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Undernews For July 15, 2008

Undernews For July 15, 2008

Washington's Most Unofficial Source
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Editor: Sam Smith

15 JULY 2008


When I pray for peace, I pray not only that the enemies of my own country may cease to want war, but above all that my own country will cease to do the things that make war inevitable. - Thomas Merton


Sam Smith

It is against the journalist's code of ethics to say so, but the presidential campaign has become incredibly dull. Over the past few weeks, the candidates have become becalmed, drifting in the electoral ocean, sails flapping lazily, awaiting for nature and history to cause something to happen.

Actually it has. We're on the verge of war with Iran and the banking system is collapsing, but neither candidate has much to say on these topics. Instead the hope huckster lectures the NAACP on how to raise their children and his opponent struggles to find some justification for his existence since he was a prisoner of war.

Part of this is just the shift from primaries to general election, the former being a sort of personnel interview while the latter usually demanding some attention to actual issues. Neither candidate, however, is inclined to take on the challenge. They see their role, after all, as being life's great commercial break.

The increasingly timid Barack Obama is still ahead in the polls and electoral vote count, and may benefit even further by the heightened turnout of several constituencies. But given the incompetence of his opponent and the disaster of his presumptive predecessor, he should be doing far better. Among his problems, he clearly prefers the pulpit and op ed page to the street corner and the union hall. Further, his rapid decline from patron saint of change to faint patron of the status quo does not bode well if he does get elected.

Obama not only offers little hope of restoring the Constitution, he is not even the anti-war candidate he pretends to be; he just wants to switch its primary locale from Iraq to Afghanistan. His hubristic, pompous approach to matters political is already becoming tiresome. Democrats, after all, are meant to put their views into legislation; it is traditionally the conservatives who prefer endless cliches. And, though he speaks of change, Obama has yet to come up with any really good examples of it and, though he is considered eloquent, his enthusiasts rarely offer a quotation in support of this contention.

Obama has already alienated some of his own constituency for his indefensible position on telecom immunity and electronic spying. But trouble is arising elsewhere as well, witness this from John Bresnahan of Politico:

"After a brief bout of Obamamania, some Capitol Hill Democrats have begun to complain privately that Barack Obama's presidential campaign is insular, uncooperative and inattentive to their hopes for a broad Democratic victory in November.

"'They think they know what's right and everyone else is wrong on everything,' groused one senior Senate Democratic aide. 'They are kind of insufferable at this point.'. . .

"One Democratic aide, speaking on the condition of anonymity, compared the Obama campaign unfavorably to President Bush's administration.

"'At least Bush waited until he was in the White House before they started ignoring everybody,' the aide said."

So, once again we are forced to fall back on the wisdom of the father of famed Democratic operative Jim Farley who told his son, "Just remember, behind every Republican president, no matter how good, are other Republicans, while behind every Democratic president, no matter how bad, are other Democrats." Of course, Jim Farley's dad didn't have to put up with the likes of Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid. Still, with the Senate Democrats possibly picking up as many as nine seats, it is at least possible that Obama's absurd notion of post-partisanship may be in for a justifiably bumpy ride.

And boring as the campaign has become, it may be better that way. The great danger in waiting is an attack on Iran before the election instituted by either Mad King George or the equally pathological Israeli government. We can not expect either Obama or the Democratic leadership to take steps to oppose or block such a move.

In the end, it is the strength of issues and not the candidates that will matter. Jacques LaRoche in the DMI Blog notes that, "After the Great Depression, Americans were fervently pushing for change. Socialist activist farmers in Kansas were fighting for workers rights, Alabama was rife with progressive communists, the general mood was progressive. Faced with such overwhelming popular support for social change, Roosevelt was forced to enact the New Deal to appease the masses and quash the rising power of rival political parties."

The uprising over Obama's betrayal of the Constitution in the FISA matter is a small example of how this can happen. The right - which has managed to infect a fear of gay marriage, abortion and peace into virtually every mainstream candidate of either party - has shown that you don't have to be elected to produce change. You do have to make it painfully obvious what it is you want.

It's not so much about satisfaction with your electoral choice, of which you really don't have much. If you're rational you will be unhappy but can always take a barf bag to the polls. It is about making the important issues unavoidable to those the system foists upon us and giving some positive direction to their endless capacity for political cowardice.



Wonkette - It's almost too depressing to mention again, but let's recap the Pat Tillman revelations from Army medical examiners and internal Pentagon reports released last week and find out what happens when famous football stars turned Army heroes become anti-war critics:

He was shot three times in the forehead at close range with an American M-16.

