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Undernews For October 22, 2009

Undernews For October 22, 2009

Since 1964, the news while there's still time to do something about it

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October 21, 2009

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Television is a device that permits people who haven't anything to do to watch people who can't do anything - Fred Allen

10/21/2009 | Comments


Sam Smith

As I tried, for about the seventeenth time, to make sense of the healthcare negotiations, I suddenly realized that I wasn't watching a political debate at all; rather it was one of those conflicts you read about in other countries that are so hard to understand from afar - the sort in which militant and/or religious sects with hard to remember names and unpronounceable leaders engage in struggles usually reduced by the press to simple goals such as "power" or "strengthening their position."

But instead of Shiek Wahoodie Marzapan or the Terratus Mozaki faction, we have Max Baucus, Olympia Snow and the Blue Dogs. And it all makes about as much sense.

That is, until you stop framing it as a political division and recognize that we are really dealing with quasi-religious fundamentalists engaged in a simple turf battle in which the goal is not healthcare or the lack thereof, but relative standing at the end of the conflict. In domestic terms, it is much more like a mob dispute than a traditional political debate. To be sure, some of the language seems political - talk of a public option, mandates and so forth - but this is mostly just part of the Muzak accompanying the mayhem - symbols that help make the whole thing appear rational.

In fact, politics is pretty much dead in America and has been for some time.

Of course, politics has never been just about such high minded things as goals, ideas and reforms. Such causes have always had to struggle for air against the forces described by Walt Whitman as including "the meanest kind of bawling and blowing office-holders, office-seekers, pimps, malignants, conspirators, murderers, fancy-men, custom-house clerks, contractors, kept-editors, spaniels well-train'd to carry and fetch, jobbers, infidels, disunionists, terrorists, mail-riflers, slave-catchers, pushers of slavery, creatures of the President, creatures of would-be Presidents, spies, bribers, compromisers, lobbyers, sponges, ruin'd sports, expell'd gamblers, policy-backers, monte-dealers, duellists, carriers of conceal'd weapons, deaf men, pimpled men, scarr'd inside with vile disease, gaudy outside with gold chains made from the people's money and harlots' money twisted together; crawling, serpentine men, the lousy combings and born freedom-sellers of the earth."

But - whether promoted out convenience or noble purpose - such causes did at least exist and everyone argued about them - albeit often futilely.

For example, here is one such statement of goals:

"This Republic had its beginning, and grew to its present strength, under the protection of certain inalienable political rights -- among them the right of free speech, free press, free worship, trial by jury, freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures. They were our rights to life and liberty.

"We have come to a clear realization of the fact, however, that true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence. . . People who are hungry, people who are (and) out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made.

"In our day these economic truths have become accepted as self-evident. We have accepted, so to speak, a second Bill of Rights under which a new basis of security and prosperity can be established for all -- regardless of station, or race or creed.

"Among these are: The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries, or shops or farms or mines of the nation; The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation; . . . The right of every business man, large and small , to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad; The right of every family to a decent home; The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health; The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, and sickness, and accident and unemployment; And finally, the right to a good education.

"America's own rightful place in the world depends in large part upon how fully these and similar rights have been carried into practice for all our citizens."

Now, if you were to clip the foregoing and wander around the White House and Capitol Hill looking for someone to advocate such a program, you would be lucky if you came up with anyone other than, say, Russ Feingold, Bernie Sanders and perhaps a bare majority of the Black Caucus. . . .

The others - from the president on down - would regard such a program as naive claptrap not even worthy of discussion. And not a single mainstream reporter or TV show would give it the slightest attention.

Which will give you some sense of what has happened in the 65 years since these words were broadcast nationally during a fireside chat by Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

We like to think of ourselves as so much more sophisticated than those crazy Muslims with their innumerable and indecipherable sects, yet that is precisely what our politics has become as well.

It is not about great issues but about minor factions. It is not about causes to be advocated but subcultures to be preserved. It is not about mass politics but about atomized preferences. And, of course, it is no longer about votes because they have become almost superfluous - symbolic reflections of the dollars that really matter.

If we toss out our traditional political paradigm and start to look at America as if it were one of those countries we like to occupy, destabilize or develop an exit strategy for, it all begins to make more sense.

We find ourselves in a country in which at least three major fundamentalist mujahideens are struggling for power: the conservative, liberal and establishment. Each share such characteristics as absolute confidence in their righteousness, absolute certainty in their beliefs, absolute contempt for doubt, reduction of their opponents to the status of devils, and the acceptance of warfare as a noble exercise as long as they get to pick the target.

In a healthy democracy, two or more parties propose specific programs to better, in their view, the state of the nation. But not one of the contemporary American mujahideens has shown any serious interest in such matters for the past several decades. It has been left to minor sects like the Greens and Libertarians to still worry about issues.

Conservatives, for example, have seemingly forgotten their erstwhile concern for small government and lower spending and have chosen to define themselves instead by what they oppose: primarily abortion and gay marriage. There are about 1.2 million abortions a year and about 150,000 gay marriages or similar unions. In other words, conservatives have established as a primary goal changing the annual behavior of less than one half of one percent of the American public.

About the only major policies that establishment fundamentalists have pursued during this same period has been to find new ways to transfer wealth from the many to the few and to periodically change the identity of their major enemy - i.e. the devil incarnate - and thus periodically redefine themselves. Over these three decades the devil has been serially located in El Salvador, Libya, Lebanon, Grenada, Honduras, Iraq, Panama, Bosnia, and Afghanistan. And the most deadly horned beast of all has been the one selling drugs, the war on which having cost more American lives than any conflict since Vietnam.

