Wednesday, November 25, 2009

POLITICS - Scare Stories Hobble Government

"The Phantom Menace" by PAUL KRUGMAN, New York Times 11/22/2009

A funny thing happened on the way to a new New Deal. A year ago, the only thing we had to fear was fear itself; today, the reigning doctrine in Washington appears to be “Be afraid. Be very afraid.”

What happened? To be sure, “centrists” in the Senate have hobbled efforts to rescue the economy. But the evidence suggests that in addition to facing political opposition, President Obama and his inner circle have been intimidated by scare stories from Wall Street.

Consider the contrast between what Mr. Obama’s advisers were saying on the eve of his inauguration, and what he himself is saying now.

In December 2008 Lawrence Summers, soon to become the administration’s highest-ranking economist, called for decisive action. “Many experts,” he warned, “believe that unemployment could reach 10 percent by the end of next year.” In the face of that prospect, he continued, “doing too little poses a greater threat than doing too much.”

Ten months later unemployment reached 10.2 percent, suggesting that despite his warning the administration hadn’t done enough to create jobs. You might have expected, then, a determination to do more.

But in a recent interview with Fox News, the president sounded diffident and nervous about his economic policy. He spoke vaguely about possible tax incentives for job creation. But “it is important though to recognize,” he went on, “that if we keep on adding to the debt, even in the midst of this recovery, that at some point, people could lose confidence in the U.S. economy in a way that could actually lead to a double-dip recession.”

What? Huh?

Most economists I talk to believe that the big risk to recovery comes from the inadequacy of government efforts: the stimulus was too small, and it will fade out next year, while high unemployment is undermining both consumer and business confidence.

Now, it’s politically difficult for the Obama administration to enact a full-scale second stimulus. Still, he should be trying to push through as much aid to the economy as possible. And remember, Mr. Obama has the bully pulpit; it’s his job to persuade America to do what needs to be done.

Instead, however, Mr. Obama is lending his voice to those who say that we can’t create more jobs. And a report on suggests that deficit reduction, not job creation, will be the centerpiece of his first State of the Union address. What happened?

It took me a while to puzzle this out. But the concerns Mr. Obama expressed become comprehensible if you suppose that he’s getting his views, directly or indirectly, from Wall Street.

Ever since the Great Recession began economic analysts at some (not all) major Wall Street firms have warned that efforts to fight the slump will produce even worse economic evils. In particular, they say, never mind the current ability of the U.S. government to borrow long term at remarkably low interest rates — any day now, budget deficits will lead to a collapse in investor confidence, and rates will soar.

And it’s this latter claim that Mr. Obama echoed in that Fox News interview. Is he right to be worried?

Well, spikes in long-term interest rates have happened in the past, most famously in 1994. But in 1994 the U.S. economy was adding 300,000 jobs a month, and the Fed was steadily raising short-term rates. It’s hard to see why anything similar should happen now, with the economy still bleeding jobs and the Fed showing no desire to raise rates anytime soon.

A better model, I’d argue, is Japan in the 1990s, which ran persistent large budget deficits, but also had a persistently depressed economy — and saw long-term interest rates fall almost steadily. There’s a good chance that officials are being terrorized by a phantom menace — a threat that exists only in their minds.

And shouldn’t we consider the source? As far as I can tell, the analysts now warning about soaring interest rates tend to be the same people who insisted, months after the Great Recession began, that the biggest threat facing the economy was inflation. And let’s not forget that Wall Street — which somehow failed to recognize the biggest housing bubble in history — has a less than stellar record at predicting market behavior.

Still, let’s grant that there is some risk that doing more about double-digit unemployment would undermine confidence in the bond markets. This risk must be set against the certainty of mass suffering if we don’t do more — and the possibility, as I said, of a collapse of confidence among ordinary workers and businesses.

And Mr. Summers was right the first time: in the face of the greatest economic catastrophe since the Great Depression, it’s much riskier to do too little than it is to do too much. It’s sad, and unfortunate, that the administration appears to have lost sight of that truth.

SCIENCE - Fusion Reactor Update

"ITER Fire-Up Delayed Again" by Tudor Vieru

Experts say 2018 is too soon

Scientists assessing the difficulties related to the construction of the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) facility in southern France have recently revealed that it may be unfeasible to fire up the reactor as soon as 2018, as current plans have it. The multi-billion-euro nuclear fusion test reactor was supposed to come online as fast as possible, so that experts could begin their research into the mysteries and issues surrounding this type of energy production at that point.

Representatives of the European Union met between November 18-19 in St Paul-lez-Durance, a town not far from the place where ITER is scheduled to be built. Delegates from the EU told the representatives of the other six countries involved in the project that the originally planned start date was no longer realistic, but declined to comment on the reason afterwords. European officials were, however, careful to point out that the reactor still enjoyed the full support of the Union, Nature News reports.

“Our guiding objective is to ensure a sustainable success for ITER at reasonable costs and with an acceptable level of risk,” Catherine Ray explained, quoted by Nature News. She is a spokesperson on science and research for the European Commission, based in Brussels. The stakes are terribly high in this endeavor. In addition to the large costs implied, the project could yield massive benefits for humankind, by providing us with a means of producing massive levels of energy without any of the harmful side-effects that greenhouse gases currently have on our planet.

Fusion is theoretically attainable through the merging of deuterium and tritium, which are both heavy isotopes of hydrogen. Their nuclei would merge, and an impressive amount of electricity would be produced, in addition to the useful chemical element helium. The thing is that the reaction can only take place at temperatures close to the ones inside stars, or around 150 million degrees Celsius. China, India, Japan, Russia, South Korea and the United States will each provide nine percent of the construction costs, with the other 45 percent coming directly from the European Union.

By the time the reactor is built, it's estimated that its costs will be more than double the originally planned ones, of US$7.4 billion. This would make ITER one of the most expensive scientific undertakings ever, and for just reasons. A success here would mean a cleaner future for us, and for our children.

Fusion is the atomic process that takes place in our Sun. Unlike Fission Reactors we use today, Fusion Power will be cleaner because there is little lasting radiation and little nuclear waste to dispose of, comparatively speaking. In addition, turning off the reaction is like turning off a gas stove (no rods).

WORLD VIEW - Global Warming

"Global Warming Report Finds Time Running Out" by BILL BLAKEMORE, ABC News 11/24/2009


There's even less time for humanity to try to curb global warming than recently thought, according to a new in-depth scientific assessment by 26 scientists from eight countries.

