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Undernews For November 16, 2010

Undernews For November 16, 2010

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


Is deficit commission guilty of criminal misconduct?

Sam Smith

News that the salaries of two senior staffers on Obama's deficit commission are being paid for by conservative foundations seeking to cut entitlements raises a critical question: is the commission guilty of criminal misconduct?

To get a handle on this, consider the reaction if it turned out that a pro-marijuana foundation was funding the salary of the DEA director or if a rightwing nonprofit funded the Attorney General's salary during the Bush administration.

The legal problem is much the same one as with water boarding. Because the law doesn't specifically say that water boarding is illegal, corrupt attorneys and former presidents glibly argue that it is okay.

But even if foundations are not specifically excluded form using their funds to try to buy government decisions - which is what is really happening in this case - you don't have to have gone to law school to know that there is nothing in the Constitution that gives anyone the right to bribe officials just because they're a non-profit.

I first ran across this sort of abuse last summer and reported:

||||||||||| When we think of bribery we usually envision a check or cash being passed on the sly to public officials. But what if it is right out in the open, concealed only by the fact that the briber is a foundation created by Bill Gates rather than some back street shyster?

Here is how a news story describes it: "Now the foundation is taking unprecedented steps to influence education policy, spending millions to influence how the federal government distributes $5 billion in grants to overhaul public schools. The federal dollars are unprecedented, too. President Barack Obama persuaded Congress to give him the money as part of the economic stimulus so he could try new ideas to fix an education system that most agree is failing. The foundation is offering $250,000 apiece to help states apply, so long as they agree with the foundation's approach."

If you or I did something like this, even at an infinitesimally smaller scale, we could likely be headed for prison. It is a criminal act to use money to influence official positions in such a manner.

And it gets worse, as the story related: "Duncan's inner circle includes two former Gates employees. His chief of staff is Margot Rogers, who was special assistant to Gates' education director. James Shelton, assistant deputy secretary, was a program director for Gates' education division. . .The administration has waived ethics rules to allow Rogers and Shelton to deal more freely with the foundation, but Rogers said she talks infrequently with her former colleagues."

This is even before one considers broadly understood restrictions on political lobbying by non-profits. But then who needs to bother with lobbying if you can just deliver the cash and get your way?

A particularly gross example of this upscale, and so far legal, bribery was revealed by Bill Turgue, in the Washington Post in April:

"The private foundations pledging to help finance raises and bonuses for D.C. teachers have placed themselves in the middle of the city's mayoral race with one of the conditions for their largesse: If Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee leaves, so could the money.

"The private donors have told the District that they reserve the right to reconsider their $64.5 million pledge if leadership of the school system changes. . .

"Should the foundations pull their funding after the agreement is finalized, the District could be liable for at least $21 million -- the amount of private money earmarked to pay teacher salaries. . .

The leadership condition [is] set out in letters to District officials from the Walton Family Foundation, the Robertson Foundation, the Laura and John Arnold Foundation and the Broad Foundation."

On a national scale, we have the unprecedented and increasing control of national education by a foundation created by a single billionaire. The thing driving these standards is not wisdom or public choice but the money:

"I think the reality of it is the Gates Foundation has been the major funder of the national standards and the three major reports on which the Massachusetts recommendation is based are funded by Gates. It's a little like being judge and jury," said Jamie Gass, director of the Center for Education Reform at the Pioneer Institute.

Wrote Matt Murphy wrote in the Lowell Sun:

"The Gates Foundation since January 2008 has awarded more than $35 million to the Council of Chief School Officers and the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices, the two main organizations charged with drafting and promoting common standards.

"In the run-up to his recommendation, Chester told the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education that he would base his decision on analysis being done by his staff, as well as independent reports prepared by three state and national education research firms -- Achieve, Inc., The Fordham Institute, and the Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education.

"Achieve, Inc., a Washington, D.C.-based education-reform organization, received $12.6 million from the Gates Foundation in February 2008, according to data provided to the Washington Post by the foundation.

"The Fordham Institute has accepted more than $1.4 million from the Gates Foundation, including nearly $960,000 to conduct Common Core reviews."

If an individual were to influence governmental decisions with this sort of money, it would be clearly a criminal offense. Why should it be any different for a foundation?

Gates has opened the door to an manifestly corrupt approach to government where a handful of well funded groups and individuals override the democratic legislative process by the prospect of funding or the threat of losing it. If you can't go to jail now for doing this, there should be laws that make it clear that you do from here on out. |||||||||

Now the stakes are even higher: two private foundations with a rightwing political agenda are helping to pay for a supposedly objective report from the White House on the deficit. It is far worse than anything Charlie Rangel may have done, it is definitely unconstitutional, and if it isn't criminal, it sure as hell ought to be.


Meet NYC's new school reformer

There's virtually no one who knows more about the skills our children will need to succeed in the 21st century economy."--Michael Bloomberg, of his choice of Cathleen Black as New York City Schools Chancellor

NY Times City Room Blog - It seems that Ms. Black also knows a thing or two about an altogether different kind of need. In an Aug. 10, segment of the Diane Rehm radio show entitled "The Future of Magazines," Ms. Black plugged Cosmopolitan Magazine's latest iPhone App: the Sex Tip of the Da

"Are you going to charge for that sex tip of the day?" the host, Frank Sesno, asked. "Yeah, $2.99," Ms. Black replied, as the host and other guests erupted into giggles. "$2.99," she repeated. "Cheaper than a hooker," she continued, before adding, "I didn't say that, did I?"