But the only clear victory in all of this was in Grenada and, as Ted Turner recently noted, the last country to actually surrender to us was Japan. Yet not one significant member of the establishment mujahideen has apologized for the futility and cost of their warrior fantasies and, as of this morning, not one leader of the establishment has apologized for their near disastrous financial policies and misdeeds from which we are now desperately attempting to recover.

But then, the enemy was never there to be defeated but as a constant threat enforcing the loyalty of one's constituency. As Ernest Becker put it, "war is a sociological safety valve that cleverly diverts popular hatred for the ruling classes into a happy occasion to mutilate or kill foreign enemies." With it you need no progress, no policies, and no change in the system at all.

All you need is an enemy, with the greatest threat not being the enemy itself but that it might disappear. Constatine Cavafy put it well a century ago:

Night is here but the barbarians have not come.
And some people arrived from the borders,
And said that there are no longer any barbarians.
And now what shall become of us without any barbarians?
Those people were some kind of solution.

Few in public office have said it so bluntly, a remarkable exception being the State Department's director of policy planning in 1948, George Kennan, who argued, "We should cease to talk about vague and. . . unreal objectives such as human rights, the raising of the living standards, and democratization. . . We are going to have to deal in straight power concepts."

While an establishment or conservative movement obsessed with power certainly has plenty of precedents in history, this tendency was mitigated in the United States during its first two centuries because, for better or worse, Americans of all stripes believed in things and their politics reflected this.

But what is rare enough to be deeply disturbing has been the transformation of the American liberal constituency into a similar sect - one searching for power without the necessity of purpose. Certainly since its cynical acceptance of Bill Clinton, mainstream liberal Democratic politics has not displayed more than a passing interest in any major policy - sharing with the right a reliance on things like gay marriage and abortion while ignoring massive economic, environmental and civil liberties issues. To be sure, there are progressives and groups that have tried to take up the slack, but they have been uniformly ignored, or even dissed, such as the refusal to invite single payer advocates to White House discussions on health care, which mainstream liberals barely noticed.

Further, liberals have increasingly taken to acting like conservatives. They are defining themselves by their enemies rather than by their own beliefs and programs. For example, their obsession with the faults of Fox News argues that true virtue lies in not being Sean Hannity. There was a time when liberals had higher standards than that.

Worse, the liberal paradigm has assigned to much of America the sins of Rush Limbaugh, condemning the very people who should be converted, disparaging much of our land as mere "fly over country," and showing no respect for the problems of those who live in such places. These are the characteristics of a snotty private club, not a political movement.

There are a couple of reasons why all this is deeply disturbing. The first is that almost without exception, the best political ideas - from democracy itself to a minimum wage or ecological preservation - have come from the left. For liberalism to go into sleep mode or retreat into a cocoon of smug self identity endangers the whole nation.

The second is that one of the hidden dangers of politics without purpose is that it becomes increasingly corrupt and supportive of aggressively narcissistic and anti-democratic abuse. This is what happened in Nazi Germany as the disintegration of liberalism became an important part of the cultural rubble upon which Hitler climbed.

There is nothing, however, that prevents the rediscovery of real politics in America. Admittedly, it would be difficult given the almost total bias of the media towards the personality rather than the substance of power. But there could still be a progressive populist movement that would promote a real economic reform movement, defend the weak against the powerful, the local against the centralized and rediscover the sort of rights of which Roosevelt spoke 65 years ago.

Since the media is a key part of the establishment mujahideen, it will not voluntarily admit this to its viewers and readers, but we are living in a nation of increasingly angry, restless, confused folk and if they are not offered decent and realistic answers they will become increasingly susceptible to the worst kind of lies.

Yet for it to happen, we must first accept the degree to which the system we were taught we lived under simply no longer exists. That our politics have lost honor and soul, with conscious programs and polices replaced by the transactions of mobs, exemplified by healthcare negotiations in which the major winners will inevitably be the healthcare industry and the biggest losers those in whose name a final measure will be passed.

And we must also view that part of unempowered America with which we find disagreement not as irreparable rightwing junkies but as fellow citizens who have been deceived, misled and screwed. And then, issue by issue, turn them into allies as together we rediscover what politics was meant to be - and still can be - about.

10/21/2009 | Comments


Mark Brenner, Counterpunch - Nobody wants to admit it, but the next casualty of the Wall Street meltdown will probably be your golden years. For years corporations have been trying to choke the life out of traditional pensions, working hard to get out from under the risk-and the cost-of providing for their retirees. Between last year's credit crunch and changes to federal pension laws, they may get their wish.

Nearly $4 trillion worth of retirement savings were wiped out in the first weeks of the 2008 financial freefall. Half of the drop was concentrated in traditional pension plans, also known as defined-benefit plans. While most workers in these plans haven't had their monthly benefits cut, unlike the 46 million people riding the stock market with 401(k) defined-contribution plans, the storm clouds are gathering.

Even before the financial crisis, traditional pensions were a vanishing breed. Thirty years ago more than a third of the private sector workforce had traditional pensions. Last year that number was down to 16 percent.

Driving the decline were employers looking to get off cheap, eliminating pensions entirely when they could get away with it, and when they couldn't, shifting to 401(k)s. These programs were legalized in 1978 and were originally designed to supplement traditional pensions. Now they're choking them out like kudzu.