Sea level rise, ocean acidification and the rapid melting of massive ice sheets are among the significantly increased effects of human-induced global warming assessed in the survey, which also examines the emissions of heat-trapping gases that are causing the climate change.

"Many indicators are currently tracking near or above the worst-case projections" made three years ago by the world's scientists, the new Copenhagen Diagnosis said.

Nor has manmade global warming slowed or paused, as some headlines have recently suggested, according to the report, which you can see here.

The scientists also calculate that the world's emissions of heat-trapping gases must peak in less than 10 years and then dive quickly to nearly zero, if warming of more than another 2 degrees Fahrenheit above the current annual global temperature is to be prevented after 2050.

Any warming of more than 2 degrees F above current temperatures has been generally agreed among governments around the world to be "dangerous," though what "dangerous" means is still debated.

This is the first comprehensive update of leading peer-reviewed climate science in the three years since the last report of the intentionally thorough and slow-paced Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was finalized.

That report is now widely recognized to be out of date in important ways.

This is because over the past three years, hundreds of new scientific field accounts of global warming's impacts, as well as improved peer-reviewed analysis of global warming itself in both the deep past and the very near future, have depicted earth's atmosphere as far more "sensitive" to the invisible CO2, methane and other human-sourced greenhouse gases than had been hoped.

"Mother nature puts a limit on how long you can dither and procrastinate," climatologist Richard Somerville, one of the study's authors, told ABC News.

'Abrupt or Irreversible Change' If It's 'Business as Usual'

"We found that several vulnerable elements in Earth's climate system -- like the Amazon and other big rain forests, like the great ice sheets that have so much sea level locked up in their ice -- could be pushed toward abrupt or irreversible change if we go on toward 2100 with our business-as-usual increase in emissions of greenhouse gases," he said.

This is just the latest. The nay-sayers have to be blind or not paying attention to the history of our planet, maybe they're too young.

The gathering evidence, including what's happening lately in Antarctica (East Antarctica, Long Stable, Is Now Losing Ice), is almost shouting for our attention. The WORLD Scientists are becoming more alarmed because if we do not take drastic actions NOW, it MAY be too late to advert the consequences.

It could be that the nay-sayers just cannot take the long view. They look at our world now and cannot see the danger, it's too long away for them. The old head-in-the-sand syndrome.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

POLITICS - A Long View From the '70s

"What Ever Happened to That Prosperity the Tax-Cutters Promised?" by Sam Pizzigati, Too Much

Don't expect an answer from the ranters and ravers who frequent 'Tea Parties' — or the politicians who egg them on.

You don’t have to dig particularly deep, in the United States today, to find some striking similarities between today’s virulently anti-Obama “Tea Party” crowd and the media darlings who birthed the “Tax Revolt” phenomenon back in the late 1970s.

The Tax Revolters burst onto the national scene amid an inflation-battered economy. They blamed “big government” for what ailed America, and they offered a simple remedy: cut taxes. Lower taxes, they promised, would get average Americans back on track.

The Tea Party zealots have, like the Tax Revolters, also coalesced in tough economic times. They attack “big government,” too. They even make the same promises about taxes.

But the Tea Party types, so far at least, haven’t scored any early political success. The Tax Revolters did. In 1978, in a ballot-box stunner, they passed a statewide initiative in California known as Prop 13, an unprecedented cap on property taxes.

Within a few short years, almost half America’s states had followed suit with tax cuts and caps of their own. In 1980, at the national level, this Tax Revolt surge would carry Ronald Reagan into the White House. One year later, a pliant Congress would give President Reagan the biggest across-the-board federal tax cut in U.S. history.

Tax relief had become, in the wink of an eye, America’s most potent political creed. Tax cutting and capping would go on to dominate the nation’s political discourse for the next three decades, an entire generation.

And what do we have to show for all this cutting and capping? Last week, researchers offered up two new studies that offer up a useful assessment.

The first, funded by the Social Security Administration, looks at the wealth of American families. That wealth, the Tax Revolters assured us,would start amassing again once taxpayers yanked “big government” out of our pockets.

The second new study zeroes in on state and local taxes. After years of tax revolting, this Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy report asks, who exactly is paying taxes at the state and local level? Who has benefited the most, in tax terms, from the Tax Revolt the Tea Party zealots are now so fervently seeking to extend?

The answer: The rich have benefited the most. The Tax Revolt that began back in the late 1970s has, in state after state, let the affluent off the tax hook.

In fact, notes the new Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy analysis, “nearly every state and local tax system takes a much greater share of income from middle- and low-income families than from the wealthy.”

In the entire United States, the analysis adds, “only two states require their best-off citizens to pay as much of their incomes in taxes as their very poorest taxpayers must pay, and only one state taxes its wealthiest individuals at a higher effective rate than middle-income families have to pay.”

America’s most affluent 1 percent now pay, on average, just 6.4 percent of their incomes in state and local taxes. But they actually pay even less than that, since they can deduct their state and local taxes from their federal tax bill. The state and local tax burden on America’s rich, after taking this offset into account, drops to 5.2 percent.

Middle-income families — to be precise, those families who make up the middle fifth of America’s income distribution — pay, after the federal offset, 9.4 percent of their incomes in total state and local taxes.

America’s poorest families pay even more. Tax collectors take 10.9 percent of the incomes of households in the nation’s bottom 20 percent, more than double the share they take from the incomes of the nation’s top 1 percent.

The Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy paper, Who Pays? A Distributional Analysis of the Tax Systems in All 50 States, covers non-elderly households. Incredibly, the study details, some states “ask their poorest residents — those in the bottom 20 percent of the income scale — to pay up to six times as much of their income in taxes as they ask the wealthy to pay.”

Now you could argue that none of this matters. The Tax Revolters, after all, didn’t claim that their tax cutting and capping would have low- and middle-income people paying taxes at a lower rate than the rich. They claimed, instead, that massive tax cuts, taken as an amorphous whole, would help just about everybody get considerably richer.

That hasn’t happened, as Brookings Institution researchers Barry Bosworth and Rosanna Smart document in a paper just published by the Boston College Center for Retirement Research, with funding support from Social Security.

Bosworth and Smart “explore the consequences of the housing price bubble and its collapse for the wealth of older households.”

Along the way, the two investigators dive into the overall family wealth data the Federal Reserve has been collecting since the early 1980s. Tapping into another federal data set, they bring the family net worth picture up-to-date for 2009.

For low- and middle-income families, their numbers tell a depressing story.