The application offers a cornucopia of advice on an array of inventively, sometimes bogglingly, named sexual moves -- among them, the Jet Jiggy, the Randy Raft, the Wanton Wheelbarrow and the Linguini. Each position is rated on a "Carnal Challenge" scale of one to five flames (the "Octopus," for one, ranks five flames, and comes with words of encouragement: "Do it right and you two will look like a multilimbed lust creature"). A variety of aids are often employed, among them bathtubs, hot tubs, pools, inflatable rafts, inner tubes, balls, staircases and small boats. . .

A spokeswoman with the city's Department of Education said this application had no bearing on Ms. Black's suitability to run a school district with 1.1 million children. When Mayor Bloomberg was asked about the opposition to Black on his weekly radio show on WOR-AM, Nov. 12, he responded: "It just goes to show they have no understanding of [what] the job is. This is an organization, an agency of the city, that deals with 1.1 million customers, has 135,000 employees, has a budget of $23 billion a year."

Students as customers.

The fight the left should have been in. . .

Lorij, Open Left - Here is Sacramento, parents and teachers working together just soundly defeated a well-financed slate of school board candidates championed by Kevin Johnson, our-wanna-be-strong-mayor-so-he-can-take-over-the-city-schools-just-like-his-friends-Fenty-and-Bloomberg. That Johnson is also Michelle Rhee's fiancee must be noted. . . with Rhee out of a job, folks in Sacramento are on high alert that she may be headed our way. . .

DC Mayor Adrian Fenty was shown the door by voters who used the election as a referendum on his Michelle Rhee-orchestrated education agenda. . . State and local pols need to understand that they can and will lose over public education issues, no matter what Obama thinks and says.

Folks still care about their local schools. . . they will still get out there and act. Progressives need to recognize this and get in the local trenches and fight from the ground up. . . you all might be surprised how many allies of all political stripes you find fighting right next to you.

A brutally telling look of the vanity of Barack Obama

Jonathan V. Last, Weekly Standard - In 1990, Obama was wrapping up his second year at Harvard Law when the New York Times ran a profile of him on the occasion of his becoming the first black editor of the Harvard Law Review. A book agent in New York named Jane Dystel read the story and called up the young man, asking if he’d be interested in writing a book. Like any 29-year-old, he wasn’t about to turn down money. He promptly accepted a deal with Simon & Schuster’s Poseidon imprint¬reportedly in the low six-figures¬to write a book about race relations.

Obama missed his deadline. No matter. His agent quickly secured him another contract, this time with Times Books. And a $40,000 advance. Not bad for an unknown author who had already blown one deal, writing about a noncommercial subject.

By this point Obama had left law school, and academia was courting him. The University of Chicago Law School approached him; although they didn’t have any specific needs, they wanted to be in the Barack Obama business. As Douglas Baird, the head of Chicago’s appointments committee, would later explain, “You look at his background¬Harvard Law Review president, magna cum laude, and he’s African American. This is a no-brainer hiring decision at the entry level of any law school in the country.” Chicago invited Obama to come in and teach just about anything he wanted. But Obama wasn’t interested in a professor’s life. Instead, he told them that he was writing a book¬about voting rights. The university made him a fellow, giving him an office and a paycheck to keep him going while he worked on this important project.

In case you’re keeping score at home, there was some confusion as to what book young Obama was writing. His publisher thought he was writing about race relations. His employer thought he was writing about voting rights law. But Obama seems to have never seriously considered either subject. Instead, he decided that his subject would be himself. The 32-year-old was writing a memoir. . .

In January 2009 he met with congressional leaders to discuss the stimulus package. The meeting was supposed to foster bipartisanship. Senator Jon Kyl questioned the plan’s mixture of spending and tax cuts. Obama’s response to him was, “I won.” A year later Obama held another meeting to foster bipartisanship for his health care reform plan. There was some technical back-and-forth about Republicans not having the chance to properly respond within the constraints of the format because President Obama had done some pontificating, as is his wont. Obama explained, “There was an imbalance on the opening statements because”¬here he paused, self-satisfiedly¬“I’m the president. And so I made, uh, I don’t count my time in terms of dividing it evenly.”. . .

Buried in a 2008 New Yorker piece by Ryan Lizza about the Obama campaign was this gob-smacking passage: "Obama said that he liked being surrounded by people who expressed strong opinions, but he also said, “I think that I’m a better speechwriter than my speechwriters. I know more about policies on any particular issue than my policy directors. And I’ll tell you right now that I’m gonna think I’m a better political director than my political director.”

Clips from readers' comments


BC: Quoting Sam S.: "You note that I didn’t say 3.1% or 3.2% because, unlike Silver, I had Alice Darnell as my high school math teacher and one of the things she taught us was that an mathematical answer can be no more accurate than the least accurate number used to create it. So if you have a polling error of 3 or 4 points, you can’t honestly end up with 3.1%. Yet pollsters, Washington analysts, and the media do this all the time."

Your point is not true, because Alice's idea is not applicable. Here's why: Polls are small samples of a large population. If several polls are taken of the same population at about the same time, i.e. "other things being equal", then it's equivalent to one larger sample of the population. The uncertainty in polling is because it is a sample. [We assume it's scientific, i.e. random w/ no biases, appropriate people polled, etc.] The larger the sample, the less uncertainty. So several polls w/, for example, an uncertainty of +/- 4% will result, when combined, in a uncertainty of less than +/- 4%. Got it?

