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Undernews For November 24, 2008

Undernews For November 24, 2008

The news while there's still time to do something about it

THE PROGRESSIVE REVIEW
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Editor: Sam Smith

21 November 2008WORD

Here in America we are descended in spirit from revolutionists and rebels - men and women who dare to dissent from accepted doctrine - GOP President Dwight Eisenhower, 1954

SWAMPOODLE REPORT: POLITICAL DEFICIT DISORDER

Sam Smith

The debate over the automobile company bailout is a reminder of how many of Washington's problems are not political, but cultural and psychological. What it comes down to is this: there is apparently no one in power who knows how to fix the situation nor even where to begin. Of course, no one wants to admit this and so we watch a cspanic charade on TV that increasingly looks less like a congressional hearing and more like the dinner table of some dysfunctional family.

This is a problem that requires a whole new perspective and not merely a new administration. We have, as a culture, created a class of leaders who are so far removed from the realities of what they are managing that they have little idea of what to do when something goes wrong.

It's a problem that has been creeping up on us for a long time as trades were replaced by professions, boot straps by MBAs, lowly experience by higher education, empiricism by theory, and social intelligence by a form of high functioning autism.

Sixteen years ago, I ascribed this to a form of entropy that I dubbed global dumbing:

||| In physics, entropy is a measure of unavailable energy. In the natural world, entropy is reflected in the pollution from your car and radioactive tailings. If the world were perfect, energy would do just what it was supposed to do and not go wandering off like some groupie of that cosmic band, The Second Law of Thermodynamics. As it is, much of it is wasted and thus when you bake something, your kitchen as well as your oven gets warm. Such phenomena led the German physicist Ruldolf Clausius to propose in 1865 that we were losing energy everywhere and that we call this sorry state of affairs entropy. It's been downhill ever since.

Cultures lose energy, too. Which is why the Egyptians don't build pyramids any more, and why Guatemalans have to import digital watches rather than just checking their Mayan calendars. The creation of a great civilization or a great world power wastes a enormous amount of energy. As Barry Commoner put it, in nature there is no free lunch. . .

The global human mind faces a similar problem, thanks to such factors as the ubiquity of American film and television, excessively frequent summits of world leaders, international conferences on every conceivable subject, multinational corporations and other well meaning efforts that bring the world closer together but in so doing leaves no corner of it immune from human energy loss. If there is, in fact, a entropic collapse of the earth, the last sound may well be that of Larry King telling a caller from Bali to hold on a minute for a word from his sponsor.

Nor is this entropy limited to the more public pursuits. Indeed, a cursory examination of American business suggests that its major product is wasted energy. Compute all the energy loss created by corporate lawyers, Washington lobbyists, marketing consultants, CEO benefits, advertising agencies, leadership seminars, human resource supervisors, strategic planners and industry conventions and it is amazing that this country has any manufacturing base at all. ||||

While there is much talk about the inefficiency of the auto industry, no one seems to notice the inefficiency of those trying to correct it, symbolized by word that at least one government agency is holding planning meetings in preparation for transition planning meetings. If these people were in Detroit there would be no cars at all.

One of the blessed teachings of journalism is that you don't have to know anything; you just have to know who does. But even the press seems to have forgotten this as they regurgitate the stalls, sideshows, and superfluities that pass for a serious discussion.

Is there any way out? In the spirit of the hope we have been so frequently promised of late, here are a few things that might help:

- Bring in people who are good at things to baby sit those in the auto industry who aren't. A few examples would be the best from Silicon Valley and, if it doesn't violate the current laws of patriotism, even those from other countries who know how to make and sell things. The purpose would not be to micromanage but to observe, suggest and report back to Congress and the American people what the hell is going on.

- Figure out how many and what sort of cars we are actually going to need if we really do go green. The answer to this will help us figure out what sort of auto industry we need.

- Take one third of the Defense Department's research and development budget and use it for research & development of new forms of transportation and transit. Why one third of the Pentagon's R&D budget? It turns out to be about $25 billion, a figure that's being thrown around a lot these days as too much to spend to save the industry that built modern America.

- Go through all the patents that the auto industry bought up in the past in order to prevent competition with a strategy that has resulted in so much trouble. We may even find one for a car that runs on a USB connection.

- Start converting the auto industry into a mass transit industry. There is a precedent for this in the Budd Company that started building steel car bodies for Dodge in 1916 and ended up making modern Amtrak cars. It died in the 1980s because we thought cars were better than trains. Using billions to make equipment for the huge new rail system that we badly need would not be a bailout but a startup. And we could do it with government printed money - and not more debt - because it will be public works that creates wealth and employment rather than inflation.

- Bearing in mind that Detroit labor costs - despite conservative propaganda - is less than ten percent of what goes into a car, any adjustment in compensation should be matched by new forms of involvement by workers including board seats and novel ownership plans.

If you don't like any or all of the above, come up with your own damn ideas. But note, in character and substance, how different these proposals are compared to the ones one more typically hears discussed in Washington, many of which involve little more than financial or legal manipulations of one sort or another. They are not unnecessary, but because of the inability of Washington's elite to deal with practical ideas, the fiscal and legal ones assume a disproportionate role.

This is a town which primarily likes to deal with law and numbers, policies and procedures. Making a car is not in its job description. Yet - as the housing foreclosure mess indicates - we can not retrieve America by ignoring the practical and the real.

PAGE ONE MUST

BRITAIN PROPOSES HYPER HARSH LAWS AGAINST MEN WHO USE PROSTITUTES

Guardian, UK - New prostitution laws will mean a plea of ignorance is no defence for men facing prosecution for buying sex from a woman who has been trafficked or is being exploited by a pimp. Under proposals to be published by the home secretary, Jacqui Smith, a man who "knowingly" pays for sex with a woman who has been trafficked or is under the control of a pimp could face a charge of rape, which carries a potential life sentence. The new offence of paying for sex with somebody who is "controlled for another person's gain" is to carry a hefty fine and a criminal record. The decision to criminalize men who pay for sex with trafficked women is likely to have a widespread impact. The Metropolitan police have estimated that 70% of the 88,000 women involved in prostitution in England and Wales are under the control of traffickers. . .