All American households — poor, middle, and rich — have lost wealth since the subprime mortgage collapse and last fall’s financial meltdown. On average, since 2007, Americans have lost 26 percent of their total net worth.

But low- and middle-income households under age 50 haven’t just lost a big chunk of the wealth they held in 2007. These households have actually lost all the wealth they had gained since 1983, the first year with Federal Reserve family wealth data available.

Back then in 1983, the bottom third — by income — of U.S. families under age 50 had an average $24,000 in net worth to their names, as measured in year 2000 dollars. The housing bubble helped boost this bottom-third average net worth to $27,000 in 2007.

Today, in the wake of that bubble’s collapse, researchers Bosworth and Smart put average bottom-third net worth at just $17,000, in those same year 2000 dollars.

Middle-income households under age 50, meanwhile, held an average net worth of $50,000 in 1983. The current net worth of this middle third, after adjusting for inflation: $45,000.

Older households in the bottom and middle income thirds — those over age 50 — have, to be sure, seen their after-inflation net worths increase between 1983 and 2009. But these households have lost at least 22 percent of the wealth they held in 2007. As older families, Bosworth and Smart note, they now “have less time to recover.”

That recovery may take some time.

Back in the middle of the 20th century, governments in the United States routinely taxed the rich to pay for the programs that built a vibrant middle class. The Tax Revolt that began three decades ago, by demonizing taxes, gave the rich a free ride and gutted those programs.

That demonization today continues, with politicos beholden to that rich cynically fanning the Tea Party flames. They don’t care who gets burned. The rest of us should.

Isn't about time ordinary Tax Payers like us get angry? Isn't about time we STOP believing the GOP's Commandment "Lower Taxes?"

The truth is, the GOP only serves the rich.

Friday, November 20, 2009

POLITICS - A Win for New Orleans, Post Katrina

"In New Orleans, Elation Over Katrina Liability Ruling" by CAMPBELL ROBERTSON, New York Times

Since the first days after Hurricane Katrina, when the streets were still under water, many residents of New Orleans and its surroundings have maintained that the flood that wrecked their lives was the government’s fault, and that the government should pay for it.

On Wednesday night came news that many had hoped for but few had believed would ever actually happen: a federal judge agreed.

“My head is spinning,” said Pam Dashiell, a co-director of the Lower Ninth Ward Sustainability Project and a 20-year resident of the neighborhood. “Maybe things are really breaking for the people.”

The sense of vindication was widespread, but the practical implications were less clear. The morning after Judge Stanwood R. Duval Jr.’s decision that the Army Corps of Engineers’ negligent maintenance of a major navigation channel led to major flooding in the Lower Ninth Ward and the adjacent St. Bernard Parish, a pleasantly startled New Orleans was still trying to decipher what it meant.

Was it an opening for tens of thousands of lawsuits, or a big class-action lawsuit, that could add up to billions of dollars in compensation for residents? Or was it leverage for negotiating a broader, regionwide settlement with the government? Some experts suggested that it was a welcome but ultimately symbolic ruling that could be overturned on appeal.

Charles S. Miller, a spokesman for the Department of Justice, said that the government was still reviewing the decision.

“We have made no decision as to what the government’s next step will be in this matter,” he said in a statement.

But given the potential of liability, legal experts are expecting the government to appeal.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in New Orleans, where the case would go, has a record of hostility to plaintiffs in environmental cases, said Oliver Houck, a law professor at Tulane University. But, he said, Judge Duval’s decision is so technical and packed with details — it came with a 33-page appendix of graphs, charts and maps — that there are only a few areas where it would be exposed to a reversal.

“For an appellate court to reverse him on the facts is unthinkable,” Professor Houck said.

In 2008, Judge Duval dismissed a lawsuit arising from drainage canal breaches that flooded much of the city, ruling that a 1928 act gave the corps immunity for damages that came from a flood protection project. But his decision was scathing nonetheless, and he insisted that the government should not be free “from posterity’s judgment concerning its failure to accomplish what was its task.”

Wednesday’s decision was about a different corps project, the Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet, a navigation channel known as MR-GO (pronounced Mister Go). In the 156-page decision, the judge wrote nearly as much about complicated immunity issues as he did in determining that the corps’s negligent maintenance of the channel actually caused the flooding in two areas, including the Lower Ninth Ward.

Lawyers for the corps had raised a variety of immunity shields in addition to the Flood Control Act, and the judge knocked these down one by one. With every one, though, he created a potential opportunity for higher judges to overturn the decision on appeal.

The judge ruled that the corps was liable for damages because, he said, it should have been filing environmental impact statements as the landscape around the channel significantly changed: wetlands had disappeared, levee banks had eroded, and the channel had more than doubled in width.

This is a conclusion of law rather than of fact, experts said, and thus is open territory for appeals judges. When legal opinion is at issue, said Howard J. Bashman, a Pennsylvania lawyer specializing in appellate practice, “the court gets to make up its own mind, without any deference paid to the trial judge in how the law was applied.”

At a Thursday morning news conference, the plaintiffs’ lawyers painted the decision in superlative terms, even comparing it to the victory over the British in the Battle of New Orleans.

The lawyers said they hoped the decision, and the possibility of thousands more cases following, would compel Congress and the Obama administration to agree to some kind of larger settlement for the entire city, like the one for victims of the Sept. 11 attacks.

“It’s time that we stopped litigating and started negotiating,” said Pierce O’Donnell, one of the lead lawyers.

Mr. O’Donnell said that he and the other lawyers had scheduled meetings on Capitol Hill in the coming weeks at which they would push for damage compensation for property owners, billions of dollars to rebuild infrastructure projects, and restoration of the area’s coastal wetlands. They will also demand a widespread overhaul of the Army Corps.

For now, however, much of the city was just enjoying a rare sense of triumph. Friends who were watching the news Wednesday night grabbed for their cell phones. At a coastal planning meeting in St. Bernard Parish, people broke into applause.

Mark Madary, who was on the St. Bernard Parish Council at the time of Hurricane Katrina, had campaigned against MR-GO ever since he heard the forecasts of catastrophe at a sportsmen’s league meeting in 1978. He said he never thought the case would even make it to court, but now expects a regionwide settlement.

“Now that the corps has been thrown over and exposed, it’s their duty,” Mr. Madary said.

Others in New Orleans, a city that has become accustomed to disappointment over four long years, were not as elated.