Now about the 3.1 as in +/- 3.1% uncertainty. This is quite OK as a way of expressing an uncertainty less than the 4% of the combined polls.

p.s. Alice was likely thinking of the case, for example, where one is finding the volume of of a rectangular parallelepiped. When the uncertainty of each of the three measurement is, for example, +/- 10%. To see how to "correctly" propagate such uncertainty, read John Denker's exposition here

I appreciate your perhaps unintended help in justifying the Review's three-poll sample but still have a problem with your decimal point. You say "We assume it's scientific, i.e. random w/ no biases, appropriate people polled, etc"

But it's not. Polling firms are commercial not scientific entities and they have all sorts of biases ranging from political to having poll takers with hangovers. This year, these firms produced errors from three to nine percent, and that's not atypical. To talk about 3.1% errors in such a climate is to suggest a level of precision that simply doesn't exist.

In fact, about the only thing in Washington worthy of a decimal point is the weather. In the capital, I fear, the decimal point is used to give false precision to what is often just another form of propaganda. We shouldn't encourage it even if it works in more scientific and honest fields like physics.

While we're on the subject of Miss Darnell, in the 1954 she went to Harvard for the summer to learn about computers. She was almost accidentally locked up over night in one since in those days they occupied whole buildings. She came back and taught us the basics of Boolean logic. I wouldn't see a computer for twenty years but when I did, thanks to Miss Darnell, I wasn't scared.- Sam

Mitch McConnell played both sides of Iraq war

Louisville Courier Journal - George W. Bush got a lot wrong in his administration, but he certainly did figure out Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell. In his new memoir, Decision Points, the former president tells of a meeting he held in September 2006 with Mr. McConnell, then the Republican whip in the Senate. The occupation of Iraq was going horribly, American and Iraqi casualties were rising sharply, costs had mushroomed into the hundreds of billions of dollars, and Iraq was teetering on the brink of full-scale sectarian civil war. Mr. McConnell was concerned, and he gave the president his advice.

He was fearful that the morass in Iraq would cause the Republican Party to take a beating in the approaching mid-term elections. And what was his advice? He urged the president to “bring some troops home from Iraq” to lessen the political risks, Mr. Bush writes.

At the time that Sen. McConnell was privately advising Mr. Bush to reduce troop levels in Iraq, he was elsewhere excoriating congressional Democrats who had urged the same thing. “The Democrat[ic] leadership finally agrees on something ¬ unfortunately it's retreat,” Sen. McConnell had said in a statement on Sept. 5, 2006, about a Democratic letter to Mr. Bush appealing for cuts in troop levels. Sen. McConnell, who publicly was a stout defender of the war and Mr. Bush's conduct of the conflict, accused the Democrats of advocating a position that would endanger Americans and leave Iraqis at the mercy of al-Qaida.

Unless he is prepared to call a former president of his own party a liar, Mr. McConnell has a choice. He can admit that he did not actually believe the Iraq mission was vital to American security, regardless of what he said at the time. Or he can explain why the fortunes of the Republican Party are of greater importance than the safety of the United States.

Americans care about economy, jobs, and healthcare with deficit way down the list

Great moments in reporting

Associated Press - The commissioning of the USS Jason Dunham happened under sunny skies at Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale on Saturday. The massive $1 billion steel battleship was adorned with red, white and blue flags and ribbons to mark the day. The 510-foot-long ship was built in Bath, Maine, and will have its home port in Norfolk, Va.

The USS Jason Dunham is, in fact, an Arleigh Burke class destroyer. The only battleship commissioned after World War II was the HMS Vanguard. America has had no battleships since 2006.

Cellphone companies conceal serious health warning

Randall Stross, NY Times - The legal departments of cellphone manufacturers slip a warning about holding the phone against your head or body into the fine print of the little slip that you toss aside when unpacking your phone. Apple, for example, doesn’t want iPhones to come closer than 5/8 of an inch; Research In Motion, BlackBerry’s manufacturer, is still more cautious: keep a distance of about an inch.

The warnings may be missed by an awful lot of customers. The United States has 292 million wireless numbers in use, approaching one for every adult and child, according to C.T.I.A.-The Wireless Association, the cellphone industry’s primary trade group. It says that as of June, about a quarter of domestic households were wireless-only.

If health issues arise from ordinary use of this hardware, it would affect not just many customers but also a huge industry. Our voice calls ¬ we chat on our cellphones 2.26 trillion minutes annually, according to the C.T.I.A. ¬ generate $109 billion for the wireless carriers.

British singer refused Wesley Clark's order to attack Russians

Gawker - British crooner James Blunt has told the BBC that while serving as an officer in the army in Kosovo, he disobeyed an order to attack Russian troops. . . .

Blunt was speaking with BBC Radio about the time in 1999 when he disobeyed an order from US General Wesley Clark ¬ commander of NATO forces in Kosovo ¬ to attack a unit of Russian soldiers who were holding a strategic airfield. He refused the order, and was backed up by his superior, General Sir Mike Jackson, who told him, "I'm not going to have my soldiers be responsible for starting World War 3." That's right ¬ besides being a badass performer, James Blunt doesn't take any shit from bloodthirsty American generals hell bent on destroying the earth. Here's his take:

"I was given the direct command to overpower the 200 or so Russians who were there. I was the lead officer with my troop of men behind us . . The soldiers directly behind me were from the Parachute Regiment, so they're obviously game for the fight. The direct command [that] came in from General Wesley Clark was to overpower them. Various words were used that seemed unusual to us. Words such as 'destroy' came down the radio."