Corporations got a great deal, paying about half what they used to towards their workers' retirement by the '90s. Even more important-as anyone who has opened their 401(k) statement recently can attest-the move shifted risk off companies and onto us.

Traditional pensions were a collective solution to a collective problem. Young and old contributing together smoothed out insecurity for all. Now it's just you and the stock market-with far less in your pocket.

Even before the crash, studies showed that 401(k)s leave workers with 10 to 33 percent of what traditional pensions provide. Given the 30-year squeeze on wages, most people haven't saved much either, which explains why more than half of all 401(k) participants have less than $75,000 when they retire.

10/21/2009 | Comments


PA example tasks

-Organize closet
-make bed
-Drop off/pick up dry cleaning
-Drop me off/pick me up from work
-Do laundry -Fill up gas tank
-bring car for servicing
-schedule appointment for haircut
-Pay parking tickets
-manage electronic accounts
-shopping and running errands
-other random tasks.

10/21/2009 | Comments


Guardian, UK - One of the City's leading figures has suggested that inequality created by bankers' huge salaries is a price worth paying for greater prosperity. In remarks that will fuel the row around excessive pay, Lord Griffiths, vice-chairman of Goldman Sachs International and a former adviser to Margaret Thatcher, said banks should not be ashamed of rewarding their staff.

Speaking to an audience at St Paul's Cathedral in London about morality in the marketplace last night, Griffiths said the British public should "tolerate the inequality as a way to achieve greater prosperity for all".. . .

10/21/2009 | Comments


JephKelley: We can put a man on the moon, yet we can't develop another analogy for describing when something obvious needs to be done but hasn't been.

10/21/2009 | Comments


The Hill - The Pentagon pays an average of $400 to put a gallon of fuel into a combat vehicle or aircraft in Afghanistan. The statistic is likely to play into the escalating debate in Congress over the cost of a war that entered its ninth year last week.

Pentagon officials have told the House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee a gallon of fuel costs the military about $400 by the time it arrives in the remote locations in Afghanistan where U.S. troops operate. . .

A landlocked country, Afghanistan has no seaports and a shortage of airports and navigable roads. The nearest port is in Karachi, Pakistan, where fuel for U.S. troops is shipped.

10/21/2009 | Comments


The Amazing Journey of American Women From 1960 to the Present

By Gail Collins

NY Times - Gail Collins's "When Everything Changed" points out what the women on "Mad Men" know: that period in our history was less enjoyable for the ladies. Ms. Collins, who edited the editorial page of The New York Times (the first woman to have held that position) from 2001 to 2007 and who now writes an Op-Ed column for the paper, begins her informative survey with a panoramic look at how women lived in 1960 - recent history, we might think, until we note how many practices then in fashion seem, by current standards, positively medieval.

Female passengers were banned from United Airlines' "executive flights" from New York to Chicago, and in some states women were barred from jury duty lest time spent in the courtroom "encourage lax performance of their domestic duties." "Hell, yes, we have a quota," admitted a medical school dean. "We do keep women out, when we can."

The practice of paying women less for doing the same jobs as men was not only accepted but routine; a wife's credit card was issued in her husband's name; and women had trouble securing bank loans to buy a house or even a car. The National Press Club was off limits to women until 1971. No one much questioned these regulations and customs - the dress codes requiring women to wear skirts instead of pants, the firing of airline stewardesses who gained too much weight - nor was there vocal opposition to the sort of prohibitions that we decry when they appear in dispatches from some benighted emirate or sheikdom.

Sam Smith, Multitudes - [Harvard dean F Skiddy Von Stade's] attitude toward social change - as recalled in the Harvard Crimson in 1974 : "When I see the bright, well-educated, but relatively dull housewives who attended the Seven Sisters, I honestly shudder at the thought of changing the balance of males versus females at Harvard. Quite simply, I do not see highly educated women making startling strides in contributing to our society in the foreseeable future. They are not, in my opinion, going to stop getting married and/or having children. They will fail in their present role as women if they do."

Von Stade had plenty of support for such views. Professor John Finley, classics scholar and master of Eliot House, said about the same time that "I'm not quite sure people want to have crystalline laughter falling like waterfalls down each entry way of the house at all hours. I should think it would be a little disturbing if you were taking advanced organic chemistry.". . .

Thirty years after she graduated in 1962, New York politician Elizabeth Holtzman would say, "Nobody protested. We didn't know yet what was unfair. I felt privileged to be getting a Harvard education." A New York Times article the year of her graduation said that "Radcliffe girls," like those from other women's colleges, "don't DO much of anything beyond marrying and raising children." The article was written by a Harvard man. And in another NY Times piece, Peggy Schmertzler of the Radcliffe class of 1953 recalled, "I remember the deans' telling us an educated person made the best mother. . . She could sing French songs to her children."

On the other hand, many of the Cliffies held their own. One of the stories told was of the professor chiding a woman student for knitting in class. "Knitting," he said, "is a repressed form of masturbation." Replied the student, "When I knit, I knit. When I masturbate, I masturbate."

10/21/2009 | Comments


Anti-War - At least six people were killed and 42 others wounded in a pair of suicide bombings at the International Islamic University in the Pakistani capital of Islamabad, the latest in a rising string of attacks across the nation in the past several weeks.

The latest attack took the nation by shock, leading the government to quickly announce that it was shutting down every school and college across the entire nation. All public and private education in the nation will hence be shuttered until further notice.

