Undernews For 19 November, 2008
Undernews For 19 November, 2008
The news while there's still time to do something about it
THE PROGRESSIVE REVIEW
611 Pennsylvania Ave SE #381
Washington DC 20003
Editor: Sam Smith
I've been uplinked and downloaded. I've been inputted and outsourced. I know the upside of downsizing; I know the downside of upgrading. I'm a high-tech lowlife. A cutting-edge, state-of-the-art, bicoastal multi-tasker, and I can give you a gigabyte in a nanosecond. - George Carlin
The reasonable man adapts
himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in
trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all
progress depends on the unreasonable man -- GB
PAGE ONE MUST
CHENEY & GONZALES INDICTED
Reuters - A grand jury in South Texas indicted U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney and former attorney General Alberto Gonzales for "organized criminal activity" related to alleged abuse of inmates in private prisons. The indictment has not been seen by a judge, who could dismiss it.
The grand jury in Willacy County, in the Rio Grande Valley near the U.S.-Mexico border, said Cheney is "profiteering from depriving human beings of their liberty," according to a copy of the indictment obtained by Reuters. The indictment cites a "money trail" of Cheney's ownership in prison-related enterprises including the Vanguard Group, which owns an interest in private prisons in south Texas.
Former attorney general Gonzales used his position to "stop the investigations as to the wrong doings" into assaults in county prisons, the indictment said. Cheney's office declined comment. . .
The grand jury wrote it made its decision "with great sadness," but said they had no other choice but to indict Cheney and Gonzales "because we love our country."
HOW HEALTH INSURANCE REALLY WORKS IN
Boston Globe - Private insurance data obtained by the Globe's Spotlight Team show that the Brigham, Mass. General, Children's Hospital, and a few others are, on average, paid about 15 percent to 60 percent more than their rivals by insurance companies such as Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts and Harvard Pilgrim Health Care. The gap is even more striking for many individual procedures, which can be two or three times more expensive in one hospital than in another.
This payment pattern has become a driving force in the state's galloping healthcare costs, and it raises hard questions about why certain hospitals and physicians receive premium pay for care that is no better than that of their competitors. Until now, the growing pay gap has not been subject to public scrutiny because contracts between insurers and hospitals typically include confidentiality agreements. But an ongoing Spotlight Team investigation of healthcare in this state found scores of payment disparities for routine procedures in which there is no obvious difference in quality. Consider: Children's Hospital typically gets about $1,100 for making an MRI of an ankle or a knee, not counting the physician's fee. Insurers pay Boston Medical Center $490 for the same procedure, using a similar high-tech machine.
The technician who makes a simple chest X-ray to help diagnose pain or an insistent cough brings in $75 at Anna Jaques Hospital in Newburyport. Mass. General earns more than twice as much, $160, for producing the same image. . .
The dramatic payment gaps have emerged over the last decade as hospitals pushed, with varying levels of success, to offset federal budget cuts by boosting their income from insurance companies, health executives say. The resulting wide range of payments for the same services reflects a healthcare system in which deregulation and lax government oversight have allowed the hospitals with the most clout to extract big increases from insurers while everyone else falls behind. . .
Health insurance premiums paid by the average Massachusetts family have jumped 78 percent since 2000, and Baker believes that a significant portion of the rise has been driven by hefty insurance payment increases to dominant providers, who use the extra income to install the latest technology and expand, often on rivals' turf.
At the same time, the pay gap undermines less powerful hospitals, whose officials say that they steadily lose doctors to those that can pay more, and that they constantly struggle to keep pace with advances in costly medical technology. For instance, while Mass. General is spending $686 million on the single most expensive hospital expansion in state history, the state's second-largest hospital chain, Caritas Christi, had to borrow money this year to pay for basics, like oxygen tanks.
GREEN PARTY DOES WELL ON LOCAL
The Green Party's 2008 candidates for the US House doubled the number of votes they received collectively from the number received in 2006, while over one million US voters voted for at least one Green candidate in the 2008 election.
A new record was set for a Green candidate running for the US House, when Deb McFarland finished second in an Arkansas District 2 race with 64,622 votes or 23%. Rebekah Kennedy apparently set a new percentage record for a Green running for the US Senate, with 202,016 votes or 21% in her Arkansas race. Arkansas Greens showed the most dramatic electoral growth of any state Green Party.
The Illinois Green Party ran 54 candidates, the most of any state Green Party in 2008. 2008 is the first year in which the West Virginia Mountain Party competed in elections as an affiliate of the Green Party of the United States, with Jesse Johnson's run for Governor. Mr. Johnson's 4.5% is the highest percentage for an alternative party candidate for Governor of West Virginia since 1912, when the Socialist Party polled 5.6%.
Other Green Party successes:
Bruce Delgado was elected Mayor of Marina City, Monterey County, California Delgado joins California Green mayors Gayle McLaughlin of Richmond and Craig Litwin of Sebastopol.
Ross Mirkarimi was reelected to his District 5 seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in California, with 77% of the vote. This is the seat that was occupied in 1978 by Harvey Milk, the first openly gay man elected to public office in California.
Art Goodtimes was reelected to his San Miguel County Commissioner seat in Colorado.
Cara Jennings was reelected as Lake Worth Commissioner, Palm Beach, Florida.
James Nicita was elected Oregon City Commissioner in Clackamas County, Oregon
Michael Beilstein was reelected to the Corvallis City Council in Oregon.
In the District of Columbia seven DC Statehood Green Party candidates were elected to Advisory Neighborhood Commission seats.
