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Undernews For 26 October 2009

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



October 26, 2009

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The skill of writing is to create a context in which other people can think. --Edwin Schlossberg

What was the best thing before sliced bread? - Anonymous
Sam Smith

Most Washington journalists graduated with degrees in the humanities or social sciences. As a result they are easily conned by the numbers that buzz like mosquitoes around the capital or just don't bother to question them.

For example, some time ago, Washington pols discovered the decade. You take whatever figure you like or don't like and multiply by ten. If you're lucky you can turn tens of millions into hundreds of millions or hundreds of millions into trillions. The decade figure is misleading in a number of regards including the fact that the people using it aren't likely to be around to answer for any error in their calculations and, further, the accuracy of predicting something ten years from now is inevitably far less precise than estimating next year's budget.

Another major scam might be called the public-private option. Both parties use it. Take healthcare for example. The GOP gives frightening estimates of what public healthcare expenditures will be without ever subtracting the parallel reduction in private healthcare costs. The Democrats, pushing for a mandatory purchase of health insurance for many, simultaneously claim not to be raising taxes. Of course, to the individual involved, whether you write the check to Aetna or the Treasury doesn't make all that much difference.

10/26/2009 | Comments
Mark Thomas, Guardian, UK - I was sent the now notorious "police spotter card" through the post. It's an official laminated card for "police eyes only" and labelled as coming from "CO11 Public Order Intelligence Unit". The card contained the photographs of 24 anti-arms trade protesters, unnamed but lettered A to X. My picture appeared as photo H. You can imagine my reaction at finding I was the subject of a secret police surveillance process . . . I was delighted. I phoned my agent and told him I was suspect H. He replied: "Next year we'll get you top billing . . . suspect A."

The Metropolitan police circulated the card specifically for the Docklands biannual arms fair in London to help its officers identify "people at specific events who may instigate offences or disorder". Which is such a flattering quote I am thinking of having it on my next tour poster. While being wanted outside the arms fair, I was legitimately inside researching a book on the subject, and uncovered four companies illegally promoting "banned" torture equipment. Questions were later asked in the Commons as to why HM Revenue & Customs and the police didn't spot it. Though, in fairness, none of the torture traders featured on the spotter card.

What exactly was I doing that was so awfully wrong as to merit this attention? Today's Guardian revelations of three secret police units goes some way to explain the targeting of protesters and raises worrying questions. The job of these units is to spy on protesters, and collate and circulate information about them. Protesters - or, as the police call them, "domestic extremists" - are the new "reds under the bed".

Many of those targeted by the police have committed no crime and are guilty only of non-violent direct action. So it is worth reminding ourselves that protest is legal. . .

10/26/2009 | Comments
Daily Mail - The Pharox light bulb lasts 25 years or longer if used for four hours a day. . . A version that brightens up instantly, costs just 88p a year to run and lasts up to 25 years has gone on sale in Britain for the first time. The only catch is that the new LED bulb will cost L30. Manufacturers claim the Pharox is the first low-energy bulb to give off the same light quality and brightness as a conventional 60-watt traditional bulb. They say that, despite its initial cost, each bulb will pay for itself in just three years. After that, each one used could shave around L9 a year off a typical household electricity bill.

10/26/2009 | Comments
Politico - CBS' Mark Knoller - an unofficial documentarian and statistician of all things White House-related - wrote on his Twitter feed that, "Today - Obama ties Pres. Bush in the number of rounds of golf played in office: 24. Took Bush 2 yrs & 10 months."

10/26/2009 | Comments
David Sirota - After a summer of politics marked by esoteric phrases like "co-ops" and "insurance exchanges," the newest kernel of ubiquitous arcana is the term "trigger mechanism." . . . "It's an obscure policy tool that isn't even written," reported the news service Talking Points Memo. "But somehow, a 'trigger-mechanism' is the talk of Washington right now. How did that happen?". . .

Yet, considering recent history, the only surprise is that Washington waited so long to again force this legislative cyanide down America's throat.