The home secretary has made clear that under the new offence it will not be enough for a man to say "I didn't know". The new offence will include a "strict liability" test so that police will only have to prove that the man paid for sex, and that the woman had been trafficked. There will be no need to prove he knew it at the time.

WHY YOU WANT TO KEEP YOUR MONEY AWAY FROM LIBERTARIANS

Michael Tanner, Cato Institute, 1996 - Critics of Social Security privatization often warn that such proposals hold serious dangers for the elderly poor. However, a closer examination of the evidence indicates that the poor would be among those who would gain most from the privatization of Social Security.

By providing a much higher rate of return, privatization would raise the incomes of those elderly retirees who are most in need. . .

As envisioned by most supporters, a privatized Social Security system would essentially be a mandatory savings program. The 10.52 percent payroll tax that is the combined employer-employee contribution to the Old-Age and Survivors Insurance portion of the Social Security program would be deposited in a personal security account chosen by the individual employee. . .

PRAs would operate much like current Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs) or 401(k) accounts. Individuals could not withdraw funds from their PSAs before retirement, determined either by age or by PSA balance requirements. PSA funds would be the property of the individual, and upon death, any remaining funds would become part of the individual's estate.

PSAs would be managed by the private investment industry in the same way 401 (k) plans and IRAs are. Individuals would be free to choose the fund manager that best met their individual needs and could change managers whenever they wished. The government would establish regulations on portfolio risk to prevent excessive speculation and protect consumers. .

RENDITION ADVOCATE LEADING OBAMA'S REVIEW OF INTELLIGENCE AGENCIES

Democracy Now John Brennan and Jami Miscik, both former intelligence officials under George Tenet, are leading Barack Obama's review of intelligence agencies and helping make recommendations to the new administration. Brennan has supported warrantless wiretapping and extraordinary rendition, and Miscik was involved with the politicized intelligence alleging weapons of mass destruction in the lead-up to the war on Iraq. We speak with former CIA analyst Melvin Goodman and Michael Ratner of the Center for Constitutional Rights. . .

MELVIN GOODMAN: John Brennan was deputy executive secretary to George Tenet during the worst violations during the CIA period in the run-up to the Iraq war, so he sat there at Tenet's knee when they passed judgment on torture and abuse, on extraordinary renditions, on black sites, on secret prisons. He was part of all of that decision making.

Jami Miscik was the Deputy Director for Intelligence during the run-up to the Iraq war. So she went along with the phony intelligence estimate of October 2002, the phony white paper that was prepared by Paul Pillar in October 2002. She helped with the drafting of the speech that Colin Powell gave to the United Nations [in] 2003, which made the phony case for war to the international community.

So, when George Tenet said, "slam dunk, we can provide all the intelligence you need," . . . to the President in December of 2002, it was people like Jami Miscik and John Brennan who were part of the team who provided that phony intelligence. So what I think people at the CIA are worried about-and I've talked to many of them over the weekend-is that there will never be any accountability for these violations and some of the unconscionable acts committed at the CIA, which essentially amount to war crimes, when you're talking about torture and abuse and secret prisons. So, where are we, in terms of change? This sounds like more continuity.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn to excerpts from a December 2005 interview with John Brennan, the former CIA official now leading Obama's intelligence transition. Brennan was interviewed by Margaret Warner on the NewsHour with Jim Lehrer about his views on the Bush administration's practice of extraordinary rendition.

MARGARET WARNER: So, was Secretary Rice correct today when she called it a vital tool in combating terrorism?

JOHN BRENNAN: I think it's an absolutely vital tool. I have been intimately familiar now for the past decade with the cases of rendition that the US government has been involved in, and I can say, without a doubt, that it has been very successful as far as producing intelligence that has saved lives. . .

AMY GOODMAN: That's John Brennan, who heads up the transition team on intelligence. Mel Goodman?

MELVIN GOODMAN: Well, John Brennan is being completely dishonest there. All of the operational people I've talked to know that the people who were turned over to the Arab intelligence services-and remember, this is Egypt, this is Syria, this is Jordan, this is Saudi Arabia-that all of these foreign intelligence services commit torture and abuse. Now, if any of these suspects had anything to say to us that was of any utility, we would have kept them. We would have controlled these people. They would have become our sources and our assets. When we turned them over, we were turning over people who we felt had very little to offer, and we were turning over them to them, to the Arab liaison services for torture and abuse.

John Brennan has defended the warrantless eavesdropping. John Brennan has basically defended all of the violations that were committed at the CIA in the run-up to the war and in the postwar period. So the signal this sends to CIA employees who tried to get it right-and there were a few who tried to get it right-is the worst kind of signal. And if this is Obama's judgment about a national security team, it's very reminiscent of what Bill Clinton did in 1993, when he appointed people such as Jim Woolsey and Les Aspin and Warren Christopher and Tony Lake to the national security positions, and all of them had to be removed before the first term was over. So this is very disquieting, what we're learning now.

AMY GOODMAN: In fact, NPR attributed Obama's reversal on FISA and telecom immunity to the fact that he was relying on the advice of John Brennan, an emphatic supporter of these policies. . .

AMY GOODMAN: Michael Ratner, as you listen to John Brennan, again, heading up the transition team on intelligence, your thoughts?

MICHAEL RATNER: Well, it's extremely, extremely disturbing. When you read Jane Mayer's book, the worst and most onerous chapter is the chapter on what the CIA did to people in secret sites, from small coffins to waterboarding. John Brennan was there at the time. To hear him say that this stuff works is really-or that it's very important to do is really remarkable. . .

AMY GOODMAN: And Jamie Miscik, Mel Goodman, talk about her significance.

MELVIN GOODMAN: Jami Miscik was the Deputy Director-she was the Deputy Director of Intelligence during the run-up to the war and in the immediate postwar period. That was a period of politicized intelligence. That was a period of the corruption of the process. . .