Obama offers Israel 20 jets to do right for just 90 days

CNN - In a bid to jumpstart the stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, the United States has proposed that Israel impose a 90-day settlement construction freeze in the West Bank in exchange for incentives, according to Israeli government sources. Returning from a recent visit to the United States, Israeli Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu late Saturday convened a meeting of top cabinet officials to discuss the American proposal, the sources said.

In return for the temporary freeze, the U.S. government would oppose international efforts to impose a political solution on Israel in the peace process or to "delegitimize" the country, said the sources, who would not speak for attribution. The White House would not ask for another extension of the settlement construction freeze beyond the 90 days, the sources said.

And, they said, President Barack Obama would ask Congress to approve the sale of 20 advanced fighter planes to Israel.

Nationalizing banks

Joshua Holland, Information Clearinghouse - Some experts are saying that if we want to get off the roller coaster of an economy moving from one financial bubble to the next, a bolder approach is necessary: permanent nationalization of banks that can’t survive without public dollars. “Inevitably, American taxpayers are going to pick up much of the tab for the banks' failures,” wrote Nobel prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz last year. “The question facing us is, to what extent do we participate in the upside return?” Stiglitz argued that the government should take “over those banks that cannot assemble enough capital through private sources to survive without government assistance.”

To be sure, shareholders and bondholders will lose out, but their gains under the current regime come at the expense of taxpayers. In the good years, they were rewarded for their risk-taking. Ownership cannot be a one-sided bet.

Of course, most of the employees will remain, and even much of the management. What then is the difference? The difference is that now, the incentives of the banks can be aligned better with those of the country. And it is in the national interest that prudent lending be restarted. Leo Panitch, a professor of comparative political economy at Canada’s York University, wrote that "the prospect of turning banking into a public utility might be seen as laying the groundwork for the democratization of the economy.” Ellen Brown, author of Web of Debt, points to the success of the nation’s only government-owned bank, the Bank of North Dakota. “Last year,” she wrote, “North Dakota had the largest budget surplus it had ever had…and it was the only state that was actually adding jobs when others were losing them.”

North Dakota has an abundance of natural resources, including oil, but as Brown notes, other states that enjoy similar riches were deep in the red. “The sole truly distinguishing feature of North Dakota seems to be that it has managed to avoid the Wall Street credit freeze by owning and operating its own bank.” She adds that the bank serves the community, making “low-interest loans to students, farmers and businesses; underwrit[ing] municipal bonds; and serv[ing] as the state’s 'Mini Fed,' providing liquidity and clearing checks for more than 100 banks around the state.”

A measure of America


The wealth of the top 1 percent of households rose, on average, 103 percent (to $18.5 million per household) from 1983 to 2007. The poorest 40 percent of households experienced a 63 percent decline in wealth during the same period (to $2,200 per household).

By the end of the 2007–9 recession, unemployment among the bottom tenth of U.S. households was 31 percent, which is higher than unemployment during the worst year of the Great Depression; for households earning $150,000 and over, unemployment was just over 3 percent.

The wealthiest 20 percent of U.S. households have slightly more than half of the nation’s total income. The poorest 20 percent have 3.4 percent of total income.

The wealthiest congressional district in the United States is NY-14 on Manhattan’s East Side, with median earnings of $60,000; the poorest is NY-16, a few subway stops away in the Bronx, with median earnings

American women today have higher overall levels of educational attainment than men. Yet men earn an average of $11,000 more.


African Americans in the U.S. have school enrollment rates (88.6 percent) that are above the national average (87.3 percent) and equal to the rate of whites. Yet they lag in degree attainment: 80.7 percent of African Americans have a high school diploma, compared with 90.1 percent of whites. .

California and Texas educate more than half of the nation’s Latino children.


Life expectancy in the United States has increased by nearly nine years since 1960 to 78.6 - with some groups of Americans routinely living into their 80s and 90s. .

The U.S. ranks #30 in life expectancy; people in 29 countries live longer than Americans do, on average, while spending as little as one-eighth as much on their health. .

Asian Americans enjoy a life expectancy of 87.3 years, and African Americans, 74.3 years, a gap of 13 years.

Latinos enjoy the 2nd longest life expectancy of any racial or ethnic groups, 83.5 years - nearly 5 years longer than whites and over 8 years longer than African Americans and Native Americans.

A white baby born today in Washington, DC can expect to live, on average, to 83.1 years, 4 years longer than the national average. An African American baby in the same city has a life expectancy of 71 years, the life span of the average American four decades ago.

Young African American men in Philadelphia and in Jefferson Parish, Louisiana face a higher chance of death by homicide than do military personnel in Iraq. The death rate of African American men ages 20-24 in these areas is 5 per 1,000, as compared with that of military personnel in Iraq, about 4 per 1,000.

How to cut the deficit without having to listen to Simpson and Bowles any more

Mike Lux, Open Left:

1. Increasing taxes on millionaires and billionaires.

2. Imposing a financial transactions tax on Wall Street speculation.

3. Ending a wide array of corporate tax loopholes for things like overseas investment.

4. Ending corporate agribusiness subsidies larded into the farm bill.

5. Ending loopholes and subsidies of various kinds to the big energy companies.

6. Reforming the government contracting process to end no-bid contracting, impose penalties on cost overruns, and cut down on excessive bonuses.

7. Allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices with the big pharmaceutical companies.

8. Having a vigorous public option to provide competition for health insurers.

The war for lobbyists

Timothy P. Carney, Examiner - If you've seen one of these scanners at an airport, there's a good chance it was made by L-3 Communications, a major contractor with the Department of Homeland Security. L-3 employs three different lobbying firms including Park Strategies, where former Sen. Al D'Amato, R-N.Y., plumps on the company's behalf. Back in 1989, President George H.W. Bush appointed D'Amato to the President's Commission on Aviation Security and Terrorism following the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103. Also on Park's L-3 account is former Appropriations staffer Kraig Siracuse. The scanner contract, issued four days after the Christmas Day bomb attempt last year, is worth $165 million to L-3.

Rapiscan got the other naked-scanner contract from the TSA, worth $173 million. Rapiscan's lobbyists include Susan Carr, a former senior legislative aide to Rep. David Price, D-N.C., chairman of the Homeland Security Subcommittee. When Defense Daily reported on Price's appropriations bill last winter, the publication noted "Price likes the budget for its emphasis on filling gaps in aviation security, in particular the whole body imaging systems."

An early TSA contractor for full-body scanners was the American Science and Engineering company. AS&E's lobbying team is impressive, including Tom Blank, a former deputy administrator for the TSA. Fellow AS&E lobbyist Chad Wolf was an assistant administrator at TSA and an aide to Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, who sits on the Transportation and Defense subcommittees of Appropriations. Finally, Democratic former Rep. Bud Cramer is also an A&E lobbyist -- he sat on the Defense and Transportation subcommittees of the Appropriations Committee.

Scientists warn of scanner danger

Agence France Presse - U.S. scientists warned that the full-body, graphic-image X-ray scanners that are being used to screen passengers and airline crews at airports around the country may be unsafe. “They say the risk is minimal, but statistically someone is going to get skin cancer from these X-rays,” Dr Michael Love, who runs an X-ray lab at the department of biophysics and biophysical chemistry at Johns Hopkins University school of medicine, told AFP. “No exposure to X-ray is considered beneficial. We know X-rays are hazardous but we have a situation at the airports where people are so eager to fly that they will risk their lives in this manner,” he said.

Israeli security expert says scanners don't work

Canwest News Service - A leading Israeli airport security expert says the Canadian government has wasted millions of dollars to install "useless" imaging machines at airports across the country. "I don't know why everybody is running to buy these expensive and useless machines. I can overcome the body scanners with enough explosives to bring down a Boeing 747," Rafi Sela told parliamentarians probing the state of aviation safety in Canada.

"That's why we haven't put them in our airport," Sela said, referring to Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion International Airport, which has some of the toughest security in the world. He told MPs on the House of Commons transport committee via video conference from Kfar Vradim, Israel, that he wouldn't reveal how to get past the virtual strip-search scanners, but said he can provide briefings to officials with security clearance.

Bush memoir: Borrowed & lifted decision points

Ryan Grim, Huffington Post - When Crown Publishing inked a deal with George W. Bush for his memoirs, the publisher knew it wasn't getting Faulkner. But the book, at least, promises "gripping, never-before-heard detail" about the former president's key decisions, offering to bring readers "aboard Air Force One on 9/11, in the hours after America's most devastating attack since Pearl Harbor; at the head of the table in the Situation Room in the moments before launching the war in Iraq," and other undisclosed and weighty locations. . .

Bush, on his book tour, makes much of the fact that he largely wrote the book himself, guffawing that critics who suspected he didn't know how to read are now getting a comeuppance. Not only does Bush know how to read, it turns out, he knows how to Google, too. Or his assistant does. . .

Many of Bush's literary misdemeanors exemplify pedestrian sloth, but others are higher crimes against the craft of memoir. In one prime instance, Bush relates a poignant meeting between Afghan President Hamid Karzai and a Tajik warlord on Karzai's Inauguration Day. It's the kind of scene that offers a glimpse of a hopeful future for the beleaguered nation. Witnessing such an exchange could color a president's outlook, could explain perhaps Bush's more optimistic outlook and give insight into his future decisions. Except Bush didn't witness it. Because he wasn't at Karzai's inauguration. .

Unemployment benefits threated by lame duck Congress

Off the Charts - On November 30, the federally funded program that provides emergency unemployment insurance benefits is scheduled to expire. The program gives additional weeks of benefits to workers whose 26 weeks of regular, state-funded unemployment benefits run out before they can find a job. With the unemployment rate expected to remain above 9 percent through next year, the fundamental question that Congress will debate in the coming weeks is whether to continue an emergency federal program.

If [it is not], all federal unemployment insurance benefits will end in 40 states, and the number of weeks available in the rest of the states will shrink significantly, as the map below shows. Most of the several hundred thousand workers who exhaust their regular state benefits each month would receive no further help, and many of the 5 million workers now receiving federal emergency benefits would lose their remaining weeks.

Flotsam & Jetsam: One never knows, do one?

Sam Smith

One of the things I enjoy about covering the news is being repeatedly surprised. Just when you think you've got it all figured out, something new happens.

The most recent example is the rebellion against the techno-authoritarianism being carried out by the TSA in its screening process.

For many years, I've sat on the board of the Fund for Constitutional Government - started by Stewart Mott and - from a townhouse just a few blocks for the Capitol - a source of endless annoyance to the establishment thanks to groups we help fund like the Government Accountability Project, the Project on Government Oversight, and the Electronic Information Privacy Center.