SWAMPOODLE REPORT: THE MELANIN OBSESSION
It's hard to remember, but not so long ago white liberals and blacks thought judging someone by their skin color was racist. Barack Obama has changed all that. Skin color is not only being used to judge him but the prospective future of the whole country as well.
Yet, if race doesn't matter, if we're purportedly moving into a post-racial society, then it cuts both ways. People can't, on the one hand, criticize those who blame blacks for crime while they place their own faith in one black for salvation. The latter is just a more benign use of the same faulty assumptions.
To keep this all straight, it helps to remember a few things:
- Race is a unscientific concept that was developed to promote prejudice. To even use the term caters to this dismal history.
- The far better terms are ethnicity or culture. Each of those groups popularly described as races reflect a large variety of cultures. The 9th Ward of New Orleans is not Dakar. And the west side of Manhattan is not the west side of Iowa.
- There is more physical (including DNA) difference between different cultures of the "black race" than there is between the average white or black. Our infatuation with skin color blinds us to this
- Barack Obama's black father left him when he was two. His mother was a white Kansan. He was raised from the age of ten by white grandparents in Hawaii.
A few days ago, a black friend said to me that now that Obama had been elected I was going to have to show him more respect. I replied that since Obama was half white we were even on that score and, since Obama and I both went to Harvard, it was I who came out ahead on the mutual identity scale.
Silly, but no more so than the highly successful effort to turn Obama into a racial icon despite his multicultural background, done by the very people who claim that race shouldn't be important.
It is wonderful that a presidential glass ceiling has been broken, but it is also worth remembering that Jack Kennedy also did it - and we haven't have a Catholic president since. Nor are we making the slightest progress in integrating the Senate. When I make the lonely argument for increasing the number of urban states, I sometimes note that if the Senate were a school system it would be under court ordered bussing, if it were a private firm it couldn't get business from the federal government and if it were a private club you'd want to resign from it before seeking public office.
But because of our American Idol approach to politics and change, the texture of the Senate doesn't even get mentioned while that of our new president becomes an obsessive symbol.
Living in DC, I have mostly voted for black candidates most of my life and know they range from virtuous to despicable as much as any bunch of white pols. I also know that the color of their skin is the worst possible predictor of how they will treat others less fortunate but of the same melanin density.
There is another problem with making such a big deal of ethnicity: it encourages others to do the same, others who may have been taught that those who do not look like themselves are lesser beings. White liberals tend to regard these people with contempt, but multicultural sophistication is nowhere near as widespread as some would like to believe and priggish disapproval is no more effective in such cases as it would be in teaching a child math. In fact, it helps to keep racial myths on the table by adding to the resentment.
It would be wiser if Obama's supporters could see themselves more as guides towards a successful multiculturalism than as triumphant members of one of America's many cultures. A good start would be to stop calling Obama black and celebrate the fact that he represents an ethnic complexity that increasingly will define our country. It's not as much fun and self-satisfying but it would better help America get on the right track.
OBAMA'S REVERSE HAT TRICK: EMANUEL, CLINTON & NOW ERIC HOLDER
Reason - Newsweek is reporting that President-elect Obama will install Eric Holder, deputy Attorney General in the Clinton administration, as Attorney General, provided that he passes a formal vetting process. Since Obama is vetting, here are a few things we would like to bring to his attention:
Holder has declared that the "disastrous course" set by the Bush administration in the struggle against terrorism has to be reversed by closing the detention center at Guantanamo Bay and declaring without qualification that the United States does not torture people. But Holder downplayed concerns about using "secret evidence" against suspected terrorists when he was in the Justice Department.
According to Tim Lynch of the CATO Institute, Holder was responsible for pushing several liberty-killing anti-terrorism laws after the Oklahoma bombing.
Holder played a leading role in Bill Clinton's pardon of billionaire fugitive Marc Rich. Some suspect that he might have with-held information about billionaire fugitive and tax evader, Marc Rich, to facilitate Rich's pardon by President Clinton
He is a drug warrior and who proposed to stiffen penalties for the possession of marijuana.
He was also involved in the federal government's decision to seize Elian Gonzalez from his aunt's home and return him to Cuba without obtaining a court order, a terrible lapse of judgment.
There have been questions about whether he was completely upfront about the Justice Department's conduct in the Waco fiasco.
Holder's big attraction for the job apparently is that he is African American. Skin color is never a good qualification for an appointment and it speaks volumes about Obama if he made it one. That said, there were far better African American candidates for this job including former Baltimore Mayor Kurt Schmoke.
ACLU will have its work cut out for it if Holder becomes attorney general. He will replace one set of excesses with another. It would be truly disappointing pick by Obama.
Dick Morris & Eileen McGann, June 2008 - On his first day as the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, Barack Obama made his first clear, serious mistake: He named Eric Holder as one of three people charged with vice-presidential vetting.
As deputy attorney general, Holder was the key person who made the pardon of Marc Rich possible in the final hours of the Clinton presidency. Now, Obama will be stuck in the Marc Rich mess.
If ever there was a person who did not deserve a presidential pardon, it's Marc Rich, the fugitive billionaire who renounced his US citizenship and moved to Switzerland to avoid prosecution for racketeering, wire fraud, 51 counts of tax fraud, evading $48 million in taxes, and engaging in illegal trades with Iran in violation of the US embargo following the 1979-80 hostage crisis.
Seventeen years later, Rich wanted a pardon, and he retained Jack Quinn, former counsel to the president, to lobby his old boss.
It was Holder who had originally recommended Quinn to one of Rich's advisers, although he claims that he did not know the identity of the client.