This is a major change from the assorted military offensives across the last several years, where the conflict was largely restricted to a small region, and even when an attack did occur, it left most of the nation untouched.

Not so this time, as every student across the country will wake up tomorrow realizing that the war is having a direct impact on their life.

10/21/2009 | Comments


10/21/2009 | Comments


CNN - A newly released British study found that daily heroin injections given to hard-to-treat addicts as part of a comprehensive program succeeded in treating those addicts and reducing crime. The use of street heroin was reduced by three quarters and the crimes committed trying to get drugs were cut by two-thirds, the study found.

"The intensity of the program is quite striking," said John Strang, who led the research team at Britain's National Addiction Centre, associated with King's College in London. "The bond that is formed and the commitment that's established between the patient coming in for treatment and the staff is far greater than you would ever ordinarily see."

Taking heroin off the streets seems to be making a difference. Researchers injected heroin in a safe, stable environment at medically supervised clinics. They crucially paired that with intensive counseling and addiction treatment.

The researchers reported that benefits were evident just six weeks into treatment among users who had failed at other kinds of treatment.

One of those participants was "Sarah," who said that after coping with her addiction for more than 20 years, she lost hope that anything would work.

Sarah described how the program had an almost immediate affect on her life. She said she was able to keep a schedule, stop buying drugs on the street and gain an appreciation of what her life could be like if she wasn't so consumed by getting high.

"You'll always be an addict basically; it's about managing it and leading a positive life" said Sarah, adding, "It quickly became, well, I actually do want to stop. I don't really want to have to stick needles in me all my life."

Her biggest fear now is that the program will be cut or shut down if the government deems it too controversial.

Another patient, who asked to be identified as "Emma," said, "The morality of it was taken out of the question. I wasn't being condemned for it and at last I could start taking responsibility in a rational way."

Emma described being chaotic, confused, emaciated and always dreaming about her next fix. By contrast, she said, the program made her feel cared for, supported and, above all, confident that she could kick the heroin habit.

10/21/2009 | Comments


Sam Smith: Ruth Abbott, who passed recently, was half of one of America's most remarkable couples. For starters, she met her future husband in 1937 while he was in jail. She told the Montgomery County Gazette, "He and my father were arrested for picketing in New York. They were both sentenced to 30 days in the Erie County Jail." Added the paper: "Ruth said she went to the jail to visit her father and would also visit Abbott because her father told her that he didn't have many visitors."

I met and worked with the couple when Sammie was running the remarkably successful battle against freeways in the nation's capital - a fight that kept DC from becoming another Los Angeles. The experience would help form my view of politics, permanently alienating me, for example, from the liberal bias that you could only work with those who shared most of your values. After all, the anti-freeway movement thrived on its variety, symbolized by the day that there were two speakers at a rally: Grosvenor Chapman, president of the All white Georgetown Citizens Association, and Reginald Booker, the black activist head of Niggers Inc. I remember looking up on the stage at the remarkable pair and thinking, "We've won." And we had.

Sammie Abbott & Reginald Booker
Evening Star photo

Meredith Hooker, Montgomery County Gazette, 2002 - Interstate 95 could have split the City of Takoma Park when the road was proposed during the 1960s. But Sammie Abbott wouldn't let it happen.

The late Takoma Park mayor led the fight against the proposed freeway that would have destroyed homes in both Takoma Park and Washington, D.C., including his own. During the battle, Abbott created the slogan "No White Men's Roads Through Black Men's Homes.". . .

Abbott became mayor at age 72 in 1980 and served until 1986. When he first ran for mayor, he lost by eight votes in 1978. He lost by seven votes during his final mayoral race in 1986.

During Abbott's six-year tenure, speed humps and four-way stops were put in the city to slow traffic. Abbott created the city newsletter. Takoma Park became "Tree City, USA" and a nuclear-free zone. The city also became a sanctuary for refugees escaping the brutality of right-wing regimes in Central America. "He was very, very busy," Ruth Abbott said. . .

Aldrighetti said in the days Abbott served on the council, "democracy reigned" and caused council meetings to go until 3 a.m. Often, he said, the meetings began in the council chambers and ended at the Tastee Diner in Silver Spring when people became tired and hungry. .

Ruth Abbott said Sam was arrested almost 50 times for protesting various things over the course of his life. "He went from one big issue to the next," she said.

Abbott, a graphic artist and union organizer, would tell you he printed more anti-war flyers than any other artist in America did, Aldrighetti said. Although Abbott was a fighter pilot in World War II, Abbott opposed the Korean and Vietnam Wars, Aldrighetti said.. . .

Leventhal said Abbott was an advocate for affordable housing and tenants' rights and helped the city to implement rent control, which is still in place today. He said one of Abbott's biggest goals was to create affordable housing for everyone.

When Montgomery College was planning to expand and take down homes on Takoma Avenue, Abbott sat in front of a bulldozer to stop the construction, Aldrighetti said. . .

Sam Smith, 1990 - By the middle of the sixties I was fast approaching the age of thirty which -- according to contemporary mythology -- was about to render me totally untrustworthy. Having only recently signed up for social change, I found the prospect of such early forced retirement from righteousness rather annoying and depressing.

Then I noticed a curious thing. In the peace, civil rights and anti-freeway movements some of the people who were making the most sense -- and the most difference -- were far older than I. People like David and Selma Rein, Julius Hobson and Sammie Abbott.