She was part of the slam-dunk team that George Tenet was so proud of that prepared a phony-not only that phony estimate, but the speech that Colin Powell gave, that outrageous speech with twenty-eight allegations, all of them false, prepared in February of 2003, which was the case to the international community. Hundreds of millions of people heard that phony speech, and it's still an embarrassment to Colin Powell to this very day. She was part of the team that allowed George Bush to go before this country in January of 2003 in a State of the Union address and use a fabricated intelligence report to say that Iraq was getting enriched uranium from a West African country. Jami Miscik was a part of all of this.

And a lot of us were very pleased when Porter Goss actually fired Jami Miscik. My guess is he probably fired her for the wrong reasons and not the right reasons, but we were glad to see her go.

TOM DASCHLE'S PROBLEMS

Tom Daschle is in line to be Secretary of Health & Human Services. Reports the LA Times: "He was the Senate Democratic leader when he was defeated in 2004 by Republican John Thune, who convinced voters back home that Daschle was more concerned with Washington than with them. In fact, Daschle stayed in the capital city after his defeat, becoming a public policy adviser and member of the legislative and public policy group at the law and lobbying firm Alston & Bird. Daschle isn't registered as a lobbyist. He advises clients on issues including health care, financial services, taxes and trade, according to the firm's Web site. Health care interests, including CVS Caremark, the National Association for Home Care and Hospice, Abbott Laboratories and Health South, are among the firm's lobbying clients."

NY Times In a detailed list of campaign promises, Mr. Obama pledged that "no political appointees in an Obama administration will be permitted to work on regulations or contracts directly and substantially related to their prior employer for two years."

Although Mr. Daschle's work might not preclude his appointment, it could raise the possibility that the administration could require him to recuse himself from any matter related to either the Mayo Clinic or some of the clients he advised at Alston & Bird - a potentially broad swath of the health secretary's portfolio. . .

A spokeswoman for Alston & Bird declined to disclose which of the firm's health care industry clients Mr. Daschle had advised; the firm represents dozens of such concerns including pharmaceutical companies, health care providers, and trade groups for nurses and nursing homes.

Although not a registered lobbyist, Mr. Daschle, a South Dakota Democrat who was party leader in the Senate, provides strategic advice to the firm's clients about how to influence government policy or actions. The firm's Web site declares, "Our health care legislative and policy team has the significant advantage of including two former U.S. Senate majority leaders - Senators Bob Dole and Tom Daschle - both resident in our Washington office and champions of many health care issues in their Senate Finance Committee and leadership roles."

As examples of the firm's achievements the Web site lists matters involving Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements, approvals of federally regulated drugs and medical products, fraud investigations, medical waste disposal, privacy and other compliance issues.

The Mayo Clinic, where Mr. Daschle is on the board, is itself a major health care provider, research institution, and recipient of grants from the National Institutes of Health.

Mr. Daschle's wife, Linda Daschle, is a prominent lobbyist for aerospace and military concerns. She does not, however, represent any health care clients. Nor did Mr. Obama make specific campaign promises related to the occupation of a spouse.

PAULSON WAS BEHIND BAILOUT MARTIAL LAW THREAT

Paul Joseph Watson, Prison Planet - Senator James Inhofe has revealed that Henry Paulson was behind the threats of martial law and a new great depression prior to the passage of the bailout bill, having made such warnings during a conference call on September 19th, around two weeks before the legislation was eventually approved by both the Senate and Congress.

On October 2, Democratic Congressman Brad Sherman gave a stunning speech on the House floor during which he decried the fact that, "Many of us were told in private conversations that if we voted against this bill on Monday that the sky would fall, the market would drop two or three thousand points the first day, another couple of thousand the second day, and a few members were even told that there would be martial law in America if we voted no."

Speaking on Tulsa Oklahoma's KFAQ, when asked who was behind threats of martial law and civil unrest if the bailout bill failed, Senator James Inhofe named Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson as the source.

"Somebody in D.C. was feeding you guys quite a story prior to the bailout, a story that if we didn't do this we were going to see something on the scale of the depression, there were people talking about martial law being instituted, civil unrest….who was feeding you guys this stuff?," asked host Pat Campbell.

"That's Henry Paulson," responded Inhofe, "We had a conference call early on, it was on a Friday I think - a week and half before the vote on Oct. 1. So it would have been the middle . . . what was it - the 19th of September, we had a conference call. In this conference call - and I guess there's no reason for me not to repeat what he said, but he said - he painted this picture you just described. He said, 'This is serious. This is the most serious thing that we faced.'"

Inhofe said that Paulson told members of Congress the crisis would be "far worse than the great depression" if Congress didn't authorize the bill to buy out toxic debt, a proposal "which he abandoned the day after he got the money," added Inhofe.

CLINTONS ALREADY PLAYING GAMES WITH STATE JOB

Huffington Post - The New York Times reports that suspected leaks from the Clinton team are angering Obama aides and may threaten Hillary Clinton's position: "Both sides were engaged in a delicate public and private dance, maneuvering for position and reputation in case the deal falls through. Aides in each camp have grown increasingly sour toward the other in recent days as the matter played out publicly."

In their public signals, the Clintons are trying to take the former president's activities off the table as an issue, in their view eliminating any excuses for Mr. Obama not to give Mrs. Clinton the job. Some in the Obama camp are bristling at what they see as strategic leaks by the Clintons aimed at boxing in the president-elect and forcing him to offer the post.

The tension could foreshadow a complex relationship burdened by suspicion and enmity should Mrs. Clinton become secretary of state. By putting her in the cabinet, Mr. Obama could remove a potential thorn in the Senate on issues like health care and a potential rival for the nomination in 2012 if his term proves rocky. But he could also face a rival power center within his own administration with her on his team.

STUDY: POT COULD HELP STOP ALZHEIMER'S

Ohio State - The more research they do, the more evidence Ohio State University scientists find that specific elements of marijuana can be good for the aging brain by reducing inflammation there and possibly even stimulating the formation of new brain cells.

The research suggests that the development of a legal drug that contains certain properties similar to those in marijuana might help prevent or delay the onset of Alzheimer's disease. Though the exact cause of Alzheimer's remains unknown, chronic inflammation in the brain is believed to contribute to memory impairment.