And he gave substantive advice to Quinn along the way. According to Quinn's notes that were produced to Congress, Holder told Quinn to take the pardon application "straight to the White House" because "the timing is good."
And once the pardon was granted, Holder sent his congratulations to Quinn.
In 2002, a congressional committee reported that Holder was a "willing participant in the plan to keep the Justice Department from knowing about and opposing" the Rich pardon. . .
It couldn't be a bigger mistake.
Jerry Seper, Washington Times, May 2002 - Former White House Counsel Jack Quinn and former Deputy Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. sought to cut the Justice Department out of a decision by President Clinton to pardon fugitive financier Marc Rich, according to a congressional report. The 467-page report, to be released by the House Government Reform Committee, said Mr. Quinn and Mr. Holder "worked together" to ensure that department officials - particularly federal prosecutors in New York who handled the Rich case - "did not have the opportunity to express an opinion on the Rich pardon before it was granted . . . The evidence amassed by the committee indicates that Holder advised Quinn to file the Rich pardon petition with the White House, and leave the Justice Department out of the process," the report said."
Washington Post, 2008 - In December 2000, as Rich's lawyers were closing in on the pardon, one of them, Jack Quinn, singled out Holder in an e-mail. "The greatest danger lies with the lawyers," Quinn wrote his co-counsels. "I have worked them hard and I am hopeful that E. Holder will be helpful to us."
NY Times, 2008 - In recent years, he has worked as a partner at Covington & Burling, representing big-name clients like the National Football League, Chiquita Brands International and Merck.
ASSOCIATED PRESS, 1999 - The federal prosecutor who raised questions about a possible Justice Department cover-up in the Waco standoff was abruptly removed from the case along with his boss, according to a court filing made public today. Deputy Attorney General Eric Holder recused U.S. Attorney James W. Blagg in San Antonio and assistant U.S. Attorney Bill Johnston in Waco from any further dealings in criminal or civil proceedings related to the siege. Holder appointed the U.S. attorney in a neighboring district as a ``special attorney to the U.S. attorney general." . . . Johnston wrote Reno warning that aides within her own department were misleading her about federal agents' roles. The recusal notice provides no explanation for Holder's action.
Progressive Review 1999 One of those testifying against the reauthorization of the independent counsel bill was Deputy Attorney General Eric Holder who is an excellent example why Justice is not up to investigating its own administration colleagues. Holder is a political appointee who demonstrated little skill as a US Attorney but nonetheless was named to the number two justice position.
Weekend All Things Considered April 25, 1999 LARRY ABRAMSON: Deputy attorney general Eric Holder pointed to the [Columbine] boys' use of the Internet to develop their fantasies and possibly to get hold of information on how to build bombs. Holder told CBS that even though previous efforts to restrict speech on the Internet have been struck down in court, it might be time for another try.
ERIC HOLDER: The court has really struck down every government effort to try to regulate it. We tried with regard to pornography. It is gonna be a difficult thing, but it seems to me that if we can come up with reasonable restrictions, reasonable regulations in how people interact on the Internet, that is something that the Supreme Court and the courts ought to favorably look at.
Progressive Review DC News Service, 1998 - Eric Holder's commission on sentencing is proposing even more draconian lock-ups despite DC having some of the longest sentences in the country.
Progressive Review DC News Service, 1998 - City Council chair Linda Cropp has called a special session of the council to overturn a committee's rejection of new sentencing guidelines drafted by a colonial commission headed by Eric Holder. The guidelines, for example, would send someone found with a $10 bag of cocaine to a federal gulag hundreds of miles away for thirty years with no chance of parole. . .
Under rules established by Congress, if the council doesn't approve the guidelines, the matter goes to the Justice Department and Congress. Cropp defends publicly capitulating on the issue with the absurdity that "I think most council member feel as if the council ought to make as many decisions as possible." Clearly, the only decision remaining for that eviscerated body is to resist the federal occupation of the city.
Progressive Review, 1998 - Eric Holder gets good national press, but some of those who know something about his activities in DC know better. As a lackluster local US Attorney, he not only sat on information concerning police and water department corruption, his staff regularly signed off on excessive police overtime to keep cops friendly to the prosecutors. Holder was also instrumental in getting law changes that made jury trials more difficult for certain defendants.
The interesting thing about the following is the connection between two of Obama's bad choices: Holder and Hillary Clinton
Sam Smith, Progressive Review, 1997 - One of the issues that came up in a lengthy suit (American Physicians and Surgeons, Inc, et al. v. Hillary Rodham Clinton, et al) was whether White House aide Ira Magaziner, speaking on behalf of Hillary Clinton's health task force, told the truth when he claimed that only federal employees were members of the group. This was found to be false and Judge Royce Lamberth issued an opinion, part of which follows:
|||| It is clear that the decisions here were made at the highest levels of government, and that the government itself is--and should be--accountable when its officials run amok. There were no rogue lawyers here misleading this court. The court agrees with plaintiffs that these were not reckless and inept errors taken by bewildered counsel. The Executive Branch of the government, working in tandem, was dishonest with this court. . . .
The Department of Justice has a long tradition of setting the highest standards of conduct for all lawyers, and it is a sad day when this court must conclude, as did the United States Attorney in his investigation, that the Department of Justice succumbed to pressure from White House attorneys and others to provide this court with "strained interpretations" that were "ultimately unconvincing."