As a product of the fifties in which cynicism and disengagement were the highest forms of political activity, I found myself often unable to identify with the Aquarian optimism of those just a few years younger than myself. Aquarius was not an age, I thought, but only brief happy fireworks in the long night before human understanding. I came to believe that Bobby Seale's appeal to "seize the time" best summarized the transitory nature of the success that social and political change were then enjoying. In a literal sense, narrow in focus, I was not off the mark. But because I came to know a few people like Sammie Abbott -- it came not to matter.

Sammie had, I found out, been a union organizer before I had even been born. He had been protesting against the bomb while I was still in elementary school. He had been black-listed while I was in high school. That he had remained so committed, creative and indefatigable for so long was a truly remarkable discovery. That he had done so during times not only without the support of mass demonstrations, mass media and the cheers of a whole generation, but in times when such activities were considered akin to treason was inspiring. Above all, the constancy of it, the steadfastness made me comprehend for the first time the existential concept of personal witness to the truth that had eluded me during my years of Quaker education.

Of course I could not have described Sammie's effect on me so succinctly back then. Nor, I regret, did I ever mention it to him. There was about Sammie the compelling aura of a job to be done as soon as possible and the day to sit back and reflect on it all never came. In fact, I wonder what Sammie would have said about his memorial service, at which hundreds of activists gathered for two and a half hours of eulogy, music and anecdotes. Looking at the energy, talent and faith in the room, I suspect he might have been annoyed that at a time so hostage to a president's puerile apocalyptic vision we were wasting the afternoon mere memories with so much to be done.

I would not have been surprised if he had arisen in mist from the middle of the room and in that voice and with that pointing finger so reminiscent of an old testament prophet interrupted our proceedings and demanded that we get back to business.

I remember that voice and that finger pointing at Thomas Airis, director of highways, or Gilbert Hahn, chair of the city council. Through that voice flowed the aggregated anger of a city abused, of justice ignored, of dreams deferred.

But I also remember that the anger was only the beginning. Always there was a plan, an idea, a way of doing it. Drive down U Street, through Brookland or up the Potomac River by the islands of the Three Sisters and you will find no freeway there, in part because Sammie knew how to move from anger to productive action.

Like the time someone discovered an internal DC government map showing a proposed freeway right through the heart of Shaw. Sammie immediately sat down and created a 3 by 4 foot poster with a blow-up of the section in question, the freeway overlaid in red identifying exactly which buildings -- such as Pride Headquarters and the Howard Theatre -- would be torn down. The headline: White Men's Roads Through Black Men's Homes. The posters were tacked up all over Shaw and within a few days the DC government was disingenuously denying it had even thought of a freeway there. It may have been the first and only freeway stopped after less than a month of protest.

Sammie built his entire life around truth and justice. A cause was not a career move, not on option purchased on a political future, nor a flirtation of conscience. It was simply the just life's work of a just human. Long after others his age were enjoying retirement, he served as mayor of what became known the People's Republic of Takoma Park because of the progressive policies pressed by Sammie and his supporters. . .

I think what Sammie Abbot was all about was attending to what Jefferson called the revival and expansion of our rights before they expire in a convulsion. There is no more noble activity in which he could have spent his life and few who have done it with more consistency, imagination, courage and love of justice.

10/20/2009 | Comments


Wayne Madsen, 2002 - According to Afghan, Iranian, and Turkish government sources, Hamid Karzai, the interim Prime Minister of Afghanistan, was a top adviser to the El Segundo, California-based UNOCAL Corporation which was negotiating with the Taliban to construct a Central Asia Gas (CentGas) pipeline from Turkmenistan through western Afghanistan to Pakistan. Karzai, the leader of the southern Afghan Pashtun Durrani tribe, was a member of the mujaheddin that fought the Soviets during the 1980s. He was a top contact for the CIA and maintained close relations with CIA Director William Casey, Vice President George Bush, and their Pakistani Inter Service Intelligence Service interlocutors.

Later, Karzai and a number of his brothers moved to the United States under the auspices of the CIA. Karzai continued to serve the agency's interests, as well as those of the Bush Family and their oil friends in negotiating the CentGas deal, according to Middle East and South Asian sources. When one peers beyond all of the rhetoric of the White House and Pentagon concerning the Taliban, a clear pattern emerges showing that construction of the trans-Afghan pipeline was a top priority of the Bush administration from the outset. Although UNOCAL claims it abandoned the pipeline project in December 1998, the series of meetings held between U.S., Pakistani, and Taliban officials after 1998, indicates the project was never off the table.

During the late 1990s, Karzai worked with an Afghani-American, Zalmay Khalilzad, on the CentGas project. Khalilzad is President Bush's Special National Security Assistant and recently named presidential Special Envoy for Afghanistan. Interestingly, in the White House press release naming Khalilzad special envoy, no mention was made of his past work for UNOCAL. Khalilzad has worked on Afghan issues under National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, a former member of the board of Chevron, itself no innocent bystander in the future CentGas deal . . . Khalilzad's efforts complemented those of the Enron Corporation, a major political contributor to the Bush campaign. Enron, which recently filed for bankruptcy in the single biggest corporate collapse in the nation's history, conducted the feasibility study for the CentGas deal . . . A chief benefactor in the CentGas deal would have been Halliburton, the huge oil pipeline construction firm that also had its eye on the Central Asian oil reserves. At the time, Halliburton was headed by Dick Cheney. After Cheney's selection as Bush's Vice Presidential candidate, Halliburton also pumped a huge amount of cash into the Bush-Cheney campaign coffers. And like oil cash cow Enron, there were Wall Street rumors in late December that Halliburton, which suffered a forty per cent drop in share value, might follow Enron into bankruptcy court.