"It's not that everything immoral is good for the brain. It's just that there are some substances that millions of people for thousands of years have used in billions of doses, and we're noticing there's a little signal above all the noise," said Gary Wenk, professor of psychology at Ohio State and principal investigator on the research.

Wenk's work has already shown that a THC-like synthetic drug can improve memory in animals. Now his team is trying to find out exactly how it works in the brain.

"Could people smoke marijuana to prevent Alzheimer's disease if the disease is in their family? We're not saying that, but it might actually work. What we are saying is it appears that a safe, legal substance that mimics those important properties of marijuana can work on receptors in the brain to prevent memory impairments in aging. So that's really hopeful," Wenk said.

One thing is clear from the studies: Once memory impairment is evident, the treatment is not effective. Reducing inflammation and preserving or generating neurons must occur before the memory loss is obvious, Wenk said.

WHY OTHER COUNTRIES DO BETTER AT VOTER REGISTRATION

Eve, Fair Vote - 89.31% of the Voting Age Population is registered to vote in Canada, and 97.2% in Sweden. In contrast, in the USA, one third of voters of voters are left behind - even in such a critical and vibrant election as this one. Indeed, the US system of voter registration (self-initiated), which puts the burden of registration exclusively on the voter, not on the government, very often acts as a barrier to political participation and turnout. Because registration is voluntary, this system requires citizen initiative and thus tends to leave out many who would otherwise be eligible to vote. In fact, many eligible voters may be unable to register (women with small children, those without easy access to transportation, people who have a job with busy schedule, students…) or simply forget to do it…Thus the voter registration system may partly explain why the United States ranks 140 out of 163 countries based on turnout of the voting age population since 1990.

Another major drawback of this system is the large role left to civic-minded organizations, partisans and religious organizations, that actually increases the risk of election fraud. In addition, our voter registration system is to a large extent responsible of the registration rush phenomenon not giving administrators enough time to prepare appropriately for the actual number of voters coming to the polls, which often results in long lines.

In contrast, the Canadian and Swedish systems (as well as most democracies, notably Japan, New Zealand, Italy, Israel, and even Iraq) are state-initiated ones: in these countries, the governments consider that they have the responsibility to protect their citizens' constitutional right to vote by ensuring that they are duly registered to vote. Voting is thus protected as a fundamental citizenship right.

State-initiated voter registration systems take many forms. The Italian style links to records of residence maintained by police or local governments, applications for government services and uses door-to-door registration campaigns. Canadian and the Swedish election authorities work with other government bodies to create list updates. When citizens change their place of residence, they often inform government agencies such as the post office, the tax bureau, the health insurance system. Data-sharing allows the election authority to receive regular updates of changes to files. This makes it possible to update the electoral register without any direct contact between the voter and the election authority.

Lists can be designed to incorporate data from sources such as vital statistics offices, the obituary page in newspapers, funeral homes, courts and health authorities (for information on mental incompetence).

ERIC HOLDER, CHIQUITA & THE AND COLOMBIA DEATH SQUADS

Kevin Gray, Portfolio, October 2007 - For years, Chiquita Brands secretly paid off death squads in Colombia. Now the U.S. Congress is asking questions. . .

In northern Colombia's lush banana-growing region. . . Chiquita Brands International, the $655 million fruit giant, slipped into a blood-soaked scandal. Between 1997 and 2004, Chiquita gave $1.7 million to the A.U.C., whose death squads destroyed unions, terrorized workers, and killed thousands of civilians. Chiquita's top officials admit approving the payments but say they thought that if they didn't pay up, the A.U.C. would kill its employees and attack its facilities. Because the U.S. State Department has labeled the A.U.C. a terrorist organization, federal prosecutors charged Chiquita in March with engaging in transactions with terrorists. In an agreement with the Justice Department, Chiquita pleaded guilty and will pay a $25 million fine. . .

The firm's lawyers have struggled to explain publicly that Chiquita had to make a choice between "life and law" and that it chose the "humanitarian" route of protecting its workers. "This company was in a bad position dealing with bad guys," says Eric Holder, a Washington attorney representing Chiquita. "There's absolutely no suggestion of any personal gain here. It's not a case like Tyco, where someone is squirreling money away. No one is out buying great shower curtains."

As a corporation, though, Chiquita stood to benefit greatly from the lethal cleansing that Castano delivered. At the time, the Marxist guerrillas routinely kidnapped U.S. executives, blew up railroads, and sabotaged oil pipelines. Chiquita says it became increasingly difficult to protect its workers and their families. Castano's death squads, however, were squarely pro-business. They were not just ridding Uraba of guerrillas; they were killing leftists and eradicating unions. . .

During the A.U.C.'s reign of terror, according to the federal complaint, the region would become Chiquita's most profitable farming operation in the world.

While the A.U.C. was murdering thousands of Colombians, "to our knowledge, the paramilitaries never touched a hair on the head of a U.S. citizen or company," says Adam Isacson, director of the Colombia program at the Center for International Policy, in Washington. In fact, Isacson says, the A.U.C.'s stranglehold brought "a strange form of peace to the region through terror. It created a much more friendly business environment."

But for Eric Holder, Chiquita's lawyer, that argument falls flat. "It's like saying a shopkeeper feels safe because the Mob is extorting him for protection payments," Holder says. "You're not paying these guys to protect you from someone else; you're paying them to protect you from them."

Scott Creighton - Barack Obama, the man who spoke so eloquently in the last debate about not passing the Columbia Free Trade Agreement until more was done to bring the killers of the union workers to justice, has just announced that he is going to make the lawyer for one of the companies responsible for these killings, his Attorney General. You can't make this stuff up.

There are also allegations from a French NGO that Chiquita is exposing it's workers to a dangerous pesticide. So the workers that don't get killed by their Chiquita Death Squads, will slowly wither away from horrible illnesses.

There are also criminal charges pending facing some Chiquita executives, in Columbia.