It seems that some government officials never learn that the cover-up can be worse than the underlying conduct. Most shocking to this court, and deeply disappointing, is that the Department of Justice would participate in such conduct. This was not an issue of good faith word games being played with the Court. The United States Attorney found that the most controversial sentence of the [Ira] Magaziner declaration--"Only federal government employees serve as members of the interdepartmental working group"--could not be prosecuted under the perjury statute because the issue of "membership" within the working group was a fuzzy one, and no generally agreed upon "membership" criteria were ever written down. Therefore, the Magaziner declaration was actually false because of the implication of the declaration that "membership" was a meaningful concept and that one could determine who was and was not a "member" of the working group. This whole dishonest explanation was provided to this court in the Magaziner declaration on March 3, 1993, and this court holds that such dishonesty is sanctionable and was not good faith dealing with the court or plaintiff's counsel. It was not timely corrected or supplemented, and this type of conduct is reprehensible, and the government must be held accountable for it.||||
It was just symbolic and, in the end, the money comes out of our pockets but at least one judge has called the White House for lying, assessing a fine of over a quarter of a million dollars. As the above excerpt from Judge Lamberth's opinion indicates, this was no minor peccadillo but rather, "The Executive Branch of the government, working in tandem, was dishonest with this court." At issue was the composition of Hillary Clinton's health task force, a body stacked with those from the medical industry who would gain most from the faux reforms of the Clintonistas.
You might think a federal judge calling one of Mrs. Clinton's top aides a liar would be big news, but not in today's Washington. The Washington Post found room on its front page for "Seniors Strut Their Stuff in Pool Pageant" while burying the health care story on page 21 under a boring headline. That was nine pages better than the New York Times, which ran the story under "Judge Rules Government Covered Up Lies on Panel," hardly descriptive of the story's significance. Furthermore, the Post later attacked Lamberth editorially and defended Magaziner with sophistic arguments worthy of a White House counsel. Note to the Post: honesty is not a legal technicality.
The health care incident also sheds some interesting light on the number two official in the Justice Department, Eric Holder. Turns out it was Holder, then DC's US Attorney, who decided not to prosecute Magaziner on the grounds that no one had written down what "membership" in the task force meant -- the sort of disreputable wriggle for which DC lawyers are famous.
Holder has led a charmed life until recently. As US Attorney in DC, he was under the patronage of the Washington Post, which started boosting him as a suitably conservative black candidate for mayor. Unfortunately, despite Holder's willingness to lock up any DC miscreant for as long as anyone who offered him a job wanted, no one could point to anything that Holder had really done other than to give comforting speeches to white business groups. The Post trial balloon burst before take-off.
Holder, however, soon was given the Web Hubbell chair at Justice. Everything was rolling along just fine until scandals erupted in the DC police department and other city agencies. Now it appears that Holder was just a little lackadaisical in following important leads that might have blown the cover on wrong-doings. Even the Washington Post quotes a senior prosecutor as saying that Holder's office shelved an investigation into a $1-million-a-year corruption case in the DC Water and Sewer Authority.
One of Holder's predecessors, Joseph DiGenova, says, "When you have corruption staring you in the face, and you fail to act, you should resign. You can't worry about judgeships or your next job. And this from former city auditor Otis Troupe: "For years, in audit after audit, and in newspaper article after newspaper articles, we have established fact patterns that constitute crimes. And in all but a handful of case, nobody did anything in the prosecutor's office."
Nonetheless, Holder is still trying to stay in the establishment's good graces by chairing a sentencing commission that is expected to recommend even more severe penalties for those convicted in DC , which already locks up its violent criminals longer than anywhere else in the country. He also remains active on the local scene, helping those politicians with a punishment fetish figure out nifty new tricks. One of the latest seems to have his fingerprints on it: a measure that would take away the right of protestors on federal property to a jury trial. The gimmick: reduce the maximum penalty for the offense so it falls below DC's limit for jury trials. Then when protestors are arrested, hit them with multiple minor offenses. Result: long jail sentences but no need for a jury. Holder beta tested this constitutional assault on other sorts of cases while US Attorney. Sometimes ambition is not a pretty sight.
WHAT A PROGRESSIVE CABINET MIGHT LOOK LIKE
Backbone Campaign has been compiling information on progressive policy leaders for the last four years. Below are some of the names from our Progressive Cabinet Roster that we think would do a great job in an Obama cabinet or advising Obama in shaping his administration. Many of these names are not appearing in the press . . .
Defense: Chuck Spinney, Max Cleland, James Webb, Sarah Sewall, Gary Hart
State: Bill Richardson, Emira Woods, Jim McDermott, Gayle Smith, Bill Bradley Susan Rice
Homeland Security: Gary Hart, James Lee Witt, Donald J. Guter, Richard Clarke, Colin Powell
Attorney General:Charles Ogletree Jr, Kamala Harris, Senator Russell Feingold, John Conyers, Christopher Edley
Treasury: Elizabeth Warren, Paul Krugman, Dean Baker, James Galbraith, Joseph Stiglitz
EPA: Carl Pope, Robert Kennedy, Jr, Doug LaFollette, Mary O'Brien, Winona LaDuke
Climate Czar: Al Gore
Secretary of Sustainability: Lester R. Brown,Gifford Pinchot III, Hunter Lovins, Bill McKibben
WAR ON POVERTY TURNS INTO WAR ON
Kathryn Alfisi, Washington Lawyer - Homeless and civil liberties advocates see food-sharing ordinances as one of the latest measures that "criminalize" homelessness in a misguided attempt to deal with the substantial homeless population in the downtown area. Other ordinances restrict or make it illegal to panhandle, loiter, sit or lie down outside, and obstruct sidewalks. There also are mandated sweeps of places where homeless people live and destruction of their property. . .
