place where structuralists and relativists and postmodernists, rather than skulk shamefacedly in the shadows, get invited on to primetime TV; a culture in which even today it is considered entirely acceptable, indeed laudable, to state one's profession as "thinker". That country is France, which is currently preoccupied with the fate of its ailing semicolon.

Encouragingly, a Committee for the Defense of the Semicolon appeared on the web (only to disappear some days later, which cannot be a very good sign). Articles have been written in newspapers and magazines. The topic is being earnestly discussed on the radio. It was even the subject of an April Fool's joke on a leading internet news site, which claimed, perfectly plausibly, that President Nicolas Sarkozy had just decreed that to preserve the poor point-virgule from an untimely end, it must henceforth be used at least three times a page in all official correspondence.

In the red corner, desiring nothing less than the consignment of the semicolon to the dustbin of grammatical history, are a pair of treacherous French writers and (of course) those perfidious Anglo-Saxons, for whose short, punchy, uncomplicated sentences, it is widely rumored, the rare subtlety and infinite elegance of a good semicolon are surplus to requirements. The point-virgule, says legendary writer, cartoonist and satirist François Cavanna, is merely "a parasite, a timid, fainthearted, insipid thing, denoting merely uncertainty, a lack of audacity, a fuzziness of thought". . .

In the blue corner are an array of linguistic patriots who cite Hugo, Flaubert, De Maupassant, Proust and Voltaire as examples of illustrious French writers whose respective oeuvres would be but pale shadows of themselves without the essential point-virgule, and who argue that - in the words of one contributor to a splendidly passionate blog on the topic hosted recently by the leftwing weekly Le Nouvel Observateur - "the beauty of the semicolon, and its glory, lies in the support lent by this particular punctuation mark to the expression of a complex thought".

The semicolon, continues this sadly anonymous defender of the Gallic grammatical faith, "finds its rightful home in the subtlety of a fine and rich analysis, one which is not afraid to pronounce - and sometimes to withhold - judgment where mere affirmation might be found wanting. It allows the writer to link ideas without breaking a train of thought; by contrast, over-simplified communication and bald, efficient discourse whose simplistic style is the best guarantee of being widely understood is naturally wary of this punctuation mark."



As Governing noted, at least they didn't copy the name of the states from which they stole the stuff

ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION A "new vision" outlined for mental health care in Georgia last week isn't so new after all. Large sections of a report by Gov. Sonny Perdue's mental health commission were lifted, often verbatim, from a Michigan study published in 2004 and from two other sources, a review by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution found. The commission's report, released last week by the governor's office, credits none of the cloned material. . .

University of Texas, 2006: "Mental illness is a common affliction. There are approximately 400,000 people who suffer from mental illness living in Harris County."

Georgia, 2008: "Mental illness is a common affliction. There are approximately 140,000 people who suffer from mental illness living in Fulton County."

American Psychiatric Association, 2005: "In the past, the subject of mental illness was surrounded with mystery and fear. Today, we have made tremendous progress in our understanding and, especially in our ability to offer effective treatments. However, questions about mental illness often go unanswered and stand in the way of people receiving help."

Georgia, 2008: "In the past, the subject of mental illness was surrounded with mystery and fear. Today, we have made tremendous progress in our understanding - especially, in our ability to offer effective treatments. However, questions about mental illness often go unanswered and stand in the way of people receiving help."

One complete section in the Georgia commission's report - an essay titled "What Is Mental Illness" - contained no original work, the Journal-Constitution found. By typing phrases and passages from the essay into Google, the Internet search engine, the newspaper determined that every sentence of the essay was taken either from a psychiatric association document, published in 2005, or a 2006 report by the University of Texas' Houston-area psychiatric center.


MICHAEL HORAN, NO SUPPER TONIGHT Last week, The Nation asked-in its lead editorial no less:

"Where is the challenge to the bloated military budget, which equals the total amount spent by the rest of industrialized world? Who’s talking about an exit from the 'war in terror,' which has made us less secure while curtailing our civil liberties? Where is the massive public investment to repair our collapsed bridges, collapsed levees, and bursting schools? Democrats have called for a repeal of Bush’s tax cuts for the wealthiest, but where are the proposals for a truly progressive tax system? Where is the challenge to corporate power and a serious strategy to empower workers to win their share of profits? Who’s talking about our failed "war on drugs," and our faltering criminal justice system? And while there is growing demand that we leave Iraq, who’s challenging Obama’s plan to keep troops in bases there beyond 2009?"

My initial reaction: somebody’s not paying attention. Because I can answer that question without qualification, having watched Ralph Nader get up in front of a small crowd at First Parish Church in Cambridge and discuss each and every one of these issues. Head-on. (Along with tax reform, electoral reform, Palestine, the voting age, single payer healthcare, and etcetera). . . . The question isn’t "who is willing to point out the veritable herd of elephants in the room, and, great, stinking beshitted angry elephants at that?"; the question is why on earth The Nation and its readership, since they apparently share precisely the same ideals, refuse to acknowledge the obvious answer. Of course, what The Nation is really asking is, "what magnificently-funded Democratic candidate bearing the corporate nihil obstat and the Wall Street imprimatur is raising these issues?" To which the answer is, such a beast does not, cannot exist in nature, and the absurdity of of asking this basilisk beast to bite the hand that feeds it-or rather, to devour its keeper whole-is patently obvious..

Nader can’t figure out it either; as he inquired:

"Why are we under the yoke of a two party dictatorship, where people, who agree with one another, are adversaries, if one part of that agreement happens to go into the electoral arena instead of writing articles for The Nation? And so the political bigotry that is directed at any small party independent candidate that challenges the Democratic Party inside the electoral arena, especially at the national level, comes from liberals and progressives addicted to the 'least-worst' voting patterns against these challengers. . . I’m used to corporate lobbyists fighting what we’re doing. I rather enjoy it. I understand them-at least, I know where they’re coming from. The oil companies, drug companies, insurance companies, banks. But how do you understand people who agree with you on most issues and turn around and call you a spoiler? . . . "

The gap between the Nation’s blind eye and Nader’s vision-his eminently pragmatic vision, as befits a man with forty years on The Hill and a jaw-dropping history of legislative success-is the result of sheer timidity on the part of progressive forces in this country, something unknown to their more robust counterparts on the far right (who demand their planks and get them. . .

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