ERIC HOLDER CONT'D

Stephanie Mencimer, Washington City Paper, 1997 - After three and a half years on the job, Holder is still revered in the city's halls of power and widely respected by his peers in the legal field. He is the presumptive nominee to replace outgoing U.S. Deputy Attorney General Jamie Gorelick, a major plum position. He is infinitely qualified by all accounts, and his appointment would be a historic one, since the position has never been held by an African-American. But for all the love Holder has engendered in the community as U.S. Attorney, he has had precious little impact on the city's endemic municipal corruption. Barry has returned to his old tricks, nudging contracts and city jobs to old cronies and new girlfriends. Holder is apparently leaving, and he hasn't thrown a punch.

It isn't for lack of targets. Since Holder was sworn in on Oct. 16, 1993, federal investigators have opened at least a half-dozen major probes of District government fraud and corruption, including investigations of allegations that:

- in 1995 Cora Masters Barry arranged to launder campaign money through the 17-year-old son of her housekeeper to pay cash to her brother Walter;

- in 1995 Korean businessman Yong Yun performed renovation work on the Barrys' house in exchange for a sweetheart deal on a city lease;

- last year the police department subverted city procurement regulations to give former members of Barry's security detail city contracts to install a fence and security system at Barry's home;

- the directors of IPACHI, a now-defunct nonprofit group, misappropriated more than $1 million in federal and District money;

- the executive director of JMC Associates Inc., the bankrupt mental health contractor, used money from city contracts and the Social Security benefits of mentally ill clients to buy fur coats, wedding dresses, and a condo on Martha's Vineyard;

- the 27-year-old director of Kedar Day School misappropriated city money intended for educating special-education students;

- and that employees of the lottery board were running businesses out of the board's office and steering contracts to friends of the mayor.

Not one of these cases has resulted in an indictment so far. And the list doesn't reflect a sickening array of other government-related wrongdoing during Holder's watch that seems to have gone unpunished, including voter fraud, allegations of widespread corruption at the taxicab commission, allegations of rampant bribe-taking in the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, and dozens of reports of graft within the public schools.

Holder, whose sheriff's badge was forged by taking down corrupt public officials, has not had a single high-profile D.C. public corruption case since he became U.S. Attorney. By comparison, during his 5-year tenure diGenova successfully prosecuted two deputy mayors and a dozen lower-level city officials. Holder may have had his way with the media and kept the community at bay, but now that he seems to be moving on, people are wondering why he isn't leaving behind a more honest, or at least more chaste, D.C. government. . .

Just because Holder's office hasn't produced any indictments in these cases doesn't mean they won't be coming eventually. But the lack of any visible prosecution has people wondering why Holder hasn't lived up to all the hype about his credentials. More importantly, they worry that by not prosecuting cases quickly, he has reinforced D.C. government's reputation as a culture without consequence.

Former D.C. Auditor Otis Troupe is willing to wait and see, to a point: "He came into his job with a mandate for reform, and in that sense his job is unfinished. I hope he is just biding his time. He's a homeboy. He has reason to know many of the city's structural problems. If all he's doing is taking his time, more power to him. But I haven't seen too many cases.". . .

Former D.C. Corporation Counsel Fred Cooke and others have suggested that Holder is running a low-key office because he wants to keep his head down so that he can get in line for a federal judgeship. While New York City mayor and former prosecutor Rudolph Giuliani used indictments as a way of getting headlines and winning voters, he never actually convicted many people in court. But Cooke says Justice Department jobs or seats on the federal bench are won by keeping an even keel, doing a respectable job, and not ruffling too many feathers by taking risks. . .

BEATS

COMMUNITY COURTS

Crime Blog - Dallas will open its second community county at the West Dallas Multipurpose Center. . . It is one of less than a dozen such courts in the nation. . .
"Community courts offer lower level misdemeanor offenders the option of community service rather than fines to help restore neighborhoods victimized by crime." according to the press release. "Dallas community courts manager Dianne Gibson says community courts offer offenders a chance to make restitution to the neighborhoods they have victimized and lowers the chances for recidivism. Those sentenced in community courts not only have the opportunity to participate in free drug and alcohol treatment programs, and job training and placement assistance, but they can also receive food and transportation vouchers," Gibson says.

Oregon Live - Community Court turned a decade old this year, cementing its status as an alternative to the traditional court system. The court, the second oldest in the nation, processes the lowest level of offenders: shoplifters, vandals, prostitutes, johns, public drunks, public urinators, MAX fare evaders, minors with alcohol, clerks who sold alcohol to minors and people caught possessing crack pipes with residue.

By the numbers:

More than 6,000: The number of offenders who pass through Multnomah County's Community Court in Portland each year.

8 hours: The amount of community service a first-time shoplifter who's stolen more than $50 worth of merchandise gets after pleading guilty.

3 days: The amount of jail time that offender would get for failing to do the community service or for not following the judge's orders in some other way.

27 percent: Percentage ordered to get mental-health treatment.

63 percent: Percentage ordered to get drug and alcohol treatment.

7 out of 10: Defendants who complete their community-service hours.

6 out of 10 :Defendants who follow through with counseling or treatment, as ordered.

The court was modeled after the nation's first such court, in Manhattan. . Multnomah County District Attorney Michael Schrunk remembers chancing upon the court during a trip to New York, then returning with then-Presiding Judge Donald Londer, now deceased, because he was so impressed.

"I said, 'God, I'd really love to be able to do that,'" Schrunk says. "The idea was to do something about ... the crimes that drive you crazy."

First, however, the court system had to find a judge.

"It takes a special type of judge to do this," Schrunk says. "It's kind of quirky, and there's a little bit of theater involved. It's not for everyone. It's different. You're not slugging felons, you're trying to change behavior."

Multnomah County opened its first Community Court in March 1998 on the King Elementary School campus, processing offenses out of North and Northeast Portland. Judge Clifford Freeman, now deceased, presided.

Public defender Garrett Richardson remembers how serious Freeman was about getting the message across to defendants.

"He'd make them write out 100 times or 500 times 'I will not steal from Safeway,'" Richardson says. "It was just like grade school. A lot of people thought it was sort of degrading, but a lot of people thought that's what people should be doing to get it through their heads that they shouldn't be stealing.". . .

First-time defendants who obey the judge's orders have their crimes, with some exceptions, wiped from their records. Those who don't are thrown in jail for misdemeanors or fined for violations.