This was after he was shot in the chest, legs and hand.

And this was after he screamed to the "friendlies" that he was Pat Tillman and please stop shooting him.

But they didn't; they executed him.

They were Americans.

There wasn't even an "enemy" around; not only was nobody shot by "enemy fire," no equipment was shot by "enemy fire."

"Members of Tillman's unit burned his body armor and uniform in an apparent attempt to hide the fact that he was killed by friendly fire."

Army medical examiners tried to get a criminal investigation opened, but they were shut down.

The Army brass who conspired to shut down any criminal investigation into the U.S. assassination of Pat Tillman sent "congratulatory e-mails" to each other after shutting down the snoops.

The Pentagon heavily promoted Tillman's enlistment and service as both a recruitment tool and a domestic propaganda tool.

The Pentagon maintained for long after his murder that Tillman died in combat, finally admitting to his family that "friendly fire" killed him - which wasn't exactly true, either.

Lieutenant Colonel Ralph Kauzlarich, who commanded Tillman's base in Afghanistan at the time of his assassination, dismissed Tillman's family's attempts to find out what happened. Why? Because Pat Tillman was an atheist, like his family, so they were having "a hard time letting it go."

In his writings - Tillman wrote constantly in letters and diaries and e-mails - the NFL star who became an Army Ranger after 9/11 had concluded the Afghanistan War was fake and the Iraq War was a criminal setup.

The Pentagon still has his diary that he kept with him in Afghanistan, where he was killed, and they won't release it to his family.

Tillman had even arranged a meeting with anti-war icon Noam Chomsky about how to go public with a veterans-against-the-war movement.

Such a movement would've had an interesting effect on the Iraq occupation and the then-upcoming 2004 election; Tillman had already been encouraging his fellow soldiers to vote against Bush.

Donald Rumsfeld [has] refused to testify on the subject of Tillman's assassination before Congress on

White House Counsel Fred Fielding has, of course, already "refused to issue certain documents to the committee because of executive privilege."

What is the White House doing with "certain documents" about Pat Tillman's murder?

Says Pat Tillman Sr.: "The administration clearly was using this case for its own political reasons. This cover-up started within minutes of Pat's death, and it started at high levels. This is not something that people in the field do."


Independent, UK Britain's restaurants are creaming off millions of pounds of customers' tips to boost their profits, an investigation by The Independent has found. A series of legal ploys are being used by major companies including Strada, PizzaExpress and Carluccio's to take a slice of the L4bn a year that diners leave for low-paid staff in tips.

Among the practices, TheIndependent found:

- Carluccio's, Cafe Rouge, Chez Gerard, Strada and Cafe Uno all pay their staff less than the minimum wage and use customers' tips to make up the balance in their employees' pay;

- Pizza Express takes an 8 per cent cut of tips left on a credit card;

- One chain of Asian restaurants, Georgetown, takes 100 per cent of tips;

- Staff at one London eatery receive no basic wage at all.


Pew Research The outlook for the presidential election at mid-year is substantially different than at comparable points in time in recent campaigns. First, turnout is likely to be higher this fall - perhaps much higher than in previous elections - as voter interest continues at record levels. Second, as has been the case since the start of the campaign, Democrats enjoy a substantial engagement advantage over Republicans that may significantly alter the composition of the November electorate.

Third, while there has been considerable debate about whether Hillary Clinton's supporters will rally behind Barack Obama in the fall, it is clear that both candidates face formidable challenges in consolidating their bases. John McCain, the presumptive GOP nominee, has an enthusiasm problem. McCain engenders less strong support than does Obama and has much weaker support than George W. Bush did at this stage in his presidential campaigns.

While Obama draws more enthusiastic support, he has a unity problem. Clinton's former supporters have moved in Obama's direction since the primaries ended, but significant numbers remain undecided or say they might vote for McCain in the fall.

Finally, the middle of the electorate is reasserting itself in this election. There are more swing voters than there were at this point in the campaign four years ago. The proportion of self-proclaimed independents is up from 2004 and nearly half say they are uncertain about their vote choice.

The latest national survey finds greater public interest and engagement in the presidential election than during the five previous campaigns. Fully 72% say they are giving quite a lot of thought to this election - by far the highest percentage at this point in the campaign since 1988. The proportion saying they are more interested in politics this year than during the previous campaign is greater than it has been since 1992.