“It is an answer to something that was obvious from the beginning, and we’re glad we finally got a federal judge to agree with us,” said Robert Green Sr., a resident of the Lower Ninth Ward, who lost his mother and granddaughter in the flooding.

But it was clear that Mr. Green was more interested in talking about a grocery store that could be coming to the neighborhood.

“The lawyers are happy and the people are happy,” Mr. Green said of the decision. “But at the same time, we waited four years. So you deal with the important issues that are right in front of you.”

WAR ON TERROR - A Thought.....

"Khalid Sheikh Mohammed And The Death Penalty: Why We Can't Kill Him" by Beau Friedlander, AirAmerica

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed is on trial for his life in New York City. He is the alleged mastermind of the 9-11 attacks that killed thousands and launched two wars that affected millions. If he is condemned to death, we all lose. Period.

I posted a survey on the Air America web site a couple days ago that posed the following question: If Khalid Sheikh Mohammed is found guilty of playing a role in the 9-11 attacks, should he get the death penalty?

By noon yesterday, Air Americans were feeling bloodthirsty. 53% wanted to see Khalid Sheikh Mohammed killed for the role he played in the attacks.

I have to confess that your reaction sickened me somewhat. Sorry, but much as I love talking about health care reform with you all and however the finer points of cap and trade may fascinate us mutually or the question of why Somalia's pirate problem twinkles like a new coin to our natural curiosity as a political type, I no longer feel like I'm on the solid ground of a shared worldview.

It would be so easy to point out that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed wants to get the death penalty so he can be martyred. That alone should suffice to make folks want to throw him in Florence, Colorado's Supermax for the rest of his life. But that is neither here nor there.

Disturbed by the numbers, I wanted to be sure I was seeing a real trend, so at noon Wednesday I reset the poll to 50% for the death penalty and 50% against it. Boo hiss. Deal with it. It was premeditated. I wanted to see how liberal you are.

Oddly, the momentum changed and by evening 54% of Air Americans were against the death penalty for KSM. What conviction! Regardless the herd instinct at work, I went to bed that night feeling a little better about the world. By yesterday morning, however, my mood was as dark as your apparent desire for mindless revenge: 53% wanted to see another murder to solve the problem of mass murder. A seven-point swing.

There is no solving the problem of mass murder. We can only hope to move past it, and perhaps that the spiritual and emotional wounds of 9-11 will turn into the proud flesh of a new humanist outlook.

Do you believe in capital punishment or not? In extreme cases, you say? Then you believe in it. And if you do, vote Republican. Get a gun, and send that annual check to the NRA. Buy a massive gas-guzzling sports utility vehicle, run your air conditioning day and night, beat your wife or husband or your kid or your dog, and just be a more obvious and honest part of the problem. And also? Go to church. Or maybe not. Somehow it seems like religion--or rather the subtle hate groups folks mistakenly call "organized religion" these days--(I consider myself religious, by the bye) is the last place to go if you want to find a humanitarian point of view. Do you think Pat Roberts would spare KSM's life if he had a gun pointed at the back of the man's head (or what would be more likely, had someone pointing it)? Is that who you want to be? Pat Roberts? Bill O'Reilly? Ann Coulter? Cry me a river, Glenn Beck.

It is the height of arrogance for a human being or a group of them to decide who gets to live and who doesn't. When someone takes it upon him- or herself to make that decision for another human being, they deserve to be removed from society. Prison is a good place to put these people.

Many of you out there will say I'm arrogant for denying someone the validity of their anger and desire for vengeance. To make matters worse, I would say that this point of view gave rise to the birthers and to tea party protests across the country this past year.

Wanting an eye for an eye is an outmoded point of view. Take a breath. Are you a killer, too? If so, don't you also belong in a prison separated from humanity?

Real progressives are not killers. That's the GOP. While conservatives live by fear and feel the need to destroy anyone and anything that does not agree with them, we try to open a space for discourse that allows people to see how they are similar, how we're all in this together.

We don't have to tolerate hate, and we as a global society will not, if we can help it, allow monsters to mingle with the rest of society. We can remove a bad element forever. But we cure our sadness in anger by helping others, not by helping ourself to the fire water of panicked hate and ire, and by doing the next right thing.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

HEALTHCARE - And the Band Plays On

"Senate Says Health Plan Will Cover Another 31 Million" by ROBERT PEAR and DAVID M. HERSZENHORN, New York Times


Democratic leaders in the Senate on Wednesday unveiled their proposal for overhauling the health care system, outlining legislation that they said would cover most of the uninsured while reducing the federal budget deficit.

Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the majority leader, said at an evening news conference that the legislation, embodying President Obama’s signature domestic initiative, would impose new regulations on insurers, extend coverage to 31 million people who currently do not have any and add new benefits to Medicare.

Mr. Reid said the bill, despite a price tag of $848 billion over 10 years, would reduce projected budget deficits by $130 billion over a decade because the costs would be more than offset by new taxes and fees and by reductions in the growth of Medicare.

Democrats expressed confidence that they would have the votes needed to move forward when the legislation hits its first test in the Senate, probably later this week. To get past that first procedural hurdle, Mr. Reid will need the votes of all 58 Democratic senators and the two independents aligned with them.

That vote would clear the way for what is sure to be an unpredictable roller-coaster ride of a debate on the Senate floor through much of December. Earlier this month the House passed its version of the health care legislation.

Republicans have vowed to fight the legislation at every turn, saying it represents a dangerous expansion in the role of government that would increase taxes and insurance costs for millions of people. “It’s going to be a holy war,” said Senator Orrin G. Hatch, Republican of Utah.

Under Mr. Reid’s bill, the government would establish a new public insurance plan, which would compete with private insurers. States could opt out of the public plan by passing legislation.

In one last touch on Wednesday, Mr. Reid and his aides finally named the bill that he wrote over the last few weeks, selecting parts of bills previously adopted by two Senate committees. It is called the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. “This legislation is a tremendous step forward,” Mr. Reid said. “It saves lives, saves money and will make Medicare stronger.”

Though broadly similar to the House bill, Mr. Reid’s proposal differs in important ways. It would, for example, increase the Medicare payroll tax on high-income people and impose a new excise tax on high-cost “Cadillac health plans” offered by employers to their employees.

Mr. Reid’s bill would not go as far as the House bill in limiting access to abortion. And while he would require most Americans to obtain health insurance, he would impose less stringent penalties on people who did not comply.