Supporters of nuisance ordinances argue that people who live, work, or visit downtown are fed up with being harassed for money on the streets and seeing public parks turned into trash-filled encampments for the homeless. The ever-increasing homeless population not only affects individuals, but it also hurts businesses and hampers downtown improvement efforts.
Although criminalization may not be entirely new, advocates say it began to become a more noticeable trend in the early 1990s, most likely in reaction to the homelessness crisis that started the previous decade. The 1990s also saw the beginning of downtown revitalization efforts in U.S. cities. While these efforts were successful in attracting new businesses and young, middle- and upper-middle class residents, the homeless remained. "I think a lot of the purpose behind these laws is to move homeless people out of downtown areas where there are a lot of people and a lot of development going on. Some cities say it's bad for tourism, some claim it's bad for business, and some claim that these laws deal with public safety or health issues," says Maria Foscarinis, executive director of the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty.
In 2006 NLCHP and the National Coalition for the Homeless (NCH) released a report. . . that detailed criminalization trends based upon the results of a 2005 survey of laws and practices in 224 cities. The report featured a list of the country's "meanest cities" for the homeless. A follow-up report is scheduled to be released by the end of 2008. The meanest cities list revealed the trend toward criminalization was widespread. The top 25 included large cities such as Atlanta and Houston as well as small cities such as Lawrence, Kansas, and Sarasota, Florida. It also included Boulder, Colorado, and San Francisco-cities traditionally thought of as liberal.
During the period between 2002 and 2005, the report noted a 14 percent increase in laws prohibiting sitting or lying in public spaces, a 3 percent increase in laws prohibiting loitering or vagrancy, a 12 percent increase in laws restricting panhandling, and an 18 percent increase in laws prohibiting aggressive panhandling.
SCIENTISTS ADMIT SELF-CONSORING
We have noted this effect on cold fusion and post-Darwinian research.
Laura Cox, ABC News - A sociologist at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J., questioned 157 scientists who found their work at the crux of a 2003 political clash between several members of Congress, a Christian lobbyist group called the Traditional Values Coalition and the National Institutes of Health.
Of the 112 scientists who responded to the survey and interviews, 51 percent said they have since self-censored their grant proposals to remove "red flag" words, such as gay, lesbian, AIDS, needle-exchange or anal sex from their titles or abstracts. Nearly a quarter of respondents said they either modified their studies to seem less controversial or abandoned controversial grant proposals.
Joanna Kempner, an assistant professor of sociology at Rutgers, said the study attempts to quantify the "chilling effect" of political or ideological controversy on scientists. "That controversy leads to a chilling effect is a claim that one hears often," said Kempner. "I thought we could actually study it and see if that were true."
HAS OBAMA PROMISED TO TRACK DOWN A DEAD
Robert Baer, Times - In a talk to the Atlantic Council this week CIA Director Gen. Michael Hayden said Osama bin Laden is alive. I'll take his word for it. But bin Laden's strange disappearance makes one wonder what exactly happened to him. The last relatively reliable bin Laden sighting was in late 2001. A video that he appears in last year shows him with a dyed beard. More than a few Pakistani intelligence operatives who knew bin Laden scoff at the idea he would ever dye his beard. They think the tape was manipulated from old footage, and that bin Laden is in fact dead. But then again, they would have an interest in making us believe bin Laden is dead, since it would relieve American pressure to find him by any means necessary, including going into Pakistani territory. . .
I asked a half dozen of my former CIA colleagues who have been on bin Laden's trail since 9/11. What surprised me was that none would say for certain whether he is alive or dead. Half assumed he is dead, the other half assumed he is alive. I suppose a lot of their timidity has to do with the still open wounds about the CIA's missing an event like Saddam's destruction of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. It would be so much easier to miss the death of a single man.
The important point of Hayden's Atlantic talk was that Muslims have turned against bin Laden, realizing that his campaign against the West has ended up killing more Muslims than it has Islam's enemies. Al-Qaeda may be picking up adherents in North Africa and Yemen, preparing its return, but it certainly is no longer in a position to destabilize Saudi Arabia or any other Arab country. And, although Hayden didn't say it, there is no good evidence bin Laden is capable of mounting a large-scale attack. He failed to pull off an October surprise, as many in the FBI and CIA had feared he would.
RETIRED BRITISH HIGH JUDGE SAY IRAQ INVASION
Guardian, UK - One of Britain's most authoritative judicial figures last night delivered a blistering attack on the invasion of Iraq, describing it as a serious violation of international law, and accusing Britain and the US of acting like a "world vigilante." Lord Bingham, in his first major speech since retiring as the senior law lord, rejected the then attorney general's defense of the 2003 invasion as fundamentally flawed.
Contradicting head-on Lord Goldsmith's advice that the invasion was lawful, Bingham stated: "It was not plain that Iraq had failed to comply in a manner justifying resort to force and there were no strong factual grounds or hard evidence to show that it had." Adding his weight to the body of international legal opinion opposed to the invasion, Bingham said that to argue, as the British government had done, that Britain and the US could unilaterally decide that Iraq had broken UN resolutions "passes belief".
Governments were bound by international law as much as by their domestic laws, he said. "The current ministerial code," he added "binding on British ministers, requires them as an overarching duty to 'comply with the law, including international law and treaty obligations'.". . .
Addressing the British Institute of International and Comparative Law last night, Bingham said: "If I am right that the invasion of Iraq by the US, the UK, and some other states was unauthorized by the security council there was, of course, a serious violation of international law and the rule of law.