Recall that over the last decade, a maverick group of progressive and conservative lawmakers pushed bills to let Americans purchase cheaper, FDA-approved prescription drugs from other industrialized nations. It was (and is) a commonsense idea - other countries allow importation, and the practice helps lower health costs by permitting consumers to buy medicines at the lowest world market price, not just at an artificially inflated domestic premium.

As with today's public option surveys, polls on importation showed strong national support for the concept. So rather than murder the drug legislation outright, congressional leaders joined the Clinton and Bush administrations in backing a "compromise": Importation bills were passed, but only those that gave the secretary of Health and Human Services the power to trigger - or not trigger - final implementation. Specifically, the secretary would have to first certify that imported medicines were "safe" (drug companies promote the lie that Canadian medicine is mortally dangerous - prompting Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty, an importation proponent, to ask, "Where are the dead Canadians"?).

This trigger provision, of course, was lobbyists' poison pill - and it worked as they planned. Importation has never been implemented, as no HHS secretary has pulled the trigger. Hence, Americans are still barred from wholesale importation of lower-priced medicine - and pharmaceutical industry profiteering continues.

10/26/2009 | Comments

10/26/2009 | Comments

10/26/2009 | Comments
10/26/2009 | Comments
Anti-War - The US army announced that the military base just northwest of the Black Sea Port City of Constanta, Romania will become a "permanent" base for the American military.

The announcement of a permanent American presence in the former Warsaw Pact and current NATO member nation will likely underscore a growing US presence in Eastern Europe.

The base was notably used in early 2003 as a stopping off point for thousands of American soldiers en route to launching the invasion of Iraq. Romania contributed several hundred troops to the invasion.

The base was also used as a stopping off point for multiple CIA rendition flights and was rumored to have been one of the secret "black ops" sites the CIA used for detention and interrogation of captives.

10/25/2009 | Comments
CBS Chicago - Chicago is considering leasing its water system to help fix the budget. The new boss could charge whatever they want for water. . .

Could it happen here in Chicago? It already has nearby. Homer Glen in Will County relies on Lake Michigan water, but the supply comes from a German-owned firm. Locals say there's a lot more than water going down the drain. . .

Residents say rates are breaking the bank.

Homer Glen resident Lillie Gajda said her family has tried to cut back to offset high rates.

"Oh, we do everything -- we've changed out toilets, we've changed our showerheads, we've changed faucets, we've changed dishwashers," she said.

Mayor Jim Daley says residents pay about three times more than those in neighboring communities. . .

A trade publication says the [Chicago's] Department of Water Management is "considering a lease of its water and wastewater system.". .

10/25/2009 | Comments
CNS - House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said that the individual health insurance mandates included in every health reform bill, which require Americans to have insurance, were "like paying taxes." He added that Congress has "broad authority" to force Americans to purchase other things as well, so long as it was trying to promote "the general welfare."

The Congressional Budget Office, however, has stated in the past that a mandate forcing Americans to buy health insurance would be an "unprecedented form of federal action," and that the "government has never required people to buy any good or service as a condition of lawful residence in the United States."

Hoyer, speaking to reporters at his weekly press briefing, was asked by CNS News where in the Constitution was Congress granted the power to mandate that a person must by a health insurance policy. Hoyer said that, in providing for the general welfare, Congress had "broad authority."

"Well, in promoting the general welfare the Constitution obviously gives broad authority to Congress to effect that end," Hoyer said. "The end that we're trying to effect is to make health care affordable, so I think clearly this is within our constitutional responsibility."

Hoyer compared a health insurance mandate to the government's power to levy taxes, saying "we mandate other things as well, like paying taxes."

CNS News also asked Hoyer if there is a limit to what Congress can mandate that Americans purchase and whether there is anything that specifically could not be mandated to purchase. Hoyer said that eventually the Supreme Court would find a limit to Congress' power, adding that mandates that unfairly favored one person or company over another would obviously be unconstitutional.