In 2005, EPIC issued a report in which it said:

"Recently, the Transportation Security Administration announced a proposal to purchase and deploy 'backscatter' X-ray machines to search air travelers at select airports. TSA said it believes that use of the machines is less invasive than pat-down searches. However, these machines, which show detailed images of a person's naked body, are equivalent to a 'virtual strip search' for all air travelers. This proposal, along with the agency's controversial plan to profile air travelers, shows extraordinary disregard for the privacy rights of air travelers."

Since then, EPIC has conducted a vigorous and often lonely battle against the excesses of TSA. It has been like many of the often lonely battles in which progressive groups find themselves: righteous and mostly ignored.

Then something happened. The TSA upped the ante. As the virtual strip search machines proliferated, it offered what it saw as an alternative: a physical search normally used only by police on suspects in which there is reasonable cause. We have all become suspects now because under today's rules any cause the government considers desirable is also considered reasonable. What more do you need to know?

It has been pretty clear since 9/11 that the people out there who wanted to destroy America were doing to a pretty good job. And they didn't even need planes and bombs anymore. Once they had scared the American establishment out of its wits, our own leaders began disassembling the place in the name of security.

It has been disturbingly revealing that since 9/11, neither the Bush nor the Obama administration has changed a single policy that would make it less likely that someone from the Muslim world would want to attack us. Instead, one hundred percent of our efforts have been directed at building moats and walls around the policies and approaches that caused the problem in the first place. It didn't work in the Middle Ages and it won't work now.

But that's all the back story. What's happened now is not a change in U.S. policy so much as a reaching into the lives of ordinary Ameicans in a particularly offensive way. And just in time for the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays.

Suddenly, the issue has come home. In just the past few days, Reuters, CNN and the Washington Post have been forced to recognize it. People are mad and abused and the targeted industry - from pilots to tourist agencies - is worried and angry.

Who would have guessed that America might wake up to what was really happening thanks to people having their vaginas and testicles fondled by techno-autocrats?

I have long followed that the "holy shit" principle of journalism, which is to say that if I find something that is true and it makes me say, "holy shit" I figure that it is news worth sharing with others. The reaction to the misguided fingers of TSA more than fill the bill.

And there's a lesson here for activists: a good reason for doing what you're doing is because you can never be sure when it - or what part of it - is going to work. As Fats Waller used to say, "One never knows, do one?"


From an interview with William Beeman at Grinnell College with Radka Slamova of the college paper, Scarlet & Black. Beeman is a specialist in Middle East Studies, Japanese Studies, Central Asian Studies, Linguistics and Performance Studies. He is currently a professor and Chair of Anthropology at the University of Minnesota

Q: What is public perception of Iran in America? Why do you disagree with it?

A: I think people see Iran as, it’s been characterized by a lot of people as a medieval backward country that’s ruled by repressive religious forces, and the picture also paints Iran as this very dark, gloomy place. And. . . the first thing you want to dispel is this notion. Because most Iranians live with economic and political difficulty, but for the most part the Iranians live a very happy life.

The idea, too, that the place is ruled by mullahs is wrong. During the time when Ayatollah Khomeini was established as the spiritual leader, yes indeed, they put a lot of clerics in positions of authority. But over the years they’ve proven to be not very good managers. … They’ve gradually been replaced by people who really knew what they were doing. So even in government, maybe 25 percent are still bona fide clerics, but the balance of the government is all now secular individuals, or people who stopped pretending that they’re clerics.

And getting to be a high-ranked cleric is also, I should say, not necessarily a guarantee that you’re going to be conservative. And what you find is that you go to the theological schools in the city of Qom. It’s a big capital with theological training, and some of those clerics, first of all they are just so smart, they have the equivalent of a Ph.D. in philosophy, and of course they know Arabic and they are skilled in argumentation. And many of them are very, very liberal, and very radical, and they also feel that they have the right to come out and just flatly criticize the government, which they do on a regular basis.

So being a mullah, so to speak, is not a guarantee that you’re going to be conservative. So both of those stereotypes that mullahs run the government is not correct, and the stereotype that mullahs are very conservative is not correct.

Q: What is the root of strained relations between Iran and America?

A: Well there are two sides to it. There are Iran’s problems with the United States. And these go way back. In Iranian thinking, the United States is an extension of Great Britain, and in the 19th century, Great Britain and Russia more or less divided up the country into spheres of influence, and the British had enormous influence over Iranian politics and the Iranian government. . . In 1952, the Prime Minister then, Muhammad Musaddiq nationalized the Iranian oil company. The British were furious about the nationalization of oil, and the United States was afraid that Musaddiq was creating an unstable situation, so the U.S. staged a coup and brought the Shah back into power and deposed of Musaddiq.

This was the first time the United States had acted really directly to deal with Iranian internal affairs. Then gradually over time the United States developed commercial relations with the Shah. . . The U.S. sold arms to Iran, lots of them, extensively for the defense of the country, but the Shah more or less used the increased military expenditure to develop a very strong defense force that also repressed the population of the country. So gradually there was opposition to the Shah because of his repressive tendencies, [and this was] also directed towards the United States for their support of the Shah. . .

Then when the revolution finally came in ’78-’79, the United States made the terrible mistake of admitting the Shah to the United States for medical treatment. This was a big surprise to the Iranians, they didn’t know he was sick. And when they’d heard he had cancer and he was going to the U.S., they thought “uh oh, here we go again. They deposed the government in 1952 and restored the Shah, and now they’re bringing the Shah to the United States to make plans to depose the government again.”