Many provisions of Mr. Reid’s bill, including the creation of insurance markets, or exchanges, would take effect in 2014, a year later than similar provisions of the House bill. The delay is intended primarily to reduce the cost of the legislation.

Both bills would create a voluntary federal program to provide long-term care insurance and cash benefits to people with severe disabilities.

Desperately seeking money to pay for the legislation, Mr. Reid came up with a new source of financing: a 5 percent tax on elective cosmetic medical procedures. The tax would be paid by patients, but collected by doctors and clinics and forwarded to the government.

The tax would be calculated as 5 percent of the amount paid for an elective cosmetic procedure, whether by the patient, insurance or other sources. The tax would not apply to cosmetic surgery for people with congenital abnormalities, disfiguring diseases or traumatic injuries.

The official cost analysis released by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office shortly after 11 p.m. showed that Mr. Reid’s bill came in under the $900 billion goal suggested by Mr. Obama. But 24 million people would still be uninsured in 2019, the budget office said. About one-third of them would be illegal immigrants.

The Congressional Budget Office has said the House bill would reduce deficits by $109 billion over 10 years and cover 36 million people, but still leave 18 million uninsured in 2019.

POLITICS - Sun Rise (Dems), Sun Set (GOP)

"Poll: Dems big tent bigger than GOP's" by Aaron Blake, The Hill

Bad news for the GOP hoping to avoid future New York-23s: Polling shows Democrats have become the party of electoral pragmatism, while Republicans are more rigid in their choice of candidates.

A CNN/Opinion Research survey shows that, when faced with a choice between an ideologically pure candidate who has little chance of winning and a less pure candidate who has a good chance, Republicans chose the first one 51-43.

Democrats, who have built their majorities in Congress on the latter philosophy, favor that type of candidate 58-38.

The numbers are significant because they are both majorities. And that’s generally what it takes to get a candidate out of a primary.

Monday, November 16, 2009

WAR ON TERROR - Terrorists' Trial in America

"A terrorism trial's myths" by Andrew Cohen, Washington Post

It's official. Sooner rather than later, Khalid Sheik Mohammed, an al-Qaeda leader who by all accounts spearheaded planning for the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, will stand trial in a federal civilian court near the scene of the crime.

A Mohammed trial for Sept. 11 crimes -- the case might actually be styled United States v. Mohammed -- could be one of the biggest legal landmarks in American history. It's not surprising that bringing one of the "faces of terror" to within blocks of Ground Zero would generate a lot of fear, trepidation and political hysteria. So let's try to separate sizzle from steak. Here are six myths about Mohammed and his trial that ought to be destroyed:

-- One: Mohammed's lawyers are going to rely on the fact that he was waterboarded to get his case dismissed. Fact: Ain't gonna happen. Depending on who is running the show (Mohammed wanted to represent himself at his military tribunal at Guantanamo Bay), it's likely that the government's post-capture treatment of Mohammed will be a factor in the trial. But it won't determine the outcome, especially if the government does not seek to introduce any of Mohammed's post-torture statements to jurors. The fact that the feds are bringing him to New York to stand trial indicates that they have plenty of other evidence that they can use to get their conviction.

-- Two: Mohammed's judge won't be able to find an impartial jury. Fact: Media saturation has made jury selection in America a perversion of what it once was. Judges and lawyers no longer even pretend that they are seating jurors who don't have preconceived notions about a case. All they ask of jurors is that they be able to set aside their pre-judgments and fairly evaluate the evidence shown at trial. Under this low standard, Mohammed will get a jury, and, after he's convicted, the jury's verdict almost certainly will be upheld on appeal if the defense challenges its fairness.

-- Three: Trying Mohammed in New York will significantly raise the risk of another terrorist attack there. Fact: No one can determine how big that increased risk would be. But New York has long been able to safely host trials of terrorism suspects -- including the trial that followed the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center -- and its security systems are among the world's finest. I have seen, during the Zacarias Moussaoui trial in 2006, just how intense security can be in terrorism cases. It's awe-inspiring.

-- Four: The transfer of Mohammed to a federal civilian court is a concession of defeat by the government and a soft-on-terror approach to suspects. Fact: The Bush administration tried to prosecute these people in military tribunals but wasn't able to come up with a set of rules that were deemed constitutional. As a result, six years after Mohammed was apprehended, he still hasn't been convicted. A civilian trial is the best chance of ensuring conviction and sentencing. I don't consider that a defeat. I consider it progress. We are one step closer to the end of this guy's story. Remember, too, that the Republican senators who are crying loudest now about this civilian trial were the ones who precluded the use of military tribunals by insisting that they be constitutionally unfair to defendants.

-- Five: Mohammed will be acquitted on some technicality endorsed by a federal judge. Fact: After eight years of reporting on terrorism law, I am not aware of any judge, anywhere, who is eager to pervert the law to give Mohammed a break. The idea that the federal courts are soft on terrorism is unfair to the hundreds of jurists who have repeatedly endorsed government policy on terrorism, both before and after the 2001 attacks. Capital murder suspects get off on "technicalities" (read: constitutional rights) far less often than you see in prime time. And even if Mohammed is somehow acquitted, which isn't going to happen, the feds will then immediately pick him up and put him back in the military brig.

-- Six: Mohammed will turn his trial into political theater. Fact: Yes, he will try. But he will mostly fail. There are many rules in place to ensure that Mohammed behaves in court. There is upside here, too. It seems likely, given Mohammed's in-court conduct at Guantanamo Bay, that he will proudly declare in front of judge and jury his allegiance to al-Qaeda and his involvement in the Sept. 11 attacks. If this occurs, it will make it easier for jurors to convict him and for the appellate courts to endorse his sentence.

"Dem Congressman: 'It's Unamerican' To Oppose U.S. Terror Trials" by Evan McMorris-Santoro, TMPDC

Rep. Jim Moran (D-VA) has strong words for the Republicans opposing Attorney General Eric Holder's plan to bring five 9/11 suspects to New York City to face trial.

"They see this as an opportunity to demagogue," he said. "They will seize on any opportunity to do that, and that means they'll even take a stand that's un-American."

"It's un-American to hold anyone indefinitely without trial," Moran added. "It's against our principles as a nation."

Moran, who represents the Congressional district closest to D.C., was among the only members of Congress to advocate President Obama's plan to send prisoners from Guantanamo Bay to the U.S. so the military prison could be shut down. Obama first proposed the idea shortly after being elected and most in Congress rejected the plan, saying that bringing terror suspects to this country would endanger American lives.