Compared with previous election cycles, voter engagement is up among all demographic groups, but has increased more among voters under age 50 than among older voters. Uncharacteristically, the youngest voters - those under age 30 - are at least as knowledgeable, and in some cases more knowledgeable, about candidates' positions on Iraq and abortion than are older voters.

Strong and consistent interest and engagement suggests that voter turnout will likely be high in November, as it was during this year's primaries. The new survey finds another potential parallel between the general election and the primaries: Democratic turnout could match or perhaps exceed Republican participation in November, just as it did in most states during the primaries.

Two unprecedented findings from the new survey support a potential Democratic turnout advantage. For the first time in Center polls conducted since 1992, a greater proportion of Democrats than Republicans are expressing strong interest in the campaign. Nearly eight-in-ten Democratic voters (77%) say they are giving a lot of thought to the election, up 18 points since June 2004. Republican engagement also has increased over this period (from 61% to 72%), but for the first time somewhat fewer GOP voters than Democrats say they are giving a lot of thought to the election.

There is an even larger gap in the percentage of voters in each party saying they are now more interested in politics than they were during the previous campaign. About seven-in-ten Democratic voters (71%) report they are more interested in politics than they were four years ago, compared with barely half of Republican voters (51%). As with other measures of political engagement, in the past there were no partisan differences or Republicans held the advantage.

A second factor which may also contribute to a Democratic turnout advantage is that supporters of the Republican candidate, uncharacteristically, are less strongly committed to their choice than are supporters of the Democratic candidate.

Far more Democratic voters than Republican voters express satisfaction with the field of candidates (74% vs. 49%). Republican voters' satisfaction with the candidates is now not much higher than it was in June 1996, during Bob Dole's unsuccessful campaign (50% satisfied). In addition, 33% of Republican voters say it is hard to choose between the candidates because neither would make a good president; just 21% of Democratic voters express this view.

A positive note for the Republicans is that McCain is now winning the support of 79% of those who supported his former Republican rivals. By contrast, just 69% of former Clinton supporters say they now back Obama.

At this stage, Obama is running better among voters under age 50 than either Kerry or Al Gore, the previous Democratic nominees. Yet Obama trails McCain by seven points (44% to 37%) among voters ages 65 and older; four years ago, Kerry led Bush by 12 points among these voters. Obama also is trailing McCain slightly among white Catholics, a key swing group that was evenly divided at this stage four years ago but that ultimately voted Republican.

Obama's support level among working class whites is comparable to that for Gore and Kerry, even though he struggled with this group in the primaries, and they express relatively conservative views on race in this poll. But Obama is not getting as much support as did his two predecessors from another conservative voting bloc - older white voters.

While conservative views on race continue to be a correlate of lack of support for Obama, the candidate's lack of experience is the voters' biggest qualm about him. Fully 40% of those who do not support Obama cite his experience as what they like least about him; at this stage during the previous two campaigns, fewer than one-in-ten voters pointed to Kerry and Gore's experience as a negative.


Houston Chronicle Texas spent a nation-high $17 million last year for abstinence education programs that continue to stir debate about whether classes promoting virginity before marriage work in public schools.
Federal statistics in June showed that 52.9 percent of Texas students in ninth through 12th grades had sexual intercourse, compared with 47.8 nationally. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also reported that Texas youths are less likely to use condoms.


Stepahnie Strom, NY Times Two prominent national nonprofit groups are reeling from public disclosures that large sums of money were misappropriated in unrelated incidents by an employee and a former employee. The groups, Acorn, one of the country's largest community organizing groups, and the Points of Light Institute, which works to encourage civic activism and volunteering, have dealt with the problems in very different ways.

Acorn chose to treat the embezzlement of nearly $1 million eight years ago as an internal matter and did not even notify its board. After Points of Light noticed financial irregularities in early June, it took less than a month for management to alert federal prosecutors, although group officials say they have no clear idea yet what the financial impact may be. A whistle-blower forced Acorn to disclose the embezzlement, which involved the brother of the organization's founder, Wade Rathke.

The brother, Dale Rathke, embezzled nearly $1 million from Acorn and affiliated charitable organizations in 1999 and 2000, Acorn officials said, but a small group of executives decided to keep the information from almost all of the group's board members and not to alert law enforcement. Dale Rathke remained on Acorn's payroll until a month ago, when disclosure of his theft by foundations and other donors forced the organization to dismiss him.

"We thought it best at the time to protect the organization, as well as to get the funds back into the organization, to deal with it in-house," said Maude Hurd, president of Acorn. "It was a judgment call at the time, and looking back, people can agree or disagree with it, but we did what we thought was right."