CRASH TALK

Portfolio - You might expect it from right-leaning commentators like Will Wilkinson. You wouldn't expect it from someone like Mark Perry, who lives in Flint, Michigan. And you certainly wouldn't expect to see it in the New York Times, from the likes of Andrew Ross Sorkin. But all of them are perpetuating the meme that the average GM worker costs more than $70 an hour, once you include health and pension costs.

It's not true. The average GM assembly-line worker makes about $28 per hour in wages, and I can assure you that GM is not paying $42 an hour in health insurance and pension plan contributions. Rather, the $70 per hour figure (or $73 an hour, or whatever) is a ridiculous number obtained by adding up GM's total labor, health, and pension costs, and then dividing by the total number of hours worked. In other words, it includes all the healthcare and retirement costs of retired workers.

Now that GM's healthcare obligations are being moved to a UAW-run trust, even that fictitious number is going to fall sharply. But anybody who uses it as a rhetorical device suggesting that US car companies are run inefficiently is being disingenuous. As of 2007, the UAW represented 180,681 members at Chrysler, Ford and General Motors; it also represented 419,621 retired members and 120,723 surviving spouses. If you take the costs associated with 721,025 individuals and then divide those costs by the hours worked by 180,681 individuals, you're going to end up with a very large hourly rate. But it won't mean anything, unless you're trying to be deceptive.

Dean Baker, Prospect - Any reporter who repeats this number should get an immediate 10 percent pay cut.

BREVITAS

OBAMALAND

LA Times - Antiwar groups fear Barack Obama may create hawkish cabinet. Activists note that most of the candidates for top security posts voted for the 2002 resolution authorizing President Bush to invade Iraq or otherwise supported launching the war. The activists are uneasy not only about signs that both Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates could be in the Obama Cabinet, but at reports suggesting that several other short-list candidates for top security posts backed the decision to go to war.

Tom Philpott, Grist Mill - The transition named its team members looking at energy and natural resources agencies, which includes USDA. The list includes Michael R. Taylor, a man who spent his career bouncing between the employ of GMO-seed giant Monsanto and Bill Clinton's FDA and USDA. Taylor is widely credited with ushering Monsanto's recombinant bovine growth hormone through the FDA regulatory process and into the milk supply.

Allen St. Pierre, NORML NORML has serious concerns about the choice of Eric Holder as the next Attorney General because he has a long history of opposing drug policy reforms, perceiving cannabis smoking by adults as a public nuisance worthy of constant harassment, promoting violent governmental intervention into the private lives of citizens who consume cannabis, supporting mandatory minimum sentencing and so-called civil forfeiture laws. His attraction to the myth of 'fixing broken windows' and using law enforcement to crack down on petty crimes will swell an already overburdened, bloated, expensive and failed government prohibition against otherwise law-abiding citizens who choose to consume cannabis.

Obama is having a bad effect on at least one other politician. When questioned why he hadn't voted on a controversial confirmation of DC's attorney general, local city councilmember Kwame Brown told Washington's City Paper: "I mean, just like we have a president-elect who made many present votes."

Truth Out Robert Gates, the secretary of defense, announced the creation of what he calls a new "Minerva Consortium," ironically named after the goddess of wisdom, whose purpose is to fund various universities to "carry out social-sciences research relevant to national security." Gates' desire to turn universities into militarized knowledge factories producing knowledge, research and personnel . . . should be of special concern for intellectuals, artists, academics and others who believe that the university should oppose such interests and alignments. At the very least, the emerg nce of the Minerva Consortium raises a larger set of concerns about the ongoing militarization of higher education in the United States.

OUTLYING PRECINCTS

Political Wire - If Sen. Hillary Clinton moves on to become Secretary of State in the Obama administration, the buzz in New York has Attorney General Andrew Cuomo (D) a likely candidate to fill her seat. That might be a good thing for Cuomo since a new Siena Research Institute poll finds Gov. David Paterson (D) beating Cuomo handily in a Democratic primary for governor, 53% to 25%. In general election match ups, Paterson beats Rudy Giuliani (R), 49% to 43%, while Giuliani bests Cuomo, 46% to 44%.

ACTIVISM

Daily Californian - Two months after the last tree came down, three tree-sit protesters were sentenced to five days jail time while another six were sentenced to 50 hours of community service. Alameda County Superior Court Judge Marshall Whitley said on Monday the nine protesters had willfully disobeyed a 2007 court order that declared the protest was not a legal expression of free speech. The tree-sit, protesting the proposed construction of an athletic center west of Memorial Stadium, began in December 2006.

THE MIX

Josh Goodman, Governing - Next year, as legislatures around the country return to work, several will discuss gay marriage. In two states and the District of Columbia, there's a good chance (perhaps a 50-50 chance or better) that gay marriage will pass. If one of these places does legalize gay marriage, it will be the first time a state (or a non-state in D.C.'s case) has taken that step without being ordered by a court to do so.

Progress Report - On ABC's "The View" on Tuesday, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee suggested that, compared to the push for civil rights in the 60s, the gay rights movement hasn't suffered enough violence to be a real issue. "But here is the difference. Bull Connor was hosing people down in the streets of Alabama. John Lewis got his skull cracked on the Selma bridge," he said. Similarly, the Family Research Council's Tony Perkins claimed that gay rights and civil rights are "totally different." Tara Wall of the Washington Times wrote that "there is no comparison" between the two rights movements because "blacks were stoned, hung, and dragged for their constitutional right to 'sit at the table.'" But gay people have suffered serious violence. . . A 2007 University of California-Davis study found that nearly four in 10 gay men and about one in eight lesbians and bisexuals "have been the target of violence or a property crime because of their sexual orientation." The violence that LGBT activists face will gain more attention in the upcoming, when "Milk," a film about the first openly gay elected official, is released. Harvey Milk, a former member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, was ultimately killed for his struggle for political equality.