Bill Gertz, Geostrategy, 2001 - U.S. officials said Afghanistan's new interim leader, Hamid Karzai, has a long history of contacts with both the CIA and Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence service, known as ISI. The connections are said to be the reason Karzai was the candidate most acceptable to the United States and Pakistan. Karzai will head the new government over the next six months. Karzai and several brothers own a chain of restauraunts in Chicago, San Francisco, Boston and Baltimore. They have residences in Quetta, Islamabad and Peshawar . . . Karzai met the late CIA Director Bill Casey when Casey made one of his numerous trips to Pakistan during the U.S. covert operation to back mujahideen rebels against the Soviet Union during the 1980s. His ties to ISI are based on connections to former ISI Director Akhtar Abdur Rahman Khan and date to the early 1980s. Karzai, a moderate Msulim, and his father, Abdul Ahad Karzai, were befriended by ISI in the early 1980s.

Eric Margolis, Toronto Sun, 2001 - - Last week's much-ballyhooed Afghan "unity" conference in Germany produced precisely what this column predicted: a sham "coalition" government run by the Northern Alliance. One of the CIA's Pashtun "assets," Hamid Karzai, who represents no one but himself, was named prime minister. There was no other real Pashtun representation, though they comprise half the population . . .

10/20/2009 | Comments


Press Herald, ME - Portland Police Chief James Craig told a group of civic leaders that love can be an important quality in police work. Craig spoke to about 100 people gathered for the Institute for Civic Leadership's Leadership in Action Breakfast Series at the Mariner's Church. The title of his talk was "What's love got to do with it? Leadership lessons from the beat."

Craig described how as a Los Angeles officer he was assigned to some of that city's most gang-infested neighborhoods. It became apparent that youth were attracted to gangs because that's where they found love and security.

Effective policing meant providing alternatives to young people, he said. He cited one middle school program where officers ran a sort of "boot camp" two afternoons a week and on Saturday mornings for the most challenging students.

The military approach helped curb the students misbehavior but also led to relationships with the officers.

"Some of these young people never heard the word love, especially from an adult who will look them in the eye," Craig said.

The emotion doesn't need to be articulated to be felt, he said.

"Certainly, the gang members when he's trying to get a new recruit, doesn't say 'I love you' and rarely do you see a police officer use the word love," he said. "It's about action. "

"If you are truly passionate and care about your community, you must love people," he said. "You can't serve if you don't love."

10/20/2009 | Comments


Kip Sullivan, Physicians for a Public Health Plan - The New York Times reported on Saturday, October 17, that Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) is warning his constituents that the "public option" is not going to be available to the great majority of Americans. No one who has actually read the Senate health committee's "reform" bill or the House "reform" bill disputes this. According to the Congressional Budget Office, the "option" will be available only to about 30 million people, or about one American in ten. As the Times put it (slightly inaccurately), the "option" in the Democrats' legislation "would be out of bounds to the approximately 160 million people already covered through employers."

Does the public understand this? According to Wyden, they don't. Wyden says his constituents are shocked when they are told the "option" will not be available to the vast majority of Americans. When he began informing his constituents about this truth last summer, "They nearly fell out of the bleachers," he said . . .

I have written several papers warning the public that they have been the object of a "bait and switch" campaign by the leadership of the "option" movement. The "bait" in this campaign was the original version of the "option" promoted by Jacob Hacker. This version would have created an enormous public program that would have insured half the non-elderly population. Among several provisions of this first version of the "option" that would have ensured large size was one that said the "option" had to be available to all non-elderly Americans. The "switch" occurred when Democrats on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee and three chairmen of House committees drafted legislation that would create a very small and weak "option." . . .

After reading Wyden's warning, I examined over 50 polls to see if any pollsters had bothered to investigate the issue Wyden is raising. . . I discovered that the nation's best known polling firms have allowed themselves to be fooled. Pollsters are asking the public the wrong question. They are asking the public to comment on Hacker's original version of the "option" (the "bait"), not the actual "option" proposed in the Senate HELP Committee bill and HR 3200. Not surprisingly, the polls tell us very little about whether the public thinks the "option" will be available to everyone or to just a small minority. . .

10/20/2009 | Comments


Dayton Daily News - As if the mortgage foreclosure crisis wasn't bad enough, sometime last year a new phenomenon began to emerge: Experts say mortgage lenders and banks began walking away from foreclosed properties, especially in urban areas.

The so-called "walkaways" can occur along several different paths, but the effect is the same - after threatening or getting foreclosure, the lender attempts to abandon the usually vacant property, leaving the original owner, the neighbors and the city to live with the damage.

Owners often accumulate taxes and zoning enforcement fines on property they believe they no longer own.

Neighbors watch their property values decline as the vacant property deteriorates and is often broken into and stripped.

Cities then have to bear the cost of boarding up a structure, maintaining the lawn and, eventually, demolishing it.

Dayton housing inspector John Carter did a study last year of 302 vacant and abandoned residences in the city and found that about 70 percent were bank walkaways. Of those walkaways, he said, about 20 percent had mortgages but no foreclosure was ever filed.