So they wanted to send their own doctors to New York to examine him to see if he really had cancer because they didn’t believe it. And then the U.S. refused. And that was the thing that touched off the takeover of the American embassy. The American embassy was taken over then, and many people in Washington view this as the most awful insult that has ever been leveled against the Unites States. So the United States started to have trouble, serious trouble, at the time of the hostage crisis. The U.S. broke off diplomatic relations at that time with Iran and they’ve never restored them. Gradually, the U.S. imposed economic sanctions upon Iran, it’s not clear why . . . but these sanctions were renewed under Bill Clinton, and then finally under George W. Bush we had a whole neoconservative agenda that had been cooked up during the 1990s to affect regime change in all of the countries in the Middle East and get rid of the Iranian government.

And the U.S. tries to find ways to make up an excuse for attacking Iran that would be plausible to the American public. So once again they renewed the idea that Iran was supporting terrorists worldwide. And then they claimed that Iran was attacking the U.S. through proxies in Iraq. And finally they hit on this nuclear idea, as a justification for attacking Iran. So you can see that there’s a lot of bad blood between the two nations. And untangling 30 years of hostility is really, really tough. And a lot of it is actually quite emotional, not even substantive. In point of fact, Iran hasn’t done anything to the United States, not anything, they haven’t done anything. I mean they kicked out the Shah, but it was their Shah. The charge that they were attacking the U.S. military in Iraq turned out to be completely unsubstantiated. They haven’t attacked Israel¬they haven’t done anything to us. And yet the United States is still claiming that they are the most dangerous people in the world, the most dangerous nation on Earth. And Iran can point to several things that the United States has done to Iran. Also what’s happened in the last ten years is that US-Iranian relations, they weren’t very good, but they were separate from U.S.-Israeli relations.

The last decade, they’ve become united. And there’s a kind of formula¬if you’re soft on Iran or friendly towards Iran, then you’re an enemy to Israel. It’s kind of amazing because we really should be pursuing separate tracks in my way of thinking. This affects American political life, because nobody, no politician can come out and say not even anything positive, or they can’t even say we should rethink our dealings with Iran¬because then they get attacked by people who say they’re not supporting Israel, because in order to be a friend of Israel they have to be an implacable enemy of Iran.


Washington Post - Daniel Pines, an assistant general counsel at the CIA, has asserted in a law journal that the abduction of terrorism suspects abroad is legal under U.S. law, even when the suspect is turned over to countries notorious for torture. “There are virtually no legal restrictions on these types of operations,” Pines asserts in the current edition of the Loyola University Chicago Law Journal.

“Indeed, U.S. law does not even preclude the United States from rendering individuals to a third country in instances where the third country may subject the rendered individual to torture. The only restrictions that do exist under U.S. law preclude U.S. officials from themselves torturing or inflicting cruel and unusual punishment on individuals during rendition operations, or rendering individuals from a place of actual armed conflict or occupation -- all of which prove to be narrow limitations indeed,” Pines writes.


George Kenney, Electric Politics - In the U.S., the financiers want to bleed the country dry. In France, it's the President. (Well, the financiers there, too.) But the big difference is, in France people register their objections with significant political action while in the U.S. people go to Jon Stewart's post-modern mutual admiration rally or, perhaps more meaningfully, they abstain from voting. Most likely, Americans could learn something from the French. To talk about what's been happening with the recent French strikes and demonstrations against "reform" ¬ also known as budget cuts ¬ I turned to my friend Diana Johnstone, a long-time Paris resident and keen political analyst.


From The Week:

1. It's already practically legal. . .

2. Midterm voters tend to be older

3. Fear of the Feds

4. Overblown promises

5. Too much establishment muscle against it

6. The stoner divide: The measure actually lost in the state's key marijuana growing region ¬ known as the "Emerald Triangle" and encompassing Humboldt, Mendocino, and Trinity counties ¬ because "many in the region feared the system they have created would be taken over by corporations or lose its purpose," reports The Associated Press. There were even rumors in the region that tobacco kingpin Philip Morris was planning on getting into marijuana growing business if the measure had passed, reports the Contra Costa Times.


Improbable Research - Scenario : You are applying for a job via e-mail – is it a good idea to attach a smiley? :)

That depends – according to a report presented at the 25th annual meeting of the Society for Industrial and Organisational Psychology (2010). Professor Lori Foster Thompson of the Industrial/Organizational Psychology and Technology Lab at North Carolina State University, and colleagues from George Mason University and the University of Otago jointly presented a paper entitled ‘E-Screening: The Consequences of Using ‘Smileys’ when E-Mailing Prospective Employers’ Which is the first ever study to “examine the effects of emoticon usage in a job application context.” A series of experiments investigated how the use of a smiley might either help (or hinder) your employment prospects. The researchers found supporting eveidence for all six of their smiley-based hypotheses. In summary :

“Smileys can indeed have the desired effect on perceptions of warmth, which may be particularly important to women, who are said to place a priority on close, personal relationships.”

There is an important proviso, however :

“Applicants using smileys are perceived to be less competent and lower in the agentic, instrumental ‘male’ attributes and behaviors (e.g., independence, leadership) believed to be necessary for success at male-gender-typed jobs.”

Note [1] The examinations only looked at the effects of one particular emoticon :) and there are many other common fomats, such as :-) =) :-D and of course

Therefore presenting opportunities for future research which “… could test other formats and examine the effects of other types of emoticons, such as the frown :( and the wink ;-) ”


From an interview with Gary Trudeau in Slate. . .