"For the effect of acting unilaterally was to undermine the foundation on which the post-1945 consensus had been constructed: the prohibition of force (save in self-defense, or perhaps, to avert an impending humanitarian catastrophe) unless formally authorised by the nations of the world empowered to make collective decisions in the security council ..."
The moment a state treated the rules of international law as binding on others but not on itself, the compact on which the law rested was broken, Bingham argued. Quoting a comment made by a leading academic lawyer, he added: "It is, as has been said, 'the difference between the role of world policeman and world vigilante'.". . .
After referring to mistreatment of Iraqi detainees in Abu Ghraib, Bingham added: "Particularly disturbing to proponents of the rule of law is the cynical lack of concern for international legality among some top officials in the Bush administration."
HOW EMANUEL GOT RICH
Eamon Javers, Politico - Incoming White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel's career as an investment banker was short but, oh, so sweet. Emanuel left the Clinton White House in 1998 as a senior adviser on a government salary. By the time he won election to the House in 2002, he had earned an astonishing $16 million.
Partly, it was simple luck: Emanuel dipped quickly into the world of investment banking in time to catch the tail end of the 1990s boom economy as a Chicago-based managing director at Wasserstein Perella & Co., where he worked from 1999 to 2002. While he was there, the firm was sold to the German Dresdner Bank for $1.37 billion in stock, netting Emanuel much of his Wall Street windfall.
Returning to Chicago in 1998 after his White House stint, Emanuel soon ran Wasserstein's small Midwestern office, developing a reputation as a deal guy who focused on mergers and acquisitions among companies that were subject to heavy government regulation. There, he deployed his skills as a born negotiator who knew the inner workings of government bureaucracies.
Frequently, Emanuel turned big Democratic donors and others he'd met during his White House years into clients for Wasserstein Perella, a firm that was led by Bruce Wasserstein, a hefty financial supporter of Clinton. . .
One signature transaction was the $16 billion
merger of Unicom Corp. and PECO Energy Co. into Exelon
Corp., now one of the nation's largest electric utilities,
with nearly $19 billion in annual revenue. The company owns
17 nuclear reactors, which produce about 20 percent of the
nation's nuclear power.
Progress Report - Part of conservatives' efforts to curb any talk of rescuing car makers has involved placing blame for the crisis on labor unions. Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) claimed that "some auto manufacturers are struggling because of a bad business structure with high unionized labor costs," while Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ) said on Sunday that the auto industry has "been sick" for years because of a "bad business model" with "contracts negotiated with the United Auto Workers that impose huge costs." But unions have repeatedly made concessions to auto executives over recent years. Bad executive leadership is more likely the catalyst for the Big Three's woes. GM Vice Chairman Bob Lutz has dismissed global warming as "a total crock of shit." Such sentiments from Detroit's leadership has contributed to the Big Three basing their business model on a future of cheap oil while fighting fuel efficiency standards despite repeated warnings against pursuing such a strategy.
Many rescue measure critics also argue that the Big Three should instead file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. But because the auto industry depends heavily on credit -- and the credit markets are frozen -- the Big Three would likely soon be forced to file Chapter 7 bankruptcy, "which would entail total liquidation." As Princeton economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman noted, "If the economy as a whole were in reasonably good shape and the credit markets were functioning, Chapter 11 would be the way to go." But because of the current economic crisis, a wide ranging default in Detroit "would probably mean loss of ability to pay suppliers, which would mean liquidation -- and that, in turn, would mean wiping out probably well over a million jobs at the worst possible moment." Indeed, the Center for Automotive Research predicts that "the impact on the U.S. economy would be substantial were all -- or even half -- of the three Detroit-based automotive manufacturers' U.S. facilities to cease operations. . . Nearly 3 million jobs would be lost in the first year if there is a 100 percent reduction in Detroit Three U.S. operations."
"Every auto plant job generates another five jobs among suppliers and the surrounding community," writes auto industry representative Dave McCurdy. "By comparison, a Wall Street job generates two additional jobs." Moreover, one in 10 American jobs is related to auto manufacturing.
In a letter urging Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson to give assistance to America's auto industry, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) argued that any federal aid should come with "strong conditions" such as requirements that automakers manufacture more fuel efficient vehicles. Oversight of the bailout must also be stronger than the bank bailout, as "reports continue to circulate about the banks potentially hoarding portions of the $250 billion Treasury has offered to invest in exchange for senior preferred stock, or using the money for purposes other than lending."
Dean Baker, Truth Out - The number
of foreclosure filings (there are typically two or more
filing for every actual foreclosure) is now approaching
300,000 per month.
For those not offended by simplicity, there is an easy solution. Congress can temporarily modify the rules on foreclosure to give families facing foreclosure the right to rent their homes at the market rate for a substantial period of time. Rep. Raul Grijalva proposed such a change in the Saving Family Homes Act, which would allow homeowners the option to remain as renters for up to 20 years following a foreclosure.
This bill would immediately give families security in their home, so that if they like the home, the neighborhood, the school for their kids, they would have the option to stay in the house for a substantial period of time. This also has the great benefit for the neighborhood that homes will remain occupied.
Perhaps more importantly, this change in foreclosure rules will give banks a real incentive to negotiate conditions under which homeowners can stay in their homes as owners. Banks do not want to become landlords. The bank will own the house after a foreclosure, but a house with a renter is worth much less to them than a house over which it has complete control.
Progressive Review - It's interesting that the drop in the NASDAQ index in the closing year of both the Bush and the Clinton administration was in the 45-50% range. One difference is that the Clinton bust happened faster - beginning in March 2000 - while the Bush collapse began a year ago October. The other difference is that, thanks to a friendly press, Clinton was the only president to ever preside over such a collapse and not get blamed for it.