DRUG BUSTS

Oh My Gov - The Prince George's County Council of Maryland, in a desperate and reckless attempt to curb marijuana use among youths, banned the sale of single cigars to thwart the use of their exteriors in rolling marijuana cigars a.k.a blunts, spliffs, and Jamaican jam sessions. Apparently the council, which voted eight to one for the ban, actually thinks limiting the resources for smoking marijuana will somehow miraculously prevent those wanting to imbibe from doing so. Two things come to mind while pondering this bizarre new law. First, "advanced" pot smokers almost always become self-made carpenters, building and discovering new ways to puff the magic dragon. Anything from an Absolute vodka bottle to an apple core can be turned into an effective smoking chamber by these folks. Sure, cigar wrappers are popular and certainly more aesthetically pleasing than say, a hotel shampoo bottle, but the resourcefulness of the youthful pot smoker should not be underrated. Second, banning a product because of its usefulness for something illegal sets a terrible and unconstitutional precedent i.e. slippery slope. Take for example Sudafed. Imagine walking into the pharmacy sounding like Fran Drescher and wanting some nasal relief only to find that Sudafed and about 10 other similar medicines were banned because their active ingredient is used to make methamphetamine. Should your nose have to suffer because others are industrious?

ECO CLIPS

Tree Hugger - The world's first mass-produced plug-in hybrid electric car is being readied for its December release - in China. BYD, a company that first made its reputation as the world's largest maker of cell phone batteries, has announced it will release the F3DM hybrid sedan on December 15. And BYD says it plans to release a version of the car in the US and Europe in 2010 or 2011, just when GM plans to begin selling its own plug-in hybrid, the Chevy Volt. The F3DM - which can be charged using a standard electrical outlet - can switch between a fully electric mode and a hybrid one that uses both electricity and gasoline. BYD says the car can travel as far as 60 miles after one charge in full-electric mode, or longer when also using its small gas tank. The all-electric range of the Chevrolet Volt is only 40 miles.

EMENDATION

Larry Bensky writes to say that we put Harvey Milk in the wrong district: "Ross Mirkarimi, a fine man and a diligent legislator, represents District 5 in San Francisco. Harvey Milk, murdered 30 years ago this month, represented the adjoining district, 8. It's the 30th anniversary of that ghastly time of Jonestown and Milk/ Moscone, which I reported on all too much and too traumatically to ever have these weeks pass by without sadness and loss coming back, even decades later."

FURTHERMORE. . . .

Great Moments in Texas Law - 13 Action 13I Grounds and Conditions Precedent 13k13 k. Persons Entitled to Sue. To have standing, a complainant must have a dog in the hunt; if complainant has no such dog, then complainant cannot object to things occurring in the hunt. Texas Disposal Systems Landfill, Inc. v. Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, 259 S.W.3d 361 (2008)

READER COMMENTS

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. http://prorev.com/indexa.htm

POLITICAL DEFICIT DISORDER

This is a problem that requires a whole new perspective and not merely a new administration. We have, as a culture, created a class of leaders who are so far removed from the realities of what they are managing that they have little idea of what to do when something goes wrong.

The operative word here is culture. The corporate culture in this country is geared toward profit rather than people and product. Unfortunately nearly all of out congress critters come from this same culture.

If one looks at Japan, China, Europe, just about any other country and their corporations, one finds that in the vast majority of the cases the product and people are more important than the profit. This is why they are able to beat us in technology as well as autos and nearly everything else.

And unlike most American corporations they are constantly researching and refining their products to improve them. And kick out asses in the process.

The Big 3 only want to make them more sellable as apposed to better.

It wasn't always this way. Product and people used to come first here too. And if America wants to be on top again it has to restore this attitude. - Chris

OBAMA METER: CHANGE WE CAN COUNT

Looks like Obama's fixin' to weasel out of his promise(s) to shut down Gitmo. Putting the Clintons in charge of foreign policy is a -100. What's the score now?

I see maybe a 1 on the bad side so far. Dean had said four years ago that he would step down after one term. That has nothing to do with Obama. Also, your article on Obama "firing" the 50-state strategy people never once said that it was Obama who made the decision, so I'm not sure how exactly you're laying that at his feet. And, personally, I feel Emanuel will do less damage in the White House than he would in Congress, so I give that only a one. PlanB247

Regarding closure of Gitmo, there exists a want of comment as to the disposition of the remaining network of secret prisons, and more to the point, the entire process of extraordinary rendition. Offering up Gitmo and little else evokes memories of the SEC's attempts to clean up Wall Street's junk bond mess in the 1980's by offering up Ivan Boesky and Michael Milken. A couple of sacrificial trials to quell an irate public. Yet, as is evidenced by recent events, little else was done to eliminate that which continued to fester within the system. With the absence of any broader commitment, the 5 promises to close Gitmo seem rather half-hearted.
Why not amend the score from 5 to 2 1/2?

GREEN PARTY DOES WELL ON LOCAL LEVEL

Spin, spin, spin away for the loser Greens all you want, but citing their California results as some "victory" is totally laughable if only on a statistical basis.

The Greens had a net loss of at least 6 local seats during 2008 across California, and for the first time in 18 years, they have zero elected officials in what was once their strongest bastion, Humboldt County.

Of course the hostile takeover of the Humboldt Green Party by David Cobb has a lot to do with this, as Cobb has successfully driven over 1,000 Greens off of the Green rolls in Humboldt in the last two and a half years.

BOYCOTTING GROWS AGAINST BUSINESSES SUPPORTING PROP 8

For anyone who has any concerns over boycotting businesses over their support of Prop 8, please remember that those same people who are complaining we are "picking on them" and/or discriminating against their freedom of religious expression have been boycotting McDonalds, Disney and every other company that has been supportive of the LGBT community over the years. They were also threatening to publish a list of all the companies that financially supported the No On Prop 8 Campaign and were planning on urging a boycott against those companies. They went so far as to send all of them letters demanding that they provide support to Prop 8 or face a boycott. If you are using a tactic to target the gay community, don't complain when that tactic is used against you for your bigotry.

OBAMA

'Twas an interesting, and perhaps disturbing, tale you passed on in the November 17th Undernews and yet if you are one of the "Democratic Party leaders and fund-raisers", one of your major tasks is to find promotable people, men and women who can fill bigger jobs in the future - and then to see that they get the experience, the knowledge and the exposure to get into, and succeed in, those bigger jobs.