"There are several tragedies to it," said Richard Stock, director of the University of Dayton's Business Research Group. "The very first tragedy is, my God, these people could have continued to be in their house all this time, maintaining it. And then there's the impact on the community." . . .

Dayton Daily News - Nobody is sure exactly how many bank walkaways are occurring. For various reasons, they can't be identified in searches of public real estate and court data without individually pulling case files, experts say. . .

David Rothstein, a researcher with Policy Matters Ohio, summarized the way they occur like this:

- The lender files a foreclosure, gets the foreclosure judgment in court, takes the property to sheriff's auction but doesn't bid on it if no one else does.

- The lender files as above, gets the judgment, sets the sheriff's auction, then cancels the sale at the last minute.

- The lender files as above but then never requests a sheriff's auction.

- The lender doesn't even bother to file foreclosure.

All of these actions leave the foreclosed property in the hands of the original owner who, in many cases, has moved out and is unaware the lender hasn't taken it. . .

10/20/2009 | Comments


James Ridgeway, Unsilent Generation - Big Pharma was the real winner in last week's shouting match between Obama and the insurance industry. Insurance execs took all the heat for attacking the White House's health care reform plan after the administration and lawmakers had negotiated for months to craft a proposal that the industry could live with. Meanwhile, Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, the main industry umbrella group, got to play the good guy-all the while escaping scrutiny for the fact that in recent months it has been quietly jacking up drug prices.

Of course, Big Pharma already stands to hit the jackpot from Obama's proposed reform plan. Under the deft direction of its chief lobbyist, former Louisiana congressman Billy Tauzin, PhRMA had already secured a valuable deal from the White House to provide a $80 billion in cost savings over the next 10 years in return for the President's promise to oppose controls on drug pricing and importation of drugs from abroad.

As Fox's Brian Sullivan points out, health care reform will increase the market for pharmaceuticals by tens of millions of people-a stock market bonanza:

The top 10 prescription drugs in America do around $40 billion per year in sales. It is estimated that 30 to 40 million Americans- lack insurance, or about 20 percent of the population. These 30 to 40 million new 'customers' will have greater access to doctors and prescriptions. -this could add another 20 percent to sales of just the top 10 drugs alone. Twenty percent of $40 billion is-bingo-$8 billion per year. And remember that only factors in the top 10 drugs. There are hundreds more in the market. It is clear that $8 billion in cost cuts will be made up in multiples over the years.

But just in case someone throws a wrench into the deal, Big Pharma has been hedging its bets by quietly running up drug prices this year. The Pharmalot blog reports:

During this year's third quarter, eight of the biggest drug makers introduced hefty price increases of an average 8.7 percent-easily outdistancing the core Consumer Price Index of 1.4 percent, according to a recent research report by Credit Suisse analyst Catherine Arnold. . .

Of course, the White House could back out of its arrangement. But as the Senate Finance Committee moved the legislation last week, the deal seemed to be holding together just fine. Newsweek's Howard Fineman explains how two attempts to ramp up funds from the drug industry were beaten-not by Republicans, but by Democrats:

"The Senate Finance Committee's bill, which passed out of committee on Tuesday, leans very hard on Medicare-but treads very lightly on the private sector. Sen. Bill Nelson, a Democrat from senior-dominated Florida, apparently had not gotten the memo about leaving Big Pharma alone. He wanted to offer two amendments, each of which would have taken another $100-billion-plus bite out of the industry's Medicare revenue. Tauzin was not pleased. Neither was the White House. The senator was talked out of offering one amendment. He narrowly lost on the other after [Jim] Messina, the White House aide, called to express his dismay and to remind everyone that a deal was a deal. Democrats celebrated the outcome as a victory. The only losers were the American people. But, hey, they weren't at the table."

10/20/2009 | Comments


Raw Story - Insurgents in Afghanistan are using heroin as a tactical weapon against US forces, hoping to emulate the drug problems that plagued US troops in Vietnam and Soviet troops in Afghanistan in the 1980s, says a new investigative report. At the Daily Beast, author Gerald Posner cites "an internal US intelligence report" that "concluded [insurgents] are targeting American troops in an effort to undermine their effectiveness, while raising cash to pay for new recruits and weaponry." The report brings up inevitable comparisons to the Vietnam War of the 1960s and 1970s and the Soviet war in Afghanistan that ended two decades ago. It also raises the possibility that the conflict in Afghanistan will spill over into the streets of America as returning troops bring their addictions home with them. . . "In Vietnam we ended up with a nearly 20 percent addiction rate to China White," Posner said. (A 1971 report on drug addiction among US soldiers in Vietnam pegged the number closer to 15 percent.) "Soviet soldiers came back from Afghanistan with addictions," Posner continued, noting that Russia is now the world's largest per-capita user of heroin "as a result of those returning Soviet fighters."

Reuters - Japan's swimmers could face lifetime bans if they dye their hair, wear an earring or have brightly decorated fingernails. Japanese officials have launched a strict policy to prevent athletes turning up for competitions looking more like rock stars than swimmers. Male and female swimmers caught sneaking into each others rooms at Japanese training camp, where the sexes have separate sleeping quarters, will also find themselves in hot water. . . Rule-breakers face being booted out of the team and sent home in disgrace, a suspension of up to five years or even a lifetime ban.