Gary Trudeau: I can tell you that there have been some periods when cartoonists were definitely in clover. Watergate was the perfect subject, because every day brought fresh outrages. Everyone was on his game, and we felt unconstrained, because Nixon's wounds were self-inflicted. Monica was good for cartooning, but it was only one running joke. Bush's misrule¬accidental war, torture, Katrina, etc.¬provoked great cartoons, but there was so much associated tragedy, there wasn't much fun in it. .

Slate: Where is the comic strip headed in the post-daily-print-newspaper age? Is the medium healthy?

Trudeau: No, we're all in free-fall together. And Web comics don't seem to be an alternative, unless you're uninterested in making a living. There are so many entertainment alternatives to comics now, I'm not sure they'll be much missed. In their heyday, comics were a dominant force in popular culture, but that's over.

There's not much future in being a strip artist now. That's quite a turnaround in fortunes, because presiding over an established syndicated comic strip used to be the closest thing to tenure that popular culture offered. . .

Believe it or not, Obama's very tough for business. The contradictory characterizations of him as fascist or socialist only serve to confirm the truth¬he's a raging moderate. And satirists don't do well with moderates, especially thoughtful ones. In addition, Obama rarely makes gaffes and has no salient physical or temperamental features. . .

Baby boomers are at their awfulest when they are discussing themselves, and at their most admirable when they refrain. I try to be admirable. . .


Pro Publica - Drug companies say the millions of dollars they pay physicians for speaking and consulting justly compensates them for the laudable work of educating their colleagues. But a series of lawsuits brought by former employees of those companies allege the money often was used for illegal purposes - financially rewarding doctors for prescribing their brand-name medications.

In several instances, the ex-employees say, the physicians were told to push "off-label" uses of the drugs - those not approved by the U.S. regulators - a marketing tactic banned by federal law. In the past three years alone, pharmaceutical companies have anteed up nearly $7 billion for settlements in cases such as one filed by Angela Maher, a former drug sales rep for Ortho-McNeil Pharmaceutical.


Washington Post - A detailed analysis into the trend on reading for fun - in books, newspapers and magazines - comes from researcher Sandra Hofferth, of University of Maryland, who analyzed the detailed daily time-use diaries of a nationally representative sample of children 12 to 18.

Pleasure reading dropped 23 percent in 2008, compared with 2003, from 65 minutes a week to 50 minutes a week - with the greatest falloff for those ages 12 to 14. Still, she says: "They could be reading on the cell phone, in games, on the Web, on the computer. It doesn't meant they're not reading, but they're not reading using the printed page.". . .

Recreational book reading looked stronger in a January study by the Kaiser Family Foundation, which found more reading overall than the Maryland study. For kids 8 to 18, it reported a decline from 43 minutes a day to 38 a minutes a day, entirely related to magazines and newspapers. At the same time, students reported online reading of those publications - an average of two minutes a day.

Stephen Krashen, Schools Matter - In fact, there's been no decline in book reading over the last 65 years. The Kaiser study described in the Post article reported that 15-18 year olds averaged 21 minutes a day of book reading. Back in 1946, Link and Hopf, in their book People and Books, reported that those ages 15 to 19 averaged 22 minutes a day of book reading. Book reading is doing very well, despite increased school pressure today and so much competition from various new kinds of electronic entertainment.
Furthermore. . .
School deform

The District of Columbia's most affluent ward has more than four times as many "highly effective" public schoolteachers as its poorest

Money & work

The wealth of the top 1 percent of households rose, on average, 103 percent (to $18.5 million per household) from 1983 to 2007. The poorest 40 percent of households experienced a 63 percent decline in wealth during the same period (to $2,200 per household).

Who will stand up to the super rich?

Homeland insecurities

Members of the Pirate Party in Germany organized a fleshmob of people who stripped down to their skivvies last Sunday and converged on the Berlin-Tegal airport.The protesters marked their bodies with a number of messages such as, Something to hide? and Be a good citizen ¬ drop your pants.

Man thrown out of airport for refusing search

Study finds happiness of children declines with number of siblings

We Won't Fly


Mark Ward, president of Tallaght's student union, says that 1,250 students are leaving Ireland every month. One in five graduates is seeking work outside the country. The Union of Students in Ireland believes that 150,000 students will emigrate in the next five years


Expert warns about banning foods to which some are allergic

Post election good and bad news about single payer


The median new house size in America has dropped ten percent in three years. . .And front porches are back

The mix

Latinos now majority of students in California's public schools...

School deform

The chair of the NYC city council ed committee doesn't want Bloomberg's choice as school chancellor: "Cathie Black meets none of the professional experience requirements, apparently satisfying only the undergraduate graduation standard,”

The District of Columbia's most affluent ward has more than four times as many "highly effective" public schoolteachers as its poorest

Cyber notes

How USB dead drop file sharing works

Civil liberties

Selling cupcakes in a park--public property, two 13-year-old boys who had made $120 get shut down by the cops--no permit, don't you know--based on a complaint from a city councilman in New Castle, New York. . . The reaction of one as quoted by MSNBC: "We were being entrepreneurs," he said, "but now I feel a little defeated." -Reason

A cop's advice for dealing with cops

American notes

Anti-children airline passengers riled up


The New York Times reports that a "phased four-year plan to wind down American and allied fighting in Afghanistan by 2014 will be presented at a NATO summit meeting in Lisbon later this week.

But if this is true why are we spending $511 million on an embassy that that our ambassdor calls "the largest... in the world with more than 1,100 brave and dedicated civilians... from 16 agencies and working next to their military counterparts in 30 provinces?”

On campus

Universities talking up humanities


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