Army majors are looking for privates who'll make good sergeants, business leaders searching out sales managers to be future Regional VPs, and sometime in the '90's Mayor Daley and some 'Chicago Machine Bosses' looked at each other and said 'That kid's got potential. . . '

Indeed, one might cast one's vote on the basis of "Which political party has done a better job of selecting and preparing its future leaders?" - John Desmond

ECONOMISTS

A physicist, chemist, and economist find themselves on the same lifeboat following a shipwreck. they are on the high seas and discover one can of tuna fish, but no way to open it. The physicist thinks and then says, "I have the solution: we hold the can of tuna under the boat, rock it back and forth, and the buoyancy of the water combined with the force of the rocking will open the can will create pressure and open the lid. They try it and fail. Then the chemist says he has the solution: "Hold the can exactly 11.5 cm below the surface of the water, and the sun's rays interacting with the specific type of algae in the water will create a corrosive reaction on the lid and it will open." This too fails. After a while the economist bursts out laughing, and says, I have the solution, it's quite simple. I can't believe you guys didn't come up with it." The others eagerly ask what it is. The economist pauses, smiles, raises his index finger in the air, and says: "First, assume the existence of a can opener." - Pablo

WHAT BANKS, ACADEMICS, THE MEDIA AND POLITICIANS DON'T TELL YOU

One thing I didn't see: money's primary function is as a unit of account. The main problem for us today, as in many of the examples you cited, is that money did not perform as a stable unit.

The amount of money, even government money, has to expand to accommodate an expanding economy, or contract to accommodate a contracting economy. When those things don't go together, you will get monetary inflation or deflation.

In systems that depend on banks issuing money, the system works in that the bank notes are backed by the reputation of the bank. Except that banks failed and the holders of the debt demanded government bailouts.

In a system that forbids the government from printing money, you would inevitably find private concerns taking over that function, because we need it to operate our economies. My beef with Ron Paul supporters was that they didn't want the government to print money, so their holdings of cash would get more and more valuable (deflation). However much they were for freedom, they wanted to forbid the banks from engaging in fractional reserve banking.

The bottom line is this: when you dig something out of the ground, and present it for sale to the market, or you write a book, and present it for sale, you have created a good to trade on the market. Unless the government produces the additional money for your customers to buy your product you will see deflation. - wellbascially

WHAT A PROGRESSIVE CABINET MIGHT LOOK LIKE

Gary Hart, the same man who declared the need for a "new world order" and supported the draconian anti-terrorism legislation under Clinton? - Charles

Progressive? Someone needs a real dictionary, not the GOP/DLC special edition.
There isn't a single progressive name on that list. Not one.

WAR ON POVERTY TURNS INTO WAR ON POOR

So-called liberal Arcata in Humboldt County has had anti-sitting on the sidewalk and anti-dog walking ordinances for its downtown area in place for the last seven years. They're currently being sued for not providing emergency shelter space in the city as required by state law.

One thing not properly
mentioned in this article is the explosion of homeless populations in the 1980s with Ronald Reagan's closing of many mental hospitals. Reagan's promise was that out patient services would be available to those released from mental hospitals, but that out patient care never materialized.

I was going to college in a downtown area during that time. It was almost overnight that homeless populations mushroomed, and these weren't just down on their luck alcoholics, but seriously mentally ill people just let loose on the street.

In my city where there had been only a few hundred chronically homeless people, suddenly there were thousands, and many of them far too mentally ill to function without care, many of them with violence problems. This has created a fear of homeless people, which leads to all these anti homeless laws in the following two decades.

There has never been any replacement for our old mental hospitals, or a large scale push to offer out patient services for the mentally ill, all the while, we have had several wars, and serious national tragedies such as, our crumbling economy, 9/11 and Katrina, all of which add to the numbers of mentally ill and homeless people. Yet there has been no substantial increase in services for mentally ill homeless people.

Another thing we can thank Slick Willie for. There's a non-zero possibility that Reagan had good intentions when he dumped people into the street. . . but good ol' Slick could damned well see the consequences with his own eyes. If he had cared to look.

THE NEW POST RACIAL POLITICS

Yes, Obama's victory is a watershed event for America. There is no more overt discrimination on the basis of race in the electoral process, but day-to-day matters of living a decent life? Remember the 1968 Kerner Commission Report? African-Americans torched Watts, Detroit, Newark and other urban areas over:

High unemployment
Poor schools
Inadequate housing
Lack of health care
Systemic police brutality
Prison incarceration

Now, 40 years later, what can we say about these issues? You know the numbers. They can only be fudged so much by the left, right or center. The truth is still in the details. Until shown otherwise, let's keep our fingers crossed that the Obama administration will nudge America to a better outcome. That would demonstrate a trickle down from party politics (no matter how constrained by structural critiques and free market boosterism) to the everyday people. Until then, keep charging. - York W

As it appears that a number of positions in President-elect Obama's cabinet will be filled by members of the Senate, the manifestation of another disturbing trend becomes evident. When all is said and done, what percentage of the body that convenes in 2009 will arrive without the legitimacy a single popular vote from their ostensible constituencies? Exactly to whom will the various appointees feel obliged? Beyond matters of race and gender, our representative legislatures are becoming increasingly estranged from the social-economic strata that comprise the vast majority of our population.

SWAMPOODLE REPORT: SACRED TEXTS AND PROFANED HISTORY

The halfwits of mainstream media are peddling Doris Kearns Goodwin's silly book. How many of these halfwits know she is a plagiarist? And the central thesis of her book seems to be all wrong. Lincoln didn't have all those rivals in his cabinet by choice. Somebody remarked in Doug Henwood's LBO Talk list that it was imposed on Lincoln by his campaign managers because they had to cut all those deals with plenty of people in order to secure his nomination. - Ajit

I see you typed a lot of words, but it doesn't seem to me you're actually saying anything. This whole treating Obama like an extension of the Clinton years is already wearing on me. I guess I'll just have to skip about half of Undernews now. I'm just sad that you're wasting so much of your time trying to tear down a man that isn't even on the job yet. Seems like a poor use of precious time.

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