The amount Dale Rathke embezzled, $948,607.50, was carried as a loan on the books of Citizens Consulting Inc., which provides bookkeeping, accounting and other financial management services to Acorn and many of its affiliated entities.

Wade Rathke said the organization had signed a restitution agreement with his brother in which his family agreed to repay the amount embezzled in exchange for confidentiality.

Wade Rathke stepped down as Acorn's chief organizer on June 2, the same day his brother left, but he remains chief organizer for Acorn International.

He said the decision to keep the matter secret was not made to protect his brother but because word of the embezzlement would have put a "weapon" into the hands of enemies of Acorn, a liberal group that is a frequent target of conservatives who object to its often strident advocacy on behalf of low- and moderate-income families and workers.


Progress Report In February, Southern Methodist University in Dallas, TX announced that the university will be home to President Bush's $200 million library. The announcement has been met with widespread protests from faculty, administrators, staff, and even Methodist ministers. The library will sponsor programs designed to "promote the vision of the president" and "celebrate" Bush's presidency, while minimizing the involvement of historians. Former Bush adviser Karl Rove is reportedly advising the project in "an informal capacity." On Sunday, the Times of London reported that Stephen Payne, a major Bush-Cheney campaign fundraiser, was caught on tape offering access to key members of the Bush administration inner circle in exchange for "six-figure donations to the private library being set up to commemorate Bush's presidency." As the Times notes, "The revelation confirms long-held suspicions that favors are being offered in return for donations to the libraries which outgoing presidents set up to house their archives and safeguard their political legacies." Asked about the report, White House spokesman Tony Fratto simply responded, "There's no connection between any official administration actions and the library."

In the Times' video, Payne is seen promising to arrange a meeting for an exiled Kyrgyzstan leader with Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, or Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte, in return for a payment of $250,000 towards the Bush library. When asked whether he could arrange a meeting for the former central Asian president, Payne solicited a bribe. "The exact budget I will come up with," he said. "But it will be somewhere between $600,000 and $750,000, with about a third of it going directly to the Bush library." Payne said the remainder of the $750,000 would go to his lobbying firm, Worldwide Strategic Partners, which has worked closely with several Bush administration agencies, including the White House, Departments of State, Defense, Justice, Homeland Security, and Treasury, and the FBI. Payne is a political appointee to the Homeland Security Advisory Council and was George W. Bush's "personal travel aide" during his father's 1988 presidential campaign. In a lengthy statement alleging that "that the Times attempted to entrap me," Payne responded that "isolated comments can be taken out of context."

Payne told the Times' undercover investigators that publicly, the donation would be made in the politician's name "unless he wants to be anonymous for some reason." In February, Bush said he was considering keeping foreign donors' names to the library confidential. "There's some people who like to give and don't particularly want their names disclosed," Bush said. In November 2006, the New York Daily News reported that Bush hoped to get roughly $250 million in "megadonations" from some key allies, including "wealthy heiresses, Arab nations and captains of industry." The Bush administration has also given special favors to some library donors. Dallas billionaire Ray Hunt was listed as a Bush-Cheney 2000 campaign "Pioneer" and previously served on the board of Halliburton. Hunt donated $35 million to SMU to help build the library. When Bush announced he would extend the U.S.-Mexico border fence by 700 miles in 2006, he apparently granted a favor to Hunt: the border fence would "abruptly end" at Hunt's property in the small town of Granjeno, TX.

Of course, Bush is not alone. . .

NY Sun, 2004 President Clinton's new $165 million library here was funded in part by gifts of $1 million or more each from the Saudi royal family and three Saudi businessmen. The governments of Dubai, Kuwait, and Qatar and the deputy prime minister of Lebanon all also appear to have donated $1 million or more for the archive and museum that opened last week. . .

Information about the donors is available to the public on a single touch-screen computer mounted on a wall on the third floor of the recently opened library. Eventually, most who have contributed $100,000 or more will be listed on a wall in the museum's lobby, Mr. Kessel said. However, some donors have asked that their names not be released. "We don't have many," Mr. Kessel said, adding, "It doesn't involve anyone controversial."

The computer lists donors by categories that correspond to the size of the gift. But there are no dollar figures provided for each of the funding levels. Asked why the donor categories were not publicly defined, Mr. Kessel said,"It was a decision we made.We really don't need to at this point."