NY Times - While few Americans are sheltered from the jolt of the recent economic crisis, the nation's newest veterans, particularly the wounded, are being hit especially hard. The triple-whammy of injury, unemployment and waiting for disability claims to be processed has forced many veterans into foreclosure, or sent them teetering on its edge, according to veterans' organizations.
The problem is hard to quantify because there are no foreclosure statistics singling out veterans and service members. . . "The demand curve has gone almost straight up this year," said Bill Nelson, executive director for USA Cares, a nonprofit group that provides financial help to members of the military and to veterans. Housing. . .
Congress has recently taken small steps to help, banning lenders from foreclosing on military personnel for nine months after their return from overseas, up from three months, and ensuring that interest rates on their loans remain stable for a year. Another relief bill to prevent certain injured veterans from losing their homes while they wait for their disability money was signed into law in October. The protection is good for one year. . .
But the short-term measures do little to address the underlying economic difficulties that new veterans face, beginning with the job hunt. Veterans, particularly those in their 20s, have faced higher unemployment rates in recent years than those who never served in the military, though the gap has shrunk as the economy has worsened. (Veterans traditionally have lower unemployment rates than non-veterans.)
Tara Siegel Bernard and Jenny Anderson, Washington Post - The deep troubles of the U.S. economy are pushing a growing number of already struggling Americans into bankruptcy, often with far more debt than those who filed in previous downturns.Plummeting home values, dwindling incomes and the near disappearance of credit have proved a potent . . . The number of personal bankruptcy filings jumped nearly 8 percent in October from September, after marching steadily upward for the last two years, said Mike Bickford, president of Automated Access to Court Electronic Records, a bankruptcy data and management company. Filings totaled 108,595, surpassing 100,000 for the first time since a law that made it more difficult - and often twice as expensive - to file for bankruptcy took effect in 2005. That translated to an average of 4,936 bankruptcies filed each business day last month, up nearly 34 percent from October 2007.
Nicholas von Hoffman, The Nation With his latest policy switch to buying stock in banks and other companies, Henry Paulson has more zigs and zags to his credit than a fox trying to escape a pack of hounds. . . Sums of incalculable size are being spent or pledged by Paulson and his playmate, Ben Bernanke, chairman of the Federal Reserve Board, and nobody outside their organizations, or maybe inside them either, knows who got what, how much they got, and under what conditions they got it. In the past couple of months Bernanke has loaned out $2 trillion to unnamed companies under eleven different programs and all but three of them were slapped together in the past fifteen months of financial crisis.
To repeat, we do not know who got this money or what collateral was put up in return for the loans or what conditions were attached to them.
The sums involved are almost three times as large as Paulson's $700 billion muddled bailout efforts that Congress voted for last month. Bernanke does have the legal authority to pass out these trillions without Congressional authorization and without explanation, but secrecy breeds suspicion and loss of confidence.
James McCusker, Everett Herald, WA - [Lawrence Christiano and Patrick Kehoe's] working paper, No. 666 (a matter of sequence, not symbolism) was published by the Research Department of the Minneapolis Federal Reserve Bank last month, and is entitled, "Myths about the Financial Crisis of 2008." According to the abstract they "show that four widely held beliefs about the financial crisis of 2008 are false."
One of the alleged myths they examine is that "Banks play a large role in channeling funds from savers to borrowers." This one is particularly interesting, and not just because, as taxpayers, we are now part owners of the biggest banks in the country -- and some smaller ones, too.
The idea that banks take the money we have on deposit and lend it out to other people is fundamental to our idea, our model, of what a bank is all about. It is the same model that George Bailey (James Stewart) explained to his panicked depositors in "It's A Wonderful Life." More importantly, it is the model upon which our fractional reserve system, the Federal Reserve, and the idea of monetary policy is built. If it turns out to be more myth than model, we have a problem. . .
One policy implication of their conclusion is clear. If banks aren't all that necessary as intermediaries between lenders and borrowers, we shouldn't waste time and money rescuing them. Although they didn't put it this way, it would boil down to something like this: "The banks seasoned their own soup. Let them drink it." . . .
Bank lending, though, is still very important to the smaller businesses in our economy that, in many respects, make the big businesses possible. A healthy banking system that provides direct lending to businesses is still crucial to our economy.
How important is banking to monetary policy, though? In examining bank lending and the other "myths" of the financial crisis, researchers have put the spotlight on the changes that have transformed the banking industry and raised questions about how effective monetary policy can be.
Banks, especially big ones, have become players more than lenders -- a structural change that goes far to explain their new relationship with risk. In the face of this, it is hard to believe that the Federal Reserve's actions on short-term interest rates would have the same effect as those taken, say, in 1966 or 1987.
Dean Baker, Prospect It would be reasonable for USA Today to remind readers that the forecasters whose views it presents in the article, "Economic forecasters' survey says recession to last 14 months," all somehow managed to overlook the massive housing bubble. They were therefore caught by surprise when it collapsed, pushing the economy into the most severe downturn since World War II. Readers may have found this background helpful in assessing the predictions from this group of economists.
GREAT MOMENTS IN RESEARCH
Annals of Improbable Research - Dr. Michael J. Tidman of the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh NHS Trust asks questions that have never been asked, at least so overtly and with such precise language. He aims to unmask poseurs of a particular type: dermatological ailments that present in such a way that a person might presume them to be something other than what they really are.