Pam Martens, Counterpunch - The financial tsunami unleashed by Wall Street's esurient alchemy of spinning toxic home mortgages into triple-A bonds, a process known as securitization, has set off its second round of financial tremors. . . Three plain talking judges, in state courts in Massachusetts and Kansas, and a Federal Court in Ohio, have drilled down to the "straw man" aspect of securitization. The judges' decisions have raised serious questions as to the legality of hundreds of thousands of foreclosures that have transpired as well as the legal standing of the subsequent purchasers of those homes, who are more and more frequently the Wall Street banks themselves. Adding to the chaos, the Financial Accounting Standards Board has made rule changes that will force hundreds of billions of dollars of these securitizations back onto the Wall Street banks balance sheets, necessitating the need to raise capital just as the unseemly courtroom dramas are playing out.

Denver Channel - Rocky Mountain Health Plans said it will no longer consider obesity a "pre-existing condition" barring coverage for hefty infants. The change comes after the insurer turned down a Grand Junction 4-month-old who weighs about 17 pounds. . . The company attributed the boy's rejection for health coverage to a "flaw in our underwriting system."

Note to DC readers - Your editor will be among those featured in a WETA-TV documentary on Washington in the 1960s that airs November 2 at 9 pm. Gives a real sense of the town in that era.

NY Times - The basic Medicare premium will shoot up next year by 15 percent, to $110.50 a month. . . The increase means that monthly premiums would top $100 for the first time, a stark indication of the rise in medical costs . . . About 12 million people, or 27 percent of Medicare beneficiaries, will have to pay higher premiums or have the additional amounts paid on their behalf. The other 73 percent will be shielded from the increase because, under federal law, their Medicare premiums cannot go up more than the increase in their Social Security benefits, and Social Security officials announced last week that there would be no increase in benefits in 2010 because inflation had been extremely low.

Twenty-six percent of U.S. adults report that at least one member of their immediate family lost their health insurance coverage within the past year, a new Zogby Interactive poll shows. Somewhat more likely to have lost coverage are those in households earning $35,000 and less (37%) and those 18-29 years old (35%).

Tree Hugger - Looking at the wide sweep of US fish and wildlife management history, the fact that 'hook and bullet' groups have expressed support for climate action should be viewed as a return to the historical norm. And no wonder. As a Reuters article points out, it's hard to live in denial if you "spend a lot of time outdoors and notice changes like shifting bird migrations or earlier spring run-offs in rivers from melting snow." The mythical view of all political conservatives as 'anti-conservation' arose from political campaign consultants stoking fear over the prospect of of over-reaching gun and ammunition controls, for example. . . City-dwelling "tree huggers" have more in common with the rural 'hook and bullet crowd' than they might care to admit. And vice versa.

Cathy Wilcox, Sidney Morning Herald, Australia - The shaken Anglican Archbishop of Sydney admits he has wondered whether God had decided to punish his diocese. eter Jensen confessed to being grief-stricken by the size of the diocese's $160 million financial loss and called on his faithful not be panicked or paralyzed by the money crisis but to turn to God in ''active faith''. . . In his presidential address, Dr Jensen sought to make theological sense of the sharemarket crash and suggested apocalyptic signs such as the economic crisis, global warming and dust storms were pointers to the coming of Jesus but were not in themselves indicative that end times were nigh. He also posed the question of whether the losses were God's punishment. ''It may not be our sins at all - it may be that the Lord is simply seeking to test us.''

MS Magazine - For the first time in US history women are about to become the majority of the nation's paid workers. The recently released Shriver Report: A Women's Nation Changes Everything is a comprehensive study of this milestone. Today, women are the primary breadwinners or co-breadwinners in 63% of American families.

Buzz Flash - Not many new books get a 69% discount before they are even released. In fact, BuzzFlash -- which sells progressive books -- has never seen such a slashed price for a book before it came out like the $9.00 is charging for "Going Rogue." Yes, Sarah Palin and "Going Rogue" -- not released until November 17 -- are going down cheap, at a price usually reserved for what are called "remainder" books, the surplus stock of a book that is dramatically discounted. Of course if you give it away, you can have a popular product, so it's no surprise that as of October 19, "Going Rogue" is number 4 on Amazon

American Chemical Society - Researchers have established the conditions that foster formation of potentially dangerous levels of a toxic substance in the high-fructose corn syrup often fed to honey bees. Their study, which appears in ACS' bi-weekly Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, could also help keep the substance out of soft drinks and dozens of other human foods that contain HFCS. When exposed to warm temperatures, HFCS can form HMF and kill honeybees. Some researchers believe that HMF may be a factor in Colony Collapse Disorder, a mysterious disease that has killed at least one-third of the honeybee population in the United States.

UCLA scientists have found that for computer-savvy middle-aged and older adults, searching the Internet triggers key centers in the brain that control decision-making and complex reasoning. The findings demonstrate that Web search activity may help stimulate and possibly improve brain function. . . As the brain ages, a number of structural and functional changes occur, including atrophy, reductions in cell activity, and increases in deposits of amyloid plaques and tau tangles, which can impact cognitive function.

The charter school myth - The charter school movement has a very mixed record in improving student achievement. A recent comprehensive study from Stanford University's Center for Research on Education Outcomes found that only 17 percent of charter schools reported academic gains that were significantly better than comparable traditional public schools, whereas 37 percent showed gains that were worse than their public school counterparts, and 46 percent showed no significant difference. Some charter schools do have a strong commitment to community involvement, democratic governance, and open access. But many others deploy exclusionary policies and function as islands of privilege. - Rethinking Schools


10/20/2009 | Comments


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