As a charitable organization, the Clinton Foundation is not required to make the names of its donors or the amounts of their gifts public. However, some of the other foundations that contributed to the library have disclosed their gifts on financial reports that are available from the Internal Revenue Service. By comparing those reports with the donor categories on the third-floor computer screen in the library, The New York Sun was able to match donor categories with approximate dollar amounts.

The highest tier,"Trustees," includes donations from 57 individuals, couples, or other entities. IRS reports reviewed by the Sun show that the foundations at this level have generally given or pledged $1 million or more. The Wasserman Foundation of Los Angeles, founded by movie mogul Lew Wasserman, gave the Clinton library $3 million. The Roy and Christine Sturgis Charitable Trust pledged $4 million. The Anheuser-Busch Foundation has given $200,000 annually for the last several years as part of what appears to be a $1 million pledge.The Annenberg Foundation also gave $1 million.

The Saudi royal family and the governments of Dubai, Kuwait, and Qatar donated at this "Trustee" level, as did the governments of Brunei and Taiwan. Also listed as trustees are three Saudi businessmen - Abdullah Al-Dabbagh, Nasser Al-Rashid, and Walid Juffali.

Other notables at the "Trustee" level include the deputy prime minister of Lebanon, Issam Fares; Hollywood director Steven Spielberg and his wife, actress Kate Capshaw, and an heir to the Wal-Mart fortune, Alice Walton.

The next tier down is labeled "Philanthropists." A major New York labor organization, Local 1199 of the Service Employees International Union, donated at this level, which appears to correspond to gifts of $500,000 to $1 million. Also donating in this range was the editor of the Las Vegas Sun, Brian Greenspun, who was one of Mr. Clinton's roommates at Yale.

On the level below that are the "Humanitarians." Based on benchmarks available from other sources, the "Humanitarians" seem to have given between $100,000 and $500,000. In their ranks are the King of Morocco, Mohammed VI, as well as a Pakistani-American businessman from California, Farooq Bajwa. Several perennial Clinton donors are on this list, such as the Big Apple Supermarkets chief, John Catsimatidis, and a San Diego class action lawyer, William Lerach. The U.S.-Islamic World Conference gave at the Humanitarian level, as did several Jewish groups, the Jewish Communal Fund, the Jewish Community Foundation, and the University of Judaism, according to the information available on the computer screen in the Clinton Library here.

The most controversial known donation to Mr. Clinton's library is also recorded at this level: a gift from a Manhattan socialite and singer, Denise Rich. Ms. Rich gave the foundation $450,000 while her fugitive ex-husband, Marc Rich, was seeking a pardon on tax-evasion and racketeering charges. Mr. Clinton granted the pardon hours before he left office, triggering a federal criminal investigation, as well as congressional inquiries.

As a result of that flap, a House committee voted in 2001 to require public disclosure of all large donations to presidential libraries. But the legislation stalled. . .

President George H.W. Bush's library, which opened in 1997 in College Station,Texas, also received significant financial support from overseas. The governments of Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and Japan each gave $1 million or more, while the People's Republic of China donated between $50,000 and $100,000.

The Chinese communist government may also have chipped in for Mr. Clinton's library. The Chinese Overseas Real Estate Development company gave at the $100,000 or higher level. So did the National Opera of Paris.



Ablogistan Senator Ted Kennedy, who suffers from a life-threatening brain tumor that requires daily treatment, has now officially voted more times in the last few months than John McCain. And Kennedy's only voted once since being diagnosed on May 20. . . McCain? He hasn't showed up to vote since April 8, missing a total of 76 votes. . . Here's the attendance record for the 110th Congress according to the Washington Post's database: John McCain: Missed 374 votes (61.8% of total) Barack Obama: Missed 263 votes (43.5% of total). . . Missing a few votes when you're running for president is understandable. But at some point you have to at least attempt to do the job you were elected to do.

Dalai Lama:
"If you have a Green Party - I want to join."


Ray Massey, Daily Mail, UK A Tory council plans to pull L400,000 out of a speed camera project, claiming the devices are a 'blatant tax on the motorist'. Swindon Borough Council in Wiltshire wants to spend the money on local safety measures, such as vehicle-activated speed signs. Its proposal is believed to be the first time a council has publicly accused the government of installing speed cameras to make money rather than prevent accidents. Swindon speed camera already out of action.