"I'm sure the [Supreme] Court will find a limit," Hoyer said. "For instance, if we mandated that you buy General Motors' automobiles, I believe that would be far beyond our constitutional responsibility and indeed would violate the due process clause as well - in terms of equal treatment to automobile manufacturers."

Hoyer said that the insurance mandate was constitutional because Congress is not forcing Americans to buy one particular policy, just any health insurance policy.

"We don't mandate that they buy a particular insurance [policy] but what we do mandate is that like driving a car -- if you're going to drive a car, to protect people on the roadway, and yourself, and the public for having to pay your expenses if you get hurt badly – that you need to have insurance," said Hoyer.

In 1994, the Congressional Budget Office reported the following about health insurance mandates: "A mandate requiring all individuals to purchase health insurance would be an unprecedented form of federal action. The government has never required people to buy any good or service as a condition of lawful residence in the United States. An individual mandate would have two features that, in combination, would make it unique. First, it would impose a duty on individuals as members of society. Second, it would require people to purchase a specific service that would be heavily regulated by the federal government."

Under all five of the health care bills currently being considered in Congress, every American adult would have to have a policy that conformed to government standards for coverage and premiums. . . .

Note: Since Hoyer compares the mandate to taxes, then the cost of the mandate to individuals should be considered a tax increase. - TPR

10/25/2009 | Comments


School children joined with local organizations in Nagpur, India to form a giant 350.

10/24/2009 | Comments
Dallas News - Dallas Police Chief David Kunkle said that his officers have written at least 39 citations to people over the past three years for not speaking English.

Apologizing publicly to the city's Spanish-speaking community, the chief said all officers and supervisors involved will be investigated for dereliction of duty. All pending citations will be dismissed, and people who paid fines will be reimbursed.

"I was stunned that this would happen," Kunkle said at a news conference.

The police chief added: "In my world, you would never tell someone not to speak Spanish."

10/24/2009 | Comments
Daily Express, UK - Long-term mobile phone users could face a higher risk of developing cancer in later life, according to a decade-long study.

The report, to be published later this year, has reportedly found that heavy mobile use is linked to brain tumors.

The survey of 12,800 people in 13 countries has been overseen by the World Health Organization.

Preliminary results of the inquiry, which is looking at whether mobile phone exposure is linked to three types of brain tumour and a tumour of the salivary gland, have been sent to a scientific journal.

10/24/2009 | Comments
This is an extraordinary story. We can't recall any previous White House doing something this self serving before an election. It won't be forgotten among Virginia Democrats.

Washington Post - Sensing that victory in the race for Virginia governor is slipping away, Democrats at the national level are laying the groundwork to blame a loss in a key swing state on a weak candidate who ran a poor campaign that failed to fully embrace President Obama until days before the election.

Senior administration officials have expressed frustration with how Democrat R. Creigh Deeds has handled his campaign for governor, refusing early offers of strategic advice and failing to reach out to several key constituencies that helped Obama win Virginia in 2008, they say.

Democratic strategists said that over the summer, Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) offered Deeds advice on winning a statewide election. Among other things, Kaine, who is also chairman of the Democratic National Committee, told Deeds that he should lay out more of his own vision and stop attacking Republican Robert F. McDonnell so ferociously. But Deeds did not embrace the advice, according to a national Democratic strategist.

A senior administration official said Deeds badly erred on several fronts, including not doing a better job of coordinating with the White House. "I understood in the beginning why there was some reluctance to run all around the state with Barack Obama," said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity in order to speak candidly about the race. "You don't do that in Virginia. But when you consider the African American turnout that they need, and then when you consider as well they've got a huge problem with surge voters, younger voters, we were just a natural for them."

A second administration official, who also spoke on condition of anonymity, said: "Obama, Kaine and others had drawn a road map to victory in Virginia. Deeds chose another path."

A loss for Deeds in Virginia -- which for the first time in decades supported the Democratic presidential candidate in last year's race -- would likely be seen as a sign that Obama's popularity is weakening in critical areas of the country. But the unusual preelection criticism could be an attempt to shield Obama from that narrative by ensuring that Deeds is blamed personally for the loss, particularly given the state's three-decade pattern of backing candidates from the party out of power in the White House.