Today, many politicians raised those same fears. Moran dismissed them.

"Right now, they're sitting in Guantanamo gaining sympathy," he said. "The sooner that we prosecute this guy, the sooner we can reduce the anti-American propaganda that surrounds his detention and inflames our enemies."

"Until we do that, it only strengthens the hand of people who recruit new terrorists with the claim we aren't true to our principles," he added.

My view; the crime was perpetrated in America, to Americans and citizens of other countries. I do NOT cower in fear of holding the trials here in America. To NOT hold the trials here would be a victory for terrorism. Fear is what all hoodlums depend on.

I would also encourage other countries who lost citizens in 9/11 join in the trial or hold trials in their countries for the accused.

Friday, November 13, 2009

POLITICS - One GOP Senator's Demonstration of "Supporting the Troops"

"Senator Tom Coburn holding up Veterans benefits bill" by Karen Harper, San Francisco Examiner

Senator Tom Coburn (R), Oklahoma, the same Tom Coburn who advised Senator John Ensign to end the affair he was having by paying off the husband of his mistress, is the single senator in the US holding up a Veterans benefit bill that would aid health care givers of veterans returning home after fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.

According to The Marine Times, Coburn is using an informal but legal practice of putting a bill on hold to prevent consideration of S 1963, the Veterans' Caregiver and Omnibus Health Benefits Act of 2009.

When asked by reporters why he was putting a hold on the veterans benefit bill, Coburn said he opposed the bill because he doesn't know how the bill will be funded. When a reporter pointed out to him that he had voted for funding for the Afghanistan and Iraq wars amounting to trillions of dollars, Coburn excused himself by saying that he did that the first year he was in the Senate. He went on to say he only voted for funding for the war one time. Coburn seems to have forgotten that he voted for funding for the wars again in 2006.

Opposition to funding for veterans isn't new to Senator Coburn. S 1963 was introduced after Coburn put a hold on two earlier Veterans Health Care benefits bills, the Veterans Health Care Authorization Act of 2009 and the Veterans' Insurance and Benefits Enhancement Act of 2009. The two previous bills, S 252 and S 728 respectively were combined into the new S 1963 in an effort to get around Coburn's earlier opposition to veterans benefit bills.

The veterans who are returning from Iraq and Afghanistan deserve America's support and a majority of representatives in Washington agree. The bill is a bipartisan bill that is largely agreed on by both Republicans and Democrats, but Senator Coburn has successfully blocked the bill that would benefit veterans.

Thirteen military and veterans groups have banded together in an effort to force Coburn to release his hold up of S 1963 including The American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Disabled American Veterans, Military Order of the Purple Heart, AmVets, and Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America to name a few.

When Steve Robertson, legislative director for the American Legion contacted Coburn's staff about the holds on the earlier veterans benefit bills, Senator Coburn's aides tried to get Robertson to discourage veterans from calling the senator's office.

AFGHANISTAN - "End Game" Needed

"Official: Obama wants his war options changed" by BEN FELLER & ANNE GEARAN, AP

President Barack Obama does not plan to accept any of the Afghanistan war options presented by his national security team, pushing instead for revisions to clarify how and when U.S. troops would turn over responsibility to the Afghan government, a senior administration official said Wednesday.

That stance comes in the midst of forceful reservations about a possible troop buildup from the U.S. ambassador in Afghanistan, Karl Eikenberry, according to a second top administration official.

In strongly worded classified cables to Washington, Eikenberry said he had misgivings about sending in new troops while there are still so many questions about the leadership of Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

Obama is still close to announcing his revamped war strategy — most likely shortly after he returns from a trip to Asia that ends on Nov. 19.

But the president raised questions at a war council meeting Wednesday that could alter the dynamic of both how many additional troops are sent to Afghanistan and what the timeline would be for their presence in the war zone, according to the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss Obama's thinking.

Military officials said Obama has asked for a rewrite before and resisted what one official called a one-way highway toward war commander Gen. Stanley McChrystal's recommendations for more troops. The sense that he was being rushed and railroaded has stiffened Obama's resolve to seek information and options beyond military planning, officials said, though a substantial troop increase is still likely.

The president was considering options that include adding 30,000 or more U.S. forces to take on the Taliban in key areas of Afghanistan and to buy time for the Afghan government's small and ill-equipped fighting forces to take over. The other three options on the table Wednesday were ranges of troop increases, from a relatively small addition of forces to the roughly 40,000 that the top U.S. general in Afghanistan prefers, according to military and other officials.

The key sticking points appear to be timelines and mounting questions about the credibility of the Afghan government.

Administration officials said Wednesday that Obama wants to make it clear that the U.S. commitment in Afghanistan is not open-ended. The war is now in its ninth year and is claiming U.S. lives at a record pace as military leaders say the Taliban has the upper hand in many parts of the country.

Eikenberry, the top U.S. envoy to Kabul, is a prominent voice among those advising Obama, and his sharp dissent is sure to affect the equation. He retired from the Army this year to become one of the few generals in American history to switch directly from soldier to diplomat, and he himself is a recent, former commander of U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

Eikenberry's cables raise deep concern about the viability of the Karzai government, according to a senior U.S. official familiar with them who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the classified documents. Other administration officials raised the same misgivings in describing Obama's hesitancy to accept any of the options before him in their current form.

The options presented to Obama by his war council will now be amended.

Military officials say one approach is a compromise battle plan that would add 30,000 or more U.S. forces atop a record 68,000 in the country now. They described it as "half and half," meaning half fighting and half training and holding ground so the Afghans can regroup.

The White House says Obama has not made a final choice, though military and other officials have said he appears near to approving a slightly smaller increase than McChrystal wants at the outset.

Among the options for Obama would be ways to phase in additional troops, perhaps eventually equaling McChrystal's full request, based on security or other conditions in Afghanistan and in response to pending decisions on troops levels by some U.S. allies fighting in Afghanistan.

The White House has chafed under criticism from Republicans and some outside critics that Obama is dragging his feet to make a decision.

Obama's top military advisers have said they are comfortable with the pace of the process, and senior military officials have pointed out that the president still has time since no additional forces could begin flowing into Afghanistan until early next year.

Under the scenario featuring about 30,000 more troops, that number most likely would be assembled from three Army brigades and a Marine Corps contingent, plus a new headquarters operation that would be staffed by 7,000 or more troops, a senior military official said. There would be a heavy emphasis on the training of Afghan forces, and the reinforcements Obama sends could include thousands of U.S. military trainers.