Gawker - The Associated Press' Washington bureau chief, Ron Fournier, has been pissing various people off with his "accountability journalism" since he was installed in May. His bitter former boss at AP trashed his credentials to Politico, and influential website Talking Points Memo wondered if he wasn't responsible for the AP's "atrocious campaign coverage this year." Fournier has said his new approach, which involves taking more pointed stands within news articles, is driven by an in-depth examination of the facts, while critics say it is simply biased, advocacy journalism dressed up in new clothes. Fournier has had the backing of top AP brass in New York, but that may soon change, given the following recap of a 2004 email from Fournier to then-White House senior advisor Karl Rove, published on TPM: "Karl Rove exchanged e-mails about Pat Tillman with Associated Press reporter Ron Fournier, under the subject line "H-E-R-O." In response to Mr. Fournier's e-mail, Mr. Rove asked, 'How does our country continue to produce men and women like this,' to which Mr. Fournier replied, 'The Lord creates men and women like this all over the world. But only the great and free countries allow them to flourish. Keep up the fight.' Fournier isn't trying to explain how telling the White House's main political adviser to "keep up the fight" keeps his journalism unbiased. Instead he said he's kind of sorry, even though he obviously isn't, at all: "I was an AP political reporter at the time of the 2004 e-mail exchange, and was interacting with a source, a top aide to the president, in the course of following an important and compelling story. I regret the breezy nature of the correspondence."


McClatchy The U.S. government is blocking the American Civil Liberties Union from paying attorneys representing suspected terrorists held here, insisting that the ACLU must first receive a license from the U.S. Treasury Department before making the payments. ACLU director Anthony Romero accused the Bush administration of "obstruction of justice" by delaying approval of the license, which the government argues is required under U.S. law because the beneficiaries of the lawyers' services are foreign terrorists. "Now the government is stonewalling again by not allowing Americans' private dollars to be paid to American lawyers to defend civil liberties,'' Romero said. Treasury Department spokesman John Rankin declined to comment on the showdown with the ACLU, citing privacy policies.

News, Australia A divided US appeals court has ruled an Arizona school violated the constitutional rights of a 13-year-old student by conducting a strip search for ibuprofen. Suspecting that a student had violated a policy against prescription or over-the-counter drugs without permission, public school officials in Safford, Arizona, ordered a search of Savana Redding. A school nurse had her remove her clothes, including her bra, and shake her underwear to see if Ms Redding was hiding anything. The 2003 search, prompted by a tip from another girl, did not find ibuprofen, which is found in common medications like Advil and Motrin to treat pain like cramps and headaches. . . "Directing a 13-year-old girl to remove her clothes, partially revealing her breasts and pelvic area, for allegedly possessing ibuprofen, an infraction that poses an imminent danger to no one, and which could be handled by keeping her in the principal's office until a parent arrived or simply sending her home, was excessively intrusive," Justice Kim McLane Wardlaw wrote for the majority.



Agence France Presse French authorities ordered the temporary closure of a nuclear treatment plant in a popular tourist region of southern France after a uranium leak polluted the local water supply. But site operator Socatri, a subsidiary of French nuclear giant Areva, said it would permanently shut down the facility at the Tricastin nuclear plant in Provence as part of a previously-planned upgrade. France's ASN nuclear safety authority cited a "series of faults and human negligence that is not acceptable" when it ordered the closure following an inspection at the plant ursday. Residents in the Vaucluse region have been told not to drink water or eat fish from nearby rivers since the leak in which 75 kilogram (165 pounds) of untreated liquid uranium spilled into the ground. Swimming and water sports were also forbidden as was irrigation of crops with the contaminated water.


ABC - Researchers observed 50 kids aged 1 to 3 at play in a room for an hour: half the time was television-free, and half the time the TV show "Jeopardy" was playing on a television in the room. Although the children in the room while the TV was on glanced up only occasionally, the researchers saw clear signs that the children had trouble concentrating. . . During the television-free time, Anderson and his colleagues observed standard psychological testing signs that the toddlers were focused and learning. "The child gets an intent look on their face, they lean into the toy, their extraneous body movements decrease," Anderson says. "When they're in that state, they're much more likely to be learning." But when "Jeopardy" came on, Anderson and his colleagues saw different behavior. The children played for half as long as they played without background television, and they were visibly less calm. "You actually can see sometimes more aimless behavior, walking around like they're not quite sure what they're going to do next," Anderson says.