10/23/2009 | Comments
CNN - A well-known Democratic strategist in Virginia is blasting the White House for placing anonymous quotes in the Washington Post in a preemptive effort to blame Creigh Deeds for what might be a loss in the state's upcoming gubernatorial election.

David "Mudcat" Saunders, who gained political fame helping Democrat Mark Warner reach out to rural voters during Warner's successful 2001 gubernatorial bid, told CNN Friday that trying to blame Deeds is "bullshit" when Democrats around the country are "just tired of politics.". . .

In a story published Friday, a senior administration official told the Post that the Deeds campaign ignored their advice to embrace the president, which the official claimed would have boosted the Democratic candidate's lackluster support among the African-Americans and young voters who supported Obama in 2008.

Saunders rejected that argument. Embracing Obama - who does appear with Deeds on ads running in some parts of the state - might not have hurt the candidate in Democratic-leaning areas, he argued, but with the contentious economic debates going on in Washington, the presidential stamp of approval wouldn't have turned him into an instant frontrunner. In southwest Virginia, he said, embracing the president would have been a "devastating" political move for Deeds, who is trailing Republican Bob McDonnell in the polls.

"They're making the assumption Virginia is a blue state, and it's not," Saunders said of the administration. "It's not a red state either. The very best that can be said about Virginia is that it's light purple. For them to say if he had listened to us they would win, that's chickenshit. That's Monday morning quarterbacking."

10/23/2009 | Comments
NPR - Scientists writing in the current issue of Science magazine point out a huge error in existing biofuel laws that could actually make climate change worse. They say these rules inadvertently encourage deforestation, which in turn contributes to global warming.

If you burn ethanol from corn in your car, the government doesn't count the carbon dioxide that comes out of the tailpipe as an actual carbon emission. That's because they figure the corn plant originally took that carbon dioxide out of the air, so you're just putting it back.

But 13 prominent scientists writing in Science says that's bad logic when it comes to many types of biofuels. Author Tim Searchinger of Princeton University offers an extreme example to make the point.

"Even if you were to cut down the world's forests and turn them into a parking lot, and take the wood and put it in a boiler - which obviously releases enormous amounts of carbon from the trees - that is treated as a pure way of reducing greenhouse gas emissions," Searchinger says. "And that's obviously an error."

And that error isn't trivial. It's now enshrined in European law as well as the Kyoto climate treaty.

"The problem is that when the world agreed to a treaty that limited the amount of carbon that goes up the smokestack, they didn't agree to limit the amount of carbon released by cutting down trees," he says.

Searchinger explains that in an effort to avoid double-counting carbon emissions, the treaty negotiators ended up with a system that never counts them at all.

And he says the climate bill that passed the U.S. House of Representatives earlier this year makes basically the same error, though at the moment, the Senate bill does have forest safeguards in place.

As a result of this accounting error, countries trying to reduce their carbon emissions actually have an incentive to cut down forests and burn them up or replant the area with biofuel crops. In fact, Searchinger says power plants in Northern Europe are starting to chip up wood and burn it for energy in the name of reducing emissions.

10/23/2009 | Comments
Washington Examiner - The Obama administration tried to exclude Fox News from the White House press pool. .

Thursday the White House made "pay czar" Kenneth Feinberg available for interviews to every member of the White House pool except Fox News. The pool is the five-network group that shared the costs and duties of daily coverage of the presidency and has done so for decades.

But in a surprising show of decency, the four other members of the pool -- ABC, NBC, CBS and CNN -- told the White House if Fox were barred none of them would participate in the interview session.

The administration caved and made Feinberg available for Fox News.

10/23/2009 | Comments
Bill McKibben, 350 - Sometimes people say: "If only we could get the world to come together to do such and such." And it sounds so silly and trite and obviously impossible. But today I'm sitting in an office in lower Manhattan, surrounded by a bunch of 24-year-olds hunched over laptops, amid small towers of empty pizza boxes. And around us, somehow, at least for a day, the world actually is coming together.