Another official stressed that Obama is considering a range of possibilities for the military expansion and that his eventual decision will cover changes in U.S. approach beyond the addition of troops. The stepped-up training and partnership operation with Afghan forces would be part of that effort, the official said, although expansion of a better-trained Afghan force long has been part of the U.S objective and the key to an eventual U.S. and allied exit from the country.

With the Taliban-led insurgency expanding in size and ability, U.S. military strategy already has shifted to focus on heading off the fighters and protecting Afghan civilians. The evolving U.S. policy, already remapped early in Obama's tenure, increasingly acknowledges that the insurgency can be blunted but not defeated outright by force.

POLITICS - The GOP Miranda Rights

You have the right to remain silent.

Anything you say will be misquoted then used against you.
"Obama tops Forbes world’s most powerful list" by Michael Noer and Nicole Perlroth, Forbes

The 67 statesmen, criminals, financiers and others who really run things

"I love power. But it is as an artist that I love it. I love it as a musician loves his violin, to draw out its sounds and chords and harmonies." — Napoleon Bonaparte

Power has been called many things. The ultimate aphrodisiac. An absolute corrupter. A mistress. A violin. But its true nature remains elusive. After all, a head of state wields a very different sort of power than a religious figure. Can one really compare the influence of a journalist to that of a terrorist? And is power unexercised power at all?

In compiling our first ranking of the World's Most Powerful People we wrestled with these questions — and many more — before deciding to define power in four dimensions. First, we asked, does the person have influence over lots of other people? Pope Benedict XVI, ranked 11th on our list, is the spiritual leader of more than a billion souls, or about one-sixth of the world's population, while Wal-Mart CEO Mike Duke (No. 8) is the largest private-sector employer in the United States.

Then we assessed the financial resources controlled by these individuals. Are they relatively large compared with their peers'? For heads of state we used GDP, while for CEOs, we looked at a composite ranking of market capitalization, profits, assets and revenues as reflected on our annual ranking of the World's 2000 Largest Companies. In certain instances, like New York Times Executive Editor Bill Keller (No. 51), we judged the resources at his disposal compared with others in the industry. For billionaires, like Bill Gates (No. 10), net worth was also a factor.

Next we determined if they are powerful in multiple spheres. There are only 67 slots on our list — one for every 100 million people on the planet — so being powerful in just one area is not enough to guarantee a spot. Our picks project their influence in myriad ways. Take Italy's colorful prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi (No. 12) who is a politician, a media monopolist and owner of soccer powerhouse A.C. Milan, or Oprah Winfrey (No. 45) who can manufacture a best-seller and an American President.

Lastly, we insisted that our choices actively use their power. Ingvar Kamprad, the 83-year-old entrepreneur behind Ikea and the richest man in Europe, was an early candidate for this list, but was excluded because he doesn't exercise his power. On the other hand, Russian autocrat Vladimir Putin (No. 3) scored points because he likes to throw his weight around by jailing oligarchs, invading neighboring countries and periodically cutting off Western Europe's supply of natural gas.

To calculate the final rankings, five Forbes senior editors ranked all of our candidates in each of these four dimensions of power. Those individual rankings were averaged into a composite score, which determined who placed above (or below) whom.

U.S. President Barack Obama emerged, unanimously, as the world's most powerful person, and by a wide margin. But there were a number of surprises. Former President George W. Bush didn't come close to making the final cut, while his predecessor in the Oval Office, Bill Clinton, ranks 31st, ahead of a number of sitting heads of government. Apple's Steve Jobs easily made the list, while Arnold Schwarzenegger, the movie star governor of California (alone, the world's fifth largest economy) did not.

This ranking is intended to be the beginning of a conversation, not the final word. Is the Dalai Lama (No. 39) really more powerful than the president of France (No. 56)? Do despicable criminals like billionaire Mexican drug lord Joaquín Guzmán (No. 41) belong on this list at all? Who did we overlook? What did we get wrong?

See Forbes list "The World's Most Powerful People"

POLITICS - Today's Ugly Americans

"How conservatives have become the Ugly Americans" by Marc Rubin, San Francisco Examiner


Extremist conservatives, which are most conservatives, run on fear, lies and intimidation. They fear of all kinds of things and are ripe for Republicans and those who try to manipulate them to use them as forces of intimidation by exploiting their fear and ignorance for their own political ends. Like Berlin in 1939.

As was apparent during the town hall meetings and the tea party protests, the most recent of which was the anti-healthcare reform protest in Washington, it is always the people who talk loudest, make the biggest noise, and are the most aggressive who are the most ignorant.

They show off guns at town hall meetings, carry Hitler signs and swastikas and talk big (as long as they are in a crowd) because, too afraid to look at their own failures and inadequacies, and the failures they supported, and dissatisfied with their own lives, they look for scapegoats. They think of themselves as the true Americans and its their values that are the true American values. Which of course is not only untrue, it's the opposite that's true.

Their attitudes, behavior and tactics are more closely related to fascism than anything American. Remember,it was the chairman of the New Hampshire Republican party a few years ago, who went to prison for jamming the phone lines of Democratic party volunteers offering rides to the polls on election day. This man and his party,and the Republicans who worked for him in order to win an election any way possible, trashed the memory of every soldier ever killed in battle since what they were trying to stop is what each gave his or her life for.

But like fascists always do, extremist conservatives wrap themselves in the flag and the constitution, half of which most of them would junk if they could and claim their great love and respect for the troops. Except they have no love for the things the troops risk their lives to defend.

John Boehner, addressing the tea party crowd in Washington last week tried to wrap himself in the constitution and got tangled up in it when he quoted from the Declaration of Independence thinking it was the preamble to the constitution. Proving for all to see that the Republican minority leader didn't know what was in either document. Which was okay because neither did the crowd he was speaking to.

The writer Sinclair Lewis wrote in 1935 that if fascism ever came to America it would come "wrapped in the flag and carrying the Bible". Samuel Johnson said that "patriotism was the last refuge of a scoundrel." One look at the tea party conservatives and town hall mobs and the congressional Republicans who embrace and exploit them and you can see what Lewis and Johnson were talking about. The fascism disguised as patriotism is everywhere.

Extremist conservatives think of themselves as the great arbiters of what everyone should do and believe. And yet most of them are the people who are most ignorant when it comes to understanding the issues and the facts.