Daily Telegraph, UK America's professional Father Christmases have been plunged into civil war amid accusations of profiteering, unethical behaviour and even Claus-on-Claus violence. . . Organizers of the annual convention in Kansas of the Amalgamated Order of Real-Bearded Santas, fear it will be disrupted by splitters from rival groups such as the Fraternal Order and the Red Suit Society. The trouble started last year with a row on the board of the Amalgamated Santas, a 700-member group which was set up in 1994 by 10 Santas doing a television commercial in Hollywood. Tim Connaghan, the organisation's chief, was forced out after a rival board member, Nick Trolli, accused him of unethical behaviour by acting as a booking agent for 200 members hired for Christmas events and taking a $25,000 consultancy free from a film company. Mr Trolli took over but he also proved controversial, expelling some 20 members for offences that included maligning fellow Santas on Elf Net. In January, one of the banned members tried to gatecrash an Amalgamated Santas board meeting in California.. . . The fracas prompted another ousted board member, Tom Hartsfield, to shut down the group's website in protest. "They threatened me with the FBI, and called me a thief and a terrorist," he told the Wall Street Journal. Leaders of the group deny the charge.

Conor L. Sanchez, Los Angeles Times With helium costs skyrocketing and supply shortages developing, the balloon industry has struggled for more than a year to compete as worldwide demand for the gas has, well, ballooned. Adding to the turmoil is a bill in the California Legislature that would ban helium-filled foil representations of birthday cakes, Hello Kitty and the like. Foil balloons - made from a tough polyester film known as Mylar or some other metalized material - are accused of causing hundreds of power outages each year in California by short-circuiting power lines they encounter during escape attempts. For entrepreneurs such as Amanda Armstrong, a balloon ban in combination with higher costs could stick a pin in their business. "It will hurt my sales, if not put me under," said Armstrong, who runs a balloon decorating business called Top Hat Balloon Werks from her home in Mission Viejo, servicing weddings, birthday parties, quinceaneras and other celebrations. The balloon designer, who can tick off the aesthetic and profit characteristics of various gas-filled creations, said metallic balloons accounted for about half of her $175,000 in annual sales.

Overheard in DC: Guy to another guy: "Dude, she's way out of your league. She's in the major's and you're a tee-ball coach with questionable photos on your computer."

News, Australia, headline - Mormons make missionary position clear


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

Why doesn't the Progressive Review spend a little less time bemoaning the state of the Democratic Party and a little more time excoriating the Green Party for moves that only serve to marginalize their movement? Cynthia McKinney would be laughable if she weren't so pathetic. And a hip-hop artist for VP? - Matthew Donoghue


This seems a little suspect. What are we to make of Japan where a good deal of soy product is consumed and they don't seemingly suffer from loss of brain function with age? - Lars

Japanese-American men who eat a lot of tofu have been shown to have the same memory issues. However, the fermented products, particularly tempeh, have been shown to aid memory.


The thing that pisses me off about John McCain and his supporters is that he admits he broke under torture and gave the position of his ship and his bombing route from it. Which means he wanted to live enough to sacrifice his fellow pilots. So my question is why is it a pampered coward ass admiral's son can have a breaking point but poor people who've struggled every fuckin' day of their lives just to survive cannot have a breaking point?


Col. Joe Kittinger investigated the possibility of escape and survival from a faltering spaceship. During the investigation he made a host of ever-higher jumps culminating in the 102,000 ft record shattering jump, making him the first man in the edge of space and making a record that has yet to be broken. The spin-cord entanglement was from an earlier jump. The last jump was made with a missing glove, but he survived.


In recent days, leading news organizations around the country have reported on the housing policies of Senator Barack Obama, following a feature article published in the Boston Globe which highlighted the example of the Grove Parc Plaza Apartments, a subsidized housing complex in Chicago's Woodlawn neighborhood that we call home.

The Globe Article, while rightly raising concerns about the failure of the private sector to adequately provide for the housing needs of the poor, unfortunately leaves out half of the story. Grove Parc is not just an example of the failures of past policies, but a beacon of hope for the way forward. Tenants have not only stopped foreclosure and the displacement of some 500 low income families, but also brought in new management committed to working with the tenants to rebuild affordable and quality housing for all residents. In so doing, we have highlighted two fundamental principles that both presidential candidates would do well to heed as they finalize their housing policy platforms,- first, the full participation of tenants, who have the biggest stake in housing policy, and second, the guarantee of quality housing for all as a human right and social responsibility.