Here are three especially provocative studies Dr. Tidman and his colleagues have penned and published.
"Pemphigoid Excoriee: A Further Variant of Bullous Pemphigoid?" S.J.R. Allan and M.J. Tidman, British Journal of Dermatology, vol. 141, no. 3, 1999, pp. 585-86, DOI:10.1046/j.1365-2133.1999.03072.x. This is one of the few medical studies that uses the term "acnestis", which, according to the 1906 edition of Lippincott's Medical Dictionary (by Ryland W. Greene and Joseph Thomas, published by Lippincott), means "that part of the back which one cannot readily scratch; the upper part of the back."
"Factitious Panniculitis Masquerading as Pyoderma Gangrenosum," C.C.Y. Oh, D.B. McKenna, K.M. McLaren and M.J. Tidman, Clinical and Experimental Dermatology, vol. 30, no. 3, May 2005, pp. 253-5.
"Primary Cutaneous Mucormycosis Masquerading as Pyoderma Gangrenosum," O.A. Kerr, C. Bong, C. Wallis and M.J. Tidman, British Journal of Dermatology, vol. 150, no. 6, June 2004, pp. 1212-3.
THE FIRST BLACK BILL CLINTON
Politico - Thirty-one of the 47 people so far named to transition or staff posts have ties to the Clinton administration, including all but one of the members of his 12-person Transition Advisory Board and both of his White House staff choices.
JUSTICE & FREEDOM
Don't Tase Me Bro - It's illegal for the FBI to use cell carriers to help surveil individuals without a warrant, according to statutes like Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act and the Stored Communications Act. But apparently they've been deploying a constitutional "workaround" of sorts, called "triggerfish". Ars Technica reports: By posing as a cell tower, triggerfish trick nearby cell phones into transmitting their serial numbers, phone numbers, and other data to law enforcement. Most previous descriptions of the technology, however, suggested that because of range limitations, triggerfish were only useful for zeroing in on a phone's precise location once cooperative cell providers had given a general location. This summer, however, the American Civil Liberties Union and Electronic Frontier Foundation sued the Justice Department, seeking documents related to the FBI's cell-phone tracking practices. Since August, they've received a stream of documents--the most recent batch on November 6--that were posted on the Internet last week. In a post on the progressive blog Daily Kos, ACLU spokesperson Rachel Myers drew attention to language in several of those documents implying that triggerfish have broader application than previously believed.
A 74 year old blind woman received a notice from the town of Attleboro, MA that a lien would be placed on her house if she didn't pay her overdue water bill. Amount of bill unpaind: one cent. Said the town collector, "My question is, how come it wasn't paid when the bills went out?"
HEALTH & SCIENCE
CNN - Nearly half the respondents in a survey of U.S. primary care physicians said that they would seriously consider getting out of the medical business within the next three years if they had an alternative. . . A U.S. shortage of 35,000 to 40,000 primary care physicians by 2025 was predicted at last week's American Medical Association annual meeting.
New Scientist - A committee of scientists set up by the US Department of Veterans Affairs has reported that nearly a third of veterans of the Gulf war of 1990-1991 - some 200,000 people - continue to suffer from a Gulf war syndrome caused by exposure to organophosphate nerve gas, nerve gas remedies and insecticides. "Gulf War illness is real," the report concludes. "Few veterans have recovered." Their last report in 2004 also concluded that GWS is not psychological but caused by organophosphates. Research since then, they report, has strengthened the association, and shows it may involve inflammatory chemicals called cytokines in the brain.
PR Watch - Science reporting "is more and more the direct product of PR shops," according to Charles Petit, a veteran science reporter who runs MIT's online Knight Science Journalism Tracker. Petit says information spoon-fed to reporters through news releases has "become a powerful subversive tool eroding the chance that reporters will craft their own stories." Cristine Russell reports that "institutional news offices from universities, government research agencies, and corporations are putting out large press packages that provide well-written press releases, graphics, and even video in a form that can be used directly by news outlets that are hungry for stories but lack the resources, time, and/or experience to do more thorough reporting."
Tikun Olam - This coming weekend (November 21-23), forty communities throughout the U.S. will feature a local mosque and synagogue joining together to host a joint program on the subject of Islamophobia and anti-Semitism. The goal of this national project sponsored by the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding is to combat ethnic tension between Muslims and Jews. The event will also seek common ground between the two religious traditions so that members of two faiths can study their shared sacred texts and discover their common humanity. The Foundation for Ethnic Understanding is the brainchild of Orthodox Rabbi Marc Schneier. It is his vehicle for international dialogue among Jews, Christians and Muslims.
FURTHERMORE. . . .
We noted Claire McCaskill's grovelling post election comments about Obama reaching out to Republicans: "He will surprise America how quickly he will try to reach out to the millions of people who are voting for John McCain today - and the millions of people who have questions about his leadership. He'll want to reassure them, and he'll want to find Republicans to work with him in his cabinet." A staffer over at the Project on Government Oversight points out her good side, including drafting legislation to give the bailout out inspector general a staff, a congressional loose end forgotten in the rush to help the banks.
Canwest News Service - An unpopular name - like Alec, Ernest, Ivan, or Malcolm - is more likely to spell trouble than favourites Michael, Matthew or Christopher, according to research. "There is a positive correlation between unpopular first names and juvenile delinquency,'' said Daniel Lee, an economics professor at Shippensburg University in Pennsylvania.
Eavesdrop DC Overheard in the line for the bathroom at the Hirshhorn museum: That's going to be the next chapter of the book - Boys who Text but Won't Have Sex!!"
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