They think its their values everyone should adhere to, yet few of them are content to just live their values which obviously aren't making them happy. Instead they have to try and force them down everyone else's throat to in order to validate them. There is no arguing that the values, held, expressed and implemented by a conservative president and a conservative congress did more damage to the United States in eight years than the Soviet Union could do in 50. And we are still dealing with it.

Conservatives claim to stand on principles but when these principles were violated for 8 years by George W. Bush they said nothing. Because what they are really all about is politics and power.Which is something else that makes them Ugly Americans.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

POLITICS - One Man's Opinion, Afghanistan

"Obama weighs the Afghan abyss" by Brian Howey, Busco Voice

President Obama took a midnight trip to Dover Air Force Base and solemnly watched, then saluted, as the flag-draped coffin of Sgt. Dale R. Griffin of Terre Haute was marched off the C-17. Griffin was one of 18 Americans killed in Afghanistan earlier in the week.

Obama’s visit honoring Sgt. Griffin comes as he is grappling with a firm decision on Afghanistan that could ultimately destroy his presidency. It will be a gut-wrenching decision; he will be second-guessed and criticized regardless of which way he goes.

Former Vice President Dick Cheney accused him of “dithering” earlier this week. In urging Obama to “do what it takes to win,” Cheney said, “Make no mistake. Signals of indecision out of Washington hurt our allies and embolden our adversaries.”

Question: When Cheney controlled the war levers, why didn’t he do what it takes to win in Afghanistan?

U.S. Rep. Mike Pence said in a statement, “The sooner we get moving on the counter-insurgency strategy the better. Our soldiers and the people of Afghanistan cannot afford to wait any longer. Now is not the time to relinquish hard-fought, blood-bought gains in this critical front in the war on terror; now is the time for the President to act decisively to win the war in Afghanistan.”

Question: How do we define “winning?”

How - after nine years when the United States basically neglected Afghanistan for its disastrous decision to invade Iraq - do you build a winning strategy in a country that has rampant corruption, a literacy rate of about 25 percent, no local governments and virtually no urban cores? How can we build a military, police force and government with people that can’t even read? The U.S. would be nation-building from scratch.

Where does the U.S. find the military resources when our Army and National Guard have already been stretched thin by the six-year Iraq war? And then there is the budget deficit every Republican likes to tag on Obama. The Bush-Cheney administration got around it by keeping the Iraq and Afghan wars off the budget (thus avoiding the towering deficits that plague Obama). That is a bizarre luxury beyond Obama’s scope.

If the U.S. price tag for Iraq comes to $1 trillion for a country that has some local governments, urban areas, a relatively high literacy rate and fledgling military and a national government, what will the 20-year price tag be to rebuild Afghanistan and defeat the Taliban?

Would it be $2 trillion? Can we afford this when our own problems on the home front need investment in education, infrastructure, and energy?

Then there’s the public support. An NBC/Wall Street Journal Poll released Wednesday showed support for sending additional troops to Afghanistan at 47-43 percent. That is a reversal from September when 51 percent were opposed and 44 percent supported it. Just 43 percent support sending 40,000 more troops to Afghanistan, which is the recommendation of Gen. McChrystal. The numbers come during the deadliest month, when a total of 70 coalition soldiers died, including Sgt. Griffin and 55 other American soldiers.

The political support will almost certainly erode during what will be a long slog over many years, perhaps decades. Or as Sen. Evan Bayh told me last month, “Afghanistan will not be a perfect place in our lifetimes. Once we can withdraw securely, we should.” Those are not the words of a politically astute senator willing to make the commitment to the nation-building required.

Reporter Dexter Filkins wrote in a recent New York Times Magazine article: The magnitude of the choice presented by Gen. McChrystal, and now facing President Obama, is difficult to overstate. For what McChrystal is proposing is not a temporary, Iraq-style surge - a rapid influx of American troops followed by a withdrawal. McChrystal’s plan is a blueprint for an extensive American commitment to build a modern state in Afghanistan, where one has never existed, and to bring order to a place famous for the empires it has exhausted. Even under the best of circumstances, this effort would most likely last many more years, cost hundreds of billions of dollars and entail the deaths of many more American women and men.

If we are concerned about Pakistan’s several dozen nuclear warheads falling into the hands of the Taliban, perhaps we should consider confiscating and removing the warheads that Pakistan should never have been allowed to have to begin with.

A wiser investment would be to keep the drones in the air and recruit and train the intelligence networks in Afghanistan and Pakistan needed on the ground to keep Osama bin Laden in his cave and the terror camps in USAF crosshairs.

Final question: Will Obama, Cheney, President Bush, Pence and Bayh commit their own sons and daughters to fight this war and rebuild Afghanistan?

POLITICS - Reining In the Abuse of Power

"Obama Restores Power To Intelligence Oversight Board" by Pamela Hess, Huffington Post

President Barack Obama Thursday restored an independent intelligence advisory agency's authority to tell the attorney general if it thinks that a U.S. intelligence agency may have broken the law, a move intended to improve oversight of those agencies.

That power was stripped away by former President George W. Bush more than a year ago. Bush's executive order limited the Intelligence Oversight Board to exposing potential violations of law to only the national intelligence director, the president and the agency involved.

Obama amended that Bush-era decision Thursday with his own executive order, ruling that the attorney general would also have to be notified of any possible intelligence-related violations.

Obama's amendment applies to the President's Intelligence Advisory Board, a larger intelligence advisory panel which has been coordinating with the White House on the adequacy of U.S. intelligence for more than 50 years. The IOB is a subcommittee of that larger panel.

In 1976, in the wake of widespread abuses by U.S. intelligence agencies, the five-member IOB was created and given full investigative powers and the authority to report potentially illegal activities to the attorney general.

Suzanne Spaulding, a former assistant CIA general counsel and national security expert now in private practice, applauded Obama's move.

"The president, the intelligence community, and the American people will be better served by an advisory board that has the authority to get the information it determines it needs. Greater independence gives the board greater credibility, which is particularly important for oversight in an area so shrouded in secrecy," she told The Associated Press.

The larger 16-member board is comprised mostly of business and political leaders. Obama appointed co-chairs for the board Wednesday, tapping Republican former Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel and Democratic former Sen. David Boren, of Oklahoma.

In a rare public report in 1996, the board chastised the CIA for not informing the State Department that its foreign operatives in Guatemala were involved in kidnapping, murders and other human rights abuses.

YES! The much needed curtailment of Bush fascist-government policies.

A push-back against those who wrongly believe we need to "protect" America by violating our own Constitutional principles, and Human Rights.