Millions of home-owners are facing foreclosure. Gas, food and utility prices are sky-rocketing. Thousands of units of public housing are being torn down from New Orleans to Miami to Chicago and close to 500,000 families - including many elderly and disabled - may soon be put out on the streets due to Congress under-funding HUD's subsidized housing program by $2.8 billion this year. Homelessness and poverty will continue to rise until we treat housing as a human right rather than a source of profit for speculators and developers. In Chicago, for example, a recent study published in the Chicago Tribune shows that a minimum wage worker would have to work 97 hours a week, 52 weeks a year to afford a modest two-bedroom apartment. Low-income communities of color, in particular, are being ravaged by this crisis, which extends far beyond housing. Displacement weakens our communities and in so doing makes problems like youth violence and unstable schools even worse. The promise of "mixed-income" communities has been a smoke screen for a set of policies that have involved tearing down lots of housing and replacing very little of it. The people affected by these policies are never at the table when they are created.

While the Globe article raises important points about the problems in both public and subsidized housing, it fails to highlight the role played by massive budget cuts to HUD, which has created a lack of oversight over all HUD programs. These cuts have been carried forth by both parties, and their effects have been made even worse by rampant corruption in the last HUD administration, whose Bush-appointed National Secretary, Alphonso Jackson, recently stepped down amidst allegations of contract steering.

Our nation needs to guarantee the human right to housing for all of its citizens, regardless of income and race, and to ensure that the people affected by policies are active participants in creating them. As a start we call on both candidates to commit to:

Fully fund HUD: The 2008 HUD subsidized housing budget was under-funded by $2.8 billion dollars, threatening to triple the rents of 500,000 families overnight (40% of whom are the elderly and disabled)

Support tenant empowerment and oversight: Grove Parc is turning around because as tenants we are taking control of our housing. We chose a new management company, stopped HUD from foreclosing on our complex, and have won awards around the country for our efforts. Grove Parc is proving that when the people who live in housing finally have a voice in how it is run another future for subsidized housing is possible.

Declare a moratorium on demolition of public housing and foreclosures: Most of the public sees housing subsidies as hand-outs to the poor, not realizing that the vast majority of HUD subsidies go to first time home buyers. Ironically, now both groups are in the same boat, unsure of where to look for housing as banks are bailed out but homeowners are left hanging while the few safety nets that exist continue to be decimated by the current administration.

Create a comprehensiive plan to ensure the human right to housing for all: We hope that the both campaigns will see this as an opportunity to take a strong stand for housing as a human right and to take a critical look at the failure of privatizing housing and the need for strong public oversight and tenant control. Some will undoubtedly use the stories of wasted money and failed housing in the Globe article as justification to further cut these programs. Cutting badly needed subsidies in any housing program, especially in economic times like we are in, is irresponsible, unethical and inefficient, creating many unforeseen costs to society. - Grove Parc Tenants Association


As a recently processed user of cannabis, I believe decrim at this point is at least a step in the right direction. I am hoping to live and experience a slightly less stressful environment. I have yet to see two smokers get up and fight about anything. I have however been privy to the most insightful and enlightening conversations of my life. I recently lost one of the closest, most intelligent smokers I have ever met. So all things considered I am really hoping Obama will meet us half-way and actually start with the decriminalization of marijuana.


This was a definite trend in Britain long before 9/11 and the beginning of the west's Muslim hunt. It was part of the longstanding prejudice there against all dark-skinned immigrants from Britain's former colonies.


The First Amendment allegedly provides for free speech, which would include comments such as the one the victim made. The police are supposed to be protecting the public from criminal activity, not beating them senseless because of a catty remark.

If i could buy into a nationwide government plan I would, but that option is not available to healthy younger people like myself (46 years old single, continuous buyer for 25 years, currently paying $268 a month for Blue Cross, soon to climb to prices higher than most mortgages, at which point I'll have to drop coverage because i won't be able ot pay $800 per month premium at 50+ years of age). I am stuck buying overpriced, state based, constantly cherry picked (private for profit health insurance, so as you can see America is not a land of choice for me when it comes to health insurance


I think giving the other points of view is fine. This is nothing compared to what some liberal educators are teaching in school and hiding behind tenure or the unions.


I'm moving to Canada before they can put me in a cage for not paying a parking ticket. Who in their right mind thinks a person who has committed a criminal offense is going to be rehabilitated by being surrounded by criminals all day everyday? - Bad Bart


We all know that McCain is somewhat limited in his administrative capabilities, so we are truly grateful that McCain has decided to follow the same planning process that the MBA president used in program design and oversight. The primary models used will be the Iraq occupation, Katrina relief response, the Medicare pharmaceuticals plan, Homeland Security, and of course national debt doubling.

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