Tomorrow marks the day of global action we've been planning at for 18 months, and in the last few weeks it's gone ferociously viral - swine flu viral, bouncing around the world at a dizzying pace. There will be more than 4,600 actions and rallies and demonstrations today in 172 countries, making it the most widespread day of political action in the planet's history, by far.

And here's what's amazing. All over the planet, whether people are rallying underwater on the Great Barrier Reef or high on the slopes of Mount Everest, they'll be repeating those same three digits. 350 is the most important number in the world - it's the maximum amount of CO2 in parts per million that scientists say the earth's atmosphere can safely hold. It's an arcane scientific data point - and that hasn't stopped people from making it the centre of an enormous, linked, global movement to call on governments to match the hard science with effective policy.

In lots of big cities, for instance, thousands of citizens will form giant 3s with their bodies, and in others (including London) giant 5s, and in others giant 0s. It's a kind of planet-scale Scrabble - it'll take the BBC and CNN and the rest to solve the puzzle, to make the point that you have to work across borders to solve these problems. There are Olympic champions leading 350 people on bike rides, and thousands of churches ringing their bells 350 times. It's happening everywhere - 300 big rallies in China alone, which is not a place where political organising usually takes place. 150 across India. More than a thousand across the US, the heart of the problem.

Global movements are rare things - to work across linguistic boundaries, and the enormous divide between rich and poor, is extremely difficult. One of the last such moments came when the whole planet turned its focus on South Africa. Which is why it was so sweet to wake up yesterday morning and open the newspaper to read an op-ed from Desmond Tutu, hero of that struggle, calling 350 "the same kind of coalition that helped make the word "apartheid" known around the world." In the South African struggle, he continued, "we showed that if we act on the side of justice, we have the power to turn tides. Worldwide, we have a chance to start turning the tide of climate change with just such a concerted effort today."

It won't be in any sense simple, of course. Rapidly getting the world off fossil fuel is the most difficult task we've ever undertaken as a planet. The current plans for the Copenhagen treaty are mediocre at best, and every day we hear some world leader trying to lower expectations that anything will happen. And no one - especially the US Congress - has even begun to talk about spending the kind of money the developing world needs to adapt to the changes already coming at them. You could despair.

But one of the missing ingredients in this fight has always been a popular movement. Leaving it to experts alone did not do the trick - there was no real counter pressure to the power of vested interests and inertia. Now that's starting to change. As I'm typing this, amazing images of demonstrations have come in from Yemen and Tel Aviv, from Ohio and from Bangladesh, from the highest mountain in Montenegro and from the floor of the New Zealand parliament.
Before Newsday charges ahead with its plan to charge $5 a month to reaed its website, it might want to check with the web scorecard Alexa, which shows the paper's free online readership down 21% over the last three months.

On Monday, CNN released a poll revealing that six in 10 Americans oppose sending more U.S. troops, and a majority see the war in Afghanistan as another Vietnam. As with Iraq, however, peace activism has been pretty limited. That may change now that CodePink, Just Foreign Policy, Peace Action, United for Peace and Justice, and Voters for Peace have launched a joint project, No Escalation. Their website includes a chart that tracks each member of Congress and whether they have taken a stand against troop escalation.

Joe Biden - My grandpop used to say, "When the guy in Minooka's out of work, it's an economic slowdown. When your brother- in-law's out of work, it's a recession. When you're out of work, it's a depression"

The Green Party has elected four new co-chairs, Mike Feinstein (from California), Farheen Hakeem (Minnesota), Jason Nabewaniec (New York; reelected), and David Strand (Minnesota); and the reelection of Holly Hart as the party's national secretary. The newly elected and reelected Steering Committee members join four continuing members, Jill Bussiere, Sanda Everette, Craig Thorsen, and treasurer Jody Grage. The Green Party uses ranked choice voting.



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